onceafatgirl

Peace is better than chocolate

Archive for the category “Body image”

More fulfilling than weight loss

I have lost weight recently. I don’t weigh myself and I have not for years, but I do, in fact, wear clothes. And it is clear to me that things are significantly looser. Dresses that used to be formfitting now hang on me. And I have not (knowingly) done anything to facilitate that.

I have a theory about why. I have recently started taking an OTC medication for acid reflux. (Remember when I said a few weeks ago that I have been sick for months? Well my mother-in-law, who worked for a GI doctor for over 20 years, told me my persistent wet cough was acid reflux. And I’ll be damned if she wasn’t right!) And this weight loss coincides pretty closely with my starting the medicine. 

But the truth is, I don’t know what affects my weight. And the other truth is, I never have. 

Obviously when I gave up simple sugar and carbohydrates, that had a huge impact on my weight. I ate significantly less because I was not craving my drug foods, and therefore eating much less.  I was also eating much less of processed, high calorie/low nutrient foods. And I was managing my portions by weighing my food. But even since getting my eating under control, my weight has still fluctuated wildly. (Not hundreds of pounds, but as much as 30 or more.) And my eating has not changed that much. And even when I took specific actions and changed my foods, and my quantities of food, I could not get my body to “behave.” Gaining weight eating less, losing weight eating more. I could never get my weight to work like a math equation. I have never been able to predict my weight, or manage it, by food choices. And I have stopped trying. 

I don’t want to care about my weight. I don’t want to even think about my weight. But I live in a world and a society that cares very much about weight. So that is a struggle. And the first 28 years of my life revolved entirely around my weight. My shame over my weight. The humiliation of other people openly judging my weight. Those are hard things to forget. And those are things that shaped the way I thought and felt and interacted during my formative years.

Sometimes it has felt like those formative ways of being are “just the way I am.” Set in stone and unchangeable. But I have noticed that giving up my drug foods and changing my lifestyle has been an opportunity to change thought and behavior patterns that I thought were just “me.” It turns out, I can change me. Way more easily than I can change my weight. And way more fulfilling as well.

When the math didn’t math

I am a control freak by nature. I want what I want and I am interested in figuring out how to get it. I remember a line from a movie when I was a kid. Something about control being an illusion. And at the time I didn’t think it was true. After all, it seemed to me that all of the grownups in my life had it. And I wanted it too.

And the other thing was that it seemed logical to me that if actions have reactions, if you could figure out the “right equation,” you could create the right reaction, the one you wanted. What I didn’t fully understand was that when this bumped up against other people and what they wanted, this was just manipulation. And also, I wasn’t always great at knowing what I wanted.

There are some important things that getting my eating under control has taught me. 1) Usually, that kind of control does not get me a worthwhile return on investments. I almost never want the thing I think I want as much as the machinations cost me. 2) I can make myself feel positively crazy trying to think and plan myself the right “equation” to get what I think I want. 3) I usually want something much more theoretical than the practical thing I think I do. Like I want to feel pretty, more than I want that specific dress.

For 28 years I wanted to eat whatever I wanted to eat, but also be thin. And I did a whole lot of things to try to make that equation work out. Dieting, exercise bulimia, regular old bulimia bulimia. But none of that math ever mathed. 

When I gave up sugar and simple carbohydrates 16+ years ago, I thought I was throwing in the towel and agreeing that I would accept being skinny as the best I could get. And even that I was skeptical of. I had never been skinny and also had never been able to control my weight. But (eventually- there was still the long slog of sugar withdrawal) I got all of the things I really wanted. The things I thought eating whatever I wanted and still being skinny would get me. To be happy and comfortable in my body both in private and public. To love my food without guilt. To like myself and not doubt myself or my choices.

I don’t always do it perfectly, but today, I try to remember that when I keep my eating under control and do my best to be my authentic self, I get exactly what I really wanted, whatever that looks like, even if I didn’t know I wanted it.

Rewards that are not

The other day when I put on a pair of yoga pants, I realized that they were a little loose. Which meant that I have lost weight. And my first reaction was to be really pleased. 

