My eating disorder can’t hook me through conventional methods so instead it tries to get me through you. I don’t care about having a beach ready body but the possibility of getting this useless meatsuit even the least bit closer to looking like yours? Of being an adequate-enough vessel that you might consider inhabiting me, even if only for a moment, for an hour? Oh, that’s tempting. That’s an offer I find hard to refuse. My logical brain knows such a goal is impossible for my body – it will never be good enough for you, no matter how I cut and carve it down – but the disorder whispers from where it’s chained in the depths of my subconscious that maybe, just maybe, we can make it happen together. We should at least give it a shot, it purrs to me. Right?
I went into 2018 determined to change one of the most influential relationships in my life: my relationship with food. I’ve written before about how food is a major stressor for me, both from a nutritional/medical standpoint and from a body image one. Every meal poses multiple threats: will this hurt my stomach or otherwise cause some unexpected physical side effect? will it make me fat? will I have to not eat something later today because I ate this already? will I regret eating this so much that it’s not worth the mental agony in the first place? Blah blah blah. It makes me miserable, and so my big goal of 2018 was to shut down that paranoid, overly critical voice in my brain. I would continue making good food choices based on what my body needs and can or can’t handle, but I would stop making choices based on things like calorie count or whether a food could be deemed “good” or “bad”.
This doesn’t mean I started eating junk food for every meal, of course (though I wish!). Since my body already has trouble with processed foods and anything high in fat, grease, oil, or sugar, my diet is pretty healthy by default. What it does mean is that I started allowing myself to actually enjoy foods that weren’t “bad” for me in a nutritional way but would be considered so by most diet coaches. For me personally, this mostly meant carbs. Bread, pie, crackers, pretzels, muffins, cereal, scones, all those delicious foods you’re supposed to run screaming from because oh god, they might ruin your flat tummy I ate with the conscious effort to enjoy guilt-free. Same with cheese, peanut butter, honey, dried fruit, all those deceptively healthy foods that are secretly high calorie and therefore a dieter’s trap. With every bite of homemade banana bread slathered with peanut butter or chunk of wheat bread accompanied by cheese and an apple I made myself consciously recognize that I am inherently allowed to eat these foods. Not “allowed because I exercised that day” or “because I skipped lunch”, but allowed because I can eat what I want. Period. End of story. My worth as a person isn’t based on how many calories I ingest per day and life is too short to spend agonizing over every bite. If I want to eat a muffin I’m going to eat a goddamn muffin.
So what happened? Well, I gained fifteen pounds or so. I gained so much weight, in fact, that I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been – which should be a personal nightmare come true, but you know what? The world didn’t end. Literally nothing changed in my life except my stomach is a little flabbier (that’s where all my weight gain goes) and maybe a few items of clothing don’t fit as well as they once did. But that’s it! I’m as healthy as I was a year ago, if not healthier, and whatever extra chub I’ve gained hasn’t caused me any emotional, financial, or interpersonal ruin. I’m not sure anyone has even noticed, really, except for my wife, and my doctor didn’t comment on my increased weight when I went in for my yearly physical. Like I said, nothing has changed in any significant way… except I’m happier and mentally/emotionally healthier than last year. My enjoyment of friends and family time increased exponentially once it wasn’t hampered by constant food anxiety; I actually ate what I wanted to over the holidays; and I’ve allowed myself foods I avoided for literally years. Nothing changed except I feel a little less crazy, which, with a brain like mine, feels quite the triumph.
My efforts in 2018 didn’t cure me of my body image issues, of course; that shit is so deeply rooted inside me that I’ll never be totally free. What matters, though, is that I’ve made progress. I’m much kinder to myself when it comes to food and that’s allowed me to better appreciate when and what I eat, and with whom I share those meals. If the price of that lesson is a few extra pounds, I find I don’t mind that much. They say “a moment on the lips, forever on the hips”, meaning your enjoyment of food is fleeting and therefore inconsequential compared to the lofty pinnacle of success that is being skinny, but that phrase doesn’t take into account that the memories of those moments are also with us forever. When we eat consciously, and especially when we make meals into a time of friendship and joy, we’re nourishing ourselves in a different but just as important way. That’s what I want to focus on, not an elusive number on the scale.
