St Francis of Assisi said “Wear the world like a loose garment.” 12 step folks use this phrase a lot.
St Francis of Assisi said “Wear the world like a loose garment.” 12 step folks use this phrase a lot.
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.
Welcome to this week’s blog post. It’s goin to be half-assed because I forgot about it until my alarm went off just now asking if I wrote one this week.
I have this alarm for exactly this reason. Because sometimes I forget that I have to write a blog every week. And I have a commitment to post. Even when I don’t know what to say. Even when I “don’t have time.”
Not having time is usually the reason I forget. I have a lot going on. And sometimes I need more rest time. I need more down time. I need a break and a breather. This week is one of those weeks.
But that doesn’t mean I skip it. It may, however, mean I half-ass it. I am allowed to do the bare minimum. What I am not allowed to do is make up excuses for when it’s OK to break a commitment.
I have genuinely forgotten once or twice. And I don’t have to wear a hair shirt or give myself 50 lashes. But I have to make amends to myself. I have to write as soon as I realize. I can’t let it be “no big deal.” The big deal is that I make promises to myself and I have to keep them. If I don’t, I don’t like myself, I don’t trust myself, and I don’t feel good.
A family member on Facebook wrote the other day that he gets down on himself when he has “a shit workout.” I don’t worry about how my workout went. I worry about whether or not it got done. Everything else is gravy. (Metaphorically speaking. I don’t eat flour or cornstarch.) I find a lot of relief in putting the emphasis on the doing, the practice, over the results.
But I will say this. Even in putting practice over results, I get results. Because if one does something long enough and with consistency, one will get results, even if that is nor the goal. Even if occasionally one doesn’t use one’s whole ass.
It’s Sunday, which means I have just finished breakfast, I will post this blog, then go grocery shopping, and cook breakfasts and lunches for the week. It’s what I do on Sunday.
I used to hate routine. Now I thrive on it. I used to want to be able to do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. And I did. But the things I wanted to do and did, never brought me anything worth having. Or perhaps that is untrue. They never brought me anything worth having by themselves.
I did a lot of reading and a lot of thinking. And those are absolutely worth doing. But really, only if one is doing the mundane actual living part of life. All of that reading and thinking never gave me a sense of pride, or purpose, or accomplishment.
Doing whatever I wanted never made me content. The life I live now, full of routines and commitments makes me content. It even makes me happy. I don’t know if I know many people as happy in their lives as I am.
It’s not so much the routine that makes me so happy, as what I use it for. I use it to make sure I get everything done in the day that I have promised myself. I make food for the week on Sunday so I know that the food is taken care of for the week. I don’t have to scramble. I don’t have to do it after work when I’m tired and just want to sit, and relax. I work out in the morning so I don’t have to worry about it if something comes up in the evening. And again, after work I don’t want to do things. I like to eat my meals at the same times (ish) every day as a reminder that whatever else I am doing, that is important and needs to get done.
I don’t have to have a routine to do these things. But for me, not having one was the perfect excuse for not doing things. Like I talked about with my food a couple of weeks ago, I wanted freedom, but freedom always led to the day “getting away from me.” Let’s say I was supposed to work out 3 days a week. I wouldn’t even consider it Monday through Wednesday. And then I’d consider it Thursday, but would never get around to doing it. So I would decide that Sunday could still be counted as “this week,” even if it wasn’t. I would then know I “had” to do it 3 days in a row, but would certainly put it off all day until the evening. And by the end of the day, the chances of me exercising were 50/50 at best.
There is a saying among people who keep their eating under control the way I do. “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Of course, there are emergencies and moments where I have to fly by the seat of my pants to keep my eating boundaries, but I make those the exception, not the rule. Those are situations to be dealt with, not a way to live my life. That is so many opportunities to make mistakes and create chaos.
I am bad at planning. I think it’s why I love my routine so much. For me, there is not enough room in my head to remember that lunch is at noon today, but 1 tomorrow, or even to remember to check a calendar all the time. I work out at 5:30. I eat lunch between 12:15 and 12:30. I know that. It’s easy.
Obviously, sometimes life doesn’t work that way, and I have to change things around. I can be flexible when I need to. And I enjoy a little change from time to time, like a friend coming to visit, or planning a date with my husband. (And thank heaven for smartphones with notifications and alarms for those days!) But I never miss the “freedom” of doing whatever I wanted wherever I wanted. I may have been free, but mostly I was just free to cheat myself out of doing things that would make me feel good about myself. I was never as happy as I am when I do the things I need to do, not the things I want to.
