Food Mutilation: A Quick Note

I’ve heard my food habits called ‘cute’, ‘unusual’, ‘annoying’ and ‘obnoxious’. For the most part, I ignore these praises/accusations and continue in my ways, because that’s the only way I feasibly can. To be clear, here are the habits I’m talking about:

  • I can never eat a ‘whole’ piece of food. I always, always cut slivers off of a food item (be it chocolate, bread, cheese or a dried date), and leave partially-eaten remnants in the bag. Usually, I’ll return to my remnant throughout the day and finish it in the same way: in gradual slivers. Whenever I’m offered a piece of candy, I immediately cut it in half, to the dismay of the offerer.
  • I steal food. All the time. When I’m not caught, it’s not a problem. If someone leaves food out, or has something delectable in the fridge or pantry, I can’t control myself. Usually I justify it by saying, “I’m just so hungry, I can’t help it.” Obviously, I try to only steal in small amount so that it’s not noticeable.
  • I hide food. In my room, in secret parts of the kitchen, etc. Not so that people won’t take it, necessarily… more so that I won’t be tempted by it, or maybe that I will be. In any case, I receive the brunt of shock when someone finds my stash of hidden food under the sink, or in my underwear drawer.
  • I take food off of people’s plates. Sometimes without really asking. At restaurants. I’ve been yelled at copiously by friends and family, but I do it anyways. Especially when someone goes to the bathroom, I take the food off their plate. I usually get caught.

The pattern in all of these ‘habits’ is that I am, in one way or another, mutilating the food that I’m eating, or otherwise mutilating the process of eating and food sharing. With the food-breaking and half-eating, which folks tend to find more amusing than anything, I know that it’s a result of my anxiety around food. See, if I eat two halves of a cookie at separate times, it feels less nerve wracking than eating an entire cookie at once. It’s nonsensical. It’s also extremely common in people with eating disorders.

With the remaining habits of hiding and stealing, I think it’s more to do with the fact that I’m always starving. Even when I’m not starving, I am. I steal food most often when I am restricting below 1000 calories per day, and enter fits of ravenousness. When you’ve had no breakfast or lunch, it suddenly doesn’t matter whose stir fry is sitting on the stove. I’ll be there dangling noodles into my mouth furtively until you catch me and rat me out.

I’ve always known at some level that my disturbed food habits are all related to my ongoing and chronic eating disordered-ness, but have never fully acknowledged it this way. So I’m taking a moment to acknowledge it. I know a few folks who have “fully recovered”, who refuse to share food, who never eat in halves, and who never cut their food into unnecessarily small bits. It makes it even more clear to me that my funny, cute, troubling, annoying, and obnoxious food habits are a prolongation of the eating disorder. Oh well– I’ll go have another quarter of an Oreo now (my sixth quarter of the evening so far).

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You Don’t Have Binge Eating Disorder (You’re Just a Pig)

Image from Revelist, link here.

This is what I tell myself whenever I am wondering how to qualify my episodes of bingeing. It’s narrow minded, internalized reductionism (aka, I feel that I have to tell myself that my experiences aren’t significant) and I don’t truly believe it. At least, I don’t believe it in an outward-facing way. When other people describe their binge eating disorder, I am immediately empathetic and want to validate their experience. Why can’t I do that for myself?

One of the problems that makes me doubtful is the fact that people use the word “binge” to colloquially reference an episode of over-eating. I must tell you, that is not what a binge is. A binge is an episode of extreme over-eating that occurs where a person feels that they have no control, are unable to stop, and feel intensely guilty and sad. A binge involves eating to the point of pain, or even vomiting. And binge eating disorder occurs when this happens on a regular basis. I think the current criteria are that a binge must occur at least weekly for the syndrome to be considered BED– unfortunately, for a lot of folks with BED, the episodes occur far more often.

Because people use the word binge so freely, and not always in reference to BED (binge eating disorder), I doubt myself. My friend says she ‘binged’ last night, had two bowls of spaghetti and a few cookies. But she seems carefree about it, and doesn’t do it regularly. Still, I worry that my own bingeing experience is just the same as hers– nothing to worry about, and certainly not an eating disorder.

