Oh, good Lord! It’s the Sunday before Christmas and I have to write a blog!
Oh, good Lord! It’s the Sunday before Christmas and I have to write a blog!
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!
I am having some problems at work. Personality problems. And they difficult to navigate. It takes a lot of restraint on my part.
I made it through my 12th Halloween without sugar and carbohydrates. And it was painless.
My eyes are broken when it comes to size. When it comes to food portion size and my own body size. I am bad at those.
I think that there is an expectation, by others, and occasionally even myself, that over time certain aspects of my thinking will normalize. That somehow I will know what a portion looks like. Or that somehow I will see my body clearly.
After over 12 and a half years, that is still not the case for me. Even right now, when my body dysmorphia isn’t looming large, I am subject to my own broken eyes.
I gained weight a couple of months ago. It hasn’t come off, even though I stopped eating soy nuts (the weight gain offender, in this case) and I have come to terms with the fact that it may not. At least not on my schedule. My weight fluctuates. Or stays stubbornly static. I had to make friends with that.
Also, it occurs like more than it is. My weight does change from time to time. But I am particularly sensitive to it. So a little gain will feel like a huge one. My jeans got a little tighter a couple of months ago with the soy nuts. But in my head, I got “huge.” The same jeans still fit, just differently. But I sometimes wonder if anyone notices, and thinks bad things about me, if people at work can see the difference. (Spoiler alert: nobody at works cares enough about me to notice if I have gained or lost weight, except my husband, who actively avoids thinking about my weight, because “nothing good can come of that.” – His words. Compulsive eating ladies, this is the kind of man you want to marry.)
And then this week I bought some new workout clothes on the internet. Based on the size chart, I was supposed to buy a medium. But I thought for sure I would need a large. This is ridiculous when I think about it rationally. A medium was for size 8/10, and I am an 8. I could still go up a size and need a medium. It was still so hard to buy a medium.
When they came, they were hard to get on, and for a moment I thought, “damn it! I knew I needed a large.” And I almost didn’t even bother to try to get them on. But I did, and they actually fit perfectly. I just forgot how hard it is to struggle into new workout clothes. (My old ones were pretty stretched out, because I’m cheap, and I have only had 3 sets of clothes for over 2 years, but I work out 5 days a week. So my old ones have been worn and washed twice a week for years. Hence the need to buy new ones.)
As for food size, I control my portions with a scale. Some people seem to think this is extreme. It may be. But I have an extreme problem. I don’t know when I’m full. I don’t know what enough means.
This morning, I ate some bacon, sausage, and egg, plus whole milk in my coffee, and a quarter of a ginormous honeydew, and I will tell you, I could have eaten a whole other one. I mean a second complete breakfast. Seriously. Please know, sometimes I fantasize about it. Because I love to eat. I love food. It’s why I control my portions. Because how does a girl who would happily eat like a hobbit, know what enough is? The answer is, she doesn’t.
I am glad to be aware of the fact that my eyes are broken, and to have measures in place to make that irrelevant. I weigh my food to know exactly what I should eat. And as long as I control my portions, and keep boundaries around my eating, I don’t need to know what my body looks like. As long as I stay rational and look at the size chart when I buy clothes off the internet, I should be OK. Also, there is always sucking it up, and paying for return shipping. (I better keep an eye on the size chart, because let’s face it , once it’s here, it’s probably not getting sent back.)
I consider myself to be lucky. I am very happy with the way I look. I don’t love the creases between my eyebrows, or my knock knees, or how big my belly is, but I also don’t hate them. And I feel like that is pretty good for a modern, Western woman, especially one who used to be morbidly obese. I think I am naturally beautiful.
And I think a lot of that peace and confidence in my physical self comes from taking care of myself.
There was this thing I learned years ago. When we wrong someone, we have to justify it to ourselves, or we have to own up and make amends. So if we are not willing to make amends, we have to make the person we harmed appear wrong to us in some way. For example, if I were a jerk to my husband and yelled at him about something, probably trivial, (not that I would ever do something so imperfect!) I would either have to make it right with him, or I would have to really dig my heels in about what a jerk he is. (My husband is most definitely not a jerk.) This is easy enough to see in a relationship like a marriage. (Well…Easy-ish to see. It’s not always easy for me to admit I have done something wrong.)
But what I learned since I got my eating under control is that it works the same in my relationship with myself. Only not so straightforwardly.
