onceafatgirl

Peace is better than chocolate

Live slow. Die whenever.

It was January of 2016 that I started a regular workout practice, right around the time I celebrated 10 years of having my eating under control. I had played around a little with jogging and bodyweight exercises the few weeks prior to that, but I have never been good at doing anything by playing around with it. I am always either in or out. My default is generally set to out. But I decided I wanted to be in.

Before that, I had primarily gotten around, and therefore gotten my daily exercise, by walking. In New York City, that was like breathing. I did it without thinking. Even if I took the subway, I had to walk there. There were stairs to get to the station. And even if there was an escalator, I was an impatient New Yorker. I took the stairs anyway because walking was faster than riding. And if the weather was nice, and I had the time, I didn’t bother with the subway. A 4 or 5-mile walk in the city on a nice day doesn’t feel like a workout with all of the people watching and window-shopping available. Exercise was a non-issue. It came built into my life.

But when I was working to get my driver’s license, and my (then) boyfriend and I were planning to buy a second car for me, it became clear that I was not going to be walking as a mode of transportation. And I was, it turns out, not getting any younger. I was 38 at the time, and I knew that it would only get harder to stay in shape as I got older. So I tried a light workout a few times in December of 2015, but I was only motivated for a few days. It was hard. I wasn’t good at it. I never really “wanted to” do it, even if I wanted to have done it.

So I did what I do. I made a commitment. I decided to jog 2 miles a day, 5 days a week, with 3 sets of 10 each of push-ups and crunches, and a 30 second plank. Basically 30-45 minutes of exercise 5 days a week.

Now this is a long, drawn-out setup to get to my point. I didn’t see results right away. I have made some progress in terms of my strength, and stamina. I have also possibly lost fat and gained muscle, though I am not good at gauging my physical size. But any and all progress I have made has been very, very slow. So slow, in fact, that I am only starting to recognize it as progress now, after over a year of consistent workouts.

When I first started doing push ups, I could not get very close to the floor, even though I do them on my knees. The truth is, I was barely moving in either an up or down direction. If someone had been watching me, it would have been deeply humiliating. Hell, it was a little humiliating doing them alone in my home while my husband was at work. But I did them anyway. I could only start where I was.

I only recently noticed that I was able to move up and down with ease, and get my face to the floor and back up again. Now that I have the arm strength to do them on my knees, I have started making my third set of 10 push ups the regular plank kind. Not all three sets. Just the last one for now. Because I don’t have to be in a rush to see results. And just like before, when I do them, my arms are barely moving. It may take me another year to have the strength to get my face all the way to the floor and back up with regular pushups. But ultimately, no matter how slow the progress goes, it’s progress. If I didn’t do them because I wasn’t seeing results quickly enough, there would simply no longer be any results to see.

We live in a results based world. And I don’t think that’s all bad. What I think is a problem is wanting results now. The problem is choosing instant gratification over long-term gratification.

I never really understood the story of the tortoise and the hare. The hare wasn’t slower, he was a jerk. If he hadn’t been trying to show off, and publicly shame the tortoise, he would have won the race easily. So that story always occurred to me as bullshit. Slow and steady does not win a race against an opponent who is fast and steady. But I have a different point of view now. I am not certain that everyone has it in them to be both fast and steady. I know that some do. That is what makes them athletes. I honor that. But I am not an athlete. And that’s just fine. So now I think of it this way: it is not that I am the tortoise and someone else is the hare; I am both the tortoise and the hare. The hare in me wants to show off, get results, hear people tell me I’m so fast, I look great. But the hare in me does not do things in a sustainable manner. The hare in me doesn’t know how to deal with obstacles, or how to persevere through failures and difficulties. The hare in me wants results all day all the time. The hare in me is like the people who lose weight on “reality” television by exercising daily the way other people go to work. It might make for dramatic TV to take on 40-50 hours a week of strenuous exercise, but it will almost certainly only get you short-term results. And if I am honest and thinking clearly, I don’t want short-term results.

The same could be said for the ways that I tried to lose weight before I gave up sugar and got my eating under control. I always wanted to lose weight fast. I wanted to be skinny. Now. I would, when my food-addicted, compulsive-eating self could manage it, eat way below my calorie limit, sometimes to the point of starving myself. I was not very good at starving myself, but I could manage it when I was seeing results. Losing weight quickly got me high, and that made it possible for me to limit my food intake for the sake of even more results. But bodies are not huge fans of this way of losing weight, and any hiccup in my quest for an ever-decreasing waistline left me disillusioned and often led to me giving up, or at least cheating on my diet for a day, week, or month. And that’s not even taking my exercise bulimia into consideration.

Enter the tortoise. The tortoise in me is just putting one foot in front of the other. My tortoise may technically be enrolled in the race, but she is not competing. She just made a commitment to start at point A and move to point B. She’ll get there in her own time.

