onceafatgirl

Peace is better than chocolate

Archive for the month “March, 2017”

Making a new friend of an old enemy

You may know from last week’s post that I have had an infection in one of my gums. I went to the dentist on Monday and she told me that she thought it was the result of a broken wisdom tooth. So on Thursday I went to an oral surgeon and had that tooth pulled.

Now it is no secret to anyone that I am emotional. But when it comes to medical procedures of almost any kind, I freak the hell out. I always have. From the time I was a little kid. I can remember totally losing it in the doctor’s office at five, when they were going to prick my finger for my routine kindergarten checkup. Once, the phlebotomist at Planned Parenthood had two maintenance guys come talk to me about the heaters they were installing to distract me while she drew blood.

I cry and start to hyperventilate. As I have gotten older, I tend to rock, wring or rub my hands in an obsessive way and do deep breathing exercises. This usually keeps me from actually hyperventilating. It takes a lot just to keep the panic at bay.

There are things that I want to change about myself. I believe in changing. I believe in growing as a person and being better. And hell, I am good at that. I am really good at it. But I also believe that there are things that you have to learn to live with, that you just have to make friends with. For me, being sensitive to sugar, grains and starch, and not being able to “eat like a normal person” is one of those things. And freaking out about medical procedures is too.

It is humiliating to discover that you are a compulsive eater and a sugar addict. It takes something to stop being ashamed of not being able to control yourself when it comes to food and accept the truth of it. But as long as I fought against admitting that I am a food addict, I was never going to get any relief. I was just going to keep trying to get it right, keep trying to manage, keep trying to eat in moderation. And I was going to keep failing and falling deeper into misery.

Once I admitted that I had a problem with food and that I was incapable of eating like a regular person, I was able to really do something about it. Namely putting boundaries around when, how much, and what I ate. I was able to make it work. And I was able to stop fighting against myself. Fighting myself is just plain exhausting.

I have come to the point where I have decided to make friends with my medical panic. When I called to make the appointment with the oral surgeon, I told the receptionist that I would cry, that I am emotional. I said, “you might want to make a note of that in my file.”

The truth is that it makes other people deeply uncomfortable. I can’t tell you how many people in the office asked me if I wanted to postpone, come back another day and have them put me out for it. (Thank God I didn’t agree to that. My mother pointed out that if they put me out, they would have given me an IV!!! Just the thought of that gives me the chilly-willies! I’m still shuddering at the idea.)

I am sorry that my emotions make people uncomfortable, especially my irrational fears over medical procedures. But so do my food boundaries, and I am not willing to make other people’s comfort a priority over my own wellbeing.

So I am not going to be ashamed of the fact that I freak out before procedures. I need to make friends with it so I can deal with it. It’s one thing to be deathly afraid of being poked and prodded, but it is something else, something extra and totally unproductive, to be ashamed of that fear. I have decided I can do without the shame.

My shame, the idea that I shouldn’t be this way, is the kind of thing that makes me walk away. When I was younger, I absolutely would have walked away from every stitch, blood test, physical exam, and shot, if my mother had let me. I would have forgone all needles and drills and what not if they would have let me go to school without my shots and tests. But in my old(er) age, I have come to recognize that not having the procedure wasn’t going to get rid of the infected tooth. I wanted the results of the procedure. So I cried, and wrung my hands, and panicked, and did my very best to breathe. And I stayed, and opened my mouth, and kept still and quiet, and let the man do his work. And he was awesome!

The procedure was quick and easy. The oral surgeon, against the odds, got the infected tooth out in one piece. (I know because I asked him the odds and he said it was an 80% chance that he would have to drill it into pieces to get it out, and then stitch my mouth.) It literally took him longer to numb my mouth than it did for him to extract the tooth. And I have had minimal discomfort, completely manageable with over the counter pain relievers. And when the doctor called me that evening, I was eating dinner and I told him (while laughing) how I told everyone the story of how I freaked out and how he was awesome.

P.S. Did you get that? My oral surgeon personally called me that evening to ask how I was doing! As my husband said, “Now that’s small town living!”

 

The bare minimum, my bad attitude, and the realization that even flossing can’t save me entirely.

I am in a perfect storm of misery lately. I have an infection in one of my gums, and that means: 1) I feel sick from the infection. 2) It hurts to eat, which I must do 3 times a day, and which I usually love more than almost anything (husband not included), but which is currently being ruined by my pain. 3) I had to go through the tedium of finding out my insurance ID number, and finding a dentist in both my network and my area to treat me in the next few days rather than weeks. And 4) I had to make a dentist appointment while I deeply dislike and fear doctors and dentists in general.

