When I got my eating under control 13+ years ago, I expected to find my husband right away. I thought that the only thing keeping him away was my being fat. Because even when I wasn’t fat while I was still eating compulsively, any hold I had on staying the size I was was tenuous at best. I could always feel it slipping away.
I have been struggling with how I feel about a recent(ish) weight again. I feel like this happens once a year or so, in the past 4 years. I gain weight. For no discernible reason. I do not change the way I eat, at least not it in any major way. I just gain weight. Eventually I lose it. (At least that has been the case so far.) And then I gain it back months later. And then lose it again. Back and forth, over and over.
I have been thinking a lot lately about how fat people are here to stay. It was a real epiphany for me a few weeks ago when I read an article that pointed out that Americans, and in general, Westerners, are statistically more overweight than we were 40 years ago, and that is not going to change any time soon.
I already knew we were fatter. It was the realization that this trend is not going to get “fixed” that hit me. After all, I learned a long time ago that the first step in changing anything is acknowledging the reality of the situation.
Heath articles and reports of statistics always seem to imply that somehow we could get back to 1975. It reminds me of the way I used to feel about my own body and weight problems. Every time I got fatter, I said to myself that I just had to get back on track and then I was going to lose the weight. For good this time. But I wasn’t doing the things that I needed to do to lose weight and keep it off. And neither is the U.S.
That has me think it’s time for fat representation. That it’s time to stop judging fat people. That it’s time to get used to seeing fat people. That we need to watch them on TV, and in movies. Let’s see them in magazines and on billboards. Let’s stop telling them fat and beauty are mutually exclusive. Let’s stop treating them like they are lazy and shameful.
I read once, a million (or at least 10) years ago, that Ancient Egyptians had high rates of obesity, diseases like diabetes, and lots of dental problems, much like our own society. And that it probably had to do with their high-carbohydrate diet. After all, they may not have had sugar, but they almost entirely ate fruits, vegetables, and grains. Lots of bread. But I remember that they had something else that we have too. A glorification of the thin body. That struck me as more surprising than the fact that so many were overweight.
It seems the fatter a culture of humans gets, the more we adore skinny, and the skinnier skinny is, the more we adore it.
I think we need to stop glorifying skinny, and start representing who and how we really are.
Now, before you freak out and complain that I am promoting an unhealthy lifestyle, stop. Just stop. I am not promoting anything of the kind. What I am promoting is kindness. I am promoting minding your own business. I am promoting respect and honor for the human in front of you.
When I was fat, I hated myself. And I didn’t lose weight and then start to love myself. I took a million small actions that let me like myself enough to take bigger actions that led me to feel like I deserved to take care of myself. I started to like myself and then I lost weight. You cannot shame anyone thin. But you *might* be able to love them thin. And if not, all you lost was your hate.
And if you really want change, then you are going to need to get political. Let’s talk about labeling. Let’s talk about food deserts. Let’s talk about the food industry in general. Let’s talk about how the government lets a cereal company say right on the box that its product of processed carbohydrates is “heart healthy” (even when the FDA says this is misleading.) Let’s talk about subsidies for corn that make high fructose corn syrup cheap and readily available to add to processed food. It’s already too late to go back to 1975.
I am not dismissing personal responsibility. I firmly believe in it. And I do believe change is possible. I am living proof. And I will happily be a beacon to those who want to put boundaries around their food as a means of losing weight, or getting free from food addiction. And I do not pretend that I liked or enjoyed being fat and in the throes of my addiction. But I am one person, making decisions for one person.
When I got my eating under control, I was single. I didn’t have to worry about feeding a family on a budget. And now that I am married and a DINK (Double Income No Kids), I am very well off. I don’t worry about the price of vegetables, meat, or dairy. If farmers didn’t get enough rain and cauliflower is expensive, I buy it anyway. In other words, it was easy for me to get my eating under control, not because I was “good” or had “willpower.” It was easy because my class and my lifestyle let it be easy.
And ultimately, I did it for myself. Not because I was a burden on the U.S. healthcare system. Not because “nobody wanted to see” me in a bathing suit. Not because strangers and/or doctors told me I was ugly or lacking.
So I am calling for our society, and each of us as individuals, to stop thinking, speaking, and acting like another human’s weight is our business. I am telling you that unkind words, judgement, cruelty, and intrusion never helped me. They did not help me lose weight. They did not help me change my life. They really only made everything worse. If you don’t already know, addicts use, in part, to stop the pain. If you are causing pain, you are not helping.
So can we stop treating fat people like they owe us something? Can we stop acting like their weight gives us the right to invade their privacy? Can we start showing them we see them? And can we actually start seeing them? Not as a problem to be fixed, but as other people just doing the best they can to get through life. Like all of us.