The results I gain when I am slow and steady may take a lot more time to manifest, but they also usually last. Because the steps I take are small enough to take every day. And they are small enough that the inevitable “one step back” is also just a bitty baby step. So instead of focusing on results, I focus on the practice itself. I focus on the commitment to take the action, consistently and without expectation.

So it may not be particularly exciting to practice being the tortoise, but it is pretty inspiring. And ultimately deeply satisfying.

If I were good at it, I wouldn’t need boundaries in the first place.

The other day I was standing next to my husband when he looked at me and said, “skinny.” It was not a judgment (good or bad) so much as a mildly interesting observation.

Before we go on, I want to say that this was particularly unusual. I was not in any way offended or upset, but my husband does not generally talk about my weight at all unless I ask him directly, and that is, I believe, as it should be. As long as my eating disorders are under control, there is nothing helpful about another person monitoring the size of my ass. It is absolutely nobody’s business but my own. And I have spent a lot of time and effort keeping my eating and body image disorders at bay, so the people I seek that kind of input from are people who, like me, have a history of compulsive eating and food addiction and who, also like me, keep boundaries around their eating.

So my husband said I looked skinny, but I have not been feeling skinny at all. In fact I have been feeling a little fat. And sometimes, very fat. I am not saying that I have been tormented by my weight. But if you asked me if I were on the higher end of my weight or the lower, I would guess higher.

But when I look at the evidence, he’s right. I may actually be the smallest that he has ever seen me. The size of the pants I wear and how they fit me indicates that I am relatively small for me.

Even at my thinnest, in fact, even when I have been underweight, I have never really been what Western Culture would call “skinny.” Even when my collarbones look like they might cut you if you get too close to me, I still have wide hips and round thighs and big calves. My thighs always rub together, no matter what my weight is. (Thank God I was a grownup with my eating disorders under control before the Internet became a place where having a thigh gap and the pictures to prove it was a thing.) You can call it curvy, or zaftig, or say I’m an endomorph, but I have never been the kind of skinny that graces runways. (I use the term “graces” loosely.)

It took a long time and hard look at reality to come to this understanding about my body, and to love it exactly as it is. As a culture, we particularly celebrate one kind of feminine beauty: that of the ectomorph. We honor the women who naturally don’t carry a lot of fat on their bodies. Perhaps you have seen the Zara ad that says “Love your curves,” and noticed that the two women in the photo did not have any to speak of. Were they beautiful? Absolutely. Are they real women (albeit young women) with real bodies? Hell yes they are! (Though I am not actually sure how real those two models happen to be. I tried to find if the image was Photoshopped, and could not find anything about it.) I am not shaming the models in the ad. Skinny women are real women, just like muscular, and chubby, and overweight, and zaftig women are real too. This is not about what each of us happens to be born. It is about what each of us are told we “should be,” without anyone ever telling us that there are things we “can’t be.” I cannot walk from Kentucky to Hawaii. It is not possible. And I cannot be “supermodel skinny.” I was not made that way.

But nobody told me that. Ever, really. I had to figure it out for myself, by having sane and functional eating practices, and doing all of the healthy things I could do, like drinking water and getting enough sleep and exercise, and then taking a serious look at the reality of my body.

The beauty, fashion, fitness, and diet industries didn’t want me to know that I don’t have it in me to be that skinny. Because if I knew, they couldn’t get me to buy their latest cream, shake, workout app subscription, prepared food service, or whatever it is they happen to be selling at the moment with the promise that if I am “good enough,” work hard enough, pay enough money, I will end up with the body of my favorite underwear model. (No. I don’t have a favorite underwear model.)

I don’t believe in vilifying skinny women. But I don’t believe they are the only incarnations of beauty in the world, as I have been told for as long as I have been alive. When my husband looked at me and said, “skinny,” he did not do so in triumph because he finally found me attractive. For him, my beauty is not about my weight. In fact, I wish I had as much love for my body at any size as he does. It was merely an observation on his part. And it served as a reminder to me that even after all of the work, and all of the commitment, and all of the times I kept my food boundaries, even though it was hard or inconvenient, my head is pretty messed up when it comes to the way I think about and view my body. And that what I see in the mirror, or think I look like, is not necessarily reality.

Even now that I have taken inventory and checked myself against the specific frame of reference of my clothes and how they fit, I still don’t feel very thin. Knowing that I am, perhaps, the thinnest I have been in 4 years doesn’t make me “feel” any thinner. It doesn’t make me “know” that I am relatively small.

The last thing I want to say about this is that even though my body image disorders are irrational, and knowing that doesn’t change the way I think and feel, knowing does help me take healthy actions. And it is in our actions that we impact ourselves, our world, and the people around us. I don’t have to feel “skinny enough” to keep my commitments to eat enough nutritious food and exercise moderately, rather than starve myself and exercise to exhaustion and injury. I don’t have to listen to my fears and my “feelings.” I just have to keep my boundaries. After all, that is literally what they are there for. If I already always made healthy decisions, boundaries would be redundant.

