Without Emotional Eating, I’m Forced to Let My Body Feel

a black and white staircase outdoors shown at an angle
Image by frank_hb / CC BY

I don’t write about it all that often because weight tends to be a touchy or full-on traumatizing matter for people, regardless of your relationship to it, but from 2009-2012, I lost 160 pounds.

The first question people typically ask at this point is “how did you do it?” The answer usually disappoints them. I controlled my portions, ate fewer carbohydrates so that my blood sugar stayed relatively stable, and exercised.¬†That’s it. That’s the big secret.

Or at least that’s what I thought. Because if I go back to the months before I started to diet and lose weight, I see something else new in my life. And that was Lexapro.

Lexapro’s an antidepressant, and more specifically a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. It has another name, too, one used by a dear friend of mine, who also spent some time on it: the “I don’t care pill.”

That was my experience on it, too. Lexapro helped me feel apathy. A lot of things that used to bother me before I took it… well, they suddenly didn’t.

For someone who was battling crippling anxiety, this was unprecedented.

They’d Never Tried Putting Me on Antidepressants

I had gone into taking it with rather low expectations. It was prescribed to me by my primary care provider, a small town physician’s assistant, who came into our visit one day and said, “So I actually got around to reading your chart. And woah.”

She noted the extensive psychiatric history, where I’d been tried on a variety of high-octane meds. You know, the kind they give you when you’re inpatient that make you sleep 18 hours a day and walk around like a zombie for the other 6. And she noted that I wasn’t on them anymore. Nor had I had another admission.

I had come into her office that day because my feet were swollen, and I was alarmed about it. I’d put on a bunch of weight and was sedentary at my job. But as I’d tried to tell her this, to give her a history, I’d gotten choked up and started crying.

“What puzzles me,” she told me, “is that nobody ever tried putting you on antidepressants.” She decided she’d do just that.

What happened next was remarkable. My anxiety dramatically improved. I found myself better able to get out and get some exercise (what she’d recommended).

And while I didn’t shed a bunch of weight immediately, I did find my weight leveling off, as I reached towards comfort foods less and less. Because I just wasn’t getting as upset about little things.

True, I didn’t get as excited about things either. But that was the trade-off for me. I was mellow, if a bit numb. I used to care about everything, and now I cared about very little. This was how I experienced Lexapro (which hits everyone differently; I did have one friend who said it made her psychotic after a doctor prescribed it to her).

And later on, when I did actually decide to change my eating and exercise habits, I found it considerably easier than I had in the past.

I Stopped Taking Antidepressants in Late 2013

The medication wasn’t without its side effects. As I mentioned before, I did find that it dulled my emotions a bit. Left me a little numb.

I also experienced some pretty gnarly sexual side effects on it. It was incredibly difficult to orgasm. Not impossible, but definitely challenging.

Still, my life was much better on it, and I can look back and see that Lexapro eased me through some of the biggest, scariest changes of my life. Through opening my former marriage, relocating cross-country, through dealing with the aftermath of my divorce.

As part of that aftermath, I sought out counseling. And in those sessions, I was able to finally work on developing coping strategies to help me deal with life. Between that and a fantastic new social support system I built in my new home, I came to a point where I decided I’d stop taking the Lexapro and see what happened.

This was in late 2013. I tapered off the medication. There were definite withdrawal symptoms at first, but after the first month or so, things leveled off.

And once they did, I found that I was coping just as well off the medication as I hoped I would.

My Weight Bounces Up and Down

For the most part, I consider myself successful with weight loss. A decade later, and I haven’t come close to my former top weight. But does that mean that I’ve stayed at my low weight? No.

Instead, my weight bounces up and down, depending on what has been going on at the time. I have a number of weight management strategies that I deploy from time to time. I’m sure you’ve heard of all of them. Nothing revolutionary.

It wasn’t until the past few months, however, that I really came to understand why this happens. I didn’t see a pattern before, but now I’m sure if I looked back that it would be quite clear. I eat for emotional reasons.

That’s why it became effortless to lose weight when taking apathy pills. I had nothing to push back against.

And that’s why when my father passed away this spring during the pandemic, I ate and ate. I was seeking comfort, joy, a neurochemical high.

Looking back, I could see that many times I’d try to change what I ate, to game the system so I could scratch that same itch, get that same high, but not store as much fat on my body.

Even though I’d been “successful” with long-term weight loss (because of my good friend, the apathy pill), I had never tackled the underlying cause: I was using food in an attempt to try to gain some control over my feelings.

Letting the Body Feel

After a brief foray into grief eating, I’ve been making sure I eat less and move more the past month or so. And it’s going well.

Well, sorta.

Because I’ve been fully on the wagon. Haven’t been tempted to “cheat” once. And I do seem to be getting results. My clothes are fitting better, and I have more energy. So in that sense, it’s going well.

But in another sense, it’s been living hell. Because without the distraction that emotional eating provides, I’ve been forced to actually let my body feel whatever it is that it’s going to feel. And it’s been a dark spring. So feeling those feelings has been beyond exhausting.

It’s easy to stick with the program I’ve set for myself. But sticking with it means I can’t run away from the pain. Instead, I invite the pain in and let it stay with me.

I’m doing my best not to fully entertain this new guest, however, and I find myself hoping that the pain will get bored and show itself out.

*

Books by Page Turner:

Dealing with Difficult Metamours

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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