Last week a lot of people read my post. Thank you all for reading! I am grateful! And I heard second and third hand about some comments. And one idea stood out in my mind. That I must be really sick if I have to weigh my food.
Last week a lot of people read my post. Thank you all for reading! I am grateful! And I heard second and third hand about some comments. And one idea stood out in my mind. That I must be really sick if I have to weigh my food.
Low carb diets are, of course, all over the news and advertising that is meant to look like news. I see all sorts of things on social media, especially since my blog is an eating disorder blog, about food, and weight, and weight loss.
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.
I have been struggling for the past few hours to write a post. I read part of an article on bariatric surgery that made me so mad I had to put it down. The beginning of the article says that since it is already established that diet and exercise don’t work, people should be turning to weight loss surgery. And that they don’t because they wrongly believe that obesity is a problem with willpower.
Now, I absolutely agree that obesity is not a character flaw, nor do I believe it is the result of a character flaw (i.e. lack of willpower.) I could never “just push away from the table.” And boy did I want to. In fact, if you think you have “the answer” to the obesity epidemic and it begins with the word “just,” like “just stop eating so much,” I promise you don’t have the answer.
But one factor that I do believe is a problem is our culture of prizing and romanticizing junk food. By everyone, including the medical and scientific communities.
I keep reading over the past year that “diet and exercise don’t work.” But I am not convinced that this is “already established” as a truth. It is my personal experience that diet does work. Just plain diet all on its own works. No exercise necessary. And I personally know hundreds of people for whom this is true.
Is this true for everyone? Of course not. But to come to the conclusion that diet doesn’t work, is ridiculous. And I have to question the science that claims it. Especially when the biggest change in the past 40 years, the years leading to our current “obesity epidemic” has been a significant increase in the amount of sugar, carbs, and processed food we eat.
So changing the American diet made us fat, but changing our diet won’t fix the problem?
Of course, the “problem” for most people is the extremity of NEVER! I never eat sugar, or simple carbohydrates. The only carbs I eat are fruits and vegetables. And not even some of those that are high sugar/high starch. Because “in moderation” has never been a viable option for me, but “never” worked immediately, and changed my life for the better.
See, I’m pretty sure that is what the medical community and the media mean when they say “diet and exercise don’t work.” They mean they have told people to eat junk in moderation, and people fail at that. Because it is hard to eat junk in moderation. *That* is what does not work. And part of the reason it does not work for society as a whole now is that food companies are working at making their junk more addictive. They want people to eat past the point of hunger. They want us to eat as a reward, and a cure for boredom. They want us to crave and salivate. They have scientists in their labs working to eliminate that “full button” normal eaters used to have. And they are seemingly succeeding.
I was never one of those people anyway. Nobody turned off my “full button.” Mine never worked in the first place.
Does surgery help some people? I’m sure it does. But it is not a solution. It is a harm reduction technique. And if that is good enough, then that should be an individual’s choice. Not everyone has the proverbial stomach for giving up junk foods. But I think it is a problem that the people we should be able to trust, specifically the medical community, are not even offering complete abstinence from sugar, junk, and processed foods as an option. They are saying right off the bat that it doesn’t work.
I want you to know that it does work for some of us. And I think before you have dangerous and invasive surgery, you might want to give it a shot.
I am feeling like such a brat this week. I’m tired. And I don’t wanna! (Can you hear the whine?)
Of course, I did. And I am. Even though I don’t wanna. First, and most importantly, I did all of the things that I needed to do to keep my food boundaries. Plus, I did the laundry, even though I didn’t want to. I cleaned up the deep-fryer and strained the oil and put it away for next time, even thought I wanted to leave it and deal with it “later” and sit on the couch and take ridiculous quizzes on Facebook. I am writing this blog, even though I would rather be lying in the sun doing the Sunday crossword puzzle.
But I will tell you what I did not do every day this week. I did not drink my 64 ounces of water two days this week. For some time now, there have been occasional days when I have fallen short of drinking all of my water. And I have not been doing my morning meditation regularly for a while, either. I do it some days. But not every day like I had for years. I don’t wanna. And somehow, I have let both of these commitments become less than commitments.
