I started a post about the latest mass shooting, but then I stopped because I don’t have it in me to address it right now. So, instead, I want to revisit an old issue that is still something I deal with on a daily basis. It stems from the doctor’s visit I mentioned in my last post, and it’s something that contributes to my depression and anxieties.. As you probably know, every doctor’s visit starts with a weigh-in. I always stand with my back to the number because just seeing it elicits such a strong feeling of anxiety. I have a complicated relationship with the scale as do many women and increasingly more men. When I first descended into anorexia when I eighteen, I weighed myself every morning, and if the number went up at all, I’d obsess over it. If the number went down, that just made me want to make it go down more. And, yes, I’m aware that there are natural weight fluctuations during the day, but I didn’t care about that at the time. My whole life revolved around making that number go further down, and once I reached my initial goal, I simply decided to lose five more pounds. i can tell you right now that did not end well.
Back to the doctor’s visit. I didn’t look as the nurse weighed me, but she was holding the paper on which she wrote it in such a way that I could see the number. Me being me, I looked at the number, and while I knew it was going to be bad, I was shocked because it’s the highest it’s ever boon. Now, I know that muscle weighs more than fat*, but my pants have been getting tight, so I know not all that weight gain is muscle.
I also know that it’s better to be overweight than underweight. The same article points out that BMI is not a good measure of health because it doesn’t take muscle mass into consideration. I’ve long since been against using BMI as the sole arbiter of if someone is in good health or not because it was never meant to be a barometer of an individual’s fitness. It’s also 200 years old and devised by a mathematician, not a doctor or scientist. There are several reasons why using the BMI to measure fitness is bullshit. I left my longtime doctor when she used the BMI to lecture me about my weight, even as she admitted that she knew it was bullshit. It wasn’t totally her fault because her insurance company was pressuring its doctors to use the BMI as a way to gauge their patients’ health. Still, I wasn’t comfortable staying with my doctor after she made that admission. My next doctor wasn’t any better, though. I was trying different SSRI for my depression, and it was my second round with each of them. SSRI work for me the first time around for roughly a year, and then the second time, they work adversely on me, including me making me suicidal. During this time, I wasn’t eating at all, and I lost nineteen pounds because of my negative reaction to the medication. When I told my doctor why I lost the weight, she jokingly said, “Who cares why you lost the weight as long as you did?”
Yes, she was joking, but fitness was her focus, and if she was willing to say that as jest, then she wasn’t the doctor for me. She knew that I had a history of eating disorders, and she said that, anyway. It was never more clear to me how much our society values thinness in women, no matter how they try to disguise it as being concerned about health and fitness. i have many theories about why that’s the case, but that’s not the point of this post. You can trawl my archives if you want to read my musings on the subject. The point here is that what my doctor said is what many people believe–it’s best to be thin, even if it means being suicidal and not eating at all is the method you use to be that way.
The second time I decided to lose weight, I was in my mid-to-late twenties, and I was determined to do it in a healthy way. I would only weigh myself once a week, and I would measure my breasts, waist, and hips with a tape measure weekly as well. Tape measurements are more accurate when it comes to gauging body fat, and limiting it to once a week would keep me from becoming too obsessed with it–or so I thought. I researched how many calories I needed to ingest on a daily basis based on my height. I determined that it was 1,300 calories, ignoring the fact that the number was for a woman my height and a ‘normal’ weight who didn’t do anything other than breathe during the day. I also restricted my exercise to an hour and a half of cardio every day and forty-five minutes of weight-bearing exercise (lifting weights) every other day. That was less than half of what I did during my first serious bout of losing weight.
The first time, I lost forty pounds in two months. The second, I lost sixty pounds in a year. I thought I was being sensible the second time, but I fell back into anorexic thinking well before I reached the bitter end of that dieting session. I knew the caloric value of food in a single glance, and I started eating the same thing every day. I recently read a fascinating article about anorexia being a habit that resonated with me. This is not the article , but it’s another one based on the same study. The conventional wisdom is that people develop anorexia because they don’t have much control in their lives, and food is the one thing they can absolutely control. I think there’s validity to the theory, and I certainly found it to be true in my case, but it’s the routine of it that can keep you ensnared.
