Big fat realization part 2: mind. blown.

Big fat realization part 2: mind. blown.

I just re-read Part 1 and noticed that I portrayed my BIG REALIZATION as very sudden. It wasn’t sudden. I had always been a little bit rebellious about living large in a fat phobic world. Well, maybe not always, but I think the seeds of doubt re dieting started way back in my college days (as noted in another post, that’s when I read “Overcoming Overeating”, which stressed intuitive eating principles over restriction.)

Regardless of the stuff I learned way back then, I still believed that I wasn’t worthy as a fat woman. Worthy of a movie-style romantic love story. Worthy of feeling sexy and attractive. Worthy of high powered corporate success, or even artistic expression, or even going to the beach. Or dancing. Or… you get the idea. I had a worthiness problem.

Low carb dieting – or my version of it – was all I could find that helped me lose weight without feeling desperately deprived and hungry all the time. I was deprived of sugar and bread, and pasta, and white potatoes… and other stuff. But I wasn’t deprived of mayo, steak, eggs and bacon. Or pate. Or wine (yeah, I drank tons of wine when low-carbing.) And I felt full. I didn’t have to think about portion control at all, and I would still lose weight. It was pretty remarkable.

As I started to seriously consider “intuitive eating” after the marathon proposal sessions at work (2.5 weeks in a room with carbs), I was actually thinking I could eat intuitively and still eat “healthy”, which in my mind was “low carb” eating. That’s all the rage, right? Sugar devil, gluten bad, etc.

But then I came across an intuitive eating blog that walked me through the science of low carb eating. It’s actually not very good for you. It can CAUSE hypothyroid condition (which I developed suddenly 6 years ago…) Your brain needs sugar to work. When you eat low carb, your body has to work really hard (stress) to turn whatever protein/fat/fiber stuff you are eating into sugar. Sugar is necessary. It’s not particularly nutritious on its own, of course, but it does keep your body going for a time. It does provide ENERGY. That’s actually a thing, I learned. Low carb is actually not that great for you longer term. It’s hard on the bod. And ya know, I knew intuitively that it was true (certain TMI bathroom moments stand out in my memory…)

And more importantly, and if I’m honest: I wasn’t eating low carb for health anyway. I was eating low carb to get thin. To change my body. To improve how I look because how I look isn’t ok. It’s definitely not good enough. And, it’s definitely for sure boy-howdy not anywhere NEAR attractive.

And the actual very sudden realization I had wasn’t that I don’t want to diet anymore. It was that low carb/no-sugar eating isn’t actually that good for me. So it’s all total bullshit. I finally knew, deep down, that if I keep low carb eating I will eventually eat more cupcakes and pizza at some point. I may even get fatter because low-carbing will reduce my body’s ability to process sugars and carbs. And cupcakes will continue to hold power over me. I will remain afraid of cupcakes. And pasta. And bread. I don’t want to live in fear anymore – of food or of un-restricted eating. Or of my body and society’s opinion of it. Or of bathing suits, beaches, sleeveless dresses and tops, zumba, yoga, sexy lingerie, wearing flats, running, biking, and cannonballs.

So, here I am. I am ready to stay the same weight or gain weight in order to get free from all food restrictions. I am ready to try to re-learn what my body wants, and re-learn what my mind and soul find nourishing and satisfying (emotionally or physically). I am ready to stop hating my body as it is, start fighting fat phobia (beginning with me), and open myself up to all that life has to offer, including and especially delicious food.

And my biggest realization of all? As time passes, my urge to drink fades. But after over 43 years of attempting abstinence from specific food types, my urge for sugar or [insert restricted food type here] has never not once ever faded. Quite the opposite. The hold a restricted food has over me increases the longer I abstain. My theory is that abstinence is not applicable to food, because of biology. I’ll write more about this later… but my thought is that our primitive brains were designed to prevent starvation – full stop. Our bodies and minds will do whatever it takes to fight back from diets and restriction, and to protect us from future potential restrictive phases. I don’t think this is true of booze or drugs. I think our bodies figure out that the poison it was depending on is truly gone and it goes back to a nice steady state.

 

 

 

 

Big fat realization, Part 1

Big fat realization, Part 1

It’s been ages since I’ve posted anything here. So much has happened…

I am now 315 days sober, and I feel all settled and calm and happy about that. It is truly remarkable how the urge to drink has drifted away.

As noted before, when I first quit drinking I fought tooth and nail against the idea that I should eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. My cravings and feelings and fear were out of control, and I assumed my eating would follow if I gave myself permission.