I have to remind myself frequently that my experience is abnormal, that it disrupts my life and that therefore, I shouldn’t just brush over it as if it were nothing. I go through periods where I binge every single day, twice a day, and am in constant pain from the food. And I fear it– I feel a loss of control over the bingeing, and so during class, or at work, I’m dreading the return home where I have free access to food, because I know that my night will be spent eating against my will (in a sense). It’s a horrible experience that have persisted over the years, and that is a serious pain in my life. And yet I still discredit myself: There’s nothing really wrong with youYou’re just a fat pig with no willpower.

Folks with binge eating disorder are often discredited in general, because the syndrome is not viewed as being as “real” as anorexia, bulimia, or even EDNOS. BED people often hide their symptoms, and aren’t usually extremely thin, making the disorder almost invisible. So the question becomes this: how can we make BED a more visible, less stigmatized illness, such that people who suffer from it (myself included) feel that they can get help? How do we stop delegitimizing BED people’s symptoms as just being a lack of willpower? I find myself thinking about this a lot lately because I’ve experienced the whole range of eating disorder symptoms, and I’ve resultantly had different experiences with treatment. When I was ‘anorexic’ and extremely underweight, I received a lot of attention and immediate treatment due to the visibility of the illness. When I was bulimic and exercising for hours and hours a day, people noticed and started questioning me. But with BED, nobody sees, and so there is a lack of treatment that I feel I can access. It feels like a disorder that is particularly isolating.

It’s important to feel validated when you have any issue, but particularly with BED. I say this from my own experience of feeling particularly invalidated, and struggling with getting help as a result. Unfortunately, I can’t offer any immediate support to those of you reading who might also have BED, other than the account of my own experience. Hopefully, in reading this, and in reading the way that I’ve invalidated myself, someone might feel a bit less alone in their bingeing.

To Pill or Not to Pill: Considering Antidepressants (Again)

First, a touch of background (though I’ve mentioned this in previous posts):

October 2015:  I started taking Zoloft in 2015 after a sustained period of depression and social anxiety (about 16 months) which culminated in a period of intense depression/anxiety, OCD, muscular ticks, trichotillomania, suicidality, self-harm, etc. Basically, a bunch of psychological diagnostic jargon that just means I have no healthy coping mechanisms. 

November 2016:  Anyways, the Zoloft really, really helped. I felt happy for the first time in a long time, and that was sustained for almost a year… until I stopped regularly taking my pills. After sporadically taking my pills for a month, I crashed, became extremely suicidal and didn’t leave my bed for 6 weeks.

January-September 2017:   After that, it wasn’t the same. I switched to Prozac, no help. Increased my Prozac to 40, 60, and finally 80mg, the maximum dosage, but still struggled with feeling chronically hopeless and fatigued.

September 2017:    In September of last year, I decided to stop taking antidepressants. They weren’t helping sufficiently, and I was afraid they were causing me to binge excessively. At that point, I was struggling deeply with my drinking, with my eating, and didn’t see any help in antidepressants. I weaned off over about 6 weeks, and took my last pill in early October.

October 2017:   I went through a month of withdrawals, mostly involving intense dizziness and faint spells, but that subsided. I figured I was fine.

November 2017:   Unfortunately, the depression began to creep back in. At first, it was in the form of mild withdrawal, sadness, feeling a bit darker than usual. By late November, I was once more unable to leave my bed, stopped eating and bathing, and withdrew completely from other people. Throughout November and December, I felt extremely irritable, sad, and I binge drank daily.

January 2018: I made a New Year’s resolution to get happy. I returned to school, and hoped I would feel better from a change of scenery. What actually happened (and what I should have predicted) was that I got worse, began skipping meals, and having visions once again of suicide.

So now, I’m left with a dilemma. After stopping antidepressants, I became depressed again. And it hasn’t lifted in almost three months now. It’s difficult to function, and even preparing food or changing my clothes feels like a mammoth task most of the time. I’m beginning to wonder if I should take antidepressants again.

When I stopped taking pills, I was overjoyed. I had felt under the grip of medication for so long, and I finally felt like I could control my own happiness, my own life. I don’t want to give that up.

