When I was growing up and I was active in my food/sugar addiction, everything was about food. Now that the sugar is down and I keep strict boundaries around my eating, everything is about feelings. In retrospect, it was always about feelings, but the food masked that.The craziest I have ever felt in my life, the sickest around food I have ever been, was when I was 27-28 years old. I was in a socially acceptable body, maybe even thinner than I am now. (I am a healthy weight now, but I am not skinny.) But my feelings were out of control, my eating was out of control, and the things I was doing to keep the weight off were absolutely out of control. I was constantly tormented.
Around this time of year is when I have the most memories, or more like flashbacks, to that time, now 11-12 years ago. At that time, I was essentially starving myself. But I wasn’t losing weight. And then, my period stopped.
I had the whole thing twisted around. I wanted my body to work like normal while I did abnormal things to it. I didn’t want to fix my eating because I couldn’t imagine a fix for it. The idea of giving up sugar never ever crossed my mind. That would have been crazy to me. It was what I lived for. It was my joy. So I wanted to eat what I wanted to eat, not have it affect my weight, and have my body be healthy. And I was getting none of those things. I was eating mediocre “diet” substitutes (lower calorie, but still full of sugar) for the things I really wanted, I was exercising to the point of hurting my body, my period had stopped, and I was still in a body that I hated.
I went to the doctor, and she asked me about what I was eating, and I lied through my teeth, and she put me on birth control. Basically, we were going to force my hormones to start working again. But what happened was I started to have these emotional outbursts that I could not stop, even though there was a little, rational voice in my head telling me that I was acting crazy. It would say things like “Don’t yell at this cab driver, it’s not his fault.” “Don’t throw a fit in the grocery store. They are just out of something, it happens.” I could see very clearly that I was being crazy, but I could not stop being crazy. This was, without a doubt, the worst time of my life. I could not imagine a way out. I truly feared that I would end up institutionalized.
The way out would turn out to be giving up sugar. Exactly the thing I was trying to keep by doing all of these crazy things. The starving, and the exercise bulimia, and the regular old stick-a-toothbrush-down-your-throat bulimia, and birth control pills that made me scream and cry like a mad woman.
The other day, I had a rough day emotionally. I was filled with a lot of anger. I was frustrated, and riled up. I did a lot of praying, and a lot of calming exercises, and a little talking to sane people, and even a little crying to get it out. But I didn’t eat over it. And the next day I was all better.
Those feelings could have been anything. They could have been hormones, or SAD, or just a bad mood. But they did not get fed sugar, or mean-spirited acting out, or emotional outbursts, and they passed.
That is the gift of having my eating under control. My feelings are in their proper place. I get to look at them sincerely, and see if there are things in my life that I want to examine and change. But they don’t get a say in what I do, what I eat, if I keep my commitments, or if I behave kindly. They get to read the map, but they don’t get to steer the vehicle.
So, remember how in last week’s post I wrote about how sometimes people who love me offer me food I don’t eat because they feel bad for me? And remember how I don’t mind because I say no, and I know that they love me and I love them? Yeah, well sometimes people don’t want you to say no, and they push and push, and it’s abusive and inappropriate. And that is what this week’s post is about.
Last weekend, my husband and I had people over. I knew some of them, but some were new to me. This is a story about one who was new to me.
Everything was all fine for hours, and then it happened. This visitor had brought Italian beef from Chicago. She really wanted me to eat some. And I briefly told her thank you but no.
That is usually all it takes. I smile with genuine gratitude and say “no, thank you,” and people graciously honor that.
But that is not what happened this time. This woman did not honor my no. She pushed. She pushed for about 5 full minutes.
So you can understand a bit about some of my food boundaries, you should know that I need to know the exact ingredients. I need them in the ingredient list. Ingredient lists are written in a specific way, descending order of quantity. Sometimes there are parentheses in the list when one ingredient, for example salsa, can be broken down into more ingredients, like tomatoes, peppers, and potentially things like corn syrup. These parentheses mean something to me. They matter.
Now, this woman didn’t have an ingredient list. For me, that made it an automatic no-go.
