onceafatgirl

Peace is better than chocolate

Archive for the category “Personal Growth”

The living declaration of my priorities

The other day I was talking to somebody who is just starting to give up sugar and put boundaries around her eating and she was saying she is worried about not being organized enough to do what I do. Which is an understandable fear when you hear me talk about all of the things I do to keep my eating boundaries.

But there is a secret I told her that I will tell you. It’s not about doing all of the things like shopping and chopping and preparing. It’s about *making the commitment* to get your eating under control and *having the willingness* to do it no matter what.

You can still keep your eating boundaries without doing all of these seemingly time consuming things. It’s just harder. It’s just a lot more work. It just doesn’t make sense when you are going to keep the boundaries anyway. But the prep and the time and the effort do not create commitment. All of the trips to the grocery and the hours in the kitchen are the symptoms of that commitment.

Someone on social media once asked “how do people start working out first thing in the morning?” When I am working, I work out in the morning. Often when it’s still dark out. And the answer is, first you make the commitment to work out. And you do it whenever you can. And eventually you realize that you don’t want to take two showers a day. Or you don’t want to have to bring a change of clothes with you. Or you don’t want to have to stop back at home after work before going out. So you work out first thing because that is more convenient. But it’s only more convenient if you already knew for a fact that you were going to work out no matter what.

Someone once told me that making a commitment changes the whole trajectory of your life. And I didn’t understand that until I got my eating under control. Until I chose to get my eating under control and decided it was the most important thing I could do in a day. A commitment is a kind of living declaration of our priorities, and I love that my life is an example of that.

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A memory of exhaustion

The other day I was writing my stream of consciousness meditation pages and I wanted to stop. Just stop in the middle. More like the beginning, but I had already started. I did not stop, but it gave me a kind of emotional flashback.

I used to do this particular form of quitting all the time when I was eating compulsively. It is specifically around some commitment I have made to be a better person. Or at least a person I personally like better.

There is a particular example of this that I sometimes think about just because of the timing. In September of 2001, I was taking a self-help seminar in the World Trade Center. I think the seminar was on a Wednesday or a Thursday so it was probably the 6th or the 7th, and I don’t specifically remember but I am reasonably certain I didn’t do my homework, and I was probably ashamed of that. And just in general I didn’t want to show up, and I knew that I should. And on this particular day, I schlepped myself all the way there to the World Trade Center, which was nowhere near anything else I did like my job or my home. I walked in the big doors into the giant corridor with the security stations and the big banks of elevators on the other side, and then I just turned around and left. Got all the way to the seminar, spent all of that time and energy to travel there and still didn’t show up to take care of myself. And of course, I would never go to the WTC again.

I did this with all sorts of things that I had started doing to make myself feel better, feel good, feel like I had my shit together. I would get my running clothes on, and start a jog, but I would just quit. In the middle of a jog. Just stop and decide I didn’t want to do it anymore. And I would feel awful about it. But the idea of effort was so terrifying to me that I often just shut down. I feared any pain, but especially the pain of growth.

It was interesting to have that feeling again about a writing meditation. Kind of scary, a little uncomfortable. Because that part of me is still there. But since I got my eating under control, it doesn’t win. I can feel it, acknowledge it, but not bow to it. I can want to quit and not quit.

When I put boundaries around my eating I got what some people call “abstinent references.” I learned, first hand, that I would not starve if I didn’t eat between meals. I learned that I would not die if I admitted my mistakes and made amends for them. I learned that effort is not the level of suffering I always feared it was. I learned that that once something was begun, like a workout, or showing up at the place I was supposed to be, it was actually easier to keep going and follow through than to quit. That the level of justification I would have to maintain to not feel awful about myself over it would be way more effort than just doing the workout or attending the meeting.

To remember what I used to be like is to remember how exhausted I was all the time. Because second guessing myself and stressing about everything, and being afraid of the world, and being afraid of my life was so much more exhausting than all of the food prep work and the shopping and chopping and working out and writing and meditation and that I do.

My Recurring Holiday Miracle

There is no Halloween candy in my house. But it doesn’t matter. Because I didn’t want it and I didn’t eat any of it. And that is my recurring holiday miracle. 

Yes yes. I think sugar is poison. To me at the very least. But I am not the food police, or anyone’s parent. And also, I remember Halloween as a kid. The dressing up. Walking around the neighborhood I lived in with friends and cousins, ringing doorbells, shrieking with excitement. All the other kids doing the same. And the candy was so exciting because it was the big prize on top of all of the fun! So yes, I give out candy at Halloween. And I always buy more than I need. 