When I was eating compulsively, especially because I just couldn’t stop, I was forced to reinforce all of the negative talk about myself in my own head. I was fat, I was ugly, I was worthless. Because if I were beautiful and strong and capable, I would have to admit that I was abusing my body. I would have to admit that I was harming myself. And I would have to make amends to myself. And for most of my life, I wasn’t going to be able to do that. I really could not stop eating. I had no idea how.
When I was harming myself, I had to choose that I “deserved” to be harmed. My “just desserts” were literal desserts full of sugar and flour, that were making me fat, and crazy and miserable. I hated my body, because I fed it junk and poison, processed sugar and carbohydrates that got me high and made me lethargic. I abused it, which only made me hate it more, and made it justifiable to feed it more poison.
Now that I take care of my body, I love it. I love it even though it is not tiny and svelte and “flawless.” I love it with all of its rolls and sags. I love its 41-year-old’s share of wrinkles and moles. It never had to fit into society’s definition of perfect for me to love it. Really, I only needed to start treating it like it was lovable.
And when I started to love it and treat it as beautiful, the world around me started to agree. I don’t wear makeup. I don’t dye my grey hair. I don’t wear shape wear, and I rarely wear heels. But, for the most part, people like me. People are attracted to me. And I think it’s because I love me enough to treat me, my whole body, the way I deserve to be treated. With love and respect.
Having been fat from childhood to my late 20s made me particularly body conscious. Even now, when I don’t want to be, I am. I just want to eat delicious food within my boundaries and let my body be what it is. (Yeah…because that’s easy.)
About 5 months ago, I started eating soy nuts again. I know that I can be a little obsessed with them. And I know that they make me gain weight. But I had a craving for something nutty and crunchy and they are absolutely allowed on my plan. So I bought some. And I agreed with myself that I would not eat more than an ounce a day. And in all honesty, for the first 2 months, I didn’t eat them every day. I maybe had them two or three days a week. But nothing happened.
And they are tasty and convenient because there is no cooking involved. And they make for a great texture in my homemade ice cream! So I started eating more of them on a regular basis. And after about a week of eating them whenever I wanted and ignoring my one ounce a day rule, I woke up one Sunday and realized I had gained weight. Enough weight for my pants to feel tight. Not “kill me” tight. “Not go buy new pants” tight. But I was uncomfortable. And it really did happen over night. Saturday, pants fit like normal. Sunday, pants are tight.
So I did what any body conscious woman with boundaries around her eating would do. I stopped eating them. It has been about 3 weeks. And I have still not really lost that weight. My pants are a bit looser, but not the way they had been that one Saturday, before I woke up and had gained weight.
I actively try to not care about my weight. Not like I am trying to hide anything from myself. But I keep my boundaries around my eating every day, and day by day, that is enough. I don’t have to worry about the size of my body. That will be what it is. (Again, the not worrying is easier said than done.)
But I want to note a thing that has always been interesting (and often upsetting) to me. It takes 2 days and no effort (for me, and most of us) to gain weight, and 2 months and a lot of work and care to lose it. It always takes more to achieve our goals than it does to destroy all of the work we have put in.
I try to remember that when I don’t “want” to do the things I do to take care of myself. I have the life I have because of the things I nurture, and the habits I practice. But even after years of work and commitment, it only takes 2 days for my pants to get tight.
When I gave up sugar, I figured I would end up with an average, boring, mediocre life. And that did not thrill me, but I had become so unhappy in that previous year with eating and body image disorders that I was willing to go to any lengths.
I had always despised the thought of my own mediocrity. Perhaps it was being a child who grew up in the 80s. Sesame Street told us we were all special. Perhaps it was that I had a huge personality and love of the attention of strangers. People expected me to be a performer. And that made me expect to be a star. Or perhaps it was that I was born with a lot of a particular kind of talent, the kind of keen intelligence that made understanding the world around me easy as a kid. People called me precocious. I expected that I would be able to win for my whole life as easily as I had early on.
This was not the case for several reasons. Obviously, my pool got smarter. It turns out, they put smart kids with other smart kids. Also, I was pretty fragile emotionally. I did not take failure well. And I didn’t learn much from it. The lessons I took from failure usually ended up being not to do that thing I was bad at anymore. And, probably most importantly, early in life I figured out that sugar and carbs would make all of my difficult feelings go away.
