onceafatgirl

Peace is better than chocolate

Archive for the category “Personal Growth”

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.

It’s not mud. It’s quicksand.

Part of my sugar addiction is physical. When I used to put sugar in my body, it caused a chemical reaction that got me high, and then set up a craving for more. I’m a sugar addict. I can understand that not everyone has that reaction to sugar, but I do and it will never go away. Like how plenty of people drink alcohol responsibly, but once someone has become an alcoholic that is pretty much it. Once a pickle is a pickle, it can never go back to being a cucumber.

But another part of my addiction is behavioral. And for as rigid as it seems to some people, it is where so much of my peace lies. 

I strictly control my food portions. I eat exactly 3 times a day. And I weigh all of my food except for a few very specific things and even those have very strict rules.

When I was eating compulsively, I never wanted anything to be quantified or clear. I wanted the rules to be muddied. I wanted to be able to stretch them. And eventually break them. I wanted to feel like I was doing something without having to actually do anything. I didn’t want to give up my drug foods. I just wanted to feel like I was trying. Or feel like I looked like I was trying. And I definitely really did want to be skinny. But to be specific, and to make clear boundaries was to have to face the reality of my situation. And I didn’t really want to know.

But what happened when I did put real, quantifiable boundaries around my eating, was my head got quiet and I found peace. 

I had never realized how much mental gymnastics I was doing to be able to cheat on my diet without feeling like I was cheating. Or how much I actually ended up hating myself for lying to and cheating myself.

Until it stopped. 

Withdrawal sucked. And it took a long time. But it was entirely worth it to be on the other side *knowing* for a fact that I was honest. That I kept my promises to myself. That I took care of myself. 

The muddy rules alway seemed like freedom, but were absolutely quicksand.

How I became a unicorn, one day at a time.

I keep a day count on my phone of how long I have had my eating under control. Today is day 6,047. 16.5 years. And that seems like such an insanely long time.

In the beginning, I was looking at people who had a year and that seemed like such a far away goal. And then, by the time I got a year, 3 years seemed like such huge amount of time. I didn’t even pay attention to the people who had more time than I had even been alive. They may as well have been unicorns. 

For those first few years, I was so used to being a liar and a cheater, and so used to not being able to stick to a diet, that I would sometimes sort of panic. I would think to myself, really? Have I really not eaten anything I said I wouldn’t in 6 months, or a year, or two? Am I really doing this?

But I had a strict set of rules. And I had a person I was accountable to every day for those rules. And I could ask myself if I followed those rules. And the answer was yes! Miraculously yes!

I have heard a lot of compulsive eaters say that when they first came and started to do what I do with food, they thought people were liars. That there was “no way” anyone could actually not eat any sugar for years, or actually weigh all of their food without lying about it. Even my husband said in the beginning of our relationship that he didn’t believe anyone else was doing it as “perfectly” as I was. But I knew that they were. Because I was and I was as hopeless a case as there was.

So here is the trick. You don’t just wake up one day and have over 16 years. It’s one day at a time. It’s one meal at a time. It’s one moment at a time. It’s one feeing at a time. It’s one messed up situation at a time. It’s one terrible restaurant experience at a time. It’s one telling a family member thank you but you don’t eat that anymore at a time. And all of those add up. And now, 16 years later, I am somebody’s unicorn.

My comfort arsenal

So far, 2022 has been a great year for books for me, but a terrible year for my health. I fell down the stairs on January 1st, got myself a bruise bigger than my head on my thigh, and before it was even remotely healed, I caught some kind of cold, had a really intense reaction to my covid vaccine booster, followed by some other sickness that has been lingering for months. (I have never tested positive for Covid, but I have sure had something.) I have had some form of hurt or illness every day this year. Every. Single. Day. So well over 6 months. And I am frustrated and exhausted from it.

But one thing I appreciate is that throughout this year, I have never thought about eating compulsively. And that’s a miracle. Because before I got my eating under control, food was always my comfort. It didn’t make everything better, but it got me high enough that I didn’t care. 

I still take comfort in food. I expect I always will. But it used to be my comfort at the expense of being at the mercy of my drug foods, a whole different kind of discomfort lurking underneath, waxing and waning with my high. And now it’s comfort in the safety and peace of self-care.

I don’t miss sugar. I don’t crave it. I don’t think about it. But eating for me is still about the sensations and the ways they make me happy. Crispy bell peppers, and creamy homemade ice cream, and snacky cheese bites, and fresh, citrusy pico de gallo. All of these things make me happy and take my mind off of my troubles. 

And when meal time is over and the next meal is not for hours, I have learned to have other things that give me peace and comfort. Crafting, and listening to audiobooks, talking books with my reading buddy or my mom, writing, or binge watching some show or other. 

It certainly took time to acquire this comfort arsenal. I was not good at it right away. It was years of managing to just not eat a cake. To get by as best I could. But now I am well equipped to deal with discomfort in a healthy, sane way. 

And of course, like all things, this too shall pass.

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.

The potential to show up is enough

This past week has been a week of not much. I have done some knitting, and some daydreaming about my doll and how to proceed with embroidering her dress and crocheting her shoes (daydreaming is definitely part of the process) and I have done some cleaning, but really, I have not done much to be productive. But I was reminded this week that just keeping my food boundaries is enough.

In the beginning of having my eating under control, when people used to tell me “all you have to do in a day is weigh and measure your food,” I could really feel that. Because in the beginning, that was all I *could* do. Often! How I managed to make any money at the time is a bit of a mystery to me. The first year and a half of keeping my eating boundaries is a blur. But I know for sure it included a lot of sleeping, and a lot of watching anime.

