Grab a glass of wine. Choose your ambient music. And let’s go.
When it started.
I haven’t told this story. It seemed…personal and yet inconsequential to you readers. I’ve outed myself that I had been a bulimic, do you really need to know how it happened?
But as I think about what Healthy Weight Week is trying to accomplish–that is, to dispel the myth that dieting works or that weighing oneself is an important and meaningful endeavor–I feel it’s important to tell you how the line between dieting and eating disorder was so faint that I can hardly say whether it truly is a line or whether it exists on a spectrum with dieting leading freely and almost always into disordered eating.
We were going on a short boat cruise. It was my cousin’s birthday celebration. I was wearing a teen’s size 7 jeans that I had bought with my sister in law not long before. I felt magnificent.
Why did I feel magnificent? I felt a sense of accomplishment. I was running 6-7 miles a day no matter how I felt (yes, that’s right. I remember going for a run and then going to a class at the gym and feeling like I would faint; but, fainting and extreme exhaustion, were just the price to pay for my svelte waist, I thought). I’d run in the middle of the day before class (grad school, that is). After class, I might head to the gym if I felt I had eaten too much and then I might do light weight-lifting at home later. I had every morsel of every bite I took accounted for. I could tell you – and can still tell you- how many calories are in pretty much everything. Many people today will still tell you this proudly. When I hear the words, I feel gutted. I want to tell the person…watch that calorie counting. It will very soon determine your every move. You, like me, might become a puppet to the master puppeteer: dieting.
Anyway–the cruise. I remember the fear I felt when I could not control the food options. You mean I have to choose between eating what you’ll provide me or not eating at all? I was a vegetarian at the time and the vegetarian option was pasta with loads and loads of oil. I did the calorie calculation in my head. I remember feeling the guilt and yet the extreme pleasure of eating every.last.bite.
Then the cake options came. Not just one, but two. Chocolate cake and cheesecake.
I ate both.
I had been feeling guilty while eating the food, but after the food sat in my stomach is when the bargaining began. If I can run 12 miles tomorrow, it’ll be like it didn’t happen. But god, how many calories were really in that pasta? It’s at least 3 tablespoons of olive oil..which would be close to 400 calories + the pasta. Then the cake.
I tried to brush it off.
I enjoyed the rest of the night knowing there wasn’t anything I could do at that point.
When I got home, the guilt was unbearable. I felt that by one night of eating as I pleased, I had ruined years of a journey to better health. And, frankly, this is because I conflated skinniness with being healthy and being skinny with being good and worthy.
Could you blame me?
People were always congratulating me for the weight loss. Men I didn’t know were going gaga over my looks and fueled by my so obvious low self-esteem.
I wasn’t dumb. I could see the difference in every aspect of my life going from what society views as contemptible (that is, F-A-T) to something almost angelic (that is, S-K-I-N-N-Y). I was granted privileges. Privileges that I wanted to hold on to whether it killed me.
And it almost did.
That night, rather than go to bed knowing there was pasta and 2 cake slices sitting in my stomach, I decided to purge.
I had never purged before. Granted, I had tried once before. The first time I tried, I was so discouraged and disgusted by ever trying that I was positive I would never try again. Plus, I was unsuccessful.
But this time, I was desperate. I now had a blog where I felt I was expected to always be skinny. To gain weight would be a failure. In fact, I wanted to lose even more weight! More weight loss = more praise, more privilege and most of all–no shame or bullying. People don’t really care how you got skinny because no matter how you did it, it could never be more despicable than just being fat. To exist while fat is pretty much the worst thing you can do in this world. At least, that’s what I had been taught. (does our current fat-shaming society prove me wrong?).
I thought that this would be a one-time deal.
You see–bulimia is addictive. You get endorphins after you throw up. You feel like you wiped the slate clean; plus, you feel like you’ve somehow cheated that master puppeteer. You don’t want me to eat cake, Diet, because I’ll get fat? Well, I found a way to eat cake AND stay skinny.
And I did. At least 2-3 times a week I would throw up at least one binge. And this binging thing–that was new to me. I mean, growing up, I used to eat a lot. I would eat way past full. But an intentional binge and purge situation is much different. You go out and intentionally buy all the things you know you “shouldn’t” be eating and you keep them stashed, waiting for the opportunity to eat them as fast as you can and then throw them up. There’s little enjoyment because you’re rushing. But you still very quickly taste the cakes and cookies that are forbidden on your diet. You feel out of control and yet in control, knowing you’ll throw it up very soon. The fullness is uncomfortable, nearly dangerous. The relief from throwing up, both physically and mentally, is extreme.
