When it comes to keeping my food boundaries, I am willing to go to any lengths. God, that is such a pain in the ass!
When it comes to keeping my food boundaries, I am willing to go to any lengths. God, that is such a pain in the ass!
Yesterday, I did not leave my house, and it was glorious.
I was thinking that the older I get, the more time I need to be still and alone. But then I realized that I used to spend the majority of my time still and alone. Back then what I needed was to get out and mix with the world. It turns out that my day-to-day life is totally different than it used to be.
I am a loner. I really always have been. Even as a child. I need a lot of time to spend in silence. I need a lot of time in my own head. I love my own company. I like getting lost in my thoughts. I can be fascinated by ideas that occur to me only after I have let my imagination wander deep into unknown (to me) territory. And that doesn’t even cover how much I loved (still love) reading novels and comics.
And I have always been a fan of projects. I used to make things all the time from the time I was young. Mix tapes (I’m showing my age, I know), costumes, jewelry, posters, scrap books, crochet projects, etc. As recently as the past 3 years I even taught myself to knit.
When I was eating compulsively, this was the majority of my time. I spent little time doing anything else besides thinking about whatever, accompanied by occasionally feverishly working on making something. I would often manically work on something all night until morning and then pass out and sleep half (or all) of the day away.
There was school as a kid, but I always did less than the bare minimum there. I was super smart, so I got away with it, for the most part. And also charming and manipulative, so what I may not have gotten away with in certain circumstances, I got away with anyway. And pretty much the same with work. Though work was harder. Being a waitress isn’t the same as being a student. People notice when you suck at doing the work. I was a better nanny.
When I got my eating under control, I suddenly had less time to do all the nothing I wanted to. I had groceries to buy, and fresh, homemade meals to prepare. I had to go meet up with people who had boundaries around their food. And then, the longer I had my boundaries, the more I had to “show up” for things like work. I had to get better at life because not being in a sugar fog meant that I could see clearly all of the things I was doing (or not doing) that I was ashamed of. And there was no cake or pizza to mask the shame, to hide it from myself anymore.
And getting my food under control, and getting good at life got me a relationship with a man I am madly in love with. And we started a life together. So there was necessarily more time that I did not get to spend alone doing nothing. And it also ended up meaning that the way I worked and the kinds of jobs I had changed. I wanted to spend time with my husband. So I didn’t want jobs where the hours were flexible, and I worked odd shifts. I wanted to work when he worked so I could be home when he was home. Eventually I wanted to exercise too. So there was even less time to do nothing.
I am not complaining. I am very happy. I love my life. And I know that I love my life *because* I have so many commitments that keep me from doing so much nothing, and so many projects, not in spite of it. But I still love my nothing time, and my projects. (I just finished a baby blanket yesterday!) And I am grateful for having had a whole day to not leave the house.
But now I have to go to the grocery store and then cook meals for the work week. Because that is how I maintain this happy life.
At my job, I am working in an office with a bunch of strangers from different companies right now, though I may be moving to a private office trailer soon.
A lot of people at work are very curious about my food. In a lot of ways it is frustrating the way they talk about it. It’s all filled with a certain kind of praise and awe, that I don’t identify with.
I don’t do what I do to be envied or put on a pedestal. I am saving my life. To me, it can be like praising someone with a disease for taking their medicine. It reminds me of a woman who wrote about having a child with high-maintenance special needs, and how everyone would say, “I could never do that.” And she always had to hold herself back from saying “Of course you could. You just don’t have to, and I do.”
That is, of course, not entirely true that I “have to.” We all make our choices. Parents of disabled kids and addicts alike. We all have to decide what our priorities are. But if you can eat a cookie with impunity, it doesn’t make me feel good that you “could never” do what I do. And if you can’t, like me, and you choose the cookie anyway, I don’t know what to tell you except that you could and can do what I do. Yes it will suck for a while. A long while. But a friend once told me what her mother-in-law said to her when she first got married.
“It’s gonna get real hard before it gets reeeeeal sweet.”
I feel that way about putting down sugar and carbs. I feel that way about playing the long game with my life. Do I like getting up at 5 to get to the gym before work? No. I really don’t. But I love feeling comfortable in my body, loving my life, feeling like I accomplished something, and like I did something toward my ultimate goal of aging gracefully.
And as someone who just turned 41 last Wednesday, and feels healthy, happy, and beautiful, I would say it is all worth it.
I have been thinking about my fitness level a lot lately. I have been slow on my jog, and not getting any faster. And not trying to get any faster. My experience is that faster comes in its own. Or it doesn’t.
But I am fascinated by the fact that in about 2 weeks of not jogging (October 26th to November 11th, due to such extreme, though temporary, changes in my time and living situation) I managed to lose all of the progress I had made over a year. And two months of being back on my regimen hasn’t done much to catch me back up.
The truth is, it’s fine. I don’t actually care about my run time (though I do still track it.) I don’t care about “leveling up.” I care about making a commitment, and sticking to it.
Just like I have rules around my eating, I have rules around my workout. I jog 2 miles a day, 5 days a week. I can’t jog 4 miles in one day and have that count as 2 jogs. I have to do the 2 miles at the same time. I can’t walk, but I can be slow as long as I keep up a jogging pace. As long as I hit these marks, I have fulfilled my promise to myself.
I learned this from getting my food under control. That was the first time I understood guilt-free eating. There were rules, and as long as what I was eating was by the rule book, I didn’t have to feel guilty. Pork rinds and bacon are on my food plan. I used to eat apples that weighed over a pound for breakfast. (Lately I find a 14 oz apple is enough. That’s still a pretty huge apple, by the way.) Some people consider this “working the system.” I know because I have had people tell me as much. But that is because they don’t understand the goal. They think the goal is weight-loss. They think the goal is a diet. They think the goal is skinny. Or when it comes to working out, they think the goal is to look like a fitness model on a magazine cover. But none of those things are my life goals.
The goal of a regular, specifically defined workout for me is not beauty or perfection. The goal is not even progress. The goal is not to be skinny. It is not to be muscular. It is not to be an award winning athlete. It is not to be an athlete at all. My goal is to help this body, that I had abused with food and excess weight for so long, age as gracefully and healthily as possible. And to keep a promise to myself that is sustainable and makes me feel like I have accomplished something.
I spent the first 28 years of my life completely undisciplined, and unfocused. I was a slave to food, but also to instant gratification. I hated living in a fat body, but didn’t do anything about it and didn’t know how. Because I didn’t know how to be gentle with myself. I didn’t understand the power of the bare minimum. Because I would not be able sustain this lifestyle without a clearly defined bare minimum. If I didn’t know it was ok to do the least, on the days I couldn’t manage to do my best, I would quit.
Now, on the days that I don’t want to jog, I still jog. I jog slow. I jog cranky. I jog resentfully (until the endorphins kick in, anyway.) But I jog. And that is enough to keep the guilt at bay. Because if I am not guilty, I don’t need to quit. But more importantly, I don’t have an excuse to quit.
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.
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.
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.