I spent my first wedding anniversary moping around, dealing with the red tape of dentists’ offices and insurance companies, swishing my mouth with peroxide or salt water, and crying in frustration.

Here are some things I want to point out. I have not eaten sugar, grains, or starch for over 11 years. On most days, I brush after every meal, and always brush at least twice a day. I floss daily, often more than once. So this sort of pisses me off. I feel like I so don’t deserve this.

Here are some other things I would like to point out. I used to eat a diet almost entirely made of sugar, grains, and starch. I was not always a rigorous brusher, and never flossed until about 10 years ago. I only recently got insurance so I have not kept up with regular maintenance like cleaning and checkups for years. I don’t like to think about these things when I am slamming up against “the unfairness” of life.

Life has pain. If one is lucky enough to live any length of time, one will experience it. That I live a generally pain-free existence means I am lucky, not that I have done something to deserve it. Not even flossing.

People I know who also keep boundaries around their food would call this “A No Matter What.” Part of our lingo is to say that we don’t eat no matter what. (What we mean is that we don’t eat compulsively under any circumstances, because, of course, we do eat 3 meals a day within our boundaries.) So we use the term “no matter what” as a noun when we are describing those circumstances that could potentially throw us back into acting out our sugar addiction.

All of those things I mentioned at the beginning are “no matter whats” for me. I don’t want to eat. I want to skip meals because it hurts to eat them. I want to eat “comfort food” because I don’t feel well. I want to numb out rather than have to do the footwork to make an appointment with an appropriate dentist, because that kind of big-girl-panties stuff is always overwhelming and scary to me. And I really don’t want to go to the appointment I made in the first place because I am afraid. I am afraid of the pain and the cost and just generally having to come face to face with the truth about the state of my health.

That last one, having to face the truth about my body, is probably one of my all-time biggest struggles. I don’t like to look at uncomfortable realities, kind of ever, but especially about my body or my health. I mean, I weighed 300 pounds at one point. I was doing a lot of eye-covering and la-la-la-I-can’t-hear-you-ing. I do make a point to live a relatively healthy lifestyle now. But I like going along in the predictable, and making changes and growing because I want to, not because I have been forced to. And that is not the way life goes.

I know that I am not alone. Plenty of people don’t choose to look at the reality of their health. There are people I know personally who have gone to the doctor to discover that at some point in the recent past, they had had a heart attack, and they “had not noticed.”

My guess is that they noticed, but when it passed and they weren’t dead, they figured no harm no foul. I understand. Not knowing can be much more comfortable than knowing.

So much of getting my eating under control was about facing reality. I used food, sugar especially, to avoid reality, often to the detriment of my welfare. If I was worried, I ate. If I was really worried, I ate until I passed out. Not a lot gets done when you are passed out in a food coma. Certainly not anything productive like paying bills, or working on a project, or finding a dentist. Not the kind of things that assuage worry by taking care of the problem, anyway.

The truth is that I am annoyed and cranky. I don’t feel well. I would love to tell you that I am keeping my spirits up and being grateful for all of the things I have, like insurance, and mostly good health, and a husband that I am crazy about, and a really happy life. But I’m not keeping my spirits up. I’m pissed. And I am doing the bare minimum to get through the days. There is no going above and beyond for me while I am feeling crappy. And I am cool with that.

Maybe someday I will be able to smile through pain and frustration. That’s certainly a worthwhile goal. But I am not there today, and I don’t want to make it seem like I am. Just like I believe in facing the reality of my health, I believe in facing, and showing, the reality of my experience. I don’t write this blog so that the people who read it (you) will think I’m special, or super-human, or admirable. I write this because it is an opportunity to tell my truth. Even the less attractive aspects.

So I am doing what needs to be done with a bad attitude. Because I need to take care of myself, but I don’t have to do it gracefully.

 

Live slow. Die whenever.

It was January of 2016 that I started a regular workout practice, right around the time I celebrated 10 years of having my eating under control. I had played around a little with jogging and bodyweight exercises the few weeks prior to that, but I have never been good at doing anything by playing around with it. I am always either in or out. My default is generally set to out. But I decided I wanted to be in.

Before that, I had primarily gotten around, and therefore gotten my daily exercise, by walking. In New York City, that was like breathing. I did it without thinking. Even if I took the subway, I had to walk there. There were stairs to get to the station. And even if there was an escalator, I was an impatient New Yorker. I took the stairs anyway because walking was faster than riding. And if the weather was nice, and I had the time, I didn’t bother with the subway. A 4 or 5-mile walk in the city on a nice day doesn’t feel like a workout with all of the people watching and window-shopping available. Exercise was a non-issue. It came built into my life.

