The Truth About Lies About Food

Anorexia is a lie I tell myself that I can control my eating. I have not yet met the anorexic who doesn’t think about food ALL the time – every waking moment AND in her dreams. Food controls the restrictive eater.

Bulimia is the lie that if I throw it up, somehow I didn’t eat it – that I can eat without gaining weight, without consequences.

Compulsive eating – the lie that food solves my problems – heals my sadness, loneliness, boredom and pain. Instead, I end up so much more miserable, of course, after the eating episode.

Weight obsession is the lie that if only I am thin, I will find happiness, true love, fulfilling friendships, a fascinating career… And if thin is good, skinny is better! For me, I was never more miserable than when I was skinny. I could think of nothing but food; I was exhausted, isolated, angry and terrified – was this misery really my life?

My mind sure tells me a ton of crap (lies), so I can’t rely on it to guide my eating. Once I am ready and willing to learn (and accept) this truth, I can begin my path to recovery.

Does the Practitioner Need to be Thin?

A friend who sponsors compulsive eaters insists her sponsees lose weight and get thin. How, she asks, can they be an example that the 12 Steps work if they’re still heavy?

I’m not sure I agree. First of all, what if her sponsee is perfectly happy at her current weight and just wants to stop obsessing about food? If her relationship with food is healthy, does it matter what she weighs?

Being quite thin is difficult for me – it means starving. When i weighed 118 pounds, I would faint from hunger. For some people my height, 5’6, that’s a normal weight. But for my body, it’s way way too thin.

Being relatively thin is pretty easy for me, but my body loves to gain weight. If I don’t pay attention – even though my thinking is very healthy – my weight goes up. Do I need to watch my weight to be taken seriously as a sponsor or if I decide to become a therapist?

The truth is – I did judge when I was in the throes of anorexia and bulimia. How could I trust an overweight therapist? I automatically assumed they were miserable and didn’t know how to handle their own weights. How could they help me heal my eating disorder AND THE VERY MOST IMPORTANT PART IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD – STAY THIN.

I had one therapist who was pregnant. She worried that I’d miss her when she went on leave. I worried that she’d gained an awful lot for carrying just one child. I saw a chubby nutritionist, who kept repeating (without solicitation) that she was heavy because of some medicine she had to take.

I judged them both. But I also judged my thin therapists – one was so pretty I assumed she couldn’t understand what it was like to be me. Another seemed SO incredibly normal – what did she know about being crazy?

And so I wonder, as my weight creeps up for no particular reason – will I be less able to help those who suffer if I weigh more?

Discomfort

I have never liked being uncomfortable and firmly believed I couldn’t tolerate discomfort.

My life was all about comfort – I’d take three long bubble baths a day, buy myself anything I wanted, never clean or cook – basically, I just always wanted to feel “good”.

BUT, I was miserable. In avoiding discomfort, I got MORE uncomfortable. All the shopping put me in huge debt. Never cleaning left or taking care of my house left it a total mess. And of course, binge eating when “uncomfortable” made me the most miserable of all.

Of course there was the incredible physical discomfort of binging. After an episode, my distended and bloated stomach ached, my pants wouldn’t button, I’d feel lethargic and gross.

But the guilt, shame, remorse and self-hatred I experienced the next morning proved even worse – EXTREMELY uncomfortable..

The truth is I can actually tolerate discomfort. I’ll get through it. The world won’t end while I’m bored, lonely, anxious, sad, angry or tired. And soon the discomfort will pass. Not only will I be fine but the best part:

I won’t have to deal with the fall-out from binging!!!!! Hooray

I’ll take a little discomfort over post-binge horror any day.

Food and Control

Life seemed beyond control – nothing was going my way. The one thing, I believed, I could CONTROL was food.

Some years, with a steely will, I managed to eat tiny amounts. Other years, I tried desperately to control what I ate – starving all day, but losing the ability to restrict at night, when I’d binge until I couldn’t move. I would try to CONTROL my weight, through throwing up and taking quantities of laxatives (at which point, I couldn’t CONTROL my bowels, but that’s a different topic.)

And so, I believed, I had CONTROL over my weight and food. How wrong I was. Because what actually controlled ME was my food obsession. I thought about food ALL the time. The allusion of control proved entirely fake. My food obsession owned me, no matter what silly story (lies) I told myself.

There were a lot of lies: “I don’t actually NEED to eat at all.” “If I weigh less, I’ll be completely happy.” “Thinking about food is a fine way to spend my time.” And the biggest lie, of course, that I had any control.

Like I said, food owned me and I was willing to trade anything – friends, time with family, time at work – to sit home alone with my refrigerator. I just wished everyone would go away and leave me alone so I could binge.

Such a waste of a life. And not one I had any control over.

Working with Others

Have you heard the phrase, ‘God helps those who help themselves’? My friend always says, ‘God helps those who help others.’

I agree. For me, working with people with any kind of disordered eating offers the greatest reward I can ever imagine. When I see someone rise from the shame, self-hatred and misery of food and weight obsession, I can’t picture anything better.

