onceafatgirl

Peace is better than chocolate

Archive for the category “Personal Growth”

Velvet doesn’t get to make the decisions.

I was thinking that I should start cooking with salt. Or at least figure out how to cook with salt. Because I have been making a lot of recipes lately, and I have noticed that putting the salt in the dry rub or marinade makes a difference. Salt cooked into food is tasty. But that is not how I generally cook, because I don’t taste while I cook. That’s a rule. I only put portion and ingredient controlled food in my mouth three times a day. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Any time that is not those times, nothing goes in my mouth but zero calorie drinks. Any food that is outside of my 3 portion controlled meals does not go in my mouth ever. That includes food that will eventually be part of my 3 meals. So even if it’s just a bite, a lick, a drop, I cannot have it. Even just a speck is too much. And I thought with some embarrassment what some particular foodie friends would think of that.

Because I want to be cool. I have always wanted to be cool. In all areas of whatever. Let me put it to you this way. There are a lot of different things to be, and we can be many things simultaneously, and we all have our priorities. Some people have propriety as a priority. (This is not really one of my personal priorities…) Some people have being knowledgeable as a priority. Some people have loyalty as a priority. And some of us have being cool as a priority. I am vain. Very very vain. (I am, of course, also a non-conformist, so there is a limit to how much I care about what other people think, but if you think about who has always been considered “cool,” they are generally not a bunch of followers, so…)

So I want to be cool and I am afraid that the kind of strict regulation I follow might negate my hep, devil-may-care attitude. Because I don’t actually have a devil-may-care attitude. Not when it comes to food, my body, or my sugar addiction.

But also, it is a little ridiculous that I am worried about my cooking “chops,” so to speak. I am an amazing cook. I make delicious, interesting things all the time. I am creative AF, okay? I have always made satisfying, and often ingenious, alternatives to foods I had to stop eating for my vanity, sanity, and health. But there is a limit to how “fancy” I can get. Because I have these rules. And I need these rules. These rules ultimately make me happy. Getting my eating under control really is the greatest thing to ever happen to me. And these rules are that control. Anything less than this kind of extreme limitation has never been enough to keep me sane around food. No looser set of boundaries have ever made me happy.

I am bringing this up because I heard the other day that being authentic is about being able to hear that voice in your head that talks so much shit, and shine a light on it; it’s being able to make friends with your more unsavory aspects. It’s to say out loud the things you most don’t want people to know.

My personal experience is that nothing slays the dragon like pointing out that there is a dragon, that it’s scary, and that you are afraid of being cooked like a sausage and eaten.

My other personal experience is that whatever it is that I am terrified to tell the world, seems pretty tame, even lame, once I do manage to say it out loud.

So I have these restrictive rules about food and there is not really anything to do about it. Those rules are not a problem. They are the solution to my problem, food. Food has always been my problem for as long as I can remember. So the truth is, if it’s not cool to be so restrictive, then I am not cool.

Then I have a few options: 1) Be not cool and be a bitch about it. I don’t recommend this one. It just leads to misplaced anger and resentment. 2) Be not cool and be cool about it. Or 3) Be not cool and be so freaking cool about it that it changes the perception of cool. What is not an option is to break my rules, or cross my own boundaries.

I am going to try cooking with salt, but I am still not going to taste while I am cooking. Will I screw it up? Possibly. Will I end up figuring it out in the end? I have no doubt. The deal is that cooking with salt is ultimately not a big deal, but I still had shameful, humiliating, unsavory thoughts because of it. And I do myself, and everyone who likes the authentic Kate, a disservice when I pretend that I don’t have a shady inner life.

I want to let everybody know that for all of my positive attitude, and fearless championing of the sugar-free life, even after over 11 years, I still have my embarrassments and my doubts. I want you to know because you may be having doubts too. Maybe about food, but maybe about something else, starting your own business, training for a marathon, changing careers. I don’t want you to look at me, or read my blog, and think that I am so bleeping cheerful because the only voice in my head is a cheerleader named Bambi who has the spirit and wants you to have it too! There’s also a gloomy Goth girl named Velvet who would like me, all of us really, to remember that life is pain, humiliation is hiding around every corner, resistance is futile, and in the end we’re all going to die. And she’s way sneakier than Bambi. Bambi shouts into her megaphone at high noon in a neon yellow bikini. Velvet whispers subliminal messages of impending doom in my ear while my attention is diverted.