There’s no particular reason I’m tired this week. I have learned over the years that bodies sometimes get tired and slow down. That minds sometimes get foggy. That thoughts and emotions sometimes get wonky. Human bodies are complex. With hormones and chemicals and all manner of reactions going on that I personally can’t comprehend. I have realized that if an experience is not a trend, I should not, under any circumstances, worry about it. If it is a trend, well, that’s something else. And it merits exploration.
And these episodes of resistance to drinking my water and sitting down to my morning meditation are trends.
I have wondered what could have come between me and these commitments. I have thought about it. I considered using this blog to ferret out the answer. But then I remembered a very important lesson I learned when I got my eating under control. If you want to know why you eat compulsively, stop eating compulsively.
In other words, if I want to know why I stopped meditating regularly, start meditating regularly again. If I want to know why I’m getting lax with my water intake, get vigilant again.
The truth is, I don’t know if I will just get right back on the horse here. I have unsuccessfully attempted to recommit to these things before in the past few months. Specifically the morning meditation. But it occurs to me that I did it in my head. And not in the world. Where I know real changes happen.
And I will also say that writing it out makes it seem so much less shameful. In fact, I hadn’t even realized I was ashamed until just now. It even takes the pressure of success away.
So as of today, I am recommitting to you that I will do my morning meditation and drink 64 ounces of water every day. And when I glean some new (or recycled) insight about myself, I’ll let you know.
For now, I have to go meditate.
Welp, There’s another year.
All in all, one of the best I have ever had. As of yesterday, I am 37. Happy. Content. Not complacent, content. And isn’t that basically the Holy Grail? It is for me, anyway. Peace. Loving my life without it having to be perfect. Accepting it exactly the way it is.
I have been thinking about responsibility lately. What it actually means. What it actually looks like. And I can recognize that my peace is a byproduct of my responsibility.
I used to do a lot of what you might call self-help-y kinds of things. I read books and went to seminars and courses of varying sorts. In general, I didn’t get staggering breakthroughs those years that I was reading and taking seminars. I would eventually learn very many of the things I had been taught. I even mean that I learned them from those very courses and books. But years later, after I got control of my eating. Many of those teachings swam around in my head for all those years in the interim. Occasionally peeking out and popping up. Until I was ready and clear enough to learn them. And then they were just there. Obvious.
I was in a seminar once, I don’t remember what the theme was. Maybe creativity. Maybe designing your life. It doesn’t matter. The woman leading the seminar was talking about responsibility. She said something like If you are standing on the sidewalk, and you look up and notice that somebody on the 8th floor directly above you (I lived in New York City at the time) is pouring a pot of boiling oil down on where you stand, it is your responsibility to at least TRY to jump out of the way. If you are scalded and grievously injured, you can blame the person who poured the oil. You can even sue them. And I’m not saying that you would not be entitled to compensation for that. But in the end, you will be one who has to live in that burned body. You will be the one who has to suffer the pain. So do you want to shake your fist at this person on the 8th floor, and be righteously angry, and yell at them for doing something so dangerous, while the oil comes down on your head? Or do you want to jump out of the way and try to save yourself?
Now perhaps this is obvious to you. But for me at 23 or whatever age I was, this was a little epiphany. I had spent my life up until then incredibly certain about the way things “should be.” And deeply interested in complaining about the things that “shouldn’t have” happened to me, that did. And instead of dealing with them the way they were, I wanted to be righteously indignant about the general unfairness of life. And continue to expect life to be the way it “should be” in the future. But even after this little epiphany, I still had a hard time applying this idea of responsibility to the specific situations in my life. Probably because I didn’t have any personal frame of reference.
The first real responsibility I ever took in my life was getting my eating under control at 28. It was actual responsibility. No, it wasn’t fair that I couldn’t eat sugar like a “normal” person, but there it was. It didn’t matter if I thought it “shouldn’t be” that way. That was the way it was. The boiling oil was falling out of the 8th story window directly over my head. So I made a commitment to jump out of the way. I chose to follow some specific rules about food.