I was in denial about my problem.
I even came here to tell you guys all about that very cruise. You can read it here and analyze the not-so-subtle obsession with the calories.
It was the same month a year later that I came clean with my story of bulimia.
Looking back – I wonder: was I a liar? A fraud? To come to this blog and tell you how much I exercised (which was true) and how much I ate (which was true…except I didn’t tell you what I ate and then threw up..). For it to take a year for me to admit that my obsession with being skinny and the methods I had been employing before bulimia were so unsustainable that I felt the only way out–in a dieter’s all or nothing mentality–was to resort to bulimia? That is, the working out at least 2 hours a day, keeping my calories as low as possible and fixating on everything I did or didn’t do as it pertained to whether or not I would remain skinnier or *bonus* get skinnier, was just not sustainable–not unless it was my full-time job and it wasn’t. I was in grad school. I was juggling freelance writing jobs. I had a loving boyfriend. What more did I want?
I was convinced that being skinny would always be the most important thing I could do. Or rather, I feared that not being skinny would mean I would lose it all. I would lose the courage to attend and thrive in grad school. I would lose the courage to go after jobs that scared me. I’d lose my amazing boyfriend.
Let’s face it–I wasn’t getting these feelings from out of nowhere. I was simply empathetic and perceptive.
The thing that may not be clear from this post yet is that I was never under the impression that I was dieting. I wasn’t doing Weight Watchers. I wasn’t eating only cabbage soup or only red things. I didn’t have a book that I had to refer to to stay on track. I just had calories that I would count and stay under. That’s not a diet, “it’s a lifestyle change!”
Famous last words.
As I’ve bluntly stated in my How I Gave Up Dieting post–if it has your weight as a measurement of success, don’t be fooled, it’s a diet!
Where am I now?
It’s been 2+ years that I’ve been 100% free from a purge. I’ve gone from weight-loss-obsessed to fat-activist and Health At Every Size(R) advocate. I asked myself some very hard questions: do I want to do this for my entire life? Would I rather diet for the rest of my life (or worse, be bulimic for the rest of my undoubtedly short life) than get back in tune with my body and allow my body to take whatever shape its healthy at even if that shape is FAT. Do I want to spend ALL my time obsessed with my looks or do meaningful things in and for this world? Do I want to be a mom with a daughter who learns from me what it is to hate her body?
It wasn’t as easy a decision to make as it seems. In many ways, it was easier to diet and to play into the dieting and skinny = good than to face larger issues of body politics and fat hate. But I did. I made the decision to give up the ghost of body homogenization and just allow my specific being to thrive however it existed.
If you haven’t been following my blog (and maybe even if you have), I’m sure you wonder–has she “let herself go,” is she fat now? Can you go from dieting to not-dieting without becoming fat?
In the interest of keeping this as simple as possible, I won’t spend time dissecting those questions and trying to re-frame them (to see how these questions stand up to criticism, please see my How I Gave Up Dieting post).
I’ve made it no secret that I’ve gained my physical health and the healthy body that comes with it. Do I take up more room than I did before?
What you can’t tell by looking at me is how much freedom I have to be the best and happiest me. I eat what I want when I want. I never thought I could say that, but it’s true! It’s amazing how after a while of mindful eating, you no longer feel you have to eat ALL THE THINGS when you’re alone with them.
Do I still exercise?
Often and consistently. I run, I lift weights (last milestone was benching 85lbs 3x), I zumba, I do yoga. But I do them with joy instead of with the pressure of wondering whether or not they’ll help me lose weight.
With all the time I’ve gained for not obsessing over my body, I thrive at my job, I’ve started a side business, I thrive musically, I’ve written an e-book, I’ve spoken at professional events and more. Imagine what we could all do if we stopped stunting our personal and physical and professional growth by dieting. [This is not to say you can't be successful while having an eating disorder; I do not want to further stigmatize those with eating disorders. I know that I was a highly functioning bulimic--As in grad school, hello!--and most people with eating disorders do suffer from perfectionism. My distinction is the state of mind I have now while accomplishing these things.]
Are you ready to expose dieting gimmicks for what they are? Are you ready to give up dieting and embrace yourself truly?
Nominate a diet gimmick or diet ad for Green Mountain’s Slim Chance Awards where a panel of judges, including myself, will choose THE WORST and expose them for what they are. If you nominate a diet and share your own dieting story, you can win a week-long stay at Green Mountain at Fox Run–a healthy weight retreat–in Vermont.
You have until December 11th. Go, go go! We need your nominations!
The Cranky One