Dear Pork Products, I love you but I need some space.

My husband sometimes teases me because when he is not around for dinner, I eat “like a four-year-old.” His words, not mine, though I totally agree. Obviously everything is within my food boundaries, but my food boundaries have a lot of room. I don’t have to eat a particularly healthy diet to be within my boundaries. So while I might eat, say, filet minion and sautéed broccoli when I am making dinner for the two of us, I eat homemade sugar-free frozen yogurt, and pork rinds when I am on my own. He calls it “chips and ice cream.” And over the past week my husband had to go out of town unexpectedly, and I spent more evenings alone than I usually do.

And I found that while I was loving my dinners when I was eating them, I was feeling kind of off, maybe even yucky, about them later. Not that I was physically ill. I wasn’t. I was feeling guilty, and I was worrying about my weight.

I believe that I have a physical allergy to sugars, grains, and starches. I believe that when I put those substances in my body, I set up a craving for more that not everyone experiences. That is what makes me an addict. But I believe that there are other aspects to being an addict that stem from, but are not, this physical allergy. And of course, after 28 years of putting those substances in my body, I acquired a handful of those other addiction-based consequences. Some are behavioral, like lying, cheating, stealing, manipulating, blaming, and feeling entitled. And some of them are psychological, as in obsessive thinking about food or my weight, or my body-dysmorphia.

I have been able to keep an eye on, deal with, and transform the behavioral consequences by having kept my strict eating boundaries over the years. But the psychological ones live on in me in varying states of dormancy. I don’t think I will ever entirely rid myself of them.

Honestly, I don’t think an extra day or two of “chips and ice cream” had any real or noticeable affect on my body. After all, my boundaries are not just about food choices, but are also about when, and how much I eat. I have strict portion control, whether it’s my “legal junk food” or a pork chop and roasted cauliflower. Even though I might occasionally indulge in higher calorie options, I don’t binge. Ever.

But it still messed with my mind. And that is important to note, because part of having my eating under control is having the ability to see clearly the things that are making me unhappy or worried, and to do something about them. My point is that I may be “allowed” to eat “chips and ice cream” every day, but that comes with consequences that I am not a fan of.

This has happened to me many times in the past 11 years. I stopped eating sugar-free, calorie-free condiments. I stopped baking with soy flour or TVP as my base. I cut down on, and eventually gave up, soy nut butter. Even in the past six months, I started substituting an egg for 2 ounces of fatty meats like sausage, because it didn’t feel good that I was eating so much. I didn’t quit eating sausage, just like I am not entirely giving up pork rinds. I just cut back because it was making me sick in the head. I was thinking about my weight all the time.

I’ll be blunt. I haven’t noticed much of a change in my body in the months since I cut back on sausage. But it’s not about my body. It’s about how I feel about my body. And I feel better about my body when I don’t eat as much of certain foods.

Is it purely psychological? Maybe. But I have found that there are psychological things that are worth working through and getting over, and there are psychological things that are better to simply accept and adapt to. And frankly, limiting the amount of sausage or pork rinds I eat just makes more sense. I want to save the real spiritual work for my relationships with myself and others, not my relationship with pork products.

P.S. I still love you pork products.

A nice reminder that I used to be kind of crazy, and now I’m kind of not

I started writing 3 handwritten pages every morning, just stream of consciousness. It is not a diary. It is not a story. It is simply meant to get thoughts trapped in my head out into the world by putting them on a page. It doesn’t have to be neat. It doesn’t have to make sense. It is simply another form of meditation.

It’s a practice that comes from a course/workbook called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I did this course from the workbook with a friend more than once when I was in my 20s. And I always hated the morning pages. I would buy the smallest notebook I could, and I would fight so hard against this particular practice. Sometimes I would just write, “I don’t want to do this” for the whole three pages. Sometimes I wrote, “I don’t [expletive] want to do this” for the whole three pages.

Now, I write them in a regular sized composition book, and the words just flow. They are not a burden. They are not difficult. I have thoughts. I get a chance to organize them every morning by getting them out in no particular order. Sometimes I write about my terrible handwriting. Sometimes I repeat the same banal observation several mornings in a row. It doesn’t matter. It’s not meant to be read.

On an average day, I don’t think of my mind as a particularly calm place. I don’t necessarily take note of how different I am now compared to how I used to be. But taking on this practice of stream-of-consciousness writing to get my head clear has illustrated a few things for me. 1) In my youth, my thinking was constantly cluttered. 2) I did not want to get my thoughts out of my head then because I would have had to look at them, and I already knew I wasn’t going to like what I saw. And if I really didn’t like what I saw, I would have to (gasp!) do something about it. And 3) Since I got my eating under control, my inner life is completely different than it was when I was an active sugar addict and compulsive eater.

