Tuesday, 9 June 2009

getting to know you...

The process of getting to know your body doesn't happen all at once. Actually, if you're me, it doesn't even happen gradually. It happens in a series of bunny hops, of moments when you say to yourself, "oh, I can't believe I didn't notice that before..."

I've been in definite ED recovery for, oh, seven or eight months now. It seems like longer. I've lost weight, though not deliberately. I'm eating reasonably normally, and fairly well. I haven't binged in a long time, and I've pinpointed the one thing that still seems to trigger me.

But truthfully, my body is still a mystery to me, just as it always has been. It's just a mystery I feel much better about – a mystery I've learned not to loathe. I wouldn't say I'm all the way to love yet, but I'm definitely at acceptance.

I've also been diagnosed with PCOS in that time, and started taking metformin, which has worked miracles. I'm having a normal menstrual cycle for the first time in years. I'm getting PMS (which I've never had) and I'm pretty sure I'm ovulating, all of which is good.

And today I discovered (or, more to the point, woke up to the fact) that eating white bread at lunchtime makes me feel like shit: exhausted, headachy, generally grouchy, and desperate for a nap.

Now, understand, I don't approve of diets on principle, but I don't think that's the same thing as trying to eat to how your body is feeling. There's nothing morally wrong with white bread, and if I want to eat it, I'll eat it. But I think it's clear that I need to start paying attention to the physical results of particular foods. I've had the whole low GI thing in my head since the PCOS diagnosis, and I've been semi-following it in a relaxed sort of way. But I never really twigged to the fact that, actually, what I eat makes a difference to how I feel.

I know that sounds ridiculous. But I've been a compulsive binge eater for more than two decades – food has made me feel desperate and crazy and obsessive and miserable and angry and all kinds of other things, but I've never really noticed how it made my body feel. I've been so disassociated from my body for so long that I've never known how it feels, especially in relation to food. I binge ate because it temporarily made my emotions feel better (well, till I started excoriating myself for the eating) – I tuned out the effects on my body. Oh, I'll pick it up if I'm in pain or sick or something, and I'm not good at suffering that in silence either, but I'm not at all attuned to how environmental factors make me feel, unless they're causing me really obvious pain or discomfort.

Certainly, I never noticed before that eating a white baguette at lunchtime is a bad idea – not because it's wrong or bad, just because I feel like crap afterwards. And that might not matter so much if I had it at dinnertime, or on the weekend, but it matters when I'm at work. So this is something I'm going to try to explore over the next few months: How Things Make Me Feel. How particular food makes me feel, how exercise makes me feel, how sleep makes me feel, how the absence of any of the above makes me feel.

It's a weird sensation to discover that your body has been sending you messages all the time, but you've been lalala-ing with your head in the clouds and never noticed it.

Sorry, body.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

fat girl in tight clothes

I had a weird moment the other day. I was walking down the street, and I saw a plump young woman coming towards me wearing a very tight and low-cut t-shirt and leggings, and I thought "wow, she looks very luscious and confident".

And then I thought, "shit, I just looked a fat woman in tight clothing in a positive way."

And then I thought, "I would never have done that a year ago."

And I realised, the reason that I was able to see this young woman's beauty, despite the fact that she clearly didn't meet modern social standards of beauty, and despite the fact that she was dressed in a way that a year or so ago I would've thought was just "unnecessary" for someone with her body type, was that I've finally, finally stopped looking at fat people in a judgemental way.

As people reading this blog will know, I've done an enormous amount of work over the past year or so in getting on top of my eating disorder, and that, I am pleased to say, has been very successful. I'm so in recovery that recently existential and work stress has resulted in me being less interested in food, not more. The only thing that still seems to be an issue is conflict with my mother, and I'm in a place where I feel I'll get on top of that too.

