Eat Less, Weigh Less: A Woman’s Mantra

43117043_10102349786336293_6428486540736856064_nMy whole life, I have always thought there was only one way to “be” as a woman: eat less, weigh less.

That’s how you get thin; that’s how you stay thin. And, women should be thin.

After years of trying and failing to commit to eating less, somehow, I finally got a grip on that chain, and I’ve been toeing that line for a decade.

It’s exhausting. There’s a reason that all of the studies show that most people who lose weight will gain it back. (Even my nutritionist tells me that I’m the first person she’s ever met who is part of the National Weight Control Registry.) I have spent years living in fear that I will gain it all back too. To combat that fear, I clung to this truth: “If I eat less, it can’t happen.”

Starvation is a full-time job. There are no breaks when you turn restriction into a lifestyle. When every calorie matters, food becomes an obsession: the first thing you think about in the morning and the last thing you think about at night. It even invades your dreams. You learn to live at a low level of hunger at all times.

I am so tired of being hungry.

Three months ago, I stumbled into a local gym that provides personal training and specializes in educating their clients about all things health-related. During my consultation, I told the owner that I had nutrition down but was ready to learn about exercise.

For the first couple of months, I continued to do what I’ve always done: eat less. I asked even more of my body, and I was so angry at it when it “failed me.” In frustration, I did, again, what I’ve always done: I doubled down on my commitment. I decided that I would eat even less, I would work out even more. That has always been the answer: eat less, move more. Right?

And then, about a month ago, after literally crying outside of the gym after a particularly bad day in which I felt weak and like I had regressed in my strength training, I found this video by a female fitness (and especially strength training) guru, Natacha Océane. In the video, she halved her caloric intake for a week (dropping from her normal 2,500-2,800 to just 1,400 calories per day, which was about what I was eating at the time) but continued her typical exercise routine. Suddenly, she couldn’t lift nearly as much weight, she was exhausted, and every time she ate, she just felt more hungry.

I felt like I was watching myself from that morning at the gym – unable to lift what I’d just been able to lift a couple of weeks before.

And something clicked. And I watched more videos, read more articles, scoured the internet world of female strength training and…holy…crap.

There is an entirely different world out there.

There is a world of women who are eating more, gaining muscle (which means, yes, gaining weight on a scale), and yet somehow being leaner and stronger and a million times more alive than my starving self.

There are countless women showing how they moved from an “eat less, weigh less” lifestyle to an “eat more, f#@% the scale” strength training lifestyle and are now actually a few dress sizes smaller despite a higher number on the standard scale.

But, more than that, there are women who have said “f#@% the scale, f#@% my appearance, I want to be strong. I want to be able to do pull-ups. I want to run a Spartan race. I want to deadlift double my weight. And that is what is going to fulfill me.”

At first, I was thinking “well of course it’s OK for you, super fit women, to eat more; but, not me. I’m not allowed to eat that much.”

What sealed the deal for me, though, was my trainer very bluntly telling all of us that he sees so many of his female clients come in eating next to nothing and desperately trying to lose weight, and that his goal for us was to see us eating more, getting stronger, and focusing on performance goals.

That told me “Yes, you…specifically you…who are not super fit or lean like the women in those YouTube videos, you who still have a lot of body fat…even you are allowed to eat more. NEED to eat more. This will work even for you.”

And, so I am.

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Slowly, and with a lot of fear and trepidation, but also with trust and just as much stubbornness and willpower as it took to restrict, I am increasing my intake. I am changing my goals.

I am no longer trying to eat less to weigh less; I am trying to eat more to get stronger and to develop a lifestyle in which I am thriving – doing so much more than trying to stay thin.

And, it’s working.

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I went from never running a mile straight to being able to run a 5k in a matter of weeks. (Aiming for my first 10k on Thanksgiving day!)

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If you follow me on Instagram (@saladflambe), you’ll have already seen this, but I gained a pound this month, and it was all muscle; plus, I still lost some fat. All while eating more, not less.

I want to shout it from the rooftops… every time I see someone talking about how little they are eating, I want to take their face in my hands, look them in the eye and say “you don’t have to do that! There is another way to live! And to really, truly be alive!”

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Yes, even for you.

 

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Getting Comfortable with Being Anxious

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.

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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:

  1. To work towards being able to run 5k without stopping — (Accomplished this morning!!)
  2. To work towards my first pull-up — (stilllll a ways off)
  3. 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)
  4. 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 😉

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The Eating Disorder Lens

“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.”

― Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

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.

Perfect.

Control.

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.

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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.

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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.

This is Real Life…An Uninspirational Blog Post

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.

Whole30 Did Not Make Me Whole

“I am Whole30!” That’s what those who complete a round of this elimination diet post on day 31 (or beyond). Well, today is my day 31, and so, today, I felt it important for me to say…though I successfully completed a Whole30 round, I am not Whole30.

Whole30 did not make me whole.

Let’s rewind.

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Like most people with food and eating issues, I have relationship problems.

My relationships with people? …fragile.

My relationship with food? …complicated.

My relationships with numbers? …obsessive.

My relationship with myself? …abusive.

 

Like a lot of people with or without food and eating issues, I often struggle with a feeling of “never enough.”

Never enough money.

Never enough time.

Never enough energy.

Never full enough.

Never fulfilled enough.

Never thin enough.

Never strong enough.

Will I ever be enough?

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Funny thing about food issues — they are rarely solved by food. Neither the addition nor elimination of it. That’s because food issues are rarely about food.

They are about fullness. Enoughness. Worthiness.

They are about feelings and the overwhelming act of feeling them.

They are about aloneness and emptiness and the desperate search for connection and safety and something reliable…that will not leave you, nor hurt you, nor change.

They are about control and the terror of realizing how very little of it we have in life. Over anything. Not even over our own bodies.

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No diet, meal plan, exercise regime, or heroic amount of self control can solve food issues. And, I desperately wish I could sit here and tell you what can solve them, but your answer will likely be different from mine.

I can tell you that it’s not Whole30. It’s not Weight Watchers or keto or going paleo, vegetarian, vegan, or raw. I can tell you that the answers aren’t there. Those are merely different ways of eating, and food issues aren’t solved through eating (nor are they solved through starving).

In fact, maybe food issues…at least mine…aren’t even food issues at all. Maybe they are, in fact, a coping mechanism for something not even remotely related to food.

This is tough shit, guys. This is coming face to face with yourself and realizing that deep fear of “not enough-ness” you (I) carry will not just go away if you (I) lose weight.

Changing the number on the scale… that’s the easy part of this. Changing the “number” (the value) I assign myself… that’s the hard part.