onceafatgirl

Peace is better than chocolate

Archive for the tag “addiction”

When the math didn’t math

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

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

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

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

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

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

The potential to show up is enough

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

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

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

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

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

Growing, just really slowly. (Still counts!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rewards that are not

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In my circle sitting in it

As a person who has lived with a kind of constant, low level anxiety for basically all of her life, you might think I am not feeling much different in the face of some of the more terrifying things that have been happening here in the US over the past several days, months, years. But you would be very, very wrong.

It’s a funny thing to know that things are bad, but that also, there is really nothing to do about it except carry on. I read a really interesting article a couple of years ago with this quote. “Collapse is just a series of ordinary days in between extraordinary bullshit, most of it happening to someone else.” 

So here I am, more and more afraid every day, but someone has to go to the grocery store and do the laundry and make dinner. And I can. I have money and time. Everything terrible and horrific that I am afraid of has happened to someone else. For now.

I have to constantly remind myself that there is nothing to do but what is right in front of me. There is no difference I can make except in the place I am at any moment. That I cannot fix any part of the world I can’t reach.

It helps me to think about my life in concentric circles. I am alone in my first circle, and that is where I have the most control. I keep my eating boundaries. I exercise. I drink my water. In the next circle is my husband and our marriage and all of the ways I can make a difference in our partnership. And so on.

Another thing that helps to “sit in it.” I hate that part. The sitting in my fear and discomfort. The being alone with my powerlessness. The letting Life be what it is. I absolutely abhor it, but it is necessary for me and my sanity.

I could eat a cake. That would certainly numb me for a while. But a while is not that long. And then I would just need more cake, and nothing would change. Except that I might not be able to do the mundane stuff anymore like grocery shopping or laundry. Because I am a low bottom, non-functioning food addict. 

So I am going to keep my eating boundaries and navigate the fear and just put one foot in front of the other. I don’t think that will make a difference in the world, but I know that it will make a difference in my very small part of the world. Even if that means only that very small circle around just myself.

Phew, am I gonna be one skilled sailor!

If you read last week’s post, you know that I am in the middle of a huge artistic crochet undertaking and I had really started to hate it. It’s an original design, a character doll, and I have been working on it for many weeks. Well, one particular part, the hair, was something I had been working on for almost as long as all of the rest of the doll. It’s a common thing. The hair is always the single most time consuming part of one of my dolls. And I realized that part of my problem was that I had done hours and hours (and HOURS) of work on it, and it is not going to work for what I want to do. In other words, I hated it because I knew that it didn’t serve me or my project and yet I could not let it go.

I am absolutely terrible at letting things go. In general. But in particular, this example was extra hard. It was not my first attempt at the hair for this doll. I had already had to rip back hours of work I had done for my first try. And this second try I got so much farther. So many more hours. It feels like so much time wasted.

I weigh most (if not all) of my food every meal, every day. (There are rules in place for when I don’t have to weigh it. Like I can eat 1 apple, no matter the weight. Or two eggs. Or other similar circumstances. But there are always boundaries.) And it has happened before that something has gone wrong. My scale shut off before I was done. Or I realized that I put the wrong measurement in with some other part of my meal and it was something wet or sticky and I could not just remove it and keep going. And when something like this happens now, I just throw the whole thing away and move on. Because I have over 16 years of experience believing wholeheartedly that my boundaries and my honesty and integrity around food are the most important things in my life. But in the beginning I struggled. What about the cost of the food? What about the time I spent? What about the hard to find ingredients I used in it?

I don’t want my work to be for nothing. I don’t want my time to be wasted. I don’t want to be wrong. I don’t want to have to try and fail. I just want to get it right. I just want smooth sailing and to be exceptional and gifted. I want things to be easy for me the way everything seemed easy to me as a precocious child. 

But what’s the saying? “A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.”

For as much as I want to be right, gifted, a genius, a natural, a great proficient, I want more to be skilled. And I got that desire for skill over “natural talent” by being willing to abandon what doesn’t work. By being willing to throw away the things that don’t align with my goals.

Look, I totally get high on being precocious, even now at almost 45. And I am, actually, a natural at yarn craft. But I am making new things, hatched from my own mind, not a replica of something hatched from someone else’s. And it’s called trial and error, not trial and automatic success. Even so, setbacks can still make me feel frustrated like a child. 

Which is why I am grateful for the lessons of my eating boundaries. If it doesn’t work, scrap it. The time and the money and the effort are all part of a process. And the goal is to meet a goal, in whatever time and way that happens, not to always only be right.

Art and my noisy brain

I have been working on a crochet project for a few weeks, and I am in an uncomfortable but predictable place with it. I am a good portion of the way done and I have not been working on it almost at all for weeks, because I have begun to wonder if I actually hate it and have made a terrible mistake in trying to make it.

This is predictable because it happens every time I make a project that is an original idea and not based on a pattern. Every. Single. Time.