Theoretically I could try therapy first, but I’ve gone through 5 therapists and had considerably negative experiences with that. Plus, I know for a fact that I don’t have the energy to take a bus out to the city to meet with a therapist that I’m afraid doesn’t like me. Theoretically, I should exercise more and eat healthier foods to feel better, but even that feels out of my grasp.

I’m stuck at an impasse, in my point of view, and while I wait to decide I continue to feel dark, sad and helpless. I think what I’m most afraid of, though, is not that I’ll lose an element of psychological freedom if I begin to take pills again… it’s that the medication might not help this time. And then I’ll really be stranded.

How to Not Hate a Drug Addict

I think it’s easy to hate drug addicts and alcoholics. Call me cold, but it’s true– ask anyone who’s dealt with an addicted family member. I’m blessed to not have any immediate family or friends that deal with addiction, and for myself, despite my difficulties, I wouldn’t call myself an addict. No, I’m talking about someone deeply and irrevocably addicted– in this case, to pain killers. Addicts will do many things, including many evil things, to get their fix. They use and abuse their loved ones. They choose their addiction over their families, and in a way, they don’t have a choice– they’re addicted. Obviously I’m generalizing but… not that much.

So, knowing that an addict can do horrible things to the people around them, but keeping in mind that they’re addicted, have a form of disease and need help, what do you do? How do you not hate a drug addict?

I have an extended family member who I am visiting today who is addicted to pain killers. She takes them daily and when she does, she gets high and calls her family to cry and ask them for money. She tries to commit suicide. She gets fired from her job for starting fights, when her family doesn’t have enough money to pay the bills. She is an addict that sacrifices the wellbeing of herself, her family, her children in order to continue being addicted. And I hate her, for the damage she has inflicted. From the outside, she seems selfish, stupid and self-destructive. But I know, intellectually, that it’s much more complicated than that. Still– how do I look past all that and forgive her?

I grew up going to church, and have instilled in me the “turn the other cheek” message, as well as that of ultimate forgiveness. I may not be a Catholic that goes to confession, but I do believe that forgiving others is crucial– somewhat for their benefit, but mostly for your own goodness. So I believe firmly that it’s my task to forgive her for her addiction, forgive her for all the abuse she has inflicted on those I love, and find a way to support her and feel compassion.

I’m just not sure how.

I’m holding a lot of grudges lately towards people that have caused me pain, and though I’ve never been a grudgeful person, I’m finding it surprisingly difficult to let go. But ultimately, I don’t want to die hating the people I love. So, during my visit today, which is sure to test the limits of my patience and sanity, here’s what I’ll be trying out:

  1. Keep reminding myself that this person was once a child with hopes, dreams, and purity of heart, and that that person is the same somewhere.
  2. Remind myself that we could die tomorrow, and that I don’t want to die hating this woman, nor do I want  her to hate me, if that’s the case.
  3. Remind myself that drug addiction and depression are powerful– I’ve very much experienced the latter and perhaps had a taste of the former, and I’ve experienced how it can change your temperament and make you unkind. And try to forgive her actions and words.

Wish us luck.

What to Do When You Realize You’re Growing Up to Be the Angry Woman on the Train

First and foremost, the reason for my lack of recent posts: I put overwhelming pressure on myself to make the posts some version of “perfect,” ever-knowing that a future employer could stumble across this blog and judge me (appropriately, maybe) on my writing skills and analytical ability. No more– that sort of pressure has totally deterred me from contributing to my own self-growth project, and has meant that the fee I paid for this domain is going to waste!

So from here on out, at least in my own mind, I want to make this blog an exploration for myself, and an exercise in self-reflection. I try to keep a journal, but find writing arduous, so maybe I’ll keep better tabs on my life in digital format.

I’ve also attempted to have each of my posts completely related to eating disorder recovery– insightful, critical, eloquent recovery. Unfortunately, I haven’t been working on recovery, and I’ll admit, I’ve been restricting, bingeing, the usual bit. And because of that, I’ve felt ashamed to write on my recovery blog. Well, I’m widening the focus here, and I’m going to write about whatever I feel like. And I’m going to do my best to ignore the daunting thought in my head, the question that asks, “Who gives a crap what you say about your life?”

