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March 4, 2013 / Mark Kerrigan

The Reason Survivors Have a Weight Problem

brain lobesThis past weekend, I heard on the radio that people associate food with feelings, which is no surprise for anyone who knows the feeling they get when they eat Mamma’s Meatloaf recipe years after you moved out of the house. There was a guest who owned a restaurant which specializes in comfort food and markets to people who are wanting to recapture that feeling. And the guest was talking about how they weren’t expecting to have “regulars” who come in every day or even every week, but rather once a month or so. She kept returning to the feeling that people could get from eating the foods they served at her store–the feeling of being loved, no matter how unloved they felt.

“Comfort food,” she said, “provides a feeling of unconditional love.” She further went to say that problems occur when people come to the restaurant too often or continue to eat to excess. It was this statement that got me thinking, survivors of TBI have that problem–we often fail to know when to stop. I remember when I was in the neuro rehab in Arkansas, I remember going out to eat once and eating so much that on the swervy, curvy ride home, I got carsick and actually vomited at bit. At other times, I was not the one who got sick. It was someone else in the Suburban.

Now, having been in a coma for a month and being fed only through a tube in my nose, the first time I ate a meal of real food at Baptist Rehab in Nashville, Tenn., I devoured two helpings. But I didn’t get sick, I don’t know why. The following weekend, as a treat for me, my parents went to my all-time favorite restaurant, Houston’s, and ordered me my all-time favorite burger–the Hickory Burger!

When they brought it back to the rehab, I was thrilled to have it and within only minutes had consumed the entire meal. I got sick from that, probably due to the fact that I had been eating extremely bland food, and my stomach wasn’t accustomed to having slightly greasy, spicy food.

I’ve always thought the reason BI survivors had the propensity to overeat was because of a problem with the hypothalamus, since the hypothalamus is the glad which is responsible for the sensation of hunger, in addition to performing many other, very important roles. However, it was a surprise to realize that another possible reason is because of the feelings we get when we eat. I mean, duh, right? I guess I thought comfort food was only for people who didn’t have BIs.

It makes perfect sense, though. I, for one, felt guilty for putting my family through all the worry and stress–not to mention how much burger&friesmoney it cost to keep me alive for a month, and that was before I even started my recovery. Maybe I couldn’t verbalize it, but I think I did feel incredibly guilty and unworthy of the unconditional love from my family. Therefore, I turned to food. It gave me a good feeling, and I didn’t have to worry about treating it badly–hell I was gonna eat it!

So I ate, and when I was sated, I ate some more, until I was to the point I was almost, but not quite, sick. And I gained weight. And more weight. And now look at me, I’m 250-ish pounds, and I’m 5’8″. When I go to get on my Wii-Fit balance board to weigh, I literally think I can hear it trying to screw up its courage and prepare itself for the shock. Hahaha.

I don’t have any empirical evidence or experts to say, “This is the reason survivors overeat,” but after 23 years and 11 months, I feel I’m pretty much an expert about BI and what it has done to this survivor.



Leave a Comment
  1. Julie Hance / Sep 12 2013 11:50 am

    Received a traumatic head injury in April 2000 and I don’t have this problem. Guess it may be due to having no smell since the accident, which then effects my taste. I have tried so many of my used to be favourite foods, to find they taste so different or no at all.


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