It’s “the holidays”, so let’s talk about… eating disorders! (Wah wah.)
I’m about to throw a big ball of crazy at you, so fair warning. Possible triggers: eating disorders, anxiety, OCD, and chronic illness.
I don’t want to bore you with my whole life story, so I’ll try to give you the relevant highlights. I have always had stomach problems: cholic as a baby, a lactose intolerance diagnosis in elementary school, and an IBS diagnosis in high school. Add to this an anxiety disorder that makes my stomach rock and roll whenever I’m nervous, excited, angry, or upset and you have a bad, bad combination. Basically, my stomach hurt all the time when I was a kid and I rarely knew why. Food became dangerous and untrustworthy; something that was fine the day before might upset my stomach the next day. I was miserable (and frequently still am).
In college, I added to all this a healthy dose of body issues. I was a chubby child but it never bothered me, as I eschewed most of society’s expectations for the female body. Sometime in college the bad body vibes hit me, though, despite my best efforts, and I’ve never been able to shake them. My food anxiety and OCD combined with the shiny new body issues and morphed into a stronger, faster, meaner obsession. I counted calories, carbs, portions, and anything else that was trackable. About a year out of college, I had managed to get my body, which likes to be between 132-135 pounds, down to 111. I had even managed to cease my menstrual cycle completely, which was awesome but not super healthy.
Nowadays I’m back to a proper weight, but still in a weird limbo where my anxiety-ocd-body-issues monster is constantly at war with my queer, feminist side that strives to cast off all the gross social conditioning and love my body exactly how it is. Every single day I expend so much energy worrying about my weight, my IBS, what I should eat to be healthy, what I should eat to be skinny, what I should eat to be comfortable and happy and not-crazy that I exhaust myself. If I have one cookie on the weekend, I mentally berate myself for it. If I take a day off from exercising because my stomach hurts, I swear I’m already a pound heavier. Even this very moment, while I write this, I’m craving Chex Mix but no, it’s so many calories, what if it makes my stomach hurt, I shouldn’t! Rinse and repeat forever.
All of this is to explain why Thanksgiving and Christmas have gone from being my favorite holidays to ones I dread through all of September, October, and November. See, I love eating and the winter holidays have the best food – pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie, candied yams, mashed potatoes, honey rolls, hot chocolate, donuts and cheese danish on Christmas morning… mmm! More than anything, though, I love eating my mom’s stuffing. It’s soaked with butter and chock full of dried and fresh fruit, and I would eat it every day of my life if I could. But stuffing isn’t a good food according to my OCD brain. It’s bad for my stomach; it’s high in calories; it has no nutritional value. How dare I have even one bite?! So for the last ten or eleven years, the holidays have involved far more anxiety and internal panicking than enjoyment of the dishes I love. I drink water to fill myself up to the point of pain, and I eat a big, healthy breakfast so I’m not tempted by the Christmas donuts. When I have one anyway, I then spend the day wondering how I can sneak away from the festivities to work out. It’s pathetic, honestly, and majorly depressing.
I am going to change that this year. Or at least, I’m really going to try. I want to eat a nice dinner without worrying about my stomach beforehand and hating myself afterward. Wouldn’t that be nice? It really would. And I deserve that. I deserve to enjoy the holidays with my friends and family. I deserve to nourish my body with food that is healthy and good, and to not feel guilty for giving it the fuel it needs (or the treat I want!). I deserve to live free of anxiety and obsession. I deserve to live my life, to be present in every moment, and so does everyone else in similar situations. There are so many of us hurting out there, starving our bodies and souls to meet impossible ideals, and there’s just no reason. We weren’t put on this earth to make ourselves suffer.
I think this will be my goal for 2018 – to be kinder to myself and to love myself, not despite my various burdens but because of them. Maybe 2018 will be the year that I get to know my body again. We’ve been at war for too long.
but you make it so hard
we fight over everything
and you cry so fucking much
can you please get a hold of yourself?
