onceafatgirl

Peace is better than chocolate

Archive for the month “March, 2012”

Why the f*** do you care so much about how I eat?

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.

I can see you rolling your eyes at me…

When I was growing up fat, I wanted to be beautiful. (I can understand that to some people, size and beauty do not have anything to do with each other. But I never felt beautiful when I was fat. Nor was I ever treated like I was beautiful.) I thought that being beautiful would solve most, if not all, of my problems. But then, I thought that my problems arose from outside of myself. I thought God, and the world had done me wrong. God by giving me a broken body. The world by judging me for having that body.

When I got control of the food, I became beautiful. I’m pretty, by genetic luck. I sleep well and regularly. I’m present and aware because I’m not high on sugar anymore. I have a nice figure because I eat well, walk a lot, and again, got genetically lucky. Plus I’m confident, which makes me sexy. Basically, I got what I always wanted. And you know what? I still have most of the problems I had when I was eating compulsively. I’m just not fat or crazy anymore. And now I have a whole new problem. Unwanted attention.

This morning I was walking to the train on my way to work. A man coming toward me had been ogling me for a whole block. When he got to me, he literally said, “Damn, I would fuck the shit out of you.” I literally said “blehhhhhgh!” I kept walking. But I was upset. It made me feel gross. And unsafe. It was attention because I’m beautiful and sexy. And I didn’t want it.

The truth is that I love the way I look now. I look in the mirror (most days) and think I’m gorgeous! I love the way I feel now. I love loving my body. I love loving myself in general. I deal with food the way I do for myself. And that’s good. Because what happened to me this morning is exactly the kind of thing that would make me eat a chocolate cake if I did it for anyone else.

Living inside a fortress of fat made me invisible for most of my life. It meant that I didn’t have to know how to reject boys, and eventually men. They were the ones doing the rejecting. I didn’t really understand that girls/women were being liked and pursued by guys they had no interest in. And if you had explained it to me then, I probably would have scoffed at such a “problem”. Oh, poor baby! Too many men like you. Boo hoo. I didn’t know that fat made me feel protected until the fat went away and I was left vulnerable. Yes, being overlooked made me lonely. But there was a safety in that loneliness. No, I wasn’t getting attention from men I was interested in. But I didn’t have strangers making lewd comments about or at me at 8 in the morning either. I didn’t have strange men touch me when I walked down the street. (Yes. That happens to me now. Yes. I throw an unholy fit and publicly shame them. Grab my ass, and you’ll think twice before you do it to another woman. Just so you know.)

I know other women like me. Women who got control of their food, lost a lot of weight, and found out that they were beautiful. Some of them, like me, found strategies for dealing with this unwanted attention. We found a reason to keep the food at bay that had nothing to do with society or people outside of ourselves. But some of them couldn’t handle it. They would rather eat themselves to death. They would rather be eternally lonely. They would rather have the misery of fat and insanity, than the fear of unwanted attention.

For me, it is fear. Fear of not having my person, my body, and my life respected. And it’s a different kind of disrespect than I had for most of my life. Until I was in my late 20s, I was at best, ignored. At worst, humiliated for being unattractive. I am grateful now to be attractive to men I am attracted to. That part is fantastic! But before I got a handle on my eating, it had never occurred to me that if I were attractive in general, all sorts of men would be attracted to me. The ones I liked as well as the ones I didn’t.

With respectful men, it’s both easier and harder to deal with. Easier because I don’t feel threatened. Harder, because I don’t like rejecting people. Especially when they have been genuine and vulnerable. Especially if they’re nice guys. But I had to learn how to say no gently and sweetly. And I did learn how. Because the truth is, attention from any man I am not interested in is unwanted for me. I am not the kind of girl who likes attention for attention’s sake. I got used to being left alone. I had to learn how to be a beautiful woman in the world. And like most things that have to do with male-female relationships, I did not get my education growing up. I got a crash course around 30.

The other thing I don’t like about rejecting men is that there is a shamed fat girl living inside me. And she doesn’t think she’s good enough to reject anybody. She’s got a whole lot of who-do-you-think-you-are going on. It’s sometimes hard for me to remember that I’m not a fat, lying cheater anymore. That I’m kind of a catch now. And there’s also the irrational panic of scarcity. If I reject this one, maybe another one will never come along.  Though rational Kate thinks If you’re not interested, you’re not. You would still not be interested in this one, even if nobody else ever did come along. (I’ll say it helps that I like somebody at the moment. It keeps me from worrying about who is coming along.)

