body image · diets · fitness

The power of a pound or two

Content warning: talk about weight loss and body image.

About two weeks ago, I wasn’t feeling so great– less peppy and more draggy walking around and going up the two flights of stairs to my office. By the weekend, I was clammy and nauseated, with abdominal pain on my left side. It didn’t get better, and I found myself reluctantly heading to the hospital emergency department on a Sunday morning.

At the end of five hours there (including lots of testing, waiting around, and generally watching the show which is an ER over the weekend), the doctor wasn’t sure what was wrong, but had a concerned urgency in his tone that I must say I didn’t like. He insisted I go to the GI specialist the next morning.

Long story short, I have a mild-ish case of pancreatitis, with no clear cause. There are some very clear risk factors for it, but I don’t have any of those. I happen to fall into the 20% of cases classified as “misc other.”

Great, I’m officially in the junk drawer of medical causes… Sigh.

It turns out that the main treatment for pancreatitis is not eating food for a while. Three doctors explained the technical details like this: “the pancreas needs to rest”. Well, okay then. Let’s be very quiet. Shhhhh…

I was on a liquid diet for 3 days, transitioning to jello, popsicles, and finally– apple sauce! By day 5, I could have chicken noodle soup. Oh joy! One key feature of this diet is severe restriction of fats. Much fat intake would cause me abdominal pain (I discovered this when I accidentally ate some ramen noodles, which apparently are high in fat. How did I not know this?)

As you can imagine, I soon noticed that I had lost a little weight. I don’t weigh myself, but I could feel the difference in the way my clothes fit.

Despite the medical circumstances and the knowledge that this weight drop is temporary (it’s water weight which will come back when I start eating properly again) I felt a small thrill. Oh boy, weight loss! Oh boy, looser clothing!

I also felt a rush of irrational hope: maybe now, maybe this time I’ll really lose that extra weight I’ve been dragging around. Maybe I can keep this going, and who knows how far I can go?

Yes, it’s understandable that I would have these feelings. I have been unhappy with my body off and on (more on than off) for almost as long as I can remember. This is so sad, and I wish it weren’t true. But it is true.

When I was 13, I had mono. I went from 115 lbs to 105 lbs in a few weeks. Of course this wasn’t good for me. But boy did I feel like I’d gotten this huge gift– a slightly lighter body, which to me looked and felt transformed. Of course it wasn’t transformed– it was undernourished and dehydrated. Over the next month I gained the weight back as I regained my health.

This time I’m paying closer attention, and I’m on to these beliefs– that this sickness-induced weight loss is a sign of what I can/should/will do to change my body weight.

These beliefs are a cheat and a con.

These beliefs are not reflecting anything true about my body. They’re reflecting my continued struggle with body image and self-acceptance.

For the next month or more, I will need to adhere to a low-fat diet. It’s possible that I will experience more weight loss. That’s fine– it won’t harm me to weigh less. What does harm me, though, is the weight I give to these small changes in my body– what meanings they have and what power they wield over my feelings of well being and self image.

These messages I send myself are a cheat and a con. Why? Because I know that my weight goes up and my weight goes down. I am still here and I am still me, in my gloriousness of intelligence, disorganization, enthusiasm, friendliness, beauty, procrastination, athleticism, and vulnerability.

Everything changes. Including weight. I don’t want to be held hostage to fluctuations, regardless of whether they cause panic or glee. So I’m sharing it with you all. Thanks for reading.

12 thoughts on “The power of a pound or two

  1. Oh gosh how scary and unpleasant! I’m sorry this happened, glad they figured out what was going on even if not why. I am familiar with being in the “junk drawer” of causes for some of my conditions….multiple causes, no way to know, or my fave “idiopathic” (which my brain always changes to “idiot-pathic” or “why can’t you figure it out?? the cause is – it just happens sometimes?!”)

    THANK YOU for sharing this. It really resonates. I am sorry you have these ongoing struggles with body image and self-acceptance. I do too, more than I realized until changes in my health pointed them out to me (and continue to do so, sometimes it’s a real battleground in my head). I am grateful for you and everyone else who shares so generously and candidly, as the moments of “I’m not the only one who feels this” while reading are precious and something to hold on to. And your example of self-awareness and labeling the beliefs and messages “a cheat and a con” is on I will try to remember.

    I love this.
    “I am still here and I am still me, in my gloriousness of intelligence, disorganization, enthusiasm, friendliness, beauty, procrastination, athleticism, and vulnerability.

