getting to the good part

when the impulse for a binge came i could feel it travel through me. a slow, steady, steam-roll of  progression.
first came the thought.
that was all. an idea. a whisper, a promise, a strand of air. the thought: binge, it would say. go ahead, make your way to the store, get what you will, and eat it. all of it. 
and that was it. the thought was the beginning, middle--the end. i was helpless against it. it would slip down my throat effortlessly, burn a little as it passed through my neck and across my shoulder blades, and then it would sit heavy and pulsing at the pit of my stomach.
i was a woman possessed. there was no defense against the thought.
it was a helplessness that i'd not experienced before and God willing, never will again. it was consistent, relentless, overwhelming and at one point, near daily. and it was stronger than me. it was real and nearly impossible to describe to others.
 
if it's just a thought, why not ignore it? 
if only.
how to explain?
to ask me to ignore it would have been like asking the waves to ignore the pull of the moon. to stop their continuous and steady progression along the coast line.
impossible.
the very first time i met with tom (head of the eating and weight disorder program at one our new york city hospitals) he so clearly and calmly said to me: it's called thought action fusion. right now your brain can't distinguish between the though and the action that will follow, the binge. it's physical and it's science. 
 
life raft. that information was the first life raft.
have the thought to binge. wait five minutes, and then go ahead. 
 
next time, give yourself ten minutes between the thought and the action.
 
then fifteen, then twenty, and on and on. that will strengthen that muscle in your mind. it's exercise. and it will allow you to separate the two. 
 
the thought is the thought. the action, the action. they are separate. apart. different. 
 