But when I was working to get my driver’s license, and my (then) boyfriend and I were planning to buy a second car for me, it became clear that I was not going to be walking as a mode of transportation. And I was, it turns out, not getting any younger. I was 38 at the time, and I knew that it would only get harder to stay in shape as I got older. So I tried a light workout a few times in December of 2015, but I was only motivated for a few days. It was hard. I wasn’t good at it. I never really “wanted to” do it, even if I wanted to have done it.

So I did what I do. I made a commitment. I decided to jog 2 miles a day, 5 days a week, with 3 sets of 10 each of push-ups and crunches, and a 30 second plank. Basically 30-45 minutes of exercise 5 days a week.

Now this is a long, drawn-out setup to get to my point. I didn’t see results right away. I have made some progress in terms of my strength, and stamina. I have also possibly lost fat and gained muscle, though I am not good at gauging my physical size. But any and all progress I have made has been very, very slow. So slow, in fact, that I am only starting to recognize it as progress now, after over a year of consistent workouts.

When I first started doing push ups, I could not get very close to the floor, even though I do them on my knees. The truth is, I was barely moving in either an up or down direction. If someone had been watching me, it would have been deeply humiliating. Hell, it was a little humiliating doing them alone in my home while my husband was at work. But I did them anyway. I could only start where I was.

I only recently noticed that I was able to move up and down with ease, and get my face to the floor and back up again. Now that I have the arm strength to do them on my knees, I have started making my third set of 10 push ups the regular plank kind. Not all three sets. Just the last one for now. Because I don’t have to be in a rush to see results. And just like before, when I do them, my arms are barely moving. It may take me another year to have the strength to get my face all the way to the floor and back up with regular pushups. But ultimately, no matter how slow the progress goes, it’s progress. If I didn’t do them because I wasn’t seeing results quickly enough, there would simply no longer be any results to see.

We live in a results based world. And I don’t think that’s all bad. What I think is a problem is wanting results now. The problem is choosing instant gratification over long-term gratification.

I never really understood the story of the tortoise and the hare. The hare wasn’t slower, he was a jerk. If he hadn’t been trying to show off, and publicly shame the tortoise, he would have won the race easily. So that story always occurred to me as bullshit. Slow and steady does not win a race against an opponent who is fast and steady. But I have a different point of view now. I am not certain that everyone has it in them to be both fast and steady. I know that some do. That is what makes them athletes. I honor that. But I am not an athlete. And that’s just fine. So now I think of it this way: it is not that I am the tortoise and someone else is the hare; I am both the tortoise and the hare. The hare in me wants to show off, get results, hear people tell me I’m so fast, I look great. But the hare in me does not do things in a sustainable manner. The hare in me doesn’t know how to deal with obstacles, or how to persevere through failures and difficulties. The hare in me wants results all day all the time. The hare in me is like the people who lose weight on “reality” television by exercising daily the way other people go to work. It might make for dramatic TV to take on 40-50 hours a week of strenuous exercise, but it will almost certainly only get you short-term results. And if I am honest and thinking clearly, I don’t want short-term results.

The same could be said for the ways that I tried to lose weight before I gave up sugar and got my eating under control. I always wanted to lose weight fast. I wanted to be skinny. Now. I would, when my food-addicted, compulsive-eating self could manage it, eat way below my calorie limit, sometimes to the point of starving myself. I was not very good at starving myself, but I could manage it when I was seeing results. Losing weight quickly got me high, and that made it possible for me to limit my food intake for the sake of even more results. But bodies are not huge fans of this way of losing weight, and any hiccup in my quest for an ever-decreasing waistline left me disillusioned and often led to me giving up, or at least cheating on my diet for a day, week, or month. And that’s not even taking my exercise bulimia into consideration.

Enter the tortoise. The tortoise in me is just putting one foot in front of the other. My tortoise may technically be enrolled in the race, but she is not competing. She just made a commitment to start at point A and move to point B. She’ll get there in her own time.

The results I gain when I am slow and steady may take a lot more time to manifest, but they also usually last. Because the steps I take are small enough to take every day. And they are small enough that the inevitable “one step back” is also just a bitty baby step. So instead of focusing on results, I focus on the practice itself. I focus on the commitment to take the action, consistently and without expectation.

So it may not be particularly exciting to practice being the tortoise, but it is pretty inspiring. And ultimately deeply satisfying.

If I were good at it, I wouldn’t need boundaries in the first place.

