It’s Not Just Food

Ok.  I had my therapist appointment today, and we discovered that I am fucked up when it comes to food.  No, really!  I know, amazing, but true.  I have had ED issues since I was eighteen.  Twenty years.  To recap, I went on a strict diet right before going to college because I decided that since nobody knew me, I could be anyone I wanted to be.  In addition, I didn’t really have a sense of self, so might as well be someone else.

To that end, I put my CDO to work for me, and I restricted my calories to 1,200 a day, and I exercised up to 7 hours a day.  This was the summer before college.  I had a job, but I just worked out around my job schedule.    I lost forty pounds in two months, and I was the thinnest I’d ever been.  Of course, I couldn’t keep up the schedule at college, so I reduced my eating.  I ate nothing for breakfast, and a bowl of oyster crackers for lunch and another for dinner.  I ate fruit, too, but that was it.

In addition, I only slept three hours a night, so of course I would be hungry by midnight.  Then, I would raid the vending machines for half a dozen bags of chips and shit and snarf them down.  Well, you can probably figure out what happened next.  I started throwing up.  I stayed skinny, but I started blacking out as I walked across campus.

That was the start of twenty years of eating disorders.  To be honest, I have had issues with food from the time my mom put me on my first diet–when I was seven.

So, today, in therapy, I was telling my therapist about my doctor’s appointment and my previous blog post.  I was really frustrated because it’s not as if I didn’t know better.  I said, “I could have been sitting in this chair twenty years ago saying the same goddamn thing.”  Except, I wouldn’t have been because I wouldn’t have thought it was a problem back then.  I was thin!  That was all that mattered!  And, I wouldn’t have thought about the underlying reasons I was so fucked up about food.

I’ll let you in on a secret–just between us.  I’m scared of food.  I can’t eat and not do something else at the same time.  I know one of the best things to do while eating is to savor the food and taste each bite.  Yeah, fuck that.  I even think about eating without doing something else, and I start freaking out.  Why is this?  Well, I’ll tell you.  We discussed it in therapy, and this is what we discovered.

Wait, first of all, the weight gain.  It has always been my defense against being too exposed.  Gaining weight.  After Thailand, I gained lots of weight.  Now, I’m dealing with the flashbacks, so it makes sense that I’ve gained weight.  It’s part of the dysfunctional mechanisms that I have in place to deal with unsafe issues.   It’s my shelter from the storm, so to speak.  The damnedest thing is that on the continuum of weight, I feel purest when I am thinnest, safest when I am fattest, and most sexual, sensual, and real when I am somewhere in the middle.

Ok.  Back to why I find food scary.  There are the conventional reasons such as having to clean my plate as a child so I didn’t get to choose what I could eat or couldn’t eat.  And, after being placed on a diet, of course there are good foods and bad foods.   And, I couldn’t be trusted to make the right choices, obviously.  In addition, I knew that I had all these insatiable hungers that were unsafe to unleash on the world.  I had to control them and make them all ladylike and shit.

Then, there was the metaphorical.  I was taught from a young age that anger was not acceptable.  I was not allowed to show it, so I had to eat my anger instead.  In fact, it’s much easier for me to get pissed off at myself than at another person.  I also learned how to cry without making a sound.  I ate my tears.  And, once, my brother made an off-the-cuff remark about how I had a weird laugh, so I stopped laughing out loud for about ten years.  Yes, I ate my laugh as well.

Finally, as I discovered during my flashbacks, there was the very real cock that I was forced to eat that I most definitely did not want in my mouth.  So, it’s no wonder I have a few issues with food.  No wonder the minute I start thinking about being healthy in my eating habits/exercise habits, I go immediately to ED thinking.  As I figured out, it’s my own version of batshitcraziness thinking.  “I want to be healthy.”  “I want to eat well.”  “I want to starve myself to death.”  Um, huh, what?  Where is the link?  There isn’t one.  It’s actually discouraging to realize that it’s wingnuttery at its finest, and it’s in my own fucking head.

