This is the next section of my series on how Anne Lamott’s chapter “Hunger” has changed my life. You can read the other two here.
Whenever my sister, Christa, and I talked about her wedding we’d imagined that I’d be thin by then. It was always my goal. Sadly, her wedding came at the absolute worst time. She was married that summer right after losing Jon and my church, after I’d already spent a semester slowly gaining back weight. By the time she was married in June I’d surpassed my old weight in the 240s. So there I am with my beautiful, thin sister heavier than I’ve ever been around 260lbs.
I hadn’t forgotten about Lamott’s chapter “Hunger” or the revelation I’d had that maybe I was cheating myself. But one of the problems of having fixated so much on that one conversation between Lamott and Rita is that I ignored what the rest of the chapter had to offer. Like I didn’t take much interest when Rita first told her to reach out to someone when she had a desire to binge. Nor did I pay attention to the fact that they identified the emotions that triggered this desire. Most importantly, I overlooked that Lamott had a pretty clear sense from the start of how and why she had developed her eating habits.
Me, I’d never reached out to anyone. I hadn’t figured out what triggered my overeating, my fidgety eating (think of a frequent snacker without the impulse control to stop after just one stick of string cheese, or piece of chocolate, who still eats big meals on top of snacking and that’s my problem). I hadn’t taken the time to figure out when I’d developed my eating disorder or why. Nor had I figured out what being fat meant to me.
Hard as it may be to rationalize a compulsion, it is even harder to battle it without addressing what’s underneath it. The summer and semester that I’d been listening to my body and eating better, my life was relatively stable and relatively happy. Though I was losing weight, I wasn’t even close to being thin. All that time I didn’t prepare myself for the moment when my desire to eat would become insatiable again. Nor for the moment when everything in me would want to retreat into not caring.
Losing Jon and my church were the triggers then. Throughout the entirety of the next year, my junior year of college, I didn’t even think about how I was eating or let myself care about the weight I’d gained (though I didn’t continue gaining after hitting my peak that summer). Frankly, I was dealing with enough. I’d never let myself need someone as much as Jon so losing him, especially since it ended badly, was incredibly difficult. Looking ahead to senior year, when my friends and I were all going to end up parting ways anyway, I began to instinctively withdraw. Plus, I was in the midst of a pretty intense fight with God. Losing my church was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
By summer time, due to the combined effort of my two therapists (Ryan my coworker and an actual counselor I was seeing-supposedly about my driving anxiety but we didn’t really talk about that much) plus a few kicks in the butt from God, my roommate Nichelle and my best friend Julie, I was finally feeling more normal. As I began to become healthier mentally, I also started to become healthier physically.
A benefit of having spent that year recording what I was eating is that I’d learned a lot about my eating habits. Like, when it comes to protein I can take it or leave it, getting enough daily is at times a little work. Dairy and sweets (especially cheese, baked goods and chocolate) are total weaknesses for me. I love them! I don’t really have to worry about carbs too much, as long as I don’t overdo it on baked goods. Fruits and vegetables are weak points too. I usually ate at least two servings of vegetables a day but rarely more than that and I only ate fruit about two or three times a week. I still remembered all of this. Having once learned how to listen to my body when it told me I was hungry or full, having already taught myself to think more about my choices (like, for example, saying to myself, Haven’t you already had one sweet today? Do you really need another?), I could do it again.
When I went out to Oxford, England for a summer program, between July and August, I started to. Honestly, it both was and wasn’t intentional. In Oxford it was easy to eating well, to eat even better than I ever had in the States. We had a nice kitchen in the house I was living in. Buying healthy food to make was cheaper, easier and tastier than eating out there. We walked everywhere so exercise was a given. By the time I left, I’d slimmed down to my normal weight around 240.
I don’t know if I would have kept thinning down back in the States if it wasn’t for Nichelle and Tony. Tony was a little sophomore my senior year who had joined my student organization the previous spring semester. I only vaguely remembered him from that year, but two weeks into senior year he crutched into one of the classes I was taking, sat down next to me and asked me how Oxford was.