and so it began. and i began to accumulate life rafts. little bobbing boats that pulled me from the great, unforgiving, unrelenting tidal wave of blue.
it has been such a long, slow road to finding my way back--much of it chronicled here, peppered through the now three-year archive of this blog.
an eating disorder is a disease. an addiction. but you don't get to swear off the substance you so like to abuse. and while you, like so many others need to lose weight, every lick of leading diet information and advice will not aid you, it will not only serve to make you far, far sicker.
take a minute to imagine that, will you? if every piece of good medicine or leading nutritional information or common, popular dogma only served to make you worse, immeasurably so.
for me, the process of getting better has been one very grand experiment. and as with any scientific study failure is necessary--it provides some of the most valuable feedback.
i pretty quickly figured out some basic things: counting calories doesn't work. cutting out carbs doesn't work (but don't think i didn't try both those thing many, many, many, many times just to be sure).
the long and short of what i've learned is this: if i can't do it every day for the rest of my life, it just won't serve me.
i learned to make food bigger than myself. i became a vegetarian because it's good for the environment. and what right do i have to place the human desire for meat over the welfare of planet earth? that's not to say i encourage everyone to cut out meat. or eggs or cheese or any of that. though i do implore others to eat locally. to support restaurants that employ the farm to table model. to buy from road stands and refuse the plastic bag when you can carry the container of blueberries and bottle of water the short distance of the corner store to home without it.
i learned that (for myself) i'm happiest when i delay breakfast, when i don't worry about five square meals. a late breakfast and three do me just fine. i like eating lighter in the morning and heavier at night. i do that and i lose weight--how bout that for going against the grain?
i also worked out that sometimes going to the gym just isn't in the cards. and so i get a massage instead. because there are a million different ways we can be kind to our bodies. and because when i'm ready i do return. and the pulsing and the squats and the pain of it all--well, my body likes it, even if i don't.
i learned that exercise is best when i engage the mind.
and that the further away i get from that abysmal period in which i starved myself (six years now) the more forgiving my body is of those moments i over eat. because my body knows me now. knows i won't ever withhold again, so there's no need for it to hold onto the empty calories.
as well as i am now, and i am, i'm very well, there are pockets of time when i slip into old habits and old ways. these pockets don't usually last so long but they are unsettling and difficult nonetheless.
these last three weeks i've eaten little more than entenmann's doughnuts and ben and jerry's ice cream.
there i said it. my two great accomplices. donuts and ice cream. and of course these two things make themselves visible on my body. because those can't be your two main food groups and you not see a change. and in the throws of something bigger than myself i look in the mirror and voila! i am as big as i've ever been (not true), but so the feeling goes.
the thing about this go round, this little battle with the gods of health. well...this go round life continued on. and life was good. despite the difficulty in getting out of bed. despite not feeling beautiful. despite feeling down and low and wanting to eat just to eat, i went out at night. went on dates. sojourned out with my best gal pals. i would wake in the morning and have my coffee and play the music and attempt to live normally. and all in all, life was pretty good.
better than pretty good.
and as i separate life from the eating disorder, as the two things begin to live in different spheres, i am reminded of though action fusion and the strengthening of the muscle that separates the two.
i am strengthening the muscle of life and the more space--the more distance i can put between my life and my struggle with food, the weaker the struggle with food becomes until eventually it is eclipsed, outrun, overrun by the bounty of my desire to live well and truthfully and with integrity.
most people say that those who struggle with eating issues will do so for the rest of their life. it's a lifelong battle, a lifelong struggle. a chronic disease.
i say, what a grim diagnosis. what a shortsighted, but easy to propagate media sound bite.
i'll be damned if i deal with this for the rest of my life.
there are few things i know with great certainty in this world, but this i know (in my gut, in my toes, in every fiber of the purest form of me) i know this: i will not struggle with an eating disorder for the rest of my life. i will not even struggle with eating issues for the rest of my. because i'm dealing with it now. because i'm challenging it on every level at this very moment and so it will pass and i will pass on to better things. because i am armed with invaluable tools and immeasurable amounts of (the correct) information. and because i am slowly regaining an inner confidence stronger than any amount of weight, any number of donut boxes, any stockpile of mornings in which getting out of bed is difficult.
i'm willing to venture and say that, at this point in time, my relationship with food is healthier than the average american woman's. this is not to boast, but rather to comment on the despairing nature of food culture in this country.
there is a balance that must be struck--a balance between loving the body i have in this moment and a desire to be kind to it. and the more i love my body, the kinder i am. and the kinder i am, the more my body surprises me and the more beautiful it becomes.
i have hips. beautiful, lovely, full hips. and why shouldn't i celebrate them--just as i celebrate the inordinate number of moles peppering my skin and my almond-shaped eyes that nearly disappear when i smile?
dear kate moss, nothing tastes so good as skinny feels? what a sad and constricting way to live one's life. what a small idea to think the two mutually exclusive (dangerous, even). what a lie that's being parceled out by numerous sectors of our society.
i want to live in a world where i don't read magazines in which they suggest the best way to deal with body image issues when showering with a man is to wear a t-shirt--more coverage for you, male-fantasy for him. don't get me wrong, the whole t-shirt thing sounds kind of exciting. but really? really? the men don't care. they don't see the extra weight. they're beside themselves with giddiness. it's not the men making women self-concious--it's the articles suggesting you should be aware, uncomfortable--that there is something to hide.
someone recently asked if i regret any of what i've written on the blog regarding my struggle towards health? if it's uncomfortable to know that both friends and family read it?
i would be remiss if i didn't say there were moments it was difficult or embarrassing or even shameful. but for me it was necessary. so that other's might understand, (especially so my parents might understand) what i'd never have the courage or clarity so say out loud.
but to say i regret any of it would be to diminish the power of this life--not just my life, but the sphere of life in which all things take place. to say i regret any of it would be to dismiss humanity.
so i found my humanity in a box of donuts and an eating disorder? it's a little funny, no? and a little beautiful and little bit just entirely the way life goes.
i don't regret the past or the mistakes or my few extra pounds because they're all part of the story. and the story's still unraveling. and i have this sense that i'm just about to get to the good part.

