“The Thought of My Thighs”

February 24, 2011

So the Borders in the town where I live is going out of business. This makes me incredibly sad, as I like Borders better than B&N, and this Borders has always employed really decent, friendly, bright people, unlike my local B&N.

BF and I went there last weekend to take advantage of 20% off the entire store, and I gave in and bought a hardback that I’ve been wanting to read for some time now (since I read this): Portia de Rossi’s memoir Unbearable Lightness. I don’t like hardbacks, for a slew of reasons, and I didn’t really want to buy this one, but I badly wanted to read it instead of waiting a year for it to come out in paperback. Now that I’m a third of the way through, I am so glad that I caved.

For those of you who haven’t heard of it, this book is the story of Portia’s all-consuming eating disorder (interesting choice of words my brain gave me there) during the years she was on Ally McBeal. She had been coping with eating disorder behavior since she was about 12, but between 1998 and 2002, she shaved herself down to 82 pounds at her thinnest before the disorder was finished with her.

This is a fascinating book, thoroughly real, intelligently written, and as candid as you could possibly want a memoir to be. It’s given me a great deal to think about, in part because of my own long-ago struggle, in part because of what’s going on in my diet and life now, and in part because it’s just a doggone incredible piece of work.

What’s going on now is that my wedding is just over three months away, and I am not as skinny as I’d like to be. I feel loose everywhere, with a body that’s…undisciplined. Generally I’ve been feeling overwhelmed and under-prepared for life in the last three months, and this means that my ability to make healthy meals at home has slipped, and I’ve been relying on frozen foods a lot. My psychological reserves are way down, and I can’t resist comfort foods, I can’t take the energy to count calories, I can’t make myself do much of anything that my mind is resisting.

I’ve been feeling angry at myself, lazy, undisiplined. But when I read about Portia’s ironclad discipline during these awful years, it makes me wonder what’s so great about being disciplined anyway, particularly about diet and exercise. At less than 100 pounds, at 300 calories per day, she still spent hours on the treadmill every morning. Her anxiety about her appearance led her to a kind of leveled-up self-discipline that I’m not sure I ever want to experience.

I joined Planet Fitness in January and I’ve been trying to make it there twice a week, to spend gradually increasing spells on the elliptical. I like the elliptical. It’s not as hollowing and jagged as running, and I still manage to work up a sweat. Ace of Base and Ke$ha keep me company, and I feel utterly satisfied when I get home.

I have been beating myself up that I haven’t set strict goals and met them, going there three or four times a week without fail and insisting on a certain amount of time on the machine at a certain level (or working my way up to running, which I don’t really like but burns more calories), but I just didn’t think that was the way to success for me. I thought if I aimed for twice a week and made it more about the memory of how good I feel when I’m done, I’d do better, dread it less, maybe even make it more often.

After reading about what Portia put herself through, I am much surer that this was the right way to go about it. If it weren’t for the wedding, I might abandon all of my concern about how my body looks and focus only on how it feels. I wish I had a more defined midsection and slimmer hips, arms and neck. But the more of this harrowing book I read, the more I think it might just not matter, maybe not at all, as long as I have a good brain, a good heart, and good health.

From the epilogue:

I’d still like thighs the size of my calves, but the difference is that I’m no longer willing to compromise my happiness to achieve it, or for the thought of my thighs to take up valuable space in my mind. It’s just not that important.


Takin’ a Ride on the Eating Disorder Train

June 16, 2009

Anorexia, so they say, is like cancer or alcoholism. The disease is never cured, according to the experts; it’s only ever in remission. People who have tamped down the urge to drink too much or eat too little are designated as “recovering” alcoholics or anorexics, often for the rest of their lives. The temptation will remain a part of them forever, and all they can do is try to remove themselves from the temptation as well as can be.

The story of my eating disorder is rather a dull one, a period in my life when I acted childish and lived up to the worst characterizations of only children and teenage girls. There were no dramatic peaks or valleys, no moment where I was confronted and told that for the love of God I had to eat something. None of that Lifetime channel stuff. It all happened pretty simply.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Naked Truth

June 15, 2009

No, Calvin, there will not be pictures, and frankly, you’re going to thank me for that.