I don’t mean that I have been trying to lose weight and taking actions toward that end, and I was therefore excited by the payoff of my work. In fact, I am personally actively against weight loss as an end goal. I do not want to consider my weight or size as deserving of notice in any way. I take care of my eating. My eating takes care of my body. Whatever my weight is while I am keeping my eating boundaries is exactly the weight I should be. I don’t need to worry about it beyond that.

But the idea that thinner is always better is wired into my primordial brain. I didn’t have a “thought” that I was happy or pleased. There were no words. An electrical pulse made its way up my spine to my brain and lit up my reward center. 

There was a time when this weight loss would have motivated me to look at what i did differently and then try to do more of that. Change my food. Change my lifestyle. Get more brain chemical rewards. Get more people to tell me I look great or better (but what they really mean is thinner.)

Society tells us (women especially, but the men are catching up) that we are in a zero sum game. That there is a perfect body. And each of us is judged based on our proximity to that ideal. And we know that this is true, because people with a lot of money pay a lot of money to get that body. Or as close to that body as they can get. And even those bodies get photoshopped to be even more in line with the ideal. 

When I was working in an optometrist’s office many years ago, there was a guy who came in, and I don’t remember how the subject came up, but he wanted to make sure that myself and the ladies in the office understood that models were not really that pretty and he should know because his job was to photoshop them to appropriate beauty. I think he was trying to be nice. But all I remember is how appalled I was. He was reducing women to their flaws. And “fixing” them for consumption. 

But I also want to say that I think it is a lot easier for me to dismantle my fat phobia because my eating is under control. When I was fat, I was also eating compulsively. And I could not stop, no matter how much I wanted to. And I hated myself for that. I felt weak. I felt like a loser. I have been the size I am now when I was in the food, but then I hated myself and my body. 

It turns out that when I got my eating under control, I could separate my eating from my body. I could really know that I was being kind and gentle to my body with food. And that meant that I could disconnect from the narrative that there was an ideal body. I had a body. It was a good one. And it didn’t need to be anything else.

If you can’t be in a body you love, love the body you’re in.

Ten years ago today I smoked my last cigarette. I had decided that I didn’t want to be a 35-year-old smoker. (Tomorrow is my birthday, in case that wasn’t obvious. And I turn 45 this time around.) It was about vanity for me. Quitting smoking felt like a really grown up thing to do. It felt like getting my shit together. So I did it. And it mostly felt great. 

Except in less than 6 months I had gained 30 pounds. Weighing all of my food. Eating quantifiably less food than I had been before quitting smoking (I know because I was weighing my food, and had already been doing so for years.) Eating less of foods like bacon and starchy vegetables. And still growing out of my clothes. 

I felt crazy! I was terrified! I had literal nightmares about stepping on the scale, about my weight going out of my control, about being fat again. Was I going to go right back up to 300 pounds again? Even with my eating boundaries?

I did not, of course, go back up to 300 pounds. My weight eventually stopped growing. But also, I have never been thin again. Ever. No more size 4s and 6s. No more tiny little dresses. No more little jeans that I held up thinking *these will never fit me*, but I was skinny, so they did. After the weight gain, I had to get rid of most of my clothes. It was hard. I cried a lot. Over the clothes, over my body, over my hormones going crazy trying to heal me after decades of being a smoker.

If I had known how it would go, I guarantee you I never would have quit. Because I cared so much about my weight. I had hated being fat and hated myself for being fat. When I had lost weight it felt like such an accomplishment. And people reinforced that idea. They were “proud” of me. They were “impressed.” They wanted me to “keep up the good work.” 

Except people didn’t want me to keep up the good work. They wanted me to stay thin. They didn’t care *how* I got there or maintained it. And in fact, a lot of them were freaked out or repulsed by the “good work” I actually did do to keep my eating under control which is what maintained the weight loss they were so “impressed” by.

And here I was *doing* this thing people wanted me to do (quit smoking) and it was making my body do this other thing people really *did not* want me to do (gain weight.)

So I did the only sensible thing, which, from the outside, to a lot of people, looked like a very stupid thing to do. I stopped caring about my weight. I made friends with the body I have. I started to dress the body I have. I started to exercise the body I have. I made a point to actively love the body I have. 

