onceafatgirl

Peace is better than chocolate

Archive for the month “September, 2019”

The meaning of fat

I read something interesting on Twitter this week. It was a fat woman asking for thin women to stop saying they are fat when they have recently stopped their restrictive diets, when they have gained a few pounds, or when they feel ugly. This woman lamented the fact that we don’t use (or really have) different words for these things. 

And this was of particular note for me because I have been 300 lbs, I have been a size 28 (the largest size in the plus size stores at the time) and even after maintaining a weight-loss of over 100 lbs for over 10 years, I still talk about being and feeling fat all the time. Just like this person said, if I gain a few pounds I think of myself as fat. If I eat heavier than usual (let’s say I have pork rinds twice in one day or a few days in a row) I may say I feel fat. I may actually *feel* fat. It doesn’t matter if I know that I am not fat. That word, that concept, is ingrained in me. In many ways it haunts me.

Now some of that is because the experience of growing up fat in the US has shaped me. It has created the basis for how I see myself and how I see my culture and society. The name of this blog is a nod to the idea that “Once a fat girl, always a fat girl.” Having grown up fat is an irrevocable part of me. It cannot be taken away. I cannot unsee the ways that I was treated. I cannot forget that I was judged, and often humiliated, for the size of my body. 

I also cannot forget that as I grew up, I was inundated with images of thin women. And that over the past 35 years, those women became thinner and thinner and those images more and more impossible, and that inundation more and more inescapable. After all, I am writing this from a mini computer connected to the whole world, that fits in my hand and goes everywhere with me. 

But when I think about it, it seems a little obnoxious to me that I want to be able to use the word “fat” as I want just because I was fat in the past. And I know what actually fat Kate would think of me right now complaining about my weight or feeling fat. She would roll her eyes so hard she’d get a glimpse of her own brain. She would cheat, steal and kill for the opportunity to shop in regular stores, fit in a seat, not have strangers make remarks about her weight in public. So it seems a little cruel to her, and to fat people in general, to deny the fact that fat doesn’t mean “not skinny.” And fat doesn’t mean “bigger than before.” 

I don’t have an answer to this right now. I am just thinking about my language and how I want to think about and express my experiences. Because I may not be skinny but I am not fat. And it is worth it to find language that fits my personal situation as well as the situation of others. Society is not getting skinnier, for all of our glorification of it. And language creates our world as well as describing it.

Your brain is in your hands…wait…not literally

Someone asked me last week how I deal with eating compulsively when I am not hungry. And it’s a great question. Because I didn’t eat because I was hungry before I put boundaries around my eating. I ate to soothe my difficult feelings. I ate to get high. I ate because it was something to do, and it was my favorite thing to do. I ate because I had cravings, and the foods I ate when I had cravings were foods that gave me more cravings. I am addicted to sugar, grains and starches, and eating them sets me up to “need” more.

But it was more than just a physical craving for me. I spent my life thinking and acting in certain ways, and in doing that I wired my brain for more of the same. In other words, I was wired to think about food and to eat constantly. It took something to rewire myself differently. It took, and sometimes still takes, *actively* changing my thoughts. Though if course it is much easier now. When I have a thought, I have the power to stop having that thought. I have the power to stop a thought in its tracks. It takes practice and intention, but it is possible.
I used to have this experience where I would think something like “I want chocolate cake.” And I would have to tell myself that I don’t eat that anymore. And then not 10 minutes later I would have that same thought. And I would have to tell myself again. And sometimes, my brain would be so insistent that it would phrase it for me like a brand new idea. “Oh hey, I know! Why don’t I have some chocolate cake!?!?” Like I hadn’t just had the same thought over and over. 
It takes time to retrain your brain. It takes effort. It takes doing something that you weren’t doing before.
Eating 3 meals a day with nothing in between is a huge part of how deal with the behavioral part of my eating boundaries and how I don’t eat compulsively. There are times to eat: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Every single other moment is not time to eat. That makes it uncomplicated for my brain. It makes it easy to rewire my brain to those ends. It takes away the grey areas and the sneaky thoughts. It’s simple, even if it’s not easy to do in the beginning.
For me sugar addiction is very clearly physical. Eating sugar makes me crave sugar. But my being an addict is also about behaviors that my physical addiction made me do compulsively too. I could not have stopped eating compulsively if I did not change, not only what I ate, but when, and how, and how often. I had to change the ways I thought. 
But I will say that this rewiring comes slowly, and in baby steps. And the best way to change yourself this way is to start. To change one thought. To take one action. To not take that bite. 