But the morning after I packed up all those left over mini chocolate bars and sent them to work with my husband. Big men doing physical labor all day made quick work of it.

But I never thought about it. Never craved it. Never thought about a single morsel of it as mine. That is not mine. It’s poison to me.

When I put sugar in my body, it sets up a craving for more. But there is the other blissful side of that. When I don’t put sugar in my body, and by now it has been well over 16 years, I don’t crave it. I don’t even really see it, let alone have any kind of feelings about it. 

I did work to get to this point. I had to change the way I thought about food. I had to stop romanticizing thoughts about sugar. Stop thinking pastry sounded good and start thinking it sounded like a slow, painful death. I had to keep myself away from it entirely for a long time. Stay out of particular grocery store aisles. Cross the street to get away from certain street vendor smells. Avert my eyes from the dessert case when I went to get a cup of coffee. I had to do these things for years.

But the work is done. And now my job is maintenance. As in stay away from the first bite of sugar. But that part is so much easier when my body doesn’t remember it. And remembering every day that I am an addict, keeps me from reintroducing them.

All the angels are here.

I started a new meditation practice this week. It feels good. It has been a while since I have had a strong, long-term, daily practice of some sort of meditation and reflection. 

The most spiritual thing I do in a day is weigh my food and keep my eating boundaries. That action itself is a kind of prayer of gratitude. Thank you God/Life/Universe for this nourishment that also blocks the obsession of eating. Every time I do it I know that I am doing something that keeps me on the path I want to be on. The path that leads to my most authentic self. The path that gives me a chance for a life that I love.

I used to think that spirituality was amorphous and ethereal. A thing that couldn’t be fully understood. But now I think of it as a series of actions. Weighing and measuring my food 3 times a day. Writing 3 pages of stream of consciousness. Being still and quiet for 3 timed minutes. Writing out at least 3 things I am grateful for. (Apparently I like the number 3.) 

Every time I make a commitment to myself, for myself, and keep it, that is a spiritual act. Did my workout? Spiritual. Drank my water? Spiritual.

Having a practical spirituality changed my whole way of thinking. I no longer have to wonder about God and if I am doing what God wants. I am doing what I want, and giving myself all of the things I want for myself. Heaven is empty and all the angels are here.

Does the baby need a pacifier? (Yes. The answer is yes.)

When I got back from the grocery store yesterday I could not help thinking about how many drinks my husband and I consume daily and weekly. And most of them, for both of us, are zero calories (or very low calorie for him) and many are caffeine free as well. There is no nutritional value. They are essentially just pacifiers. 

This is not a judgment. I am not judging myself, my husband, or anyone else for this. Because zero calorie drinks always have, and continue to, help me keep my eating boundaries. They help me get through the day without eating between meals. Or feeling like I want to eat between meals.

I have the desire to eat all the time. Not for nourishment. Not because I actually want to eat. Not because I’m hungry. I just love to eat. I love the way it makes me feel. I love the experience. And drinking calorie-free drinks tricks my brain into feeling like I’m eating when I am not. 

Because actually eating all the time made me miserable. It made me hate my body, made me hate my life, and made me hate myself. But diet drinks are a safe way to feel satisfied without breaking my boundaries. 

So much of keeping my addiction under control is following rules. By which I mean, it’s about honesty and integrity. It’s about making and keeping promises around food. It’s about being fully aware of what is going into my mouth, and knowing, unequivocally, that it’s aligned with my commitments. And zero calorie drinks are within my boundaries and can be partaken of guilt free.

The kinds of things I drink have changed a bit over the years. I used to drink coffee and espresso all day every day. And now I mostly don’t drink caffeine after noon. I make some notable exceptions, like if I go to a bar or restaurant to be with family and friends, I drink diet cola and I don’t worry about caffeine. But not drinking caffeine is a goal, not a rule or a promise. Knowing what is a hard and fast rule is what keeps me peaceful. It keeps me proud of myself and happy in my body and my life. And if I need a pacifier, so be it.

Suffering and sustainability are mutually exclusive

The good and bad of a person like me with food boundaries moving to a new place is always getting to know a new grocery store. Or a few. Inevitably there will be new things that I haven’t had yet that I am happy to find, and old things I can’t find anymore. And that, my friends, is why I love shopping online. Because if I can’t find it in my new grocery store, I can get my sugar free barbecue sauce delivered to my door.