In a twisted way, I am sort of happy to have to write this blog today. Because I am a firm believer in authentic sharing. I want people to know that I have bad days and bad moments. I make mistakes. I don’t like the way social media has made us frame ourselves in a “perfect” light, where we only show our best sides and hide our wrong-doings and our problems.
I was in my first car accident as a driver this week. I rear-ended someone. Nobody was hurt. His car had minimal cosmetic damage. My car has minor damage. It was a fender-bender.
But good lord was I humiliated and ashamed. I cried on and off for about 24 hours. I did manage to get back on the road the next day. It was not as terrifying as I thought it would be. I am incredibly sensitive. I have a lot of very big, unwieldy feelings. So I was deeply shaken at first. But I got back in the car, and it was OK.
My mom’s mom never drove in my lifetime. She once told me she drove as a teenager, but got into a minor accident early and never got behind the wheel again. That could easily have been me.
And driving has always been loaded for me. As a small child I used to have nightmares about having to drive a car and not knowing how. They started when I was about 4 or 5. In fact, they may be my earliest memories. I was so small that in my dreams I had to lean all the way out of the car to pull the door closed. That is how vivid they still are. So a real-life car accident brought up some really old wounds.
Also, the guy was awful. He kept calling me a stupid bitch and a stupid motherfucker. His girlfriend showed up and she refused to look at me. And all of this upsets me because I was so sincere in my apology. I did not argue or try to blame him. I really wanted to make amends and do what was right. I called the police myself. I got the ticket. I called my insurance company. I was taking responsibility for my actions. And he could not see my sincerity. He would not look at my humanity.
But I did not have to eat these feelings. Not the humiliation of having hit someone’s car, or the humiliation of being verbally abused. I did not have to numb them with sugar. I hated feeling them. But to eat them would just be to stuff them down. A good 24 hours of crying helped me get them out. The only way out is through. It always has been. And not being high on food meant that I could think; I could be calm and rational. Ok, rational-ish. But I didn’t have to stew on it. And I didn’t do anything to make the situation worse because I couldn’t be honest or responsible.
I am grateful to have my eating under control every time my life is difficult. A difficult situation is just a situation. Food is the only real problem I have. And while I keep it under control, it’s not even that.
I hated what happened. It was a terrible experience for me. But life is not only made up of good experiences. This is how it is. And it could have been so much worse. I could have had an accident, and then eaten sugar over it. And then I would be miserable, would probably have done something really stupid, and without a chance of getting over it.
I set alarms for so many things in my life. Just now, an alarm went off asking if I posted a blog this week. And the answer was no, and I had totally forgotten. But I had an alarm set, so here I am.
Before I got my eating under control, I had people in my life, people I paid in either time or money, like a personal trainer, and a life coach, telling me to make plans, and keep those plans, regardless of how I felt. And I refused. Where was the joy in that? What about spontaneity? What about fun? What about what I “felt like” or “had a craving for?” What about eating out with friends or last-minute adventures?
When I got my eating under control, I realized how much I was self-sabotaging by clinging to what I thought was spontaneity and fun, but was really just an out to let myself not do something uncomfortable. I didn’t want to plan what I was going to eat because then, if I didn’t follow through, I might have to look at myself. If there was no rule, there was no rule to break, and no behavior to scrutinize.
The truth is that 1) planning makes it easier, not harder, to eat out with friends and take on last-minute adventures. With my eating under control and firm boundaries around food, there are fewer moving parts. The food has to hit certain marks. Once those marks are hit, everything else can be pretty loosey-goosey. And 2) the things that I was fighting against were not boredom or monotony, but long-term fulfillment.
Instant gratification and long-term fulfillment occupy the same space, so you can really only choose one. If I don’t want to go for a jog, I can think of a million excuses not to. I need the sleep, my hip is tight, I should do x instead. But what happens is it becomes easier to not jog. Every time becomes easier. And suddenly, I don’t do that anymore.
That is how every diet ever worked for me. I went on a diet. Instant gratification won once. Then it gradually became the norm. Then I was not on a diet. Then I gained back all the weight I lost, and then some.
I love my life of rules and reminders. I love my alarms. I love the sameness of people calling me every day at the same time to make a commitment of what they will eat the next day, and my call every day at the same time, to commit to what I am going to eat the next day. To have a plan and a commitment to that plan. To have a witness and to be a witness.
I won’t pretend that I am a particularly spontaneous person, though I have my moments. My rigorous adherence to my rules and reminders and commitments gives me a great sense of peace. And I cherish that peace. But also, I have made some bold choices and some daring leaps, because I am grounded in my commitments. After all, I left my home and my city about a month after I re-met my husband, to start a new relationship where I travel around the country with him, constantly moving. That’s pretty bold, if I do say so myself.
