I just got back from a weekend with my great-aunt. She’s my late grandmother’s sister. My dad’s mom and I were incredibly close. Losing her was losing one of the great loves of my life. And having her sister is definitely comforting. Plus, this aunt is so much fun to hang out with, not to mention side-splittingly funny. But going to visit her this weekend turned out to be stressful for me. Because she doesn’t understand about my food issues. And worse, she cares about what I do with my food. And not in a supportive way. I spent my weekend defending myself, justifying the way I eat, and protecting my control over the food.
In case you don’t know, how I keep a handle on my food looks extreme to the outside observer. To me, it is not so extreme. It is not nearly as extreme as the obsession that it alleviates. My eating and body image disorders are grotesque. The things they compelled me to do created misery and insanity. So sure, I no longer get to participate in society’s food rituals. But participating in the society’s rituals in public had me creating my own sick, crazy rituals behind closed doors. When I was fat, I would eat an entire box of cookies and a pint of ice cream in one sitting. Not a day. A sitting. And then go out for more food when that was done. (Yes! More food. No! I was not full. No! I was not sick. Except in the head and heart.) And then I had more scary and destructive rituals when I was a normal weight but still eating compulsively. Drinking castor oil. Abusing laxatives. Making myself throw up. Running 7 miles in the morning and 7 at night, and binge eating in between. So much that I was still gaining weight. Running to the point that I was injuring myself. And then refusing to rest because I had to run off the food that I ate. Or was going to eat. And that’s not the whole list. That’s just a sample of how I harmed and tormented myself, just so you know. I could not stop eating. But I had lost so much weight and I never wanted to be fat again. I cared more about food than I did about my body or my life. Food was my life.
What I have noticed is that the people who have the strongest negative opinions about what I do with my food are the people who have food issues themselves. This aunt had been big when she was younger, and then lost 90 lbs on a well known commercial diet program. She never got “thin” on this program. Or not what I would consider thin. (She got down to a size 12.) But she was able to keep that 90 lbs off through her life. And, as she explained to me, she could still eat anything and do the things that everybody else does.
But here’s the other part. My aunt just got through cancer. Thank God! And after the chemo and radiation, she is now a size 8. And to hear her tell it, being an 8 is the greatest thing that ever happened to her. So why she can’t understand why I do what I do, if only for the sake of having a body I love, is frustrating for me. Of course, I don’t do what I do for the body alone. I do it for my sanity more than anything. But I would be lying if I said the body didn’t have anything to do with it. Having a body that I love, that I’m proud of, rather than ashamed of, is part of staying sane for me.
I kept control of my food while I was with my aunt. I maintained my rigid boundaries no matter what she said or how much of a “pain in the ass” she told me I was. That control is more important than anything else in my life. Literally anything. Since I found my solution, it has always been more important than any person, place or thing. So it is even more important than a 78-year-old, cancer-surviving, generous and hospitable family member’s feelings. Yes! That important! But having to protect myself against someone I love…well, it fucking sucks.
Since I started doing what I do with food, there is a litany of things I commonly hear. Why don’t you just have one? (Because I can’t stop after one.) That’s so inconvenient! I could never do what you do. (That’s ok. You don’t have to.) Don’t you ever wish you could eat like a regular/normal person? (Wishing won’t make it a reality.) Don’t you ever cheat a little? (No.) Don’t you ever take a day off? (No.) Not even for Christmas? (No.) Not even for your birthday? (No.) You’re going to eat all that?!?! (Yes. I eat between a pound and a pound and a half of vegetables at both lunch and dinner.) And my personal favorite…Don’t you have any willpower? The answer to that last one is a resounding NO! No, I have zero power over food.
Writing this right now is making me cry. Because most people don’t understand. They can’t. I’m sick in the extreme. I have no right to expect anyone else to comprehend it. But there is something I have come to expect. And I don’t always get it. Respect. Respect for the deeply personal choices I make about what I put into my body. And when. And how. And how much. And what I can handle. And what I need. For myself!
As I’ve said before, if I lose control of the food to accommodate someone else, they are not going to come into the bathroom with me and hold my hair back while I stick the toothbrush down my throat. They are not going to gain 165 lbs from my inability to stop eating. So I have to admit that, while I love my aunt so much, I dread the thought of going back to visit her. Because I will never bow to her ideas of what I “should” do. And standing my ground to take care of myself is exhausting. And painful. But it’s my own responsibility. And thank God. Because if I left it up to the rest of the world, I would weigh over 300 lbs. And be shamed regularly for not being able to eat just one.