onceafatgirl

Peace is better than chocolate

Archive for the tag “body dysmorphia”

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.

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When enough becomes too much. (I’m talking about giant fruit.)

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you know that, for me, it is not about my weight. Don’t get me wrong, I am living in a lovely body that I am (usually – damn body dysmorphia) comfortable in. But my weight is not, ultimately, the point for me. This is hard for people to grasp. Some of the ways I eat can be confusing to people. I can think of a few examples, mostly over apples believe it or not, where random people told me point blank to my face that what I was doing was “cheating” or “didn’t make any sense.”

When I eat an apple, it can be any size. I can only eat one, but it can weigh over a pound. No, that does not mean that I can eat two eight ounce apples. One is one. One eight ounce apple, or one one pound apple are each considered one fruit.

This confuses people. And the reason is because they think I am trying to deal with my weight. (For the most part, people can’t fathom why anyone would manage their food, if it didn’t have to do with weight.) They are thinking in terms of calories. They are thinking I am “on a diet” and that choosing an apple that weighs over a pound must be cheating. 

But what I am really dealing with, of course, are my eating disorders. And sometimes a giant fruit makes me feel safe. Because when I was eating compulsively, along with a general craving for sugar and carbohydrates, there was a constant sense of missing out. I didn’t just want a cookie. I wanted all the cookies. Not just in that moment because I was hungry, or craving. There was an obsession to “own” food. There was a kind of aching fear that I would not be the one to eat something. (That’s not a joke. And it sounds funny when I write it, but I promise it’s not.) As if there were not an unlimited supply of cookies. It was as if I were afraid there would not be enough for me.

Eating a giant apple makes me feel like I’m getting enough. It makes me feel nourished and taken care of. Without having to eat all of the apples in the world.

Now something has started to happen in the past few years. I have started thinking that giant fruits are too much. Too much food! (Huh?!?!?! I know!!! I looked for pods in the basement too. No, it’s really just me.) I never thought I could think there would ever be enough food, let alone too much.

I’m not saying I will never eat another apple that weighs more than a pound. I almost certainly will. If I need some comfort. Or if I am feeling particularly hungry, as happens from time to time. But there is some peace in knowing that I can be satisfied with an average apple, or 8 ounces of berries. There is a little extra cushion of comfort knowing that less is still more than enough. 

Historically, I have always wanted more. A large drink is better than a small. Two tea bags are better than one. You name it, bigger was better. Getting my eating under control and coming to a place where my food was enough was a miracle. So It’s funny to come to a point in my life where I can see “enough” cross into “too much.”

I like it, but it’s a little scary. I’m boldly going where no man, (alright, fine, plenty of normal people have gone there…) where have never gone before. 

Look, the reality of writing this may scare me into looking for a cantaloupe bigger than my head so I can have half for breakfast. And that’s ok too. Two steps forward, one step back is the dance of life. (Cha cha cha.) But knowing that I have reached this new place around food, even after 10 years of food boundaries, is a little more peace. And peace is one area of my life where I will always think more is better. 

The willingness to be willing is the beginning of change 

I used to weigh myself once a month, on the first. Only on the first. Because it was a good way to keep an eye on my weight, without the obsession of getting on the scale every day. Or multiple times a day. People with eating and body image disorders can become obsessed with the scale. I was one of them before I put boundaries around my eating. I would get on the scale constantly, looking for the secret recipe for weight loss. Was I down a pound in the last 2 hours? What had I done? Could I replicate it? 

It was insanity. I was treating it like science and wishing for it to work like magic. Needless to say, it was neither.

When I quit smoking, I gained at least 30 pounds. Almost certainly more, but I stopped weighing myself. It was devastating to me. I lived in fear of stepping on the scale. It haunted me constantly. Not just around the first, but for the whole month. I started to obsess about how I could stop the weight gain, and lose what I had gained, within days of weighing myself. It was never over.

I started to feel the same crazy I had when I was eating compulsively. I wanted something to work. Anything! I wanted some sort of magic.

So my friend who helps me make decisions about my food and my weight told me to stop weighing myself. She didn’t want me to make myself miserable. My job was to keep my food boundaries, and not focus on my weight. 

Now, it’s almost 4 years since I quit smoking. And I have lost what seems to be most of the weight I gained. I don’t know, because I haven’t gotten on a scale in 2 1/2 years. 