I was so filled with shame, fear, and dishonesty that I couldn’t even just write words for the sake of writing words. I was constantly second guessing myself, all while trying to project an air of having it all under control.

I am sure that part of the clarity that I have now is that I am not high on sugar all the time anymore. I sometimes wonder how I managed to learn as much as I did in school growing up. But so much more of it is beyond the chemical and physiological. It’s spiritual. Not in the sense of heaven and hell, or gods and demons, but in the sense of having a moral compass and the ability to follow it. It’s spiritual in the sense that I have peace, in my head and my heart, because I know what I believe to be the right thing to do, and I have the ability to do it, even when it’s hard or scary.

I lived my life in pain and suffering for so many years, because of my addiction to food and the addictive behaviors of lying cheating and stealing that went along with that. The reason I don’t usually think about it is probably because peace and self-love are my new normal. (Sort of new anyway – 11 years is not an eternity, but it’s not a drop in the bucket either. P.S. The human traits of resilience and adaptability are truly mind-blowing.) But this ability at this point in my life to write my morning pages with ease and grace has been a powerful reminder that I live a transformed life. It is evidence that I have changed, not only outwardly, having lost weight and maintained that weight loss, but also in the ways I think and feel. It is a reminder that I have peace, personal inner peace, even when it feels like everything around me is crazy.

 

A short little post about no matter what

I have been running around all day and have just finished cooking and packing my lunch for tomorrow and I have 45 minutes until I eat dinner, and then go with my husband to dinner with a friend. I, of course, will just have a diet soda or an herbal tea, since I will already have eaten dinner. I have more errands in the morning before a 6 hour drive in the afternoon. And I just realized I didn’t write a blog. And wow do I not want to. I want to plead “special circumstances!” 

Obviously here I am. So it’s getting done. And I am grateful to know somewhere inside me that it will get done, because I have made choices and commitments. But a lot of times I grumble about it in my head.

I don’t want to do things. Kinda ever. I don’t want to wake up and jog before dawn. I don’t want to write. I don’t want to go to the store. I don’t want to cook. I don’t want to be with people. I don’t want to go outside. I don’t want to eat. Wait. Strike that one. But just that one.

But you know, I always love doing those other things when I do them. Even my jog, which I dread every night because it is sometimes painful, is often not painful at all. And can be fun. And painful or easy, I always feel good about myself when it’s done. But I go to bed at night assuming tomorrow’s jog will be a painful one and dreading it. It’s the same with writing. Sometimes it’s hard, and I’m bad at it. And sometimes it’s good and it’s fun. Often it’s fun. But I sit down to it like it’s a chore.

I stopped eating sugar, and put boundaries around my eating because doing things based on whether or not I wanted to was killing me, physically and spiritually. So I was willing to try anything, even having no such thing as “special circumstances.” And because I’m an addict, when I made that choice I got a taste of what it meant to choose pain, temporary pain, but still pain, in the hope of a more sustainable pleasure. I’m saying withdrawal is a bitch. But of course it was worth it. And it made me think that other painful things might be worth doing too. Other bothersome things. Other annoying things. They also might be worth doing no matter what.

So here I am with a short little post about no matter what, and it’s dinner time. And having done it, even under “special circumstances” makes me feel good about myself. 

My cache flow problem (or I’m not really a hoarder. Mostly)

I have a tendency to keep a lot of food in my home. Way more than I need. Not in a wasteful way. In fact, I have such strict portion control that I throw away very little food. I basically know how much fresh produce, dairy, and meat I will eat, and I buy an appropriate amount. (Okay, maybe a little more if it’s cheap and can be frozen.) I don’t make a lot of impulse buys at the grocery store. If I do, it’s probably for my husband. And it’s usually chocolate peanut butter cups, so I know they will get eaten.

It makes me feel safe to have an excess of the non-perishable staples I eat. The few times I was under some sort of severe weather watch, and people were rushing out to stock up on basics, I was already stocked. But I especially tend to overbuy when I am feeling emotionally vulnerable, when I am scared, or when my life is chaotic and unpredictable.

Let’s just say that in the past 3 months or so, I have acquired a lot of food. But now, I have to get ready to leave this apartment and it is time to use up that overabundance of food. And it makes me a little uncomfortable.

Part of the reason I think I hoard food (sort of hoard…it’s not spilling out of my cabinets or anything) is that it makes me feel like even if everything goes wrong, I can keep my food boundaries. And that is the most important thing in my life.