Obviously I am not sorry I quit smoking. Since 10 years later I am still a non-smoker, and I still keep my eating boundaries, even though I am not skinny. Because Life must have known what it was doing. Gaining weight with my eating under control was an excellent first step to dismantling my internalized fat phobia. It has let me see how we as a society shame and cow and control women with our body and beauty standards. And it let me heal a lot of the self-hatred that I had because I was fat in a world where fat is the worst thing a woman can be. It taught me in a practical way what no theoretical lesson could. That not all bodies can be shamed, cowed, and controlled into socially acceptable ones. At least not without the harsh and harmful methods I was now unwilling to subject my beloved body to. And that all I really need is to love the body I have exactly as it is.

Driving my meat car with the low fuel light always on

I was talking to a friend yesterday who forgot to eat for a long time and didn’t understand what was wrong. And it reminded me that there are a lot of us who don’t have bodies that function like other bodies.

My friend was raised with intuitive eating. (Not that it was specifically called that, but she was taught to only ever eat when she was hungry.) And that worked for her sisters and her parents. But my friend was feeling stressed out last week, and she did not feel hungry, so it never occurred to her to eat. So she didn’t. And it made her sick. Obviously.

And it reminded me that some of us don’t have the bodies with properly functioning “indicator lights.” My “hungry light” never goes off. My “full light” never goes on. For my friend, her “hungry light” never goes on. She usually takes her cues to eat from people around her, so when she is not around people, she can forget.

Before I got my eating under control, I thought hunger lived in my stomach. But since I have put boundaries around my eating, I have learned that my feelings live in my stomach. So any feeling used to feel like hunger. Unhappiness occurred as hunger. Anxiety occurred as hunger. Excitement occurred as hunger. And joy, and fear, and worry and dread. 

It turns out that actual hunger doesn’t really *feel* like anything to me. I’m more irritable, and my thinking less cogent. I am more likely to be scattered and not know what to do next. And I might, under extreme circumstances, feel wobbly or lightheaded. But none of those things *feel* the way I always thought hunger felt. They don’t feel like much of anything.

So I am grateful that I found a solution to my eating problem that doesn’t have anything to do with “listening to my body.” And I am grateful to have a point of reference for *not* listening to the feelings I have when it comes to food. 

I am not opposed to intuitive eating. I think that when all of your indicator lights function properly, it’s a smart way to nourish yourself. But here is to all of us driving around in our meat cars with the “low fuel” light always on (or off.) May we all find the best way to keep ourselves on the road.

The ability to just exist

My whole life growing up and even a few years into having my eating under control, I was obsessed with my weight. I thought about my weight all the time. I don’t mean that figuratively. If I was awake, some portion of my mind was occupied with thoughts about my body, specifically my fatness. I was constantly on the lookout for potential shamers. And I mean always and everywhere, since many of them were in my own family. Someone asking me if I was sure I wanted to eat that. Someone making a roundabout fat joke. Or a blatant fat joke. Someone assuring me that I was somehow lacking. Lacking willpower, lacking proper pride, lacking beauty, lacking sense. 

Even when I first lost weight after I gave up sugar and carbohydrates, I was still very much obsessed with my body. With its new thinness. With the (often, though not always) exciting attention I was getting as a suddenly conventionally beautiful woman. But also, with what occurred to me as a kind of lie. Beneath my clothes there were stretch marks and loose skin. I was not smooth and lean and perfect. Beneath my clothes was the evidence that I was not a “regular girl.” There was a fat girl under there.

That is one of the meanings of the title of this blog. Once a fat girl. Once, as in the past. But also, there is more to that saying. Once a fat girl, ALWAYS a fat girl. There were things about growing up fat that will never go away. There is a kind of trauma to it. And that trauma is not about what I did to myself. It’s not about eating or food addiction or the ways I dealt with or felt about my own body. Because in getting my eating under control, I got to work through those things. I got to confront myself, and look at my own soul and mind and life.

But in many ways I am still not over the trauma of the way I was treated by others because I was fat. So let me say it clearly. It was abuse. I was traumatized. I was harmed. It was not OK. 