The other thing is that many people say, “Oh, you have to accept yourself first before you can change yourself.”  Or, as Kel said, “If you push yourself too hard, you won’t be able to do anything for awhile.”  For sane and reasonable people, this is true.  For me, not so much.  It’s at the root of my ED thinking that I can hate my body and absolutely force it to change.  I can push my body past the point of breaking and still continue exercising as long as I’m willing to die for it. That really is the bottom line here.  As Gregory said, “This is another way to hurt yourself.”  While I can obfuscate and qualify and hedge, the bottom line is, yes.  It’s a way to hurt myself.   It’s a way to punish myself for all my imagined sins.  Unfortunately, I am very good at hurting myself, and what’s more, I’m comfortable with it.  It’s been a lifelong habit, and it’s not an easy one to break.

There is nothing positive about an eating disorder.  Even though I do feel the pull of it, and lord knows you can find tons of websites glorifying eating disorders, the reality is very ugly.   Unfortunately, we have a society that worships thinness as well, which can feed into an individual’s sense that she is doing healthy.  The second time I lost weight, I got so many compliments about how good I look.  People asked for my secrets, and they marveled at my discipline.  If you ever want to make an instant connection as a woman with a group of women, start talking about dieting tips.  It’s deeply woven within the fabric of our society, and for someone like me who’s constantly on the outside, it can be a heady thing to be a part of the group.

So.  My therapist and I talked about what I could do about my eating issues.  One thing she suggested was that I find a group such as OA or an ED group in order to get a broader perspective on the issue.  Two years ago, she would never have suggested it because I am not a group person.  However, no matter how much I feel like I’m in the same place as I was at that time, I am in a different, though similar, place–and I’m willing to listen.  It has to be a group that actually is constructive and not destructive–i.e., the members are not subtly competing to see who can be the best at her own ED.

The other thing is, because I have a lifetime of not listening to my body and pretty much ignoring it as best I can, I don’t have a clue as to what my body is actually telling me.  I don’t know when I’m hungry and when I’m not.  When I tried to do the ‘eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full’ thing, I would eat two bites and be full.  Then, I would be hungry three minutes later.  In addition, my therapist asked me if I have ever felt I could really choose whatever I wanted to eat.  I looked at her blankly because I had no idea what she was saying.  When I go to the store, I tend to buy the same things over and over again.  Even when I was making my runs to Cub to get donuts and chips, it would be the same.  Four donuts (two chocolate-covered bearclaws filled with whipped cream and two custard-filled donuts covered with chocolate) and two bags of chips (Jalapeno Doritos and Jalapeno Cheetos).  It was compulsive.  I am at a complete loss when I am asked to wing it.

It’s why I have designated items for when I go certain places.  If I go to a Starbucks (once in a blue moon), I get a decaf skim latte.  If I go to Mickey D’s (even less often), it’s a McChicken and a small fries.  Oh, and a diet pop.  Again, choices are scary and overwhelming.  It’s safer to stick to what I know.

So, while I love food, I am also deathly afraid of it.

I’m discouraged that I am back here again.  I am frustrated that I can’t even think about losing weight and being healthy without immediately wanting to shove my fingers down my throat again.  I wonder what the fuck is wrong with me that I can’t break free of the mindset.  Then, I look back at all the complications that are intertwined, and I realize it really isn’t just about food.   In other words, it’s gonna take a lot more time and a hell of a lot more fucking work before I have this thing beaten.  Sigh.

12 Responses to It’s Not Just Food

  1. Wow, Minna, that was incredibly insightful. It really sounds like a big step forward in understanding. I like your doc’s idea about finding a group of people who both understand what you’re dealing with AND are working with and encouraging each other to growth and progress.

  2. I can’t help but notice the long list of things you have eaten, and the desire or mindset to shove your fingers down your throat.
    Maybe you need to verbally vomit all over the place and get all that stuff out of you.