I’m saying that I have the same dark side you do. I just make a point to keep an eye on my little Goth, and make sure she doesn’t get to make the decisions.

 

It just may be a luuuuuunatic you’re looking for.

After 3 or so weeks of frustration and difficulty, I am back to my usual self. That’s the good news. The bad news is that I still have to write a post for my eating disorder blog, and I don’t have anything in particular to say.

I don’t eat sugar, and it’s great? Yay?

Look, I don’t eat sugar. And it is great. If you do eat sugar, not eating sugar is better than you know, and way way way better than you think.

I say all the time that I am not the food police, and I do not care if you eat sugar. And I really don’t. Even if you’re fat. Even if it is killing you and making you miserable. What I really believe in is personal freedom. I happen to be an American, (though I know many of you are not, hi international friends!) and I strongly believe in those American ideals that center around the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I mean the liberty to do things that are killing you and making you miserable, as long as they do not encroach on the rights of your fellows. But I have a feeling that even if sugar is killing you and making you miserable, you don’t know it. I would even venture to guess that you don’t have any idea how much sugar you are eating and how it is affecting you.

If you tell people you don’t eat sugar, many of them freak out. I am considered a crazy person. And I own that when I talk to people about it. But I am going to be blunt. I may say “yes, yes, it’s crazy, I know…” with a simper, but that is to make you feel better. Because really, I think people who eat sugar are the crazy ones. I am simply deviating from the norm. But what about the norm is sane in this situation? I especially think people who don’t have any idea what they are eating are the crazy ones. If you are eating, and feeding your family, prepackaged, highly processed foods daily, which are generally packed with added sugars, or things that immediately turn into sugar in your body, I think that’s pretty insane.

Here’s a question: What exactly do you think you are getting from sugar?

Joy? Fun? The ability to blend in with society and not make waves? That warm, fuzzy feeling? (P.S. That fuzzy feeling is called being high…) Nourishment? I am pretty sure you know that you are not getting nourishment. Even people who believe a calorie is a calorie think that sugar is, at the very least, devoid of nourishment.

I am not in a position to have a piece of cake occasionally because I am an addict. I have an unnatural reaction to sugar, grains, and starch. When I put the stuff in my body, I set up a craving for more. But if you, and I know there are a lot of you out there, mostly eat real, whole foods, especially fruits and vegetables, and occasionally have a piece of cake, or a candy bar, or a can of soda, I get it. I am not talking about you. I am sure it’s fun, like someone who is not an alcoholic having a drink occasionally. But it’s not generally those people who act like I’m some weirdo, or some martyr. Those people totally get it. They think that I am a champion. It’s the junkies who think I’m a lunatic.

I promise that I have more peace, joy, fun, and general contentment because I don’t eat sugar, not in spite of it. And I don’t even mean more of those things than I had before, though that too. I mean more of those things than sugar eaters. So don’t feel sorry for me. And if you do, you can feel free to keep it to yourself. And if you can’t manage that, then when I simper at you and tell you how I know that what I do is so extreme, you can feel free to realize that in my head, I’m pitying you more than you are pitying me.

F*ck Karl Lagerfeld

This week I kind of freaked myself out. I was looking in the mirror, which I do all the time because I am particularly vain, and I was thinking that I look really beautiful. Again, this is not that far fetched for me. Body dysmorphia aside, I think I’m pretty hot much of the time. And then the next day, a friend whom I had seen on a video conference told me that I was looking really beautiful. But then I realized why I, and perhaps others, may have been thinking I was so beautiful. It’s because I am particularly thin right now. And that made me uncomfortable.

So I did something I almost never do. I asked my husband. You should have seen the look on his face. You’d think that Admiral Ackbar just snuck up behind him and yelled, “It’s a trap!”

Of course, it wasn’t a trap. But he was wise to tread cautiously. Obviously weight and size are loaded in this society in general, especially for women, and super extra especially for me. And my husband had to live through my most debilitating body dysmorphic episode ever after I quit smoking and gained 30 pounds, even with my food boundaries firmly intact. He knows first hand that nothing can reduce me to tears (and insanity) as quickly as some unwelcome belief about my weight, real or imagined.

He told me very clearly that he actively avoids looking at my size. That he knows no good can come of it. And that ultimately, it really doesn’t matter to him.

