Regular readers know that I’m a binge eater whose default tendency is to overconsume mass amounts of food when I go through a chemical imbalance, usually because of emotional stress or because I’ve been triggered by eating something that gives me a big glucose spike. I’ve been fighting to stop this, permanently, for the last year and a half or so. Before that, I was pretty much stuck in the old binge-and-purge cycle – I’d be “on a diet” for 6 months or a year, then “not on a diet” for a couple years, then “on a diet,” and etc.
I suspect that most of my body’s imbalance has to do with this kind of dieting, which is why I have a vested interest in work being done by Paul Campos and research by Wendy Shanker, who’ve held a mirror up to the dieting industry and come back wondering how invested that industry really is in “making us thin,” encouraging us to be healthy, or – heaven forbid – like ourselves.
My buddy Jenn and I ran errands today, and hopped into Trader Joe’s for coffee beans. I picked up some mixed nuts and dried apples, and found myself increasingly twitchy around the prepared foods.
I was hungry, I admit, but I was also stressed about a number of things, angsting over boys (Should I throw in the towel and just go on dates? Just not pursue relationships? Figure out casual sex? Use it as a tool just to meet people? I plan to buy myself a dozen yellow roses and study for the LSATs on the 14th), angsting over the state of my apartment, angsting over the book I’m supposed to be writing, angsting over LSATs (I’d spent a bit of the morning going over practice questions) – and I knew it.
And as we walked down the chocolate-covered everything aisle, I had an intense desire for toffee. Jenn is a hoarder, and can buy a couple tins of this stuff and eat it a piece at a time over a couple of months. I can’t.
I wanted a tin. I wanted to eat the whole thing. I stared and stared, and that incredible desire came over me, that full-body, must-have-this-now desire that’s like death. I couldn’t imagine not having that goddamn toffee. Excelerated breathing, shaky hands. Death. Death without toffee.
I got into line with Jenn, waited half a moment, and went back to the toffee. I tracked it down, put it in my basket, and crept back to the cashier.
The mere act of putting the toffee in my basket somewhat alleviated my intense desire.
Oh, how I wanted that toffee.
And as I stepped up to the cashier, internal yes-no-yes-no voices warring with each other about the goddamn toffee, I swiped the toffee out of my basket and put it in the basket of chocolate coins by the register.
I surrendered it.
My hands were still shaking as I bought the almonds and dried apples. I went after Jenn, got into the car, and ate a couple of the dried apples. I felt better. I didn’t need to eat the whole bag. I was only hungry. Just hunger. Assuaging hunger does not mean consuming an entire box of something.
Reseal bag of apples. Neatly fold hands in lap.
Undergo a deep, abiding moment of utter self-loathing.
I hate myself when I do this. And no, I didn’t buy the toffee and scarf it down in the car like a fat girl cliche. I didn’t do that because that’s not who I want to be, not ever again. Cause I’ve done that on and off for ten years, and I’m tired.
But quelching the actual *desire* to engage in binge behavior is a struggle. I’ve successfully beat it back for a year, but “not buying 5,000 calories worth of food and consuming it all in one sitting” and “not having the intense, overwhelming desire to consume 5,000 calories in one sitting” are very different things. And it’s not fucking easy, and it’s another one of those perpetual battles that I have to fight every day, because there’s a person I want to be, and she doesn’t hide up in her room stuffing away a midnight meal from Taco Bell that could feed a small village in Peru, for no other purpose but that she’s depressed, and her body tells her this is the way she has to deal with it, because this is how she deals with it when the emotional stuff gets to be too much.
Thanks, no. I’m not doing that anymore, however briefly those times last.
And yes, there are days when I do wonder if my body is broken, if ten years of binge-and-purge American dieting has broken some key internal regulating device that’s now malfunctioning. I don’t know. All I know is that I fight it, because like all the things I fight, it pisses me off. And it makes me weak.
Seeing the weakness is the worst part. That was the part I hated, sitting there in the car as Jenn pulled out and we headed out on the next errand. I hated that weak part of myself that wanted, needed, desired, something that was absolutely unneccesary, something I didn’t need. The part that desired an easy, temporary escape from my “problems.” Because it’s a short-term solution that will ultimately do me more harm than good.
When I came home I worked through my eating schedule again. Am I doing OK? What am I eating that’s triggering me? Can I cut back on anything? In actual fact, I suspect that my biggest problem right now is that my exercise schedule is erratic, and I’ve been down to two days of MA classes instead of three all month, for a variety of reasons, and jogging is precarious in the ice and snow, which leaves me lazy around the house (aside from morning weight routine), glaring at the elliptical machine.
On the food front, right now we’re looking at a weekday of protein shake for breakfast, string cheese and mixed nuts for snacking, broccoli and chicken for lunch, protein bar snack at 3pm, another protein bar at 6pm, and either an omelette or a whole wheat pita with ham and cream cheese for dinner. I go out to eat once or twice a week, generally indulge in rice and some pastry-type item. Coffee and treat most Sundays. Beer once or twice a week.
This is not an awful thing. On Saturday and/or Sunday mornings, I’ll sometimes have low-carb, sugarfree pancakes with sugarfree syrup.
I could become some sort of wack-out crazy and stop going out to eat all together, or only eat salads when I go out. I could stop eating the Sunday dessert. I could cut out all the cheese I eat.
But there’s a point at which you cut out so many things that it’s just not fun anymore. I just recently swapped the rice, chicken, and veggies I usually prepped for workday lunches for just veggies and chicken. That’s worked really well for me.
But there’s only so far you can push things before, I fear, what I’ll do instead is *encourage* my binge eating by not eating enough during the week, and I can’t do that. I’ve got to find something flexible that works not just *now*, but in the long term. Because I’m working toward a place I want to be with everything in my life – and that includes this body, me, my appetite, my strength. I’ve spent too long giving up my body while pursuing academic interests, or giving up the academics for my body, and I want that balance. I want that confidence.
Like everything else I push myself to do, this isn’t easy either. A part of my deep sense of loathing does have to do with the fact that I feel that this is something I’ve done to myself. I spent a good bit of time hating myself, and I manifested that hate by showing it in what I’d do to my body. It was unfair of me to do to myself, and I mourn my foolish adolescent decision to punish myself and those around me by heaping it all into my health and appearance. It was stupid, and ultimately, not successful. The only person it actually hurt was me.
And at the same time I realize my fight is far, far, more difficult than that, because I have a grandfather who ate himself to death, an aunt who just had gastric bypass surgery, and my dad’s scheduled for the same thing next month.
I know the battle I’m fighting. I know that, like depression, like self-confidence, like strength, it’s a battle that’s not won, but on-going, and that its origin is as complex as any war, a mix of genetics and environment and past experience.
I don’t have any illusions about it. I also realize it’s an intensely personal, somewhat trivial battle, because in the grand scheme of the world, one woman who spends her day *not* consumed by self-loathing because of what she desires isn’t really all that important.
In some way, you’re convinced that what you say and do doesn’t change the world, but I suppose you hope that in some small, secret way… Because if you don’t know yourself, if you can’t overcome your own small, secret battles, how do you change the world? How do you go out there and say, “Listen up, fuckers, and let me tell you how it’s done”?
Where’s your jumping-off point? Where does that confidence of self come from?
I think it comes from these battles, however stupid and self-absorbed. If I can win the war with myself, I can take on anybody.
I’m my own worst enemy.