I didn’t only do it when it was easy and convenient. I didn’t only do it when people approved and were supportive. I didn’t only do it when grocers and wait staff and family members did everything the way it “should be” done according to my new food boundaries. I did it all the time. No matter what.
If somebody made it more difficult to do what I needed to do, I did the more difficult thing to meet my own needs. If waiters gave me food prepared or served in a way I could not eat it, I sent it back. If food companies changed their recipes so that a food I loved was no longer within my food boundaries, I gave it up. If people insisted on either my eating something they offered, or their taking great offense, I let them be offended.
And since then, slowly over the years, I have learned to apply that same lesson to other aspects of my life. I have learned to look at decisions I’m making and actions I am taking. And to decide if I want to change those decisions and actions, or find peace with their outcomes.
See, now that my addiction is under control, I have big girl problems. Problems that don’t have obvious fixes or black and white solutions. Life is full of unfair circumstances and hard choices. It always has been. For everybody. You might even say that as a middle class woman in 2014 in the United States, I’m living cushier and easier than most people anywhere ever before. So who am I to curse the oil coming down if I am not even willing to jump aside?
There is a word that is important to me. Insidious. It means something that is harmful, but it happens so gradually, that you don’t even notice it until it is too late.
You have probably heard about boiling frogs. Apparently, if you try to put a frog in boiling water, he will jump out. But if you put a frog in a pot of room-temperature water and slowly bring that water to a boil, he will not notice the water becoming dangerously hot and he will allow himself to be boiled to death. And you can have frog soup or whatever. Which does not sound so particularly appealing to me. But what do I know? I love brussels sprouts and cauliflower. Which I am told makes me a total weirdo…Whatever.
Anyway, I have been thinking about this idea of insidiousness today. Because I scared myself this morning. With a thought.
If you have read my blog before, you probably know that I don’t talk about what I do with food specifically. But I talk a lot about how I keep boundaries around my eating. I have rules. Lots of very specific food rules. About what and when and how I eat. And how much.
A big part of my eating boundaries is portion size. It is specific. And precise. Meticulously accurate. I have been known to cut off a minuscule piece of this or that. I have cut a slice of mushroom in half. I have literally added or taken away a speck of carrot the size of my pinky nail. And I am that precise and meticulous every time. Even when nobody else is in the kitchen. Or the house. I do not do it to show anybody else. It is for me. Between me and me. And between me and God.
So this morning, while I was scooping a pinky nail’s worth out of my bowl and back into the container, I had a thought. “What would happen if I just left it in there?”
My immediate response to myself was “Destruction. Now stop thinking about it because I’m getting uncomfortable!”
But there was something lingering in it. It gave me an icky feeling. Dirty and shameful.
Perhaps because after 8 years of keeping boundaries around my eating I think I should be immune to such thoughts. But I have had those kind of thoughts before. And they don’t generally scare me. I am generally happy with my immediate answer “Destruction.” Or something similar. Misery. Anxiety. Shame. Nothing good! That’s for damn sure. I make a point to talk about those thoughts when I have them. And I keep a healthy fear of the food. (A healthy fear. Not like I can’t go to a birthday party because there will be pizza and cake. But I don’t have to go around smelling the pizza and imagining what the cake tastes like either.)
No there was something else in this thought. And I decided to play along. To answer the question. What would happen if I didn’t take out the pinky nail’s worth? Would the world blow up?
No. No the world would not blow up.
And that would be the problem.
If the world blew up, then I would never do that again. If you throw a frog into boiling water, he jumps out!
But the world would not blow up, and suddenly a pinky nail’s worth would become acceptable. So surely a whole finger’s worth would not be that big of a deal either. And then I would not “need” rules. And I would be able to “manage” my food. And then I would be at that birthday party and I could have pizza and cake just this one time…
But I’m an addict. Eating sugar sets up a physical craving and a mental obsession. So before you know it I am a 300 lb frog who is too fat and too high on sugar to jump out of the pot of boiling water. (Yes, I know I’m mixing my metaphors. Shakespeare did it! What do you mean I’m no Shakespeare?!?!)
The other thing that might happen is that I could end up an active bulimic and exercise bulimic again. I could be running until I injured myself. I could be sticking toothbrushes down my throat. I could be taking toxic doses of laxatives.