And if my obsession with my weight and body were, as I truly believed for basically all 35 of my single years, about being attractive to men, especially the one I am in love with, then this post would be done. But it’s not, and it’s not.

The truth is that I have mixed feelings. I do like what I see in the mirror, whether I have been conditioned to think so or not. And obviously, I am not the only one, if a friend was seeing and saying the same thing that I was. And I truly hated being fat, whether that was also conditioning or not.

Wallis Simpson is credited with saying that a woman “can never be too rich or too thin.” But she said this before the 1970s and 80s, which is when cases of eating disorders began to escalate. (It is worth noting I think, that this is also when cases of obesity began to escalate.)

Now we know that a woman can, indeed, be too thin. A person can starve themself to death. Vital organs can shut down. Perhaps Wallis Simpson couldn’t imagine a world where a girl would have a heart attack in her teens because her desire to be ever thinner led to the weakening of all of her muscles, including the ones to keep her alive. Perhaps she had too much faith in a human’s survival instinct. (I have opinions about whether it is possible to be too rich as well, but as this is an eating disorder blog, I will keep those to myself.)

But on the other side, I think that there are reasons that being thin, or at least not being fat, is considered attractive. I mean that I don’t think it’s entirely about societal conditioning; I think there are also evolutionary reasons.

My dad sent me an interesting podcast a few weeks ago. In it, Gary Taubes, who wrote a book called “The Case Against Sugar,” talks about how he believes that there is a fundamental flaw in the way the health and medical community views weight. (I feel the need to note that Taubes clearly states that he is making a case, but that there have not been clinical trials and scientific studies that have proven this idea. He is simply making an argument, and he would like to see this idea studied. I will also say that in my very much not scientific, but particularly personal experience, I think he is on the right track.) He says that we talk about obesity and weight in terms of a balance of energy – calories in must be equal to calories out – but that what the calorie comes from doesn’t matter. He argues that, in fact, what we eat matters because foods have chemical and hormonal impacts. In this podcast he said something that really struck me: “People don’t …accumulate 100 pounds of excess fat because they eat too much, they do it because their body is telling them to accumulate fat. And that’s going to be a hormonal, enzymatic problem.”

I happen to think that over millions of years of evolution, we humans “understand” various things subconsciously. Not in thoughts and words, but in basic “gut” reactions. And I think it is possible that humans find fat less attractive because it indicates some form of ill health, some problem with the functioning of our hormones/chemicals/biology.

I know (rationally) that I was not fat because I was lazy, stupid, greedy, or shameful. I did not want to be fat. I wanted to be able to stop eating. I went to nutritionists and did workout tapes. (Yes, I said “tapes.” That’s how old I am.) I joined programs with weekly motivation classes and pre-packaged food plans so you didn’t have to think for yourself about what to eat. I worked my ass off to work my ass off and it never did go anywhere. I could not manage to not be fat.

And while I limit the amount of food I eat now, I still eat a lot. Pounds and pounds every day. Including full-fat greek yogurt, whole milk, pork rinds, bacon, and sausage. But I am not eating most sugars (except for some natural sugars in the form of some whole fruits and vegetables) or things that turn into sugar, like grains, starch, and other carbohydrates. And the elimination of those foods has meant that for the past 11+ years, I have never been fat again. And I think that chances are good that eating sugar was always the culprit; sugar was signaling to my body to store fat.

But if it were only a matter of a healthy, properly functioning body, versus an improperly functioning body, then I wouldn’t be so freaked out about the fact that I like being thin. I’m freaked out because we have taken “thin” too far. And I am afraid that I will mix up what I am constantly told I “should” look like, with what I look like when I am in a healthy, properly functioning body.

From the 50s through the 80s, famous beauties generally had a BMI of somewhere between 17-20.5, while the average American woman had a BMI between 23-25. As a young adult, I had a BMI of about 45. (Yes, I know that BMI is a flawed system, but it is a “standardized” system, so it is helpful in illustrating my point.) So when I was growing up, the real knockouts were somewhere between a modern size 2 and 6. Today, a model who is a size 6 is considered “plus size.” So a woman with a BMI of 20.5 is considered fat by today’s (fashion industry) standards, while the average American woman currently has a BMI of 27.6 and is a size 14.

