Disclaimer: I’m writing the next few posts in response to my therapist’s suggestion this morning. I’ve been feeling uninspired lately (hence my lack of updates here) and have also been worrying more about my eating, and she hoped that in writing about it, I’d be able to exorcise some of my food demons. Also, she may, or may not, be reading this. I hate writing about what I ate, what I didn’t, and how incredibly insane I can be at times about what goes into my mouth (or doesn’t) and what comes out of it (or doesn’t). I feel like it’s shallow and boring and not thought-provoking in the least, which is what I wanted my blog NOT to be. But ultimately, this blog is for myself, and if writing things down will help me in the long run–and I think it will–then being perceived as boring or shallow or insipid is a small price to pay.
In my recovery from bulimia, I’m trying to bring a level of “normal-ness” to my eating. Problem is, figuring out what “normal” is couldn’t be more confusing or frustrating for me.
Let me backtrack a little. I jumped into bulimia with both feet and didn’t look back. My eating disorder attached itself to my life with a vengeance quickly and powerfully. It was such a wonderful means of distraction that even when the issues that led to me binge eating began to go away, I continued to binge. Did I feel fat? I ate. Did I feel thin? Might as well eat. When I would get stressed out, I would eat. When I felt too tired, I would eat. When I felt too happy or giddy or silly, I would eat. I would eat when I let myself get too hungry or too full. There was really no rhyme or reason as to when or why I would eat, and I felt completely out of control. Every morning I would wake up wondering whether I’d have binged and purged by evening. Sometimes it was a relief to get it over with, just so I wouldn’t have to wonder any more. Basically, I unlearned how to figure out when to eat.
At the same time, I lost the capacity for knowing what to eat, or more accurately, what NOT to eat. Although I would have vehemently denied I was on a diet from 2007 till now (“I’m changing my habits, my relationship with food, doing this for religious/humanitarian/energetic reasons”), I would have been a big fat liar. Whatever eating path I chose, it was a diet and it was restrictive to a certain degree. I was eating what someone else said I should, or not eating what someone else said I shouldn’t. And this wasn’t all bad, at the time. I had become so used to fatty, sugary, hyper-palatable foods that I needed to learn how to enjoy vegetables, different types of protein, and healthy fats again (I never stopped liking fruit. Never). But now that I’m working with a therapist who’s encouraging me to spread my wings, to eat some bread and sugar and not just not feel guilt but ENJOY it, I don’t know what to eat. Do I eat what my brain knows to be healthy, regardless of the paradigm? Do I eat what I’ve deprived myself of in the past just so I know I can have it at any time? And here’s the $60,000 question: what if I didn’t have all the knowledge I’ve collected, all of the conflicting rules in my head (sugar is poison, everything in moderation, meat causes cancer, almonds are better than peanuts)? What would I choose to eat then?
And finally: what about hunger? Do I eat every two to four hours, regardless of my hunger? Do I eat within fifteen to thirty minutes of waking or risk bringing my metabolism to a grinding halt? Or do I go for long stretches of time between meals, so my body moves into fat burning mode, before chowing down on a high-carb or low-carb meal, depending on the time of day or the workout I’ve done (or not done, or blown off)? Because along the way, I’ve been told to do all of this. One therapist warned me to eat even if I was not hungry, so I wouldn’t get too hungry (unfortunately for me, I binge both when I’ve eaten too little AND when I’ve eaten too much). The conventional wisdom in the exercise community is lots of mini-meals, although this is shifting toward larger and fewer meals, and the outliers are embracing Intermittent Fasting.
As I’ve stumbled toward recovery, planning my meals was a useful and powerful tool for me. It would give me a baseline for the day. If I had a meal plan in place for the day, it was less likely that I’d wake up in a panic over how the day would end. However, attaching oneself to a meal plan creates problems. I became afraid of foods that weren’t on it. I stopped planning dinners out or meeting friends for drinks if they weren’t already written in. Plus, I really don’t think it’s normal to plan one’s meals every day for the rest of one’s life. And I want to be normal, or as normal as I can be. And when do normal people eat? When they’re hungry, of course.
I’ve been trying to bring some awareness back to my hunger and have noticed that the less food I eat, the less food I want to eat (my appetite decreases as my caloric intake decreases) and vice versa. This is exactly the opposite of what’s supposed to happen, right? So what do I do? Who do I trust? And what if I’m never hungry enough to eat my vegetables ever again?
I’ve certainly given myself a lot to think about.
When I write it all out here, it’s ridiculous. I’m extremely fortunate to have the luxury of an eating disorder and fretting about my food when other people in my world, my country, even in my city, don’t have a kitchen, let alone a kitchen table and food to put on it. Friends are struggling to pay their bills, fighting cancer, trying to hold their kids’ lives together when their husbands have decided to leave them after fifteen years of marriage. All I have to figure out is what to eat, how much I should eat, and when I should eat it.
