Morbid Obesity & Eating Disorders: Takings the first steps to recovery
3J's Nutrition | Diet and fitness consulting to get you to the next level.
3J's Nutrition | Diet and fitness consulting to get you to the next level.
Let me start off by saying this article is not for the person who is under 20% body fat. This article is for those who are morbidly obese. Morbid obesity is usually diagnosed with a BMI of 30 or higher (though I believe the bmi system to be horribly flawed and biased since you can weigh much more than the standard set and be all muscle). This is an article that is meant to help people with morbid obesity. In my opinion, morbid obesity begins to present itself at a body fat level of 25% or higher. At these levels of body fat we are not talking about someone who just indulges a bit too much. We are talking about a disease. We are talking about addiction and coping mechanisms. Principally, there is little difference between an addiction to drugs and an addiction to food. Both cause an uncontrollable unhealthy behavior and both can lead to adverse side effects not limited to death. Addiction is the pursuit of feeling good. Drug users abuse their drug of choice to catch a high and escape a reality. Food addicts chase the high that eating gives you.
Lets talk about the basic necessities of almost all animals on this planet. They need oxygen to breath, water to drink (or get oxygen from), reproduce, and most importantly for this article they all need fuel. Ever tried holding your breath for a long time or had a near drowning experience? I remember when I used to be swimmer in high school we would challenge ourselves to breast stroke as many laps as possible underwater without breathing. My record was 4 laps underwater (this was not an Olympic sized pool guys) or 100 yards. I can remember how amazing that first breath I took felt when I couldnt go any further. How about the last time you went a long time without water? Try going a day or two without water and then drinking some. That water tastes amazing, you feel so good when you drink it. Lets not even get into reproduction. Do you know why you have an orgasm in the first place? How about when you are really really hungry? Doesnt eating when your stomach is grumbling after, lets say, a 12 hour hike without food feel absolutely amazing? Even using the bathroom makes you feel good, especially when youve been holding it a long time. Do you know what all these things have in common? They are all NECESSARY FOR SURVIVAL. Because they are necessary for survival your brain REWARDS you every single time you do them. There are *feel good* chemicals that are released from your body every time you do something necessary and good for it.
When you eat, the brain releases chemicals that have affects similar to opioids. Our brain rewards us for eating by releasing pleasure chemicals much like alcohol or drugs. Scientists describe the feel good, relaxed, rewarding feeling as ingestion analgesia. Ever heard of the term *food coma*? Now ask yourself, do you know someone who got addicted to drugs? Did you try helping them? Did you come to find out, like many have, that the only person who can truly help that person is the person himself? All you could do is support him through the process, nothing more. If youre sitting at 25% body fat or more and you cant seem to control your diet and lose weight, guess what, youre not much different than that drug addict.
If youre morbidly obese its likely that you do two things; emotional eating and binge eating. Emotional eating and binge eating are connected. Emotional eating usually proceeds with episodes of binge eating. Binge eating is the intake of nutrition when not hungry for the sole purpose of gaining the food high which, in turn, sooths your feelings. Furthermore, binge eating causes a feeling of guilt and shame about the behavior causing the user to turn circle in a vicious circle and binge eat again to sooth his feelings. Are you following along? You eat to feel better about your guilt of eating, which make you feel guilty about eating every time you do. Not everyone who is morbidly obese is an emotional eater. But, more often than not getting that overweight is a side effect of emotional eating.
The EDA (Eating Disorders Anonymous) gives a great list of symptoms and associated issues of emotional eating
Recognizing Emotional Eating
* Obsessive thoughts about food.
* Episodic binge-eating with awareness
that the pattern is abnormal.
* Fear of not being able to stop voluntarily
* Feeling out of control.
* Self-deprecating thoughts follow binges
* Depressed mood.
* Eating little in public.
* Hiding evidence of having eaten.
* Cycling through dieting, bingeing,
* Specific foods labeled "good" or "bad".
* Disconnection from signals of
* Weight frequently fluctuates.
* Preoccupation with body image.
* Restricting activities due to
embarrassment .about weight and/or e
* Difficulty identifying feelings and needs.
* Intense fear of anger and conflict.
* Impulsivity in other areas of life.
* Food is used for reward, nurturing and
* Low self-esteem. Self-esteem based on
weight and control of eating.
* Fantasizing about being happier, more
outgoing when thin.
* Intense fear of rejection related to
* Social withdrawal and isolation
* Putting off taking risks in life until thin.
* Feeling tormented by eating habits.
* Professional failures attributed to weight.
* Weight becomes the focus of life.
Never in human history has there been such a vast availability of calories to consume. Our ancestors were great at survival, but they never had all the calories they could consume. They had to work had to survive and didnt always eat on a regular schedule. Our society has given us the ability to eat as much as we want, and our brain is more than willing to reward us for it every single time. Its not like the body doesnt have a mechanism that tells you to stop eating. Its that we choose to ignore it. When food travels through the stomach digestion begins it travels into the upper small intestine. When there, the intestine release a hormone to tell the brain to stop eating. The appetite stimulating hormone, ghrelin, calms down and the person should finish his meal. Yet, the chase for that good feeling that comes with eating is so strong that the person keeps eating even after he feels as if he couldnt eat another bite.