But all that work has been very much inward directed. I've focused very much on trying to see my fatness, if not positively, at least neutrally, and it's working. I don't criticise my looks any more. I've even been out without make up on, which isn't something I've done since I was fifteen. I'm much more relaxed in my body, and unconcerned about what other people may think of it. (Weirdly, because one of the results of stopping binge eating has been that I've lost weight, my skin has lost some of its elasticity, and if I sit the wrong way, I get kind of soft wrinkles on my boobs, and yet I am able to look at them and go "eh", and then touch them and go "ooh, soft".)

This would not have been possible a year ago.

And now, it seems that the internal has turned outwards, and now I can look at other fat people without judging them. I'm ashamed to admit it, really, but I've been absolutely horrible about it in the past. They (whoever they are) do say you hate most in other people what you hate most in yourself, and so when I hated my own fat, I would walk around hating other people's too, especially when they apparently felt no shame in flaunting it.

It was liberating, actually. So fat girl in the tight clothes, I salute you. You were beautiful and should be proud of yourself.

Thursday, 2 April 2009


If recovery were a hill, and I had climbed to its pinnacle by the end of last year, I've managed, in the past month, to tumble halfway back down it again. This is annoying.

I'm not all the way back to the bottom, but I've still got to climb back up to the summit.

It's like this: my mother visited. Unfortunately, that's really about all it's like. I've had work-related depression and anxiety since early in the year, but that didn't trigger my eating problems at all. No, I was doing just fine till my mother got here, and then suddenly, food ceased to be fuel or pleasure and restarted being a great smothering need which both comforted me and suffocated all the annoyance and frustration I so often feel with my mother.

My mother is actually a very lovely woman – which is part of the problem. She is a very nice, very helpful person whose feelings are very easily bruised, and in my family there is a strong "do not hurt Mum's feelings" culture, which I had partly forgotten about because I've been living on the other side of the world for eight and a half years. And because I've learned in that time to be a bit more of a hardnosed bitch, and also to forget what my mother is actually like, I wasn't as sensitive to her vulnerabilities as she expected me to be. And then, of course, there was a certain amount of drama. And I, of course, apologised because that's the game we play.

The problem is, while I was no doubt a little short with her, there's just no space in this scenario for her to believe herself wrong, or even difficult, in her behaviour. I tried to express some of my frustrations and got a list of reasons why I was completely wrong about them, how she wasn't doing anything I said she was, and how I should be kinder. She might even have been right about that.

Regardless, though, of whether she's right or I'm right or both of us are wrong, I couldn't yell at her, I couldn't tell her that she was annoying me, and, in order to keep the peace for all four people present (my husband and sister were there too), I just had to shut up.

Whereupon I started to eat up, more than I have for months, more than I needed, in secret. I didn't go on an actual binge as such – it wasn't possible, because I was around people constantly for a couple of weeks – but I certainly found the time and the food to stuff down all that resentment and irritation. And the habits have re-emerged: buying too much at lunch time because I just really want to eat a lot, sneaking extra biscuits into my drawer, stocking up on secret chocolate, eating all afternoon, all the things I was so proud of myself for avoiding so neatly during my work-related depression and anxiety.

So clearly this isn't completely resolved yet. But I'm damned if I know how to deal with it. I can certainly start doing again all the things I did last year, and that would probably get me back on top of the eating for now, while my mother is thousands of miles away.

But that isn't really enough. My mother, bless her, isn't going to vanish from my life any time soon. She's also not going to change her whole personality at the age of sixty just because I relapse when she's around, even if she knew about that, and even if she could accept it had anything to do with her, which she probably wouldn't. Somehow I've got to find a way to circumvent this entirely so I can see her, not get annoyed with her, not say anything that upsets her, not get annoyed because she's so easily upset, not get resentful because she uses her hurt feelings like a bludgeon to get her own way, not eat because I'm resentful. (You can see how well I'm circumventing it at present.)

I do love my mother very much, underneath the current annoyance. She's a good person and a loving mother, and I've got to find a way to be around her without triggering the hideous lumbering beast that is my compulsive eating. I'm just not quite sure how to do that - how to find a way to deal with the feelings that there isn't room to express without just eating them.