But I didn’t want to drink. I was feeling too good, emotionally, to go back.

So I ate all the ice cream, dark chocolate and a few burgers here and there, feeling guilty and afraid the whole time. I was convinced that the sugar and carbs were ultimately going to undermine my sobriety. I’d get fatter, and I’d get pissed and sad about that. So I’d give up on sobriety, go back on low carb dieting, and would be content knowing that thinner is better than sober. And you know what? Our society at large would probably agree with that idea, except that whole “health” thing. But no one had to know that I’m bingeing on bottles of wine every night. They would just see a moderately overweight (e.g. not obscenely obese) middle aged woman with a great wardrobe who knows how live life to the fullest. You GO girl.

So I started low-carbing again as soon as I felt a bit stronger on the sobriety front. I figured I didn’t want to slide into total body disarray just because I wasn’t drinking. And you know, sugar is deadly and evil, and gluten causes gut chemistry issues, and all that stuff. Oh, and high protein and fat diets keep us satiated longer and ensure we never have those terrible horrible sugar crashes and, well, as a nice side effect, we can lose weight too. Everyone knows these things as fact, right? So, it’s the best way to eat. So I should eat that way. And now, friends, I would be PERFECT. Sober, thin, and awesome forever and ever.

I did that for about three weeks. Seriously, three weeks (I know – what a brilliant and successful dieter I am). And I think I even cheated and had a cupcake at work during that time (it was the most delicious Trophy cupcake – so worth it). And yes, I remember that cheat moment because I felt both THRILLED and BAD about it. A little guilty and annoyed, and yet ridiculously happy because it turned out to be so delicious that it was truly worth it, vs a slice of crappy or boring pizza, or some bland mac & cheese.

Then just at the moment my (stretch) jeans were starting to feel more comfortable, I got stuck working on a very big new business proposal at work. It was 12-14 hour days, locked in a conference room with a bunch of co-workers and firm partners for two and a half weeks. We were served bagels, egg sandwiches, pizza, and sushi for 2.5 weeks straight. And coffee. I ate whatever they gave me, mostly because I was already the team weirdo for not joining in when very fancy bottles of wine got opened every day at 4:30pm.

I didn’t feel good after eating pizza and sushi and coffee and bagels for 2.5 weeks. I felt run down and fat. So I started gearing up to return to low carb eating. But then another thought popped into my head: shit, I’m going to have to tell my husband, yet again, that I don’t want to eat waffles and bread and pasta anymore. That his fresh baked cookies are off the menu for me, again. And it hurt to even think about bouncing back to low carb and dragging my marriage into it, since this would be my 20th attempt to low carb while married. And I decided I didn’t want to do it again. I was OUT. Done. Stepping out of the boxing ring.

My next series of thoughts went like this: I actually don’t HAVE to care about my eating habits. I don’t HAVE to be “healthy” according to the world’s ever-changing diet-driven discoveries. I don’t HAVE to be thin. And, because I’m somewhat educated in these matters, being thin does NOT EVEN EQUAL “healthy”. Restricting what I eat isn’t even really truly about being healthy for me. It’s always been about changing my body. And, there’s one thing I know: I am fatter now than I was before I started dieting. Dieting made me fatter than I would have been naturally, not sugar or carbs. And even if I don’t get thin from stopping dieting, I don’t have to give a fuck what my body looks like and if it’s pleasing to the world, especially men. I can choose to eat healthier, non-processed foods. I can choose to move my bod because it feels good. BUT I DO NOT HAVE TO COMPLY WITH WHAT THE WORLD THINKS I SHOULD LOOK LIKE, and I don’t have to hate my body. And I know for sure (cue Oprah) that my body hatred leads me to eat shitty food/binge anyway. #whattawaste. And I don’t have to play the fucking diet reindeer games with other women anymore. I don’t have to live with shoulds and shouldn’ts.

BUT: I needed to come up with a construct in my head and heart that explained why abstinence from booze = good life, but abstinence from certain foods = bad life (for me). This conflict was driving me batty.

And I think I’ve figured it out. More to come in the next post…

Don’t scratch the itch.

Don’t scratch the itch.

Day 84 sober. Still feeling pretty solid on the non-drinking front.

Pema Chodron is a very inspiring buddhist monk who has been teaching me lots about how to ‘stay’ in discomfort instead of escaping. I love the idea… and I’ve done absolutely nothing to change the way I deal with discomfort. I’ve actually just been working on redesigning my escape hatches: from smoking to nicorette; from drinking to walking or eating. Eating. Such an irritating thing that I can’t 100% quit that.