So with that overly long introduction, I’ll jump into the topic that I’ve been mulling over for a number of weeks/months now, which is that I’m Growing Up to be an angry, wrinkled, sour woman. Exactly the type of person, in fact, that I always watched as a child and thought to myself, “God, I don’t ever want to be her.” You know who I’m talking about– in the checkout line at the grocery store, she rolls her eyes at the bagger, glares at the magazines, doesn’t smile back at the cashier. She has deep frown lines in her face and she wears years of disappointment on her back. Well, I’m not quite that bad, but I’ve begun to show some symptoms that reveal my progressions towards being The Sour Woman in the Grocery Store. The Sad Woman Sitting in Traffic. The Angry Woman on the Train.

I don’t smile at anyone, even my friends and loved ones, unless I’m drunk or high. And I gave up drinking and drugging two weeks ago, so really, I don’t smile at all. I notice that my natural face is frowning, that I slouch terribly, and that I’m just as bad as the New Yorker pedestrians who rudely bluster past everyone and everything. I don’t smile at the homeless people begging for money, not that I even ever did, but I should, dammit. I don’t look out the window when we cross the bridge on the subway. And I cry, a lot.

It would be nice if I could say that this hasn’t been a pattern, that I’m just depressed, that this will pass and that my “natural” state is a kind, generous, smiling young woman. But the evidence has proven otherwise. I’ve spent the better part of four years now fighting against this state of bitterness and sadness, and despite brief excursions into the world of Sunshine and Happiness, I’ve always ultimately returned here. I look at this pattern and, having studied analytical thinking, I come to the conclusion that there is a Trend. And that that Trend is my personality, solidifying with age.

I don’t like it.

I always dreamt of being a dreamer, hoped to be an optimist, and I have failed myself. In times past, I assumed that I could be happier if I wanted to, and I would, just not right now. I’ll start meditating next week, I’ll drink less coffee and feel more grateful, then I’ll be happier. But I’ve spent too long now being Unhappy, and I fear I’ve let the rope wear thin. I fear I’m now an Unhappy Person.

I see old people sometimes who are deeply bitter. 80-year-olds fighting with their spouses, lying in bed all day, maybe, and yelling at millenials. And suddenly, lately, I’m able to see myself in them in a way that is new to me. I can see my future as it currently stands, and the hopelessness of it troubles me.

I promised in the title of this post that I would provide “What to do’s,” and I won’t fall short on that promise. Only I can’t promise that my advice will be helpful, given that I’ve only ever practiced it on myself, once, and yet here we are. Knowing what you know, take my advice with a grain of salt.

  1. First, practice smiling when you’re alone. Even if you hate yourself for it a little bit. It’ll help counteract the frown lines.
  2. Always carry single bills and have them in your pocket when you ride the subway, and don’t wear mittens so that it’s easy to access them to give to beggars. (Is beggars politically correct?)
  3. Drink more water.
  4. Never yell at your mother.
  5. Pray. To God, to Allah, to Mother Nature, to your ancestors, or yourself. Whatever you can pray to, and don’t say that you’re atheistic and can’t because if we fail to experiment in thought beyond our individual minds, we are bottomless.
  6. Forgive yourself, just a little bit.
  7. Stop listening constantly to NPR and see how good you are at listening to silence.
  8. Tell yourself that you are significant, and believe it.
  9. But remember that you are insignificant, and that your life doesn’t matter above any others’.
  10. And finally, make a list of all the people who you hate the most, and tell yourself that you love them. At first your stomach will turn at the thought, but after a while it might not quease you so much. Hating people, more than almost anything else, is what turns us into Angry Train People.

Don’t try to lose weight on Christmas.

Pretty much every day of the year, magazines, news articles, Instagram accounts and diet commercials tout weight loss, the newest and best fad diet, the most effective surgery to flatten your belly. It’s so ubiquitous that it can become hard to notice.

It’s also so easy to lose track of how often you’re on a diet. After so many days, months, and years of counting calories, limiting sweets, and measuring yourself by the scale, we forget that trying to lose weight isn’t baseline. Actually, you can give up those behaviors, even if just for a little while.

