With Thanksgiving just a few days away, I’ve been reflecting a lot about past holidays. I remember sitting in Weight Watchers meetings around this time of year hearing the leaders talk about how to portion out your plate and comparing the different Points values for each of the traditional side dishes. If I remember correctly, Weight Watchers even had an interactive web page where you could build a Thanksgiving plate of food and see how many Points you would be using. Most of us hoarded our “extra weekly points” for this meal, and there was a lot of anxiety over leftovers as well.
I also remember always worrying about what my family would think of however I might look that year. I’ve been a lot of shapes and sizes, and I almost never look the same from one Thanksgiving to the next (and this year is no exception). I’d change outfits a half a dozen times trying to find the right combination of flattering and comfortable.
During my binge eating days, I remember sneaking a lot of food during and around the meal when I thought people were not looking. I remember eating until I was in pain and then doing it again and again with leftovers in the days that would follow Thanksgiving. I felt out of control around those leftovers and, to this day, Thanksgiving leftovers cause me a lot of anxiety, which is why I have always tried to “forget” my leftovers box when we leave my mother’s house (hi, mom! I know you’re reading…)
During my restrictive days, I have some pretty dark memories of how I handled the food during holidays – the details of which I’m too ashamed to share. There was also one Thanksgiving during which I used veganism to avoid eating pretty much anything. Instead, I brought along my own box of “safe” foods so that I could at least appear to be eating something.
Reflecting back on all of these holiday memories really makes me sad: why are so many of my holiday memories about food and weight anxieties? I LOVE the holidays…or, at least, I thought I did.
This Thanksgiving is going to be different. This Thanksgiving, I will not be tracking my food or calories; I will not be weighing or measuring my food; I won’t even be weighing myself. There’s not a single food I will avoid; in fact, if the little voice in my head says to avoid a certain food, I’m challenging myself to eat the thing its telling me not to eat — even if it’s just one bite.
This Thanksgiving, I will not starve all day to “reserve calories” for this one meal. I will eat when I am hungry, and I will eat until I am full. I will trust my body AND my hunger to guide me in how much I should consume. This is the challenge my nutritionist and I have agreed upon: I am to follow my hunger so that we can see what happens. So far, nothing catastrophic.
This Thanksgiving, I will happily and, with gratitude, take those leftovers home and actually eat them. Yes, even the stuffing and pecan pie.
And, when Christmas comes, I will have Christmas cookies, Christmas brunch, Christmas Eve AND Christmas dinners. I might eat past fullness — overeat, you might say. I might gain a little weight. The world will not end.
I’m talking as if this is all easy; it isn’t. But, I’m setting the intention anyways. I’m tired of worrying about calories during the holidays (and every other day too); I’m tired of centering my life around food and body shape. I thought that my life would no longer be all about food when I finally got thinner, but the opposite was actually true.
Food, diets, weightloss, “lifestyle changes” to be thinner, eating disorders, whatever you want to call it…have robbed me of enough time. They are not welcome at my holiday celebrations this year.
I’ve been bouncing around the idea of trying out intuitive eating (or at least not tracking my food) for some time now. I’m not sure I can convey the anxiety this concept causes me, but let me try:
Imagine everything in your life that matters to you: everyone you love, everyone who loves you, all you have accomplished, all of your hopes and dreams for yourself and your loved ones.
Now, imagine all of those things only exist in your life for as long as you remain in firm control of your caloric intake, body shape, and the number on the scale.
If you’ve been able to conjure up the feeling of life-ending anxiety and pressure that entails, then you now know what every single moment of my life feels like for me. And, you’ll understand a little better the magnitude of this decision.
I am doing this for a few reasons:
1. I’m honestly curious what will happen. Can someone who was previously obese, lost the weight, and maintained that loss for years actually give up tracking food and NOT gain everything back? I don’t know. And, I don’t know how else to find out except to experiment.
2. There’s some scary shit beneath the surface of this eating disorder. If I’m not obsessing over calories and macros, what is going to come up? What will fill my mind? I want to tackle the deeper layer now. I can only do that if I am not numbing myself with restriction and food obsession.
3. I realized recently that both mine and my family’s diets are rather limited. I do all of the cooking, and I tend to cook the same “safe foods” repeatedly. I also often eat something entirely different from the rest of my family. This is not how I want to raise my daughter. Also, it’s not how I want to live. I LOVE cooking…or, at least, I used to…
So, here we go.
There’s no other way to do this but to just do it — and it needs to be for long enough that I can really truly see “what happens.” We’ll start with a month.
It has been 3 weeks since I last stepped on a scale; I have no idea what I weigh right now. Not only that, but for the last 3 weeks, I have eaten the number of calories that somebody else has set as my target number of calories. It is higher than I would choose to eat on my own.
I’m anxious, but that is OK.
