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The Fear of Gaining Weight

A monologue about a struggle with food.

by Chloe Barron
Source: by Chloe Barron

This is a paraphrased piece from a disguised client who has given me permission to post her story. Her narrative speaks for the sequestered struggle of several people I have known or treated. Sometimes we can heal, at least a little, through telling or reading a story in which we can recognize ourselves.

“I know it is irrational but a five-pound weight gain sends me over the edge. I do not think it is just the pounds, though my pants don’t fit and I can see bulges. I look in the mirror and I try to tell myself it isn’t there or else I am so critical and depressed that I do not want to get in the shower or be exposed to myself in any way. It’s like a relapse.

"If I am strict with increasing vegetables, eating no carbs, and exercising, I feel good about myself. Not in a vain way but in an acceptable way. But then when it is dark and cold out or rainy, I just lose my motivation to do things. I eat bites of this and that. Bites become more bites and suddenly I feel out of control. Then I can think of nothing else but getting rid of that fat but I can‘t restrain.

"It is as if once you blow it, you might as well keep going, and it is awful but I cannot help it. I just wish I did not deal with stress this way. Maybe it is not even stress. Maybe it is just lack of self-discipline. Or bad breeding.

"The women in my family are all overweight. I was too for a while and then lost it. Most of it. Though there was a lot of 'Oh, you are beautiful the way you are and blah, blah,' I never felt that. The world judges you. Even if they are saying it is okay, they are seeing distortion in the human figure. The lines are wrong when the weight is on.

"Honestly, I do not think it is the weight loss that removes my depression but rather having control. It feels empowering.

"As a kid, everything was out of control. My parents were well-intended but they couldn’t help it if they did not love one another or if a kid has problems or they can’t stop them from getting arrested or drinking or whatever.

"I had four siblings, three of whom were insane — in jail, in a psych ward, on the street. My Dad had four cognacs a night, reading the paper and drifting away and Mom found every reason to not be home. I get it, but well I guess some parents just can’t be parents even if they are good at other things. Or maybe they can, but some kids are just a tour de force and cannot be controlled.

"I tried to separate myself from all of this and just do my own thing but I never get rid of that feeling of inner havoc. That is the feeling I have with the weight; that a kind of monster is returning within me, rising up and I cannot beat it or control it or get rid of it

"I wish I could be rational and think, you gain a few, lose a few. Off track? Get back on. What is the big deal?

"Everyone has to be mindful about weight for health reasons. I think I look okay to others, but when I can see the thigh and stomach expansion in my bedroom mirror, I just want to curl up and not go out or see anyone because I feel this inner grossness and shame and do not want to be seen.

"It is like being overtaken. Maybe you think it is vain or crazy or stupid and you think there are more important things to think about, which there are, but when I gain this weight, it takes over my mind.

"Magazines are all about fattening recipes and how to diet. It doesn’t help. I know that when I cook, I eat less. I have learned to be a little hungry. I see it as a kind of skill to not gratify immediately and know you will live. You get better at it.

"I sit a lot for work now, whereas I used to be out walking more.

"Some actress had a t-shirt long ago that said something like ‘Eat Less’ and she was pilloried as if she was encouraging deprivation or criticizing being overweight. She was helping people realize that they can have a sense of control, that they do not have to be pawns of temptations that make them feel badly about themselves.

"Eat less, eat different, eat veggies or plants or whatever it is most of the time. Find your own times of day you can live with a little hunger or find healthy or un-fattening foods that you actually love.

"I think that living with rules and restrictions can make you weirdly happy. It isn’t about starvation; it is about nurturing the soul and body at the same time with useful thoughts and healthy foods of your own choosing. Saints, ascetics, monks, etc, do not stuff themselves. I am telling you because I see this, but it is really hard to do it."

Hippocrates said, "Food is medicine." It is not just what you eat, but when, how and with whom you eat that influences health. Understanding one's psychological struggles with food combined with knowing the ins and outs of nutrition can be a form of preventive medicine. Tulane Medical School has an innovative culinary program that involves education and cooking.