Unlike the my best buds Laura and Kim, I’m not overweight.  What?  What was that?  If I’m not overweight, why am I here?  I’m here because overweight was a very long time ago; actually, overweight was the rest of my life prior to the last, say, 14 years.  I’m not overweight; I’m obese.  By the charts and the figures and those little statistical maps of how much I “should” weigh (we’ll come back to that), I’m actually morbidly obese.

You want a moment you can’t get back, people?  Try the one where someone writes down that you are morbidly obese.  On paper.  In print.  To be there for eternity.  Yeah, I cried.

I always joke that I cried like hell the first time I hit 190 pounds — and I’d cry like hell if I were ever to see it again, but for an entirely different reason.

Maybe a little background while you get over the shellshock.  First of all, I’m a tall girl.  Long ago (and far, far away), I was 5’9-1/2″.  Whether by age, menopause, or the weight of my ass pulling me down, I’m now down to 5’9″.  I remember hating being tall as a kid; I mean, those years when the girls grow faster than the boys?  The guys had to flip a coin about whether they wanted to dance with me at school dances because while their faces would be in the perfect range of my breasts, their pride would take a beating at being a solid foot shorter than I was.  (Just for the record, pride usually won out.)

I was just over 9 pounds when I was born.  I had a milk allergy that would mean that I had to be fed with a glucose formula as a baby and then would spend my formative years keeping Hi-C in business.  I wonder how much those things contributed to the insulin-resistance that would find me later in life, which is one of the things that I will be documenting in the future on this blog.  I was always bigger than the other kids, though I was an active kid and didn’t overeat before I was a teenager (ahhh, hormones).  If you could see pictures of my great-grandmothers, you’d understand a bit more about my body size and type.  Basically, I was built to (a) give birth and (b) keep a wagon train moving across the Ohio Valley.  Unfortunately (a) gave way to my mother’s genes and left me surgically menopausal early on, with 1 child, and there just isn’t a lot of call for (b) anymore.  So I was always ‘a big girl’ in a little girl’s world.  Except for the summer I turned 17.

That summer I decided that was it.  Like Laura and Kim, I had my heartbroken, though earlier that year.  It just wasn’t until June that he was no longer in my face every single day and that I could ignore everything else, as only those who are children can, and throw myself head-long into an exercise obsession.  I say that like it was unhealthy, and looking back, okay, in some ways it was.  But, it was also the best I’d ever felt in my entire life.  Those endorphins were the best drugs ever made.  I lost more than 30 pounds in about 90 days.  I’d learn later from my husband and then my mother that I’d lost TOO much and was entirely too thin.  I can see it now looking at those pictures.  I looked like bloody hell – gaunt, spindly, eww.  Frankly, I have a big head, big shoulders, big hands — I looked dumb.  As I say about the super skinny girls now, I needed a sandwich, stat.  By the by, I weighed 158 pounds.  I felt fantastic, and I did NOT take it for granted.  By God, it was the first time in my life that I’d been anything approaching skinny!  I was living it up!  All new clothes-barely there clothes, going new places, meeting new people, doing new things.  A whole new world was open to me.  But I had my head on straight and knew that new attention from old people had nothing to do with who I was, but with what I looked like.  And that made their attention worthless to me, which caused mixed feelings — it was what I’d always wanted in so many ways, but now that I had it, I didn’t want it because it didn’t mean anything.  A catch-22.  The ultimate show of that would come when a family friend would notice me as a ‘woman’ for the first time because I was skinny, and then he would get drunk and rape me.  I slowly gained the weight back over the next year and then added to it as I finished my freshman year of college.

From there, my weight would bounce around for a while, usually based on my work life and my activity level, which would always dip drastically in the winter — from the Midwest and not a winter sports kind of girl.  My next major breakup would again bring major weight loss (and a whoooole lot of smoking – so much harder to stick food in your mouth when you’re puffing your lungs into their grave), and that’s when I would meet my husband, who thought I was gorgeous at 218 pounds.

Not sure what it is about love settling in that causes such weight gain.  It isn’t that immediate head-over-heels love; no, during that, I think you’re so high that even if you do eat like you’re solely responsible for the nutrition intake for all of China, the endorphins vaporize those calories or something.  It’s the settling in, the getting comfortable, that helps pack it back on.  We were also very introverted and didn’t get nearly enough exercise; we tried at times but never regularly enough.  By the time we got married, we were both much heavier than when we met.

