I want to blog more, and I was mentioning to someone this morning how grateful I am for the Stitch Fix excuse, but I’ve cut back on the frequency of Fixes and it’s making me feel slack. Though of course it’s important to me that I don’t just post without having anything to say. I just wrote an email to someone struggling similar issues as I am and I thought, this sums up a lot of what’s on my mind lately, I think I want to put it out there for a larger audience (heh – two more people! whee!) and as part of my ongoing chronicle. Some of this will be redundant, but only because I don’t really have time to go back and read the last several non-review posts I’ve made on the subject, and I don’t want to wait to make an entry.
I’m still active in pursuing recovery from compulsive eating. I have decided I want as many resources as possible on my side. I’ve got therapy, meetings, private and public journaling, and some posting on an Eating Disorders forum. I’ve built accountability and made sure that what I’m dealing with is not a secret. I’ve been encouraged that some people have shared with me that they are on a similar paths. I’m no longer amazed to hear people confess that they too have issues with compulsive eating or struggles with the diet vortex. Most importantly I am learning to slough off the dead cells of this issue and get personal with my own problem.
There are two things at the heart of this beast:
1) Letting go of the illusion of control, and
The fact is our bodies are brilliant machines from the time we are born. They know what they need and they are not afraid to tell us what they need. If my body wants nutrients, it tells me to eat a salad with a lot of raw vegetables. If it wants protein, it tells me to get some meat or eggs. If it needs to move, it tells me to get off the bus and walk the rest of the way. The problem is that from the moment we are old enough to feed ourselves, we spend a tremendous amount of effort letting our brains and our egos believe they know better than our bodies. It may be that my body’s comfortable, sustainable, healthy weight is higher than what my seriously skewed perception thinks it should be. And as much as I wish it were not so, I cannot make it not so. I do not control the genetic structure of my early-to-mid-40’s body. So I really believe that letting go of the idea that I know better than my body is key to overcoming my compulsive eating. I have to undo nearly forty years of training myself to not listen to what my body wants, when it wants it. The very definition of letting go.
So if I can manage all that — and I do believe I am making some progress on that front — then I really need to be prepared to accept what remains. I’ve been off diets for almost seven months. Objectively, I know I’ve gained weight. I don’t believe I’ve been eating in a way that promotes my healthy, natural weight, though. So I don’t have enough information. I’m still obsessing on food and trying to run the show through willpower alone most of the time. Also objectively, all of my clothes still fit. All of them. Nothing doesn’t fit. Every single pair of skinny jeans — they all fit. So what does that say? I don’t know — but I suspect the meat of that observation is that my idea of a number on a scale or a number on sizing tag has very very little to do with reality, health, fitness, or happiness. My plan is to continue observing how I feel (it’s all I have, the scale is long-gone), and make small goals accordingly. Walk more. Try journaling when feeling obsessive (I have been journaling in doodle form lately). Stretch.
So that’s the core of things. When I title this post “Getting Down to It” letting go of the illusion of control and accepting myself are at the heart of it. There’s one more thing I want to talk about, though. When I gave up dieting, I gave up a huge chunk of my day-to-day foundation. I know I’ve talked before of allowing diet and exercise and Points budgeting to consume large portions of my time, and of how I allowed my daily/weekly/monthly self-worth to be defined by this fairly arbitrary set of numbers. If my weight went down, it was okay to feel good about myself. If I went over my Points budget for the week, I was a failure. I was up or I was down, but neither up nor down had meaning — all that counted was that I knew how to feel about myself.
It has been very frightening to relinquish that structure. Life feels easier when you are counting Points, logging crunches, and planning how to accommodate that birthday dinner on Friday. It feels safe and secure…right up until the moment you find yourself with your sticky fingers groping around the dusty bottom of the Golden Grahams box that was three-quarters full when you started making trip after trip into the kitchen for “just one more small handful” thirty minutes ago. It took me three years on this merry-go-round before I started questioning whether the diet was really the problem.
When I binge on something, or become obsessed with leftovers in the office kitchen just because they are there, it’s not the food I want. I use the food to ease the obsession (and the hard part is, it works, at least temporarily), but the food represents something that is not-food. Maybe that is the mother or childhood I didn’t have, or the father I never got to say goodbye to, or more than likely a combination of all of those elements of the past I can’t change. I’m still working that out, but I can’t just wait until I work that out to ditch this unhealthy behavior. Which leaves me with an existence that is not as structured as I have become accustomed to.
My day-to-day has been reduced to its core: marriage, job, theatre company — the Big Three. Supplemented by Therapy and Meetings for some additional support. That still leaves free time, which I used to fill with Working My Diet. The most frightening thing about letting go of the Diet Structure has been the fear that nothing will come along to fill the void. A few weeks ago I decided that the only choice I really had was to just go with it and see what happened.
Things did happen. I started reading again, a habit that has fallen off in recent years. I have been sitting at home without the television on more. I also found myself with a profound desire to connect with people. People I know well, people I would like to know better, people I haven’t even met yet. I don’t really know what it means in the big picture but I am enjoying this unexpected burst of social butterfly-dom. For now I’m just scheduling more time not sitting home by myself while my husband is at rehearsal. I’m talking a lot and working on listening more. I’m focusing on letting other people inspire me, which they invariably do without even knowing it. Asking questions, learning, debating, hearing their stories, their opinions, their ideas – activity that is so much more nebulous than counting calories but is immeasurably more satisfying as well. For the first time in a long time, my primary goals in life don’t have anything to do with my body, but with learning to be a better friend, a better listener, a better collaborator, and a better partner. In context, it would seem pretty silly to be worried about the size of my jeans, no?