There is another important part of this story in my mind. And it’s counter intuitive, but hugely important. This person has her own food boundaries. I know because we talked about them. And I thought that would make her an ally. She also avoids sugar, though she does have it on special occasions. We laughed about it because I bought sugar for coffee because I didn’t think a guest would want artificial sweetener, especially the one I use. And I found out that she actually uses the same one I do. And we even talked about what it’s like when people try to get you to eat something you don’t eat. So, you can imagine that her pressuring me seemed to come out of left field.
This woman who had her own experience of being pressured and abused over her own food choices was being relentless with me! She told me that I was being silly not to try the beef. That if it had flour, it was just a little. (It doesn’t matter, I can’t eat it.) Well, of course it matters. The percentage would be practically nothing. It’s just a thickening agent. It’s just…It’s only…It’s nothing to worry about.
For about 5 full minutes she pushed me. She did it in front of other guests. She was pissing me off. And I could tell that every time I closed my eyes and took a deep breath to calm myself, she thought she had won, and was even more forceful.
I want to be clear about something. What this woman did to me was controlling and abusive. Because she is the wife of my husband’s coworker, I had to be friendly. So I did not say “Back the f*ck off, b*tch!” But I had every right to. Nobody, and I mean absolutely NOBODY gets a say in what goes in my body but me. Not my mother, not my husband, not my doctor. If I didn’t eat the lasagna of the greatest love of my life besides my husband, my sweet grandma, there is no way in hell I’m going to appease some control freak I’ve never met before, whom I have graciously welcomed into my home.
When people refuse to honor your no, they are trying to control you, and that is a form of abuse. I want to say that, because so many of us are people-pleasers. We want to appease our spouses, our parents, our mothers-in-law, our bosses. And some of us even want to please strangers, to be considered nice.
Like I said last week, I love it when my father-in-law offers me food. He offers out of love, and he honors me when I say no. It is a beautiful thing to be offered food as a sign of love.
But when we are pressured repeatedly to the point of frustration, it can be easier in the moment to give in. But at what cost? That is a serious question. There is a cost, and you are the one paying it.
I once met a woman who was a recovering bulimic. She ate a food she was addicted to in order to please her mother-in-law. She was sent back into bulimia because of it, and it took her months to stop again. She said one of the most profound things I have ever heard. She said “My mother-in-law wanted to be there when I ate the pastry she made, but I’m alone when I’m in the bathroom afterward. She’s not there holding my hair back while I stick the toothbrush down my throat.”
The control freaks don’t have to live your life after they have convinced you to hurt yourself. They don’t have to deal with your consequences.
I’m hoping that this story gives you strength. I hope that if something like this ever happens to you, you can remember that you don’t have to harm yourself to please someone else. I hope you remember that it is a form of abuse. I hope you remember that you are in control of your body and your life, even if someone is trying to control you. But mostly, I just hope it doesn’t happen to you. Because it sucks, and it’s not OK.
Yeah. I’m going to talk about AspireAssist. I don’t really want to. Every time I think about it I get a little queasy. But it’s my eating disorder blog, and it’s too relevant to ignore.
If you don’t know, AspireAssist is a device where you have a port installed through your abdomen directly into your stomach, and after you eat, you attach a drain to the port, and you drain about a third of the contents of your stomach directly into the toilet.
No, I did not make this up. And yes, the FDA has approved it.
When I talk about my own short stint with the kind of bulimia where you make yourself vomit, I explain that bulimia is hard. And I was bad at it. It’s not like you eat whatever you want and then go make yourself throw up. It’s difficult to puke on demand. It matters what you eat. It matters how long you wait to make yourself throw up. It matters how many liquids you have consumed. And even if you are successful, it’s not like vomiting gets all of the food out of you. Bulimia did not make me skinny. It really only made me crazy.
So when I see that the FDA has approved AspireAssist, I’m floored, terrified, disgusted, and sad. Because AspireAssist is absolutely bulimia. Government sanctioned and doctor assisted bulimia.
Below is a quote from the press release the FDA put out this week:
“The AspireAssist device should not be used on patients with eating disorders, and it is not intended to be used for short durations in those who are moderately overweight. It is intended to assist in weight loss in patients aged 22 and older who are obese, with a body mass index of 35 to 55, and who have failed to achieve and maintain weight loss through non-surgical weight-loss therapy.”