FED: my five-point roadmap



i've said this before and i'll say it again. i thought the end of my eating disorder would come with the speed and force of a mack truck. (in a good way). 

i figured i'd be waking across the street, a sudden impulse would prompt me to turn and then

boom




and it'd be over. done. and i'd be free.


turns out it hasn't really happened that way.


it has been inches. slow crawling inch after slow crawling inch.

when this recent funk hit i took a deep breath, thought, been there, done that, then realized my familiarity with the thing was not a get out of jail free pass. took a longer inhale, getting air into the space between my toes and reminded myself that this too shall pass. only then did i go about doing everything my capable little hands could do to crawl and claw my way out of the trench.


my version of trench warfare? full fat mochas (they feel luxurious and indulgent--make me think i'm on vacation). afternoon tea with girlfriends. indulging in massages at that place on 80th that sections of the tables with nothing more than clothes lines and bed sheets. painted red nails. a trip to boston. hurtling down icy northeastern ski-slopes. tickets to see noah and the whale. and investing in a very lovely, lovely cannon (i may not be able to crawl out of this funk, but perhaps i can photograph from within it?).


and so it has gone for the last six weeks: a funk. and so it goes. deep and encompassing. an overriding sense of apathy. and a feeling of claustrophobia--suffocating in my own skin.


and yet.


it's been bearable (as most funks prove to be).


and even a little exhilarating. exhilarating, you ask?


yes.


because the eating disorder (ned) has been so quiet.


yes it's still there. but somehow now it's not so important.


in the past the funk would come. and i would eat. and the eating disorder would quickly spiral. and the feelings and sensations that would follow i would label as such: that pesky ned, rearing his disastrous, hellish head once more.


but this go round the feelings and sensations came and the eating disorder didn't.


illumination. for better or for worse, illumination.


and another step forward.





a little while back a reader emailed asking for advice in dealing with her own eating disorder. in replying to the email i realized i was mapping my own little trail of recovery. and because i am slightly better and because it was national eating disorder week just two weeks ago and because why not? i thought i'd share:  so here goes. my five-point road map to mental health:


1. get help. find a therapist. a really, really, really good one. one who specializes in eating and weight disorders. (i can't emphasize this enough. if nothing else, please get help). it is unbelievably difficult to deal with an eating disorder, but to struggle alone is nearly crushing.


in looking for help, trust your gut. i sought out medical professional after medical professional before i found one who could give me a correct diagnosis. (two doctors, and four therapist--the fifth therapist was able to diagnose me, and the sixth (tom) literally gave me life back). there is a huge amount of mis-information and lack of information out there regarding eating disorders and not everyone who should be able to help can


2. figure out how food can be about more than just necessity. and more than just pleasure. for me the decision to become a vegetarian was an easy and practical (and meaningful, might i add) way to make food bigger than myself--it took some of the selfishness i was struggling with out of the equation. i do recognize that going vegetarian isn't for everyone. may i suggest volunteering at a food bank or soup kitchen? reacacquaint yourself with what it means to really need a warm meal--and fill yourself up in the process (i find goodwill much more filling than any of the many flavors of ben and jerry's--and i've tried them all, so i should know).

3. fall in love with kitchen. or try. at least, try.
i don't love to cook. but i'm working on it. it began with my hour long bake potato. from there i figured out that cinnamon in tomato-basil soup is delightful. i now make a mean vegan banana bread and pretty darn good raw chocolate chip cookie (made from cashews and oatmeal). making your own food is good for you--studies have been done indicating that when you make your own food and there is some time and process involved, you end up eating less because you fill up faster. i like that my baked potato takes an hour to make--i don't want to shorten that process. 

4. experiment, experiment...in life. do things you don't want to do. that you wouldn't usually do. go to a party. flirt with a guy. take risks on a daily basis (they don't have to be big). wear those skinny black pants before you're ready. exercise in spandex (even if you feel naked in them the first few times). take someone up on an invitation even if you're afraid you won't know anyone else. 

