onceafatgirl

Peace is better than chocolate

Archive for the month “January, 2014”

I won’t, and you can’t make me! (AKA, I will, and you can’t stop me!)

If you don’t know me personally, it may surprise you to learn that I do not have a college degree. After all, I am a highly intelligent, critical thinker with an excellent grasp of the English language, a knack for clearly expressing ideas, and a decided lack of modesty.

I was discussing this not too long ago with my (Harvard PhD, university professor, and scholar) dad. He said that he heard a man on a news and opinion program say that having a college degree basically means 2 things: 1) That you were smart enough at the age of 18 to get accepted into college, and 2) that you were willing to conform to the rules of society enough to get the piece of paper. And my dad said it finally made sense to him why I dropped out of college. Because I have never been one to conform for the sake of conforming.

Then a few weeks ago, my boyfriend and I were sitting at the kitchen table and he said that when we were friends as teenagers, he had been fascinated by the fact that I “just never gave a f*** what anybody else thought.” (He meant it as a compliment.)

To a certain extent, this surprises me to hear about myself. I am used to thinking of myself as a people-pleaser. I just really wanted you to like me. And I have been dealing with my “Good Girl” since I got control of my eating. Learning to keep an eye on her. Making sure I don’t let her make any decisions. (She has terrible judgment.)

But I can also see what my dad and my boyfriend were seeing in me. It’s true, I have never been one to do as I am told without question. Partially because I have generally had a very strong sense of what I wanted. And enough willfulness to insist that I would make my own decisions, right or wrong.

Yes, many many of them turned out to be wrong. But mine.

But then when I look at giving up sugar, I can see what a gift it has been to be a non-conformist. And that my willingness to flout convention was one less obstacle to my sanity around food.

Because for whatever reason, people are very uncomfortable with those of us who don’t eat in a way they consider “normal” or “acceptable.” I am sure vegetarians, vegans and everyone else who has their own self-inflicted boundaries around food, have an experience of this. People behave as if they have a vested interest in what I put into my body. And what I don’t. And they often give unsolicited opinions and/or advice (both of which I consider rude and insulting.) They often try to disguise it as care and worry. They often use pointed questions to challenge my choices. As if I will suddenly be struck enlightened by their intrusiveness.

When I first put boundaries around my food, before I knew that seemingly everyone in the whole world was going to have something to say about it, it never occurred to me to worry about what people would think of my eating habits. I had never cared what people thought before and I was not about to start now that my life, health and sanity were hanging in the balance.

But I can see now that a lot of people who want to put boundaries around their eating do care. That before they can save their own lives, they have to get over their fear of disappointing society. Their fear of embarrassing their loved ones. Their fear of being singled out and shamed.

Being a non-conformist means that I do not feel compelled to answer other people’s questions. I do not feel the need to explain or justify myself. Being a non-conformist means that I can just say no. Or it’s none of your business. Or I can say nothing. I don’t owe society anything when it comes to the way I eat.

As I have mentioned before, I don’t think we humans have a lot of “either/or” to us. I think we are a lot of “and”. And I definitely have both “Good Girl” and non-conformist aspects to me. And my non-conformist has not, in retrospect, always led to me making the best, or wisest decisions. But I love my non-conformist nature. I love that it allows me to live a life I love. Because it lets me look for what I love without reference to how the world at large will take it. And it lets me be true to myself without guilt. And it lets me like myself as I am, rather than pine to be what I am told to be.

With all due respect to FDR, I fear food more than I fear fear.

I had some high anxiety days this week. And while I am sure that my life would be more comfortable if I didn’t have moments of…well, discomfort…I won’t complain. It turns out that’s just not the way life goes. For anybody. And it was good to be reminded of some things.

Like that it’s nice to not only be able to feel, but also to be able to accurately recognize feelings. To be able to name them. I can say, “Hey! I’m feeling a little anxious today.” Which I couldn’t do when I was eating compulsively. Because I would eat my feelings before I knew what they were. I wouldn’t even recognize that I was having feelings, because everything masqueraded as hunger. I was well into adulthood before I realized that my yearning for food was really just yearning to get high. I just wanted to numb out.

When I stopped eating sugar and carbohydrates, and put boundaries around my food, one of the rules I took on was eating 3 meals a day. They are big, abundant, filling, and healthy meals. But there are exactly 3 of them. I do not snack. I do not save a little of a meal and put it aside for later. I do not graze. Three times a day, it is time for eating. And the rest of the time, it is not. The rest of the time it is time to do something else.

This is important because I cannot eat my feelings anymore. I may get to escape them for 20 minutes to an hour at any given meal time. But when dinner is done, and especially since there is no sugar in my meals to drug me, there is no getting away from myself. And that has proven to be a blessing.

Because it happens that you don’t get to pick and choose your feelings. You don’t get to feel and enjoy fun, joy and camaraderie if you insist on stuffing pain, anxiety and unhappiness.

It was actually something that surprised me when I stopped eating sugar. I found that I often wanted to eat because my happiness or excitement was overwhelming. It wasn’t just “bad” feelings that I found uncomfortable, it was all feelings.