If we use the example of a woman who is 5’5″, a BMI of 35-55 means she weighs between 210 and 330 pounds. How can you talk about someone who is between 65 and 185 pounds overweight as not having an eating disorder? And how can you talk about someone who needs to implant a foreign object into their body to eliminate food directly from their stomach because they cannot stop eating, and not be talking about a person with an eating disorder? What does the FDA think bulimia is?
And we are also only talking about 12% reduction in weight. That means instead of being 330 pounds, you could be 290 pounds. So still morbidly obese, and now, with a dangerous hole in your body. A hole that may leak, cause nausea, get infected, etc.
What the FDA has done is make bulimia easy. Terrible and gross. And maybe even more dangerous than before. But easy.
The truth is, if bulimia had been easy in the first place, I may never have found peace around my food addiction. If it had been enough of a fix, I may never have looked for something better. But it sucked and was hard, so I found a solution that gives me peace around food.
I cannot stop people from choosing this option. I wish I could, but I can’t. So I’m just going to tell you that bulimia never did help me, or anyone I know. And I promise that AspireAssist is just bulimia, no matter what the FDA says. Take it from someone who knows bulimia intimately.
So perhaps you saw the article about how contestants on The Biggest Loser have a lot of trouble maintaining their weight losses. It turns out that over the course of the show, their metabolisms slow way way down. Contestants had faster metabolisms when they were overweight than they end up with after the show. Now here is what pissed me off about the article. The conclusion of this article seems to be that a body has a “natural” size or a “true” size, and that any body will work hard to go back to that “true” size. The implication is that the people on The Biggest Loser are just “meant to be” overweight. And that’s where I call bullshit.
In the article, it clearly states that these people lost huge amounts of weight by exercising for at least 6 hours a day. (!!!!!) There is a name for that in the eating disorder community. It’s exercise bulimia. Bulimia is any of the ways that people try to rid themselves of food after they eat it. Because they cannot keep themselves from eating it in the first place. Some people force themselves to throw up, some people purposely take too many laxatives, and some people exercise themselves for hours a day. I know. I have been an active bulimic. (I say active because I still consider myself a bulimic, even though I have not done any of those things in the past 10+ years, since I put boundaries around my eating. I don’t believe bulimic thinking is something that ever really goes away. Thankfully, mine is dormant at the moment.)
See, my point is that there is this television show that is promoting exercise bulimia as the smart, even honorable thing to do. We promote an idea that people are overweight because they are lazy or sloppy, so we cheer for them for “finally” doing something about it. And then when that doesn’t work, science steps in and, instead of saying “6+ hours of exercise a day doesn’t lead to long-term weight loss,” it says that when overweight people lose weight, their body does everything it can to gain the weight back.
Here’s a thought: Maybe if you lose weight 3 times faster than is natural or normal because you are exercising excessively, then your body does everything it can to gain the weight back.
Perhaps long-term weight loss requires a much more significant change in eating habits and a more moderate view of exercise. Of course, that is not as exciting as watching someone drop 100+ pounds in 6 months, But maybe long-term weight loss can’t be jammed into a 13 week television season.
It takes years to lose weight naturally. And no, exercise bulimia is not natural. Who naturally has time to exercise for 6 hours every day? How do we not look at it on television and see that it is ridiculous?
I, personally, lost my weight without any more exercise than walking. And not for hours and hours. I am taking about walking to the store instead of taking the train. I am talking about using the stairs instead of the elevator.
I want to be clear that this is not about the contestants on The Biggest Loser. If I had not already found my solution, I would probably have loved the opportunity to get on a show like that. I was willing to do anything to lose weight. In fact, I tried exercise bulimia. It didn’t work for me either.
For me, this all comes back to the big money to be made off of those contestants. These are people who are desperate and suffering, and they are being used by the television industry, the beauty industry, the fitness industry and the food industry. And they are not getting anything in return except for broken metabolisms and a “scientific” conclusion that they were never supposed to be thin in the first place.
Yeah…And people say what I do is extreme.
Goodbye Halloween. I love Halloween. But it has been a while since I did much to celebrate. This year I didn’t even dress up, since I had to work.
No matter how I look at it, it’s such a beautiful miracle that I don’t care about candy. Halloween exactly 10 years ago was filled with humiliated binging, and a general sense of shame, but in a normal sized body.