5. and exercise. (for the mental aspect of it). i can't emphasize this enough. i've been exercising consistently for years now. but it took going to physique for me to really get all the benefits that exercise has to offer. yes, in part because physique is tremendously good for the body--but more because it challenged my mind--forced me so far out of my comfort zone and provided my mind with a whole new set of skills to tackle. for me it elevated exercise form something i had to do to something of a personal practice. and the most important thing i've taken away (even more important than increased bone density) is the knowledge that it gets easier. pain changes and morphs. and everything, every sensation passes. in life to. exercise as metaphor! meaning all those pesky sensations and emotions that i would attempt to self-medicate by binge eating would pass if i just gave them time enough--lived through them.  





this list is by no means comprehensive or all-inclusive. there are so many other things i could include like recognizing patterns and identifying those aforementioned pesky emotions, but much of those things can be done with the help of a really great therapist. and if you are really, truly in the throws of an eating disorder, or even if you're struggling with disordered eating, i can't recommend finding help enough.


also, know this: i still struggle. often. i have good days and bad days and in-between days. i eat too much sugar and too much processed food. i'm not a whiz in the kitchen. and the last month i've found it much more difficult to get to exercise class. i still strive for perfection when i know--in my bones, i know--that perfection and the pursuit of it is not good for my health. but i am better. and i continue to get better. and that is something to celebrate and applaud.


small victories. small victories.


clarification. and a little honesty.

okay. i'm gonna try something new here. i'm gonna be really candid. really honest.

(that was a joke. did you get it? you know, because i'm probably too honest sometimes? oh phooey, if you didn't get it that's on you).

no but really. i wasn't going to share this next bit. not because i'm ashamed of it. but because it was singular to me. because it never really crossed my mind that it was important. it was just a detail. a footnote.

and yet. maybe it is important. maybe it'll help elucidate things. provide some sort of foundation so that when i talk about weight and health and eating disorders you know where i'm coming from.

i gained forty pounds over the course of my eating disorder. 

yes. that's right. forty. forty pounds.

that's a fair amount. a nice little hole i dug for myself.

i tell you this because i need you to know that in getting healthy it wasn't just about finding a balance and figuring out some sort of normalcy--i had forty (count 'em, forty) pounds to lose, give or take a few.

have i lost them all? not a chance.

do i still have a fair amount to go? you betcha.

and i know i still have weight to lose not because of some number on a scale but because i'm carrying a little extra weight in my middle. and extra weight in the middle is not good for the heart. and since coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in this country...well, i want my heart to be healthy.

what i'm trying to say is this: whether you need to lose five pounds, ten, two hundred, absolutely none, or actually gain weight, the process is not really that different. eat good food. real food. listen to your body. exercise. make good, positive choices everyday. and for the love of all that is good and holy in this world: don't diet. don't count calories. don't restrict. instead educate yourself and make smart choices. it's the little things--by eating real food and listening to your body--the body'll actually figure it out--at what weight it is most healthy.

and yes, it might take five years to lose all the extra weight, and yes, that can be frustrating--but it's frustrating for our egos, for our vanity, not for our bodies.

i feel like i've done a terrible job explaining myself in this post.

it's just that...all the stuff i say about food and health...those things are coming from someone who is acutely aware of the need to actually lose weight for the sake of my health.

does that make sense?

the first step

when i first met with the head of the eating and weight disorders program at mount sinai i knew immediately he was the doctor for me. he got it. he understood.

after two years of asking for help in overcoming an eating disorder only to be told i didn't have one, i had finally met someone with the information that would give me my life back. he talked science to me. and for a girl who'd never before liked science, it was suddenly the language of love--the salve for my soul.

obviously i had some pretty big issues at play and not everyone needs such a specialized doctor. but the things tom has imparted to me are basic and universal. they are bits of information not often talked about--things that everyone can benefit from.

from that very first day tom made it clear that, in terms of eating, we were gonna work very hard to eliminate any form of dieting or restrictions. that would in time eliminate binges. and eventually i would have the body of giselle bunchen. (oh wait, scratch that last one {figured i'd attempt to bring a little humor to the table, even if it's poorly-constructed}).