At 30, I ended up homeless for a few months. I slept on people’s couches and used their kitchens, and just sort of dealt with being homeless. It was a weird thing to ask people to help me, and also make a point that if they were willing to do it, they could not touch my food. The “good girl” inside me thought this was ridiculous. In my head I could hear my grandmother (the less nice one) telling me that beggars couldn’t be choosers. And there I was literally begging. I could hear her asking me who I thought I was. Telling me I was awful big for my britches. But repeatedly, I swallowed my pride twice, once to ask for a couch to sleep on, and once to ask that my food be left alone. And people were amazing. They were generous, gracious, supportive and loving. Nobody seemed to think twice about my having caveats.

And one of the most important things about this story is that those food boundaries were exactly what kept me sane in one of the most stressful times of my life. I was worried all the time about my future, and how I would make enough money and find a new home. So the one thing that made me calm, the thing that was predictable and unchanging, was my food boundaries. It was something I didn’t have to make decisions about. It was an area of my life that was not up in the air. It kept me grounded. It was a foundation for my life and a sanctuary from my anxiety. So having more than I need is like tending to that sanctuary.

But there is also reality. Like the reality that I am not going to cart an excess of frozen butter, Italian sausage, and pork tenderloin 1100 miles over three days.

What is important for me to remember is that keeping my boundaries is a choice that I make new every day. It doesn’t matter how much food I have on hand at any given moment. It is a matter of what I am willing to do to keep my boundaries in any and all circumstances. I don’t rely on that excess. I simply enjoy it.

So the next few weeks will be an exercise in moderation and frugality. The goal will be to buy less and use what I have so it doesn’t get wasted. But I will tell you this, I am still going to be traveling with a few cans, bottles, and jars, because even reality has a little wiggle room for a neurotic girl like me.

Alas, reality doesn’t care what I think

I’m an addict in the middle of playing the waiting game. If you are an addict, you know that this is not the most comfortable place to be. In fact, the jaws of Hell might be more comfortable. The jury is still out.

My husband has gotten word that his next job is lined up, and we know where (at least we are as sure as we can be – it’s construction after all), but we don’t yet have any information on when we will move. At first we expected it to be in the next 3 weeks, but it may turn out to be closer to 5 weeks. And it is the nature of his business that any job is subject to change. Investors pull out, companies go bankrupt, the market shifts. We do expect him to end up on this particular job, and we do expect to be moving soon, but the details are not set.

So I am packing and cleaning, getting everything as compact as possible so that at a moment’s notice we can load up a moving truck and get back on the road.

This is not how I live my daily life. I am a preparer. I like lists. I like schedules and quality information. I like to have a plan and a contingency plan. Or two.

When I was younger and eating compulsively, I was a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kinda gal. It was easy. I wasn’t ever expecting to be responsible for my actions anyway, so it didn’t matter if I knew how things would turn out. They would turn out fine because someone would swoop in and save me. I am not saying I was this way maliciously. I wasn’t meaning to use or abuse anyone. It was just that I could only handle so much of life. I was bad at living. I was easily overwhelmed. I shut down at the first sign of difficulty or pain. I had zero coping strategies that did not include getting high on sugar and just not thinking about, or dealing with, the problem.

When I first got my eating under control, I had to start dealing with all of my feelings. And if I couldn’t get high and forget my problems, it became clear that the only real way to deal with my problems was to solve the ones I had. And as for the problems I didn’t have yet, it seemed best to head them off at the pass. To streamline my life, my actions, and my relationships so that as much as possible was predictable, convenient, and clean.

And I have to admit that that way of living was particularly helpful when I was just starting to be responsible for myself. But there is something that I learned (very, very slowly) while I was keeping my strict food boundaries: the moments that move me, the experiences that make the biggest impact, the really juicy life-nuggets, happen in the unforeseen, unwieldy mess.

For most of my life, I never wanted to commit to anything because I didn’t want to have to readjust when things inevitably changed. But now I believe that self-respect and pride lie in making the commitment, even knowing that circumstances will eventually change. There is peace for me in fully committing to something, until it is time to readjust, and then changing, and fully committing anew.

So here I am, knowing that a big change is coming, but not knowing when, and not having the option of specific planning. The only thing I can do is get everything as close to ready as is possible, and then trust that it will all work out exactly as it is supposed to. (And I will admit that I keep my fingers crossed that the way it is “supposed to work out” is in line with how “I would like it to work out”.)

Maybe that’s the other part of it. Recognizing that how life is “supposed to” work out might not look like how “I want” it to. Let’s say, for example, that the apartment that I want to rent gets snatched up in the time between my talking to the nice lady at the apartment complex and the time I get a concrete moving date. I can be angry, but there is no use for it. I can be sad, but it won’t help.

What I need to do if something like this happens, of course, is acknowledge it, accept it, and take action to find a new apartment. And to trust that how it worked out is, indeed, how it was supposed to. My experience of reality has nothing to do with reality. Feeling that reality is “frustrating” or “not fair” does not change the facts of the situation. So I need to adjust to life as it is, not as I want it to be. And when I pick myself up, brush myself off, put on the big girl panties and do something about the way it is, I have a reference for the magnitude of my resilience. I have a sense of my own power. I have life.

