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Chicken Fried Hunger

Holy shit! Something amazing happened today. I was reading this book about appetite, eating disorders, and desires. I was reading it while eating lunch at work today.

I was having a kind of crappy, stressful day (most days at my work are extremely stressful). I was talking to a co-worker about KFC. I don’t like KFC but it made me really want to eat some fried chicken.

So I went to Popeye’s and ordered my favorite thing there (hint: it’s a lot of food). Since I started eating more like a non-disordered person I tend to eat a lot in one sitting. An unhealthy lot.

I was sitting there, eating fried chicken. And I got to this part in the book about eating your emotions. Eating as a way to sublimate desires of all types. Or (in my case) not eating to sublimate desires of all types. And I realized that for the past year, since I started eating again, I have been doing exactly that.

I got a more stressful job and instead of responding to that in a healthy way, I ate. Then some relationship stuff went down and it ended badly, and I ate even more. And that’s definitely why I’ve gained close to 40 lbs this year.

So, I was sitting there with my fried chicken. And I realized not only did I not want how much food I ordered. I didn’t even want what I had ordered. It didn’t taste good. It didn’t make me feel better.

All it ever made me feel was full. But not in a good and satisfying way. In an unhealthy “I hate myself. Why did I eat so much?” way.

In a weird way I can see how that feeling of fullness is comforting. But it’s really only as comforting as that feeling of emptiness was when I wasn’t eating. Now that I am starting to recognize it for what it really is; it doesn’t offer much comfort.

The hunger and the fullness is the exact same feeling. I feel like my hunger was consuming me all the time. It was filling me up and seemed to take up the same amount of space inside my body and my mind as the fullness does now.

I feel like today, for the first time in more than 20 years, I was listening to my body’s hunger cues instead of mindlessly eating nothing or everything.

I actually almost cried.

It makes me wonder if a few books on eating disorders (in combination with my therapy and journaling) can help me so much. Maybe I should read a few books on some of my other issues. It can’t hurt.

I read so many books about so many things I can’t help but wonder why I never picked one up on any of my emotional issues. It feels like I was being willfully ignorant. But I wasn’t. It was all subconscious.

But I don’t want to pretend this stuff never happened anymore. I want to face it and work through it and fix it and move past it all.

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Perfection

This book I read about anorexia not only linked extreme pickiness to eating disorders, but also extremely healthy eating and food exclusion. For example, only eating organic foods, raw food-ism, vegetarianism, vegan-ism. All of these things can be an expression of an eating disorder. And I’ve tried all of them.

I think food exclusion is a big one for me. It’s easy to practice until I am eating nothing but cereal and apples for weeks at a time. And it’s something I need to watch for. Nothing is so healthy that I should be eating it exclusively.

It’s strange how my food disorder doesn’t seem to be related to my weight. At least, it wasn’t back then. Maybe because I had always been thin I didn’t have to obsess over it. I could obsess over the control angle instead, which I’ll get to.

I never consciously remember wanting to be thin. In fact, I complained about it and acted like I didn’t know why I was so thin. I always claimed to want to gain weight. But I didn’t eat, or behave in a way that would have allowed that to happen.

But now that I have gained weight I am obsessed with being thin again. And, in my own mind, a thin woman is judged much more leniently than overweight women. Not just in regards to appearance, either.

I can really see the connection between eating disorders, control, and perfectionism. I feel like I can never forgive myself for not being perfect. I beat myself up over every detail of every thing I have failed every single day.

I do the same thing to other people in my life too. I expect perfection from myself and others. Even while I am saying I don’t. I do. I have such a hard time forgiving people for disappointing me. For not living up to my expectations. For not being perfect. Myself included.

It’s exhausting. I don’t want to spend my nights going over my mistakes in minute detail. I don’t know why it’s so hard to be compassionate towards myself. I still think perfection is attainable by me.

I can also see that I haven’t made much progress of the control aspect of all this. I only feel safe if I am in control of everything. I want to be able to relax. But I can’t. I want to not care about everything so much. But I do. I want to be able to trust someone to do as good as job as I think I do. But I don’t.

I still think my way is the best way. The right way.

Power

I had a realization today that totally shocked me. I was thinking about eating and not eating and trying to remember the first time I intentionally went hungry. And I remembered something that, while I hadn’t forgotten it, I somehow never made the connection.

When I was 10, my mom was still trying to force me to eat things. I was an extremely picky eater (I still am) and would vomit if I ate something I didn’t like. I don’t even remember what she made. Something I didn’t want.

And when I didn’t eat it; she threatened to serve it to me for breakfast the next day. I know that is a common threat. But she actually did it. And I didn’t care. I didn’t get breakfast. Or lunch. Or dinner. And it went the same the next day.

Finally, on the second or third day she relented. I was always a very thin child. She grew worried about me going so long without eating. From then on she always let me have a peanut butter sandwich if I didn’t want dinner.

It was an unbelievably powerful moment for me. I had won. My parents never relented. They were strict, abusive, unreasonable people. They never apologized, they never admitted to being wrong. Not ever.

Logic didn’t work on them. Or emotional appeals. No amount of reasoning or conversation could sway them. There was no conversation. It was always their way because they were the adults.

Children have very limited power over their own lives. And in my family, we had none. But I had won. I had beaten my mother at her own game. I had shown her how stubborn I could be.

And all I had to do was not eat.