In other words, the world would explode. Just not right away. Not until it was too late to stop it.
Insidious. It’s a good word. Both beautiful and terrible.
I recently did something I stopped doing. Years ago I stopped reading health and nutrition articles. And this week I read one.
When I was fat and thought my body was broken, I never read those articles either. Because in my head, they were for people who could be thin. And healthy. But let’s face it, mostly thin.
But when I was thin but plagued by eating disorders, I read them a lot.
For one, I was looking for that magical food experience. The one that would let me “eat like a normal person”. That would make me want to eat normally. That it wouldn’t take anything on my part. No commitment or effort. It would just happen with some diet or food combination.
For example, I read once that when one has a sugar craving, one should quench it. But with naturally high sugar or starch fruits and vegetables. That to deny oneself all sugar would make one feel deprived. I wanted a high sugar fruit or vegetable to stop me from wanting to binge eat. So I started eating a roasted sweet potato for a snack. Well, it started out as a roasted sweet potato. Within a week I was eating 4 or 5. I would finish one and put another into the oven immediately. Or eventually just cook 2 at a time.
It happened with bananas too.
Those are both foods that I no longer eat. It doesn’t matter that they are natural. They are sugar. Pure and simple. And I can’t handle them.
I also read those health and nutrition articles looking for excuses to continue my bad eating behavior. “Chocolate is good for you,” comes to mind. Um yeah…but not in the quantity I ate it…
So I don’t read articles touting the newest thing in eating. Definitely no fad diets. But not even scientific studies. I have a solution that works for me. It does not matter that dark chocolate is filled with antioxidants. I am addicted to it. It cannot do me any good. It will only make me crazy and miserable. Insane and fat.
So the other day, I read one of the kinds of articles I don’t read. It was posted on Facebook by a few people who I really respect. And I was curious. Not to learn something for myself. Like I said, I have a solution to my eating disorders and body image problems. But to see what they were giving a nod to.
What I read made a lot of sense. It was not exactly the same as the way I eat, but it was very similar. And it did not seem like a fad or a ridiculous way of eating. It seemed like good, sane, quality food advice. But there was a part of it that bothered me. It was how to “end sugar addiction in 10 days”.
My problem is with the idea of addiction. And ending it. And 10 days.
Because I am an honest-to-goodness sugar addict. That is not a euphemism for liking to eat. When I put sugar in my body it sets off a physical craving and a mental obsession. I was eating 4-5 sweet potatoes in a row as quickly as I could cook them. I am sick with food. And it took a year and a half of no sugar grains or starch just to come out of the fog that was getting sober from sugar. (Yes, I was high getting sober. It was as disorienting and bizarre as being drunk or high on drugs. Or high on sugar itself.) And that sure as hell doesn’t mean that I can eat it in moderation now because I am fixed.
Not fixed. Still addicted. Eternally.
It’s not the first time it has occurred to me that the word addict gets bandied about. Especially around food. Or maybe I just notice it about food because it’s a tender subject for me. But if you are an actual addict, someone with a physical allergy with an accompanying mental obsession, then I don’t think 10 days is gonna save you. I think you are headed for a life of constant vigilance. Or continual shame and misery.
I’m not saying that it is not possible for people to change the way they eat. Or that a person wouldn’t look and feel better by following this diet I read about. If you haven’t found a solution to your food issues, I say yes! Try one of the eating lifestyle movements out there. And maybe it will work. I found the thing that brought me peace around my food. I hope you find peace around your food too. I’m just saying that I don’t think it’s so simple if someone is an honest-to-goodness addict.
I guess what I am really asking is can we stop calling bad habits addiction? Please? It is too serious. It takes too much. Work, and hope and surrender. It’s not a 10 day fix. It’s a total alteration of the way you live your life. One day at a time. But forever. It’s treatment. It’s recovery. From a disease. And it totally sucks ( in the beginning. – Now it’s the greatest thing that ever happened to me. But that’s after years of being sober from sugar grains and starch.) It’s not something one does half-assed. I don’t know any addict who had sobriety just happen to them. And I know a lot of addicts.