onceafatgirl

Peace is better than chocolate

Archive for the month “February, 2014”

Fat and out of shape is in the eye of the beholder. And when the beholder is me…well, I’m kinda messed up…

I went for a long walk the other day. I am not sure how long. But I would guess I walked between 6 and 7 miles. And I am out of shape. Or at least more out of shape than I have been in a while. And I am feeling a little fat. And I don’t like it.

First, I am not, fat. My clothes fit. (I actually had a moment of panic writing that, so I just got up and tried on my size 6 jeans to make sure my clothes still fit. And yes, my clothes still fit…Good Lord, Kate…) And thank God I am not weighing myself. Because I am in a place mentally where the number couldn’t be good. No matter what the number was.

Of course, the number is something. I have a weight. Obviously. I just don’t know what that is. Because I would not be able to handle it.

And I am not sure why I am thinking about my weight again all of a sudden. If something in particular triggered it, or if it is just par for the course when one has eating disorders and body-dysmorphia. It could be that my boyfriend and I are going to the Florida Keys next weekend. (Um…YAY!) Which will mean bathing suits and sundresses. Fewer clothes. I’ll admit that I have wondered if I will look huge and ugly in my bikini. Which I managed to wear all summer without fear, even though I was a size larger than I am now. But it turns out body-dysmorphia is never ever rational. If it were, it wouldn’t be a disorder, I guess.

I have also been thinking lately about how I had hoped that I would have lost more weight by now. I had hoped that my metabolism would have sped up. Really sped up. Back to the way it used to be. Back to where I could eat more and weigh less. Like I did for years before I quit smoking and gained 30 lbs. I hoped I would be smaller than I am after over a year and a half since quitting smoking.

But I don’t like feeling out of shape, either. In some ways, that is hitting me harder than being afraid that I am fat. Because I have been so in shape for so long. Living in New York City will do that for you. (If you let it.) Walking instead of the subway. Subway stairs if you don’t have time to walk. It’s a place where it’s not out of the ordinary to take the stairs instead of the escalator. And even if you take the escalator, you walk while you’re on it.

And I was a babysitter. It was my job to run, jump, and play. To go for a walk for the sake of exploring. Or getting some sunlight. Or just for the sake of walking. And then there was the post-homework dance party.

But now I get to work in a car. I work at a desk. I do a lot of sitting. I walk a couple of miles a couple of times a week. Which is not nothing. But I have been noticing my body. Feeling it. I didn’t used to notice my body. I just used it. I just wanted to do things so I did them. But when I started my walk the other day, I didn’t want to go. Because it was going to hurt.

Of course it didn’t hurt that bad. The anticipation of pain and discomfort was so much worse than the reality of it. And it was fantastic to get my heart pumping and my muscles working and my blood flowing. It was wonderful to feel energized. I had a great time. And I am not exactly out of shape. I’m really just not as fit as I was a year ago. I am comparing pretty in shape me with very in shape me.

But I am afraid of what happens next. Will I not go for that walk next time? Will I let myself get sick and old and slow because over and over again I’ll choose not to walk? Because I will be afraid it will be uncomfortable?

I am writing this to you to get it out. To shine a light on these things so they don’t fester, unexpressed. But really, when I start thinking like this, I try to remember to change the channel. To think about something else. Because it doesn’t make sense to worry.

I don’t want to fight feeling fat. I don’t want to give it weight. (Oh, tee hee. I just noticed that’s a pun.) I don’t want to care enough to let it be important. I want to trust myself. I want to keep my food under control for my sanity. I want to remember that while my eating is taken care of, I may not be “skinny”, but I will not get fat. And I want to love my body exactly the way it is. And I want to care for it with loving exercise. Exercise that I do to keep myself healthy and happy and free of pain. Not that I do to be skinny, or smaller, or good enough. And I want to trust that I will choose to walk. Or dance around my house. Or something that I haven’t even thought of yet. Out of self-care. And I want to wear my bathing suit without shame. And I want to enjoy a vacation with my boyfriend.

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When the worst thing VD stands for is actually venereal disease and not that February 14th holiday…

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. And it was my first ever Valentine’s Day where I had a valentine. Ever. And I am 36 years old.

I didn’t need this Valentine’s Day to be a special day. And it really wasn’t. My boyfriend and I both worked a full 10 hour day plus commute. We came home and had dinner. We watched an episode of Heroes on Netflix. It was no big deal. But Valentine’s Day being no big deal was a VERY BIG DEAL for me.

I have very much hated the day for as long as I can remember. I didn’t even want the chocolate, though I was a sugar addicted compulsive eater. Because it came in a heart-shaped box which I was sure was only going to make the contents taste bitter. Like my heart.

Because I was sure that not only was I not going to get any romantic gifts that year, but I was never going to get any romantic gifts any year ever. I was going to be alone for my whole life. I was positive that I was fundamentally unlovable. And VD (as I used to call it) was a day when everything seemed to revolve around being single or not being single. Being loved or not being loved. Being somebody’s chosen, or being alone and neglected. It was about measuring up. And I not only didn’t measure up this time, I was never going to measure up.