Trying to lose weight during the holidays, on a birthday, or at any time when there’s a wonderful celebration filled with food and home cooking, is a terrible way to go. Not only because you will likely fail– try to give up Christmas cookies all week and by Saturday you might find yourself hovering over a plate and shoveling them into your mouth. The fact that weight loss is nearly impossible this time of year isn’t the only reason you should give up the struggle, at least for a while. It’s because life is about more than dieting.

It sounds simple, I know. But really, truly think about it. If you’re a lifelong dieter, or maybe even a person with an eating disorder (past or present) like me, take the time to consider it. Meditate on it. What’s more worth it– skipping your mother’s best Christmas turkey to save a couple hundred calories, or really slowing down and savoring food, appreciating your body and family, at least for a day? If you want, you can always go back to the diet after the holiday is over. That option isn’t going away (perhaps unfortunately). But for the time being, just consider it. Maybe try it. Give it up for one day. Allow yourself to experience a life that’s deeper, richer, and more beautiful than skipping two hundred calories can give you.

The best recovery cure: Cooking.

I was blessed to grow up in a home where home cooking was the standard. We ate together almost every night, and enjoyed my mom’s home-cooked food. Not that is was always wild or gourmet cuisine– sometimes just grilled chicken breast with rice and salad. But it was always fresh, hot, and made by someone I loved. Unsurprisingly then, I love cooking.

I started cooking when I was about 12, and I was horrible. I made pasta with raw garlic for my first dish, flavored with cold vinegar. My family (respectfully) choked it down. Almost ten years later, however, I’ve become pretty savvy in the kitchen. Tonight for dinner I made my family red lentil dal with eggplant and red chiles, using spices I seldom use like coriander and cumin seed. Planning it, hunting down the spices in the store, cooking it and eating it, was all part of a joyful (and somewhat challenging) process ending in a delicious, spicy meal. And while making this, I’ve come to realize this: that cooking may just be the best cure for an eating disorder.

 

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So many folks I’ve spoken with who are recovering from eating disorders say that learning to cook was their saving grace. I think I could say the same, to a large extent. Preparing a meal from start to finish, trying out new recipes and even new flavor profiles removes you from the calories, the counting, and the anxiety. Food becomes what it truly is about: flavor and nourishment and love.

If you don’t know how to cook, don’t worry — nobody knows how to cook in the beginning. Start small. Buy a new vegetable you haven’t eaten, and roast it in the oven with some salt. Throw a new herb into your morning eggs, instead of thinking about the calories in yolks and whites. Then, enjoy it. Really savor it. You just might find (like I have) that the ED thoughts are a little bit quieter, and your body feels a little bit better.

 

*The image above isn’t the dish I made, just one I pulled from the Internet from Food Network by Aarti (Check out her recipe here).  Mine was similar, though.

What to do when having a terrible day.

Cover image on WallpaperUp by Belle Deesse (See it here).

Earlier this week, I had a terrible, awful day. I wept because I didn’t have anything else to do. I was blindingly bored, physically exhausted, and highly irritable. There wasn’t any good reason– probably I had slept too long and watched too much TV, throwing me completely out of balance.

I hate to admit that I didn’t deal with it all that well. I kept on watching bad reality TV. I ate loads of junk food, and as soon as 5 o’clock rolled around I took the opportunity to start drinking. I avoided my family all night and was awful to my fiance. I stayed up until midnight.

Retrospectively, I feel (I hope) I have a much better idea for how to deal with a having just a terrible day. A day when your mood is in the gutter, you can’t get off the couch, it’s cold and raining and miserable. Here are my tips (which I intend to enact next time I feel bad, and every day).

  1. SHUT THE LAPTOP. Staring in to space is healthier than browsing the Internet when you’re in a bad state.
  2. Have a large glass of water. Then another. Having dehydration-inflicted brain fog can be half the problem. (Today I’ve had six glasses so far).
  3. Put on pants. Even leggings are fine– just get out of your pajamas by 10am.
  4. Wallow in it. Write some bad poetry, draw a bad picture, play a sad song. It’s okay to embrace feeling terrible, but only for a little while (not all day long, like I did) and as long as it’s in a healthy way (not drinking alcohol and refreshing your Facebook page).
  5. Finally, give yourself a break. For me, the worst part of feeling bad is the sense of underproductivity. When I’m already sad, frustrated, or fatigued, the sense that I need to work harder and achieve more buries me further in the hole. Sometimes I tell myself that I’m sick with the flu, therefore it’s okay that I’m not getting much done that day. Suddenly, I feel more forgiving of myself. Suddenly my laziness is self-care rather than self-indulgence, and by the end of the day I feel refreshed rather than miserable and guilty.