Unlike most women, I actually lost weight during my pregnancy, but since I had it to lose, the doctor said that as long as the baby was growing, no harm/no foul.  Once the urge to throw myself over a cliff from the nausea finally abated, I felt FANTASTIC between the hormones and the lost weight.  I’d gain again in the last trimester as the baby grew and I lost all ability to stand up out of a chair, but I still gave birth weighing less than I did when I got pregnant.  And then?  Then I fell into such a deep depression that if eating myself to death was an option, that was okay with me.

It was several years later that I’d finally seek help for my depression and start on an antidepressant that made me stop wanting to hurl myself into traffic, as well as finding a great counselor to get some much needed therapy.  We talked about the rape and whether it has kept me from wanting to be thin again.  Honestly, I don’t have an answer to that question.  I don’t recall having a problem with being the size that I was when I met my husband, which was thin-ish for me; actually, in typing that it makes me wonder, as I do seem to recall being a bit nervous at times, but that could also be that I’d thrown out my live-in bf and was now a single girl with no family around, no friends who lived close by, and living in not the nicest part of town.  I guess maybe there’s something to the “thin” thing, though I never, ever want to be as thin as I was.  Do I have a complex about being thin and being noticed by people who would never notice me now?  I’m not sure.  Do I feel “safer” looking like I do?  Brutal honesty?  Yes, in some ways I do; rapists aren’t normally known for picking the fat chick.  At the same time though, I’ve always been the prepared type, so it is not lost on me that I couldn’t run away from anyone who wanted to hurt me.  I digress.

The most recent bit of the story comes from surgery to remove my gallbladder, which left my body a mess with irritable bowel syndrome, lactose-intolerance, and having to learn a whole new way of eating to deal with those things.  A couple years later, I would have a 4-month long pneumonia that would be immediately followed by emergency surgery that would leave me menopausal in my 30s and with a 2-month inactive recovery (coupled with the previous pneumonia) that would leave my lungs still challenged and my body a disaster.  Ladies, if I can teach you ANYTHING in reading this blog, please let it be this:  It is imperative that you have good control of the rest of your body before you reach menopause, because at that moment, everything goes to hell in a handbasket and you are NOT at the wheel. Just a little something to look forward to, sorry, but I’d rather you heard it hear first.  I’ve gained weight in places that I never gained weight before.  Things have pulled and moved and changed… it isn’t pretty.  Do something.  Do it now.

So, why am I here?  What are my goals?

I want to feel better.  I want to be healthier.  This insulin-resistance thing has to be taken seriously because the next step is diabetes, and there is no going back from that one.  I want to be able to run and play with my kid and my dog.  I want to enjoy my life, my sex life, my life after my kid grows up and moves out and gets his own life (you have your dreams, I have mine).  I want to have energy.  I want to have a new wardrobe in my old clothes.  I’d love to be 190 pounds again, though at this point, I also worry that surgery would be involved to fix things that don’t shift back into place, and I’m not sure it’s worth that for an extra 20-30 pounds.  Cart before the horse though; I’ll cross that bridge when I get within 20 miles of it.

I have no interest in marathons or running.  You won’t see me doing Jillian’s 30-day Shred; she shreds me merely by looking at me like that from the box, though I will cheer on my comrades and totally enjoy their whining success!  I’ll be starting by trying to exercise every day, in some form, even if it’s only for 10 minutes at a time.  (An extra challenge today after having a fever of 102 last night.)  I’ve been doing some adjusting of my diet but need to do some more.  My nutritionist says I need to keep a food journal, and since that worked for me in the past, I’m going to do it again (nothing keeps you from having those chips or cookies like knowing you have to write them down and break your limit for the day).  I’m also going to try to increase my water every day, which again works well with keeping a journal so I can keep track.

I don’t own a scale that works, and I probably won’t be buying one; therefore, I won’t be posting my weight either.  I will probably do my measurements because I want to see how muscle changes things.  I may take pictures.  I may not.  Either way, y’all won’t be seeing them, mostly because I relish my anonymity too much.  If I reach my goal weight, maaaaybe…  but just because it might be too cool a thing not to share at that point.