For the first time, because I am in a relationship, I can look at the day with some clarity. Because it was too loaded for me to ever see it properly before. And I have to say, it is an unkind holiday to the single. I can see that there is first a kind of shaming of people who don’t have “a valentine.” There is an expectation that you should at least have something. A date. An admirer. A booty call. There is this underlying idea that to be alone on the day is pathetic.

And then there is a shaming of single people who hate it because they are being shamed. There is a clearly stated reprimand if you don’t like it, and especially if you say so. You are ruining it for everybody with your bitterness.

Seriously? Bitter single people are ruining your Valentine’s Day? Are you joking? It was so hard to choke down your chocolate? It made your filet mignon with the person you love taste bad? You had to throw away your bouquet of roses because you couldn’t stand to look at it while Bob and Mary were hating February 14th?

I have compassion for those who suffer on that day. I’m serious. Not pity. Compassion. Because I suffered too. I hated the holiday. And I felt ashamed of myself for hating it. And for being bitter. And I am so grateful that I have a new context, and can see it from a new perspective.

No, I did not shun this Valentine’s Day. I have to admit that it felt amazing to have someone to give a gift to because I love him so much. My boyfriend did indeed get heart-shaped chocolate from me. And I am graciously (and very happily) accepting my gift of being whisked away to Florida for a long weekend at the end of the month. But it didn’t feel amazing because I “finally” got chosen. It felt amazing because it’s him. Because I have a relationship that has continued to exceed all of my expectations. Because it took 35 years, but I ended up with love that is better than a fairytale. Because it’s not “happily ever after.” It’s a day at a time of honor, and respect, and laughter, and music, and Netflix, and dinner together, and grocery shopping, and laundry, and cleaning the oven, and making the bed, and mundane life.

Getting my eating under control gave me a ridiculous amount of clarity in my life. Not being high on sugar, not being obsessed with eating, not being obsessed with my body and my weight opened up so much room in my head for understanding, and critical thinking, and hearing my intuition. But for the 7 years that I had clarity but no romance, I could not have been this clear about Valentine’s Day.

This has been a powerful reminder for me. That there are still things that exist in my blind spot. That there are still things I can’t see, for all of my heightened perception and lucidity. That my life will continue to change as long as I continue to grow. And it is my intention to grow. It is what I want and what I work for. So I’m looking forward to the next time I get taken out of my own context and watch the world shift.

Good fences make good neighbors

Lately, I have been thinking about the saying “Good fences make good neighbors.” I said it to somebody recently, telling her that it was ok to set a boundary with someone. It is a saying that has come to mean a lot to me.

I never really understood the saying before I put boundaries around my eating. I don’t even mean that it used to mean something different to me and now it has taken on a more profound meaning. I mean it used to seem like just a bunch of words. (Like “We have to let them win a few battles so we can win the war.” I still have no idea what that actually means. Apparently it is a good thing that I am not a military strategist…)

I talk a lot about how I keep boundaries around my food. But I don’t remember how much I have talked about how I put boundaries around how I am willing to be treated. Because I do. I draw lines. I say no. I say that things are not ok. I make requests for people to stop doing things that I find intrusive or abusive. I walk away when I am not honored.

When I put boundaries around my eating, I had to uphold those food boundaries with people. No you can’t have a bite. I can’t wait for you, I need to eat now. I can’t eat that. No, thank you. Etc…

But it eventually became clear that I needed to put boundaries up with people for things other than food. And that these boundaries were linked to my eating disorders and keeping them under control. It was about what I thought I was worth and how I deserved to be treated. First by myself. Then by everybody else.

“How I’m willing to be treated” and “intrusive or abusive” makes it sound like I’m talking about big, scary, obvious things. You’re not allowed to hit me. You’re not allowed to call me a stupid bitch. You’re not allowed to steal my money. But really, it can be things that other people think are silly or petty or ridiculous. It can be things that make other people say, “You’re overreacting.” “You’re being extreme.” Please don’t give me unsolicited advice. Please keep your opinions to yourself. No, I can’t do what you’re asking me to do.

It turns out that people aren’t mind readers. And that many people think they are being kind, or helpful, or playful, or friendly, or intimate when they do things that are hurtful. And many (many) people don’t have any boundaries of their own, so they can’t even imagine what it means that I do. So if I need something that I am not getting, I say so. And if I don’t want to do something that is being asked of me, I don’t have to. I can say no. Because when I ask for things clearly and answer requests honestly, I am giving people an opportunity to honor me.

Right. An opportunity. That sometimes, some people will refuse to take. There will always be people who hop fences. Literally and figuratively. There will always be people who either don’t know how, or just plain refuse, to honor my boundaries. There will always be abusers and thieves. There will always be bullies and assholes. But my personal experience is that setting the boundary is more important than whether or not others honor it.

