onceafatgirl

Peace is better than chocolate

Archive for the tag “body dismorphia”

My head is midnight in a dangerous neighborhood

Well, there’s another year gone. And I don’t mean 2013. Though, that too, obviously.

January 2nd is my double anniversary. 8 years ago I stopped eating sugar, grains and starches and put boundaries around my eating. And 2 years ago I started writing this blog. So there are 2 things I want to talk about. But the theme is getting out of my head.

First, writing. And this blog. And how my life has seemed to change at warp speed since I started writing it.

I love the saying “I’m only as sick as my secrets.” Secrets are burdens. They are shame. They have this magic power. But it’s black magic. Dark magic. Secrets take my worries and doubts and fears, and amplify them. Secrets limit my options and play every story through to the worst possible conclusion. Secrets make the worst possible conclusion the only possible conclusion. Secrets make the thoughts that live in my head as real and inescapable as the chair I’m sitting on to write this. Secrets cause me to manifest the very things I am most terrified of. I know this. I have known this for a long time.

But then 2 years ago I started this blog. And I started to realize that there have been things that have lived in my head, and festered and swelled, that I didn’t even think of as secrets. That I didn’t know had grown toxic. Septic. I thought they were simply things I would rather not say out loud.

But it is, of course, the saying out loud that shifts everything. That gives me proper perspective and makes everything right-sized again. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

I was an actor for a while. And a singer. I could get up on stage in front of a packed theater and not think twice about being nervous. But my knees often shake if I go up to sing karaoke in a neighborhood bar. In other words, I am better in front of a big crowd.

This blog has been about performing in front of a big crowd. I’m not telling my family or my friends something (though they are reading it too), I am telling nameless, faceless strangers.

Two years ago I made a decision. That I would tell a bunch of nameless, faceless strangers a bunch of things I would rather not say out loud. And the course of my life has shifted more drastically than I could ever have imagined. I have changed the way I thought about myself, my love, and my worth. And I have continually taken risks that I never would have taken on December 31, 2011. And the rewards have been beyond my wildest dreams. Love, adventure, travel, freedom, security. That is what has happened just from getting the ideas out of my head and on a page.

But then there’s 8 years of dealing with the food. And the importance of the actual boundaries. And what they mean in practical terms.

See there’s this thing that I have heard that upsets me deeply. That it is “normal” for people with eating disorders to have relapses. (I’m looking at you, “Psychology Today.”) And I have even heard that it is inevitable. And it upsets me for 2 reasons. The first is for myself. It fills me with a sense of fear and dread. What don’t I know that will send me into a tail-spin? What is my future going to be like if I relapse? Will I lose everything? My self-respect? My relationship? Not to mention the body…

But then I also fear that hearing that will give people who are suffering from eating disorders a serious case of the f***-its. I don’t want to spread the message that it’s normal or inevitable to relapse into bingeing or purging. I want to spread the message that there are ways to keep your eating under control. That while I don’t believe there is a cure for eating disorders, there is hope. That there are ways to keep them on a short leash.

And now, I’m not dead yet, so I don’t know what will happen in the future, but for 8 consecutive years, I have maintained control over my eating. And I am very much interested in continuing this streak. I do not want to go into relapse. And I work every day, in small but significant ways, to remember that I have eating disorders, and to renew my commitment to keep them under control.

When I hear that relapse is normal, and I start to feel anxious and frightened about the unforeseeable future and what will happen to me “when” I have a relapse, I remember that I have boundaries around my eating. That one meal at a time, I can maintain those boundaries. That people have maintained boundaries around their eating for multiple decades. That I don’t have to believe everything I read about eating disorders. Even if it comes from a respected, major journal.

My boundaries are not wishy-washy concepts and ideas about “moderation” and “satisfaction.” I’m talking about clearly defined rules. I’m talking about definitions. I’m talking about quantifiable, measurable, and specific. I am either within my boundaries or I am not. There are very few times when I have to “use my judgment” to figure out if something is within my boundaries. There are times, but they are rare. And I have a friend I get to ask if I feel uncomfortable about making the decision myself.

If you are wondering why I would possibly feel uncomfortable about making a decision about food for myself, let me explain (or remind you) that I weighed 300 lbs at 19 years old. My judgment about food and eating is…well, just plain bad. This is why I have rules and boundaries.

