Sunday, April 5, 2009

He really did operate on my brain

A common phrase in the bariatric surgery world is "they operate on your stomach, not your brain." The idea being that WLS can give you some physical tools to help in your journey, but you have to figure out your mental food issues yourself.

But I feel like Dr. Awesome did operate on my brain. Because I went into the operation with a Fat Brain and I came out with a Thin Brain.

What's a Fat Brain, you ask? A Fat Brain is a brain that is driven to eat and not move. It looks at brownies (or chips or whatever your trigger food is) and tells you "Have it. Doesn't it look sooooooo good? Thin people eat brownies (or chips or whatever). You don't want to deprive yourself or you'll just binge later." Then, after you eat the brownie (or chips or whatever), you end up going back in an hour or two for more, because Fat Brain can never be satisfied. Then Fat Brain talks you out of going to the gym because you feel kind of blah and "maybe you're coming down with something."

Thin Brain looks at food as fuel and movement as life-giving. The brownie might still look good, but it might look dry. If it looks dry, Thin Brain isn't going to tell you to eat it. Thin Brain knows that some day a good brownie will come along and it can wait. Or maybe Thin Brain isn't hungry and figures there will be more brownies some other time. Or maybe Thin Brain decides it's okay to eat it since it's been a long time since you had dessert of any kind, but then Thin Brain reminds you to go the gym because you've been feeling sluggish and a good workout will give you your energy back and burn off some of those brownie calories to boot.

Of course, intellectually, I know that it's ghrelin that made those brownies -- that I am not even sure I like any more -- look so incredibly good. It's probably some other hormone we haven't discovered yet that controls wanting to move. But it has to be related to ghrelin somehow, so I'll give ghrelin credit for that too.

So Dr. Awesome removed the ghrelin in my stomach and it's like a switch has been flipped in my brain. As a result, I’ve changed my image of myself and my accompanying mental self-talk.

Now I talk to myself like an athlete and a bit of a health nut. When I’m in a group setting and Fat Brain is whispering “sit down, you feel tired”, Thin Brain says firmly that “athletes feel restless after sitting all day at work and need to move around.” When Fat Brain wants to eat a cupcake, Thin Brain says “my body’s a temple and I’m not putting THAT into it.” Because Thin Brain knows that cupcakes are full of processed flour and sugar and eating those things makes MacMadame feel gross.

This is not to say that I don't sometimes made bad choices or that Fat Brain is dead forever. And I do give myself some credit. I know that your mental images and your self-talk are powerful, so I work on them as much as I work on my body and my eating.

But the balance of power shifted with my surgery in a way it's never shifted for me when I lost weight before. And I felt a need to acknowledge that and not pretend to be a Super Hero with special powers other people haven't got.
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