My point is that I don’t want to get caught up in liking or not liking my body based on a fundamentally flawed definition of acceptable weight made up by an industry that makes it’s money by telling women that they are lacking. I don’t need Karl Lagerfeld, Donatella Versace, or Mark Jacobs to tell me that my healthy, strong, fully functional body is not pretty enough, because clothes “look better” on a girl who is about to experience renal failure. (Seriously, f**k them.)

But mostly I am afraid that I will get brainwashed by them. You see, I don’t want to listen to them; I don’t want to come to believe them; I don’t want to let them in my head. And I am afraid that if, when I look in the mirror, I like my thin self better than my less thin self, I will make myself sick physically, emotionally and spiritually. It’s not that I don’t want to like what I look like, I just want liking what I look like to not be so tied up in weight. I want to be able to be happy that I am thin. I have changed my entire life so that I could be happy in my body. But I also don’t want to have to take it that seriously. Perhaps ultimately I should think about my weight the way my husband thinks about my weight, which is to say, not at all. But for a girl with a lifetime of food and body issues, perhaps that’s asking too much…

 

Life is experiences, and some of them are crappy.

This week I got, not one, but two (two!!!) cold sores. I think that if, by chance, there is an afterlife, and if, by chance, I end up in hell, my punishment must be eternal cold sores. I cannot think of another thing that torments me as much or makes me act as crazy. (Except perhaps my body dysmorphia…) From the compulsive hand washing, to my fear of going out in the sun and heat in case that exacerbates it, to my total lack of desire to eat my delicious food because my face and mouth hurt, to the general obsessive focusing on it, I really feel like I am going a little insane.

I bring this up for two reasons. 1) Because it is all I have been able to think about this week. They have totally hijacked my brain. And 2) because I think it’s important to talk about the bad stuff when there’s bad stuff. I know I have mentioned it before, but there is something particularly troubling for me about the way we portray ourselves on the internet, especially in regards to social media.

Most of us want to appear to have it all together, whether or not we’re floundering. Social media is a great way to “show” that, because we are in control of the information that gets out. And we’ve become masters of “framing.” I don’t have to talk about my cold sores. But if I did, how I tell you could make all the difference in how you see me. If I whine about them, I look like I don’t have my shit together. But instead, I could say that I have two cold sores and am keeping out of the sun, but I am grateful for the extra time I have gotten to spend writing.

But that’s a lie. I won’t say that I am sorry to have spent extra time writing every day, but I am still miserable. I miss the sun. I miss kissing my husband. I miss not thinking constantly about if my hand has been anywhere near my mouth and what I need to disinfect.

The truth is that I live a very happy life. I am generally peaceful, content, joyful, grateful, and gratified. Giving up sugar and learning how to make and keep commitments to myself has given me the kind of satisfying existence that I did not think was possible 12 years ago. And I like writing this blog in a way that expresses my joy and gratitude. I want to show my positive attitude. Because I usually have a positive attitude. I want to inspire positivity in those who are struggling. I want the person who is still suffering from food addiction to know that there is hope.

But it would be misleading to make it seem like my good attitude is infinite and unending. It’s not. And right now I am kind of miserable. And a little cranky. And feeling sorry for myself.

Being miserable is not the end of the world. This too shall pass, like everything else, good and bad. But having my food under control does not save me from all pain, or from the parts of life that just plain suck. And what’s more, these cold sores are a circumstance, not even a personal failure or a mistake. Having my eating under control doesn’t save me from those either.

If there is a bright side to this whiny post, it’s that getting my eating under control taught me not to take my life so seriously, not to take my pain so personally, or my joy and success either. Perhaps my favorite teaching about how to deal with life is this: It’s all just experiences.

The bare minimum, but like you mean it…

I was talking to some people the other day about making changes. I am talking about the kind of changes that alter the course of your life. In my experience, there is a human tendency to get inspired, and decide to jump head first into change. And then, when change gets difficult, which it inevitably does, to give up.

Sometimes, when I am helping someone give up sugar and put boundaries around their food, they will tell me that they have a laundry list of things they want to quit. They want to quit sugar, and smoking, and caffeine, and chewing gum, and diet soda, and artificial sweetener, and watching more than an hour of TV, and playing video games, and Facebook, and…

I always tell these people that they can do that if they really want to, but that I don’t recommend it. I think you should take on one thing. Especially if it’s one thing that takes a lot of time and energy, like quitting sugar. I believe that first you take care of the thing that is killing you quickest.