I also want to clarify that I am certainly not implying that there is shame in relapse. Everybody has their own story. Their own life. Their own journey. I am sick when it comes to food too. I am not immune to relapse. If I were, this idea of it being normal would not scare the bajeezus out of me, like it does. I just don’t think it’s fair to those of us who are suffering from eating disorders to hear that we are hopeless. That hurting and punishing ourselves with food is “normal.” Because that is what we do when we act out with food. We hurt ourselves.

Now in this past 8 years, there have been things that have happened in my head that might be considered “relapse.” For example, I have had spells of overwhelming body-dismorphia. Where I look at myself in the mirror and I see a hugely fat woman. And my rational brain cannot comprehend the truth. That I am in a healthy, smaller than average body. Or I have become “afraid” of certain foods that are well within my eating boundaries. And I have stopped eating them because the thought of them made me nauseous. Or sometimes literally made my cry.

But that was in my head. It had nothing to do with how or when or how much I ate. The food has been under control the whole time. And I know that it has. I’m clear that it has. Because all I have to do is ask myself if I have broken my rules or stepped out of my boundaries. And the answer is no. No I have not.

For me, relapse is about the food. Because the food is the one thing that I can control. My actions. When, where, and how my hand goes to my mouth. I cannot make my eating disorders disappear. I cannot just eat like a “normal” person. I have made the decision to accept that I am not now, and never will be normal around food. But I don’t have to binge. Or starve. Or restrict. Or vomit. Or use laxatives. Because I have a definition for “binge.” And one for “starve.” And “restrict.” Because these things are not gray areas for me. These are not merely ideas. I make sure they have strict grounding in reality.

In other words, I make sure these things don’t just live in my head. That like my secrets and the things I would rather not say out loud, that what goes on with my food sees the light of day. My head can be midnight in a dangerous neighborhood. I make sure not to wander off alone.

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Just because it was cute and funny in the afternoon, doesn’t mean it wasn’t actually a nightmare at night

Thursday this past week was the 1st. If you’ve been reading for a while you know the first of the month is “weigh day.”

Since May, when I started to lose the weight I gained from quitting smoking, weigh day has become less and less scary for me.

When I was continually gaining, with seemingly no rhyme or reason, and no correlation to what I was eating, I was constantly afraid. I worried about stepping on the scale no matter how far away it was. I was worried about November 1st on October 2nd.

Just last week I wrote about how I’m not so worried about my weight lately. And that’s true. Even on Wednesday (7/31) I wasn’t worried. Aware, yes. Thrilled about getting on the scale, no. But not worried.

Or so I thought.

Wednesday night I had a crazy nightmare.

First, I started to eat before I weighed myself (which is not something I do in real life. I have my weigh day ritual. I weigh myself bone dry before I so much as take a sip of water and after I *ahem* go to the bathroom.) But then I remembered it was weigh day, so I stopped eating and I ran home. I told a friend who was standing outside my door that I had forgotten to weigh myself as I ran past her. And I downloaded a free app to my bathroom scale that would make it talk to me in the voice of The Cat in the Hat (a la the 1971 animated special. What the hell. It was free.) So I got on the scale and it told me I had lost 4 lbs. “Ho ho! It went in the direction you wanted it to go!” But when I looked down, I noticed that the scale was not flat on the floor. And that my floor was so cluttered with junk that I couldn’t find a flat place to put it. But I finally found a place to put it. Only when I went to step on it, the app kept giving me various menus, and I had to figure out which one was the right one to tell me *my* weight, not somebody else’s.

This absolutely occurs to me as hilarious now. Both ridiculous and humorous. But at the time it was an out-and-out nightmare. I was overwhelmed with fear and anxiety. And it took a long time for me to get out of bed Thursday morning. I did not want to get on that scale.

But I did. And I lost half a pound. I have lost 6 lbs total in the past 4 months.

It takes a lot of thought management to deal with my body image disorders. And even then there is only so much I can do. I didn’t want to have that nightmare. And it would be ludicrous to blame myself for my subconscious working things out.

Thankfully, there are boundaries in my life. Actions that I take and don’t take. Things that make nightmares and thoughts and wants utterly insignificant.

I weigh myself on the 1st. And only on the 1st. It’s what I do. It doesn’t matter how I feel about it.

I eat within my food boundaries. Always and only. It doesn’t matter if I’m hungry or not. It doesn’t matter how I feel about it.

