onceafatgirl

Peace is better than chocolate

Archive for the tag “exercise bulimia”

Live slow. Die whenever.

It was January of 2016 that I started a regular workout practice, right around the time I celebrated 10 years of having my eating under control. I had played around a little with jogging and bodyweight exercises the few weeks prior to that, but I have never been good at doing anything by playing around with it. I am always either in or out. My default is generally set to out. But I decided I wanted to be in.

Before that, I had primarily gotten around, and therefore gotten my daily exercise, by walking. In New York City, that was like breathing. I did it without thinking. Even if I took the subway, I had to walk there. There were stairs to get to the station. And even if there was an escalator, I was an impatient New Yorker. I took the stairs anyway because walking was faster than riding. And if the weather was nice, and I had the time, I didn’t bother with the subway. A 4 or 5-mile walk in the city on a nice day doesn’t feel like a workout with all of the people watching and window-shopping available. Exercise was a non-issue. It came built into my life.

But when I was working to get my driver’s license, and my (then) boyfriend and I were planning to buy a second car for me, it became clear that I was not going to be walking as a mode of transportation. And I was, it turns out, not getting any younger. I was 38 at the time, and I knew that it would only get harder to stay in shape as I got older. So I tried a light workout a few times in December of 2015, but I was only motivated for a few days. It was hard. I wasn’t good at it. I never really “wanted to” do it, even if I wanted to have done it.

So I did what I do. I made a commitment. I decided to jog 2 miles a day, 5 days a week, with 3 sets of 10 each of push-ups and crunches, and a 30 second plank. Basically 30-45 minutes of exercise 5 days a week.

Now this is a long, drawn-out setup to get to my point. I didn’t see results right away. I have made some progress in terms of my strength, and stamina. I have also possibly lost fat and gained muscle, though I am not good at gauging my physical size. But any and all progress I have made has been very, very slow. So slow, in fact, that I am only starting to recognize it as progress now, after over a year of consistent workouts.

When I first started doing push ups, I could not get very close to the floor, even though I do them on my knees. The truth is, I was barely moving in either an up or down direction. If someone had been watching me, it would have been deeply humiliating. Hell, it was a little humiliating doing them alone in my home while my husband was at work. But I did them anyway. I could only start where I was.

I only recently noticed that I was able to move up and down with ease, and get my face to the floor and back up again. Now that I have the arm strength to do them on my knees, I have started making my third set of 10 push ups the regular plank kind. Not all three sets. Just the last one for now. Because I don’t have to be in a rush to see results. And just like before, when I do them, my arms are barely moving. It may take me another year to have the strength to get my face all the way to the floor and back up with regular pushups. But ultimately, no matter how slow the progress goes, it’s progress. If I didn’t do them because I wasn’t seeing results quickly enough, there would simply no longer be any results to see.

We live in a results based world. And I don’t think that’s all bad. What I think is a problem is wanting results now. The problem is choosing instant gratification over long-term gratification.

I never really understood the story of the tortoise and the hare. The hare wasn’t slower, he was a jerk. If he hadn’t been trying to show off, and publicly shame the tortoise, he would have won the race easily. So that story always occurred to me as bullshit. Slow and steady does not win a race against an opponent who is fast and steady. But I have a different point of view now. I am not certain that everyone has it in them to be both fast and steady. I know that some do. That is what makes them athletes. I honor that. But I am not an athlete. And that’s just fine. So now I think of it this way: it is not that I am the tortoise and someone else is the hare; I am both the tortoise and the hare. The hare in me wants to show off, get results, hear people tell me I’m so fast, I look great. But the hare in me does not do things in a sustainable manner. The hare in me doesn’t know how to deal with obstacles, or how to persevere through failures and difficulties. The hare in me wants results all day all the time. The hare in me is like the people who lose weight on “reality” television by exercising daily the way other people go to work. It might make for dramatic TV to take on 40-50 hours a week of strenuous exercise, but it will almost certainly only get you short-term results. And if I am honest and thinking clearly, I don’t want short-term results.

The same could be said for the ways that I tried to lose weight before I gave up sugar and got my eating under control. I always wanted to lose weight fast. I wanted to be skinny. Now. I would, when my food-addicted, compulsive-eating self could manage it, eat way below my calorie limit, sometimes to the point of starving myself. I was not very good at starving myself, but I could manage it when I was seeing results. Losing weight quickly got me high, and that made it possible for me to limit my food intake for the sake of even more results. But bodies are not huge fans of this way of losing weight, and any hiccup in my quest for an ever-decreasing waistline left me disillusioned and often led to me giving up, or at least cheating on my diet for a day, week, or month. And that’s not even taking my exercise bulimia into consideration.

