I have had boundaries around my eating for over 13 years, and those boundaries are really specific (as working boundaries are.) But there is a thing that happens to me occasionally, where upon hearing one of my boundaries, a person wants me to know that whatever food I have just mentioned I abstain from is “very healthy,” and I should reconsider eating it. Avocados, bananas, and grains like quinoa are the usual suspects.
I have been struggling with how I feel about a recent(ish) weight again. I feel like this happens once a year or so, in the past 4 years. I gain weight. For no discernible reason. I do not change the way I eat, at least not it in any major way. I just gain weight. Eventually I lose it. (At least that has been the case so far.) And then I gain it back months later. And then lose it again. Back and forth, over and over.
I am already pretty used to my new routine here in Oklahoma. I am enjoying my outdoor jog in the morning. Though admittedly, it is still pretty chilly when I go. I don’t exercise well in the heat. Which is surprising for someone who is almost always cold in temperatures below 75, and doesn’t seem to notice the heat when not exercising. When I stopped eating sugar I started to get cold. I lost weight, of course. But even when I am not particularly skinny, I still get cold easily.
I have a love/hate relationship with feelings. I live for feelings. I spend all of the free time I can listening to books and reading comics and watching soap-opera-y TV shows. I am in all of those things for the feelings. If they make me so uncomfortable that I have to pause and calm down, I love that! If they make me cry, even better! (Sometimes my poor husband comes home and I am huddled under a blanket with tear streaks on my face and I have to explain that I was just reading a comic, and everything is fine…)
But when it comes to my own feelings, well, let’s just say I am not nearly as comfortable with those. Having my own feelings makes me panic. Even after 13 years of feeling my feelings, my first reaction is to freak out and shut down.
This week, I had a problem come up with my food. Part of what I do is tell someone who does what I do what I am going to eat the next day. It’s essentially making a promise. I consider it sacred. And I found out this week that I had to find someone else to make that promise to. And that was terrifying.
I understand that to you, it may not make sense why this was so scary. But it was. You will just have to trust me on that. And my first thought was to panic.
But of the many things I have learned in keeping my food under control, one important step is to take care of the most pressing problem. And another is to stop, calm down, and think over my options for the long-term problems. And to definitely not make any rash decisions.
So I called someone and made my promise for the next day. And then I went to bed and I dealt with the problem of finding a new promise-taker in the morning. By morning, the problem was not nearly so scary.
Panic and paralysis were the standard of my life before I got my eating under control. I would panic, and then I would shut down, and then I would eat myself into not caring about my problem. Which never took care of the problem causing the uncomfortable feelings, just the uncomfortable feelings themselves.
The other part of getting my feelings back is that I didn’t just get the yucky ones back. I got the panic and the hurt and the terror, sure. But I also got the joy and the love and the swooning, and the pride.
I don’t have to like my feelings. But I am now able to honor them. And that means I can be effective in my life. And that ability to live life as it is makes me like myself and love my life. Yucky feelings and all.
I am having some problems at work. Personality problems. And they difficult to navigate. It takes a lot of restraint on my part.
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 saw two things on social media this week that frustrated me. Both of them were about how sugar is “not the problem.”
One of them was a tweet from an obesity doctor that said that when people come into his office and say they gave up sugar and lost weight, they really mean they gave up junk food. What they really did, according to this doctor, was reduce fat, starch, and calories, not just sugar. He literally ends his tweet with “It wasn’t just the sugar.”
And the other was an article about debunked health myths. And one of the “debunked” myths is that sugar is addictive. First, the title of the section is “Sugar is as addictive as heroin.” This is the last line of the section:
“So, scientists don’t know what addiction in the brain looks like, yet, and until that mystery is solved we should not be living in fear from something as fanciful as sugar addiction.”
Fanciful. Total silliness! Ridiculous! Go get yourself a cake and hang out in a food coma until scientists agree that sugar addiction is a thing. Or better yet, a diabetic coma. Whatever.
The thing that really pisses me off about both of these is the condescension . If you believe that sugar is the problem, you are an idiot. You are delusional. “What people are *really* doing is cutting calories, but they are too stupid/brainwashed to understand.” “Its fanciful to believe that sugar could be addictive.”
I believe in science. I don’t want to imply that I don’t. But I also believe that science, and our true understanding of the effects of something, can be limited by our biases, preconceived notions, and beliefs. I believe that the food industry has knowingly and purposely propped up sugar as “innocuous” for over half a century. “Food is food.” “A calorie is a calorie.”
But we have paid the price for it. There is more sugar in our diets than ever before, and there is more obesity in 1st World civilization than ever before. And I cannot stand this defense of sugar, and the subsequent shaming of people suffering from obesity, in the name of science.
“It’s not the sugar. It’s you. You are the problem.”
First, I do believe that sugar is addictive, but that not everyone is as likely to become addicted. I happen to believe that I have a predisposition to become addicted in general, and that I am addicted to sugar. But I know plenty of people who can and do eat sugar in moderation and do not suffer from health problems in any way from their sugar consumption. My husband is one of those people. I buy him sugar all the time. I pack it in his lunch. I keep it in the house for him.
And second, I am for freedom. True freedom. If you want to eat sugar all day, I believe that is your right. Even if it means morbid obesity. Even if it leads to diabetes and hypertension and Alzheimer’s and stroke. Even if it means suffering. I am not going to tell you how to eat. That is none of my business. And I don’t think it should be.
But I am not for the shaming of humans in defense of sugar. Nor am I for the belittling of my intelligence because science has not come to a consensus on whether sugar is addictive. As a person with a very clear experience of sugar as an addiction, I do not doubt that science will eventually show what I already know. But even if it doesn’t, that in no way diminishes my experience that when I abstain completely from sugars, grains, and starch, excepting some whole fruits and vegetables, I do not crave more than is healthy, and I do not suffer from food obsession.
But I can’t help but be frustrated that an obesity doctor would be so obnoxious about people, his own patients, who say they gave up sugar and lost weight. Is *he* a sugar addict? Or is he being paid off to downplay the effects of sugar on a person’s health? Otherwise, I can’t see why he would go out of his way to point out his patients’ “wrongness,” to defend a substance. It seems cruel and rude to me.
I will close with this. My whole life, growing up fat, doctors and nutritionists would tell me to eat sugar in moderation. But I cannot eat sugar in moderation. I cannot eat a slice of cake. It is either no cake, or the whole cake. I don’t have a done button. So, as far as I am concerned, any obesity doctor who can’t even consider the possibility of sugar addiction for some number of his patients, is not very good at his job.