As an illustration, I was a smoker for over six years after I quit sugar. I am going to be blunt. It helped. I needed it. I could even say it saved me. Coffee and cigarettes were like a kind of religion for me at that time. Of course, I was already a smoker and coffee drinker. I didn’t start smoking to stop eating, though I went from a cup or two of coffee a day to drinking it from the moment I woke up until the moment I went to bed, often drinking 15 cups a day. But again, I needed it. Coffee wasn’t going to kill me before the food was. Cigarettes weren’t going to kill me before the food was either. I am suggesting that “killing you quickest” doesn’t necessarily have to mean physically. Smoking may be more likely to kill you younger statistically, but not being able to stop eating was killing me physically, but also emotionally and spiritually. It was killing my self-love, my self-respect, and my feelings of self-worth. Eating was more than just slow-motion suicide. It was fuel for the fire of my self-loathing.

I am glad I didn’t try give up coffee and cigarettes at the same time that I put boundaries around my eating. It would only have been in the name of chasing after perfection. And I can tell you pretty assuredly, that I wouldn’t have succeeded. And then where would I be? Still eating, still smoking, and felling like a failure, who was cursed to be fat and food obsessed forever.

The excitement of change doesn’t last long. Ask any gym patron who goes year-round. On January 15th, everyone is at the gym, excited to make a change. On February 15th, they are excited that Valentine’s Day chocolate is half off.

Perfection, or at least the quest for it, has always been my enemy. I never pull it off, and whatever I do achieve is not good enough, because the goal was perfection. But when I do one thing, and I do it with purpose, commitment, integrity, and love, even when it’s hard, even when it sucks, even when I don’t want to, I see results. I make a change that sticks. And once I have made that change, and it has stuck, it is no longer the thing that is killing me quickest. Now there is something else to deal with, slowly, honestly, purposefully.

For me, that is how things get done. And this is from a low-functioning addict, someone who didn’t get a lot done for most of her life. So screw perfection. I recommend the bare minimum, but every day, like you mean it.

More reasons to kiss the cook

My husband told me in no uncertain terms this week that he wants his props. And, in truth, he deserves them.

The most important thing in my life is keeping my food boundaries. This might sound strange, I know. The idea that my food boundaries would be more important than the people I love or my life’s ambitions sounds rather pathetic from the outside. I am aware. But let me offer a translation. The most important thing in my life is taking care of myself in a loving and responsible manner so that I can be present and available for my relationships and life goals. There’s that age-old idea that you cannot really love someone else until you love yourself. That, exactly, is why I keep my eating boundaries as my first priority.

When my husband and I first started dating, he wanted to cook for me. But all of the things that he was good at making were based on carbohydrates: homemade sauce for pasta or lasagna, rice-stuffed peppers, tacos. And to make it extra especially difficult, about 7 years ago, years before we were together, I realized that high-alkali foods, like tomatoes and peppers, were the reason for my cystic acne. So, I gave them up. I had basically eliminated any option for him to cook for me.

For a couple of years now, I have been fooling around with the idea of introducing a little bit of tomato product back into my diet, just for a change of pace. It seems that people who have a reaction to high-alkali foods mostly have a problem with raw foods, rather than cooked. And a friend of ours recently recommended a recipe for barbecue ribs that included a dry rub, steaming them in the oven over a pan of root beer, and then slathering them with barbecue sauce.

I figured it would be worth a shot, because that sounded freaking amazing! If I broke out, I would know that I really can’t have any tomatoes or peppers, and just wouldn’t eat them anymore.

Now, even if I wanted to try adding a little tomato-something to my usual fare, I still have to have one that fits my sugar requirements. Same for any seasoning. So instead of searching and searching for a ready-made dry rub and bottled barbecue sauce that met my needs, he made them himself. Not only that, but he let me look through the ingredients and make sure they, were acceptable, and substituted things that were not. For example, we steamed the ribs over diet root beer, replaced the Worcestershire sauce with my soy sauce alternative, and used artificial sweetener instead of brown sugar.

And Oh. My. God! They were so good! And, even better, they were so good and I didn’t break out!