It makes sense for me to get back on the scale. But I’m scared. The truth is, that experience scarred me. 

I was angry at life. I was angry that I did the “right” thing by quitting smoking, and I was punished with the worst possible thing that could happen to a former fat girl. I gained weight with no relation to what I was eating or how much I was moving. It made me feel crazy and desperate. It triggered all of my body image disorders. It was hell.

But now, I think I should start weighing myself again monthly. And that means having a conversation with my friend about it. And I don’t want to. I’m worried. And it makes me feel a little nauseous. 

The truth is, what if it’s not enough? What if the number just makes me feel fat and gross? What if I hate myself all over again?

But I guess I am telling you this so I can keep moving forward. When I put it out there, I can be responsible for it. I need to out myself so I take some action. And so I don’t keep all if this fear bouncing around in my head. 

I don’t know when I will have this conversation with my friend. I don’t know when I will be ready. The point, I guess, is I’m getting ready. And it’s that, the willingness to be willing, that is the beginning of change. 

I prefer flow to puches, but I’ll go or roll, as the situation dictates.

There’s a saying among people who keep the same food boundaries I do. (If you haven’t noticed, there are a lot of sayings among the people who keep the same food boundaries that I do.) A day when everything goes my way and I keep my food boundaries is a great day. A day when nothing goes my way and I keep my food boundaries is a miracle.

I have a lot of miracles. It’s a nice feeling. That is not to say that things aren’t going well for me. They are. But so few days are without some sort of hiccup.

One of the things I had to learn early when I stopped eating sugar and eating compulsively was to go with the flow. Or, on a particularly bad day, roll with the punches.

There were things that I didn’t understand before I got sober from sugar. I didn’t know that I was making life harder by fighting what was, instead of accepting it and adjusting myself. I refused to go with the flow, or roll with the punches. I spent almost all of my time either drowning, or getting the crap beaten out of me.

In self-help books and top-whatever-number-habits-of-whatever-kind-of-people essays, there is a lot of talk about planning. Have a goal. Have a plan. I wholeheartedly agree. Having a plan is great. But having a plan is the easy part. There is something else that is often talked about, but harder to do. Having the ability to be flexible when some part (or all) of your plan falls through.

When I was eating compulsively, I felt like “fairness” equaled Life going according to the plan I made. And when it didn’t go that way, I was angry at Life. Because I had zero skills for adapting and adjusting.

And I believed that people who were happy, well adjusted and peaceful were people whose plans always went smoothly. I was fighting the way things were because I thought the way things were “supposed to be” was the way I had planned them.

What I would eventually come to understand was that happy people were people who understood that the way things were was really the way they were “supposed to be.” Happy people didn’t fight what was, in order to get reality to coincide with their plan, but adjusted (or scrapped) their plan to coincide with the reality.

A few weeks ago, I wrote that I was going to start eating more raw vegetables because it helps me keep a tighter hold on my body-dysmorphia. And I did just that. It was great. I felt great. And then I started working, and the days that I have to eat a meal at work, I only have 15 minutes. I can’t eat a one-pound salad in fifteen minutes. It’s just not physically possible for me. So I have to make smaller, denser meals when I have to eat during a shift.

Now I could fight the reality if I wanted to. I could become resentful of my job because I only get a 15-minute break. I could get resentful of my food boundaries because they are inconvenient, and wonder why I can’t just skip it on the days I work.

Or I could choose the softer option. I can adjust to the situation as it is. I can be grateful that I have boundaries around my food, and that I have a job, and that I can take care of my meals in 15 minutes on workdays by making them smaller and denser. I can go with the flow. And I am grateful to have the clarity to see that eating smaller meals is definitely an example of “going with the flow.” I reserve rolling with the punches for the big life-and-death stuff.

It’s not the salad, so much as the principle…

I have been eating a lot more raw vegetables for several weeks. I have been having big salads at least once, and often twice a day. Colorful, delicious arugula salads with radishes, onion, mushrooms, bean sprouts, cucumber, and a handful of steamed broccoli and canned artichoke hearts.

I haven’t generally thought much about raw versus cooked vegetables, but I have noticed that my body dysmorphia is in what seems to be a dormant phase. And it makes me wonder if the two are connected.