Which I continued to do for the next 20 years. And nobody ever seemed to notice. I barely noticed what I was doing. I was always just “not hungry.” At sleepovers, my friends would bring soda and chips. I would bring water and bread rolls.

And nobody ever confronted me. Nobody asked me a single question about it.

Not Eating

I was talking to my therapist about eating disorders and she said two things I want to try to remember:

Alcoholics get to slay their dragons; anorexics and bulimics have to kiss theirs.

Eating disorders are the hardest things to overcome. Alcoholics can stop going to bars, stop buying alcohol, stop drinking. Drug addicts can do the same. Gamblers can avoid casinos. People with eating disorders can’t avoid food. I can’t stop eating. Not eating IS the problem. I have to face it three times a day, every day, for the rest of my life. And I will probably never stop having disordered thoughts about food. I’ll probably never stop having disordered behaviors and desires and impulses. All I can do is try every day to behave as healthily as I can.

It’s something I have to live with, intimately. There will never be some great battle where I defeat my issues. I’ll just hopefully, eventually learn to deal with it.

Size Matters

The strangest thing about having an eating disorder is how long it took me to realize I had one. I mean, I used to be really, really thin. If I am being honest (and why not on an anonymous blog) I was unhealthily thin. But I was actually still a size 6. I mean, yeah I was over 6 feet tall. And yeah, I sometimes went 3 or 4 days without eating. But I thought it was because I just wasn’t hungry.

 

Even though I thought about food obsessively. It’s not like I was eating until I hated myself and then vomiting it up. I mean, except for the times I did exactly that. And that did happen more than once or twice.

 

Despite the way I always hated my body. How repulsive I thought it was. I always thought I was fine. Despite thinking that gaining any weight would make me disgusting and fat. I was terrified of that.

 

Even despite the complicated, intricate food rules I still have to live by and can’t logically explain to anyone. Despite the fact that I ate nothing but an apple for lunch for three years in middle school. Despite the obsessive working out that I did every day starting when I was 10 (yes, 10).

 

I somehow knew that I was fine. I couldn’t possibly have an eating disorder. That was for pretty, rich girls with nothing better to do. It was for people shallowly obsessed with their appearance (in ways far inferior to the way I was shallowly obsessed with my appearance). Lastly, it was for girls that were actually thin. But not thin the way I was thin. It was for skeletal, emaciated girls on the verge of death. That’s how I could be so convinced that I was fine.

 

I never wore size 6 clothes. I didn’t want anyone to really see how thin I was. I still don’t like wearing anything too tight. I don’t like showing off my body. It’s funny how I still rationalize things. I have actually said, out loud. “You just haven’t seen me naked. I look way better in clothes.”

 

I’m a size 12 now. I’ve gained almost 100lbs in the past 10 years since graduating high school. Nobody in their right mind would say I was fat. But I still do. And I still genuinely think it.

 

I’m still shallowly obsessed with my appearance. I still have an eating disorder. Only now you wouldn’t know it to look at me. That scares me. I’m scared people won’t believe I have a problem because I am not underweight anymore. I’m afraid people will judge me the way I used to judge myself. That I must be healthy and normal because my weight is healthy and normal.

 

I usually eat now too. And I am much less obsessed with eating “healthy” foods. I do still skip meals, but still, only because I am “not hungry.” Though I’ve found my hunger seems to be based more on my emotional state than anything physical.

 

I rarely go more than 24 hours without eating anymore, which is a huge improvement. I eat things I used to never allow myself. I am actually waiting for a pizza delivery as I type this. But I am still so picky about every detail of my diet. I will still vomit up something I find “gross.” I still make myself vomit sometimes. I would still rather not eat than eat something I don’t feel like eating. I’ll still eat an apple as a meal.

 

Most people think I am just extremely picky and uptight. Which I am. Almost nobody knows I have a real problem. So, what changed?

 

Four years ago I was doing an extremely strenuous workout. And for the first time in my life, I couldn’t force my body to do what I wanted. I couldn’t understand why it was failing me. This was during my super fitness phase. I got angry with myself. I hated my own weakness. I hated my body. And for the first time I realized, I hated myself.

 

Approximately two weeks later I found out that I had a heart defect and needed immediate emergency heart surgery. I could have died. I almost did die. I thought back to that day when I hated myself so viscerally. I hadn’t been weak. I was ill. I cried, thinking about hard I had always been on myself.

 

I decided to eat all the foods I had been denying myself. I was waiting to have the second of what would ultimately be 5 heart surgeries. I didn’t want to die without eating pumpkin pie one last time. Or ice cream. Or fried chicken.

 

And then I was eating whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. Since I was so sick, I wasn’t able to exercise either. I couldn’t even walk to the bathroom at times and would have to crawl to get there. I immediately began putting on weight.

 

And now I’m here, uncomfortable with my weight. Enormous in my mind. Self-conscious of the way shirts cling to my chest and stomach. Convinced everyone is silently staring and judging me. Envying those thin girls that I see.

 

I still hate my body. But I also like it more now than I ever have. There was never a weight that made me feel pretty, or good about myself, and there never will be. Sometimes I think “If only I could get back to 180.” But, when I was 180, I wanted to be 160. And when I was 160, I wanted to be 150. It will never be enough. Even with the insight I have now, even with the hindsight…

 

The problem isn’t my weight. It never has been. The problem is with my mind.