I have a friend in town for the weekend. She’s getting ready for us to drive to Nashville for the night. So I am writing a blog post as fast as I can. Go go go go go!
I am having a great time! I’m so happy to see her. But there is a bit of panic nagging me. Because my routine is being thrown off. And I am attached to my routine on many levels. But my food is covered and packed in a cooler and I don’t have to worry about any of that for the next 24 hours.
It’s times like these that I have to remember that I got my eating under control for exactly moments like these. I got my food handled so that when I was with the people I love, I could really *be with them.* I didn’t have to be focused on other things, namely eating.
I thought we might go out to a fancy place for dinner, but then I called about the way they cook their vegetables. Their Brussels sprouts are roasted in rendered bacon fat. Which sounds amazing, and would not be a problem except that it’s bacon with sugar in it, of course. And when I asked about the caramelized onions, he said something that made me stop him. “You cook them in a roux, is what you’re saying.” (A roux is a butter and flour mixture for thickening sauces and gravies.) The answer was yes. Then he said, “but I can make you some plain steamed vegetables if you would like.” Right. Obviously. And no. I would not like.
So I packed a small dinner for myself, and we will stop somewhere for her to grab a bite of whatever variety she likes, and I will not eat with my friend. I can have a diet soda, or an iced tea. I don’t have to eat with her. I’m not going to Nashville to eat. I am going to have a good time with my good friend. Yay!
I am a food addict. But I can laugh about it. And that is a beautiful thing.
Yesterday I bought a cantaloupe and a honeydew, both of which smelled amazing, and I kind of agonized over which I was going to have for breakfast today. This is what is known as a “luxury problem.” I eventually went with the honeydew. It was incredible. I will get to eat the cantaloupe in due time. All of it is mine! (Luckily, neither of these things is a fruit my husband wants in the slightest, or there may have been trouble. And I take this stuff seriously, so in the event of, say, a fight to the death, I’d put my money on the food addict.)
I found these exquisite specimens because my husband took me to a different grocery store than my usual yesterday. It was a date. Because to a food addict, that’s some romantic stuff, right there. I found Italian sausage and Chicago-style giardiniera that I can eat! (Mom, you don’t have to drive it up from Chicago now!) And my favorite full fat Greek yogurt that I can usually only find in NYC or Florida! Plus all of the other things I need like sugar-free bacon, lots of salsas, and my Liquid Aminos! (Look at all of those exclamation points! That is how exciting that was!)
Food is still exciting to me. It is actually more exciting because I eat guilt-free. I love being in a comfortable body. I love being able to jog, and fit into my clothes, and I love not feeing like I don’t have the right to take up space. But I would do what I do, all the shopping, prepping, portion control, and food restrictions, just for the guilt-free eating.
I was always embarrassed and ashamed of my eating before my boundaries. Now I can eat without a thought to if I “should” eat something. I love my guilt-free full fat yogurt. I love making it into guilt-free “ice cream.” I love my guilt-free bacon and pork rinds. I love knowing that whatever it is that I am eating, I am doing the right thing.
The other day a friend told me she was going to eat a decadent breakfast that was totally within her boundaries and that she was going to love every last bite and I said “good job!” And I meant it. It was not sarcasm. There was no “but.” I was proud of her for loving her food. I think it’s important to love our food.
How can I love my body if I hate what I nourish it with? How can I love myself if I hate my body? I don’t think I can. At least I have never been able to. So I love my food, my body, and myself. And my husband who takes me on dates to fancy grocery stores. *Swoon* Maybe I would let him have one of my fruits if he wanted one. Maybe.
I just turned 41 about two weeks ago. I love my birthday. I love getting older. I love that at this age I am in the best shape of my life, and the happiest I have ever been.
In the wake of two high profile celebrity suicides, I read an article about the problem of American culture that can lead people who seemingly “have it all” to end their own lives. And the answer the article gave was that we are a culture that prizes accomplishments that reward us in the forms of money, fame, and prestige, and we believe that these things will bring us happiness. And when they don’t, we despair.
I don’t know if this is true, but it happens to be a very clear illustration of the difference between my own personal mental and emotional state as a compulsive eater, and as a keeper of eating boundaries.
Because in order to stop eating compulsively, I had to make friends with my life exactly the way it was. I had to stop thinking I should be doing “something” to make me stand out, when I didn’t even know what that something should be. I had to stop thinking I needed to be making huge strides toward some great goal, when just the thought of such a stride left me paralyzed with fear. And I had to relinquish what I thought was control, but what just tujrned out to be wanting, followed by the pain of not getting exactly what I wanted. That was the pain of thinking that if I were better, if I were “good enough,” I would have perfectly executed my plan and received full marks, and my award of money, fame, and prestige. I numbed that pain with food.