Maybe you’re reading this and scoffing, like I would have. Boo hoo. You’re beautiful now. Life is so hard. But I want to say that this is an actual issue for me. It’s something that I have to deal with day-to-day. Without cake. It’s something that fills me with anxiety. But every time I find myself getting attention I don’t want, that makes me uncomfortable, I have to choose it. I have to accept that it’s a part of my new life. It’s the trade-off. Because being beautiful is merely the byproduct of having a handle on my food. Which I do because it makes me happy. Beauty is the side effect of loving my life.

But here’s where it balances out. When I have my food under control, I can deal with life. I can find peace inside myself. I can get through a difficult situation. I can deal with an uncomfortable feeling. I can manage feeling unsafe. It’s not that I hate being beautiful. Like I said, parts of it are fabulous. I just don’t like everything that comes with it. And it sure as hell is not the magical answer to all my troubles I thought it would be when I was eating compulsively. What I love is being sane and capable. And being able to deal with whatever comes my way. And having the ability to say, “No. You cannot have my number. You cannot walk with me. But I’m flattered. Have a nice day.”

Let’s walla walla down by the mango tree (or not…)

There is an interesting thing that I have noticed in my life. I noticed it before I got control of my food. But since then, it has become more obvious. The more I grow and change in my life, the more the cast of characters in my life changes. People come in. People fall away. And who comes and who goes is hard to predict.

When I was in college, I had a best friend. She was one of my four best friends at the time. But after I left school, she was the only one I stuck with. She and I were incredibly close. Even when we both left Chicago, (her for St. Louis and eventually Charleston, me for New York City), we still kept in close touch. Sometimes she would go off on a long adventure to The Balkans or Africa and we would not be in communication. But when she got back to the US, we always got back in touch. We talked on the phone at least once a week. We did a writing project together. We visited at least once a year. I was the maid of honor in her wedding. I thought we would be together forever. But when I got control of the food, she disappeared. After a long separation, I found her on Facebook and she accepted my friend request. But when I wrote her personal messages, she ignored them. I didn’t understand why. But the longer I have my food under control, the more clear it becomes.

We humans are mirrors for each other. When we look at each other, we see ourselves. The good and the bad. The ugly and the beautiful. If we cannot handle what we see, we have to stop looking. I don’t know what my friend saw that made her look at me differently.  But I had just made a huge commitment to change my life. And clearly something about my new life didn’t work in hers.

There is another friend that I love. She has a beautiful soul and a heart that is filled with incredible love. But I had to stop being in touch with her. When I looked at her I saw her letting people be cruel to her and abuse her. I saw her letting people take advantage of her loving heart and bright, beautiful soul. I had to separate myself from her, because it was too close to the kind of abuse I subjected myself to for years. I had finally started to honor my own life first. And watching her let herself be hurt because she loved people made me angry and uncomfortable. I still love her. But I could not look into that mirror anymore.

This is not about morality. It’s not about being better than or worse than. It’s about what I want in my life and how I want to see the world and myself. It’s about the lessons I have learned and the ones I have yet to learn. Sometimes I have to let go of people. And sometimes people have to let go of me. I’m on my journey. They’re on theirs. It’s not about loving or not loving. It’s not about judgment. It’s about honoring ourselves. It’s about relationships that work, and are workable. Or don’t and aren’t.

I used to think that people came into my life and “raised the bar”. That these people showed up and taught me to be the person I wanted to be. But what I eventually came to understand was that I raised the bar. I made decisions and choices about what worked in my life. Or what didn’t. And people fit into that new vision of my life. Or they didn’t. I am the most important person in my life. And I like it that way. I am the one person in my life I can’t walk away from. No matter where I go, there I am, if you will.

I used to have a lot of judgment around people falling away. I was offended if they left my life. Or I would create some offense in my mind to justify why I had to let someone go. Because how could a person walk away from someone they loved? Wasn’t that wicked and wrong? Wasn’t that a moral issue? But now I can see that it’s not a moral issue. It’s about what works. Or what doesn’t. If your car doesn’t have wheels, it’s not going to work. But that doesn’t make the car evil.

Since my food has been under control, I can see more and more clearly what works for my life. And what doesn’t. But I can also see more and more clearly that we are all just people in the world doing the best we can. My wish for everyone is that they live the best life they can. That they figure out what works for them. And if I don’t fit into that plan, even if I love them, I want to honor that. And I hope that my decisions about what works in my life can be honored. Even if it’s sad. Even if it hurts. Even if it just plain sucks.

So in the immortal words of Bill Murray (or rather, the words of Bruce Ley and Len Blum, as immortalized by Bill Murray)
I love you, and you love me
But you love you, and I love me
So let’s walla walla down by the mango tree.
…Or maybe let’s not.

