When I turned 40, I decided to end a dysfunctional relationship I'd stayed in for almost 30 years. As abusive and emotionally draining as it was, I stayed. I didn't know any other way to live. What would happen to me if I were alone, without the familiar critical voice shouting at me? How would I manage alone without the comfortable crutch of being numb? How would I be able to experience joy or feel sadness or be terrified or full of rage -- alone, without my dysfunctional relationship being the axis that everything else rotated around?
I had no choice though.
Six months ago, I broke up with my disordered eating and I survived.
I followed the same trajectory as most women who are on this journey with me: I was a chubby kid. My first diet happened before my first kiss. Adolescence angst was punctuated by terrible body shame and self-loathing. My adulthood was speckled with more and more and more dieting. Endless diets. Painful, expensive, energy-suck food plans that always went something like this:
Excitement and near-euphoria about starting this fool-proof plan that will finally get me to my goal weight. I obsessively read success stories and plan my blurb to be on that website soon. Grocery shopping with a kick in my step -- filling my cart with "clean," "low-point," "paleo," "metabolism boosting," "high protein," "low carb," "low fat" foods. I unloaded my cart and automatically felt lighter. Just putting all that kale in my fridge made me lose a few pounds. That trip to the grocery store gave me a high. Because spoiler alert -- dieting is a drug.
I am a girl scout for at least three days of this new food plan. It's my gospel. And like all good born-agains, I need to tell everyone how amazing it is. How amazing I feel. Where has this food plan been all my life? How is everyone not doing this?
Around day seven, I start to get hungry and cranky and tired and irritable. Not because I wasn't eating enough. But because I wasn't eating what I wanted. And because I was giving food so much power. I was letting my emotions be dictated by food. I start to feel the emptiness creep back in. The euphoria is gone. I'm coming down from the high. I start to feel rebellious and want to tell the food plan to go f*ck itself. Because I'm hungry and cranky and tired and irritable. And instead of sitting in that discomfort, I need to lash out and blame something and hate people. So I pick the food plan that didn't let me eat what I really wanted to. And then I eat six bowls of Fruity Pebbles and stop feeling anything.
Enter self-loathing. After eating enough fruity pebbles to turn my intestines neon pink -- I am left with a profound sense of shame. Shame is self-loathing's fraternal twin. They don't look identical but are damn close. All of a sudden, my arms are huge, my stomach rolls have multiplied and I'm certain that I look like Chris Farley in a fat suit.
Enter bitterness and anger. My husband and kids are the obvious victims here. I have no patience for anyone. I yell a lot. I use foul language. I'm downright mean.
Enter guilt. Why am I such a horrible wife/mother? Why can't I be sane? Why can't I stick to a diet and lose weight so I can be a better... everything?
Enter new food plan. THE best food plan/diet/exercise routine imaginable. The answer I've been searching for. My Holy Grail!
Repeat Phases 1 through 7.
This cycle went on for decades.
The energy I spent in this vortex was energy I could've spent on my children, my marriage, learning how to knit, reading about 8,000 novels, finishing Orange is The New Black or learning how to fix my broken kitchen cabinet.
Enter Soshy Adelstein. Soshy is an intuitive eating coach. But really she's a wizard and a friend. Another dear friend introduced me to her. We met and started this crazy trip to sanity. The first thing she did was gave me permission to eat whatever I wanted. Whenever. Wherever. However.
"You want ice cream for breakfast? Cool. Enjoy."
The only rule with Soshy is that there are no rules. And no low fat/diet/sugar free anything. Ever.
Enter butter. Oh my god, fellow dieters -- do you have any idea how amazing butter is? It's the nectar of the gods and needs to be recognized and rewarded. Butter, I thank you.
Soshy gave my vortex of crazy a name. Binge-eating disorder. It's the constant cycle of restricting and binging. Restricting is the evil twin of binging. Binging is the evil twin of restricting. They're both really, really toxic for me.
Stop restricting, and you stop binging. It's actually that simple.
BUT, when you stop restricting/binging you are left with...YOU. You and your chubby arms, loud children, chaotic work schedule, gray roots, wide hips, mortality, inner thigh issues, agnosticism and tight pants. Just to name a few. Its a lot of shit to sit with. And it's hard. More of that in another post.
AND, when you stop restricting/binging, you are left with your body. Your body will not morph into the body you want because you stopped the restrictive/binge cycle. In fact, you will probably gain a few pounds at first because, butter. But those few pounds are temporary and you won't even care (most of the time). I trust Soshy when she tells me the weight will take care of itself. I'm not gonna lie and tell you getting dressed is easy all the time. It's not. Because I'm still me and I still have disordered thoughts. I still put on a tank top and feel like Im channeling a fat old lady on the boardwalk in Miami. But you know what? Suns out, guns out and I move on. Because self-loathing is just a part of disordered eating that keeps you stuck in the diet cycle. If you can accept your body as it is today -- even just a little bit -- you can get off the crazy train. You don't have to love your body. You just have to accept it. Surrender is not the same as love. But it's close.
When Soshy explained intuitive eating to me, I was cynical. Very cynical. What if my intuition was to eat a loaf of bread? What if I intuitively felt full only after half a pizza pie? My intuition just may be a big, fat, compulsive eating intuition.
It turns out it's not. My intuition is to eat the foods that make me feel good. Sometimes that 's a huge salad (with regular dressing!) and sometimes that's a huge slice of rustic bread and peanut butter. And sometimes it's an entire avocado with kosher salt. And sometimes it's a small portion of watermelon and peaches.
And yes, I still overeat. And yes, I still sometimes feel like a weeble-wobble in a sundress. But I can tell you that my worst days now are better than my good days then. It's a process. It's slow and dynamic. But breaking up with restricting/binging is the kindest thing I've ever done for myself.
I will be writing more on this as the journey unfolds...
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.