So, my point (stolen directly from Pema) is that I will never live in contentment, peace and joy if I keep running from pain – even if I’m literally running laps at the gym. It’s the ‘running from’ part that leads to suffering, vs treating it.

few days before my big fight with my husband (Day 66) I had a 2-3 day bout with anxiety. My mind was RACING. I couldn’t sleep, had nightmares, and my waking hours were filled with nervous, pissed off energy. I couldn’t sit with it. I put on my headphones, fired up a new Bubble Hour podcast, and went for a hardcore 1.5 hour walk.

And guess what? I felt better. Exercise actually helped. I’m not a daily exerciser, so this was a major revelation to me. I was thrilled to have found a new escape hatch that I could tell everyone about. No shame. I walked! I even jogged a bit one of the days. It made me happy. Phew.

But… I didn’t stay. I didn’t try to live in the pain and anxiety and dive deep and through it. I didn’t “stay.” I “went.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not beating myself up for this. But I do think that food is my most fundamental habit and tool for hiding from feelings. So much so, that I still can’t explain what I was anxious about for three days. And I certainly can’t claim to have meditated through it. So if I’m clever I will just replace food (ha) with exercise and all will be well. Right? I don’t think so…

I think exercise is magical and critical to my well being, but it’s not a life practice that will serve me in all situations that may arise. Even if it were, I want more. I want to see my life and the world as something to be in. Now. Not something to run away from.

What does Norman Lear have to do with it?

What does Norman Lear have to do with it?

On Wait Wait Don’t Tell me last weekend:

PETER SAGAL: So do you have any tips for those of us who would like to arrive at 93 as spry and as successful and happy as you are?

NORMAN LEAR: What occurred to me first is two simple words…

SAGAL: Yeah.

LEAR: …Maybe as simple as any two words in the English language – Over and Next. And we don’t pay enough attention to them. When something is over, it is over. And we are on to the next. And if there was to be a hammock in the middle — between Over and Next — that would be what is meant by living in the moment.

Yep. EVERYTHING I read or listen to as I try to learn my way out of self-destructive habits (that I use to escape discomfort) wind up here: stay. in. the. moment. Thanks Norman.

 

A clue.

A clue.

AA people, and anyone else you ask (especially very wise, very long time sober women). will tell you unequivocally that you must not worry about anything except staying sober when you are trying to get sober. Your sobriety is #1. If you smoke cigarettes, don’t try to quit those right now. If you like your cupcakes, don’t hold back. This is extreme self care and extreme self forgiveness while you knuckle through and heal your misfiring dopamine system. Have credit card debt? Don’t worry about that right now. SOBRIETY is numero uno.

As a long time food and weight obsessed girl and woman, this whole “eat all the cupcakes you want” instruction both thrilled me and scared the shit out of me. As I’ve mentioned in my first couple of posts, I turned to cigarettes and booze as the cooler, more adult ways to avoid eating (and by transitive property, avoid “feeeeeelings”). Without my wine and ciggies, I had to fucking deal with food again.

Frankly, I’m SO bored with food and weight and body image stuff. SO so tired of it. It’s old news. It’s the old high school girl-friendship pseudo feminist psychobabble that dragged on into my twenties friendships and finally dissipated when everyone grew up. I’m 42. I should be done with this.

But, here I am again. And I don’t think it’s about food anymore. And it’s not about body image or body shame anymore. It’s about fear, and how I deal with it.

For the first 45-60 days of continuous sobriety I was actually following the eating rules that those elder sober ladies handed down to me. I was eating anything I wanted, whenever I wanted it. Chocolate. Ice Cream. Pasta. Bread. I did gain a couple of pounds… I did. But I also got sick of ice cream. And chocolate. And even pasta. I felt like SHIT from the sugar and complex carbs. So I drifted back to eating lower carb. Boom: I felt better.

Day 66, and the other shoe dropped. A big stupid fight with my husband triggered ginormous life or death anxiety in me. I was literally feeling the abandonment feelings from early childhood all over again. It had been a while, too. I had a total meltdown. I holed up in our downtown Seattle studio apartment without him for a day and a night and I bought mac and cheese and ice cream and was planning the biggest binge of my life because, damnit, I was NOT GOING TO DRINK.

Guess what happened?

I couldn’t eat it all. I got full. I got bored. I felt sad– almost too sad and lonely to binge.