The longer I have my eating under control, the better I get at life. And the better I get at life, the more I realize that it is all about the place where planning and flexibility meet. It’s about both preparation and non-attachment.

The opportunity to live on the road with my husband has been a blessing and a joy. I would not give it up for convenience or predictability. After all, life has a way of happening, unpredictably, whether you want it to or not. Living like a recluse wouldn’t guarantee me predictability, it would only make me ill equipped to deal with the curve balls I would eventually get thrown.

I have loved living all over the country, meeting new people, enjoying the different cultures and experiences. And moving comes with that. Packing and waiting and going with the flow are all part of that package deal. So I am sitting in the discomfort of waiting to find out what happens next. And when it’s time to do the next thing, I will meet life head-on. And I will meet life on its own terms, with uncertainties, and delays and all, because there is really no other way to meet life.

My heart, not my ass

I like routine. Love it really. Or at least can become attached to it. I can get stuck on the way things “should be,” if only because that is the way they have been. Friday morning, I woke up at 5:30 like I do on weekdays. I drank a bottle of water, and put on my running clothes, also like I do. But I was tired. I had only gotten about 6 hours of sleep. That may seem like a lot to you, or at the very least enough, but I am very much used to a full 8 hours a night. And I was afraid that I would hurt myself if I went to work out when I was too tired. It took some serious thought, and it made me a little anxious about my time and the things I needed to get done in the day, but in the end I decided to rest a little more, and run later.

When I was an exercise bulimic, I hurt myself all the time. I was so obsessed with getting rid of the excessive amounts of food that I was eating, that I ignored any injuries I inflicted on myself. I played through the pain, as they say. Now I’m a grownup, physically and emotionally (you know, for the most part) and I don’t want to get injured in the first place. Because I don’t like pain (obvs), and because I can’t, in good conscience, exercise when I am injured. I would have to rest and heal. And I would rest and heal because I am not obsessed with getting rid of the food I ate, because I eat a healthy amount of nutritious food.

Each of us acts, on a daily basis, according to intentions that we have created within the context of our belief systems. And I believe that most of us are not present to those intentions, because we are unaware of these beliefs. I’m not talking about our beliefs in, say, God, or science, or fairies, or astrology. We know that we believe in these things, or not. I am referring to things that we don’t even see because we cannot fathom that there could be any other way. Before I got my eating under control, one of my beliefs was that I was fundamentally broken, and that my fat body was both punishment for me, and a signal for others, like my own scarlet letter (but a big F for FAT.) That there was some other explanation (like addiction) never crossed my mind.

When I was fat and eating compulsively, all of my exercise was to force my body into a shape and size that I believed to be socially acceptable. I thought that was the only reason to work out in the first place. I thought that everyone who exercised was doing it for that reason (only more successfully than myself.) I didn’t understand that for some people it was about health, or peace of mind, or self-care, or because it felt good. (Gasp!) That exercise was punishment was so ingrained in the way I saw myself and the world that I didn’t recognize that there could be another way. Exercise was a punishment for not being able to stop eating. Or for just being born broken. It was the price I had to pay for being fat. It didn’t matter that it hurt. It didn’t matter that I was miserable. It did not matter that I was harming myself. I wasn’t doing it for me. I was doing it to please strangers on the street. I was attempting to preemptively silence the people I believed would shame me. And I was doing it for God. I was exercising as a form of penance for my shameful body, self, and life. And people supported me in that. They did it because, according to society, I was a “good girl” for recognizing my shamefulness, laziness, unattractiveness (or whatever it is that they decided being fat meant about me) and trying to do something about it.

We definitely live in a culture that praises people who work out. But what we praise them for is being beautiful. If someone is fat and working out, we (usually) praise them. But it’s an automatic reaction, and we don’t even realize that what we are praising them for is trying to lose weight and become the Western standard of beautiful. If someone looks like a fitness model, we praise them for being that standard of beautiful and maintaining that beauty. If someone is skeletally thin, we praise them too, for having willpower, or looking like a supermodel. But we never ever praise anyone for being overweight. That is the worst thing you can be physically in our society. That is the context of weight and exercise that permeates our culture.

But we frame it in the context of “health,” while what we really honor is skinny. In our culture, we love to talk about obesity and it’s ramifications on our health, but we judge people on their weight as it affects their appearance. Somehow we have it in our collective psyche that a woman who is 20 pounds overweight is a scourge on our healthcare system, but we let a girl dying of anorexia be a model, a standard for beauty, while she dies in the middle of a fashion show. (If you think I am being melodramatic, in 2006, a model died from heart failure due to anorexia after passing out on her way back to the dressing room in the middle of a runway show.)