Achy Breaky Diet

June 13, 2009

There are two times in my life I’ve lost a significant amount of weight in a relatively short period of time. Sadly, both of those times involved relationships and the dissolving thereof.

 Contrary to a lot of women I know, when I am experiencing extreme stress, I do not react by plowing through a gallon of ice cream or a bag of chips. No, it’s quite the opposite – I find it physically impossible to eat. Like, anything. The mere thought of food nauseates me and on the rare occasion I do manage to choke something down, it seems to have the taste and consistency of sawdust. And seriously – if the only thing on today’s menu was sawdust, don’t you think you’d find it pretty easy to turn it down?

 The last time this happened was back in 2001, when my marriage took an unplanned and abrupt dump. Looking back now all the signs were there, but of course what is it they say about hindsight? At the time it was quite the nasty surprise and I was in no way prepared for it. Digesting food immediately became the last thing on my to-do list and it wasn’t too long before my clothes started literally hanging off of me and I suddenly had cheekbones where there had previously been none. The first few weeks of this, all I could stomach was coffee (preferably convenience store Vanilla Cappuccino) and those Keebler Sugar Wafer cookies. After that my diet expanding a little to include some other things, but never an entire meal and certainly nothing resembling good nutrition.

 I’m not saying this is healthy; I’m just telling it like it was.

 Within a few months’ time, things were still chaotic in all areas of my life and I felt perpetually in limbo. Everything was temporary: my living arrangements, my job and my emotions, which seemed to change on an hourly basis. Unfortunately, I turned to some unhealthy substances with which to help me cope and I’m sure this also contributed to my amazing shrinking woman act.

 My loved ones started to take notice. And they started making comments. I now know this was out of concern, but at the time, I wasn’t even trying to hear that shit.

 On a ten-day trip to New York with my aunt, uncle and cousin, I was having a really hard time covering up the extent of my unhealthiness. I mean, good Lord, we were together twenty-four hours a day and for part of the time in what I consider to be the food capital of the world, New York City. One particularly hot and aromatic July day, we were out shopping on the streets of China Town. My diet that day had consisted of nothing but Diet Coke and various pills, not that they were aware of that. While standing outside on the sidewalk in front of one of the thousands of stores we’d been in, I abruptly vomited. Right there, in broad daylight in front of my family, God and the good people of Manhattan.

 I later found out this was the beginning of a fairly serious Kim-related rumor. My aunt was convinced I had picked up an eating disorder and put the word out to the family grape vine. Not being able to explain that I simply had no appetite most of the time due to my all-encompassing heartache, I protested to anyone who brought it up that it was silly of her to think that and that it was entirely untrue.

 I’ve never been one of those people who after eating or drinking too much could stick my finger down my throat. Oh, trust me; there were several occasions after nights of doing shots and playing drinking games or ridiculously overdoing it during a holiday dinner that I tried. Not because I’ve ever had Anorexia. More like because I felt like I was in danger of exploding and wanted relief. But there wasn’t one time I was ever successful at it. Maybe this is very lucky in the scheme of things; who knows.

 What I do know is this: eating disorder or not, it’s not at all pleasant to be on the receiving end of so much attention drawn to your weight and/or eating habits. Yes, I was too skinny. (Not that it wasn’t fun to put on my friend Jen’s Size 0’s and zip them up with the greatest of ease…) But why do people feel it’s acceptable to comment on someone else’s weight when it is a case of being underweight that is the problem? I certainly would never have dreamed to retort back with, “Well, you and Uncle Richie are both looking pretty chunky these days – are you sure YOU don’t have an eating disorder?”  

 These days my marriage is great and life is too, for the most part. I’m thankful food tastes like food again and that I currently have no real drama in my life to speak of. (Besides the whole infertility issue, but that’s a whole different Oprah). However. I don’t think I’d be too unhappy hearing someone say, “You’re too skinny; you need to eat!” right about now. I do long for that empty stomach feeling and am looking forward to the day where I feel in control of food again. I guess what I’m hoping for is more of a balance. If I can ever figure out how to be happy AND healthy at the same time, well then that would really be something.