Mind you, this probably goes back to the same old thing I've been drumming on about for months, in various ways - there always has to be space inside ME to deal with them, regardless of whether it can be expressed outside myself or not, because if there isn't, it'll come back to bite me on the ass. Or to make me bite something else on the ass. It seems so often to be the permission to allow things to be that makes them bearable.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

"you've lost weight..." awkwardness

So, I've lost weight. A not insignificant amount of weight. I didn't do it on purpose - posting here, I feel mildly guilty about it, though, as I said, not on purpose - and I don't care about it for its own sake. That, in itself, is a sign of recovery. I don't know exactly how much, but it's at least two stone (28lbs). I'm still fat, of course, and now I'm saggy as well. But I'm not bothered by either of those things. No, what's beginning to bother me is the compliments.

It's become noticeable, you see, and people are commenting. And I feel deeply awkward in answering them, because...Well, let's see:

(a) I feel awkward because I don't value the weight loss for its own sake - the only reason I value it at all is because it's a sign of my recovery. Well, and because now I can buy clothes in Marks & Spencer and other shops that stock up to my new size, but no further. That's quite good too. Makes shopping easier and less restricted.

(b) I feel awkward because I don't want to say "thank you" as though I think it's inherently complimentary that people are remarking on my weight loss, especially when it's not like they're just saying "You look fantastic, is something different?" They say "You've lost weight" or "have you lost weight?" or "those trousers are swimming on you", and they expect those things to be interpreted as compliments of the highest order, and I just don't feel that they are. Oh, I say thank you, because it's expected, and because I know they mean to be nice. Or, if they ask me if I've lost weight, I say, "maybe, I'm not sure". But I don't put the value on the weight loss they do, and therefore I don't see this as a compliment. It's just...an observation. I've lost weight. It's true. It doesn't equal "you're so beautiful" or "you're so clever" or "I think you're awesome". It's like saying "you cut your hair". It only becomes a compliment when they follow it up with, "you look great". But with weight loss, they assume that the observation is in itself complimentary. And so I thank them, but it makes me feel awkward.

(c) I feel awkward because people who see weight loss also ask how I did it. And I don't particularly want to announce to every casual work acquaintance who hasn't seen me for a couple of months that I've finally got into recovery from a soul-destroying eating disorder, and I have no goddamn diet tips because I didn't go on a goddamn diet. AWKWARD.

(d) I feel awkward because I don't enjoy this kind of conversation. It makes me self-conscious, and I don't want to be self-conscious. I'm making peace with my body - other people remarking on it makes me feel like it's not just mine. This, I recognise, is my issue, not theirs.

And look, I do know that people are trying to be nice, trying to compliment me, and I've appreciated a lot that those people who know about my eating disorder AREN'T giving me "you've lost weight" compliments, even if they're aware of the weight loss.

I'm just finding it awkward.

Friday, 16 January 2009

one up side to (my) depression

I've been MIA for awhile, mostly due to ill health. I've had viruses, on and off, since November, plus I've had the PCOS diagnosis, and now I'm on antidepressants. This isn't the first time I've been here, and it's kind of not surprising, considering the amount of crap that's been going on in my life lately, most of which I'm not going to go into here.

But there's a positive side to it, and that's this: I haven't gone back to the bingeing. I haven't even wanted to. I've spent the whole of my life eating uncontrollably when unhappy, and it hasn't even occurred to me to do it this time around. And if I can face feeling as bad as I've been feeling lately without hitting the cupboard, I really think I've moved on.

It's struck me recently that on the occasions in the past when I've been clinically depressed, it has, at least in part, been triggered by the loss of a large and very destructive chunk of my life. I've been overjoyed to be rid of it, but the loss still leaves a space, and a feeling of "I don't know who I am if I'm not this".

