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Why I Weighed 320 Pounds: Overcoming Emotional Anxiety

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How did I gain 150 pounds in 10 years?

The answer was difficult to come to. First, I had to admit my weight was the outcome of choices I made. Next I stopped punishing myself for making those choices. Finally, I dealt with the parallel between food and my emotions.

I was a compulsive eater. On my last binge, I fretted over the negative possibilities of an unanswered text message and consumed the following in less than an hour:

• 1 bag of Pop Corners
• 3 servings of lemon sorbet
• 4 servings of strawberries
• 5 servings of fat-free whipped cream
• 1 tablespoon of chocolate syrup
• 3 servings of ginger snaps

Contrary to my initial thoughts, my obesity was not evidence of over-indulgence in sweets or fats. Those were my vices, not the cause. That is why diet and exercise alone did not work. The extra 150 pounds was directly related to anxiety.

Emotion is irrational, more so in relationships. After I met a cute boy I could carry a conversation with, I welcomed the new rush of feelings. He left me in tears, but by then I was addicted to the initial rush. I wanted another boy -- on my terms. I knew what emotion felt like when it was good and when it was bad. It became my goal to control situations to only feel good. I feared feeling bad. I feared emotional loss. So much so, I developed an anxiety.

I dreaded being short of the love, acceptance, and care that I needed. I became an emotional glutton; I incessantly entered relationships to take the edge off that fear. That was the precursor to my unhealthy relationship with food. Some people use drugs and alcohol to cope. I got new boyfriends and Krispy Kreme donuts.

I binged on relationships. I gorged on unearned gestures of love and feasted on constant communication. I was never satisfied and craved continuous external validation. I rarely gave anything in relationships; I was the taker. My relationships were feast or famine seesaws; while I got more than I needed to feel full, the other person starved. I was greedy. It was an attempt to control situations instead of doing the work to master my emotions. I tried to stave off the feelings of rejection by proactively pairing with men.

Likewise, I overate because if I was full, I wasn't hungry. I parked my feelings in food. It was an easier way to deal with my anxiety around emotional expectations. Food provided safety. Food presented itself as a constant I controlled. However, the sense of control came with a cost. I was overweight; I could not walk up a flight of stairs without losing my breath and I traveled the world needing two seat belts to cover the spread of my belly.

At my heaviest, I was shocked to action by a man who was familiar with my neurosis and still in love. He addressed it head on: "Akela get your life together."

I started slowly. First, I got a therapist and dealt with my anxiety. I discovered the root cause: inadequacy. Though my parents adored me, and I had ample amount of love and support, I was convinced I would never be as pretty, virtuous, or loved by a man as my mother was. She was perfect. Her perfection was confirmed by my father's worship. I was certain that no boy had ever left her. Once I exposed that line of thinking for the lie that it was; I started to overcome my irrational fear of rejection. In time, I stopped eating my feelings by developing healthier coping strategies.

Isolate the Lie
I write down anxious thoughts until the lie of the unfounded fear is exposed and isolated. Then I dismiss it. We believe lies because they are wolves in sheep clothing. If we investigate our thoughts further and uncover the truth; lies do not survive.

Sweat the Small Stuff
I do 20 burpees, crunches, or Russian twists when I start to feel fretful about not having or being enough for love. I catch the feelings when they are small to prevent a wildfire of negativity. Sweat is a natural distraction; focus is turned to how hard my body is working.

Pray More, Eat Less
I pray and meditate on the gifts God has brought into my life. I ask God for help when I feel like I'm drowning in my fears. He never fails to throw me a life preserver.

Define Personal Power
I am the key to overcoming anxiety. I realized that no person or food can make me feel better than myself. I started to take care of myself because I saw the value in my best self.

Play Down Pain
I write down when I am hungry, how long the feeling lasts, and the result. Guess what -- I don't die. I use the natural ebb and flow of weight loss to model management of my emotions. I no longer fear an unpleasant feeling. I write it down and monitor the result. I recognized an initial pang of hunger was necessary to get my body to a place where it was satisfied with only the amount of calories it needs. Now that I am in a place where I'm not scared of starving, I can share.

This is what I learned. Emotions will not always feel good, but I will survive. I also learned that though relationships do not rely on food; they consist of emotional sustenance. Just as there has to be a balance between the energy I consume and expend for my body to live in harmony, relationships must have emotional balance. That's the place where each person knows what the other needs and sends a steady supply of love to top off what's already flowing from within.

Follow my journey at Sanity.

If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.

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