Enter the tortoise. The tortoise in me is just putting one foot in front of the other. My tortoise may technically be enrolled in the race, but she is not competing. She just made a commitment to start at point A and move to point B. She’ll get there in her own time.

The results I gain when I am slow and steady may take a lot more time to manifest, but they also usually last. Because the steps I take are small enough to take every day. And they are small enough that the inevitable “one step back” is also just a bitty baby step. So instead of focusing on results, I focus on the practice itself. I focus on the commitment to take the action, consistently and without expectation.

So it may not be particularly exciting to practice being the tortoise, but it is pretty inspiring. And ultimately deeply satisfying.

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My heart, not my ass

I like routine. Love it really. Or at least can become attached to it. I can get stuck on the way things “should be,” if only because that is the way they have been. Friday morning, I woke up at 5:30 like I do on weekdays. I drank a bottle of water, and put on my running clothes, also like I do. But I was tired. I had only gotten about 6 hours of sleep. That may seem like a lot to you, or at the very least enough, but I am very much used to a full 8 hours a night. And I was afraid that I would hurt myself if I went to work out when I was too tired. It took some serious thought, and it made me a little anxious about my time and the things I needed to get done in the day, but in the end I decided to rest a little more, and run later.

When I was an exercise bulimic, I hurt myself all the time. I was so obsessed with getting rid of the excessive amounts of food that I was eating, that I ignored any injuries I inflicted on myself. I played through the pain, as they say. Now I’m a grownup, physically and emotionally (you know, for the most part) and I don’t want to get injured in the first place. Because I don’t like pain (obvs), and because I can’t, in good conscience, exercise when I am injured. I would have to rest and heal. And I would rest and heal because I am not obsessed with getting rid of the food I ate, because I eat a healthy amount of nutritious food.

Each of us acts, on a daily basis, according to intentions that we have created within the context of our belief systems. And I believe that most of us are not present to those intentions, because we are unaware of these beliefs. I’m not talking about our beliefs in, say, God, or science, or fairies, or astrology. We know that we believe in these things, or not. I am referring to things that we don’t even see because we cannot fathom that there could be any other way. Before I got my eating under control, one of my beliefs was that I was fundamentally broken, and that my fat body was both punishment for me, and a signal for others, like my own scarlet letter (but a big F for FAT.) That there was some other explanation (like addiction) never crossed my mind.

When I was fat and eating compulsively, all of my exercise was to force my body into a shape and size that I believed to be socially acceptable. I thought that was the only reason to work out in the first place. I thought that everyone who exercised was doing it for that reason (only more successfully than myself.) I didn’t understand that for some people it was about health, or peace of mind, or self-care, or because it felt good. (Gasp!) That exercise was punishment was so ingrained in the way I saw myself and the world that I didn’t recognize that there could be another way. Exercise was a punishment for not being able to stop eating. Or for just being born broken. It was the price I had to pay for being fat. It didn’t matter that it hurt. It didn’t matter that I was miserable. It did not matter that I was harming myself. I wasn’t doing it for me. I was doing it to please strangers on the street. I was attempting to preemptively silence the people I believed would shame me. And I was doing it for God. I was exercising as a form of penance for my shameful body, self, and life. And people supported me in that. They did it because, according to society, I was a “good girl” for recognizing my shamefulness, laziness, unattractiveness (or whatever it is that they decided being fat meant about me) and trying to do something about it.

We definitely live in a culture that praises people who work out. But what we praise them for is being beautiful. If someone is fat and working out, we (usually) praise them. But it’s an automatic reaction, and we don’t even realize that what we are praising them for is trying to lose weight and become the Western standard of beautiful. If someone looks like a fitness model, we praise them for being that standard of beautiful and maintaining that beauty. If someone is skeletally thin, we praise them too, for having willpower, or looking like a supermodel. But we never ever praise anyone for being overweight. That is the worst thing you can be physically in our society. That is the context of weight and exercise that permeates our culture.

But we frame it in the context of “health,” while what we really honor is skinny. In our culture, we love to talk about obesity and it’s ramifications on our health, but we judge people on their weight as it affects their appearance. Somehow we have it in our collective psyche that a woman who is 20 pounds overweight is a scourge on our healthcare system, but we let a girl dying of anorexia be a model, a standard for beauty, while she dies in the middle of a fashion show. (If you think I am being melodramatic, in 2006, a model died from heart failure due to anorexia after passing out on her way back to the dressing room in the middle of a runway show.)