There is a freedom in that which is counter intuitive. It may seem like a limitation. But what it frees me from is being a slave to my feelings. And having to decipher which of my feelings are real and honorable, and which are my crazy trying to get out. Weighing myself when I have made a commitment to do so makes it go away. I don’t have to second guess myself. I don’t have to wonder if I made the right decision. It doesn’t have to stay with me and haunt me. I can let it go. And it will actually go.

So after I weighed myself Thursday morning, I spent the day cooking and packing food within my boundaries to take with me to the airport on my way for a family visit this weekend. I made and packed a full day’s worth of food, even though we should land before lunch and long before dinner. Just in case of delays or unexpected trouble. Because whatever my weight, or my situation, or how my plans work out, or don’t, there are still boundaries to keep. And 3 meals every day to be relished and savored.

I know that all things are temporary. And I am looking forward to the time when my body becomes a non-issue. Both consciously and subconsciously. But until then, I am grateful I always have rules. Rules that I follow no matter how I feel. Clear and simple.

If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere. You just might not realize how good looking you are…

About 2 years ago, when I was skinny (and didn’t know it) my mom came to visit me in New York City. When she saw me her first reaction was “You’re so skinny!” And not in a you’re so beautiful way. In a should I be concerned for your health? way.

I, of course, scoffed. I was not skinny. I was thin, certainly. But not terribly so. I was regular. She was just used to me being about 10 lbs heavier.

Later, as we were standing in front of the restaurant waiting for my stepfather to join us after parking the car, my mom watched a woman walk by. She made a funny face when the woman was past and said something like, “Oh. Does everybody here just look like you?”

I think my response was something like, “Sorta. It’s New York City.”

I am bringing this up because until a few days ago, I was feeling big and fat and uncomfortable in my skin. But for the past few days I have been down south with my boyfriend again. And a lot of my body image issues have calmed down. I mean I look in the mirror and I am not any smaller. But I am not embarrassed. Or ashamed. I feel normal. Better than that. Beautiful. Sexy.

Of course, I am spending my time with a man who thinks I am incredibly beautiful and sexy. And I am sure that that helps.

But I knew that he felt that way about me when I was in New York. And I am in love with him. I was not walking around the city looking for male attention. I am perfectly clear that I am madly in love and don’t want anyone else. And yet even knowing that the man I love is deeply attracted to me, I felt fat. Big and gross and ugly. Or maybe just not good enough.

One thing I will say about New York City, often people don’t notice that I have special food needs when I eat in public. Because almost every New York woman is on a diet of some kind. Low fat. No fat. No carb. Just a salad. Dressing on the side. Is there oil in that? Can I get it with no oil? No potatoes, no toast. Can I get tomatoes instead of potatoes? Whites only. No skin. Steamed. Is it baked or fried? How big is it? Just one, two plates.

Women in New York City are hyper-aware of their food. Because they are hyper-aware of their bodies.

New York is filled with thin people. So many, that skinny seems to be average. I think it is self-perpetuating. You look around and see that the majority of people are thin, you work hard to stay thin. The woman you are looking at in comparison to you is looking at you. You are thin, she needs to stay thin.

And it is a culture of judgment. Everyone is being critiqued on their appearance at all times. Usually silently. But it’s around. It’s almost as if it is in the air. There’s an ad that was up in the subway for a while. “New Yorkers. Tolerant of your beliefs. Judgmental of your shoes.” It’s funny ‘cause it’s true.

Please don’t misunderstand. I love New York City. I love the fashion. And the energy. I love the people. And I even love some aspects of the “judging appearances” lifestyle. I love the parade we put on for each other. It’s a real-life runway show all the time. Love your dress! Fantastic shoes! Where did you get that bag? Fabulous!

And I am the one with the issues. I have the eating disorders, and the body image problems. They live in my own brain. I am the one judging my body and my beauty. And my worth based on my body and my beauty. Nobody else gets to dictate how well I love myself.

But being away has me see that the city has its stresses for a girl like me. That it makes it harder for me to love myself the way I am.

I guess more about my body image disorders will become clear as time goes by. I have the whole rest of a life to deal with them. And get to know them better. And I’m sure that they will morph and change as I do. But it’s nice to be in a place, and a time where I can enjoy my body as it is, and not have it be an issue.

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