Halloween 10 years ago was one of those days when I knew I was hitting bottom, but before I knew what I could do about it. It was the time in my life that I was most terrified about what would become of me. It was the time of my life when I felt the most out of control. I was barely managing to keep myself sane. I was in a regular sized body, but I could not stop eating. And all of my energy went into eating, and then trying to not gain weight from eating.
Halloween 10 years ago was my first successful bulimic episode, where I stuck a toothbrush down my throat and actually managed to throw up. I had tried before that, but bulimia is not easy. (It turns out it’s not all that effective either.) I remember looking in the mirror and seeing how bloodshot my eyes looked from it. I remember being bloated and taking some gas medicine because of it. Gas medicine because I could not get the water pill some old woman recommend. I remember asking a pharmacist where I could get a water pill, and the pharmacist looking at me funny and asking if I had a prescription. And when I said I did not, telling me that they were dangerous and were not sold over the counter.
I remember being embarrassed and ashamed. I remember wondering if she could tell that I wanted it because I was bulimic. Wondering if it was written across my forehead. This girl is doing shameful things with food. I remember feeling crazy.
I remember that I was terrified that I was going to look fat and ugly for the Halloween birthday party I was going to. And I arrived later than I wanted because I was doing whatever I could think of to look normal. To not look bloodshot and bloated.
The truth is, maybe I didn’t look as ugly as I thought I looked. But I was so unhappy. And I thought it must be obvious by just looking at me that I was so out of control that I had resorted to making myself throw up.
I thank God for many things about that day. I am grateful that I hit that point of desperation. I don’t think I could have found my solution for my eating disorders if I hadn’t tried something so extreme.
And ultimately, it would make for a very happy ending. Just two months later, I would find the solution to my eating problem. I would never have to worry about how to get rid of the food I wished I hadn’t eaten.
I would get a life that was more peaceful than I could ever have imagined in my wildest dreams. A life where I can walk by a bowl full of candy, and rest easy knowing it’s not mine.
I went for a walk yesterday. It was nice. I haven’t gotten to walk much in the past year.
Over the past few weeks I have been thinking about what it looks like to let people be themselves. Make their own choices. Fight their own battles. Live their own lives.
It’s a hard thing. I know that it is hard for everybody. And I like to think it is something that I am relatively good at.
Relatively. I mean, it’s not easy. Especially when I love somebody. Or in my pride I think I know what would be best.
And maybe what I think other people should do really would make them happy, or give them peace, or just generally make things work out for the best. But none of that matters.
When I was growing up, a lot of people wanted me to lose weight. Doctors and family and friends. Not because they didn’t like or love me fat, but because they did. They wanted better for me. They wanted me to be healthier and happier. They didn’t want me to get obesity related illnesses. Or be made fun of. Or get hurt and rejected.
But nothing those people wanted for me ever helped me. None of their opinions or advice ever landed as anything but judgment, cruelty, and conditional caring. I am not saying that that is what it was. I am not saying that it was not genuine love and concern. But it did not occur that way. It occurred as intrusion. And for the most part, it still does.
I love advice.
When I ask for it. Because I am choosy about whom I ask. I go to people who have something I want when I ask for advice. When I wanted peace around food, I went to people who had peace around food. I did what they did. Not people who were skinny. Not even people who had lost a lot of weight. I wanted food to stop being an issue. So I went to people for whom compulsive eating was no longer an issue. When I wanted to open my heart and find a powerful relationship, I asked for advice from people in the kinds of relationships I wanted. Not people who happened to be married. Not women who were trying to land a husband. It was about relationships. When I wanted to quit smoking, I went to people who had successfully quit smoking and were empowered by it. Not people who still had a puff every once in a while. Not people who had never had or wanted a cigarette. People who quit so that they could grow.
What I do around food is not for everybody. Plenty of people are not sick with sugar addiction or eating disorders, and can eat sugar and drink alcohol normally and without negative repercussions. Or have other food issues that would be exacerbated by what I do.
And no. Not everybody wants what I have. And I can understand that. I think most people can’t imagine how sweet and delicious my life is. I don’t think many people can fathom what it is like to have found a certain amount of peace. I bet they think that what I have is a dull as can be.