    Everything changes. Including weight. I don’t want to be held hostage to fluctuations, regardless of whether they cause panic or glee. ”

    Sending good thoughts your way.

    1. Thanks so much, MJ. I love your take on “idiopathic”– I’m going to hear “idiot-pathic” from now on! The really good thing about my recent/current experience is that I caught it, I saw it, I recognized it for what it is. And I can thank my relationship with this blog and this community for helping me see this. We’re lucky to have each other here.

      1. That’s an excellent thing! I like your framing it that way – shows progress – you saw it, recognized it…and maybe sooner than in the past? and didn’t allow it to take over. That is something one can be pleased about. Made me think of this lovely IG post by Emily McDowell @emilyonlife – who I found through her fab greeting cards – link to IG post
        (post shows stylized words on a greeting card, black on white):
        Loving yourself is a practice just like yoga. Nobody ever got good at yoga by believing in it. You have to do it. Even when it’s hard. Especially when it’s hard.)

        What you wrote about seeing it & recognizing it reminds me a bit of meditation and mindfulness – the goal is not no thoughts or control of thoughts, but increasing awareness of unhelpful thoughts and dissociating “I am” from the thought (e.g., I am the sky, thoughts are clouds that pass), holding space to note the thought, choose to let it pass or choose one’s action/response. Noting and labeling something unhelpful that I’m thinking (and how it’s making me feel, what my reactive reflex is and holding there) rather than sinking into the unhelpful thought and allowing it to control my behavior/mindset/actions is progress! The thoughts come and go if we don’t attach, and the less reinforcement the unhelpful ones get, the quieter and weaker and less frequent they get. (I read in Jill Bolte Taylor’s terrific A Stroke of Insight that a thought exists for about 90 seconds in our brains IF we don’t reinforce through repetition, rumination, creating narrative, assigning meaning/value. Pema Chodron cited Taylor, which made me go read. Highly rec.) An ongoing practice, which takes effort and at which one can develop skill – but never “done”, like so many things. (oh, the arrival fallacy, I still fight that…there is no there there! ) Good thing I have SO much practice at starting over again LOL multiple times a day, opportunity in every breath and choice.

        Very lucky! It’s a great place and a wonderful group – thanks Sam and Tracy for starting it, and to all who share here. (and hi to any who read but don’t feel comfortable sharing…that’s cool, glad you’re here too)

  2. Thanks for posting on a Wednesday weeks I’m away. Sorry it’s about such a hard thing. My mystery pancreas thing was never resolved but on the bright side it never reappeared. I feel everything you say about the lure of weight loss and “this time.”

    1. I’m glad your pancreas thing never came back. We’ll see what happens with mine. So far, so good. And it was good to post to get this off my chest. Writing about things like this has made them less hard for me; I have the blog to thank for that.

      1. Isn’t that so true? I find if I don’t write about or share these kinds of thoughts they become like secrets and fester. Once they are in the light of day they suddenly seem manageable.

  3. Panic and glee. Yes. Those would describe my own relationship with weight changes too.
    I have a friend who had pancreatitis and suffered a number of attacks. I don’t think he did the diet very well, but he did give up alcohol which helped reduce his episodes. Take care of yourself.

  4. I’m glad you’re on the mend. Pancreatitis sounds unpleasant. Internalized misogyny is sometimes the hardest to overcome, especially when the institutional source of it is still so pervasive.

  5. Those feelings about weight loss are so insidious! I still remember when, as a teenager, I got a nasty stomach bug and (very) temporarily lost 5 or 10 pounds. Even though it was a result of physical illness, I was happy to be briefly thinner and lighter! My own mom (who is intelligent and compassionate in many ways, but who had/probably still has internalized a lot of societal messages about thinness) agreed with me that my weight loss was good. Once I was well again, I gained the weight back within a couple of days and it wasn’t a big deal, thankfully, but it makes me cringe to remember how we both thought that way. (I have never in my life been considered “overweight”, so it was purely a vanity thing.)

    Anyway, enough about me – I’m glad that you found the cause of your pain, and hope that you can feel better (and eat better!) soon. And I hope that you are able to continue to remind yourself that weight fluctuations don’t define you.

  6. This is all so (unfortunately) relatable! My weight has fluctuated greatly in my lifetime, sometimes on purpose and sometimes as a consequence of health issues. I think losing weight due to health problems really helps us see that the usual mindset that leaner = healthier is not reliably true. I suspect many of us use that has a shorthand for explaining an ideal that is really based on other values, which you very eloquently illustrate can be fraught.

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