Here is why im writing this article. Many years ago I was that person. I was a whopping 34% bodyfat at my worst, a nice heavy 335lbs. I thought about nothing but food all day. I obsessed about my weight and the way my body looked. I was embarrassed to take my shirt off. I avoided social environments and events due to fear of ridicule and rejection. Id get up in the morning, eat a breakfast burrito with large fries and a large coke. 3 hours later I would go to subway to get a foot long sub with chips and a large drink and then immediately make my way to mcdonalds to order 2 double cheese burgers and 2 mcchicken, sandwiches, super size fries and soda followed by a large topping filled cup of froyo. For dinner I would eat a normal meal in front of my family. But I would make 7 Eleven runs 10pm at night to buy somewhere around 3-4000 calories worth of junk food to consume before I slept. I actually recall not being able to sleep unless I felt like I didnt have another ounce of room in my stomach. All and all, I think I was averaging 6000 to 9000 calories a day. I remember how I use to sit in my car and get anxiety thinking about what I should go eat and being horribly indecisive. Every morning I would wake up, look at myself in the mirror, and tell myself today is the day I make changes. Today is the day I start dieting. Within half an hour I was stuffing my face with food. Within an hour I was feeling guilty and ashamed about what I had just done. Within 3 hours I was eating again to make myself feel better. This was my life, it revolved around food. I felt like a prisoner and a slave to the next meal. When I actually did start dieting, I did it hard core. I starting dieting. I worked out every day. I lost 20lbs and for reasons beyond me at the time, I stopped losing weight. Depression would come on and suddenly my motivation would go missing. Back to binge eating and back to feeling guilty and ashamed about it. I remember looking back at how it all started. I had just gotten out of high school. I was a jock and in great shape. Played waterpolo and was on the swim team every year. 1st team all-league, 1 JV championship and two varsity championships under my belt. After highschool I was not so active and started eating a lot more till the only thing that made me happy was food. I shot up from a lean 210lbs in high school at the age of 18 to 330lbs by the time I was 21.
OK 3J, why are you spewing your heart out on this article? Who better to explain how to get out of the shithole that is emotional eating driven morbid obesity than a guy who has actually gone through the journey? What im about to describe below is how I started on my journey to fitness and likely saved my own life from an early untimely death (or a guaranteed casting call into a my 600lb life documentary, which ever came first).
Taking baby steps
The biggest mistake you can make when starting on a weight loss journey is having an all or none policy. Any type of extremism when trying to make lifestyle changes will surely lead to failure. I tried going hard and cutting calories hard many many times only to fail over and over again, only to go back to binge eating over and over again. I would injure myself in the gym because I pushed myself too hard and go back to square one. When the real changes came, they came small and slowly. The way I started out was by becoming my diseases worst enemy. You cannot stand against your enemy without knowing everything about it. I took on a mentor and dove into nutrition. Yes, nutrition is the key to weight loss. I had it wrong thinking that getting in the gym and working hard was the answer. Nutrition is the first step to the problem. But being an emotional eater, I knew that wasnt going to be enough. I had to find a way to overcome my need for food as a coping mechanism. I decided it was time to find something else to make me feel good.
1. Do not have a all or none policy or any extremist philosophy in your journey
2. Do not push yourself too hard
3. Learn about proper nutrition including proper macro setup, caloric intake, and timing
Finding a Hobby
Here is where a hobby that requires a higher level of activity comes into play. I was lucky enough to know a friend who opened up a boxing gym. I fell in love with boxing. Im flat footed. If I try running a mile a day for a week I will get shin splints every single time. Thats the reason why I became a waterpolo player and not a football player in high school. With boxing, there was no high impact running for me. I skipped jump roping and skipped the treadmill. Instead I focused only on bag work. I didnt overdo it when I started boxing. I told myself I would box because its fun so I was never in there to lose weight. I start off by doing 30 min of boxing a day 4 days a week. I just worked on different bags running 2 minute rounds with 30 seconds rest in between. I had found the hobby that was right for me. I had such low self-esteem at the time and boxing was giving me back my confidence. I truly enjoyed it and never thought of it as working out. As time passed I was spending over 1 ½ hours a day in the boxing gym. My cardio was through the roof. My resting heart rate dropped from 90 to under 50 beats per minute. Im not telling you to go boxing. Im telling you to go find something that you enjoy doing that will make your heart beat a bit faster. Hiking, bird watching (which includes hiking), tennis, soccer, baseball, cycling, walks on the beach, blah blah blah. It doesnt matter what you do so long as youre off your ass and moving, moving = burning calories and stress relief. If you lose interest in what youre doing, move on and immediately find something else that you like doing. The point here is that you dont have to be in the gym working out and running like a robot on a treadmill so long as you are active in another way.