It reminded me of a diet book I read in college, Overcoming Overeating. The thesis was to stock your house with way way more than you could ever eat of your favorite foods, no matter how disgustingly bad for you they may be. Fruit Loops, carrots – doesn’t matter. Then eat as much as you want. Do it every day. Keep re-stocking until you start to realize there is abundance and you truly have permission to eat whatever you want. As time passes, you will learn how the food affects you, your body, your mood, etc. and you’ll shift toward the foods that work better for you. Eventually, compulsive eating will be a thing of the past. You will sort out other coping mechanisms for fear, anxiety and life.

I think this concept of abundance is what played out during my recent attempt at binging to self-soothe. I’d already given myself permission to eat all that crap for a solid 60+ days, so the binge magic didn’t happen for me.

Sad, in a way, but amazingly great in every other way.

So, AA isn’t all bad. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

Where did all this come from?

Where did all this come from?

Two months ago I was mired in my over-everything: over drinking, smoking, eating, whining, crying, fighting, and despair-ness.

I decided, because I was, oh, throwing up when I brushed my teeth (sometimes with hints of blood) most nights… that I HAD to quit drinking asap. My brand new beautiful marriage was at stake. OK, honesty moment: my life was at stake.

I scoured the Internet as we all do, and came across so many wonderful blogs and podcasts to help me get started. I listened to The Bubble Hour podcast, and joined the Booze Free Brigade private group on Yahoo! (after experimenting with a handful of pretty annoying AA meetings in West Seattle). The people on the board seemed really nice, with the right touch of tough love.

After two years of trying to moderate, and one month of lurking on the BFB group, I wrote this LONG email to them:

“I’ve been reading your amazing posts for about a month now and decided today would be the day that I share my story to help me get to the next level. I’ve been sober for five days. I’ve been sober before (14 days was the longest). I love the freedom of waking up without shame, fear, headaches and dehydration, so I keep coming back to sobriety with genuine optimism. But then something ‘hard’ happens – the lure of going nuts with co-workers when I’m traveling for work, or the lure of complacency (I can have two glasses of wine and stop and that’s the normal way to live and I want to be normal and my husband just wants me to moderate and… and…) Not exactly life tragedies, I know, but enough to get me back to sipping my bottle or two of wine, by myself usually.

I can’t remember a time in my life, even early childhood, when I didn’t feel anxiety and didn’t work to numb those feelings. I was a chubby baby, chubby toddler, and chubby middle-schooler… you get the idea. I felt so much pressure to lose weight from my earliest memories (I grew up on the Upper East side of Manhattan where everyone was rich and thin and preppy and… not like ME).  At 6 years old I would wake up at 4am to eat an entire box of fruit loops (I thought it would be my secret… like my family wouldn’t notice the missing box). I was binging well before I knew what it meant. It was my escape from judgment, just for that time. I could compulsively eat and eat and eat until I felt transported out of myself. Then I’d be summarily punished by the fullness and pain of being over-stuffed, and the mental berating. Sigh.

Binging and being overweight led to dieting compulsively. Then to binging again. In high school I started smoking, mostly to try to control my weight. Then in college I learned about booze. I would skip meals and drink and even lost some weight that way. I have lost and gained 35lbs at least 20 times in my adult life, not including the diets my mother and I went on when I was very little. Weight watchers, fat camp, Tab, scales…

In my late twenties I decided once and for all to lose the weight before I turned thirty. I was afraid I’d lose my chance at love, marriage and babies if I didn’t. I lost 35lbs on Atkins (my own version of it… cheese, salami and bottles of grand cru reds with a great friend who LOVED good wine). I was hungover all the time, but boy was I losing weight fast! And, I felt satisfied by my version of the diet – lots of fats that kept me full. I still believe in the proper version of Atkins (more veggies and fruits!), but back then I was just damn determined to use the most extreme methods to get into ketosis and drop the weight. I felt sick every day, but I looked better. Booze started to replace food for me around that time.

Instead of getting married and having babies in my thirties I partied with my single girlfriends (had to keep refreshing the crew as a handful of them got married and had babies). At age 36 I was diagnosed with endometrial cancer (very rare for that age), had a hysterectomy, was ‘cured’, but fell into a pretty deep depression over losing my ability to give birth to my own kids. I was so relieved to be alive, but also in denial about how close I came to death. I started smoking cigarettes like it was my job, dating tons of men who were inappropriate (almost married one of them, but called it off one month before because he was an alcoholic– irony) and I was drinking like a fish. My weight went up and down by 20lbs every 6 months in that period, but mostly due to habit, not intentional dieting. I had pretty much given up hope. I was damaged goods (can’t have kids), almost 40, still overweight, and living like an impulsive ‘rebellious’ child – I want a cigarette, I want another glass of wine, I want Thai takeout, I want to buy more clothes on my credit card, I want I want I want. And I gave in to myself because hell, there’s nothing really to live for or reason to ‘improve’ myself. No one will want me anyway. Why not hide away and self destruct?