But even more, there are people who do, indeed, want what I have, but are unwilling to do what I do. Almost everybody wants to know how I live with the idea of never eating chocolate cake again. Or never having a glass of wine with dinner. Or they want to make sure that I know that they never could. So many people, when they hear my solution, decide that it’s too much. They want an easier, softer way. Not so hard. Not so extreme.
And who am I to tell them differently? Who am I to judge them for not doing what I do?
And it’s not just food. Food is just the most obvious example to me. My “amazing” weight loss transformation that is written all over my body. (Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while will know that I put amazing in quotes because I happen to know that my weight was the symptom of my eating disorders. That what’s really amazing to me is the gift of having my eating under control, which takes care of my weight issues. And that more than amazing, it’s work and dedication and giving myself over to grace.) Who am I to offer advice about any choice. Who am I to tell anybody anything? Who am I to tell another person how to live. Or what happiness is. Or where to find it?
Unless you want to ask me. And then I would love to tell you what works for me. And even then, I give it as a gift. With no strings. To do with what you will. Because your life is yours. And you get to live it for yourself.
There is a word that is important to me. Insidious. It means something that is harmful, but it happens so gradually, that you don’t even notice it until it is too late.
You have probably heard about boiling frogs. Apparently, if you try to put a frog in boiling water, he will jump out. But if you put a frog in a pot of room-temperature water and slowly bring that water to a boil, he will not notice the water becoming dangerously hot and he will allow himself to be boiled to death. And you can have frog soup or whatever. Which does not sound so particularly appealing to me. But what do I know? I love brussels sprouts and cauliflower. Which I am told makes me a total weirdo…Whatever.
Anyway, I have been thinking about this idea of insidiousness today. Because I scared myself this morning. With a thought.
If you have read my blog before, you probably know that I don’t talk about what I do with food specifically. But I talk a lot about how I keep boundaries around my eating. I have rules. Lots of very specific food rules. About what and when and how I eat. And how much.
A big part of my eating boundaries is portion size. It is specific. And precise. Meticulously accurate. I have been known to cut off a minuscule piece of this or that. I have cut a slice of mushroom in half. I have literally added or taken away a speck of carrot the size of my pinky nail. And I am that precise and meticulous every time. Even when nobody else is in the kitchen. Or the house. I do not do it to show anybody else. It is for me. Between me and me. And between me and God.
So this morning, while I was scooping a pinky nail’s worth out of my bowl and back into the container, I had a thought. “What would happen if I just left it in there?”
My immediate response to myself was “Destruction. Now stop thinking about it because I’m getting uncomfortable!”
But there was something lingering in it. It gave me an icky feeling. Dirty and shameful.
Perhaps because after 8 years of keeping boundaries around my eating I think I should be immune to such thoughts. But I have had those kind of thoughts before. And they don’t generally scare me. I am generally happy with my immediate answer “Destruction.” Or something similar. Misery. Anxiety. Shame. Nothing good! That’s for damn sure. I make a point to talk about those thoughts when I have them. And I keep a healthy fear of the food. (A healthy fear. Not like I can’t go to a birthday party because there will be pizza and cake. But I don’t have to go around smelling the pizza and imagining what the cake tastes like either.)
No there was something else in this thought. And I decided to play along. To answer the question. What would happen if I didn’t take out the pinky nail’s worth? Would the world blow up?
No. No the world would not blow up.
And that would be the problem.
If the world blew up, then I would never do that again. If you throw a frog into boiling water, he jumps out!
But the world would not blow up, and suddenly a pinky nail’s worth would become acceptable. So surely a whole finger’s worth would not be that big of a deal either. And then I would not “need” rules. And I would be able to “manage” my food. And then I would be at that birthday party and I could have pizza and cake just this one time…
But I’m an addict. Eating sugar sets up a physical craving and a mental obsession. So before you know it I am a 300 lb frog who is too fat and too high on sugar to jump out of the pot of boiling water. (Yes, I know I’m mixing my metaphors. Shakespeare did it! What do you mean I’m no Shakespeare?!?!)
The other thing that might happen is that I could end up an active bulimic and exercise bulimic again. I could be running until I injured myself. I could be sticking toothbrushes down my throat. I could be taking toxic doses of laxatives.
In other words, the world would explode. Just not right away. Not until it was too late to stop it.
Insidious. It’s a good word. Both beautiful and terrible.
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.