The thing about keeping my boundaries is that, when I take it seriously, and when I am responsible for keeping them on the highest level, my husband takes it seriously too. He honors it, because I honor it. I lead the way, and he follows. But he could only follow because I lead the way. What he did for me was an act of love. And because it was especially for me, it made me feel particularly loved.

When I gave up sugar, one of the things I had to do was get over the fact that some people whom I loved and who loved me, were used to showing me love through foods I didn’t eat anymore, and now they couldn’t. And I had to learn how to show love to those people, and to show them that I got their love, without eating those things. I had to be grateful, without harming myself to show it. So there is something particularly heart-warming for me about my husband going out of his way to make me food I can eat on my own terms. So I am grateful. And excited! And positively quivering in anticipation of the possibility of pulled pork! Woot!

It could be worse. I could *look* 40.

This coming Tuesday will be my 40th birthday. And I am pretty excited about it, quite frankly.

I am not afraid of aging. I have written about this before, I know. I think that part of the reason I am not afraid of aging is that with my food under control, I am aging particularly well. I may be in the best shape of my life right now. And I don’t show a lot of the visible signs of getting older, though I do have a lot of gray hair. No seriously, a lot for 40. But it’s more white and silver than gray gray, so even that isn’t too bad.

And I don’t want to imply that I’m not experiencing the normal wear and tear that a 40-year-old experiences. My knees crack, and sometimes one or the other of my ankles is sore or wobbly for the first few minutes of my morning jog, and that’s with knee and ankle braces. And when I sit up after doing my crunches, I can hear and feel my back crack.

But at 16 I was morbidly obese. I had difficulty walking, let alone running. I was easily exhausted. I feared stairs the way people fear public speaking, though I had to face stairs daily, while, unless it’s your job, most people don’t have to speak in front of crowds very often.

But it’s not all about being thin either. It’s not just physical ease vs. discomfort. I look great, I feel great, I am generally happy, and content, and I believe that has a lot to do with the fact that I don’t poison myself with sugar.

The average American eats about 94 grams, or 350 calories, of added sugar in a day. That’s over 75 pounds of sugar in a year. And that is the average, not the extreme. For reference, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends about 25 grams a day for an average adult. So average Americans are eating almost four times the recommended amount of sugar. Every single day.

Now, I am not the food police. I don’t care if you choose to eat sugar. But as time goes by, science and medicine show more and more evidence that sugar is a drug, and that it affects us, not just physically (as in our weight), but also hormonally, and neurologically. I know it’s poison to me because I am addicted to it. But even if you are not addicted to sugar, it is becoming clear that it is still dangerous. And like all drugs, it has side effects.

I think a lot of my general beauty and good health has to do with the fact that I am not putting that particular poison into my body. The result is that I have glowing skin, bright eyes, healthy hair, and a strong body. I also exercise, am well rested, and I drink lots of water every day, and that’s all possible for me because I don’t eat sugar, grains, or starches.

I don’t use sugar as fuel. I don’t crash mid-morning because my breakfast was carbs with a side of sugar, so I need another fix. I sleep 8 hours a night because I am not hopped up on sugar late into the evening. I am hydrated because I don’t need to drink sugar to get me through the day, one little fix at a time, and instead I can manage get my water in. (Don’t get me wrong, I still drink coffee and zero calorie diet drinks. I just drink my water too.) I am not anxious, irritable, or moody because I need a hit.

Yes, not being high on sugar helps me make better choices when it comes to taking care of myself. It always made me lethargic and lazy. It made me comfortable enough in the moment to not think far enough ahead to take care of my health and my life.

But seriously, I strongly believe that look as good as I do (and seriously, I look pretty damn good), not just because I exercise and drink water, but because I am not constantly pumping poison into my body. In general, drugs age a person. You can find a million before and after shots on the internet showing their effects. If you hear the word junkie, there is an image that pops into your mind, and it’s probably not one of shiny hair and a big smile with a full mouth of teeth.

So I am grateful to feel so beautiful on the eve of a big birthday. And I believe that, more than any other reason, I owe that feeling to keeping sugar out of my body.

Catwalk vs Boardwalk, or how I don’t think twice about wearing my bikini in public

I have been thinking about body image and body image issues a lot lately. Partly because I live in a beach town now, and, to my own surprise, I am really comfortable here. I have never lived in a beach town before. Of course, both Chicago and New York have beaches. But neither of them have a strong beach culture. It’s not why people go there.