  3. Choolie, my therapist is the best. Seriously. I owe her my life.

    whabs, yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I think that may be my next blog entry.

  4. Hi Minna. One thing that struck me reading this is that you understand that some self help groups can devolve into a reinforcement of the very things they’re supposed to be helping you out of. Another problem can be a lack of focus on what to do NOW to reinforce a different way of doing things. Because if you have no alternatives to what you were doing before,you most likely won’t succeed with stopping any addiction or something like an eating disorder. AND,lol,the group can become a substitute addiction,this happens sometimes in AA,I’m not sure if that’s true of other groups. This is only my experience of course,your mileage may vary. These groups have helped thousands,so obviously they work,but not for everyone(me being one). It’s still good to try various groups on for size though. Just don’t chalk it up as a failure if it doesn’t help you. We’re all different,it’s definitely not a one size fits all thing.

    I still marvel at your bravery and honesty as you work this out.

  5. A Mom Anon, yes, it’s a fine line between support and egging each other on and competition. I wholeheartedly agree that if one does not have a new way to be, then it’s easy to slip back into old patterns, thinking, and routines. I also know that I probably will have to attend a few to find one I think will work–which is definitely not my thing (groups).

    Thank you for your kind words. I certainly can use them right now.

  6. Minna, you wrote that you’re “frustrated that [you are] back here again.” But, as you yourself pointed out, you aren’t, exactly. You may be having the same impulses toward self-harm and unhealthy eating that you did in the past, but you are (it sounds like) much more self-aware, more open to sharing, more open to healing and to letting others help you heal. That, I think, is a very different place, actually.

    *This is not to minimize your frustration or your unhappiness at going through this, not at all. I just want to give you the credit that you deserve.

  7. p.s. I didn’t comment on the last entry because it really touched a nerve for me. For the first time in my life, I am worried that a friend of mine is developing an eating disorder. In surface ways, she is a little like you – a 30ish Asian woman who is naturally curvy and had a strict, abusive childhood (physical and emotional; I don’t know about sexual). She recently went through a bad breakup and since then has been obsessively counting calories in and calories burned, bragging about losing 8.5 lbs in 10 days, etc.

    I feel very helpless and don’t know what to do, other than to let her know that I love her, that losing weight so rapidly isn’t healthy, and to urge her to work with a doctor or nutritionist. But she brushes that off, saying, “they’ll just tell me I have an eating disorder.” Ugh.

    And i completely hear you about the compliments. It’s been making me cringe how people on facebook congratulate her when she posts about losing weight, or tell her how great she looks when they run into her.

  8. Betsy, yeah, I hear you that it’s a different place–it just feels like the same old shit, you know? With all the other shit in my life, I do not want to have to deal with this food shit right now.

    As for your friend, sadly, there is nothing you can do but continue to support her. You COULD tell her that 8.5 pounds in ten days means it’s water weight, or worse, muscle, but I doubt that will matter. In addition, if she MUST count something, let it be inches rather than pounds. Much more relevant.

    However, she will continue to get support for it from other people because weightloss is the be-all/end-all in this country, and we (society, specifically, women) admire women who have the ‘willpower’ and the ‘strength’–to deny themselves. Hm. I think I have another entry.

    John O, another BJer! So cool. Welcome to my blog, and yes, it’s not for the faint of heart. As for EDs, you are incredibly lucky to not know the insidiousness that is an ED. Feel free to comment whenever you want.

  9. I *completely* appreciate what you’re saying re: frustration at dealing with food issues again. It sucks massively, and it’s not like you don’t have enough to process right now. Wishing you good luck and and good health.

  10. Betsy, it just feels like it’s something I should be ‘over’, if you get my meaning. I’m a smart woman, so why am I so entrenched in this? And yeah, now is not a great time. Thank you for your support. It means a lot.