Finally we’ve come to the last installment in this series about the affect Anne Lamott’s chapter “Hunger” has had on my life. To catch up on the rest of the story you can go here.
Last time, I told you that I realized it wasn’t enough to figure out I had an eating disorder or that I was cheating myself out of having the body I’m meant to have. Like Lamott, I needed to find ways to curb my cravings. I needed to figure out what my triggers are. I needed to learn when and why my relationship with food had become dysfunctional. This process has taken me about three years.
Though this story involves a lot of weight loss, this isn’t entirely a weight loss story. Among the things I discovered, one of them is that my weight and my eating disorder, though related, aren’t entirely tied to each other. Part of the problem for me is simply genetic when it comes to my weight. Before middle school, before I developed an eating disorder and became obese, I was already a pretty hefty child but I wasn’t really eating much more than my skinny (constantly underweight) sister Christa. My poor mom didn’t know what to do because she had doctors whining at her that Christa was underweight and that I was overweight and both of us were eating nearly the same way.
There have been many long stretches over the last three years when I’m eating way better and less than any of the thin people in my life. When I’m not consuming any more calories than I should be, I’m working out regularly and I don’t lose a pound or an inch. Now that I’ve dipped below 200lbs, it often takes a lot of work for me to shift my weight on the scale even though I’m technically still overweight. The truth, for me, is that getting to thin will take going above and beyond simple “being healthy” and listening to my body. Because my body wants to stay at the weight I’m at.
In order to figure out when I developed an eating disorder and why I realized that I needed to go back when I went from being just overweight to being obese. I had to figure out when I develop my fidgety eating. Also, when my stomach became so stretched out that I could eat so much all day.
Truly, the answer to why I once could eat so much has a lot to do with American culture and my parents. The other night I went to a local deli and ordered a turkey sandwich. Because I ordered it on wheat bread, and their wheat bread was small, they gave me TWO sandwiches each piled high with about an inch and a half of turkey as if it was one cut in half. That’s how outrageous portion sizes are here. Those type of portions are normal to my parents so they became normal to me.
That just explains why I could eat so much, it doesn’t explain my fidgety eat. Looking back, I’m pretty sure this developed in middle school. The initial cause was probably that I’d been put on a steroid inhaler. As we all know, steroids make you hungrier. I gained 50lbs that year. It is when I tipped the scales between overweight and obese. What started as a result of that steroid became a habit, in truth, an addiction. It was this addiction that I transferred over to Tony my senior year of college and first year of graduate school.
In England, that summer before my senior year of college, I began to break my “American” eating habits. I learned how to eat less and better (without going crazy and totally depriving myself of delicious food). Because of Lamott, I was listening to my body when it told me I was hungry or full. I also taught myself a lot about nutrition be reading about it copiously. But he was my cure for my fidgety eating.
During both my last year in college and first year in New York City, he was kind of my best friend, kind of my pseudo-boyfriend, kind of a precocious and pesky little brother and kind of my mentee. In other words, our relationship was absurdly complex and bound to end disastrously. Especially since New York City was changing him not so much for the better. When I cut him out of my life, my last year of grad school, is truly when I began struggling with my eating disorder again. It is when I started to gradually gain back some of 85 pounds I’d lost. Even before leaving from the City, I began slowly moving from 175lbs back to 200lbs.
This time, gaining back some weight actually helped me to learn more about what motivates this addiction. Before saying Goodbye to him, all I had figured out was that I have an oral fixation that’s satisfied through chewing. I found that gum can really help here (even as I write this I’m chewing gum). When that wasn’t enough, I’d coped by texting him or writing him an email. But what I realized when that wasn’t an option, is that I have a very existential hunger that drives me to food, and drove me to him so frequently. It’s the same hunger that motivated me to start this blog, that pushes me to find work that’s meaningful, that drives my insatiable need for deep conversations. It’s like the greed for life that Logan recognized in me, and in himself.
I turn to food, and turned so often to Tony, when this hunger feels insatiable. When I’m too frustrated or discouraged or lazy to do something productive with this need. In other words, it is triggered by dissatisfaction. Sometimes, it’s even motivated by my dissatisfaction with food. When I’m eating meals I’m not really interested in, that don’t satisfy my old factory sense, I ended up fidgety eating to find the satisfaction I didn’t find from my meal.
Dissatisfaction isn’t the only trigger. I’ve realized it’s also triggered by a need for security. Between that relational disaster, and the identity crisis I was having, my internal self felt too exposed. Even though gaining back weight has frustrated me (over the last year I’ve written a lot of entries when I’ve obviously been pretty upset that I’m not fitting into my grad school wardrobe), it has also provided me with a sense of comfort. It’s like my way of putting a sign over my head that says, “Closed for maintenance.” This sign is largely meant for men. Like I said, trust issues.
When I joined Weight Watchers back in November, it was motivated by frustration. I was frustrated with my eating and frustrated I couldn’t fit into some of my favorite clothes. It’s helped me more to manage my eating disorder than it has helped me to lose weight or resolve it (I still would recommend it though, it is a great program just not for where I’m at).
What has helped me so much more to actually stop fidgety eating has been Lent. Honestly, I wasn’t very faithful in terms of completely abstaining from sweets but it helped me to relearn restraint. More importantly, I’m learning how to live without an addiction. How to calm my cravings, my need for satisfaction, by actually doing something satisfying. As I’ve healed from that relational disaster, and regained a healthy sense of self, I’m learning that my weight isn’t an adequate shield for my internal self. Instead, I need to trust myself and establish appropriate boundaries in all and not just most of my male friendships. I also could use to be pickier about the men I let really close to me, like say not letting myself need exceedingly damaged men. (So far, I’m 13 months sober!)