This life that I have now would almost certainly make child and teen Kate cringe. It would occur to her as pathetic and pointless. It would occur to her as mediocrity incarnate.
But I look at this life as particularly extraordinary. And I think it’s specialness, and the fact that I think so, is all about having my eating under control.
Being the person I am now means I judge my success in terms of my integrity, my growth, and my contentment, not accolades or prizes from outside. This lack of outside approval is exactly what mediocrity looked like to my young self. How would I know I was awesome unless someone else told me. Unless everyone told me. Unless *important* people told me.
I am not diminishing the power of “important” prizes. But not everyone is going to win a Pulitzer. And I don’t have to base my pride in my life on whether or not I do. (I am not even writing right now. But even if I were.)
When I got my eating under control, it finally clicked for me that wanting an outcome had nothing practical to do with getting it. By putting boundaries around food, I learned about taking action. I learned about practice. As crazy as it seems to me now, I somehow had it in my head that wanting to lose weight was enough. But it’s not that crazy when you consider that sugar gets me high like a drug. The thing that was making me fat was also muddling my thinking. It was a win-win for sugar and a lose-lose for me.
Sometimes people in the self-help world talk about visualization. I used to think this meant something like visualizing myself winning the Pulitzer. And while science says that there is a case for that kind of visualization being effective, what is more effective is visualizing oneself *doing the work.* Because if you picture yourself doing the work, you are more likely to actually do the work.
Through having my eating under control and thereby getting a body I could love and be comfortable in, I came to understand about the practicality of achieving something. I got this body by entirely changing the way I eat. I did something about my body. I didn’t just “want” it to be different, I did the work.
Between my meals, I do the next right thing in my life, whatever that is for my next goal. When I wasn’t working full time, it was writing. Now that I am working, it can be dotting my i’s and crossing my t’s on a particular work task, making sure I am doing my job to the best of my ability. Or in my free time it can be ripping out a section of knitting because I realized I did something wrong and I want to get it right. Or it can be drinking my water quota or going on my jog.
I practice the things I want for myself and the things I want to get better at. And in understanding practice, I have come to recognize that one doesn’t win a Pulitzer Prize by aiming to win one. One writes the book or the music. One does the thing. And maybe it strikes a chord with one’s fellow humans. Or maybe it doesn’t.
The idea that something I do won’t wow the world no longer feels mediocre to me. The idea that I do *anything,* especially with any semblance of integrity and consistency, whatever that may be, feels like I have become a powerhouse in the world. I feel like a shining example of accomplishment. And I haven’t won an award of any kind since high school.
I used to think that everyone understood life but me. I used to think that knowing with certainty what to do next was obvious to everyone else. I felt incapable compared to all of the confident, well-adjusted beings all around me. But I realized that most people are flying just as blind as I always was. They are just better at hiding it.
And I realized that wanting to be liked by others more than honoring oneself is about as average and mediocre as it gets. And here I am trying to impress the hell out of myself. That sounds pretty extraordinary to me, if I do say so myself.
I used to have a life coach who used to say (and probably still does) “If you really want to be a rebel, follow the rules. Nobody else is doing that.”
I was talking to some friends the other day and one was saying that she always thought she was so valuable that the rules didn’t apply to her. I know this feeling. Not the valuable part. Maybe I would say “precious.” Or “special.” But I was always clear that rules were for other people. They didn’t apply to me.
When people both “go on diets,” or try to change their lifestyles, they are talking about making rules around food (and often exercise.) One reason diets don’t work is people decide the rules don’t apply to them. Even when they make them up themselves.
There are always good excuses. Or sometimes pretty weak excuses. But for some of us, any excuse will do. And we play dumb. Like we don’t know how feeble our reasoning is.
I was guilty of this for a long time and on many levels. Lying to myself about whether I *could* follow my rules. Lying to others about whether I *did* follow my rules. Lying about why I gained weight, coming up with far-fetched stories. I even believed a lot of them.
Getting off of sugar and carbs was hard. It sucked. And I will tell you why I was finally able to do it.
1. I *really* got off of sugar and carbs. As in entirely. As in no cheat days, no special occasions, no eating things out of obligation. (I loved my Gram very much, but I never ate her lasagna again.) Just plain no sugar ever. And that meant no cravings. And no cravings meant I stopped feeling out of control around food. 2. My rules are so specific that I know if I am following them or not. I am either in my boundaries or out of them. There isn’t a lot of grey area in what I do. There isn’t room for doubt. And 3. Since I know exactly what I am supposed to be eating and exactly what I am eating, I could finally be honest about it.
