I have always been an emotional eater. Growing up food was a major part of family celebrations. The menu for Christmas brunch or dinner was more important than the gifts. My entire family would spend hours in the kitchen carefully preparing scratch made rolls, casseroles, meats, and a wide array of puddings, cakes and pies. We would spend hours in the kitchen enjoying each other’s company. We would use the time to reinforce our family bond. For me, food is synonymous with comfort and care in my mind.
I never had a weight problem because I have always been active. My parents always coupled our feasting with long walks. Food was social but only when paired with physical activity. This combination served me well- until long hours at work prevented me from countering my tendency to stress eat with exercise. I watched my weight slowly creep up to an unacceptable level. I decided to make some necessary life changes in order to get my weight back under control. I knew that the toxic work environment was the source of my emotional eating. I decided to look for a new job. I also decided to join a gym. The better work environment, weight watchers, and working out 4 days a week helped the weight to melt off. I was feeling good! I appreciated the way stress from work could be alleviated by an hour of high impact aerobics. The left over tension from the day could be relaxed away through Pilates or yoga. And most of all, I had exercise buddies that I looked forward to laughing and joking with while we waited for class to start. The emotional connection I had associated with food was now associated with going to the gym.
One day I during Pilates I noticed how weak my wrist felt. I then realized my fingers ached a lot. Step aerobics became increasingly difficult because it was like my knees could no longer take the impact of my body weight. I was stiff all day long and then the pain could no longer be controlled by Tylenol or Advil. Then the doctors’ appointments, blood tests, and different drug combinations became my life for more than a year. During that time I turned to food for comfort. I ate all the time. Even though I knew I was not hungry I would excuse my bad habit because I felt justified. I believed that anything that lessened my feeling of helplessness was justified. The pain gave me permission to have fast food every day, to keep ice cream bars in the house, and trade in my health cereals for frosted flakes.
As the pain levels decreased I finally had the courage to step on the scale and see how much weight I had gained-25 lbs. I began looking for ways to get back to my healthy weight only to be further derailed. I was still suffering from insomnia and the decision was made to place my on an antidepressant to help me sleep. I promptly gained another 15 lbs.
Since January I have been able to lose the 15 lbs gained while I was on the antidepressant. I am determined to be at my vanity weight by the end of the year. But there is one problem. I am symptomatic again. My hands, wrists, and elbows are once again reminding me that I have a chronic illness. I have been symptomatic all day long-and in response I had 2 donuts. I then went out and bought a candy bar. I recognized the beginning of a familiar pattern and decided to give my candy bar away.
My healthy journey is about more than simply achieving my goal weight. It is about dealing with the habits in my life that prevent me from being a healthy and whole person. Eating in response to stress is unhealthy. It prevents me from dealing with the situation that causes me stress. I need to learn to deal with my high stress levels in a constructive manner.
I am going back on Weight Watchers. I think being accountable for what I put in my mouth will be helpful to me. I think knowing what a reasonable amount of food for me to consume during this stressful time will also help me control my reflexive emotional eating. Because if I am indeed coming out of remission as I fear the stress levels will only increase. I need to be healthy mind, body, and soul to continue to be a RA conqueror. And I will conquer. I will have a good life-a life where I laugh, smile, and love. Those things RA has no power over.