I tried out these tips today, and ended up feeling much, much better. I’ll be trying and revising these techniques, and I’ll have plenty of time now that I’m on winter break from school.

If you’re having a horrible, terrible day, just remember that it will pass. In the mean time, have a cup of tea and take a deep breath.

Losing weight with BED?

Common wisdom says that it’s not possible to healthily lose weight (through restriction) when you have binge eating disorder (BED). Restriction triggers bingeing, pretty much without fail, for most bingers. Okay… so how do you lose weight with this eating disorder?

Folks have made many suggestions as to how to circumvent restriction to lose weight. Some claim that vegan diets will help you lose weight without restriction, or that a low-carb diet will do the trick. But in my experience, that never works. If you eat enough to not binge, you’re not losing weight, no matter whether or not you’re eating animal products, carbs, or what have you.

Of course, sheer willpower doesn’t do it, either. Believe me, I’ve tried simply digging my toes into the ground when the urge to binge arrives, and I always cave. The urge to binge is more like possession than it is just an “urge.” It’s overwhelming, overpowering, unbeatable.

So here’s one thing I’ve been able to do to lose weight without bingeing, with relative success. I restrict to lose a few pounds, and naturally, the urge to binge arrives. But I don’t keep any food in the house other than the minimum necessary to sustain myself, and I don’t keep any binge-worthy foods in the house. When you’re craving breads, sweets, cheese or carbs, but there aren’t any in the house, there’s not much you can do other than resist the desire. It works.

I’ll admit, once my roommate made herself a pot of pasta with tomato sauce (one of my favorites). I’d restricted pretty thoroughly all day, and was hungry. Well, I gorged myself on her pasta (to a limited extent — I wasn’t supposed to eat it, so I had to hide the gaps and hope she wouldn’t notice). But I ate a fair amount and derailed my diet for the day. It’s not a perfect method, and completely relies on the absence of foods. When you live with other people, that’s not always an option.

Until I find a different method for losing weight as a binge eater, this is what I’ll be sticking to. But I’ll keep looking out for a different approach.

 

*Note: losing weight in a restrictive fashion is questionable for any person who’s had an eating disorder, so I’m not really condoning my actions. But this is my experience right now, so I may as well share it.

Breaking: A White Girl Studies Anorexia

It’s a pattern that’s been pointed out countless times by even the most casual observer. A striking number of people with eating disorders go on to study eating disorders, become dietitians, or receive nutritional degrees. On the other hand, talk to a dietician and a surprising number will admit to an eating disordered history.

So what do I do about the fact that’s I’m joining those ranks? What do I do about the fact that I’m get another white, middle class woman with a history of eating disorders going into the field of research?

This year I’m writing a senior thesis about eating disorder recovery groups. It’s fascinating, bewildering, sometimes overwhelming. I find that after about 2 or 3 hours of data collection, I’ll start crying for no particular reason as the discussion of calorie restriction, weight recovery, and familial tension overwhelms my defenses. Mostly, I just feel excited to have the opportunity to research it, and scared at the task of having to write a 100 page essay. But sometimes, I feel guilty (or maybe anxious, or maybe I’m just wrestling with cognitive dissonance) that I’m studying what I am.

I really don’t have an answer for these questions. There aren’t enough eating disorders researchers as there are, and the psychological field as I see it has been narrow in scope. We need more people studying eating issues with nuanced perspectives and variations in interpretation. What do we do to get more people interested in the topic, especially if it seems that only past sufferers gain enough interest to pursue study?

Figuring out how to navigate a place where you’re just another of the common faces without being complicit in that is difficult. Clearly, this phenomenon (and yes, my participation in it) points to a need for a restructuring of the field of psychological research and more specifically eating disorders research.