On making friends with a new devil

I consider myself pretty good at change. I have a lot of experience with it. From all of the kinds of jobs I have had, to all of the moving I have done to different homes and different cities and towns. And I have learned to give up things. Like simple sugar and carbohydrates. And smoking. 

And I have an experience. That life will always give you the opportunity to go back to the way it was before. It will always let you choose to go back to the *you* you were before. Because when you make a commitment, you change your life’s trajectory. You set yourself on a new, unknown path. 
When I was single, and it didn’t work out with a man, he would inevitably show back up in my life just when I had moved on. Within a week of the day I quit smoking, I had a neighbor stalk me and I had to call the police and my landlord. It was very stressful. Exactly the kind of emotional upset I used smoking to soothe. 
It comes back to that old saying: “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.” I find that life always gives me a chance to escape the unknown and return to that comfortable misery. 
Now, I don’t believe that the devil you know is better. And I have known plenty of devils. When it comes to change I agree with Mae West. “When choosing between two evils, I always like to try the one I’ve never tried before.”
There was the devil of significant weight gain when I quit smoking. And wow was that difficult and painful. And there are, of course, lots of devils to keeping boundaries around my food. There is the time it takes to shop, prep, cook, and pack. There is the navigation of the feelings and expectations of people who don’t understand. There is the planning involved in having my meals be complete and accounted for daily, while still having a life. There is all of the extra work involved in eating out, when for most people, eating out is when they *don’t* have to do any work. And there are all of the *feelings* that can be painful, overwhelming, scary, uncomfortable, unwelcome, or just plain yucky.
But when I was eating compulsively, I already knew a lot of devils, and they were shame, self-hatred, self-doubt, crippling anxiety, an inability to move forward with my life, fear of failure, fear of humiliation, regular emotional paralysis, and physical pain and difficulties.
I promise, those devils were worse. But if you asked that Kate, who was suffering under all of those devils, she would most certainly have told you the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t. And if you had told her that she would spend a huge portion of her time shopping and prepping and cooking, and also feeling uncomfortable feelings, she would have said that sounded like the worse devil! Who would want something like that?!?!
But now, I have reached a point of no return. I am not saying I could never go back into the sugar. I am still an addict and it is still as dangerous to me as it ever was. When I put sugar in my body, it sets up a craving for more. That is biological and inescapable. But I know all of the devils now, and I’ll never be able to think of the difficulties of food boundaries as worse than the prison of self-loathing.
I hated myself when I was eating sugar and carbohydrates. And I hated myself so much and for so long that I didn’t even know I hated myself until it stopped. But the point is, it did stop. And I found that in doing all that work, and feeling all of those feelings, I came to love myself, to like myself, to trust myself, to enjoy my life, to have fulfilling relationships, and to respect myself and others.
And I want to say something about this regarding fat acceptance. I hear a lot on social media about how society has socialized us to hate ourselves if we are fat, and to internalize that bigotry. And I don’t think it’s necessarily untrue. There is certainly an aspect of being taught that we are less than. But I want to note that after quitting sugar, grains, and starches, I did not loose weight all that quickly. And there have been many times in which I have gained weight keeping my boundaries. But my self-hatred has been stilled ever since I started. And when I was thin, but eating compulsively, I hated myself as much as when I was fat. Perhaps more, because I felt like the body I was in was a lie. I don’t want fat people to hate themselves. I don’t think it’s healthy, or helpful, or right. And it is certainly my wish for you to love yourself in whatever body you are in. But for me, it is very clear that my eating, not my body, or my weight, is what made me miserable and ashamed. And in taking care of my eating, I learned how to love my body and my life. So consider that just maybe there are angels hanging out with the devil you don’t know.

Shamelessness: A Highly-Recommended Life Skill

There is a thing that happens when you put and keep boundaries around your food. You have to learn to get what you need, and that usually means asking for what you need even if it looks ridiculous from the outside. I have literally had to ask a waiter for more vegetables when I needed less than half an ounce. But I needed that portion. (I usually carry backup with me but this particular time I did not.) And I got what I needed. 