I eat my vegetables every day. I have done so for over 9 years. I have been regularly consuming fresh produce like Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, zucchini, carrots, onions, bok choi, Swiss chard, cabbage and green beans. Mostly roasted or sautéed. But since I have started eating so much salad, I have been feeling significantly calmer about what I look like.

And I have not lost weight. That’s what makes it interesting.

I have questions about why. Is it chemical, and physiological? Is it all psychological? Is it a combination? Or is the whole thing just coincidence? Am I just in a good phase regarding my body image issues?

There is a part of me that wants to say that it doesn’t matter if the two are connected. What matters is that I am mostly well now. But ultimately, it does matter. It is the difference between peace and torment. And I need to admit that I do not believe it is a coincidence. But I don’t want to, because I love eating lots of cooked vegetables. And if I admit that is having an effect on my mood or my happiness, it means I will have to moderate how much of my food is cooked.

I am a compulsive eater. I might have my eating under control, but I will never be neutral around food. If I ever had the ability to be indifferent, that ship has sailed. And then it sank. I like my food, and I like it decadent.

It’s not that my big salads are not delicious. They are wonderful. I love every bite. But I can often forget how much I will enjoy them when I am not in the actual process of eating one. There is a kind of mental block I have around salad. And I know that I am not the only one. I have talked about this with lots of other people.

And there is that part of me that doesn’t want any more limits. Whenever I think it might be time to make a change, my first reaction is always to be a crybaby-whiner. But I already gave up sugar and grains, and I quit smoking, and I limit my coffee, and severely limit my diet soda. Don’t take anything else away from me! I mean, they are just sautéed Brussels sprouts? Can you really find fault with Brussels sprouts? Seriously?! (Can you hear the whining?)

The first thing I have to remember is that moderation does not have to mean The End. I do not have to give up my Brussels sprouts forever and always. I can limit them to, say, three or four times a week. But the more important thing I have to remember is that I don’t have to do anything. It’s one of my Jedi Mind Tricks. It takes away a lot of my initial instinct to rebel when I remind myself that I’m a big girl who lives her own life and makes her own decisions. If I want to fight and make a fuss, I can eat cooked vegetables every day on principle. Who is going to stop me? But just like every other action I take, I will reap what I sow. There is no escaping that.

In the end, I always want the gifts. If limiting my cooked vegetables means more days of peace and sanity, I will choose that. It’s how I roll. But I don’t always choose that first. Sometimes I take longer to get out of my own way than others. But ultimately, I want what I want. And I have learned over the years that I want sustainable happiness more than I want instant gratification.

I am still interested in the ways you take care of yourself and the gifts you get from not harming yourself with food. Use the hashtag #betterthanchocolate and share your experiences. I want to hear from you!

Also, follow me on twitter @onceafatgirl5.

And please feel free to follow, share and repost my blog!

I prefer shopping alone, but my body dysmorphia insists on tagging along.

Today was my cousin’s wedding shower. It was a lot of fun! And I love celebrating love! I am a huge fan of love!


I got a new dress for the shower. Nothing too fancy. A sleeveless linen dress with a tasteful abstract pattern. Very flattering. Very spring-bridal-shower-appropriate.

But when I was shopping for it, I was terrified. Of what, you ask? Of being a size 14 (American).

This is a very specific, very strange fear. 

First, I want to say that there would be nothing wrong with being a size 14. It is a perfectly lovely size. 

But I am not a size 14. I am a size 10. And I can’t seem to grasp it. Even when I am looking at my body in the mirror. Even when I have just tried on a size 10 dress and it fit. And looked great! I even brought two of the same dress into the dressing room, one a 10 and one a 12, thinking that the 10 surely wouldn’t fit. And then I worried that even the 12 would be too small.

I also ordered a dress online for another upcoming wedding, and they gave measurements in the description to determine what size to buy. My measurements coincided with a size Large. And yet I really wanted to order the X-Large. Because I was positive that a Large would be too small on me. And when it came, I still tried it on expecting it to be too small for me. They gave me the measurements! I didn’t believe them!

This is body dysmorphia. This is how sick I can be with my body image disorders. There is nothing wrong with my body. But my head is a disaster area!