Because I was an exercise bulimic (as well as a regular old vomiting bulimic), when I got my eating under control, I did not work out. I walked to places that were close enough. I took the stairs instead of the elevator. (Still do.) But I did not put on spandex and move to the point of sweaty breathlessness, as is the socially expected definition of exercise.

When I started running again about a year ago, I had made a decision about the context of my exercise: I was doing it exclusively as an act of self-care. I was not trying to lose weight. I was not trying to force my body into a socially acceptable shape or size. My only goal was, and is, to keep my body working well and easily as I age. After all, I will turn 40 this year. It was about my heart (literally and figuratively) not my ass.

I have made the decision to love my body as it is. I am not skinny. I am a slow runner. I do not diet or feel deprived. I eat in a way that keeps me satisfied and content in terms of my appetite, my physical appearance and my health. I am not always trying to lose that last 10 pounds. I am not always managing and obsessing, doing the math in my head about what I have eaten and how much more I can eat and what ramifications what I eat will have on my weight. I eat and exercise as a practical means of loving the body I live in, which is perfectly lovely right now.

 

 

Another kind of privilege

I love living in a society where the individual is important. As a non-conformist, and a loner, it is a great relief, and a joy, to be able to make choices for myself. And in many ways it made getting my eating under control much easier. I didn’t have to get over worrying about what others thought of the way I was eating. I couldn’t care less, quite frankly. But there was also a little push-back from that proud, independent individual inside me. Who says I can’t eat sugar? Who says I have to put boundaries around my eating?

Of course, the answer is nobody but me. Not my doctor. Not my government. Not my husband, or my best friend, or my life coach, or my personal trainer. Nobody is making me eat or not eat anything but me, myself and I. And yet, my mind is a tricky thing. It likes to look for scapegoats and blamable third parties. Anyone or anything to get me, personally, off the hook. You can’t tell me what to do. You’re not the boss of me. I am a grown-ass woman and I can do whatever I want.

Yes, yes. All yeses. Sometimes, the hard part is understanding what I want. The hard part is marrying the actions with their consequences in my own head so that I am fully aware of the fact that they go together.

I may “want” cake, on some level. But cake comes with food obsession, muddled thinking, the inability to stop eating, weight gain, morbid obesity, feeling crazy, and probably some form of bulimia or other self-harm. I cannot have cake without these other things. (I understand that other people can. I wish them well.) I may want to feel myself falling, but that doesn’t mean I can jump out of a window without taking into consideration that I will most certainly hit the ground. The two are inextricably linked.

Before I got control of my eating 11 years ago, I had a particularly unrealistic view of cause and effect, actions and consequences. My gauge of “fairness” was whether or not I got what I wanted. If I could have what I wanted, it was fair. If I couldn’t, it was unfair. Whatever it was. In my defense, it looked like it worked like that for other people.

I often think about what my life looks like from the outside. I have peace around my body and my life in general. I have a dream husband, and we are sickly sweet, lovey-dove birds. I get to live on the road with him and work on my writing. I live the sweet life, no doubt.

But what you might not see is the work I do every day. First and foremost is taking care of my food. You can certainly see my “weight loss transformation,” but you probably don’t see the hours I spend shopping, and prepping, and cooking my meals so that I can eat well while keeping my food boundaries. You don’t see the work I have to do in my relationship so that I can be a good and loving wife to my amazing husband. I have to take action toward being kind, generous, thoughtful and solution-oriented. That is not my default setting. My default is to look around for the nearest person, place or thing to point the finger at. You don’t see the work that I do every day to grow as a person. The meditation, and the prayer. The ways that I am looking for my own culpability in any and all situations, so that I can keep my side of the street clean. You are not seeing the, sometimes difficult, often painful, and pretty much always a little scary stuff I do to spiritually and personally evolve.

In other words, it may look to you like I simply get what I want by wanting it. I promise, that is not my reality.

When it comes to my food, I am accountable to other people besides myself. Not because I have to be, but because I choose to be. I choose it because it is the support of other people who maintain food boundaries, and the experience of being part of a community, that empowers me. But this idea that it is my choice is one of the ways my thinking used to get muddy. In my head, because I choose to be accountable to someone else, it occurs to me that I can just choose to quit being accountable to them. And in my head, I can justify to myself that I don’t owe them anything.

And the reality of this is that it is true on a certain level. I can do anything I want at any time. I am living the only life I have and I am free to make whatever choices I make. But the other reality is that making a promise or not is my choice. And if I make a commitment to another, I do owe someone something. And the person I harm most when I break a promise or commitment, especially in a selfish, dishonest, or just childish way, is myself.

