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.
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.
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.
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.
Gosh am I exhausted. My job is finally ramping up, and I am back to working full time. And because of my food boundaries, that means a lot of meal planning and prepping. Not to mention going for my jog at 5:30 in the morning so I can knock it out before work. Because trying to tackle it after an 8 hour day is too much for me.
I am behind on all kinds of social responsibilities. Especially calls I owe my family and friends. But I learned something when I got my eating under control 12+ years ago, and that is “bedroom slippers.” Bedroom slippers is a code word in my community that means “take care of yourself by taking it easy.”
I have commitments I make to myself, and I have to put them first. Food is the biggest one. Sleep is a close second. It also makes the food boundaries easier to keep. Exercise is right up there.
And now that I am working 40 hour weeks, I don’t have a lot of time for other things. And I am OK with that. I have to be. I cannot kill myself to take care of other people. I cannot hurt myself to make them happy.
I wanted to be productive yesterday. I wanted to catch up on my calls, and work on my knitting project. I wanted to get things done. But after my jog and the grocery shopping, I was done. I didn’t have anything left. I couldn’t even manage to lay on the couch to read. I had to lay in *bed* and read for about 3 hours before dinner.
Today I have to meal prep for the coming week. I’m about to do that once I finish this post. And maybe I will have time to make my calls and do my knitting later. But if not, I will have hit my benchmarks. I will have done the things I need to do to keep myself happy, healthy, and sane.
I expect that I will find my groove sooner, rather than later. I have worked 40 hour weeks before, and managed to have a life. But I don’t feel any pressure. As long as I keep my promises to myself, I know that all will be well.
It’s when I start putting other people’s wants before my needs that I start running into problems. Problems of resentment, exhaustion, sickness, and unhappiness. And those are completely avoidable if I put on my bedroom slippers.
I am vain. And I am OK with that. In fact, the best, most enduring life changes I have ever made were for the sake of vanity. Vanity is a tool for me, and I use it to my advantage. Getting my eating under control, quitting smoking, regular exercise, and drinking water all came from the desire to look beautiful, or look like I had my shit together. No complaints. They all worked.
Right now, I have a fingernail fungus that I seemingly acquired at a nail salon in either Texas or Illinois. I didn’t know what it was until last week, when I went in for my every-two-week manicure, and the woman told me she couldn’t paint my nails because that hard skin under my nails was a fungus.
My first reaction was panic. Because that is always my first reaction when something goes a way that is difficult, painful, or inconvenient for me. But then I dialed it back, and took some “right actions.”
So since then, I have been soaking my nails in Listerine and vinegar, rubbing them with Vicks VapoRub, and painting them myself with an anti-fungal nail polish. It’s a pain in the ass. But it has to be done. If I were to let it go, and hope it would get better on its own because I was in denial, it would only get worse.
Thankfully, I seem to have caught it early. It’s still not fun. I had to chop off my normally long nails. I am terrible (though getting better with practice) at painting my own nails. And I have to think about them all the time, whereas I normally only think about my nails every two weeks when it was time to get them done. But it could be worse. I could have not realized what was happening and let it go so long that it caused a health problem, and not just a cosmetic one.
When I got my eating under control, I began to understand how to “just take the next right action.” I began to understand that all things are done one step at a time. And that baby steps are still steps, and will get me moving in the right direction.
When I got my eating under control, I learned to let myself panic. But just for a moment. And then take an action. The longer I am free of sugar, the better I am at taking stock of the situation, and the less time it takes to figure things out.
Before that, I didn’t “let myself” panic. I just panicked. I didn’t have any other option. And I would become paralyzed. I couldn’t make any decisions, or take any steps. And to quell the panic, I would eat. That only made me numb. The problem wouldn’t go away, I would just not care. Until the high wore off. And by then, the problem would be worse.
The truth is, I hate this nail fungus thing. Every time I look at my hands I feel unhappy. But I know that this is temporary because I am doing something about it. And I won’t eat over it because I don’t eat over things like feelings or problems.
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.