onceafatgirl

Peace is better than chocolate

Archive for the tag “body dysmorphic disorder”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

It has to be about my head, not my butt.

I have been keeping up with my running. 2 miles a day, 5 days a week. (I may call it running, but I am unapologetically super slow, so what I really mean is jogging…)I like it. I like the way I feel. I like the sense of accomplishment that comes from keeping that kind of commitment. I like the way it feels to know that I can count on myself. Especially since I grew up telling myself all sorts of things about how much I hated exercise, how bad I was at it. And I was alway looking for the time that I would never have to do it again. Now I am jogging in the hopes of doing it for the rest of my life.

But there is another side of my exercise commitment. It is sneaky little thoughts about “more.” That I should run longer. That I should run faster. That if I do that, I might lose more weight. Maybe even get more food.

This might seem innocuous enough. Normal eaters with healthy weights might think that makes some sense. Many normal eaters and exercisers manage their weight like this. I am not a normal eater. I am a compulsive eating sugar addict, exercise bulimic, with body dysmorphic disorder.

I want to run 2 miles a day, 5 days a week for the rest of my life. And I want that to be enough. I will probably get faster, because I have already gotten faster without trying. But even if I don’t, heck, even if I get slower, I want to be satisfied that I’m doing something loving for my body, not something to “fix” it.

I don’t want to burn out. I don’t want to get injured. I want to run. Slowly and consistently. Because, as a friend pointed out to me, as a food addict, exercise can’t be about my weight or my size, it has to be about my head.

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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