In the past this has been related to religion. Now, I think, it's related to eating. Because, you see, all this blogging and feeling my feelings and fat acceptance and changing my neural pathways in relation to my thoughts about food and my body has been successful. I know I keep saying this, but I have to keep reminding myself of it: a year ago, almost to the day, I was sure I was living with compulsive eating for the rest of my life, that there was no way out, and that nothing would help. Now...I'm not even living with it today, or this week. I'm goddamn depressed and I still haven't gone for the food. Even the whole PCOS diet malarky (which has resulted in some not-insignificant diet changes for the sake of my hormones and my relationship with insulin) hasn't driven me back to it.

The eating disorder is a memory. I'm aware that it's not completely erased - I still refuse to participate in diet talk because I know what it can do, and I still have to make sure I don't start celebrating weight loss for its own sake (though I'm nearly there with that - I've gone down two jeans sizes and don't really care, except that it makes it easier to buy clothes) - but it isn't a living part of my day any more, even when I'm having days as bad as the ones I've been having recently.

And you know, as horrible as it was, that leaves a hole, both in my day and in my sense of who I am. I've essentially just got out of a twenty two year relationship - a destructive relationship, certainly, but a very long term one. And in the same way that I get kind of lost and confused if my husband is away for any period of time, at the moment I'm lost and confused, because who am I, if I am not eating-disordered? And I think that there's part of this depression which has been triggered by a very real grief for something that I felt defined me for the best part of my life, and now just isn't there any more.

This, by the way, is not to say that I want it back, any more than I want the religion of my youth back. I recognise these things as destructive for me, and I have no desire to go backwards. And in a lot of ways, I can recognise the depression process as positive because it means the business is done.

I do have to give some thought to who I am without it, though. It's a funny business, self-definition. All this life-changing work, every painstaking deliberate step of it, and here I am, depressed in part because I'm not sure who I am without the very thing I've worked so hard not to have.

It's good, though. I'd rather be here; even as bad as I've been feeling, I haven't been feeling it about my body. So there's an upside even to being depressed. I think it's a final goodbye.

Monday, 5 January 2009

gratitude (open letter to Shapely Prose)

Dear Kate, Fillyjonk and Sweet Machine,

I'm a fattie with a long term compulsive/binge eating disorder, and I've been reading Shapely Prose for less than a year. This time last year I was weeping on the eating disorder clinic's couch about how I couldn't cope with my eating disorder any more and couldn't cope with being fat any more and oh my God please help me or I'll die. (They didn't, for various reasons.)

Now it's a year later, only a year, and I am faced with a PCOS diagnosis and possible diabetes diagnosis and the resultant change of diet that those things may entail for best health, and, amazingly - beyond amazingly, staggeringly, astonishingly, incredibly - I'm okay. I'm emotional, sure. I'm worried, definitely. And I'm really pissed off when I go into the shops and see foods that I'm being advised to avoid to help with my insulin resistance. But I'm still okay. I'm not pissed off because I need all those crazy foods I'm being told to cut back on - I'm pissed off because it's so incredibly boring to have to worry about this.

The thing is, though, a year ago? Boredom wouldn't have even entered into this. I would've been crazy and desperate and bingeing like a maniac. Only a year ago...

At some point early last year, after the encounter with the eating disorder clinic (which didn't go very well), a friend of mine pointed me towards Shapely Prose, and it's just struck me that without her recommendation, without your blog, and without the whole FA environment (including all those awesome people who have been reading my own blog), I really doubt that I would be where I am now. Without understanding that it was okay to accept myself exactly as I was, even if I was fat, even if I was crazy, even if I was unhealthy, I would not have stopped binge eating completely.

Yes, of course, there are other factors - I recommend Stephen Cope's work a lot, and there are various other things I've been up to, and I've slogged my guts out over the past year. But I can't underplay the importance of what reading your blog has done for me.

If I hadn't found you, I wouldn't be in recovery. If I hadn't found you, I wouldn't be able to face all this low GI nonsense with relative equanimity and emotions going only from grief to boredom. If I hadn't found you...I don't even want to think about it.

So from the bottom of my heart, I thank you. Thank you for pointing out that it was okay to be fat, not just fake okay, but really, really okay. Thank you for pointing out all the flaws in the "OMG FATZ IS BAD" illogic and bad science. Thank you for giving me a language to talk to myself about this in which was positive and logical, because without you, I doubt I would have made it, and I'd be facing the illnesses I'm facing without the tools and relative equanimity I now have.

