Obviously I need to make a new graphic, but this works perfectly for right now. I’m writing about difficult topics today, so I apologize if the writing and transitions are not very smooth. This is one of those hit *publish* before you over think it posts.
Back in January I had a renewed determination to succeed at Weight Watchers eating healthy whole foods. I cleaned out my pantry. I made a section of *good* food with less than 5 ingredients, I made a list of healthy snacks, I scheduled micromeals. I also nearly ended my marriage, gained 15 pounds, and started making myself throw-up. Holy shitballs, Batman, what the hell was I doing? To understand exactly what was going on in my head I had to think way back to 2003 when I was at Ridgeview in Smyrna, Georgia.
I was placed at Ridgeview after a suicide attempt due to a horrible mix of a misdiagnosis of mild depression with a bad prescription when in actuality I had PTSD. I was placed on the women’s floor given my PTSD and fear of men. Most of the women on the floor were suffering from eating disorders. I found myself surrounded by 80 pound skeletons who accepted my 356 pound self because they all viewed themselves as fat. I was diagnosed with a Binge Eating Disorder. At first I balked at that diagnosis. Plenty of people are overweight and yet not everyone has an eating disorder. Then I started noticing the similarities. Ritualized eating, secret eating, eating as punishment and as an award, shame… it fit. The nutritionist and psychiatrist both told me the same thing: eat when you’re hungry, quit when you’re full, go for a walk each day. I kept a log of what I ate everyday. NOT THE AMOUNT OF FOOD. Just the time of day, my feelings, and the food items. On “challenge days” I would sit in a room of tiny women and cry with them. The anorexic women had to eat one bite of cake and sit with the anxiety of eating, the bulimic women had to eat half a piece of cake and sit with the anxiety of not being able to throw-up, and I had to eat half a piece of cake and sit with the anxiety of not cramming all the cake down my throat as quickly as possible. On that floor numbers and food talk were banned. We didn’t know how much we weighed, we couldn’t discuss calories or food amounts, we couldn’t compare or talk about our bodies. My care team cautioned me that Binge Eating Disorders could very easily swing to Bulimia. Although it took a few years to stabilize my mental health, I left Ridgeview with coping skills to handle my eating disorder. For many years I did great. I didn’t weigh myself. I ate when I was hungry. I quit when I was full. I enjoyed food, but not in excess. I gradually got off medication and over the next four years (2003 to 2007) I lost weight at maybe a rate of 20 pounds a year. I only weighed at my doctor’s appointments and I was getting healthy. Zero dieting was involved; it was simply a healthy and enjoyable relationship with food.
I’ve gained weight since I got married and for a while it was for typical reasons. Dating and early marriage we went out and snacked a lot. I baked a fair bit. Then pregnancy, nursing, sleep loss, and the slow creep of hating myself. I started that awful cycle of bingeing, realizing I was *bad*, and then trying my best to restrict eating. I would “mess up” and then decide to go crazy and eat all the food because THE NEXT DAY I would “behave.” My weight began to creep up and with every pound I hated myself more. I tried My Fitness Pal and succeeded for a few months. I tried Weight Watchers and that was a disaster. I think Weight Watchers is a great program in theory, but the meetings I went to were exercises in Disordered Eating Talk. If you spend the bulk of the meeting discussing food with obsession and how little food you can eat then you have an eating disorder. Our meeting leader glowingly told a tale about a woman at a Superbowl party who wanted chicken wings so bad. She spent the entire evening thinking of chicken wings and was so *good* that she only had two. If you are obsessing about food to the point you don’t enjoy your social activity and then at the end of the night you can only talk about two chicken wings then you need a therapist and a doctor, not a pat on the back.
Things really began to go bad for me back in August. We had to move out of our home into an apartment very quickly. I was working and only taking minimal time off. Sam was working, going to school, and helping with the move. Having to move that quickly and unexpectedly really set us back financially. Sam and I fought more due to typical reasons: money, stress, a lack of time alone. Christmas. Car repairs. Typical stuff. I, however, began eating more. Orders of fries, donuts, I stared getting pastries with my coffee, I ate seconds and thirds at dinner. I was ashamed. I ate a lot in secret and quickly. I can down food faster than you realize it is on my plate. I gained more weight and then I completely cut myself off from Sam. I didn’t want him to touch me, I would cry if he looked at me, I would be upset if he came in the room while I was changing. At one point I even suggested he find a girlfriend and just stay with me to raise the kids. We talked about divorce. My poor husband. He had no idea what was wrong with me. He just promised that we would both take divorce off the table and try very hard to work together to figure out what’s wrong. My eating got worse. I gained more. I started spending time in the bathroom after meals trying to quietly throw-up. I was also really bitchy to Sam. Poor Sam was having no sex, his wife is crying at him for no reason and flipping out, and trying to talk him into cheating. You know how he responded? He just hugged me. He loved me. He told me repeatedly that I was beautiful and a wonderful mother and a great person. He did his school work, played with the kids, and cleaned the house. Sam is my anchor. When I feel myself being sucked into that downward spiral I cling to him and he provides that stability and love and acceptance that I have craved for the past 15 years.
In January, just before my fifth wedding anniversary, I spent several hours journaling. I determined that the root of the problem in my marriage had to do with my self-loathing. I talked to Sam and we spent our anniversary date talking and talking and talking. I put everything on the table and we worked through it. I suddenly realized that Sam found me attractive. All these years when Sam has told me I’m pretty, or he liked my legs, or that he thought I was hot I completely heard him wrong. I heard, “I love you so much I can see past your deformities.” How effed up is that? What he meant was, “You’re pretty, I love your thighs, and I think you’re super hot.” Yes people, My second least favorite body part (my stomach is my least favorite) is Sam’s favorite part of my body (besides my booty). He loves big thighs. He loves my big thighs. He finds them attractive. I thought he was saying nice things to try to make me feel better. When I told him that, he nearly lost his cool with frustration. Then we just looked at each other and this dim bulb started flickering in my head that Sam thinks I’m attractive. If Sam thinks I’m attractive then golly-gee maybe I should try to like myself.
This was the exercise that started to help:
This is Tess Holliday and you’ve probably seen her in the news and on TV recently discussing her professional modeling career and the #effyourbeautystandards movement. Tess and I have nearly the same body type. When I look at her I think she is absolutely beautiful, her face AND her body. My body I hate, but I think her body is beautiful. Go figure. Sam pointed to a picture like this and explained with exasperation, “THAT IS HOW YOU LOOK TO ME!!! YOU LOOK LIKE A PLUS-SIZE PIN-UP MODEL TO ME!!!!” Ohhhhh… I get it. I still don’t see it, but I get it. There is some sort of screw-up between how I view others and view myself. Gotcha.
I had this realization when I wrote that first Food Friday post that I seriously need to work on my self-esteem. I was going to love myself, eat healthy, and lose weight. That last part was still giving me problems. As long as I am still tangling with disordered eating I won’t love myself and I won’t eat healthy. Yes, being morbidly obese has health consequences. So do eating disorders, self-harm and suicidal thoughts. I’ll pick staying 315 pounds for the rest of my life and having my marriage, my mental health, and my life.
All this to say. Fuck diets. Fuck Weight Watchers. Fuck schedules and rituals and secrets. Fuck not buying clothes, or having sex, or putting on make-up until I feel that I can fit inside some patriarchy-approved, capitalist-sponsered, pigeon-hole of a standard. Eff your beauty standards.