I did not used to like promising things to myself. And I used the excuse of freedom. But I was never free until I gave myself boundaries. Since I put boundaries around my eating, I have found that many things that seem counterintuitive are absolutely right. Boundaries lead to freedom. Commitment leads to spontaneity. Rigidity offers fluidity.
My husband and I are in a town outside of Indianapolis for the next month or so, and I am having a hard time finding some of the things that I love to eat. So far, I have not been able to find Italian sausage that doesn’t have sugar, but that’s nothing new. However, I can’t find bacon without sugar here either. Ugh! Let me say that again. Ugh!
I cannot tell you how it makes me furious that companies put sugar in everything. Not only because I can’t eat them, but also because I believe that they are eroding our palates and our minds.
When I gave up sugar, my palate shifted. A lot. As a little kid, I loved Brussels sprouts. I loved cauliflower. As an older kid, teen, and young adult, I hated them. Hatred. Passionate, unyielding hatred. When I put down sugar in all forms except artificial sweeteners, and some fruits and vegetables, I gradually came to love them again. Now I also love chard, spinach, cabbage, broccoli, and mushrooms. I also enjoy carrots and squash, winter or summer.
By adding sugar and starch to everything, I think food companies are doing us a huge disservice. They are creating a culture that equates food with a “rush.” They are getting us addicted, as a society, to an additive that is cheap to them, but incredibly expensive, health and well-being wise, to us. They are setting us up to eat more than we know we need, and more than we want. They are getting rich off of giving us diseases and disorders.
I want to say clearly that I believe in personal responsibility. I don’t want to imply that I don’t. But doing what I do is hard. Seriously difficult. Worth it every time and in every way, but not simple. It takes a kind of determination and individuality, the ability to disregard the pull of “normalcy” in a culture that has taken up the mantle of pleasure over contentment, instant gratification over long-term fulfillment. And food companies are using our own survival/evolutionary instincts against us. They want profits to grow exponentially. How can they do that if we eat their food in moderation? The fatter we are, the fatter their profit margins are. Frankly, I think it’s sick. Morally bankrupt.
I know that many people can eat junk food in moderation. Bless them! To them I say, “Enjoy every bite!” But the rise of obesity in the western world shows that the way food is being produced, processed, and marketed is making most of us fat and sick.
And it’s making a girl who can’t find bacon she can eat annoyed and cranky. I don’t expect this to change any time in the near future. But I am going to make a recommendation to you. Read your labels. Even if you don’t change what you buy. Look at what these companies are offering. Notice them change. I have had to give up things I ate for years because someone decided to add sugar or starch.
But I will say this too. About 4 years ago, a company that made wheat germ changed its ingredients to add sugar. In that time, people who do what I do sent out the word to one another. We all stopped eating it. Now I am not saying that my small group was the reason, but less than a year later, the company changed back to the original, sugar-free formula. My guess is that the kind of people who eat wheat germ are generally people who care about what goes into their bodies. And when they saw that they were now getting sugar, they switched brands. Just like myself and others in my food community.
So remember that you can eat what you want, but also. you can vote with your wallet. And I highly recommend that.
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.
I love living in a society where the individual is important. As a non-conformist, and a loner, it is a great relief, and a joy, to be able to make choices for myself. And in many ways it made getting my eating under control much easier. I didn’t have to get over worrying about what others thought of the way I was eating. I couldn’t care less, quite frankly. But there was also a little push-back from that proud, independent individual inside me. Who says I can’t eat sugar? Who says I have to put boundaries around my eating?
Of course, the answer is nobody but me. Not my doctor. Not my government. Not my husband, or my best friend, or my life coach, or my personal trainer. Nobody is making me eat or not eat anything but me, myself and I. And yet, my mind is a tricky thing. It likes to look for scapegoats and blamable third parties. Anyone or anything to get me, personally, off the hook. You can’t tell me what to do. You’re not the boss of me. I am a grown-ass woman and I can do whatever I want.
Yes, yes. All yeses. Sometimes, the hard part is understanding what I want. The hard part is marrying the actions with their consequences in my own head so that I am fully aware of the fact that they go together.
I may “want” cake, on some level. But cake comes with food obsession, muddled thinking, the inability to stop eating, weight gain, morbid obesity, feeling crazy, and probably some form of bulimia or other self-harm. I cannot have cake without these other things. (I understand that other people can. I wish them well.) I may want to feel myself falling, but that doesn’t mean I can jump out of a window without taking into consideration that I will most certainly hit the ground. The two are inextricably linked.