I am grateful to have my eating under control. If I didn’t, I can’t imagine the kinds of torture I would be putting myself through. At least right now I don’t have to obsess over what to eat, when to eat it, where to eat and in front of whom. Especially in order to fit into a dress I already fit into. After all, with all the clarity I have because I am not high on sugar or preoccupied with the next thing I will put in my mouth (or refrain from putting in my mouth), I still don’t know what size I am. Even when I am actually wearing that size at the moment.

My body dysmorphia is one of the things I have agreed to make friends with. Not good friends, mind you. But I choose to tolerate it. Because I am pretty sure it will never go away. (Though I am always grateful when it is in a dormant phase.) So I will take too many clothes into the dressing room. And I will be afraid of being sizes I am not. And I will not believe the measurements posted in the description. But I will still look just as good in the dress, once I manage to get it on. So there’s that. 

What is more beautiful than a woman in love?

I write a lot about my body image issues in this blog. I write about my body-dysmorphia, and my insecurities. I have even written about how I feel less attractive living in The South, or in the suburbs of Chicago, because strangers (men) are not particularly forthcoming with gentlemanly admiration, like I got used to in New York City. And, of course, I am heavier than I like.

It’s coming up on 3 years. 3 years is a long time to hover somewhere between misery and meh about your body. Though, I lived in overwhelming hatred of my body from around the time I was 7 until I was 28, so I suppose meh isn’t so bad. But once upon a time, I had years when I loved my body. I woke up every day just plain liking it. Thinking it was fantastic.

So right, for almost three years, not so much. Except for one crazy exception. When I am dancing. When I dance, I think my body is gorgeous. Not just meh. Not just not terrible. Really amazingly beautiful. It’s not about what clothes I am wearing. (Today was faded yoga pants that are fraying at the inner seams and a t-shirt with a cartoon of a turtle on its back that says “AWKWARD.”) It doesn’t matter if I am sweating. (And if I am dancing, I am sweating. And red-faced.) I look at myself and I think Hot damn, I am f***ing sexy!

I don’t know why it is that way. In some ways, you would think that it would make me feel worse, fatter, less attractive. Jiggling and bouncing around. But no. I think I’m the cat’s pajamas when I dance. I’m a really good dancer, which probably helps. And maybe it has something to do with the cardio of dancing burning off stress hormones.

But the other thing that occurs to me is that maybe, just maybe, my body looks so beautiful to me because of what dancing fundamentally is for me. It’s a celebration! Not just at a wedding, or a party. Any time I dance, I am celebrating my existence. And that existence is manifested in my body. I am expressing joy and gratitude. Dancing, for me, is about love. How much I love life and the infinite experiences of living. And what is more beautiful than a woman in love?

Walking my mean dogs

I went for a walk yesterday. It was nice. I haven’t gotten to walk much in the past year.


I don’t miss living in New York City, but I miss various lifestyle options I had there. New York is a city of walkers. If it’s closer than a mile, you may as well walk there. If it’s a beautiful day, you may as well walk there. If you have the time, you may as well walk there.

Here, in the suburbs of Chicago, I haven’t had as much of a chance to walk. 

This winter was so long. It’s already mid April and we have only had a handful of nice days. 

And people don’t expect me to want to walk. Regularly, my boyfriend or neighbors will tell me to call if I want a ride, and then be surprised when I go wherever, or return from wherever, never having called them. People around me are always taken aback by my choosing to walkover getting a ride.

For me, walking is a great way to keep my eating disorders at bay. Especially my body dysmorphia. 

My body dysmorphia is dormant right now. I am not in the throes of hating my body. But where I am is a place of resignation. I don’t look at my body and feel content. I still don’t love my size. I wish I would lose this 30 lbs I gained when I quit smoking. But I’m ok. I can be with it.

But I can feel that there is a body image disorder attack in me somewhere. So I am looking forward to being able to walk every day.

When I walk, I do a few things for myself. It’s a kind of meditation for me, so I get my head straight(er). I work off a lot of my stress hormones, so I feel peaceful. It makes me feel like I’m doing something for the health and strength of my body. And it’s exercise, so it lets the bulimic part of me calm the hell down.

I mostly manifested my bulimia through exercise. Though I did have a short (thank God) stint of old fashioned making myself throw up.

I keep a watch on myself when it comes to exercise. When I start asking myself how many calories I figure I just burned, that’s a glaring red flag. Seriously. A have-a-seat-and-drink-a-diet-soda-because-that’s-enough-for-today red flag.