So when I first stopped eating sugar and started only eating 3 times a day, I would think that I was hungry, but I wouldn’t eat. Because it wasn’t time. And then that hunger would grow and change. First into discomfort, and then into a feeling. A feeling I could grasp and name.

And none of those feelings ever killed me. Look! I’m still here! Breathing, even! And no longer afraid to feel things. Even yucky things. Like shame and jealousy and anger and embarrassment. I may not like those feelings, but I don’t have to fear them either. They always turn out to be paper tigers. Where as the food, the sugar and the constant eating and the obsession that I used to use to avoid those feelings, was killing me. Both physically and emotionally.

There is one other thing that my anxiety this week has me grateful for. It was good to remember that every feeling doesn’t necessarily mean anything.

Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes feelings mean something. Many of my less pleasurable feelings have been signs that I needed to make some changes in my life.

But I don’t think I was learning any major life lessons this week. There was nothing in particular that triggered my mild panic. I don’t think recreational crocheting should make my heart race and fill me with dread. Which is what I was doing when I started to feel the impending doom. I think I am a person with a naturally anxious disposition. And it doesn’t mean anything about me.

I used to think that everything was a sign. That everything had a deeper, hidden meaning. That I was a puzzle that I was supposed to solve.

Now I suppose that may be true. But I stopped trying to solve the puzzle that is Kate. I stopped worrying about the hidden meaning. I figure that hormones and brain chemicals have a lot to do with my reactions to day to day experiences. That living in a body is complicated and strange no matter how healthy, sane, and well-balanced you are. And that if there is a major life lesson to learn, I will certainly learn it. It’s my experience that life is a strict schoolmaster. It doesn’t just let you off the hook. If there’s a lesson, there’s a test. And you will have to take that test as many times as it takes for you to ace it.

So for today I am grateful that my anxiety has passed. But more, that I know when I am afraid. And that I know better than to fear fear.

I write every week because I write every week

Oy vey, I did not want to write a blog this week.

No, there is no problem. All is perfectly lovely. In fact, I did not want to write a post this week because there are other things I would rather be doing.

I am working on a super fun crochet project right now. The closest thing to clothes I have ever made. And it is going really well!

And I have to read and critique a writing sample. Which I want to do for several reasons. To read something new. To help out a friend. To show gratitude for the honor of being thought worthy of such a request. But really, I have to because I said I would. There was a time in my life that I would have said I would do it, and would not have followed through. And I would have shrugged that off, like breaking my word was not a big deal.

Plus there are plenty of things to do around the house. I managed to change the sheets, straighten up the kitchen and load and run the dishwasher. But there is always laundry, and cooking that could get done.

So why am I posting this, albeit short and late, offering tonight?

The short and simple answer is because it’s what I do.

The longer answer, though still pretty darn simple, is that I have this delicious, rich, full life, filled with too many amazing options and opportunities to get to them all, because I keep commitments. Like posting a blog every week.

I have other commitments too. Meditation every morning. Flossing every day. Drinking 64 oz. of water a day. Just to name a few. And of course, the most important is keeping my eating disorders under control by putting boundaries around my eating. No matter what.

As with all promises, it is not really about making these commitments, but about keeping them. I am sure I made them to look and feel better. But I could think of a million reasons on any given day not to do any one of these things. (Well, not the food one. I’m pretty clear that there is never a reason to eat outside of my boundaries…) But I do them anyway.

I don’t do them for my health. I don’t even do them for vanity (which I personally find to be the great motivator.) I do them because I do them. I do them because they are what I do. That is the thing about commitment for me. I don’t keep it for a “reason.” If I did, it wouldn’t be a commitment. If I needed a reason, then there could be a reason not to. And then I’d never floss, or drink water.

Honoring my word, doing what I say I’m going to do, makes my life better. I don’t even know why. I just know that when I make and keep promises, my life gets bigger and better.

So here it is. My commitment to post a blog this week. Hey, I never said it had to be genius. Just done. Amen.

My head is midnight in a dangerous neighborhood

Well, there’s another year gone. And I don’t mean 2013. Though, that too, obviously.

January 2nd is my double anniversary. 8 years ago I stopped eating sugar, grains and starches and put boundaries around my eating. And 2 years ago I started writing this blog. So there are 2 things I want to talk about. But the theme is getting out of my head.

First, writing. And this blog. And how my life has seemed to change at warp speed since I started writing it.

I love the saying “I’m only as sick as my secrets.” Secrets are burdens. They are shame. They have this magic power. But it’s black magic. Dark magic. Secrets take my worries and doubts and fears, and amplify them. Secrets limit my options and play every story through to the worst possible conclusion. Secrets make the worst possible conclusion the only possible conclusion. Secrets make the thoughts that live in my head as real and inescapable as the chair I’m sitting on to write this. Secrets cause me to manifest the very things I am most terrified of. I know this. I have known this for a long time.