One thing I have noticed about Corpus Christi is that the people here don’t occur to me as particularly body conscious. I mentioned last week that I started wearing shorts here for the first time in about 30 years. Partly because I saw that people wear shorts, all shapes and sizes and ages of people. Not because their legs are shapely and their thighs are skinny. Just because it’s hot.

I think it’s interesting to note that when I started wearing my bikini in public 5 years ago, I was also in Texas, though in a different town. And here I see all sorts of bathing suits at the beach, again on all shapes, sizes and ages. Bikinis are not exclusively worn by young, skinny girls. And I don’t just mean because I am there. When I walk on the beach, I don’t feel embarrassed, or self-conscious. I don’t feel like people are even looking at me.

Now, one of the things I love about New York City is that it is a non-stop fashion show that everyone is putting on for everyone else on a daily basis, not just during fashion week. But because of that, there is a lot of judgment. Of course, to a certain extent, that’s the point there. I went out looking to be judged, and hoping to be found flawless, or at least fabulous. But sometimes that judgment could trickle down past the clothes and right to the body the clothes were on. And even if it didn’t, the line between fashion and physique always felt a little blurry, which made for a lot of insecurity when I wasn’t looking to be judged, like when I was feeling fat, or when I didn’t have it in me to “do it up.”

In some ways, I find that my fashion sense gets a little lost here in Texas. Clothes or looks that used to get me at least a double take, and sometimes praise from a stranger in the city now go basically unnoticed. And that’s a little sad for me. I love clothes, and style. I love the fashion show.

But the up side is that there is a lot of freedom from my body image disorders. And that leaves a lot of room for me to be myself, try new looks, and generally relax about my body. And as a former fat girl with eating and body image disorders, that is a welcome surprise.

It may well be that “nobody wants to see that,” but they are going to have to take the initiative to stop looking for themselves.

I read something the other day that was rather interesting to me. It was an opinion about how fat shaming and skinny shaming are inherently different because of thin privilege. The gist of the article was basically that while it’s never OK to shame anyone, and certainly skinny people can, as individuals, be insecure about their bodies, being fat in modern western society is considered taboo, a sin, and in particular, everybody else’s business. That while individuals may shame a skinny individual, western society as a whole shames overweight people. As if there is a moral imperative to ostracize obese people.

If you have ever been fat, or even just chubby, you probably know that this is true. People will go out of their way to express their disgust for your body. They not only have opinions about your clothes, like how short, tight, or revealing they are, they feel at least entitled, and very often morally obligated, to make their disapproval clear.

Remember when Lady Gaga performed the Super Bowl halftime show? I don’t know about you, but there were a bunch of people on my social media feeds saying that she “looked fat” because her little belly occasionally hung over the top her glittery hot pants. Of course, in the following days, there were a bunch of articles and opinion pieces about how having skin that rolls and puckers is normal and natural. And rightfully so. And I would specifically like to point out that Lady Gaga is in no way, shape, or form fat. The idea that she did not look like airbrushed perfection while executing a spectacular stage show with costume changes, complicated choreography, and aerial stunts may be because she was not freakining airbrushed. She was working her ass off.

My point is that people that you know personally, and maybe you yourself, have almost no room for human bodies to deviate from the shape of “post-Photoshop underwear model.” And these people feel obliged to make sure that you know it, and Lady Gaga knows it, and everybody else knows it too.

Being bullied, tormented, humiliated, and generally made to feel ashamed of myself happened to me my whole life. I can still recall specific insults from people I knew and people I didn’t about my body at nearly every stage of my life: at 8, at 12, at 14, at 18, and all through my twenties. I can remember the way it was made abundantly clear to me that my body was disgusting. It was expressly said to me that looking at me made people sick. “Nobody wants to see that,” became something that I not only heard often, but eventually internalized and started to say about myself and my own body.

And I believed it. I did not believe any man would ever find me attractive. I did not believe that I would ever fall in love. I did not believe that I deserved to be respected. And it was strangers, friends, and even my family that instilled these beliefs in me.