For about a month he practically followed me around. In particular, just as he was walking out of the cafeteria he would run into me entering. Instead of just saying Hi, he’d walk with me back into the cafeteria, chatting my ear off as I made up my plate and ate. I think any woman would be a little self-conscious about an attractive guy watching her while she eats, when he himself is not eating. So imagine how much more awkward it was for me? Of course, I was basically eating spinach salads for lunch all the time (plus some sort of carb because a salad alone is NOT enough food). Since I was eating such a healthy lunch, why not eat a healthy dinner? So I kept losing weight. As I did my roommate Nichelle became my biggest cheerleader and Tony added his voice to the encouragement.
Since I was already losing weight, I decided to take more possession of the process and revisited “Hunger” so I wouldn’t repeat what had happened my sophomore year. This time around I noticed all those things I had ignored before. It kicked off the very long process of figuring out answers to all of those questions I’d left unasked.
Much like Lamott, I started with the basics. I realized that I was tempted to fidget eat when I’m alone and unoccupied. Just as she needed to call a friend, I needed to find an alternative activity. So sometimes I’d sleep off my craving. Sometimes I’d journal through it. Sometimes I’d read or force myself to do the homework I was procrastinating from. Sometimes I’d turn on music and dance in my living room. But, eventually, once Tony and I started texting all the time, my go-to solution was to text him and have him amuse me through it. To be honest, for a while, a very very long while, I sort of traded one addiction for another.
Having realized that I needed to be in dialogue with my body, I started to force myself to face myself in the mirror. Not to just glance at my reflection to make sure my hair wasn’t too wild. I had to really look at myself. One thing I realized is that there was a pretty big gap between how I thought of myself and how I looked. I mean, I knew I was fat. I knew that was how everyone else saw me. But that’s not how I saw me.
When I closed my eyes and pictured myself I did not see a fat woman, or even a chubby woman. I saw a smart, beautiful woman with deep eyes, an easy smile, wonderfully wild hair and a lovely, healthy body (okay, I didn’t put that much effort into picturing my body, mostly I imagine my outfits but I looked good in them all, no rolls to conceal). I’m comfortable with not everyone seeing this Lindsey. Illogical as it is, I think part of me feels like this is the self others only get to experience if they’ve earned it. If they’ve proven I can trust them with my best self. Forcing myself to face my reflection in the mirror forces me to confront the Lindsey everyone else sees. It reminds me that I am a body as well as a mind and a soul and a spirit. It makes me face the fact that I’m concealing that version of me even from myself.
You might have noticed that the last paragraph wasn’t all in past tense. The truth is that I still have to do this, and I still go through long stretches when I don’t. Long stretches when internal Lindsey and external Lindsey are completely out of touch with each other. I’m still not entirely comfortable with the idea that just anyone would get to see my fully beautiful self. Because the philosophers aren’t entirely wrong who posit that to see is to possess. I too fiercely protect my internal self to be comfortable with that. But I cannot escape the reality that if I never realize my best self in actuality, I can’t ever give that self to another person.
This may remind you of that quote I left you with last week from my friend who said I’m really a skinny girl who carries her security blanket with her under her skin. When she first said it, I thought it was interesting but I didn’t see how it was accurate. As time has passed, I’ve come to realize how insightful her words were. As you’ve probably noticed, I’ve got some serious trust issues. Especially in regards to men. There are many ways in which being heavy both has protected me from men, and me from abusing the power I could have over men (manipulating others can be as easy and natural to me as breathing, it seems like all my life I’ve been developing safeguards to keep me from giving into this worst self and completely using people).
Through the process of facing my reflection, I began to realize how much I had come to rely on my weight to protect me and how I had been using it as a way to test the people in my life. All this while I was continuing to slim down until I reached 215lbs. For a summer, I hung out at that weight as I wrestled with my impulse to stay in my comfort zone.
You might be thinking that I need to recognize that there is a difference between my actual internal self and my physical self at a healthy weight. Also, that I could use to learn to trust myself and other people a little bit more. The last leg of our story, which will take place in New York City instead of Grand Rapids, MI (where I went to college) will be about how I’ve been working on doing this. Though I’m not quite there, I am getting closer and closer to it.
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