The dream I’m going to report is not pretty. But it is instructive on a topic I’ve been thinking about for some time: my split food personality and how it relates to gaining and losing weight.
I have known that rats are in the house but I’d rather not think about them. Then I see one. It is slow and fat so Lalo-cat is able to pounce on it but I can see he isn’t going to kill it. So I stomp on it with my foot and hold it down, looking for something to kill it with. There is rubble around. I try whopping it with a stick but that isn’t going to work. Then I drop chunks of concrete on its head, my foot still holding down the fat body. That doesn’t work well either. But by the end of the dream the rat is looking sorrier and sorrier, maybe dying a slow death.
I was totally baffled by this dream until my spiritual director read it back to me and asked me to think about the rat as myself. Oh yeah. “Slow and fat.” “Fat body.” That’s the Fatty in me, the one I have been calling “Stuffer.” I had really been hoping to do away with Stuffer once and for all. This dream is about my latest effort to lose weight.
Over the years I have learned to know Stuffer quite well. Stuffer lives in my mouth, not in my stomach. Stuffer gets hungry but not the way the stomach gets hungry. She is tuned into my emotions, not my body. She gets hungry for stimulation when she is bored, company when she is lonely, consolation when she is upset, celebration when she is happy, calm when she is stressed, energy when she is tired. Stuffer tends to address all these needs with food (and drink), although most have nothing to do with food.
Certain foods are especially pleasing to Stuffer-in-the-Mouth. Although she enjoys a hit of carrot cake with cream cheese frosting now and then, she is basically a salty-fatty girl, not a sweets craver. Cheese and crackers, chips and dips, KFC—oh my.
Because Stuffer lives in my mouth she tends to ignore the signals of the stomach until too late. Stuffer has a lot of problems with heartburn.
Stuffer is not only hungry in all these ways; she is also afraid of being hungry. She fears not getting enough to eat so she hesitates to share a restaurant meal. At home she always has seconds, on principle. She fears going to bed hungry. She snacks all evening.
After many months or years of this, Stuffer gets slow and fat, like that rat.
And I get fed up, literally.
I put my foot down (ouch).
And I switch into Healthy Eater mode: Calorie- or point-counting. Portion control. Lots of fruit and veggies. Yada yada. We all know the drill.
After a few weeks in full-time Healthy Eater mode I have all but forgotten about Stuffer. Gone are the cravings, gone the evening snacking, gone the heartburn. Healthy Eater is tuned into the whole digestive tract, not just the mouth. Healthy Eater is more afraid of feeling too full than of going to bed hungry. She looks with horror on large plates of foods glopped with cheesy fat. Because of body awareness, Healthy Eater does a pretty good job of separating emotional ups and downs from eating. She eats when she is hungry and is grateful to be satisfied and no more.
And thus, the Stuffer pounds begin to drop away.
What happens, of course, is a shift in body chemistry as well as body awareness. When you wean yourself off of carby-fatty excess you influence that complex set of hormone signals that suggests what you want to eat, how much, and when. Willpower is involved at the beginning but the need for willpower tapers off as the hormones do their thing. And sometimes the shift is sudden, like flipping a switch. That is very cool. This happened for me on that 3-day juice fast that launched this latest weight-loss campaign, which is progressing nicely and gradually as I continue in Healthy Eater mode, with the Weight Watcher point system keeping me honest.
But my dream was showing me something else that I hadn’t realized before. Which is that all of this involves quite a lot of self-loathing. And that includes both personalities.
While I like being Healthy Eater, I don’t much like her. She is a bit of a weenie, self-righteous and judgmental; a foodie know-it-all who can’t understand why anyone would want to eat those plates piled with cheesy fried stuff; a thinning person who feels superior to all the fatties she sees around her.
And I really don’t like Stuffer. I find her disgusting and pathetic. I want to get rid of her. I, in Healthy Eater mode, would like to hold her down and drop things on her head. Like that poor chubby rat.
Whew. The violent aspect of weight loss?
I resolved to try to make Healthy Eater a little kinder. Try a little tenderness with Stuffer, who is, after all, an emotional gal.
This week at a local restaurant Healthy Eater allowed Stuffer a piece of raspberry cream pie after choosing the chicken noodle soup for herself (both agreed that neither was that good). We have stocked up on treats: Hummus to glop on thin crackers. Dove Promises (dark chocolate, 1 point apiece). Mixed nuts (good protein with the salt and fat). Weight Watchers big latte bars. And Stuffer’s favorite, popcorn—nutrient-free but harmless.
Tonight, while the husband is still out of town, dinner will be a judicious, point-controlled assortment of snacks.