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.