I had to learn that I can want. And that I can do whatever is in my power to the best of my ability to get what I want. But then I have to get what I get, and trust that what I get is what I am supposed to get, even if it is not what I wanted.
That is a hard lesson to learn in a culture that prizes material rewards over everything.
I also learned that I didn’t have to “accomplish” anything to like and love myself. In the beginning, all I had to do was not eat a cookie. All I had to do was keep my food boundaries. That was it. I could sleep the rest of the day and still feel good about myself, still be proud. At first, that was the sum total of how I measured my integrity. But the thing about integrity is that it grows outward, as if in concentric circles. When it butts up against a lack of itself, it feels the need to integrate it. (It’s kind of like The Borg, only benign, and unfortunately, much easier to break out of. You have to really work for integrity to keep it.)
And as for the kinds of accomplishments I wanted to accrue, I had to learn that they didn’t have to bring me money, fame, or prestige to make me proud, happy, or content. I could work out on a regular schedule. I could learn a new knitting technique, and finish a project using it. I could write a weekly blog that a handful of people read. I could crochet a gift for a friend. I could have a difficult conversation with a person, and build intimacy in our relationship.
And there is another thing that I learned by happy accident when I got my eating under control. It is that all of my satisfaction lives in my relationships with myself and other people, not in how much money or how many accolades I have. I am content in my life because I am content in my relationships. And I am content in those relationships because I am not constantly trying to manipulate people into giving me what I want, or think I want in order to accomplish things I think I should, so I can acquire money, fame, and prestige. I am content because I am offering an authentic human self (me) with a commitment to grow and change, and accepting another authentic human self, and allowing them the space to be who they are, and to also grow and change.
I learned all of these things because I got my eating under control. Could I have learned them if I hadn’t? Maybe. Probably. But it would not have been the crash course it was.
P.S. I am not done learning.
On Friday I celebrated my 2nd Wedding anniversary. I don’t really think about it on a day-to-day basis, but it’s a miracle. Certainly to my child self it’s a miracle. I felt shameful and unlovable for nearly all of my early life. I had resigned myself to being alone forever at a very early age. And to my early-teen self, it’s something more than just any miracle. Because I married the guy I had a huge crush on from about 12 to 14, until we lost touch. If you told 13-year-old Kate that she would marry him, she would have told you that you were crazy.
Of course, it took more than 20 years of separation, and a whole lot of personal change, physical, emotional, and spiritual, but it sure did happen.
And that is all thanks to keeping my eating boundaries. All of it. Period. Sometimes my husband says very sweet, romantic things about how he would still love me if I gained weight. And I believe him. Because I don’t think he understands what would actually come along with weight gain. I think he is thinking in terms of physical beauty. And I think he believes that I am just beautiful no matter what. Which I love! And I am grateful for.
But when I am eating compulsively, I am not beautiful for a few reasons that have nothing to do with size. I don’t like myself when I am eating compulsively. I get depressive and ashamed. I second guess myself. Also, I don’t have a whole lot of integrity when I am in the food. I lie, cheat, and steal. I hide truths and manipulate people. I am just generally difficult, angry, and unhappy. And I don’t think about anyone but myself. Everything is all about me.
When I started writing this blog over 6 years ago, it was to open myself to love. It was to stop thinking all of those thoughts I had about not being worthy. And there was something to do about it. I took an honest, searching look at myself, took stock of what about myself I wanted to change, and started working toward being the kind of person I wanted to be in a relationship with. There is a saying: Self-esteem comes from doing estimable acts.
But I could only do those estimable acts because I put sugar and carbs down. When I am eating sugar and carbs, I am only thinking about that. If something I want would impede my eating, I would let that thing, that wish, go. Because eating sugar is the most important thing in the world when I am eating sugar. When I am not eating sugar, my life and my relationships are the most important things.
So at this time of the anniversary of my marriage, I am so grateful for that 28-year-old Kate who decided that a life that revolved around sugar was not enough. That there was something better to be, and something better to be had. And that she was willing to go through the dark, scary world of withdrawal and uncertainty, to get to the other side. That’s where the love is.
I was talking with a group of friends the other day about International Women’s Day, and someone mentioned movements like “fat is beautiful,” and “fat as a feminist issue.”
The truth is that I do think that fat is a feminist issue. I do think that being fat and being beautiful are not mutually exclusive. And at the same time, I absolutely hated being fat, and I never want to go back.