It was around this time that I met my now husband, and despite the odds against it, he loved and loves me. We rushed into marriage (I pushed us to rush into marriage). When we started out our life together, properly living together, things were rocky. I very quickly started escaping from our (probably normal) issues by sitting on our front porch smoking cigarettes, browsing facebook and drinking bottle after bottle of wine. Most nights I’d just pass out after, but some nights I would pick fights that would end horribly. Sometimes I didn’t remember what the fight was about or what I said or what he said. He would look so disappointed, sad, confused or angry – depending on how he felt that morning – when he realized I couldn’t remember. I had put him through so much anguish and it was all gone from my mind.

That’s when I started my attempts to moderate my drinking. Which brings me here. A couple of years into ‘moderating’ and I’m pretty certain it’s just too hard for me to do. That what I need to do is properly figure out who that little cereal binging kid was in the first place who turned to food to escape. Why didn’t she feel lovable, even then? Why can’t I love her now? What is my marriage if I’m not even fully in it? The real me. Unvarnished.

I’ve been listening to Pema Chodron and working on “staying” instead of escaping or, as she says, ‘scratching the itch’. Not just with booze, but with food (thank you Geneen Roth) and, my biggest dream and fear, finally quitting smoking for good. I need to stop bolting whenever I’m uncomfortable. I sincerely wish I knew why I have such deep seated fears of discomfort, but I guess it doesn’t matter. I have to face it and live in the present.

Two nights ago I woke up in the morning and reached for my usual giant glass of water that I bring to bed with me. It wasn’t there. I had forgotten it, and had actually slept through the night without a harrowing 4am water-gulping session due to dehydration (my drinking routine). I was so proud of myself that my body didn’t need that water in the middle of the night anymore, and that I was so comfortable falling asleep without it.”

So there it is. My descent into alcoholism was my way of hiding my shameful lifelong obsession with food. And it nearly killed me. I need to un-pack this shit and get past it once and for all.

The beginning.

The beginning.

I’ve been sober for 78 days, and a non smoker for two months-ish. I feel so free. Quitting drinking and smoking wasn’t an easy process, and I’m still firmly in the “beginner” category in the vast and rich recovery world.

One of the themes in the alcohol recovery community is to do “whatever it takes” to stay sober. Even if it means eating ice cream every day. Even if it means eating a family size Stouffer’s Mac and Cheese or Lasagna. Even if… you are eating like you dreamed of eating when you were thirteen years old but were too scared to because then your father who left would love you even less.

But see, that’s the thing. I started smoking to stop eating. Then I started drinking to replace meals. I wanted to have more sophisticated habits that would one day be cool to quit. Seriously.

Now that I’m not drinking or smoking, and am enmeshed in the very cool (truly) recovery community, I sit here, at home, TERRIFIED. I’m still imprisoned by fear of food, fear of binge eating, fear of finally sliding down the rabbit hole of pure self hatred and body self-destruction if I were to ‘let myself go’.

In the Hip Sobriety School (www.hipsobriety.com), an online class I’m taking, Holly Whitaker says you shouldn’t just stop drinking. You need to build a life you don’t want to escape from. In that vein she also says to pay attention to the people who “have what you want.” Your desires are always rooted in who you already are; they lead you to the fires that are already burning inside you. I have always found myself drawn to larger but cool, stylish, self-assured and powerful women. I don’t want what skinny women have (though it is terribly beautiful and powerful in its own, natural right). I want pride and peace in my own beauty. I want to OWN it.

So, this blog – Total Fatty – is the beginning of that journey. In case it’s too subtle (ha – not my strong suit) “Total Fatty” reclaims the word “fat”, and it kinda sorta rhymes with “Total HOTTIE.” But whatever, I just needed a name quickly, before I lost my nerve.

So, in closing: this blog isn’t about how to lose weight. It’s about my attempts to live without shame and fear. That’s where I’m headed. And if I eat food that makes me feel strong instead of weak, then so be it. But this will not be a health food read. Or a before and after picture gallery.

More to come.