I know the three of you get a lot of shit for all kinds of reasons, but I wanted to put it out there that what you do here is of immense value. For me, it has been life-changing.

Thank you all three so much. Seriously. Thank you.


Wednesday, 31 December 2008


I've been away from the blog for, oh, nearly a couple of months now. It wasn't deliberate, it was just that things were going so well that I didn't have much to say. Well, they still are. I haven't had a binge since September. I haven't even thought about a binge since September, except when saying things like "I haven't had a binge since September". Oh, I ate too much over Christmas, but it was just because there was too much there, and there was no compulsion. I'm still working on the plate-cleaning-even-though-full issue, but it's getting smaller.

I'm doing really, really well. I've even lost a little weight, for whatever that's worth.

Which is, of course, when the boom falls.

This morning I went to the doctor and was advised that (a) I have very high cholesterol, (b) I have Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome, and (c) my fasting blood glucose test was so high that it had to be retested because it was reading diabetic. So I may, in fact, BE diabetic. If the blood I gave this morning comes back all glucose-y, then no doubt I'll have to do whatever other tests they have, but diabetes is a definite possibility.

And I just.

What the hell?

The truth is, all this stuff (well, not the PCOS) runs in my family. My father is diabetic. My sister is a Type I diabetic. I should probably have expected this, sooner or later.

The truth is, the PCOS is probably what prompted my last major weight gain back in 2004, when I gained about sixty pounds, but hardly noticed it because I was used to gaining weight and blaming myself. This is also when my menstrual cycle went horribly wrong – the doctor says my androgen levels are so high that I couldn't even be ovulating at the moment.

The truth is, I'm suddenly terrified, and I'm struggling with the fact that I cannot, I cannot undo all the good work I've done this year, and yet I'm now in a situation in which not modifying my diet is pretty much out of the question, especially if I want to normalise my body enough to conceive next year.

So the big question for 2009 is going to be this: how do I maintain my hard-won sanity and yet improve my physical health in specifically dietary ways?

Happy New Year...

Thursday, 6 November 2008

for better, for worse...

Here are some ways you can tell I'm getting better:

1. The desire to binge is largely gone. Until the other tonight, I hadn't thought about it in weeks. WEEKS. That was really good. But it's not completely gone, and it will come back if I don't stay vigilant about refusing conversations with myself about how I could lose weight.

2. I'm doing non-incidental exercise regularly for the first time in years. It may be "just" yoga, but it's making a difference. I'm more flexible already, and I want to sit and lie in entirely different ways because suddenly those ways are no longer comfortable.

3. I'm actually feeling hunger on a regular basis because I'm usually not eating until I get hungry, rather than just because now is the time for food.

4. The incidence of me snacking in the afternoon because of boredom has dropped significantly.

5. I no longer cringe at calling myself or being called "fat". I did cringe when my husband described himself as "grossly overweight" after a visit to the doctor (don't know if that was their word or his own), but I think that's because "grossly" implies a world of disapproval and loathing which I find really distasteful.

Here are some ways you can tell I'm still getting better:

1. Over the past few days, the diet talk has been sneaking into my brain again, mostly around, "my friend is getting married in a bit under a year, if I do X, Y and Z, I bet I could be a size 20 by then...". The result? Had a bit of an unreasonable incursion into the ice cream the other night. And it wasn't the normal "I just want a little more ice cream" kind. Alas, I know the difference only too well. I think the problem is that I've been doing so well that I started to think that having conversations with myself about how "I could be looking in X time if I would only do Y" wouldn't be destructive. I was wrong. It is. There's not a genuine difference between me being able to look at size 20 bodies and think "I want one of those because mine isn't good enough as it is" and between doing the same thing with a size 6 body. It's not okay for me to idealise a smaller body, even if that smaller body doesn't seem as unrealistic as a size 6. And it's not okay because as far as I've come - and I have - I am still recovering from an eating disorder, and "recovering" doesn't mean "cured". Recovering means that when you start having conversations with yourself about how doing X, Y and Z will make you even a little thinner, it isn't very long before you've eaten all the ice cream and feel terrible because you've eaten all the ice cream and are still fat.

