Weight loss. The entirety of North American society is grappling with weight loss. With diet. With exercise. With staying at a healthy weight.
But believe it or not, people with brain injuries struggle even more than the typical North American. We struggle more because we may no longer be able to perceive that one’s stomach is painfully full as long as there is still food on the plate. We struggle more because doctors don’t acknowledge that mental work may preclude exercise. We struggle more because our metabolism has changed, is no longer the one we know, have lived with our whole lives — and again the doctors don’t even notice the change and thus cannot help.
And so when we suffer a brain injury, we have huge fatigue and understandably feel great pain and stress as a result and suddenly begin (or if did it before, increase greatly) ravenous emotional eating because our usual ways of coping with stress are gone, vamoosed with the injury. I used to read, to lose myself in a book, when stressed. Sometimes I’d eat chocolate or ice cream, but small amounts because I had such strong self-control and knew pain in the stomach meant it was very, very full. I also walked, whether to shop at my local stores or just to process what was stressing me. No more. My brain injury kiboshed my reading, my self-control, my local shopping, and my walks. Oh, I tried to read but I’d crack open a book and read and reread the same page and never get lost in it. I tried to walk but fatigue stopped me cold. Because I had so much trouble cooking, a certain someone took over and served me as much as he ate. No more did my plate hold the smaller amount I habitually ate pre-injury. And no more could I stop eating, perceive my stomach was full — not until the plate was clean. I never cleaned my plate pre-injury, much to my mother’s annoyance. And then on top of all this, my pain, physical, emotional, and mental, was great; chocolate offered relief. Good-quality large bars of chocolate. My favourites were Green & Black’s bars, and these days, I vary between them and Camino’s 80% Panama bar (but now I eat only 4 to 6g in a day).
I gained weight.
For whatever reason, I noticed yet didn’t. No doctor noticed enough to guide me back to my normal weight. Friends and family, well, all I’ll say is thank goodness for Oprah.
One could count on Oprah beginning the year with a weight loss push. She filled her January shows with practical advice on how to eat better, exercise well. She was such a cheerleader that her inspirational motivation penetrated even the thick cotton batting surrounding my mind.
I lost weight.
I came close to a decent weight but not my old, lifelong weight. And then I began brain biofeedback. No one, but perhaps fellow people with brain injury and trainers whom I wasn’t in contact with at the time, knew that intense mental work equals no energy left for exercise equals brain screaming for glucose, more than even a university student — because not only does the brain require food for the increased learning but also to keep repairing the brain, to redo the connections the mental work is demanding.
Mental work equals weight gain.
Brain biofeedback was, in a way more intense than studying at university, for it was not only repairing or creating new pathways while I was learning but it was also forcing me to learn a new way to control a computer. I mean, who has controlled a computer game with their brain before? Not me!
I gained weight.
A lot of weight.
I also gained more water. Brain repair is stressful after all, and I also didn’t know that I had exercise intolerance. I looked like the Michelin Man, like a sick person on steroids.
I felt lost. I had no idea how to lose weight. I was eating well, exercising properly, staggering home exhausted after biofeedback, yet gaining weight.
Then biofeedback ended. I had more energy, a much better functioning brain. I got a new GP. He introduced me to his trainer, who told me about brain injury, heart, and exercise intolerance. He cut my exercise down to ten minutes three times a week, and I lost water and weight. The new GP reminded me of the GI Diet. I began counting calories, not only to lose weight but to retrain my brain to eat as much as my stomach can handle not what is on the plate. And I created, refined, and stuck with my hypothalamus fix.
My weight loss is so slow, frozen molasses could move faster. I still have a tendency to gain weight, well, water, if I exercise too much (e.g., walking partway between appointments because, again, the TTC isn’t working) or think too much or, worse of all for me, am subjected to emotional stress. I try to avoid the latter like the plague but sometimes tis impossible.