Before I got control of my eating 11 years ago, I had a particularly unrealistic view of cause and effect, actions and consequences. My gauge of “fairness” was whether or not I got what I wanted. If I could have what I wanted, it was fair. If I couldn’t, it was unfair. Whatever it was. In my defense, it looked like it worked like that for other people.
I often think about what my life looks like from the outside. I have peace around my body and my life in general. I have a dream husband, and we are sickly sweet, lovey-dove birds. I get to live on the road with him and work on my writing. I live the sweet life, no doubt.
But what you might not see is the work I do every day. First and foremost is taking care of my food. You can certainly see my “weight loss transformation,” but you probably don’t see the hours I spend shopping, and prepping, and cooking my meals so that I can eat well while keeping my food boundaries. You don’t see the work I have to do in my relationship so that I can be a good and loving wife to my amazing husband. I have to take action toward being kind, generous, thoughtful and solution-oriented. That is not my default setting. My default is to look around for the nearest person, place or thing to point the finger at. You don’t see the work that I do every day to grow as a person. The meditation, and the prayer. The ways that I am looking for my own culpability in any and all situations, so that I can keep my side of the street clean. You are not seeing the, sometimes difficult, often painful, and pretty much always a little scary stuff I do to spiritually and personally evolve.
In other words, it may look to you like I simply get what I want by wanting it. I promise, that is not my reality.
When it comes to my food, I am accountable to other people besides myself. Not because I have to be, but because I choose to be. I choose it because it is the support of other people who maintain food boundaries, and the experience of being part of a community, that empowers me. But this idea that it is my choice is one of the ways my thinking used to get muddy. In my head, because I choose to be accountable to someone else, it occurs to me that I can just choose to quit being accountable to them. And in my head, I can justify to myself that I don’t owe them anything.
And the reality of this is that it is true on a certain level. I can do anything I want at any time. I am living the only life I have and I am free to make whatever choices I make. But the other reality is that making a promise or not is my choice. And if I make a commitment to another, I do owe someone something. And the person I harm most when I break a promise or commitment, especially in a selfish, dishonest, or just childish way, is myself.
I think it is ultimately human to feel “forced” into doing something unpleasant to get what we want. Isn’t it the same old song to grudgingly go on a diet or head to the gym, because one wants to lose weight. People get mad about it. I used to get mad about it! I was so angry that I couldn’t eat the way I wanted to and not get fat. I was furious! As if other people were eating the way I ate and not gaining weight. (Spoiler alert: They weren’t.) And if I felt “forced,” then when I quit, I could feel justified. I just can’t eat rabbit food. I tried, but I can’t. But I was never forced to “eat rabbit food.” I only convinced myself that I was, so I wouldn’t have to face my personal responsibility.
But there is freedom in responsibility. In fact, that is the only place that there really is freedom. So I choose to embrace the choice. I choose to remember that I make the commitments, and that I owe the follow through. It is my privilege to eat within my boundaries, to be kind to my husband and the people in my life, to grow and evolve as a human. When I remember it’s my privilege, I am grateful.
When I was eating compulsively I spent a lot of my time plotting revenge. I am not saying I necessarily carried it out, but I thought about how best to hurt the person I was angry with. I had a lot of conversations in my head where I used my razor sharp wit to cut someone down or shut them up. I thought about ways to bother and upset people who bothered and upset me. It was exciting. It gave me a self-righteous rush!
When I got sober from sugar, I had to give that up. The desire for vengeance is a byproduct of resentment. I cannot afford resentment. It is as poisonous to me as sugar itself. Resentment is one of the ways my addiction uses to convince me that I “deserve” a fix.
The truth is that there are ways that I am being treated right now that I don’t like. I consider them abusive and controlling. And there is nothing for me to do about it. I didn’t do anything wrong. But if I seek revenge, even just in my head, even if I am just cultivating disdain, I will have done something wrong. And when I have done something to wrong someone, whether or not they abused me first, I will feel the guilt of my own actions. And that will make me particularly hungry.
But eating my feelings, especially stuffing them down with sugar, is no longer an option. So if I did retaliate against a fellow human, I would have to apologize and make amends for my actions, even if those humans have hurt me, but won’t make amends to me. It is all about me. It is only about me. Not what I want or deserve, but how I have impacted the world and the humans in it.
The good and bad news of personal responsibility is that I am accountable for all of my actions, in all ways, on every level, regardless of outside circumstances. In other words, I am responsible for what both goes into and comes out of my mouth.