When the Honeymoon is Over
The honeymoon period. The time period after the surgery, when the weight is coming off without much effort, and you feel like it was the best decision you ever made. The compliments are coming from everyone, you're fine with taking the supplements, the protein shakes, heck, you're even okay with losing some hair – it'll grow back, right?
But what about when you've reached “that” point? The point where the weight loss has slowed. The “head hunger” has started and, well, the “fun” has worn off. Reality sinks in that this “real life.” This is something that you need to keep up with. This is now your...gulp...”everyday” life.
Did you expect to have depression creep in? Or maybe creep back in? Most of us thought this surgery would correct our mood issues, thinking that losing the weight would help get rid of that which was bothering us. So what happened? Why are we sad, frustrated, mad? Why aren't we...well...happy?
A lot of this can be attributed to losing our primary coping tool to deal with depression and stress: mindless consumption of food. We may not have realized it at the time, but food was our comfort, our companion, sometimes the only thing that was there for us when nothing/nobody else was. Now, that support is no longer something we can reach for in hard times to get us through. We are physically and emotionally missing/grieving our former “companion.”
Our coping tool.
Sometimes, our best friend.
So what do we do?
First, we have to look at the physical way food was affecting us. Not just related to weight, but in our brain. Food was giving us satisfaction in a way that was “rewarding” receptors in our brain that control the chemical dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical that makes us feel good. This is the same chemical that is triggered when someone uses drugs or alcohol. Yep, scary thought, huh?
That's why we often hear about “food addiction.” We are literally “feeding” that addiction when we overeat. That's hard to accept, I know.
Second, we have to look at WHY we may be overeating. What thoughts do we have that lead us to seek food as comfort? Are they thoughts about ourselves? Are we thinking that “I'm so fat” or “I shouldn't even try” or maybe even “Why do I even bother?” Sometimes the addiction is so deep, it's hard to identify the thoughts that made the behavior start.
Then it may be more helpful to think about the feelings. What feelings direct us to start overeating? Is it anger? Boredom? Defeat? Do the words or actions of another make us feel “less than” and lead to lowered self worth, thus leading to the desire to overeat?
The concept of looking at Thoughts-Feelings-Behaviors is at the core of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a standard therapeutic method of behavioral therapists. Finding a therapist that can help us figure out the source of how these 3 things work together to lead us on the path to overeating can go a long way toward correcting the behavior. The key to CBT is retraining those thoughts to become more positive, leading to more positive feelings and behaviors.
Often, we get stuck with “ants” - Automatic Negative Thoughts – and they are hard to undo. With the assistance of a therapist that is trained in CBT, particularly one that is familiar with bariatric surgery, we can retrain our brains to think more positively about ourselves, thus leading to be less dependent on food to nurture feelings of happiness.
What kind of “ANTs” do you want to get rid of? Can you think of a chain of Thoughts-Feelings-Behaviors that you would like to change? What would you rather that chain look like instead?