I ate the same thing every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I exercised at roughly the same time, and I did the same exercise set every day (or every other day with the weightlifting). I weighed myself/took my measurements on the same day every week at approximately the same time. After a month or so of this routine, I didn’t even think to question why I did it any longer. My vision narrowed until I could see no other option than to continue doing what I’ve always done.
The worst part as someone with an eating disorder (well, two. I was also bulimic, though I didn’t consider myself to be truly bulimic because I only threw up a few times a week) is how much validation you receive from society for what you’re doing. I never talked about dieting the second time I attempted it (the first time, either, but I didn’t run into as many people then because I was doing it during the summer before I went off to college), but of course, people could tell that I’d lost weight. I had people complimenting me, saying how good I looked, and they wanted tips on how I did it. I’d try to downplay my regime because even then I knew that it was, shall we say, compulsive and/or obsessive, and just say that I was eating less and exercising more. Not one person talked about how healthy I must be becoming–the entire focus was on how good I looked. And, yes, people marveled at my willpower, saying they could never do it themselves. It never made me feel good about myself, however, as I knew enough to be ashamed that I was allowing myself to fall into the same trap again.
It all came to a head one night when I was attending a concert with my BFF, Kat. I had forgone eating lunch because I knew I would be drinking at the concert.One drink, two at the most because I’m not a drinker, but I still didn’t want to go over my caloric limit for the day. i have to interject that based on the exercise I was doing, I should have been eating 1 1/2 times as much as I was, if not twice as much. Going to the concert after eating maybe 500 calories for the day and exercising two hours wasn’t a good idea. In fact, it was a horrible idea. I drank two gin and tonics when I got to the concert, which also wasn’t smart, especially not on an empty stomach. We were standing watching the band, and I started to feel dizzy. Next thing I knew, I was lying on the floor, dazed and confused. Apparently, I’d fainted, which caused grave concern for the people I was with. One of the women had a KitKat bar in her purse, which she insisted I eat. I was so deep in my illness, I refused because I didn’t want to ingest the calories. Fortunately, her will was stronger than mine, and I ended up eating the candy bar.
I stopped dieting after that night because I realized that I would probably kill myself if I kept going down that road. The problem is, I am an all-or-nothing kind of person, so my way of stopping meant giving up everything that I had been doing. My mindset and the extent to which I dieted was not good, but the basis of my regime was sound. The one tried-and-true method to losing weight is to eat less and exercise more. It’s not sexy or glamorous, but it fucking works. It’s just science, as it’s expending more calories than you are ingesting on a consistent basis. That’s the only way to lose weight, really. So, my exercising and eating less was a good idea, but I felt I had to give it up in order to change my mentality. I stopped caring about what I ate, refusing to count calories at all. I stopped exercising completely and went back to my sluggard ways. i gained back all the weight I loss and then some, and I felt really unhappy about myself as a result. My weight has steadily crept upwards since then, and as much as I try to pretend it doesn’t bother me, it does. Not for health reasons, but because I hate the way I look now. To be fair, I’ve never liked the way I look, no matter how much I weighed. I don’t look into a mirror if I can possibly help it, and I cringe any time I have to see an image of myself. i think I look better with more weight than less,** but I’m past the point where I’m comfortable with myself.
Above, I wrote that I have dealt with two eating disorders in my past, but there’s a third one I grapple with to this day–overeating. One legacy from a lifetime of eating disorders is that I have no clue when I’m actually hungry. When I’m in overeating mode, I eat just for the sake of eating. When I’m in anorexia mode, I suppress my hungry to the point where I don’t even feel it any longer. Now, I can tell once in a while if I’m hungry, but only if I haven’t eaten in a while. I try to eat regularly, but it’s not easy for me. I eat when I’m bored or distressed, but I rarely eat when I’m actually hungry. I go back and forth as to whether it’s better to wait until I’m actually hungry to eat or if I should eat small meals several times throughout the day, regardless of if I’m hungry or not.