I think it is ultimately human to feel “forced” into doing something unpleasant to get what we want. Isn’t it the same old song to grudgingly go on a diet or head to the gym, because one wants to lose weight. People get mad about it. I used to get mad about it! I was so angry that I couldn’t eat the way I wanted to and not get fat. I was furious! As if other people were eating the way I ate and not gaining weight. (Spoiler alert: They weren’t.) And if I felt “forced,” then when I quit, I could feel justified. I just can’t eat rabbit food. I tried, but I can’t. But I was never forced to “eat rabbit food.” I only convinced myself that I was, so I wouldn’t have to face my personal responsibility.

But there is freedom in responsibility. In fact, that is the only place that there really is freedom. So I choose to embrace the choice. I choose to remember that I make the commitments, and that I owe the follow through. It is my privilege to eat within my boundaries, to be kind to my husband and the people in my life, to grow and evolve as a human. When I remember it’s my privilege, I am grateful.

I’ve got time, because it wasn’t really a New Year’s Resolution anyway

For me, getting my food under control was ultimately about growing up. Before that, I was irresponsible, and food let me be that way. It made me not have to feel the consequences of my actions and inactions. Under the right circumstances, vanity and fear of humiliation can be exceptional motivators. As long as I can really feel them. And as long as I am not overwhelmed with shame.

But for me, another part of growing up is recognizing the complexity of life and the world. Only children, and people who refuse to grow up, have the luxury of living in a simple, black and white world.

I have not figured out the details of my not-really-a-resolution yet. I don’t mind. I’m not ashamed. I can change any time, not just at the beginning of the year. I would rather do it right than do it “on time.” Because I want to be more peaceful, but there are other things I want too, and they make peace more complicated.

I want to be a channel for justice. I want to be a witness to the people who seem to be invisible. I want, in my own, small way to make a difference. And that means that I cannot cut ties from what is going on in the world, and in my country. Especially in my country. I believe in being a citizen of the world, but I also firmly believe that charity begins at home. First with me, and then my husband. Then our families and friends. And out in ripples. Virtual concentric circles.

January 2nd marked 11 years of food boundaries for me. (And 5 years of this blog! Whoa! That kinda took me by surprise!) That means every day without exception. And in so many ways, that one commitment 11 years ago changed the way I see the whole world.

Before I learned to put boundaries around my food, I had no boundaries at all. Not with my food, and not with my relationships. I would use and manipulate people, and I would let myself be used and manipulated. It wasn’t conscious. I just didn’t have a frame of reference for how to say no. I didn’t like or respect myself, and I was so preoccupied with trying to control every outcome that how I was affecting people in my life was not even on my radar.

At 28 years old, putting boundaries around my food was just about my food. No sugar or carbs, 3 meals a day, with strict portion control. But that quickly meant that I had to put boundaries around my time. I had to wake up at a certain time to eat breakfast before I left for work. I had to take a break to eat lunch. No, I couldn’t grab a slice to eat while I walked. I had to eat dinner, so I could meet you for coffee, but I had to leave by 8. Even if you needed me. Even if it was important. Dinner was more important. So I ended up having to put boundaries around close relationships. And eventually I had to put boundaries around all relationships, right down to the teller at the bank and the Starbucks barista. (The truth is that on a daily basis, putting boundaries around momentary relationships with strangers like that doesn’t look that different than before, though I would probably say that I am much nicer and feel less entitled, while at the same time being much more likely to ask for exactly what I want. With a smile.) What started as a simple (okay, not so simple) act of taking care of what I was eating, radiated out from me, into all of my interactions in the world.

The truth is, if I want peace alone, I can put myself in a news and politics blackout. I already have a cutoff. I will not watch physical violence. Sometimes, when my husband is watching a video I find disturbing, I leave the room, or ask him to. I do not watch videos of people being killed, tortured, or maimed.

But there is a lot of violence in politics right now. And just because it is not blunt objects, or bullets and blood, I have let my guard down. And it is painful for me. I am sensitive to violence. But I am ultimately in favor of being sensitive to it, because the alternative seems to be desensitization.

There is the complexity. How do I protect myself, while still being available? How do I do with my heart what I do with my food? How do I make sure I am true to myself and who I want to be in the world, without creating a toxic environment in my own head?

I know that I need to up my meditation. Once a day is not enough. But what do I do to limit my intake of those things that fill me with rage? The violence, the hatred, the lies, the corruption, the pettiness, and sometimes just the sheer stupidity?

It’s not like the food. With the food, I can stop seeing it. I can put myself in a blackout, because food that is not mine does not affect me; it’s none of my business. But politics does affect me, and is my business.

To not be political is its own kind of politics, and I cannot, in good conscience be a member of that “party.” It’s not that I don’t know where I stand. It’s that I need to figure out how to stand here with peace and love in my heart.

So for now, I will up my meditation. And while I am meditating, I will ask for the answer to this dilemma. And that answer will come in its own time. But I’m in no hurry. Because it wasn’t really a New Year’s Resolution anyway.

 

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