But after 16 years, I can accomplish a lot. I have a huge capacity to get things done. I have a huge amount of time and patience and space in my head. And I like it! I like being productive. I like being good at things. I like being capable.

But the fact remains that 16 years in, it is still enough to have weighed and measured my food every day without exception. Because every day that I do that is a day that gives me the potential to do more.

Here’s another thing I understand. That having my eating under control means that when a thing needs to get done, I can do it. And I do do it. I can be counted on. I can count on myself. So if not a lot got done today, then not a lot needed to get done. And as long as I keep my eating boundaries, I can trust that I will show up for the stuff that needs showing up.

Reclaiming My Time

When I got my eating under control in 2006, what I ended up getting was a lot of time. Like a ridiculous amount of time. 

So much of my life before that was eating, or planning the next thing I would eat, or getting the thing I wanted to eat, or just thinking about eating. And then there was the body stuff. Trying to pick clothes that hid my body, or trying on everything I owned because I hated my body and hoped that something would look ok.

When I put boundaries around my eating, I definitely spent a lot of time meal prepping. But “a lot of time” is relative. And so I had a block of 2-3 hours once or twice a week to make all the food I would eat for the week. And eating itself took absolutely no more than 3 hours a day. And I did not have to think about my body anymore. I could just put on clothes and go about my day. And I didn’t have to think about eating all the time, because I already *knew* what I was going to eat and when.

Add to all of that the rise of YouTube, and all of the crafting tutorials everywhere, and suddenly, I had the time and brain space to get great. I leveled up in crochet, taught myself how to knit, and acquired new and more impressive crafting skills.

Well, recently I made a dress up doll that looks like a character from the Bridgerton tv show, because I am obsessed with her dresses (and her character.) And of course the show is a huge budget period piece so the dresses are complicated. I decided that I needed to learn to embroider. More specifically to embroider on crochet to make the appliqué designs. Because of course I did.

The point is, I can. I have the time. I have the brain space to learn. I have the desire to do something even if it is complicated.

The other thing that I have is the willingness to do the prep work. I spent many hours crocheting a particular dress, before the appliqué accents. And there was a time before having my eating under control, when I would have watched some tutorials, and then jumped right in and gone to work on the finished dress. And maybe it would have been ok, but maybe it wouldn’t. But I was too impatient to take my time. I didn’t have much time. There was food to obsess over and eat, and clothes to try on and take off, and a body to lament.

But getting back all of that time has made me willing and able to do my due diligence. To make a swatch (or 2, or sometimes 3) and practice. To try new techniques, and decide which worked best. To really play with it. 

Crafting makes me proud. I love what I do. I love the feeling of accomplishment. I love having an object that I can hold in my hand. I love the puzzle of figuring out how to take an idea and make it a reality.

I was always creative. I made all kinds of art through all kinds of media, my whole life. But I never had the patience or brain space to really excel until I put boundaries around my eating and took back my time.

Growing, just really slowly. (Still counts!)

I feel like every year around this time, I eat a too-big-for-comfort half cantaloupe. And about once every 2-3 years, I write a blog about it. Because I never learn. 

That is not true. I learn. Just very veeeerrrrry slowly. 

Over the years, my need for gargantuan breakfast fruit has mellowed. When I first got my eating under control, giant fruits saved me. They helped me make it through the morning to lunch without eating. Because eating was a habit, not a need. I was not hungry, I had cravings. My body did not need fuel or nourishment. I was used to eating all the time, and the things I was eating, man made sugar and simple carbohydrates, got me high. And triggered cravings for more of the same. So a giant apple that weighed over a pound, or half of a cantaloupe bigger than my head, made me feel like I could manage to get through.

But years later, I already know that I don’t need that much food. That the amount I eat is enough, and more than enough. In the past 16+ years, I have almost never been hungry. It does happen every once in a while. Maybe 1-3 times a year, I am ravenous by the time lunch or dinner rolls around. But not anything major. Barely a blip on my radar. And it never lasts.

And yet, I still occasionally find myself buying cantaloupes that are bigger than I need. And I still eat the half of it. 

In my defense, the cantaloupes I buy now are much smaller than the ones I used to buy 16, and 10, and even 3 years ago. The one I ate half of today was not only not bigger than my head, it was not even the same size. A cantaloupe smaller than my head! This is progress, people! Look at me growing and changing!

But the truth is, there is still something in me that is afraid there will not be enough to satisfy me. I expect it will always be there. 

And here is the other thing I want to make clear. Even if it does make me a little ill, it is more important to me to satisfy and nurture that thing in me that is afraid of deprivation, than it is to “eat a reasonable amount of food.” If you think the discomfort of eating too much is worse than the fear of not eating enough, my guess is that you, my friend, are not a food addict or a compulsive eater.

I eat within my boundaries. Always! And it is still possible for me to eat more than is comfortable while staying well within those boundaries. So even if I am stuffed, I have zero guilt and absolutely no shame.

I think people think about addiction, especially food addiction, as being a thing you can eventually get over. Like after 16 years, can’t I just “eat like a normal person?” But I am not now, and never will be, “normal” around food. It is still a huge part of my life and my heart and my thinking.

So I don’t expect to ever get over it. But maybe, someday, I will not go out of my way to buy too-big cantaloupes every summer. Wouldn’t that be some growth. Anyway, today is not that day.

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.

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