I am obsessed with food. Eternally. I love to eat. Keeping my meals within my eating boundaries lets me eat without guilt or shame. Loving my meals keeps me within my boundaries because I don’t feel deprived. There is no boneless skinless chicken breast and steamed broccoli for me. There is no chicken breast at all! If it’s chicken it’s wings with the skin on or thighs or drumsticks. And the broccoli is definitely sautéed and seasoned and maybe even has some hot sauce in it.

Every place we have lived I have gotten a new menu of meals within my boundaries. And acquired a new list of foods and flavorings to find online from the things I now need but can’t get locally. But no matter where we are or for how long, I make sure my meals are delicious, satisfying, and a haven for me 3 times a day. They are still a source of joy and contentment for me.

I could never “eat to live.” I could never consider what I put in my body as a tool as opposed to a joyful experience. And I could not do this for over 16 1/2 years if eating were an aside or an afterthought, and not the main event. I could never sustain that kind of relationship with food. And ultimately, if I can’t do something long term, it doesn’t work. If you want to understand how a person like me, an addict, has maintained over a 100 pound weight loss for over a decade, you have to recognize that I am not on a diet. And that I continue to do what I do because I am not doing it “just until I’m thin enough to eat what I want.” I do it because I genuinely love my food.

If I’m going to sustain, I can’t suffer. The two are mutually exclusive.

Always another meal coming

Today I get reunited with my husband (finally!) and we both get to live in daylight hours and eat dinner together and go to sleep at the same time! 

I am headed out to the grocery store soon so we can have our favorite dinner tonight (sous vide filet mignon with a baked potato for him and sautéed garlic green beans for me) for the first time in months. 

When my husband is not around I eat a lot like a kid. I make a lot of homemade sugar free ice cream. I eat a lot of bacon and eggs. Together or separately. Plus I eat a lot of nostalgic things, like eggs with cheddar cheese and ketchup, which was my go to bodega breakfast sandwich back in NYC when I was both poor and ate bread. And I love it for that time! Of course I do. But the truth is it’s not as great as sitting down to dinner with my husband. 

Food is always emotional for me. I am not neutral around it. Not around sugar, but also not around the things I do and can eat. I am just as obsessed with eating as I ever was. But the boundaries make it easy for me to be obsessed 3 times a day. Instead of all day every day. 

I have had to make friends with the way I relate to food. Mange to keep it in its proper place, while accepting that I will never not care about it. But the great thing about that is that food can still be my sanctuary. In fact, it is more a sanctuary now than when I was eating compulsively. Because I get to go hide in the food for a time now. Half an hour or an hour. But then I can walk away and leave it to go have a life until the next meal. And there is always another meal coming.

Sensible Priorities for a One Track Mind

I have spent my week building furniture. Two night stands, two end tables, a TV stand, a coffee table, a small dresser, and a platform bed frame with headboard. The dining set and couch should be delivered this coming week.

We ended up buying all of our furniture on line, and I am the one who is here. So I am the one who has to build it. To be honest, I kind of love it. I like building things. I’m good at it. And there is something deeply satisfying about taking an array of stuff, putting it together, and getting something useful. Not that the things that I am building are particularly complicated. They are not. And some of them, like the end tables, are literally just screwing the legs directly into the table tops. No tools or hardware required. (The bed was more complex.)

And any time there was something particularly difficult, or really more like cumbersome and meant for more than one person, I figured out a way around it. Because I like problem solving too. And I am good at that too.

A project like those kinds of projects are fun for me. But they can also make me obsessed and obsessive. Once it’s begun I don’t want to stop until it’s finished. Even if there is something else important I should be doing. Like eating lunch. Because it’s time, and I’m hungry, and I am not thinking as well as I would be once I ate my lunch. 

That is one of my many gifts of getting my eating under control. Common sense priorities. 

I can have a one track mind. Even when I was in the food I could have a one track mind, even about things that weren’t sugar or carbohydrate related. (Though that was a huge part of it.) I can get caught up in a crochet or knitting project and not want to stop. One more row, one more line, one more pattern repeat. I can get caught up in making a costume or some other kind of art piece, and look up and realize it’s after midnight and I have been at it for hours. 

But getting my eating under control taught me that eating my weighed and measured meal at a reasonable time is more important than the momentum of building a bed frame. And the bed frame will still be there when I get done, and my body is sated and my brain is getting enough fuel to not put the piece on backwards and screw the hardware in so tight I strip the screws. 

I have a lot of crazy. A lot of intense feelings. And not just weepy sadness or incandescent rage. I have a lot of strong desire and driven ambition. It’s not a particularly useful kind of ambition that makes me a boat load of money, like the desire to build a company from the ground up, or be a CEO. It’s definitely centered more around arts and crafts. But it can still make me crazy and single minded to the detriment of my health and well-being.