The other day I was standing next to my husband when he looked at me and said, “skinny.” It was not a judgment (good or bad) so much as a mildly interesting observation.

Before we go on, I want to say that this was particularly unusual. I was not in any way offended or upset, but my husband does not generally talk about my weight at all unless I ask him directly, and that is, I believe, as it should be. As long as my eating disorders are under control, there is nothing helpful about another person monitoring the size of my ass. It is absolutely nobody’s business but my own. And I have spent a lot of time and effort keeping my eating and body image disorders at bay, so the people I seek that kind of input from are people who, like me, have a history of compulsive eating and food addiction and who, also like me, keep boundaries around their eating.

So my husband said I looked skinny, but I have not been feeling skinny at all. In fact I have been feeling a little fat. And sometimes, very fat. I am not saying that I have been tormented by my weight. But if you asked me if I were on the higher end of my weight or the lower, I would guess higher.

But when I look at the evidence, he’s right. I may actually be the smallest that he has ever seen me. The size of the pants I wear and how they fit me indicates that I am relatively small for me.

Even at my thinnest, in fact, even when I have been underweight, I have never really been what Western Culture would call “skinny.” Even when my collarbones look like they might cut you if you get too close to me, I still have wide hips and round thighs and big calves. My thighs always rub together, no matter what my weight is. (Thank God I was a grownup with my eating disorders under control before the Internet became a place where having a thigh gap and the pictures to prove it was a thing.) You can call it curvy, or zaftig, or say I’m an endomorph, but I have never been the kind of skinny that graces runways. (I use the term “graces” loosely.)

It took a long time and hard look at reality to come to this understanding about my body, and to love it exactly as it is. As a culture, we particularly celebrate one kind of feminine beauty: that of the ectomorph. We honor the women who naturally don’t carry a lot of fat on their bodies. Perhaps you have seen the Zara ad that says “Love your curves,” and noticed that the two women in the photo did not have any to speak of. Were they beautiful? Absolutely. Are they real women (albeit young women) with real bodies? Hell yes they are! (Though I am not actually sure how real those two models happen to be. I tried to find if the image was Photoshopped, and could not find anything about it.) I am not shaming the models in the ad. Skinny women are real women, just like muscular, and chubby, and overweight, and zaftig women are real too. This is not about what each of us happens to be born. It is about what each of us are told we “should be,” without anyone ever telling us that there are things we “can’t be.” I cannot walk from Kentucky to Hawaii. It is not possible. And I cannot be “supermodel skinny.” I was not made that way.

But nobody told me that. Ever, really. I had to figure it out for myself, by having sane and functional eating practices, and doing all of the healthy things I could do, like drinking water and getting enough sleep and exercise, and then taking a serious look at the reality of my body.

The beauty, fashion, fitness, and diet industries didn’t want me to know that I don’t have it in me to be that skinny. Because if I knew, they couldn’t get me to buy their latest cream, shake, workout app subscription, prepared food service, or whatever it is they happen to be selling at the moment with the promise that if I am “good enough,” work hard enough, pay enough money, I will end up with the body of my favorite underwear model. (No. I don’t have a favorite underwear model.)

I don’t believe in vilifying skinny women. But I don’t believe they are the only incarnations of beauty in the world, as I have been told for as long as I have been alive. When my husband looked at me and said, “skinny,” he did not do so in triumph because he finally found me attractive. For him, my beauty is not about my weight. In fact, I wish I had as much love for my body at any size as he does. It was merely an observation on his part. And it served as a reminder to me that even after all of the work, and all of the commitment, and all of the times I kept my food boundaries, even though it was hard or inconvenient, my head is pretty messed up when it comes to the way I think about and view my body. And that what I see in the mirror, or think I look like, is not necessarily reality.

Even now that I have taken inventory and checked myself against the specific frame of reference of my clothes and how they fit, I still don’t feel very thin. Knowing that I am, perhaps, the thinnest I have been in 4 years doesn’t make me “feel” any thinner. It doesn’t make me “know” that I am relatively small.

The last thing I want to say about this is that even though my body image disorders are irrational, and knowing that doesn’t change the way I think and feel, knowing does help me take healthy actions. And it is in our actions that we impact ourselves, our world, and the people around us. I don’t have to feel “skinny enough” to keep my commitments to eat enough nutritious food and exercise moderately, rather than starve myself and exercise to exhaustion and injury. I don’t have to listen to my fears and my “feelings.” I just have to keep my boundaries. After all, that is literally what they are there for. If I already always made healthy decisions, boundaries would be redundant.

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