And there's the other aspect, which is that when I start thinking like this, I stop exercising again. I'm well aware that there's more than a little Mary Quite Contrary going on here, but that's the way it works for me. If I think I'm exercising to lose weight, I stop doing it. And I am really proud of how far I've come in terms of moving my body. The last thing I want is to lose that ground because I've taken it for granted.

2. I still have to consciously stop myself mid-thought about losing weight in any capacity whether it's because I'm getting more exercise or eating in a less crazy way or what. I still have to say "stop" and force myself to turn around. It's working, I think - hence the reduction in binge eating - but the neural pathways are still there and still run automatically if I'm not careful.

3. I haven't yet learned to deal with feeling full. Some months ago, I saw a post in which a fat activist was decrying Paul McKenna's "I Can Make You Thin". In my newbie innocence, I slightly defended as being pretty close to intuitive eating (which, actually, it is in a lot of ways, though there's a fundamental assumption that thinner is inherently better which isn't good, and McKenna never clarifies that people may just find that their natural weight is higher than they think it should be). She wasn't terribly impressed with the defence because it included the notion of eating consciously, and she considered that an unreasonable expectation. I get what she was saying. Maybe it is, if the "full" sign pops up in your head in a normal way.

But you see, I've never really learned to stop eating. I stop when there's nothing left. And the consciousness is important because if I'm reading or watching TV or whatever, I'm not paying attention to what my body is saying, and I breeze past it. Not to mention, reading or watching TV or whatever is how I have always, always disguised binges - from myself, I mean, not from others. I don't binge in company, generally speaking. But paying close attention to other things has always meant that I haven't had to pay attention to the actual process of eating. And while I've come a very long way in relation to binge eating, I still treat my meals with this same attitude, that they're something to hide, to just tuck out of the way and pretend didn't happen.

Turning off all the distractions and paying attention to my food and what my body is saying in response to it...well, I'm not there yet, but I think this part is going to be as important as breaking the connection between exercise and weight loss. It is hard.

4. I will still eat food at any time if it's there. See point 3. I am no longer going to look for food as a distraction (mostly), but that won't stop me from eating whatever is in my drawer.

5. I have stopped worrying so much about being fat (well, had, till I let the "I could be X by Y" thing get off the ground again), but I have instead started to worry about how I'm going to look if, with all this progress and exercise, I lose weight and my stomach deflates like a beach ball.

So there we go. This is a hard process, and I have to keep working at it constantly. And then I have to keep reminding myself that I'm working at it constantly so that I don't just start giving myself a hard time because I'm fat or because I'm failing.

Of course, the biggest problem at times is that I don't know if I'm going to have to keep working at it constantly for the rest of my life. And I get tired.

Monday, 20 October 2008

this post will whittle your waist

I have for some time been endeavouring to get myself back into the habit of doing yoga regularly. I say "back into the habit", but it's been more than ten years since I did it regularly, and even then, it was only twice a week. I did love it then, though. Unfortunately, the kind of yoga, Oki Yoga, I loved seems to be practised only in Japan and Australia, and therefore I can't find a class for it in the UK.

But I have a good DVD in the form of Megan Garcia's Just My Size Yoga, and a good book, to wit, Barbara Currie's Look 15 Years Younger. I am trying to get into doing the first fifteen minute workout in the Currie book every day, mostly because I'm terribly stiff and my back hurts.

Now, overall, I'm making great strides here. I am learning how to concentrate on how I'm feeling while I'm in the posture, and not spend the whole fifteen minutes wishing it was over (which is my usual exercise MO), and the postures in the workout are great for me.

You can tell there's a but coming, can't you?

