I have been in a constant state of hunger for as long as I can remember. Sometimes I feel absolutely starving, actually, panicked and shaky. I’ve also been overweight and obese most of my life, which seems backwards. Why are you hungry if you eat a lot, Hannah? I always thought that I was always hungry because my stomach was bigger than other people’s stomachs, and there might be some truth to that. It takes more calories to fill me up, my stomach is more expanded than that of a person who sits in the “normal” weight zone. But I’ve been really trying to be healthy lately, and have become so frustrated.
Trips to the gym leave me light-headed and shaking. I am not just hungry when I’m done. I’m famished. A fog covers my thoughts, my hands tremble violently on my steering wheel. I get out my nut and fruit bar and it takes all my will power not to demolish it without chewing. I know that chewing better aids digestion, and, thus, weight loss, so I’m working on it. But I’m so hungry that the small bar feels like water running through me.
To top it off, two weeks before my period, I’m always ravenous for sugar. I daydream about it so much that it becomes an obsession. If I don’t sate the urge, I will obsess about it. If I do sate the urge, I’ll feel badly for ruining my good habits. Most women get cravings, but these are not two days before my cycle. It is for two weeks before it hits and it’s consistent. I did some research on why that might be, and it seems that my premenstrual cycle combined with my bi-polar mood disorder is a terrible combination. A combination that creates animal-like eating habits.
Thehealthsite.com lists bipolar disorder and the premenstrual cycle as factors in extreme hunger:
“Mental health disorders such as bipolar disorder and manic depression associated with an imbalance of chemicals in the brain, hormonal deficiencies, and genetic factors can increase your desire for food enormously.”
Unfortunately, I’ve also been diagnosed with anxiety, and, yes, stress and anxiety leads to increased hunger. The same site says this about anxiety and over-eating:
“Persistent stress and anxiety is a definite trigger for excessive hunger. Whenever we are stressed the brain is triggered to produce corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) and adrenaline, which suppress appetite. But if stress persists, the adrenal glands release the hormone cortisol, which increases appetite.”
So what do I do? You might ask. Do you just eat until you’re full? Let me make it clear: I’m very rarely full, so that would be a bad idea. The answer is, I do eat more than I should a lot of the time. But even when I’m eating pretty well, I don’t lose weight quickly. That, my doctor says, is probably because I have a family history of obesity and obesity is genetic. He said my body doesn’t metabolize as well as others because of my genetic make-up. Thanks, chubby genes!
Currently, I’m considered obese, at 5′ 11″ and 215 lbs. Take into consideration that my frame is pretty large. There is such a thing as difference in mass, and I have a sizable bone structure. But even taking that into consideration, my doctor honestly told me that a healthy weight for my frame puts me at 175-180 lbs. That’s 35-40 lbs lighter than my current weight, which, I’ll give myself credit for, is 5 lbs lighter than last month.
Me at 220 lbs (last month):
And I’m never full. I’m so hungry right now, and I just had yogurt and granola, which are supposed to be filling. I’m at such a loss because I now that overeating will lead to more overeating, and it’s worse now that I’m back to working out everyday. I am not just hungry, folks, I’m starving, shaking and tired.
David Ludwig, in a NY Times article, explains the starvation feeling in obese people (and there’s no need to reassure me that I’m not obese. I am medically obese, so it is what it is):
“We think of obesity as a state of excess, but it’s really more akin to a state of starvation. If the fat cells are storing too many calories, the brain doesn’t have access to enough to make sure that metabolism runs properly. So the brain makes us hungry in an attempt to solve that problem, and we overeat and feel better temporarily. But if the fat cells continue to take in too many calories, then we get stuck in this never-ending cycle of overeating and weight gain.”
So, I’m at a point where I am very slowly and painstakingly working not for my figure but for my mental and physical health. My knees aren’t great and I start getting nerve pains in my feet when my weight spikes. I hurt when I get over 220. It’s all so defeating because, unlike people with good mental health and genetics, I am fighting an uphill battle.
And the other day I heard a fit and shorter person at the gym say, “She’s tall, but you can tell she weighs a lot. I’d be rail thin if I was that height.” I usually try not to care what people think about me, but that made me so mad because I doubt she’s ever had to fight with what I fight with. It isn’t about how I look. I actually think I’m pretty damn gorgeous. But is it right to shame someone who is at the gym for her mental and physical health? No, it sucks. That person is fighting a battle you can’t understand. And she often loses it. If you’ve never had the obsession to eat two bags of Oreos and still crave more, than you don’t know what I’m going through.
I’m not doing this to win a beauty contest. I have a husband who loves me and kids to think about. I’m fighting my genetics and my mental health, and I’m doing what I’m doing to stay a little more sane, to fight off depression and rage, to keep my weight from going out of control, yet again. To stave off diabetes. And I’m trying to make it work along with working a job as a college instructor part-time, being a full-time mother and writing two books a year. That’s a lot of shit. And it makes me so angry that people are callous, that people fat shame and call names like we’re in middle school, that women say mean things about other women to make themselves feel more worthy. It makes me sad, but not for me as much as for the chubby and fat girls who don’t have the confidence I do to keep going. I understand why people give up. I really do. I feel like giving up all the time.
I ate too much pizza today after a “starvation” spout. I feel sick now. And so I’m writing to keep myself in check. It was a mistake to overeat. It made me feel worse mentally and physically. But I can do better tonight and tomorrow and I can keep trying to be a healthy version of me. And I’m not doing it to be skinny or for the validation of shallow people. I’m doing it for me and my little family. If I keep reminding myself that my life is at stake, keep looking at my children fighting the same battle, I’ll keep trying to do better everyday.
For all of you going through the same fight, I hope you get some peace, I hope you manage to be healthy and happy and this is all. The above poem is a featured poem on Brazen Bitch about what it is to be a female in our world. I think this battle has a lot to do with that, as well.
H. M. Jones is the author of Monochrome, which delves mental illness, motherhood and depression into a fantastical setting. She has also authored several short stories and is included in a handful of poetry books. Check out what she’s up to at http://www.hmjones.net.
She is currently working on the prequel to Monochrome so that her fans will get to read another book with their book boyfriend Ishmael.