I believe that thin privilege does exist. I am not saying that it’s kind, or friendly, or even acceptable to tell a skinny woman to “eat a cheeseburger.” It’s rude, and obnoxious, and quite frankly nobody else’s business. But I will say that whenever I have seen a picture of, or a story about a fat model in my social media feeds, there are pages and pages of comments about how fat models are setting a bad example, and companies that use them in their ads are sending a message that promotes unhealthy lifestyles. But there is not the same outcry when girls and women dying of anorexia are walking runways during fashion week. And that is not hyperbole, many of these girls are literally dying. Where is the outrage over the unhealthy lifestyles being promoted by every fashion house and magazine in the United States? (I mean besides my own outrage. Because yes, I am personally outraged.) We claim to be so worried about health (as opposed to aesthetics) unless the girl is skinny. Then we look the other way. Because we are not really worried about health. We are worried about how we can let the fat person know that we find them morally reprehensible, without looking like the assholes we’re being.

On a personal note, I would like to say that fat shaming and living in a world with thin privilege has done me a lot of psychological and emotional damage in my lifetime. And I have done a lot of work on myself, inside and out to deal with it. At 35 I first started to wear my bikini in public. And finally, at almost 40, I have started wearing shorts in public for the first time since I was probably 10 years old. I spent my whole life believing that my wearing shorts in public was an affront to “normal” people. And that belief was instilled in me by people who were eager to tell me that they disapproved of my body and that I should too. And even after losing an entire person worth of weight, it has still been a slow, years-long process that has brought me to the point where I feel like I deserve to be comfortable. Like I am allowed to show some portion of my thighs because I am a human with a body like any other body.

 

There’s no cutesy “Oh, I’ll just have a salad” to my salads…

Now that we have been in Texas for over a week, I have been getting used to the changes. Of course, a lot of the changes have to do with food. One of the biggest changes is that I have been eating big salads. And really enjoying them.

I will tell you that while I always eat a lot of vegetables every day, and have for years, I don’t always eat a lot of salads. But there are three things that have come together that have made salads an exciting prospect, rather than a “healthy choice” I make reluctantly. The first two are hot weather and great produce.

It’s one thing to eat a bag of lettuce and call it a salad. That’s not for me. I don’t like lettuce, and I never have. Perhaps it is because in my head it is “diet food” from a time when I was fat and I was supposed to eat lettuce to not be fat anymore. But it is something entirely different to take arugula, radishes, mushrooms, onions, cucumbers, and maybe a little steamed broccoli or green beans, chop them up and toss them together with some olive oil and vinegar for a cool, refreshing meal on a hot day. I love the way the different flavors come together, the tang of the onions and radishes with the umami of the mushrooms and the tartness of the vinegar.

The third thing is that my new apartment is small, doesn’t have windows or screen doors, and quite frankly, smells when I cook pungent vegetables, which is pretty much any vegetables. The deal is that this alone would not have stopped me from cooking vegetables. That’s what candles and air fresheners are for, after all. But having great produce and wanting something lighter in the heat made it easy to put aside my favorite go-to veggie choices for something different.

When I left New York to be with my husband, the first place I lived with him was also Texas, though a different town. And then I ate a lot of salads too. And I probably would have continued except that the next few places we lived fell short in the fresh veg department. And I also happen to be a person of habit. If I am eating a lot of, say, riced cauliflower cooked in sesame oil with scallions, garlic and ginger, then I am probably going to make it again and again. I know that many people get bored with eating the same things, but I love it. I like predictability. I can sometimes eat the same things for months or even years. But when the time comes to eat something new, for whatever reason, I generally enjoy that too. Or at least, if I don’t, then I won’t make that mistake again.

For me, knowing that I am only going to eat three meals a day means I am careful to have them all be delicious, because I love eating, and more than that, I am still not, and never expect to be, neutral around food. I might even still be obsessed, except it does not haunt me, or make me hate myself. When I was eating compulsively, I was obsessed but miserable. And I would eat anything. (Well, anything except a vegetable.) It mattered less that it tasted good, and more that I could shove it into my face and it would get me high. I lived as if I might never eat again. But since I put boundaries around my eating, I have come to a point where I know I will eat again. In fact, my next meal will be lunch, in about an hour.

I like that I want salads. They are making me feel good, and it has occurred to me that I may lose a little weight. But they may not affect my weight, and that is not why I am eating them anyway. And I don’t want to make them about my body. I want to enjoy them because they are delicious. And if I stop finding them delicious, I want to be able to go right back to eating riced cauliflower in sesame oil and not think twice about my body.

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