The greatest gift of putting boundaries around my food is guilt-free eating. But right up there is the fact that I don’t have to think about my body. Almost ever. I don’t walk into a room wondering who is going to shame me. I don’t have to look around for potential abusers and make a plan for how I will escape. I don’t have to think about how I am going to be judged. I get to just exist. 

Fat people don’t get to just exist. And I think that is a terrible thing for everyone.

Right or Married?

This week was my sixth wedding anniversary with my husband. We have been together for 9 years. I am still madly in love with him too! And I am positive that it is because I have my eating under control.

When I first put boundaries around my eating, I lost a lot of weight. And I had always believed that my fatness was why I was single. So I really expected the man of my dreams to show up right away. I was gorgeous! (I had always been gorgeous, but then I was thin and gorgeous and in a socially acceptable body.) So where was my husband?

In the end, it would be over six years of having my eating under control and a pretty significant weight *gain* before I found (was reunited with) the man of my dreams.

My husband has always been supportive of my food boundaries. He bought me a refrigerator full of vegetables the first time he flew me out to stay with him. But he told me early on that he would not care if I were fat. That if I wanted to give up my eating boundaries, it would be OK with him.

I believed him that he didn’t care about my weight. But I don’t think he knows what he would get personally, spiritually or emotionally if I gave up my eating boundaries. 

We argued just yesterday. It happens. We are humans in a relationship. But we are not still in an argument. Because having my eating under control allows me a certain amount of clarity. What is worth standing my ground on, and what is better to let go? What is my fault and my responsibility? What are his triggers and fears, and how can I not rub up against them?

I never cared about anyone but myself when I was in the food. I didn’t know how. And I didn’t trust that anyone would care about what I wanted. So I lied, cheated, stole and manipulated. 

In putting boundaries around my eating, I learned how to take care of myself so well, that it was not a burden to care for another person. I was so nourished personally by my own hands, that I had more to give. More time, energy, compassion and grace. 

I really believe that all of these things are dependent on my eating being under control. So yes, I am so grateful to know that my weight is not an issue for my husband. I am happy to know that he can see my beauty as not directly linked to thinness. But I like my insides as calm and peaceful and happy as they are now. Because that peace extends to all aspects of my life. Including, and especially, my marriage.

It’s not what it looks like and other unbelievable truths

I have been thinking a lot lately about what having my eating boundaries looks like from the outside. And I really get how it looks crazy to some people. I can really see how it can look like an eating disorder instead of a solution to my disordered eating.

I weigh all of my food with some very few exceptions, and even those have rules. I entirely avoid a whole group of foods that most people all over the world eat every day. I make a point of *not* trusting my body and it’s feelings about whether or not I am hungry. So I really get how that can look crazy and weird.

So here is what I think the real difference is. I am happy and at peace in my life in a way I have never been before. And I never want to lose that. I would rather be this happy and never eat sugar again while simultaneously dealing with how upset people get when they learn I plan to never eat sugar again.

I can’t trust my body to tell me when to eat. And I know that because I have eaten things I didn’t want and didn’t like because they were there and I just could not stop eating. I have eaten when I was full to sickness and did not physically want anything more, but I could not stop eating. I have stolen food and lied and cheated for food, even though I felt intense guilt and humiliation, because I just could not stop eating.

Whenever I tell someone what I do with food and their reaction is to tell me that they “should” do what I do, I tell them that I don’t care what they eat. I am not judging. I am not the food police.

I eat the way I eat because I am an addict, and eliminating my drug foods is a solution to my eating problem. Not a weight problem or a health problem. A self-esteem problem. A self-love problem. A sanity problem.

I have had/do have eating disorders, by the way. Not just binge eating, but also exercise bulimia, and stick a toothbrush down your throat bulimia, and I have occasionally exhibited anorexic behaviors, though not very often. I have never had much “willpower” when it comes to food. (If you have read my blog for any period of time, you probably already know that I don’t believe in willpower.) So I want to say I have points of reference for eating disorders. And I never felt less peaceful or more crazy than when I was “managing my weight” with actual eating disorder behaviors.

So if you look at what I do and you see an eating disorder, I don’t really blame you. If I were doing what I do and starving (I am not, by the way) I would also be worried. But I am happy, joyous and free. I love my life. I have relationships that I never thought I could. I do things I never had the courage or drive to do before. I love my life *because* I have boundaries around my eating, not in spite of it.

