I made it through my 12th Halloween without sugar and carbohydrates. And it was painless.
I made it through my 12th Halloween without sugar and carbohydrates. And it was painless.
St Francis of Assisi said “Wear the world like a loose garment.” 12 step folks use this phrase a lot.
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.)
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.
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.
I travel with my husband for work. And I love it. I love the kind of travel we do. Long stints in a bunch of places. (So far we have done Mississippi, a couple of places in Kentucky, a couple in Texas, a couple in Indiana, and one in Tennessee.) One of the things I particularly like is it occurs like the perfect balance between routine and adventure.
I like routine. It makes the food boundaries easier. Having a home with all of the cookware I need to cook delicious meals, and getting to know the grocery stores and butcher shops, and what they have, and where to get what I need as well as what I want. And there is an indescribable peace that comes with knowing that my highest priority is always taking care of my food addiction. I know that if I do that, everything else will be well.
And I like adventure. I like seeing new places and meeting new people. I also like trying new foods, new seasonings, new flavors around the country. My husband and I are on a hot sauce kick at the moment. And it’s fun! And a mini adventure in itself. (Just reading all of the labels and ingredients lists is like an adventure within an adventure. And yes, there are a lot of hot sauces I cannot try because they have a lot of sugar.)
What I love too, is knowing that I can keep my food boundaries anywhere. Some places are less convenient than others, of course. But it is all about my commitment. And sometimes, that inability to get whatever I want at a moment’s notice gives me the opportunity to try new things in a different way.
When we were in small town Mississippi, I did not eat out at restaurants. I knew that they could not accommodate me. I made sure I had my own food all the time. But there, I figured out where to buy beautiful steaks, sugar free bacon, giant cantaloupes and apples. It’s also where a friend found me a recipe for making my own vanilla without alcohol. And I was lucky to have another friend who would bring me kabocha squash and fried tofu up from New Orleans once a month when she came to visit. I had yet another friend who introduced me to a bowl for making my own ice cream. It’s also where I was introduced to Chinese Five Spice, which I still use all the time. So obviously, in terms of food, small town Mississippi was not too bad for me. I did not miss eating out at restaurants.
I love my happy lifestyle, gently swaying from adventure to routine and back. I love the things I learn and the things I get to try. Some of them become staples, and some pass with the next move and the next town. But no matter where I end up, my food boundaries go with me. And I always make sure they are delicious.
Yesterday, I did not leave my house, and it was glorious.
I was thinking that the older I get, the more time I need to be still and alone. But then I realized that I used to spend the majority of my time still and alone. Back then what I needed was to get out and mix with the world. It turns out that my day-to-day life is totally different than it used to be.
I am a loner. I really always have been. Even as a child. I need a lot of time to spend in silence. I need a lot of time in my own head. I love my own company. I like getting lost in my thoughts. I can be fascinated by ideas that occur to me only after I have let my imagination wander deep into unknown (to me) territory. And that doesn’t even cover how much I loved (still love) reading novels and comics.
And I have always been a fan of projects. I used to make things all the time from the time I was young. Mix tapes (I’m showing my age, I know), costumes, jewelry, posters, scrap books, crochet projects, etc. As recently as the past 3 years I even taught myself to knit.
When I was eating compulsively, this was the majority of my time. I spent little time doing anything else besides thinking about whatever, accompanied by occasionally feverishly working on making something. I would often manically work on something all night until morning and then pass out and sleep half (or all) of the day away.
There was school as a kid, but I always did less than the bare minimum there. I was super smart, so I got away with it, for the most part. And also charming and manipulative, so what I may not have gotten away with in certain circumstances, I got away with anyway. And pretty much the same with work. Though work was harder. Being a waitress isn’t the same as being a student. People notice when you suck at doing the work. I was a better nanny.
When I got my eating under control, I suddenly had less time to do all the nothing I wanted to. I had groceries to buy, and fresh, homemade meals to prepare. I had to go meet up with people who had boundaries around their food. And then, the longer I had my boundaries, the more I had to “show up” for things like work. I had to get better at life because not being in a sugar fog meant that I could see clearly all of the things I was doing (or not doing) that I was ashamed of. And there was no cake or pizza to mask the shame, to hide it from myself anymore.
And getting my food under control, and getting good at life got me a relationship with a man I am madly in love with. And we started a life together. So there was necessarily more time that I did not get to spend alone doing nothing. And it also ended up meaning that the way I worked and the kinds of jobs I had changed. I wanted to spend time with my husband. So I didn’t want jobs where the hours were flexible, and I worked odd shifts. I wanted to work when he worked so I could be home when he was home. Eventually I wanted to exercise too. So there was even less time to do nothing.
I am not complaining. I am very happy. I love my life. And I know that I love my life *because* I have so many commitments that keep me from doing so much nothing, and so many projects, not in spite of it. But I still love my nothing time, and my projects. (I just finished a baby blanket yesterday!) And I am grateful for having had a whole day to not leave the house.
But now I have to go to the grocery store and then cook meals for the work week. Because that is how I maintain this happy life.
At my job, I am working in an office with a bunch of strangers from different companies right now, though I may be moving to a private office trailer soon.
A lot of people at work are very curious about my food. In a lot of ways it is frustrating the way they talk about it. It’s all filled with a certain kind of praise and awe, that I don’t identify with.
I don’t do what I do to be envied or put on a pedestal. I am saving my life. To me, it can be like praising someone with a disease for taking their medicine. It reminds me of a woman who wrote about having a child with high-maintenance special needs, and how everyone would say, “I could never do that.” And she always had to hold herself back from saying “Of course you could. You just don’t have to, and I do.”
That is, of course, not entirely true that I “have to.” We all make our choices. Parents of disabled kids and addicts alike. We all have to decide what our priorities are. But if you can eat a cookie with impunity, it doesn’t make me feel good that you “could never” do what I do. And if you can’t, like me, and you choose the cookie anyway, I don’t know what to tell you except that you could and can do what I do. Yes it will suck for a while. A long while. But a friend once told me what her mother-in-law said to her when she first got married.
“It’s gonna get real hard before it gets reeeeeal sweet.”
I feel that way about putting down sugar and carbs. I feel that way about playing the long game with my life. Do I like getting up at 5 to get to the gym before work? No. I really don’t. But I love feeling comfortable in my body, loving my life, feeling like I accomplished something, and like I did something toward my ultimate goal of aging gracefully.
And as someone who just turned 41 last Wednesday, and feels healthy, happy, and beautiful, I would say it is all worth it.