I am anxious, but I am doing it anyways.
I’ve been relatively quiet on here about what exactly I’m doing right now, because I was honestly not sure that it would last. I was afraid to tell you all and then to fail…not unlike how I failed to give up tracking my food. But, I’m going to go ahead and talk about it now; if I fail, you’ll get to see it, but that’s ok. It’s all part of the journey.
Nearly 3 months ago, I joined a small local gym and began exercising regularly for the first time ever under the guidance of group personal trainers. I expected to burn out on it quickly, but, actually…I think I kind of love it.
I quickly noticed that, in order to perform well, I needed to eat. But, of course, the eating disorder part of my brain panics about that. So, I was caught between a rock and a hard place: one part of me wanting to perform well in the gym; one part just wanting to lose weight.
I am choosing performance.
Right now, I am taking part in a challenge at my gym during which I have made some commitments:
- To work towards being able to run 5k without stopping — (Accomplished this morning!!)
- To work towards my first pull-up — (stilllll a ways off)
- To eat enough protein — (I am still tracking my food; but, I am eating more than I would typically eat. And, in fact, my goal is to be eating even more in time)
- To not weigh myself except for those weigh-ins required by the challenge (one at the 4-week mark; one at the 8-week mark both on a body composition scale – because scale weight is a crappy tool for measuring anything worthwhile)
I am also working with my eating disorder nutritionist to challenge my eating disorder; it is becoming a lot easier to distinguish that ED voice from my own, because while I am focused on performance, the ED is not.
Right now, I am at this stage where pretty much everything I’m doing makes me (and/or the eating disorder) anxious:
- lifting weights = stalling out on the scale
- eating more food = fear of weight gain
- not weighing myself = feeling out of control
- eating fear foods = feeling like I am completely losing control of myself and am a bad person
I’m doing it anyways. All of it. Because enough is enough. Because life is too short for this bullshit. Because I want to actually be happy and live life and not sit on the sidelines terrified that a plate of pasta is going to mean that nobody loves me.
My nutritionist told me that if I continue to “do it anyways” (listen to the other trusted professionals who have told me what it is I should be doing rather than listening to my eating disorder (previously thought of as “myself,” but I prefer now to think that I am not my eating disorder)) that one of two things will happen: either the anxiety will fade or I will be able to say “I am anxious about this thing, but I am doing it anyways,” and that will be OK. I’ve already seen this starting to happen.
I don’t want to make this blog too long, but I do update my Instagram regularly now; you can find me @saladflambe
I’ve been posting a mixture of “What I Eat in a Day,” race and lifting videos and photos, eating disorder challenge posts, plus pics of my daughter and my cats 🙂
I am 3 weeks into my gym’s 8-week challenge, and I am already thinking about what I will be doing next. I discussed it with my nutritionist this week, but I’m not quite ready to “commit to it” here. So, stay tuned… If I can work up the courage, it’s going to be big (for me), and it’s going to be terrifying (but, in a good way). Good thing I’ve got these guns to keep me safe now 😉
“We must look at the lens through we see the world, as well as the world we see, and that the lens itself shapes how we interpret the world.”
When I was a little girl, I came up with the following description for a person’s soul: “Our eyes can see,” I said, “but something has to want to look out. That something is a person’s soul.”
I might rephrase this today as an adult, but only slightly: the eyes can see, but something has to want to look out; that something is the self.
Of course, it’s a little more complicated than that: the eyes can see, but it’s the brain (the mind) that interprets. And, those interpretations are influenced by a person’s core beliefs and experiences. No two people’s experiences and interpretations of those experiences are the same. Thus, each of us see the world through a different lens. Multiple lenses, actually; you may have quite a few.
I have an eating disorder lens.
When I look at the world through my eating disorder lens, it is a dangerous and terrifying place in which I can only find safety by being as completely in control as possible.
It is a place where safety is found in numbers — in making numbers continually smaller.
It is a place where strength is found in being so in control of one’s self that not even natural urges like hunger so bad that you are shaking can make you break your control. Even while food is right in front of you, or in your hand, or even in your mouth.
When I look in the mirror through my eating disorder lens, I see something disgusting, something that will never be enough, something weak, something unlovable, someTHING, not someONE.
When I look at a plate of food through my eating disorder lens, each bite might as well be inscribed with some important, crucial need that I will be giving up should I eat that bite of food. It’s like being shown one of those “One Must Go Forever!” Memes, only it’s real life, and your choice feels real and permanent.
Which do you choose?
Go on… it’s not that hard! Just eat! Just choose.
It took time to craft this eating disorder lens. It took time to fit it to my eye so fastly. It took time and reinforcement, experience after experience after experience.
And now, I’m in therapy. And, I’m working on a new lens.