I think that part of the problem with these ideas is that we conflate them. Let me break it down for you. There is a difference between what you, as an individual with a body, want to believe about and do with your body, and what our society and culture tell you about what you *should* believe about and do with your body.
I have had to deal with this for myself. I had to do some serious and painful soul searching. Because I really hated being fat. I was miserable and I felt ashamed. I hated my body. I hated the way that I looked, and the way that I felt. I hated that I could not stop eating. I hated how hard it was to live in that body.
But separately, I also hated the way I was treated by others. I hated that people were given the “right” by our culture, to openly comment about my body. After all, this body is me and I am this body. Whatever its size and shape. If you shame my body, you shame me. If you disrespect my body, you disrespect me.
I have come to really understand, only after years of being in a comfortable body, a body that I am comfortable in, that just because I was unhappy with myself didn’t give anyone else the right to judge me. It was not ok that I was shamed and abused. It was not ok that I was humiliated by others. That I hated myself did not give friends, family, acquaintances, and strangers a pass for being jerks.
My food problem is a sickness. It is not cured by “pushing away from the table,” or “just not eating so much,” or “having willpower,” or “having some self-respect.” I don’t now, and never did, earn my place in the world by being beautiful, thin, accommodating, and feminine. I have always had a place in the world. I was born into it, by virtue of having a body.
And I will say that I consider myself to be incredibly beautiful (and my husband would add humble.) And I love it. And I don’t apologize for loving it. But it doesn’t define me. And I don’t owe it to others. Not to men on the street, not to my parents, not to friends, not to bosses. Not to my husband, either. I do not owe any particular body to anyone but myself.
So in honor of International Women’s Day, let me recommend to you that you love your body exactly as it is right now in this very moment. Remember that it *is* your place in the world. And if, like I once was, you are unhappy with the body you are in, love it anyway. I believe that it is only by loving ourselves first that we can make lasting change. If we are waiting to be “perfect” before we love ourselves, we will be waiting a very long time.
Yesterday was a typical lazy Saturday with my husband until we got a call that a family member is dying. Someone my husband is very close with, whom I also love very much. It’s funny how the whole world can shift at a time like this. It’s the kind of thing that gives one a whole different perspective on one’s day-to-day life. The things that we worried about become insignificant. Work, or our apartment, or our cars, or money don’t seem to mean anything at a time like this. Suddenly everything is about connection, love, being there, saying I Love You.
I had worried so much about paying for this out-of-town apartment that we rent while our jobs were up in the air. But in this moment, paying this rent is not an issue. Paying to fly home is not an issue. (My husband is already on the road.) All of my anxiety about material things just flew out the window.
Having my eating under control meant that I could not go with my husband. I had to cook and prep and pack food for traveling. Because I keep my food boundaries no matter what. Even loved ones being sick and dying. Not taking care of myself is not proof of love. It’s not going to make anyone better if I say that my food, which is how I take care of my addiction, is not important. And even after this family member is gone I will have to go on living. So it makes sense to take care of my food, even if it means being separated from my husband for a few days, and taking longer to get home. That’s fine. It let my husband get on the road as soon as he could while I close up the apartment in case we are away for a long stretch. I’m sorry to be apart from him, but maybe he needs a little time to himself anyway.
There are 3 things that having my eating under control gives me that I am particularly grateful for in a moment like this.
1) I am able to be unselfish. Because when I am in the food, everything is about me, my life, how things will affect me. But today is not about me. I can be calm and clear headed. And that lets me be of service to my husband. Am I sad? Of course. But my sadness is not important right now. It’s my job to strong and useful.
2) I am aware of what is really important. And that is relationships. It’s the people that we love that make our lives what they are. And this is coming from an introvert and borderline misanthrope. At some point, all of us will die, but when you can see it coming, that’s an amazing opportunity to get completion and closure. It’s a chance to say “I love you.” “You were important in my life.” “You made an impact.”
3) I am able to go with the flow. This situation is the kind of thing that comes out of the blue. There was no preparing for it. So the only thing there is to do is go with the flow. Fighting and resisting are not going to help. They won’t change the situation. I learned that when I got control of my eating. I spent my time as a compulsive eater trying to control everyone and everything. And not doing a very good job of it. Today I can let life be what it is. That doesn’t mean I don’t care. It just means I don’t waste my energy trying to will the world to be that way I think it should be. I can use that energy to love, to help, to make others comfortable.
So for now I have a lot to do. And I am grateful for the personal power and clarity that my eating boundaries have given me at such a difficult time. And I am most grateful to be present for the person I love most when he needs me to be available for him.