1. Find a hobby that you enjoy and start slowly
2. Let that hobby be your go to thing daily and easily accessable when stressed
3. Have that hobby be something that gives you a workout, even if it means walking 10000 steps a day, you don***8217;t have to be in the gym like a robot
Portions, Portions, Portions
Something amazing happened to me in the process. I noticed I needed less and less food in my day. I went from eating somewhere around 6 -9k in calories to around 3k calories a day (notice that I didnt drop down to 1500-2000 calories. I came to a caloric intake that was reasonable for my activity level). I ate 4 meals a day, one of which was a cheat meal after my workout. Id enjoy a burger and small fries, for example. Since my body didnt understand when the cue to stop eating was I told myself I would never eat till I felt horribly full. Instead I ate till I was pleasantly full. One of the big issues I had with my eating was that I ate very very fast. I actually still eat pretty fast. People are amazed at the rate in which I can take food in. I had to either slow my eating down, giving my brain a chance to let me know when to stop eating in a timely manner or start portioning my meals so that I never overate no matter how fast I was eating. Over time I slowed down my eating enough to understand when I was about to feel too full. This is really the key to weight loss guys. With someone who has an eating disorder like myself I had to find a new coping mechanism, but when I did food became less important and the weight started falling off fairly fast. I didnt actually start getting really strict about my nutrition and caloric counting till about 1 year into my weight loss journey when I saw there was a need to count calories to continue to lose weight. When you are as heavy as I was at the start of your journey, minor changes in nutrition and activity level will make big differences. Its not till you get your bodyfat down and weight down that you need to really start focusing on calorie counting
1. Take baby steps in changing your diet, dont make drastic changes (like cutting your calories too much too fast)
2. Eat at least 4 times a day, but eat smaller meals and enjoy something you like daily
3. Slow your eating down
4. Eat till you are pleasantly full, not overly full (this takes time and practice to re-teach your body)
5. Dont worry about calorie counting at first. Instead pay attention to your portions
Stay Off the Scale, Stay Away from the Mirror
Remember that morbid obesity is naturally connected with low self-esteem. I remember when I had dropped from 335lbs to 255lbs (I later lost much more weight) thanks to boxing and eating the way I was. One day I looked at myself in the mirror and still saw a very very fat person in my eyes (even though I am 6 foot 4). My low self-esteem kicked in and drove depression back into my head. I was impatient and wanted instant gratification (another extreme philosophy that I shouldnt have accepted). I gained 20lbs just from that one episode. Again I had to recover from that hiccup and get the weight back off. Reminding myself that the mirror or the scale didnt matter. I stopped weighing myself. I started supplementing my boxing with weight lifting. I started power lifting again (a hobby I had in and a bit after high school). I began to put muscle back on my body. It was a great feeling
1. Dont obsess about your weight checking it daily (check it once every 2 weeks maybe)
2. Dont look in the mirror and critique yourself every day, youre your own worst critic.
3. Know that the road will be long and hard, never look for instant gratification. You didnt gain all that weight overnight, you will not lose it overnight either
4. Slowly add more activity when you feel the time is right (which should be SLOWLY, you might feel like you can take on the world and add a bunch of activity but you will only burn yourself out)
Overcoming the need for food as a coping mechanism is a very difficult task. I had bumps in the road and its likely that you will also. Remember that the all or none policy is the worst policy that you can have. When you fall of your horse ask yourself why it happened. Find the trigger which caused you to falter and learn to avoid it. LEARN FROM YOUR MISTAKES! You will fall, get up, fall, get up, fall get, up and do it all over again 10 times in your journey. No one who has an eating disorder just goes cold turkey from it and makes changes without having hit a bunch of bumps in the road. If you cannot handle it yourself get help. See a psychologist who specializes in eating disorders. Get a professional to help you set up a diet that will work for your needs. Most importantly, learn to love yourself. Have confidence in yourself. Know that the road is long and hard and have the determination to see it through.
This is one of the toughest articles I have had to write in my career. It brings back a lot of troubling memories of my life as *the fat guy.* It also fills my heart with pride because I made it. I pulled myself out of that shit hole, I made it. Im hoping that by sharing my story and the tips that I have learned thought it, I can help someone else do it too. I have had a lot of clients who have dropped major weight over the years and nothing makes me more prouder as a coach. But, not everyone is fit for a nutritional coach, or at least not yet. They need to learn to get over their disease before they can follow a routine set by someone else.
I hope you enjoyed this heartfelt message from me to you. Youre not fat, youre not ugly, youre just lost my friend. Find yourself so that you can love yourself again. Take the first step, a journey can never start without having taken that first step. Then, put one foot in front of the other over and over again until you reach your destination
I wish you luck in your goals,