So getting sensible priorities was a gift of putting the food down. Yes, I can still get lost in a project. Start designing a new part of my latest crochet doll and miss my usual workout time. Or get caught up in fixing a mistake in my blanket and look up and realize I need to stop and eat lunch or I will have to push dinner back. Or stop trying new crochet techniques for nothing in particular but my own learning and go to sleep if I want my 8 hours. And I most definitely want my 8 hours. 

Getting my eating under control didn’t change my personality. It just made me able to manage my own natural craziness. But that is definitely a gift worth having.

I put on my big girl panties even when I don’t want to

Tomorrow I drive six hours to my new apartment in Upstate New York. I. Not we. Because my husband has to stay here in New Jersey in a hotel for another week. Still on the night shift. This does not thrill me.

There are things about it that I am cool with. I will be happy to be back on daylight hours. I like the idea of setting up our new place so it feels like home when he finally joins me there. I like the prospect of my whole kitchen for meal prep. And a dishwasher again finally! But mostly I hate being separated from him.

When I was in the food I was very bad doing what needed to be done. I was bad at doing my homework. Bad at waking up on time. Bad at paying my bills. Bad at anything I didn’t want to do. 

In getting my eating under control, I learned to do the drudge work. For one thing, I had to make all of my food. And I had to make it in a timely manner. It was the first step for me in honoring my commitments. Or at least the annoying commitments. (You want me to learn lines and choreography for a stage play? Yes! You want me to write a paper with references on a historical figure? Not so much…)

So here is this thing that I have to do: Be separated from my husband. And I will do it. But I can only do it with any grace because I have tools. Tools I got from putting boundaries around my eating. Things like remembering that all things are temporary, and this too shall pass. Things like doing one thing at a time and resting when I need to. Things like making set plans and creating structures for myself so we can talk and FaceTime while we’re apart. Or whatever I need to make it through with peace and good humor.

But one of the most important tools I have is the ability to feel whatever I am feeling, and not have that get in the way of what I am doing. I didn’t know how to get any kind of delayed gratification when I was eating compulsively. I didn’t know how to not do what felt pretty good now, so I could feel amazing later instead. Working out certainly sucks in the moment, but feeling strong and capable and not getting winded when I run up stairs is pretty spectacular. Not to mention feeling like I am aging gracefully because I am relatively fit. An old friend who passed away not too long ago used to say “discipline is just remembering what you want.” (Though admittedly, the rewards here are money and my husband still having a great job, which is not as motivating to someone like me as, say, figuring out a design aspect of a new crochet project, but as long as he’s happy…)

Today I will cook my meals for tomorrow and the next day, and pack up my little car. And tomorrow I will get up early in the morning (actual morning!) and go meet with the leasing office to pick up my keys and start the move into our new place. I’m going to put on my big girl panties and take care of business. Even though I don’t want to.

Setting myself up

Thank heaven for all of the structures I keep in place for myself. For example, just a minute ago my alarm went off. The one that goes off every Sunday morning asking if I posted a blog. 

Today I am in Chicago for a couple of days, so I am not in my usual routine. And I had not only not written a blog, but I forgot about it entirely. So when my alarm went off, I had to stop crocheting and write!

When I was younger, I not only thought I had to do all of the things I wanted to do, or at least thought I should do, I thought I had to keep all of it in my head. I wanted to do things “the right way” but ultimately, I was setting myself up for failure. And more often than not, the thing I wanted to do perfectly, didn’t get done at all.

Now I keep alarms for everything. I will set an alarm to remind me to turn back on an alarm I turned off.

One thing I see a lot in knit and crochet forums is new crafters asking about stitch counts and how to keep track of complicated patterns. And the advice that comes from long term crafters is usually something like “use stitch markers, and use as many as you need.” Stop trying to keep everything in your head. Put structures in place. Even if you think it looks ridiculous. Even if it does look ridiculous.

Getting my eating under control taught me my priorities. But it also taught me to set my self up to succeed. Because wanting to do a thing is not the same as actually doing it. And to get things done, I need to do things like plan ahead. Prepare. Put my self in a position to get it right.

I am not saying there isn’t some gold in knowing how to go with the flow and succeed in the face of absolute chaos. But success when the odds are stacked against me is exhausting. It’s a moment of triumph, but it’s not sustainable. It’s a once in a while exercise. Not a way of life.

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