Because I was an exercise bulimic (as well as a regular old vomiting bulimic), when I got my eating under control, I did not work out. I walked to places that were close enough. I took the stairs instead of the elevator. (Still do.) But I did not put on spandex and move to the point of sweaty breathlessness, as is the socially expected definition of exercise.

When I started running again about a year ago, I had made a decision about the context of my exercise: I was doing it exclusively as an act of self-care. I was not trying to lose weight. I was not trying to force my body into a socially acceptable shape or size. My only goal was, and is, to keep my body working well and easily as I age. After all, I will turn 40 this year. It was about my heart (literally and figuratively) not my ass.

I have made the decision to love my body as it is. I am not skinny. I am a slow runner. I do not diet or feel deprived. I eat in a way that keeps me satisfied and content in terms of my appetite, my physical appearance and my health. I am not always trying to lose that last 10 pounds. I am not always managing and obsessing, doing the math in my head about what I have eaten and how much more I can eat and what ramifications what I eat will have on my weight. I eat and exercise as a practical means of loving the body I live in, which is perfectly lovely right now.

 

 

Crazy for sugar

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. 

The Biggest Winners of The Biggest Loser are The Biggest Industries: TV, Beauty, Fitness, and Food

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.

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.

Exercise as long as I enjoy it. There’s a joke in there, right?

A few weeks ago, I started jogging again after almost 10 years. Nothing crazy. Two miles a day, 5 to 7 days a week. I took it easy at first, not trying to push too hard, partially running, partially walking. It’s interesting how little time it has taken me to get back into good enough shape to jog the whole 2 miles without stopping to walk.

When I was still eating compulsively, I used jogging to control my weight. Or rather, I tried to control my weight with it. But I couldn’t control my eating, so jogging didn’t help me very much there. I was so obsessed with “getting out” the food I couldn’t stop eating, that I was pushing too hard, and not taking care of my body. I would run until I injured myself, and then I would continue to run injured. I was punishing my body for being fat. I was abusing my body to try to force it into a shape and size that I thought would be socially acceptable, without dealing with my eating. Because I could not deal with my eating. I really didn’t have a solution. I didn’t think there was a solution. I was doing the best I could. But it was painful and difficult. It was damn exhausting.

But the other thing is that I was in great shape. Look, I don’t mean to glorify exercise bulimia. It’s not pretty. I was bat-shit crazy when I was eating compulsively and running to try to control my weight. But that doesn’t change the fact that my body was capable and strong. And I never saw it that way. Or if I did, it was not enough. It was not really what I wanted. Because I was looking for something very limiting. I was looking for beauty. And not just beauty, but a narrow view of beauty. Simply put, I was looking to be as skinny as I could be.

So I didn’t enjoy how healthy I was when I was healthy. Partially because I was not totally healthy. I was so sick mentally and spiritually, that being in good physical shape wasn’t even healthy.

When I put boundaries around my eating, I had to stop a lot of the things I was doing to manage my weight, because they were just part of how sick I was with food. I had to stop eating “diet” food, and start eating real food. I had to stop counting calories, because tracking calories was how I tried to manage my weight without giving up sugar. Or it was about eating as few calories as I could in a day so I could be skinny. And I had to stop running because it was all about the size of my body. I had to give up all of those things because I had to change my thinking about the problem. The problem wasn’t the size or shape of my body. The problem was my inability to stop eating and the obsession I had with my weight. That obsession with my weight, which I was just then starting to let go of by putting boundaries around my eating, made me scared of over exercising. And it was a valid fear. I am still afraid of it.

I decided to start jogging again because I am 38 (and a half) years old. And it isn’t going to get any easier to get in shape the older I get. But I need to be in communication about this, because there is still an Exercise Bulimic Girl somewhere in inside of me, just like there is still a Good Girl, and a Fat Girl, and a Body-Dysmorphic Girl, and even an Overly Critical Perfectionist Girl with Anorexic Tendencies. All of these aspects of my eating and body-image disorders still occupy space in me, in various states of dormancy. So I went to my friend who helps me make decisions about my food and my weight, and I told her I was running 2 miles a day.

She asked me, “Are you enjoying it? Are you enjoying the endorphins?” And I thought about it, and yes. I am enjoying it. So she said, “It’s good that you are telling on yourself. Do it as long as you enjoy it. If you ever stop enjoying it, let me know.” And that was that.

I don’t think of myself as someone who enjoys exercise. But then, I was never a person who exercised for herself. I was exercising for everybody else. I was killing myself for validation by unnamed people who didn’t know or care about me, who had also bought a limited sense of beauty and beauty-connected worth. But the truth is, I do love exercising. I love the feeling of self-care. And I love the feeling of accomplishment. And I love the feeling of getting stronger. And yes, I love the endorphins.

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.

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