The God exchange; because the first one didn’t fit

“I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.”  – Susan B. Anthony

This Susan B. Anthony quote is pretty well known. I understand her point. I don’t disagree with it as a social or political commentary. But I have to say, what my God wants me to do rarely coincides with my personal desires. “You have to stop eating sugar,” was not on the top 10 list of things I wanted to be told at 28 years old. But it’s my own fault. I had asked to be saved from misery. (I did not know at the time that I was asking God. I was asking anyone and anything.) But He did not come down and whisk me away to paradise with a new body. (Yes, I refer to God in the masculine. No, I do not believe God is “male”. It’s just easier that way.) He said, “Then stop eating yourself to death.” Followed shortly by “Stop lying.” “Respect other people’s boundaries.” “Honor your commitments.” “Grow the fuck up!” (Yes. God swears. My God does anyway. And has an excellent, and sometimes dark, sense of humor.)

I should maybe explain that the God I have now is not the God I grew up with. The God I grew up with was a mean, spiteful God who required that I give worship by being miserable. If I was enjoying it, whatever it was, God disapproved. He was scary. I was evil. Life was cruel. And that was the way the world worked.

As I got older, God became less frightening, but there was still an unsatisfying disconnection between us. I didn’t know what He wanted from me or for me. I didn’t think that God wanted me to be happy. I thought He wanted me to be “good”. And I wasn’t even sure I knew what that looked like. Plus, “good” never seemed all that appealing. What God wanted for me seemed at worst painful, and at best boring.

I didn’t know how to listen to God growing up. But at that time in my life, I was living in a sugar fog. Sugar is a drug for me. It literally gets me high. And I spent my life copping. I was high all the time. I do not remember most of my childhood and early adult years. I was blackout eating daily. And I was obsessed with food. Thoughts of food took up 90% of my mind 100% of the time. And the other 10% was for trying to navigate my life moment to moment. This involved a lot of lying, cheating and stealing to get by. Mostly to avoid getting into trouble with other people or to get my next fix. I knew I didn’t want to be dishonest, but I didn’t know how to stop. What I didn’t understand was that there was a baseline for all of my dishonesty. It was sugar (and food in general).  Food and dishonesty were inextricably linked. I had never been honest about food. In order to get some integrity, I had to stop lying about my eating.

When I would do something dishonest in my life, it filled me with feelings of guilt. I would numb these feelings with sugar. But I was ashamed of how I ate. And how it made me fat. And how I couldn’t hide how I was eating because it made me fat. But I couldn’t stop. And I didn’t want to admit it. So I would lie about it. (Of course, my body always told on me. But I was so fucked up on sugar all the time, that I always managed to “not know” this.) And dishonesty around food made all other forms of dishonesty seem workable. Even normal. But then I would feel guilty. And ashamed. So I would numb those feelings with more sugar. It was a vicious cycle.

What saved my life at 28 was choosing to put strict boundaries around my eating and then be 100% honest about it. This rigorous honesty about my eating made integrity in my life possible. Integrity in my life made it possible to stay within my food boundaries. It was a virtuous cycle.

So how did I manage to find my way into this virtuous cycle? Well, frankly, it was a miracle. It was a gift from God. I really believe that. But there was work involved. So the practical answer is that I did it by being honest one meal at a time. And by adhering to the rules I had around food one meal at a time. And every meal made the next meal easier. Every time I told the truth about food, it made it easier to tell the truth in my life.

And the other thing that made it easier, was that every time I kept integrity around my food, I felt like God was proud of me. I knew that I was doing the right thing. When I was eating sugar, there was no room in my head for God. There was no room for listening for divine inspiration. There was no room for hope or dreams or love. But when I stopped eating sugar, and got control of my compulsive eating, I found that I had all of this room in my head. First, it took about a year and a half of no sugar for my mind to clear. (Yes. It took that long.) But then I looked up and found that I had all this life in my life. And “good” finally had a meaning. It was not boring at all. Or painful. It was just about integrity. It was just about being honest.

Then all of a sudden, I started to realize that God wanted me to have a great life. Not an ok life. A fantastic one! That once I had a clear head, I could hear God. And He wants me to be happy. Really happy. And free. He wants me to have all of the things I thought the God of my childhood didn’t want me to have. My God wants me to have fun! And love! He wants me to love my body. And my mind. And my life. He wants me to laugh and sing. No, He doesn’t tell me what I want to hear. He tells me what I need to know to have a beautiful life. I’m starting to realize that God wants a better life for me than I want for myself. And I’m interested in taking Him up on that.

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