But then 2 years ago I started this blog. And I started to realize that there have been things that have lived in my head, and festered and swelled, that I didn’t even think of as secrets. That I didn’t know had grown toxic. Septic. I thought they were simply things I would rather not say out loud.

But it is, of course, the saying out loud that shifts everything. That gives me proper perspective and makes everything right-sized again. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

I was an actor for a while. And a singer. I could get up on stage in front of a packed theater and not think twice about being nervous. But my knees often shake if I go up to sing karaoke in a neighborhood bar. In other words, I am better in front of a big crowd.

This blog has been about performing in front of a big crowd. I’m not telling my family or my friends something (though they are reading it too), I am telling nameless, faceless strangers.

Two years ago I made a decision. That I would tell a bunch of nameless, faceless strangers a bunch of things I would rather not say out loud. And the course of my life has shifted more drastically than I could ever have imagined. I have changed the way I thought about myself, my love, and my worth. And I have continually taken risks that I never would have taken on December 31, 2011. And the rewards have been beyond my wildest dreams. Love, adventure, travel, freedom, security. That is what has happened just from getting the ideas out of my head and on a page.

But then there’s 8 years of dealing with the food. And the importance of the actual boundaries. And what they mean in practical terms.

See there’s this thing that I have heard that upsets me deeply. That it is “normal” for people with eating disorders to have relapses. (I’m looking at you, “Psychology Today.”) And I have even heard that it is inevitable. And it upsets me for 2 reasons. The first is for myself. It fills me with a sense of fear and dread. What don’t I know that will send me into a tail-spin? What is my future going to be like if I relapse? Will I lose everything? My self-respect? My relationship? Not to mention the body…

But then I also fear that hearing that will give people who are suffering from eating disorders a serious case of the f***-its. I don’t want to spread the message that it’s normal or inevitable to relapse into bingeing or purging. I want to spread the message that there are ways to keep your eating under control. That while I don’t believe there is a cure for eating disorders, there is hope. That there are ways to keep them on a short leash.

And now, I’m not dead yet, so I don’t know what will happen in the future, but for 8 consecutive years, I have maintained control over my eating. And I am very much interested in continuing this streak. I do not want to go into relapse. And I work every day, in small but significant ways, to remember that I have eating disorders, and to renew my commitment to keep them under control.

When I hear that relapse is normal, and I start to feel anxious and frightened about the unforeseeable future and what will happen to me “when” I have a relapse, I remember that I have boundaries around my eating. That one meal at a time, I can maintain those boundaries. That people have maintained boundaries around their eating for multiple decades. That I don’t have to believe everything I read about eating disorders. Even if it comes from a respected, major journal.

My boundaries are not wishy-washy concepts and ideas about “moderation” and “satisfaction.” I’m talking about clearly defined rules. I’m talking about definitions. I’m talking about quantifiable, measurable, and specific. I am either within my boundaries or I am not. There are very few times when I have to “use my judgment” to figure out if something is within my boundaries. There are times, but they are rare. And I have a friend I get to ask if I feel uncomfortable about making the decision myself.

If you are wondering why I would possibly feel uncomfortable about making a decision about food for myself, let me explain (or remind you) that I weighed 300 lbs at 19 years old. My judgment about food and eating is…well, just plain bad. This is why I have rules and boundaries.

I also want to clarify that I am certainly not implying that there is shame in relapse. Everybody has their own story. Their own life. Their own journey. I am sick when it comes to food too. I am not immune to relapse. If I were, this idea of it being normal would not scare the bajeezus out of me, like it does. I just don’t think it’s fair to those of us who are suffering from eating disorders to hear that we are hopeless. That hurting and punishing ourselves with food is “normal.” Because that is what we do when we act out with food. We hurt ourselves.

Now in this past 8 years, there have been things that have happened in my head that might be considered “relapse.” For example, I have had spells of overwhelming body-dismorphia. Where I look at myself in the mirror and I see a hugely fat woman. And my rational brain cannot comprehend the truth. That I am in a healthy, smaller than average body. Or I have become “afraid” of certain foods that are well within my eating boundaries. And I have stopped eating them because the thought of them made me nauseous. Or sometimes literally made my cry.

But that was in my head. It had nothing to do with how or when or how much I ate. The food has been under control the whole time. And I know that it has. I’m clear that it has. Because all I have to do is ask myself if I have broken my rules or stepped out of my boundaries. And the answer is no. No I have not.

For me, relapse is about the food. Because the food is the one thing that I can control. My actions. When, where, and how my hand goes to my mouth. I cannot make my eating disorders disappear. I cannot just eat like a “normal” person. I have made the decision to accept that I am not now, and never will be normal around food. But I don’t have to binge. Or starve. Or restrict. Or vomit. Or use laxatives. Because I have a definition for “binge.” And one for “starve.” And “restrict.” Because these things are not gray areas for me. These are not merely ideas. I make sure they have strict grounding in reality.

In other words, I make sure these things don’t just live in my head. That like my secrets and the things I would rather not say out loud, that what goes on with my food sees the light of day. My head can be midnight in a dangerous neighborhood. I make sure not to wander off alone.

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