It's this: Barbara Currie puts a blurb on every single goddamn posture saying how it will make you thinner. It will "whittle your waist", "tone your midriff", "firm those jiggly arms", "tighten your thighs", "smooth out double chins" and "get rid of those saddle bags". Apparently doing fifteen minutes of yoga a day is going to turn me into a supermodel. Well, I suppose it's to be expected in a book called Look 15 Years Younger.

This is a problem for me. I am ignoring it as best I can, because I like everything else about the workout, but it's irritating me. A lot.

Exercise and I have never been good buddies. I am basically a great slow-moving coelacanth*. I do not like to move quickly, I do not like to sweat, I do not like discomfort, and I do not like to be out of breath. It's more than that, though. It's always been a terrible combination of wanting very badly for things to "work", i.e. "make me lose weight", and stopping doing them very quickly if they don't work, and stopping just as quickly if they do. I have had programmes that actually did start to show the kind of results I was after at the time, and I still didn't keep doing them.

But I've been getting better, I really have, and you can tell because I've actually got some motivation to exercise that has nothing to do with what will "work" in terms of losing weight or not. But it's the very absence of that obsession with what will "work" that makes it actually possible for me to work out. Put another way, it simply does not work for me to exercise with the goal of becoming thinner. Ever. That has the exact same outcome as trying to limit what I eat with the goal of becoming thinner: insanity. But I can just about exercise to make my back feel better, or to learn greater connection with the emotions my body is storing. I can do it on what is, essentially, neutral territory. Step outside that zone, however, and you start triggering all kinds of wackiness, and the end result is that I stop exercising. And we don't want that, because (a) exercise is good for you, (b) I'm in pain, and (c) I want to be a healthier person, and a significant way to do that is getting more exercise. And you know, I'm not getting any younger, and all the things that are bothering me physically now are pretty likely to get worse, not better, as I get older.

So when I come across these paragraphs in this otherwise very useful book (I'm completely ignoring the diet section, but I really do like the workouts) which tell me how thin doing yoga is going to make me, it's weirdly demotivating. It's also total bullshit, because yoga may make you more flexible, stronger and probably more toned, but in my experience, fifteen minutes of stretching is not going to make you thinner. Hopefully, it'll make my spine fifteen years younger, but it's hardly going to turn me into an eighteen year old. And it shouldn't. I'm thirty three. That should be okay with me. And I'm fat, and I have to learn to be completely okay with that, because it's the only way I can stay sane.

And Jesus Christ, if YOGA can't be an exercise done mainly because of how it affects your feelings and your health, rather than your damn appearance, what can? It's yoga. It's not supposed to be about freaking beauty, for God's sake. Of any exercise, it's supposed to be a whole person experience, not just for whittling your waist or whatever, but for uniting your mind, body and spirit, and making your body function as best it can until you're an old, old lady with dyed purple hair and a face which is a mass of wrinkles, and who doesn't give a shit about how she looks but is really, really bendy. And dude, my mind gets really distracted by the notion that my experience of uniting said mind, body and spirit is supposed to be about making me thinner. That doesn't unite anything, except my neuroses.

I vastly prefer the attitude of Just My Size Yoga, wherein Megan Garcia has a tummy and arms and thighs and all those things Barbara Currie wants me to believe will magically melt away with her workouts, and is doing the yoga because it makes her feel good. But I'm more likely to do fifteen minutes a day than thirty, and, as I keep saying, I like the workouts in the book. I can actually feel them helping my back and my feet.

I am seriously considering taking the Tipp-Ex to the book. I can't have Barbara Currie's sales techniques getting in the way of me actually improving my life, and since I really like the workout I've been doing, I don't want to have to give that up because the person who wrote it thinks that whittling one's waist is more important than easing one's spine. I don't want this to be yet another thing that I quit because it's failing to perform magic. I don't want to be thinking about magic. I just want to have that goddamn fifteen minutes of connecting with my body. That's a miracle in itself.