and so that is exactly what we did. i stopped counting points. i stopped guesstimating calories. i re-introduced all foods into my diet.

and there have been days, weeks where i think, oh if i limit just for this little bit of time--if i only consume this many calories--it'll be a jump-start for me. no harm done. 

those times of limit have never, ever led to any good.

i used to say that i'd know i was better when i got to the body i would've had had i never developed an eating disorder. and tom would chuckle and nod and say, there's no way for you to know what that body would be. that's an impossibility. and he was right, of course he was right, as always.

but i do feel i'm finally living in a body that is my own. a body sans all the extra pounds that binge upon binge piled on. and without dieting, without counting calories, without any of that it has taken me just about two-and-a-half years to get here.

yeah, i know, that's quite a bit of time. a lot of time, actually. well...but not really. not if you're thinking in terms of a whole life. better two-and-a-half-years than twenty of yo-yo dieting and unhappiness.

it takes time. there is no quick fix. health is an investment of time and money and hard work.

be patient. in the end, that extra time pays off in dividends.

a new tab.

when i started this wee of a blog i was fearless.

if i wanted to post something, i'd post it. bam. done.

and maybe it's because i was pretty clueless for the most part.

but it was a blissful oblivion.

now i worry what others will think: is it interesting enough? will they like it? does it fit with the overall thrust of the blog (i know, i know, what overall thrust?). what judgement will this-a-way come? what fuel am i providing for ex-boyfriends the world over?

a few weeks ago my friend victoria suggested i share here what i'm doing to get healthy. some of my little tricks and suggestions.

and i was.    hesitant.

because i'm certainly not an authority.

and certainly other people have found more success than i. their paths have been smoother, shorter, done with more grace.

but then i was standing around with a few girls just the other week when one declared she absolutely must lose weight and so today would be the day she'd begin weight watchers again.  and i must've cringed and said that was a terrible idea (or something else totally inappropriate for the situation {i don't know this person very well}) and realizing my mistake i quickly closed my mouth and moved on to other things. but she asked what i meant, said she wanted to lose weight the healthful way. and then a third girl overhearing the conversation jumped in saying that, weight watchers is healthy and it works. and i pulled a move of undeniable stealth extracting myself by nodding and excusing myself to the bathroom or some other such refuge.

because what i could have said? what i wanted to say was that just because something works doesn't mean it's healthy. and if it really worked would our nation be fighting this obesity epidemic? and after only three months of a successful weight-watchers stint (nineteen pounds lost) i developed a raging case of bulimia that nearly destroyed me. yup, three months of weight watchers and it's taken me more than five years to recover.

this diet thing. it is so ingrained in our culture. and no one has the information to combat it.

i stopped writing--for the most part--about my nasty, little eating disorder (ned) because i didn't want it to define me. i didn't want to write about the descent when i was doing everything i could to climb out of the crater in which i'd landed. and so i took the "ned" tab down from my sidebar.

and i'm not going to. to write about the descent, that is.

but i am going to give vic's suggestion a whirl. i'm going to write about climbing out of that crater. about getting better. and stronger. about the bits and pieces that have helped me. the elimination of fake sugar from my diet (and why). and the healthy, real foods that keep me moving. about how i eat what i want, when i want it: cupcakes and ice cream included.

i am not perfect. and neither is my body. i have stretch marks. all over. and thighs that rub together. but i love my body. yes, you heard me correctly. completely and compassionately, i love my body. i will never again try to lose weight. i just won't do it. i will try to eat well, to nourish my body and strengthen my heart. and i imagine those things will peel off the pounds i no longer want or need.

but it's so not about the pounds. ya know?

for the next week i'm gonna have this little blogspot-lover focus on health, so that when it's all said and done we'll have the start of a new tab for my sidebar. a tab to replace the one that "ned" once claimed.


(still working on names though...seems like all the good ones like "living well" or some such have been claimed.

suggestions?)