The first 40 years of my life would be nothing but waste if they had no use. I was sad and lonely, depressed and angry. And ALL I did was think about my weight and food, alcohol and drugs. I didn’t find love or build a career or take care of myself financially. My (small)life revolved around my addictions. I threw away opportunity after opportunity, just so I could sit home with some substance.

They were awful decades. But because of them, I can help someone else, and then those 40 horrible, miserable years have purpose.

I actually love being uniquely qualified to help – after all, I intimately know compulsive eating, anorexia, bulimia, alcoholism and drug addition. When I meet a compulsive eater who happens to mention she gained 100 pounds when she put down heroin, I see her eyes light up when i tell her I’m a drug addict too.

I wish I had a way to help more people – in a dream world, it’s how I’d spend almost all of my time. Now there’s a goal I can be proud of!

No Need to Eat

Back in the day, I had every reason in the world why I should binge eat or binge drink. I felt so sorry for myself – like the world and it’s people were out to get me. Happily, I don’t think that way at all anymore. Today, I know myself to be quite lucky, no matter what.

When I woke up this morning, I had a text from my landlord that we didn’t have water. While driving to the store to buy some, I mused over how much it sucked not to have water, particularly when I had to dress up to go out tonight. But then I stopped myself. There are people in this world who never have running water in their homes – people who couldn’t even imagine the luxuries I take for granted. Aren’t I lucky?

Next, I headed out to the mechanic to pick up my car, only to find that the bill was HUGE. Gulp. “This sucks”, I told myself. How come my car always need such expensive work?

But then I stopped myself. There are many people in this world who don’t have jobs and couldn’t manage to pay this bill. I do have a solid job and though it won’t be all that easy, I will be able to pay the bill – and still have a roof over my head and food on the table and enough money for gas. Aren’t I lucky?

The day went on from there — yes, I need another root canal. No, the landlord has no idea when the water will be turned on again.

But one thing’s for sure, if you put all the world’s problems into a bowl, I would pray to pick mine out. I am lucky indeed.

The truth is – I have nothing to eat or drink about. I am truly blessed. This is a complete change in my thinking, brought on by the 12 Steps and telling myself the truth about my life.

Fear that Paralyzes

Fear keeps me doing what I shouldn’t be doing and keeps me from doing what I should.

I am pretty good about fear – I realize there’s nothing to be afraid of really. If I face the fear, I get through it. And I’m fine, one way or the other.

Considering the life I’ve lead and the fact that I’m in one piece and pretty happy, joyous and free, I’d say there’s nothing much left to be afraid about.

There is one fear, however, that still PARALYZES me. It’s the fear of going back to school. Since I graduated from college nearly 30 years ago, I have wanted to get a masters degree and have applied many times. I get in, but then I get too scared to attend.

Today, much of the fear of school revolves around money, of course. I’d be 56 when I graduated – who wants to be saddled with huge loans at that age?

Time scares me too. I’d have to continue working full time, while attending classes and DOING HOMEWORK. I live for down-time. I love reading and resting and wandering and daydreaming. Work plus school wouldn’t allow for that.

And perhaps that which scares me most – my past experience with school. College was a nightmare.

First of all, I didn’t want to go. I was scared beyond death. Before leaving for the University of Michigan, I went on the food binge of all binges. I was so sick and stuffed, I’m surprised I could move my body well enough to get on the plane.

That first year, I thought almost exclusively about my weigh and food. And I worried that I worried – I had no outside life. I didn’t go to parties, for fear I would eat. I didn’t go to all the great concerts my friends went to – I missed Prince at the height of his fame, because I didn’t want to leave the house and be tempted to eat!!!

Sophomore year was worse. I began to binge constantly and couldn’t stop eating. I gained 70 pounds in six months. All I did was eat. I didn’t sleep and I certainly didn’t study. Panicked, the night before papers were due, I’d pull all nighters getting prepared at the absolute last minute.

I really couldn’t sleep at all . After a full year of bingeing around the clock and chronic insomnia, I dropped out of college and moved back home to my mom’s in NJ.
From there, I dropped in and out of college four more times before finally completing my degree eight years later.

These are miserable memories. And somewhere inside, I guess this is what going to school looks like to me – panic and bingeing. It’s odd, because I don’t ever worry about bingeing these days. Ever. And I don’t live in fear about anything else – I face the fear and get rid of it.

Looks like I have more work to do!

To Gain or not to Gain

The extra weight is still here. I think some part of me, almost secretly I perhaps, expected it to drop off. I’d been the same weight for over ten years, eating pretty much the same way as I do now.

I’ve been fine, as you know, with the extra pounds, and don’t mind if they stay; however, I wasn’t expecting them to. I keep looking at the jeans I’d worn for years, waiting to fit back into them.

It’s not happening.

I have also come to realize that left to my own devices, the weight will continue to creep up – that’s what it’s been doing. And so, I now have to decide if that’s still okay.

The jury’s out – on the one hand, I really don’t want to deal with cutting back and eating less, in order to stop gaining. On the other hand, I don’t feel like gaining more weight – it starts to get uncomfortable. Ten pounds feels like quite enough physically.

I don’t have any answer yet. Stay tuned…