I want to love you
but you make it so hard
you’re cold and breakable as porcelain
and anxiety riddles you like hairline fractures
do you even have a backbone?
I want to love you
but you make it so hard
you can’t do anything totally right
and mostly you just fuck things up
would it kill you to accomplish something?I want to love you
but you make it so hard
you are flawed through and through
and have been from the start
must you always disappoint me?
I want to love you
but you make it so hard
I’m tired of giving excuses for you
and accommodating your whims
don’t you think you owe me by now?
I want to love you
but you make it so fucking hard
I want to find freedom in acceptance
and yet I slip back twice for every inch I gain
are you as tired as I am?
Why I’m An “Apologetic Vegetarian”
This month marks the one year anniversary of my decision to become a vegetarian. Neat! Instead of reflecting on that choice and my journey over the last year, though, I instead want to talk about why I call myself an apologetic vegetarian. To understand where I’m coming from, you need a little backstory. First, I have had chronic stomach issues since I was a baby. Lactose intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety induced stomach aches… my stomach basically hurts at least once a day. If I’m not painfully constipated, then I have what I fondly refer to as the “fire poops”. I can’t safely ingest fatty food, greasy food, fried food, highly processed food, red meat, coffee, milk, artificial sweeteners, black tea, chocolate, soda, or anything else good tasting. Half the time even my safe foods make my stomach upset. It sucks major lollipops.
Second, I have chronic anxiety and OCD. Many of my issues in this department revolve, understandably, around food. I am constantly paranoid about eating or drinking something that will make my stomach hurt, make me constipated, or otherwise isn’t “healthy” enough – based on my own neurotic standards. I can send myself into a panic attack at a restaurant if nothing on the menu seems safe enough to me. It’s bad. On top of this, I also obsess over my weight. Several years ago I was restricting my caloric intake to such a degree that I had dropped from my normal weight of 135 to 111. My period stopped for nearly a year (which was pretty sweet but also apparently not good). My doctor put a stop to that, and a couple years of therapy helped, but it’s still very easy for me to start fixating on my health and weight to a dangerous degree.
Okay, so now you know. Dietary restrictions and obsessive compulsive personality. Awesome mix. I am such a functioning adult.
When I decided to become a vegetarian, I did so because I could no longer take part in an industry that causes pain to billions of animals every year. Therefore, it made sense to become a vegan – the production of milk and eggs in factory farms is just as horrendous and destructive as the actual meat industry, after all. To say you won’t eat a cow but you’re fine with letting one be traumatized its entire life so you can eat cheese is somewhat hypocritical. However, I knew from the beginning that I couldn’t convert to full veganism. Taking any meat-containing meals off the menu would already limit me more than my stomach issues already do. To further limit myself to IBS-safe vegan meals would most likely cause me issues everywhere I went. If I could give myself a panic attack because the only salad a restaurant offered was made with iceberg lettuce, I’d be totally doomed if on top of everything else, I had to question whether the bread housing my veggie sandwich had eggs or milk in it. It just wasn’t going to happen.
When I became a vegetarian, I promised myself one thing: if I was on the verge of a panic attack or wobbly with hunger and a ham sandwich, for example, was my only IBS-safe option, I had to choose my immediate mental or physical health over my morals. Knowing how obsessive and anxious I can become when faced with a dietary lose-lose situation, I had to give myself an out. I felt like a hypocrite and a coward for even doing something like that in a theoretical future situation, but I didn’t have much choice. I’m glad to say this issue hasn’t come up yet, and my first year as a vegetarian went by pretty smoothly. However, I still feel supremely guilty when I consume something I know (or suspect) has eggs or milk in it. I try to avoid such things when I can, but without an ingredients list you can never know for sure. And, unfortunately, OCD thrives on the things you can “never know for sure.”
So that’s why I call myself an apologetic vegetarian. I wish, truly, that I was at a place in my life where I could take on a challenging and rewarding lifestyle like veganism – but I’m not. I hope I will be one day, and I’m definitely trying to move in that direction. Until then, all I can do is minimize the harm I cause to my fellow animals, and help as many of them as I can.