Today my therapist rocked my world. She gave me permission NOT to eat when I wasn’t hungry. She gave me permission NOT to eat protein at every meal if I didn’t want it. She asked me to think about my diet on a week-to-week basis rather than taking each day on its own. That way, she said, my macronutrients should balance themselves out. In other words, not eating enough protein one day wouldn’t be the end of the world, since I’d probably eat more later to make up for any deficit.
Also, she’s trying to get me to enjoy crap–cookies and chocolate and bread and even the occasional Twinkie if I really want it. I feel a little perverted and sneaky even thinking about this; it’s like buying cigarettes or a Playgirl for you and your girlfriends to scream over when you’re a teenager. I’m not supposed to be doing this, right? It’s not…right, right? You mean it’s okay to eat Oreos? I don’t have to say they’re for my kids? For me, treats are things that are to be eaten not at all or in excess. Having something each day is difficult, even scary. At least I don’t have to worry about this right now. I just need to think about eating when I’m hungry.
I’m know I’m carrying a lot of baggage. My mind is full of proscriptions and requirements. What I’ve written thus far barely scratches the surface. I’m writing to put some of it down right now and hopefully will continue to write, leaving a trail of inconsistent rules of eating behind me like breadcrumbs (gluten-free, of course).
Yesterday was a busy day and I didn’t eat very much in spite of lifting super-heavy first thing in the morning. My mind that loves rules was saying, “Drink a shake as soon as possible to help speed recovery and fuel muscle growth. On heavy lifting days, up your carb intake and cut back on fats a little bit. Blah blah blah.” So what did I do? I ate eggs and bacon for breakfast, half a bacon cheeseburger for lunch, a few bites of cake, and a little bowl of soup with a shot (!) of whiskey for dinner. Charles Atlas would roll in his grave. Charles Poliquin would wring his hand. And even my trainer might say I was beyond redemption, although I suspect deep down inside, he’d respect the whiskey.
I thought I’d be hungry when I woke up this morning, but I wasn’t. I had the rest of my soup just because it was there and uncovered in the fridge. That was at 7. I drank my coffee and stopped for some more at 9:30. I had a few spoonfuls of yogurt with baked squash and sun butter in it (no, really, it’s good. I swear) before yoga and then picked at it after yoga. By that time, it was almost 2 pm and I still wasn’t hungry. It wasn’t until 4:30 that I felt like I was ready for a meal. Of course, it was almost dinner by that point, so I started thinking about what I should eat, what I could eat, and what I wouldn’t be able to eat later depending on whatever I ate at the time.
Oh, and did I mention that I hate the idea of things going to waste, so I try to eat whatever nobody else wants? So I had a leftover piece of smoked trout, some cherry tomatoes, an avocado (yes, the whole thing and it was amazing, just like dessert), one chicken thigh, and one chicken liver. Yes. A chicken liver, and it felt like I was eating a really delicious multi-vitamin. Cooking it in butter (lots of it, plus smoked salt and pepper) just gilded the lily.
Then I wanted to eat a cookie but was too full. So I’m up here, away from the kitchen and the food, writing about what I ate today and I’m feeling pretty good. The full feeling has gone away, but I’m full enough to be satisfied through the night, yet not too full to go to bed (sometimes when I try to go to sleep when I’m too full, I get stressed out about how much I’ve eaten, how I’ll feel when I wake up, and what I need to eat the next day in order to pull my life together). (I hate writing this. I wish I had better things to worry about. And it makes me feel so crazy, which I also hate. I guess what helps is that I know I’m not the only one and that by writing it and acknowledging it, some of the power food has over me goes away. Maybe only a little, but it’s better than nothing. Plus what’s the loss of a little pride, right? Humility makes me more human). My picking at food over a two hour time window instead of sitting down to a real dinner wasn’t ideal, but it wasn’t endless either, and I think I nourished myself adequately, if a little unconventionally.
So for me, being normal isn’t so easy. I need to retrain my mind to start thinking about food and hunger and meals the way a normal person might, and not to punish myself by acting out or abusing food when I don’t. Tomorrow will be a little harder, as I teach an early yoga class at 6 am. By 1 pm, I’ve taught three different classes and still have to do my housewife stuff, get dinner ready, and try to fit a visit in to the doctor for my bum elbow. In the past, I would have packed all my food up already and had it ready to go in case I got hungry. I think I’ll just play things by ear–there’s a few Tupperware containers and foil wrapped packages in the fridge that can sustain me in an emergency, but if things get dicey, I can always stop somewhere and grab a quick snack.
And it doesn’t even have to have protein in it.