*This isn't self-deprecation, it's just a quote from a play (Away, by Michael Gow) that entertains me every time I say it, so I keep saying it at inopportune moments.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

eating is not moral deviance

I have of late been talking to my sister about the question of fat acceptance - not in so many words, but we've had quite a long email discussion about privilege and fat stereotypes and all that kind of thing. And I'm fascinated to discover that she has, completely independently of me and my own experiences, and without any body image issues of her own, come to the conclusion that my mother has some issues with body image:

Mum has a terrible problem with acceptance of different body types. What’s interesting is that for a not particularly material person, she places a terrible emphasis on appearance. Dad’s, yours, mine, her own. She has this terrible habit of gushing over the way I look. Don’t get me wrong, I like to look good but I never, never want to be SEEN for what I look like, if that makes sense. My face and body is not ME – not who I am. And you’re right, the nagging has the exact opposite effect than the one she wants. Dad, I think, has a binge/secret eating habit as well, actually – so you’re not alone with having had that impulse. I will definitely mention that statistic [note: I told her about the 95-98% failure rate for diets] next it comes up. It really bothers me actually, as she honestly has no idea how to feed a diabetic anyway and HE rebels against her and eats even worse things. Plus, it’s not doing anyone any good. It makes her mad and him withdrawn and ashamed. Not healthy.

Then this morning, I had a conversation with my mother, and in amongst all the other things we talked about, she started going on about how she and Dad had eaten a lot at some event, so now they were trying to lose some extra pounds (she thinks all my dad's pounds are extra, but hey) so they could go to Fiji and eat. But she's been told that in Fiji, they give you lots of salads and things, so you can eat a lot and still be "good".

I told her I couldn't talk to her about dieting or the supposed morality of food, for my own peace of mind, and she was a bit non-plussed.

"I was just telling you what was going on for me," she said.

And that's fair enough, I suppose. But God, I just do not want to have conversations with anyone, however much I care about them, in which eating features as morally deviant, or something you need to suffer for doing. I can't do it. I hate it. I hate the smugness in my mother's voice when she talks like this, because she has no freaking clue how hard it is for me or, apparently, my father, to treat food in a healthy way. I hate how she can't even grasp what I'm trying to say to her when I say that I can't talk about food in moral terms. I hate that she thinks that talking about HER weight losing diet is okay with me, even though we can't talk about mine. I hate that she thinks that her eating disordered daughter should be supporting her in "losing a few pounds" because, all eating disorders to the contrary, losing weight is a fundamental moral good.

I mean, Jesus H. Christ, lady, the result of your attitudes was that you fucked up my relationship with food, possibly for life. What am I supposed to say? "That's fantastic, you've achieved the only thing in life that matters"? This is a harsh reaction, I know, and it wasn't one that I shared with my mother. But it's so frustrating, when I see myself coming such a distance, to realise that, despite knowing what her attitudes have cost me, she is still in exactly the same place mentally that she was twenty two years ago on the subject of "excess" weight. If she suddenly found herself in charge of a slightly chubby eleven year old, she would probably take exactly the same path of trying to make her thinner. I wish she could just enjoy her food in Fiji without needing to lose a few compensatory pounds beforehand, and without justifying the kind of food that is available in Fiji. I wish she didn't seem to feel that enjoying eating a lot could only be morally acceptable if she made herself (and her husband) suffer beforehand.

I suppose, though, this is another sign of recovery. I'm genuinely feeling increasingly detached from the goal of weight loss. Oh, I'm keener than ever on being healthy - not least because we have decided that we'll start trying for a baby in a year or two and I want to make sure I'm up to that physically - but the message that exercise is good for its own sake, and that it's okay to do a bunch of work for your health and never lose a pound is finally starting to sink in so that I believe it. And that has taken some doing, let me tell you.

There is still, I'll admit, a strong temptation to think about my efforts to be healthier as a way to fool myself into thinking that I'm just trying to be healthy, but SECRETLY I'll be trying to lose weight. I have the most tortuous, circuitous mind in the world. But I'm cutting that off at the pass more often, and I think I'm finally starting to understand it emotionally as well as intellectually.

I just wish my mother was on the same page.