It is also my experience that somehow, some way, almost magically, if I honor myself, people will either be compelled to honor me too, or they will disappear. I have found that the ignorant and misguided will learn. And that bullies and assholes, thieves and abusers fall away.

But there is something else to setting boundaries. Maintaining them. Because people test. They think I was just being cranky when I told them that it was not ok for them to give their opinion about my weight. Or how I eat. Or whether or not I wear makeup. Or if I use artificial sweetener. They think I will realize that I was being silly. Or that I will change my mind once I realize that they were trying to be kind. Or they don’t care that I have said no, so they think that if they badger me enough or try to manipulate me, I will be coerced into doing what they want. Or they think that if they cross my boundaries enough times, I will stop setting them. I will let it go. I will let them pass.

Because so many times, people do let it go. They let the boundary-crossers pass. Perhaps they think that boundaries should be set nicely, so as not to hurt anybody’s feelings. Or perhaps they wonder who they are that they should be allowed to say no. And don’t. And that is not ok. Perhaps they think that it would be rude to walk away. That it would be arrogant to assert themselves.

It is a scary thing to honor yourself. When I was first learning how to do it, it seemed so much harder to have a difficult conversation with somebody, than it did to shame myself and decide that I was the one with the problem. It was easier to fall back on the idea that I was the one who was overreacting and being extreme. But the more I do it, the better I get at it. And eventually it became the natural choice. It can still be scary from time to time. And some conversations are still difficult. But for me, it’s about my life and my sanity. So a difficult conversation is still easier than failing myself.

I agree that in a perfect world, we would all be able to set boundaries in a pleasant manner. With kindness. And in a gentle loving way. But it’s not a perfect world. And as a friend of mine says, it doesn’t matter how gracefully you set boundaries. It only matters that you set them.

Because I can’t unshoot the gun. And I don’t know that I would if I could…

I was talking to a friend this morning. Another woman with eating disorders and body image issues. Someone I love and identify with. The kind of person with whom you can have a conversation that is both intellectual and spiritual at the same time.

She said something that I had never heard before. “Genetics loads the gun, but environment pulls the trigger.” It’s a quote by Dr. Francis Collins.

I believe that I have a genetic predisposition to have an unhealthy physical reaction to sugar, grains, and starch. And I believe that when that physical reaction was triggered in my childhood, it triggered a mental obsession. But the environment I grew up in triggered a very specific mental obsession. It was an obsession with eating. Eating more. Eating constantly. I hated being fat. So I disconnected from my body. But my obsession was with food. Sugar, specifically.

Then I moved away from that environment. To New York City. And in that new environment, I developed a whole new set of mental obsessions that stemmed from that same physical reaction. All of a sudden I had a kind of vanity that I had never experienced before. I did not have bulimic tendencies or the same kinds of body image issues before I moved to New York City. There I was still obsessed with eating, but then there was this added obsession with appearances. With being beautiful. With appearing like a normal eater by maintaining a socially acceptable body.

I am clear that I am not going to be able to reverse any of these things now. Perhaps if I never moved to New York, I would not have become a bulimic. But I did. And I am. And now I can’t unshoot that gun. Or the sugar addict, compulsive eater gun. I am now irreversibly a compulsive eater, bulimic, exercise bulimic, and sugar addict with body dysmorphia. One particular blessing is that I do not have to engage in the damaging behaviors of these diseases because I do the work I do every day to keep my eating and my eating disorders under control.

But then I have to ask, what of it? Does it even matter? Is there an environment that I could have grown up in that would not have triggered my eating disorders? And even if there were such an environment, that’s not how my life went. Who is to say that growing up with a healthy relationship with food would have given me a better life?

Because along with a certain amount of pain and difficulty, my eating disorders gave me another gift. Dealing with them meant changing the way I looked at life and the world. In other words, I don’t know if I would have learned the best lessons of my life if I didn’t have to learn them to stop killing myself with food.

• Keep your eyes on your own life. You don’t know what people are going through by looking at their shiny hair and skinny thighs on the subway. All you are seeing is their outsides. You don’t know their troubles or their pain.

• You have your journey and everybody else has theirs. You didn’t get a bad one. Or the wrong one. You didn’t get a life any worse than any other.

• Control is an illusion. The only things you control are your actions and your reactions. Outcomes are totally out of your hands. So behave in a way that makes you proud of yourself. Because when you think doing it “right” means it will turn out the way you want, you’ll start to think you always do everything thing “wrong”. Bit if you live like you can’t do it “wrong”, you start to notice that everything always turns out “right”.

• Perfection is not an option. And once you accept that as the truth, you are free to be yourself. And free to be happy.

I guess what I’m trying to say today, is that it doesn’t matter that genetics loaded the gun. It doesn’t matter that environment pulled the trigger. It doesn’t matter that I can’t unshoot it. It’s life. My life. I happen to think it’s a good one. Full of blessings. But in reality, it’s the same life as when I thought it was a great big bucket of suck. I just make better decisions now.

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