When I was fat, people treated me as if I didn’t care what I looked like. They seemed to assume that if I were really ashamed (and a lot of people thought I should be ashamed), I would do something about my weight. But I was always that ashamed. I cared so much it was killing me inside. 

And now that I live in a healthy weighted body, people seem to think I shouldn’t care so much about what I look like. But I do. Because no matter how I have learned to take care of myself, and lovingly put boundaries around my eating, I am still that same person.

It’s funny, because people encourage others to work out. Excessive working out is often praised. And I truly believe that people who work out because they love their body and want to nurture it are praise-worthy. Same for people who do it for love of sport. Or any kind of love. 

I exercised because of hate. I hated my body. I hated the way it looked. I hated how I couldn’t stop eating and I wanted to hide that fact from the rest of the world. I exercised to the point of exhaustion and injury. I was punishing my body for not looking like society told me it should look like. What society told me it could look like if I were disciplined enough. What it would look like if I were a “Good Girl.”

I had to give up those notions, but I am still sick around those things. I will always be sick. I have to actively keep from killing myself with exercise. Just like I have to actively keep from killing myself with sugar and compulsive eating. And I have to remember to accept myself the way I am right now in the moment. So I don’t abuse my body.

It’s OK. As problems go, it’s not the worst. I have a solution for my eating disorders. And along with that, a way of life that keeps me happy, sane and well adjusted. And now that the weather is breaking, I will get to walk, and keep my body image issues on a short leash. Like the mean dogs that they are.

Fat and out of shape is in the eye of the beholder. And when the beholder is me…well, I’m kinda messed up…

I went for a long walk the other day. I am not sure how long. But I would guess I walked between 6 and 7 miles. And I am out of shape. Or at least more out of shape than I have been in a while. And I am feeling a little fat. And I don’t like it.

First, I am not, fat. My clothes fit. (I actually had a moment of panic writing that, so I just got up and tried on my size 6 jeans to make sure my clothes still fit. And yes, my clothes still fit…Good Lord, Kate…) And thank God I am not weighing myself. Because I am in a place mentally where the number couldn’t be good. No matter what the number was.

Of course, the number is something. I have a weight. Obviously. I just don’t know what that is. Because I would not be able to handle it.

And I am not sure why I am thinking about my weight again all of a sudden. If something in particular triggered it, or if it is just par for the course when one has eating disorders and body-dysmorphia. It could be that my boyfriend and I are going to the Florida Keys next weekend. (Um…YAY!) Which will mean bathing suits and sundresses. Fewer clothes. I’ll admit that I have wondered if I will look huge and ugly in my bikini. Which I managed to wear all summer without fear, even though I was a size larger than I am now. But it turns out body-dysmorphia is never ever rational. If it were, it wouldn’t be a disorder, I guess.

I have also been thinking lately about how I had hoped that I would have lost more weight by now. I had hoped that my metabolism would have sped up. Really sped up. Back to the way it used to be. Back to where I could eat more and weigh less. Like I did for years before I quit smoking and gained 30 lbs. I hoped I would be smaller than I am after over a year and a half since quitting smoking.

But I don’t like feeling out of shape, either. In some ways, that is hitting me harder than being afraid that I am fat. Because I have been so in shape for so long. Living in New York City will do that for you. (If you let it.) Walking instead of the subway. Subway stairs if you don’t have time to walk. It’s a place where it’s not out of the ordinary to take the stairs instead of the escalator. And even if you take the escalator, you walk while you’re on it.

And I was a babysitter. It was my job to run, jump, and play. To go for a walk for the sake of exploring. Or getting some sunlight. Or just for the sake of walking. And then there was the post-homework dance party.

But now I get to work in a car. I work at a desk. I do a lot of sitting. I walk a couple of miles a couple of times a week. Which is not nothing. But I have been noticing my body. Feeling it. I didn’t used to notice my body. I just used it. I just wanted to do things so I did them. But when I started my walk the other day, I didn’t want to go. Because it was going to hurt.

Of course it didn’t hurt that bad. The anticipation of pain and discomfort was so much worse than the reality of it. And it was fantastic to get my heart pumping and my muscles working and my blood flowing. It was wonderful to feel energized. I had a great time. And I am not exactly out of shape. I’m really just not as fit as I was a year ago. I am comparing pretty in shape me with very in shape me.