You can’t be a people-pleaser and keep your food under control. You have to be a commitment-keeper. Because what normal eating, non-addict would bother a waiter for a ramekin of cherry tomatoes after they have already been so incredibly particular about what they are ordering and how it is cooked and how many they need. And when there is still over half an order of spinach on the table, but that is cooked in oil and they need vegetables with no fat. “And may I also have an extra plate, please? No, bigger. A full sized plate.” 
You pretty much have to be shameless. Which, by the way, is an incredible life skill that I highly recommend.
So as I mentioned last week, my husband and I are renovating our permanent residence in the suburbs of Chicago. And we agree on most things but the flooring has been difficult. It is the primary thing we tend not to agree on. And there is a very small window where we do. So I did a lot of research, and gave him a lot of options. But once we *finally* agreed on a floor, our contractor came to us and told us it was on backorder, and would not be available until our home was complete. Or maybe a little before. And he sent us some samples of floors that his supplier considered “similar.” 
My friends, *I* didn’t consider them similar. In fact, I positively hated most of them. And found one of them tolerable. But I did not want tolerable if I could help it. 
So I did it again. I looked up floor samples, and found pictures of them actually laid in a room. (Bless the Internet!) And gave my husband a bunch of options. And this time I had him eliminate what he did not like (only one this time – clearly I got a better sense of what he likes) and *rank* the others. And then I called the contractor and asked him what would be better, if I gave him a list of what I want, or if he gave me a list of what I could have. And he asked for our list, and I gave it to him ranked. And we got our first choice. Easy. 

A different Kate might have been given some suggestions of “similar” options and picked the one she hated the least. And then she may have been resentful if she didn’t *love* her floor. But this Kate, who knows how to ask for less than half and ounce of vegetables even when there is a plate of sautéed spinach in front of her, knows what she wants, what she needs, how to ask, and how to be gracious about asking.
I did my homework. I searched my options. I found the pictures. I asked my husband to rank them. I asked my contractor what was the best I could do for him to help me get what I want. I was proactive in knowing what I wanted and needed. I knew how to take care of the people who are helping me get what I want. I planned. I prepared. 
Every time I take care of myself by knowing what I want and asking for it, I become more my authentic self. I become more of the me I stuffed down with food for so much of my life. I become less the person who takes what she is given because she thinks it is what others want her to be, that they will be pleased with her, and how compliant she is. 
I can see in retrospect that my contractor and his supplier offered me those suggestions to make it easier for me. Not to limit me. They were doing me a favor, and it was up to me to choose one of their suggestions, or choose something else, as I saw fit. And I can imagine that many people don’t know what they want. I bet many people would be grateful for a recommendation, rather than feel stifled. 
So I am grateful to my food boundaries for teaching me to ask for what I want, to be clear about what I need. To know what will make me happy, and then to *be* happy when I get it. And just to be clear, now that I know that my floors are taken care of, I am most definitely happy!

A kitchen fit for a cook. (Or two.)

A few weeks ago when we were home, I stepped into my closet to get a dress for the wedding I was going to, and my bare feet squished in the wet carpeting. Blech! Obviously, no carpet should be wet, but especially not in a closet. So I told my husband we had a problem. And we sure did.

But in many ways we were lucky. We first expected the damage to cost upwards of $10,000. Oy! But the leak itself got fixed for well under $1,000! Hooray! And then we had to decide what to do with the wall that had to be broken into, the floor now that the moldy carpet had to be removed, and the bathroom behind the closet where the leak originated.
The truth is, that house had not been in good shape anyway. We had been talking about renovating it for years. And the kitchen was not fully functional, with no dishwasher, old, splitting cabinets filled with decades worth of scratched up cookware, and Tupperware lids and bottoms without matches, expired spices, and too many cans of cooking spray to count (since I would grocery shop on our way home before I knew what was already in the house, and I always bought one “just in case.”) That we didn’t spend much time there didn’t help with the overall shabbiness of the place.
But in many ways, we didn’t spend much time there because it was not fun for me! The kitchen was small and as I said, there was no dishwasher. I cook a lot. Like a lot a lot. And I eat off of real plates, and use metal utensils. So every time I went home I had to spend hours of my time doing dishes. Hours when I was also expected to see people and do things. Hours I never have to spend in our homes on the road because *those places* always have dishwashers.
So I am extra excited about a new kitchen! With a double oven! (Because my husband wanting to bake something at 425* -usually potatoes, which I don’t eat anyway- at the same time I am roasting/baking our meat at 325* is actually a problem that comes up pretty often in our house.) And a fancy dishwasher! And water and ice in the door! 
I am looking forward to a modern kitchen made for people like myself and my husband, who cook daily, and who care about the food we are eating. Plus, we are a pretty technologically modern couple with a run-down kitchen from the 1980s. That just seems wrong.
So this leak was no fun. But it was a great motivator for us to get our home updated. And especially to give us a functional kitchen I want to cook in. Because I love my food. And I don’t want to resent cooking. I can’t *afford* to resent cooking. Especially when that can be fixed by updating with a dishwasher. You know, technology that has been around longer than I have been alive.

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