A lens through which I can see that food is, maybe, not so closely tied to my most vital emotional need for connection.
That, maybe, I am enough, have always been enough…
And, yes, that’s a terrifying thing to confront — because, if I’ve always been good enough, have always been worthy of love and acceptance, then what does that mean about certain events in my life? About certain people from my life?
If I glance through this lens…and, right now, that’s all I can do…the world is still scary and unsafe.
And that’s just how the world is: unsafe.
Looking through this lens forces me to confront my lack of control, my inability to keep bad things from happening, people from leaving, my own daughter from getting hurt someday by this unsafe world that is, ultimately, out of my control. No matter how strong I may be.
A new lens.
The new lens slowly becomes an option — I can choose, in this moment, to look at the world through the eating disorder lens or through the recovery lens. I can choose, I have to choose, over and over and over.
Because, that eating disorder lens…it’s still there. And, it’s pretty damn comfortable… with its promises of possible ways to achieve safety in this world.
I think the goal, ultimately, is that the new lens becomes the more comfortable one: my default lens. That it will fit my eye more and more securely as I continue to shape it and make it more clear through therapy and practice. (It’s still pretty foggy and rough.)
I don’t know what the end result will look like, and that is hard for someone who strives for perfection and control. I am one of those people who, once I know the goal, will leap over steps to achieve the outcome as quickly as possible.
But, recovery doesn’t work that way. It took me 31 years to create the lenses through which I interpret and understand the world; crafting a new one… it’s going to take time.
Fortunately, I have that.
Everyone loves a good before and after photo; lots of people loved mine a few years ago. (Let’s be honest – as much as I wish it were the other way around, it’s the photo that made that post go viral, not my writing.) But, for me, before and after photos perpetuated a lie.
A “good” before and after photo is no better than an ad in a magazine with a too-thin model. A “good” before and after photo says “it is possible to achieve society’s standard of an acceptable body!”
I wonder what my before and after photo made you think…
But, here’s the thing…
Real “after” isn’t so pretty.
Real “after” isn’t always a flat stomach, smaller rear, and toned limbs.
Real “after” is loose skin and stretch marks that I will always carry with me, because I was overweight, and I can’t ever escape that.
Real “after” is persistent and painful skin infections that I get due to moisture getting trapped in the sagging skin on my abdomen.
Real “after” is looking in the mirror and constantly questioning “are those rolls of fat or just loose skin?”
Real “after” is seeing one body when you’ve got clothes on and an entirely different one when you’re naked.
Real “after” is adjusting your own droopy skin throughout the day, trying to make it look more flattering or feel more comfortable.
Sometimes, real “after” is just as uncomfortable as “before.” Sometimes, possibly more uncomfortable.
Real “after” can mean body dysmorphia.
I wish we could take before and after photos of our minds. What might those look like?
Are “after” minds happier? More relaxed? Freer?
Are they satisfied? Full of self love? Content?
Is life easier?
Or, are they more anxious? Terrified of losing “what they worked so hard for?” Lost? Lacking in a definition of self?
How much mental time, energy, and space is maintaining that weight loss taking up? Can the “after” mind even accept that “after” is here?
And, if we could see before and after photos of minds, would we still choose to pursue weight loss?
And, if so… why?
It’s been a month since my last post, and though I have been reluctant to write, I wanted to stick to my goal of including this blog in my present journey. So, here I am…with a confession:
I’m tracking macros again, and my abusive relationship with numbers (and myself) is in a definite “on again” phase.
I am very frustrated this morning.
I’m angry, actually.
I’m angry that this is so difficult.
I’m angry that the real “meat” of a disordered relationship with food and body is so illusive.
Honestly, the food is the easy part. Food is concrete: eating it or restricting it in many various ways are all firmly graspable behaviors that can be forced in one direction or the other. It’s the mental and emotional battle that leaves me feeling hopeless. As I said in one of my online support groups this morning: I can make myself eat bread; I can’t make myself be OK with it.
The thing is, I feel like the only thing anyone is prepared to help me with is the food, and it’s making me worry that that’s all that anyone CAN help me with. That I’m doomed to one of two fates: follow my obsession & live it out loud… or don’t actually act it out — follow someone else’s plan instead — but still be trapped with it in my head. And, honestly, I’m not sure which of those two outcomes is the easiest to live with.
I really don’t have much more than that to share at this point. I will say that the path I’m currently being nudged down is towards “intuitive eating.” I’m reading the book, and I’ve joined a couple of online intuitive eating support communities, but I currently can’t even imagine it ever being possible for me. I’m not even sure I can bring myself to want it. The truth is…I don’t trust my body to tell me how to eat, and I don’t trust myself with food. I can’t imagine a world in which my weight doesn’t determine my worthiness, and I’m not sure I can ever believe that to be true…not in my world. True for others, but not for me.