Vanity, Pride and wanting to be skinny enough to be loved

I was talking to some friends who do what I do with food the other day. And I was reminded that the difference between me as a kid eating compulsively and me as an adult with boundaries around my food is much bigger inside than outside. I did lose a lot of weight. And that is one thing. But most people I still have in my life didn’t care about my weight when I was fat. And they really think that I am basically the same as I ever was. Only not fat. And they don’t care about that.

This is interesting to me because I feel like an entirely different person. On the inside. And not just because I don’t think about my weight or my body anymore, which is HUGE, because when I was eating compulsively I thought about my body and my weight all the time. I worried about what other people thought about my body. But more importantly I worried about who was going to humiliate me because of my size and shape. Because people loved to humiliate me. People love to humiliate fat people in general.

But aside from not having that constant nagging fear and shame, I feel entirely different than I did when I was in the food. And it is about having my addiction under control. I have a clear head. I have a clear conscience because I have done my best to clean up my past messes and to “clean as I go” in my relationships now. I have a peace around not only my actions and words, but also my circumstances. I have a new relationship to what happens to me and how I react to it. One where I assess what is the reality of the situation, accept it, and act (or abstain from acting) according to who I want to be in my life.

Here is the deal. I believe whole heartedly that the people in my life would still love me if I were fat. I believe my husband would still love me. I believe my friends and family would still love me. That they would not see me as all that different.

And if what I do with food were only about being thin, and I knew that people would still love me fat, I would have quit. A long time ago. If it were about my body, and my weight, and I knew that my husband did not really care about my weight, I would have said screw it. I would have gone back to cake. Because when I got my eating under control, it really was to be skinny enough to be loved.

But now I do what I do because when I do it, I love myself. And I do not love myself because I’m skinny. I am not skinny. I love myself because I do what I say I am going to do. I be where I say I am going to be. I tell the truth and I honor myself. These were not things I could do before. Because how could I have been honest about anything when I could never be honest about food? I have sometimes heard “how you do anything is how you do everything.” And I was a liar about food. How could I not be a liar in any other aspect of my life?

As time goes by and I get more clearheaded, I know that weight is less and less important to me. That I don’t keep my eating boundaries for physical vanity. Though I’ll admit it is a kind of vanity. I like looking like I’ve got my shit together. But also, I like that I actually have my shit together. So maybe that’s more pride than vanity. (Do I sound like Mary Bennet now?!?) Either way, I am grateful that my happiness is not all tangled up with my weight anymore. Even if it is still tangled up with my food.

Here’s to many more

Today is the 16th anniversary of my giving up simple carbohydrates and man made sugars and putting boundaries around my eating.

There are things about that time of my life (mid to late 2005) that I don’t think about too often anymore. But at the time I was 28, and I felt crazy. I had lost a significant amount of weight through dangerous restriction of calories, over exercise, and laxative abuse. And none of those things was sustainable. And it was becoming very clear to me that any of the weight that I lost was on its way right back. And that was terrifying.

At the time, agreeing to eating boundaries was about my weight. And that was a blessing in its way. If you had told me “if you give up sugar you’ll have peace around food.” I would probably not have even understood what you were offering. And I definitely would have kept eating cake. But there is saying among people who have the same eating boundaries that I do. “Come for the vanity. Stay for the sanity.” And I did not know then that the sanity would be the best part, but here we are.

I have a different relationship to my weight now. I am not skinny. I don’t worry about being skinny. But one thing I will say about the difference in my weight, I am incredibly grateful to have a body that flies below the radar. People don’t really notice it. But they sure did when I was fat. And that anticipation of cruelty and judgment from others made me think about my body all the time. I almost never think about my body now. And that is a huge relief.

For well over a decade, I have not had to think about my body. I don’t hate my self for either my body or my inability to control my eating. I don’t think about what I look like or if people are judging me. I am free from my obsessions! Ok, I’m still pretty obsessed with fantasy novels. And yarn craft. And…oh, you get the point! What I am not obsessed with is getting high on food and then making sure nobody can tell by my body that I am obsessed with getting high on food.

So happy anniversary to me! And (fingers crossed) many more.

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