Thursday, December 30, 2004

Confessions of a Binge Eater

At 3pm, I broke out the Belgian chocolates.

I should have been eating my 3pm protein bar, but there was that whole box of Belgian chocolates, and the HR manager and my new boss were trying to figure out who the hell was in charge of getting me to Denver (my credit card is maxed out and can't be used even if it's later company reimbursed), and I was filling out applications for my own corporate credit card (limit: $3500), and I'd been doing some paperwork for my new boss and getting weird reactions, and then he e-mailed someone else to take care of my travel info, and said I was going to be doing even more traveling to oversee document controls at other locations, and oh, Belgian chocolates...

I ate four of them before forcing myself to close the box, and it was an immensely sad moment, because I knew in that moment that I'd have to throw them all away now. And I'd have to throw away the rest of the brownies at the house. I tried to figure out how to keep them in the house until Jenn got home on the 5th. I hate wasting food, and my only out for these treats was to have her take them to her fellow Ph.D. candidates when she got back. I thought I could tie them up in a garbage sack and hide them under her bed... no. No, that won't work.

Believe me. I know.

I've mentioned several times in this blog that I'm a binge eater, but I don't know that I ever really discussed what that means for me.

My buddy Jenn knows that when I go out to buy some sort of treat I'm craving and eat my fill of it, whatever remains - whether it's the other 11 cookies in the dozen box, or the remaining 1/4 lb of the 1/2 lb of gingerbread - either has to get thrown away (and, if it's a *really* bad day, I actually have to take the garbage out to the street - yea, I'm one of *those* binge eaters), or she has to take it in to her fellow students, or she has to hoard it for herself in her room (she's an amazing hoarder).

I can't have it in the house.

Because when I feel out of control, when my confidence starts to break, when I despair, I go straight for all the processed crap food I can find. And if I get a taste of it and there's more to eat and I'm in freak-out mode, I'll start shaking like some sort of strung-out drug addict. The physical need for that entire box of chocolates becomes overwhelming.

When I finally made the decision to get my shit together (again) last January, I remember how difficult it was to walk past the shit-food stand by the train station where I'd allowed myself to pocket crap once a week. I mean, hey, I was doing my two or three days a week on the elliptical machine, and some free weights in the morning, so what did it matter, right?

Well, it did and does matter, because sharp increases in glucose are immediately followed by really shitty depressing lows - the old, binge eat and then lie around feeling like you want to kill yourself afterward because you've been so "bad." I realized that if I really wanted to get control over my mood, I had to start controlling what I was eating. That didn't mean being a Nazi: I go out to dinner, have a sweet and coffee on Sundays. But it means no binge eating. No stocking-up. No more highs and lows.

In South Africa, I was a chronic stressball. 1) I was truly living on my own for the first time (outside a dorm) 2) I was going to grad school 3) I was living in a 3rd world foreign country.

I must have eaten enough food for a family of four, smoked enough cigarettes for an army, and downed enough wine to put any alcoholic in my family to shame.

And I told myself when I was there: this is how I'm going to get through this. If I have to eat too much and drink too much and smoke too much, so be it. But when I leave, it's done.

The smoking was easy to kick, but the eating, being a lifelong way of dealing with stress (and something you have to do to survive, at a basic level), was a lot harder. And I struggle with it now and will for the rest of my life.

I think I always hoped, growing up, that one day I would just get it all figured out. For three years - in Alaska and a year just before it - I really thought I'd figured out the fat girl thing. I was eating well and exercising and staying at a good weight in a strong body... I loved being outside. I biked everywhere. I lived mainly on eggs and rice during the week and some pizza and coffee treats on the weekends. But I forgot that being better is something that you have to consciously reaffirm every morning. I forgot that if I'm left to my own devices, I'll fall back on my old ways to deal with stress and uncertainty, and that involves overeating.

In my mind, if all else goes to hell, I know it'll all be OK as long as I've got food, as long as I can eat.

And today at work I was starting to realize what was going to be asked of me in this new job, and I seriously doubted myself.

"What if I can't do this? What if I totally fuck this up?"

I thought of how many millions of dollars these projects are worth, and how being in charge of getting all that documentation means I decide when we get paid, and I thought how easily I could lose my job.... and I started shaking, and needed chocolate.

I got as far as the train station after work before I had to dump the chocolates. It was painful to do. I hate throwing away perfectly good food. I hate being wasteful.

But when those chocolates were in the garbage and I was on the train with an empty box, I felt incredibly light. I felt like somebody'd been pushing down on my shoulders since 3pm, and they finally got off.

I went home and dumped the brownies, too.

And I thought about my job.

And I thought:

What's the worst that can happen?

I can fuck up and get publicly humilated and laughed at in a meeting where I am then fired, and people throw things at me, call me fat and stupid and totally ignorant and unworthy of love, and then toss me out on my ass and refuse to give me a positive reference for my next job.

And I was like, "Oh, is that all?"

Because really, that's the worst that can happen. And somehow, imagining the absolute worst that can happen really frees you up to just take what comes.

So I went home, ate some sushi and had a cup of hot cocoa, rented a bunch of movies (Bourne Supremacy, Napoleon Dynamite, Rambo & Midnight Cowboy - how's that for eclectic taste?) then went out and bought a 2005 wolves calendar, a copy of Bitch magazine, and the extended edition of Return of the King.

And I am prepared for a good, long, weekend of media excess.

You get up every morning, and you start again.

3 comments so far. What are your thoughts?

Anonymous said...

At the risk of sounding schmaltzy, this is a particularly inspiring entry. Been struggling with food issues lately, particularly 'comfort food' stuff, and your entry will help me deal. Thanks.

Plus, this: "So I went home, ate some sushi and had a cup of hot cocoa, rented a bunch of movies (Bourne Supremacy, