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 It makes her mad and him withdrawn and ashamed.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.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008


I have a confession to make.

The first thing I thought when I saw this was not "that's an appalling load of bollocks". That was the third thought.

The first thought was: "I'll bet I'd qualify for that. I didn't realise you could get it on the NHS. I wonder if I should ask my doctor..."

The second thought was: "Jesus H. Christ, what the hell am I even thinking?"

Then we got the one about the bollocks.

But it's amazing, really, how I can be thinking about recovery consciously so much of the time these days, and yet I see something like that and my kneejerk reaction is "OMG RLY?" Really? You could fix me? You could just cut me open and mess around and I'd be thinner?

If I thought it would really be that easy, I'm ashamed to say, I'd probably do it. That's hardly fat accepting, but, as I've mentioned before, I'm not all the way there yet. Intellectually, I'm sold. Emotionally, it's still a hard slog.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

the story of me

This isn't actually the story of me, because that is long and not very exciting. This, rather, is a look at how powerful The Story Of Me is in maintaining my eating problems.

Okay, it's going to start with a bit of the story of me. Here it is: I discovered Geneen Roth over a decade ago. Until that time, I really had no awareness of myself as a person with an eating disorder. I just thought I was fat and greedy and lazy and had no self control. And then I read When Food Is Love, and I spent the whole book thinking "THIS IS THE STORY OF ME!"

And that changed a lot of things. I stopped doing diets most of the time. I still bought the books, still planned to eat less, but I gave myself permission to eat, mostly. It helped a bit, though not enough.

But since that time, The Story of Me has had a significant plotline which is "The Story Of How I Have An Eating Disorder". It's a fairly confessional storyline - I tell people about it with the air of confiding a secret, though I don't know why. It's also a story I tell to myself a lot, mostly under the subtitle of "The Story Of Why I'm So Fat".

I have other plotlines, of course: there's "The Story Of Being A Recovering Christian", "The Story Of Suffering Two Major Depressions", "The Story Of Finally Meeting Someone Who Fancies Me" (there's a subplot of this story in which it turns out a number of people fancied me, but I was too dense and too insecure to notice it), and "The Story Of How I Write Books But Never Send Them To Anyone". The Story Of Me is pretty big and complicated, and has many twists and turns, but it does tend to keep coming back to "The Story Of How I Have An Eating Disorder".

And lately, with my ways of dealing with that eating disorder changing, and the subsequent mysterious backlash, I'm wondering a bit how much really trying to recover is setting itself up opposite The Story Of Me. By which I mean, how is recovery affecting my identity? And how is my identity, my self-told story, wrestling against my recovery, because it changes the whole damn story?

I've been telling this story for a really long time, both to myself and to others. I extend it far back in time to being a barely adolescent girl with enormous breasts and a mother who didn't understand that bodies are different. I've been flinging it out ahead of myself into the future. I have an eating disorder, I have had it, I will have it...

But for how long? And what happens if my recovery goes from recovery to recovered?

Now, truth be told, I am both navel-gazer and self-sabotager extraordinaire, so I manage to combine self-awareness with total failure to let myself get anywhere on a fairly regular basis. So I wonder if part of this weirdly conscious little relapse I'm having at the moment, where, having noticed actual progress, I'm having to make double the effort to stay conscious that I was before, is to do with the fact that The Story Of Me, at least the version I've been reading, hasn't ever toyed with a chapter which explores "The Story Of How I Got Better". Or "The Story Of How I Do Not Binge Eat Any More But Am Still Fat". That's quite a scary story for a person with an eating disorder - the whole of my story of eating problems revolves around "The Story Of How I Do Not Want To Be Fat". I'm working on changing that one, but the edits are far from finished.

But yesterday, for example, my acupuncturist was suggesting that I needed to avoid certain foods to help strengthen my spleen because that is causing some pretty enormous menstrual problems. (I don't know what that all means, but it works pretty well, so who am I to argue?) And I said, yes, that sounds fine, but just so you know, restricting my eating is an issue for me, because I Have An Eating Disorder.

Now, on one level, there's nothing wrong with that - she's suggesting dietary changes, I'm pointing out that it isn't that simple for me, which it isn't, and that although I will be aware of this and do what I can, I'm not promising anything.

But at the same time, she's not suggesting dietary changes so that I lose weight. This is the Chinese medicine version of saying telling me I'm allergic to wheat or I'm diabetic. There are dietary restrictions which are necessary to a person's ongoing survival and physical comfort that might or might not result in weight loss, but for which that weight loss is a totally irrelevant side effect. And you would think, actually, that mostly avoiding cheese and sugar and eating thick vegetable soups would be a relatively small price to pay to stop having five week long periods, especially since I like vegetable soup. And it would be, except that this is "The Story Of How I Have An Eating Disorder", and in this story, our heroine is incapable of taking any action at all that might hypothetically under certain circumstances possibly lead to weight loss even if they don't start out being for that purpose without eating everything in town. So she doesn't do that, and that leads to a certain level of control, and that's fine. (Sort of. This is the same story that led to me stopping doing an exercise activity which was definitely changing the amount of energy I had because I was also noticing a little weight loss. This is a powerfully confusing and contradictory story.)

But it's ignoring "The Story Of How I Have Menstrual Problems", and the advice of someone who has treated me for a number of things over a long period of time and knows pretty well what she's talking about. But part of my own story is that I hear "less dairy and sweets", and I don't think "normal menstrual cycle and more energy". I think "Jesus H Christ, what if I lose weight?" and then I freak out because that is both too wonderful (according to "The Story Of How I Don't Want To Be Fat") and too terrifying to be believed in.

I really am totally fucking bugnuts, aren't I?

I think I need to start working on a different story, really. Maybe it's called "The Story Of How I Used To Have An Eating Disorder". Or maybe it doesn't mention the eating disorder at all. Maybe it's "The Story Of How I Am Healthy And Don't Overdo The Dairy Products Because They Cause Problems".

As always in this blog, I don't have any great answers. I'm just realising that my recovery isn't just going to be about consciousness (though that's great) or feelings (though they're great too). It's not just going to be about having no limits, or about managing things. It's going to involve a change of identity as well, and a new story to tell myself and others about who I am. In the same way that going from from having a constant internal struggle with my religious beliefs to not believing any of those things completely changed my life, my view of myself and the view of the world, the transition from the eating-disordered story to the recovered story is, I think, going to shake things up a lot.

Occasionally, I really just think all this psychological stuff is just waaaaay too much hard work. But I am hopeful that this new story is going to be a kickass good one.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

anatomy of a conscious binge

Forgive me, folks, for I have backslidden. Backslid?

Except I haven't, really, because this is different.

For some reason, today as I was walking home from work, I felt the strong desire to stock up, go home and eat till I puked. This is the sneakiness of the beast. I'm doing all well and happy, lalala, and boom! I wish to binge.

So I went looking for whatever feeling it was I was trying to displace with food.

Nothing there, apparently. That's the weirdness. I'm not upset, I'm fairly happy right now – I don't want to die rather than go to work, our court case is finished, things are quite good. So why the need (and I say "need" deliberately) for the binge?

So I kept looking, and found only the monstrous dark shape of the binge urge itself, and that kept running off.

I chased. Finally, I collared it, and it swung around and turned out to be less of a dark monster and more of a teenage girl in a hoodie. (I know, this is all getting a bit surreal, just go with me.)

"What's going on?" I said. "Why are you bothering me? I was doing so well."

She pulled some of those faces teenagers pull when they're being asked how their day was, and finally came out with something along the lines of "it's just time, you're due."

Now, part of my entire plan at the moment is that I don't try to force myself not to binge if I really want to, because that results in worse bingeing, so I went to the shop and bought a bunch of stuff, and pondered this question of why and how I could be "due" for a binge.

Prior to today (which we'll get back to in a minute), I haven't had a binge in a couple of weeks. That is pretty amazing going. I've usually not even thought about it, and that really is amazing going. So what is this sudden need that comes from nowhere and nothingness and just says, it's time? Am I that regulated by bingeing? Is this just some kind of maintenance strategy? I need to binge just because I haven't for awhile? Seriously? What the hell??

So anyway, I stocked up. I decided that I could eat as much as I wanted, but I had to pay attention to it while I was doing it, because bingeing and distraction are like peas in a pod for me – you can only have the former wrapped up nicely inside the latter. I had some beef jerky. It was okay, but didn't taste that great, certainly not as good as it tasted in my head. I had a Turkish Delight, which has long been one of my favourite treats, and that was okay, but didn't taste quite right either. And all the time, the hoodie-wearing teenage altar ego of my binge kept muttering, "seriously, you need a book or something, this isn't not working for me."

She was right, it wasn't at all. But I gave it a game old try, and had some crisps. They actually were really nice, but there also seemed to be a lot of them.

And then I had three raspberry liquorice laces. Out of a whole packet, I had three. And now I have completely run out of steam. I still have a bag full of crap, and I just don't even care. I'm also very fascinated by what has just unfolded, so much so I'm not even feeling bad about having a kind of demi-binge. It was educational.

And now I'm sitting here typing this and pondering the question of why I cannot binge consciously.

The truth is, I rarely even eat consciously, but bingeing, dear God, how impossible is it to eat ridiculously large amounts of food when your mind is actually on it? Well, I don't know about you, but for me, it doesn't work. Actually, I think it's the same kind of process as sitting with my emotions. Actually sitting with my crazy sneaky teenage girl of a binge and saying "go right ahead then" resulted in her looking at me askance and sidling off, muttering "well, I didn't really want to do that anyway..."

So what is it about consciousness that changes the way things unfold? What is it about attention that does it? Why do my emotions start tapping their feet and looking at their watches when I give them my full attention? Why does my previously desperate desire to binge huff off when I don't allow myself to immerse my brain in something while I shovel food down my throat? Is it that my attention is that boring, or that all these emotions are kind of like cockroaches who want to scatter when you turn the light on them? I don't know.

I don't really understand this process. I mean, I'm pleased with it – half a binge is not so bad, especially when it ends the way this one has – but I'm confused by it at the same time. Stay tuned to see if I have any epiphanies about it.