I know that this is the way of art. That there is nothing to do about it but keep going. And I even know somewhere in the back of my mind that it will probably be amazing, even if it is not perfect. And I know that I can alway frog it back (the common term for pulling out rows of stitches, because you rip it, rip it) and try again if I am so inclined. But knowing all of this does not particularly help me move in one direction or another.

My mind can be a bit of an echo chamber. Thoughts and ideas can bounce around in there for long periods of time, and grow or change shape in all kinds of unpredictable ways.

When I got my eating under control, an important early lesson was how I am “only as sick as my secrets.” That the things that I was afraid or ashamed of were amplified by my reluctance to talk openly about them. And once I found people on whom I could rely to be lovingly honest and nonjudgmental, I started telling my “secrets.” It turns out that the ghosts that can haunt me in my own mind are just shadows and dust bunnies when I shine a light on them. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

But art (and yes, I do consider myself an artist, and the kind of crafting I do art) is not merely an idea or a concept. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, as they say. (I know, they don’t say that. But they should.) And art is not about ideas, but execution. So even if I were to wax poetic about my current project, which I occasionally do, it still doesn’t change the fact that it is not really anything until it is finished. It is not the idea that is haunting me, but my ability to make the idea tangible, and the reality of whether I can, in fact, manage to do that.

What I have learned about making in the 16+ years since I put boundaries around my eating is to trust the process. To fully embrace this place where I am stuck. To make friends with the rattling jumble of noise in my head. To honor the uncertainty and fear, and then, eventually, push through. To recognize that the idea and the object that is born from it are never the same. That art and craft are different, and that my art will only ever be as good as my skill in the craft. That there will always be more craft to learn, so make the art now anyway. 

Like I said before, I have this experience every time I create something from my own mind. And everything I have ever hated half way through, I have come to love upon completion. So I will probably make a few smaller projects or try some new techniques, and give myself a little distance from this major creative undertaking, and then I will come back to it and power through. And we shall see what I end up with.

Driving my meat car with the low fuel light always on

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Shot At Resilience

Over the past few weeks I have been obsessing over plans for a character doll. (Yes it’s more Bridgerton. Do you not know I am an obsessive person? I am!)

There are two parts of art/craft for me. There is what I can imagine and envision, and what I am capable of executing and delivering. And my friends, those are so rarely in alignment.

Capability is very emotionally loaded for me. It always has been. Perhaps because I was a very capable child. I always liked being good at things. I liked the effortless way I did things early in my life. I liked the praise I received. I liked the feelings I got for being naturally good at things. I did not like the feelings I got from failure.

I avoided things I was bad at. I was easily paralyzed by fear, not only of being incompetent at something, but also of the accompanying shame, frustration, worry and guilt. So I ate. But in not even attempting new or difficult things, I experienced another kind of shame and embarrassment. Somehow knowing I should at least try, and being disgusted with myself for being stuck, and how that made me feel lazy. So I ate.

I ate to be numb. I ate to get high. I ate to forget about all of the ways I was ashamed of myself. I ate to find oblivion.

Here is the thing. Oblivion makes it really hard to learn anything.

One thing that changed when I put boundaries around my eating was that I ended up with a lot of time. A ridiculous amount of time. Cooking took up a lot more time than it had, but eating took up so much less. Once I put eating boundaries in place, the act of eating took up, at the very most, 3 hours of my day. And that was a stretch. In reality I probably spent an hour and a half, total, eating every day. But I had been used to eating all day. So what was I supposed to do with all the rest of this time?!?!

I decided to learn things.

I tried (and still occasionally try) lots of things, and I have made all different kinds of art. I tried drawing. I have designed and created clothes and even made an award-winning cosplay (awarded by a small, since-defunct English language manga magazine.) I have written prose and plays and poems. But perhaps most zealously, I threw myself into yarn craft. I learned new, advanced crochet techniques. I taught myself to knit from YouTube videos. I tried more and more complicated methods and processes. And I built on those skills, and used them to acquire new, even more Intricate ones. You know…learning.

I still don’t like learning curves. I still growl and swear and occasionally throw crochet hooks and knitting needles. I flex my toes and grit my teeth and make angry faces. And I definitely cry. But I still have all that time that is not being used to eat. So I do it anyway.

This week I did a thing I had never done before. I crocheted a doll body without a pattern. It took some math (a surprisingly necessary skill in yarn craft.) And lots of written notes. And a few stops and starts. And definitely some ripping back trying again. But it’s good. Really good. I am proud and pleased. Accomplishment unlocked!

I am grateful for this learning. Not eating helps me learn, true. But learning also helps me not eat. It gives me pride in my accomplishments. And something to do with my hands and my head. And a frame of reference that shows me that failure is not the end of a thing but the middle. It gives me a shot at resilience. Whether or not I choose to take it.

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