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Guest Blog by "Pasta Queen," Jennette Fulda: 4 Tips For Maintaining Your Weight While Suffering From Chronic Pain

Posted Jan 22 2009 6:31pm

Fred Astaire was a great dancer, but as it' s commonly said, his partner Ginger Rogers had to do everything he did backwards and in high heels. I' ve never seen a movie with this dancing duo, but I feel empathy for Ginger Rogers. Four years ago I weighed almost 400 pounds, but lost over half my weight in two years. For the past couple years I' ve been maintaining 90% of that loss, a difficult task in itself, much like Fred Astaire' s dancing. But I am more like Ginger Rogers because I' ve recently been stuck with a trickier task, maintaining that weight loss while suffering from chronic pain.

In February I got a headache which I still have today. The severity of the pain waxes and wanes. Sometimes I hardly notice it as I move through life, like a radio station playing faintly in the background. Other times I can only lie in bed in pain, as if the neighbor' s subwoofer is making the floors vibrate. I' ve consulted dozens of doctors and alternative health care practitioners about my condition, but no one has been able to give me relief as of yet. My drug of choice has never been tequila or Vicodin, it' s been food, available freely without an ID or doctor' s prescription. When faced with a neverending barrage of pain, I turned to the baked goods aisle.

The pleasure I felt while eating a chocolate covered donut or a pint of ice cream would briefly drown out the pain in my head. But when I had to open the box marked "fat clothes" in the closet, I knew this coping mechanism was not sustainable. Instead, I' ve learned some things that have helped me return to weight maintenance despite my chronic pain.

1) Accept that you are capable of doing less
Cut yourself some slack. If you suffer from chronic pain, you must accept that your body cannot do everything that it was previously able to do. When I got my headache, I was training for a half-marathon, writing a blog four times a week, and promoting a book – all while working a full-time job I' d just started. After too many weeks lying on the couch in a dazed haze of pain, I realized I was only doing my body harm.

 If you' re driving through life with the parking brake on, you' re not going to win the Indy 500. You can still get around town, but it will take longer and put more wear on your system. Once I accepted this, I felt less stressed because I was no longer berating myself for not doing everything I wanted to, either in work, life or fitness.

2) Spend your energy and your money wisely
You must spend what energy you do have to your best advantage. While you might be capable of doing less, you are still capable of doing something. My exercise routine had languished after several months of pain. It was hard enough to make myself go for a run when I felt well, but doing it while I wanted to pop my head off like a Barbie doll seemed unattainable.

 I decided I didn' t have the energy to train for a half-marathon again, but I was feeling well enough to go for a 45-minute walk. In comparison to my training routine, walking felt like a pathetic excuse for exercise, but I had to remind myself that some activity was better than none. Depending on the cause of your chronic pain, you can hopefully find a low impact activity such as swimming or biking that can help maintain your weight. Leading an active life will ultimately benefit your health.

I also decided it was worth spending extra money on healthy dinners from the whole foods store to save me the energy required to plan and cook my meals. Fortunately I was in a financial situation where this was reasonable. Don' t be afraid to spend extra money on yourself if you can afford it and it allows you to do the things you really want to do instead. Do you want to keep your money or your life?

3) Get help from others
People who suffer from chronic pain may feel like a burden to others, but most family and friends are happy to help you. They are often frustrated that they cannot do anything to ease your suffering, so they might feel satisfaction by helping you do your shopping or wash your clothes. My mother comes over occasionally to do my dishes and help me clean. My brother has cooked me dinner during particularly painful episodes. While I doubt my brother wants to cook dinner for me every night, there is no shame in asking for help when you need it. This has left me with more energy to take care of myself, leaving me less overwhelmed and less likely to binge for comfort.

4) Take time to take care of yourself
Making your way through the medical system can be a full-time job, one that is frustrating, stressful and that you have to pay the salary for. Still, take the time to seek the medical help you need to find relief. I' ve gone to many doctors and tried acupuncture and massage, which have been somewhat helpful, if not a magical cure. You must be your own advocate in the health care system. Once you are taking the best care of yourself, you are more likely to be able to do what' s necessary to maintain your weight loss.

Depression is common among chronic pain sufferers, so if you are feeling abnormally down, don' t be afraid to ask for anti-depressants or seek therapy. Sometimes these pills can cause weight gain, but their benefits to your mental health most likely outweigh the weight they' ll bring. I know that I would probably gain more weight without anti-depressants than I would with them. Although weight loss happens in your body, the changes you make occur in your head. If your head is not in the game because of your pain or depression, you are less likely to win.

For the past few months I' ve been following my own advice. While my pain has not disappeared like my excess weight did many years ago, I am coping better with my situation. The majority of the weight I gained during the darkest period of my downward spiral is still present on my body. But for the past two months I have not gained any more weight, and I' ve actually started to lose weight again. As I' ve learned how to better manage my pain, I' ve been able to better manage my weight as well. My life has stabilized and I feel less of a need to self-medicate with food.

I do not know what the future holds for me, but weight maintenance is always on my mind, even if it is sometimes overshadowed by the looming figure of pain. All I can do is continue to fight, losing some battles, but hopefully winning the war. And I can do it in high heels, just like Ginger Rogers.

-- Jennette Fulda is the author of Half-Assed: A Weight-Loss Memoir and blogs regularly at her life after the "after" photo.

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