Why I’m at a weight plateau (aka deep personal thoughts, TMI!)

Picture of Dr. Jen Kerns

Dr. Jen Kerns

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted. I’ve been busy at the hospital, with coach training, and of course, carving pumpkins with Graham! Halloween is approaching, and I’m curious to see whether I’ll eat some sweets in the coming week or two. For now, I can report that my weight has been essentially the same for about 4 months now, with an occasional gain of a pound or two after I eat sugar or salt and then a drift back down to just over 150 pounds.

I’m digging deep into my thoughts and feelings these days. Why, despite my best intentions, do I continue to grab extra servings of fruit I hadn’t planned for, clean my entire plate even though I’m plenty satisfied halfway through a meal (or start a meal when I’m not even physically hungry), and have occasional days when I eat unplanned popcorn, sweets, and a couple mai tais? The good news is, when I do what I’m doing now, I can maintain my weight at the upper end of a normal BMI. The bad news is, I will have to change what I’m doing to achieve more weight loss. I know I am overeating because I am eating when I am not hungry, and continuing to eat after I’m full. I know that if I just ate when I’m hungry and stopped when I’m satisfied, and ate foods that are nourishing and not addictive, that I would get to 135 pounds.

My intention is to not respond to cravings, to just let the urge to eat be in my body. To “surf the urge,” as I discussed in detail in my most recent post. But I’m not doing it, and I am starting to realize that I have a lot of negative self talk running through my brain. A LOT. I was never aware of it until my coach said something last year about how if we aren’t able to sit with our feelings and urges, then we probably have some sense of deep self loathing there that we haven’t uncovered. I thought she was completely misguided. I thought, “I think I’m awesome – I’ve lost a ton of weight, I have a successful professional career, I have an amazing husband and perfect son. I don’t have self loathing. She’s out of her mind.”

Until then, I’d been spending all of my self reflection on superficial things like, “I feel overwhelmed with my to do list and I’m escaping that stress by eating – how can I tackle that?” Or, “every afternoon/evening I feel the urge to eat when I’m multitasking with my demanding toddler and chores at home right after expending all of my mental energy all day as a doctor – so I eat because I am depleted and I want to feel better. How can I tackle that?” But at one point I found myself thinking negative thoughts about my mom, who was living with us due to her Alzheimer’s. I would get super upset if she hovered around me while I was working in the kitchen, wishing she’d leave so I could have some alone time. I’d become enraged when she did something to make my life harder, feeling like I was already taxed with the toddler and the doctor job. And I caught myself thinking that I was a horrible selfish person for wishing she was gone.

OHHHHHH. There’s the self loathing my coach was talking about!

Since then, I’ve uncovered a whole slew of thoughts I think about myself, and I’ve realized that I incorporated all of the unkind words that were ever said to me as a young fat girl into my self identity. For example, a boy named Josh called me a lazy bum on my very first day at a new school in 6th grade, when I was already feeling super anxious about being an outsider and longing to fit in. And to this day, I view myself as lazy, as lacking grit, as completely incapable of doing hard things. Every comment about my weight as I grew into a teenager was incorporated deep into my identity – a boy named Justin passing me in a stairwell in middle school and sneering, “so disgusting – you look pregnant,” or my 9th grade crush Doug poking my calf in science class and exclaiming, “wow! You actually have muscle in there!” My developing adolescent brain constantly scanned my universe looking for more evidence that I was fat, disgusting, unacceptable. That’s what brains do, they scan for problems. It kept us alive as a species by allowing us to problem solve and survive predators, survive weather catastrophes. But my brain — my brain didn’t have predators to worry about, so it has spent the last 40 years focusing on what IS wrong: how I am not good enough.

My only sense of self worth came from the praise I received for intellectual accomplishments. To this day, I use career success or weight loss success as the barometer for my worthiness. And right now, I’m beating myself up for being unable to lose the last 15 pounds. I have come to believe that these deeply sad and judgmental thoughts and feelings I had hidden in my subconscious have been driving me to overeat.  My brain learned as a baby that sugar made me feel better, and the very tincture to my pain became the cause of my pain. Feeling badly led to eating sweets to feel better, which led to more weight gain and even more emotional pain, and so on.

I’d been standing in a stream, using food to push down emotion and feel better temporarily. But now that I’m trying to take my food – my buffer, my wubbie – away, it’s leaving my emotions raw. Now I’m standing in muddy water. I’ve stirred up the emotions deep inside, and suddenly recognize how horribly I think of myself, yet I haven’t yet been able to change those thoughts, misguided though I recognize they are! Yes, I intellectually see that getting through medical school and residency, that losing 150 pounds is proof that I can do hard things, that I’m not lazy- yet my brain keeps telling me I’m lazy anyway. I think – hope – that if I keep recognizing these thoughts as simply thoughts, not facts, and allow the painful feelings to come out and just be in my body instead of washing them downstream with ice cream and mai tais, that the muddy water will eventually settle. That I’ll be able to see to the bottom of a clear stream one day, and maybe won’t feel so compelled to eat instead of to feel. I’m working on it every day now, and it will take as long as it takes. I believe that white knuckling on a diet, or taking weight loss medications, or bariatric surgery, will only get us so far. And until we learn not to eat food for reasons other than fueling our bodies, we will always struggle with weight. I want so much to become a person who can let myself feel anxious or angry or joyful without using food to quell or bolster the emotions. I believe I can do it, even if it takes me a while. After all, I’ve spent 40 years using food for emotional reasons, so I can’t expect that habit to just go away in a matter of weeks just because I want it to. But awareness is the first step in any habit change effort, and boy am I aware right now. ❤️

Project 135 stats:

Starting weight: 159.6
Week 1: 157.2
Week 2: 155.6
Week 3: 155.4
Week 4: 153.8
Week 5: 151.0
Week 6: 152.8
Week 7: ? (Dad’s death)
Week 8: 150.8
Week 9: 152.6
Week 10: 154.2
Week 11: 152.6
Week 12: 150.8
Week 13: 150.6
Week 14: 151.6
Week 15: 152.4
Week 16: 152.4
Week 17: 155.2 (sugar binges)
Week 18: 154.4
Week 19: 153.8
Week 20: 151.2
Week 21: 150.2
Week 22: 150.6
Week 23: 151.0
Week 24: 150.6

Total weight loss: 9 pounds (5.6%)

With love,




2 Responses

  1. This is huge searching and a great feat Jen – to do this as a busy working mom AND DURING A SOUL-SUCKING PANDEMIC. Be great to yourself and you know better than anyone – even 9 pounds is outstanding! Keep doing hard things and inspiring the rest of us.

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