I need to do something about my weight, but I refuse to go down the same road as I’ve twice traveled. I know that if I start counting anything, I’ll slide down that slippery slope until I’m back in Anorexia Alley. I cannot use a scale, either, for a similar reason, but I think using a tape measure once a week will be OK. I have no concrete evidence that this will be the case, but I’m not as wedded to the number on a tape measure as I am to the number on a scale for whatever reason. I take taiji classes three to four times a week, which is both cardiovascular and weight-bearing (weaponry), but I need to devise a sensible exercise program for the other days. Eating-wise, I’ve determined that doing a complete overhaul is folly. It’ll either not stick, or it’ll stick too well, and I’ll become rigid about it again. Instead, I’m cutting out things one by one. I started with chips which I used to eat daily and always had around the house. I haven’t bought them for several months now, and when I broke down and gave in a few weeks ago, I felt gross after eating them. I haven’t bought any chips since, and I don’t plan on buying them again.
Next up will be baked goods. I got in the habit of buying muffins or donuts and eating one every day. I currently have two old-fashioned donuts with chocolate icing left out of six, and once they’re gone, I’m not going to buy any more. I do have one quibble with the study I cited earlier in that for me, it’s willpower that helps me make something a habit. If I’m determined to do something, I do it. Then, once it’s a habit, I can do it without the determination. It’s putting my OCD traits to good use rather than to ill for a change. I’ve also started adding vegetables and fruits back to my diet. My mom made me eat several a day when I was younger (which is a good thing, of course), so one way I rebelled against her was to stop eating them. I’ve fluctuated on them throughout my life, but there’s really no reason for me not to eat them. The trick is to eat the ones I like and not force myself to eat ones I dislike–like kale. I tried to eat it for several months many years back because it’s supposed to be such a power food. Now, there’s evidence that eating too much of it may be bad for you, which means I can eschew eating it with less guilt. I’ve been eating an orange a day for the last several months because my taiji teacher told me it’s good for combating the build-up of lactic acid in the joints, and now, I’m adding apples (Honeycrisp or Fuji), grapes, and baby carrots because I like all of them and because they’re easy to eat.
My next step will be to give up buying deli food at either the co-op or Cub because while they are tasty, they are not necessarily healthy. It would help if I liked to cook, but I don’t. Still. There are probably several simple recipes that even I wouldn’t mind making. Otherwise, sandwiches on whole wheat bread with leafy greens, lean meat, and a bit of cheese will probably feature heavily in my diet. I still tend to eat the same thing on a daily basis, which is not a good or a bad thing, but it’ll help if I make sure what I eat is actually good for me. i also have to keep in mind that salads don’t have to be skimpy or boring any longer. There are so many different kinds of lettuce along with several ways to dress them up nicely.
The one thing I won’t do is eat low-fat crap. I went that route the last time I dieted, and it was miserable. Twenty years ago, low-fat food tasted like shit. I’m sure they’ve done much to improve it since, but I’d rather eat the full-fat version–just less of it. The one exception is skim milk–I actually like the way it tastes, so I’ll keep it in the rotation. I’m also toying with the idea of giving up chocolate, but I’m not ready to commit to that yet. Finally, I’m going to do my best not to get locked into eating disorder mentality. I’m not going to freak out if I’m going out to dinner with a friend and choose a meal that’s less healthy for me. I’m not going to force myself to work out every day, regardless if I feel up to it or not. I’m going to try to err on the side of being too lax rather than too rigid because the consequences of the latter are far more damaging than those of the former. I feel as if I have my head on straight this time, but I’ve felt that way before. The best I can do is take it slow and and to be honest with myself if I start slipping again. This time, I want to catch it before it becomes a habit because as we all know, habits are so fucking hard to break.
*Yes, yes, I know it’s that muscle is denser than fat so it takes up less space, not that it weighs more, yadda yadda yadda, but you know what I mean.
**I feel sexier when I’m thin, but more sensual when I’m heavier. It makes sense because all I can think about when I’m dieting is how much I want to eat a fucking pizza.