It’s not that I was incapable of being honest before. But I had often been dishonest about what I was eating and how much. But also, I kept everything ambiguous on purpose. I wanted “freedom.” Really I wanted grey areas. I wanted wiggle room. I wanted to be able to do what I wanted, and then I wanted to blame something besides my eating for my weight. I might blame the diet. I might blame my genes. I might blame circumstances, like too many parties in a week (because how could I go to a party and not eat?) or that time of the month, or that I had a hard week and I deserved to treat myself.
Now, I love rules. I love to follow rules. I love when things are clearly spelled out and I am fully aware of what is expected of me, and what I can expect in return.
I always wanted “freedom” in my diets. But sugar was controlling my life. I was a slave to it. I had freedom to eat what I wanted. What I didn’t have was the freedom to not eat. When sugar cravings told me I was going to eat, then damn it, I was going to eat. I didn’t have a choice.
By following strict rules, I have freedom that I never had in all my years of wiggle room and grey areas. Freedom to not eat.
In this blog I can sometimes write a lot about the periphery of my sugar addiction. I write about the ways I had to change my thinking, or my behavior. I write about how I became more confident by becoming more humble. I write about the ways my life is different because I dealt with my sugar and carbohydrate addiction. But today I want to touch on the food.
I know I have written about it before, but I think it’s worth coming back around to. Because ultimately, all of the peripheral issues I get to wax poetic about, are only available for me because my eating is taken care of. And my eating is taken care of, partially because I have strict rules about my eating behavior, as in strict portion size and 3 meals a day with nothing in between but zero calorie drinks. But mostly my eating is taken care of because I do not put sugar, grains, or starch into my body. This even goes as far as certain vegetables and fruits. I don’t eat potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, cherries, grapes, or bananas. I don’t eat quinoa or brown rice.
Sometimes people balk at this. “Those foods are healthy,” they say.
I am not denying that they are nutritious foods. I am not saying that they are “bad for you.” I’m not saying *you* should not eat them. I am saying that when I put those foods into my body they create a phenomenon of craving that defies all rationality. I am saying that if I eat a sweet potato, it is just a hop, skip, and a jump to me eating an entire cake. That is not hyperbole.
Sometimes people talk about moderation. I do, in fact, practice moderation in the “unhealthy” foods I do still eat. I limit my pork rinds and my sausage. Because I *can* eat those things and limit them. I can eat my portion of sausage and be satisfied until the next time I can eat it.
But I am physically incapable of moderating my sugar intake.
Sometimes people offer me a cookie or a piece of chocolate. Sometimes they say things like “it’s just one,” or “it’s just a little.” And they are correct. It is, indeed, just one, and just a little. But even a little is too much for me and I will not be able to stop there. I will be forced by my addiction, against my will, to go out and get more, and more. It will never be enough. I cannot eat a cookie without finishing the box and then going to the store to get another box and finishing that one too. And again. And again. Forever.
This came up for me because on Twitter the topic of willpower popped up in a series of tweets I was reading. People get very judgy about willpower. Especially when it comes to food and weight. The implication is that people who cannot eat one cookie and then go about their lives are lacking some kind of basic moral foundation. That this thing called “willpower” is somehow the measure of a person’s character and worth. (Especially if that person is fat.)
I want to be the first to say that while I am willful as hell, I do not now, nor have I ever had willpower over eating sugar. When I was eating sugar, I had to eat more sugar, no matter how much I did not want to. I hated my body and wanted to change it, but I could not stop. I wanted boys to think I was pretty and did not want to be fat, and I could not stop. My family was filled with diabetics and I knew it was only a matter of time before I became one too, and I could not stop.
I have now abstained from sugar, grains and starch for over 12 years. So clearly I do have some control, but what I have is not willpower.
What I do have are 2 things: 1) A body free of the substance that causes cravings for more of the substance, and 2) A commitment to remember that one bite of sugar (or flour, or brown rice, or banana) will inevitably mean I will be thrown back into the hellish cycle of craving, eating, and by eating, perpetuating craving.
So I am grateful that I can write here about my emotional and spiritual growth. But that is only possible because my drugs, sugar and carbs, are not in my body. And I take actions every day to keep it that way. Because I don’t have willpower. I just have the good sense to remember every day that I am an addict.