But I am afraid of what happens next. Will I not go for that walk next time? Will I let myself get sick and old and slow because over and over again I’ll choose not to walk? Because I will be afraid it will be uncomfortable?

I am writing this to you to get it out. To shine a light on these things so they don’t fester, unexpressed. But really, when I start thinking like this, I try to remember to change the channel. To think about something else. Because it doesn’t make sense to worry.

I don’t want to fight feeling fat. I don’t want to give it weight. (Oh, tee hee. I just noticed that’s a pun.) I don’t want to care enough to let it be important. I want to trust myself. I want to keep my food under control for my sanity. I want to remember that while my eating is taken care of, I may not be “skinny”, but I will not get fat. And I want to love my body exactly the way it is. And I want to care for it with loving exercise. Exercise that I do to keep myself healthy and happy and free of pain. Not that I do to be skinny, or smaller, or good enough. And I want to trust that I will choose to walk. Or dance around my house. Or something that I haven’t even thought of yet. Out of self-care. And I want to wear my bathing suit without shame. And I want to enjoy a vacation with my boyfriend.

Because I can’t unshoot the gun. And I don’t know that I would if I could…

I was talking to a friend this morning. Another woman with eating disorders and body image issues. Someone I love and identify with. The kind of person with whom you can have a conversation that is both intellectual and spiritual at the same time.

She said something that I had never heard before. “Genetics loads the gun, but environment pulls the trigger.” It’s a quote by Dr. Francis Collins.

I believe that I have a genetic predisposition to have an unhealthy physical reaction to sugar, grains, and starch. And I believe that when that physical reaction was triggered in my childhood, it triggered a mental obsession. But the environment I grew up in triggered a very specific mental obsession. It was an obsession with eating. Eating more. Eating constantly. I hated being fat. So I disconnected from my body. But my obsession was with food. Sugar, specifically.

Then I moved away from that environment. To New York City. And in that new environment, I developed a whole new set of mental obsessions that stemmed from that same physical reaction. All of a sudden I had a kind of vanity that I had never experienced before. I did not have bulimic tendencies or the same kinds of body image issues before I moved to New York City. There I was still obsessed with eating, but then there was this added obsession with appearances. With being beautiful. With appearing like a normal eater by maintaining a socially acceptable body.

I am clear that I am not going to be able to reverse any of these things now. Perhaps if I never moved to New York, I would not have become a bulimic. But I did. And I am. And now I can’t unshoot that gun. Or the sugar addict, compulsive eater gun. I am now irreversibly a compulsive eater, bulimic, exercise bulimic, and sugar addict with body dysmorphia. One particular blessing is that I do not have to engage in the damaging behaviors of these diseases because I do the work I do every day to keep my eating and my eating disorders under control.

But then I have to ask, what of it? Does it even matter? Is there an environment that I could have grown up in that would not have triggered my eating disorders? And even if there were such an environment, that’s not how my life went. Who is to say that growing up with a healthy relationship with food would have given me a better life?

Because along with a certain amount of pain and difficulty, my eating disorders gave me another gift. Dealing with them meant changing the way I looked at life and the world. In other words, I don’t know if I would have learned the best lessons of my life if I didn’t have to learn them to stop killing myself with food.

• Keep your eyes on your own life. You don’t know what people are going through by looking at their shiny hair and skinny thighs on the subway. All you are seeing is their outsides. You don’t know their troubles or their pain.

• You have your journey and everybody else has theirs. You didn’t get a bad one. Or the wrong one. You didn’t get a life any worse than any other.

• Control is an illusion. The only things you control are your actions and your reactions. Outcomes are totally out of your hands. So behave in a way that makes you proud of yourself. Because when you think doing it “right” means it will turn out the way you want, you’ll start to think you always do everything thing “wrong”. Bit if you live like you can’t do it “wrong”, you start to notice that everything always turns out “right”.

• Perfection is not an option. And once you accept that as the truth, you are free to be yourself. And free to be happy.

I guess what I’m trying to say today, is that it doesn’t matter that genetics loaded the gun. It doesn’t matter that environment pulled the trigger. It doesn’t matter that I can’t unshoot it. It’s life. My life. I happen to think it’s a good one. Full of blessings. But in reality, it’s the same life as when I thought it was a great big bucket of suck. I just make better decisions now.

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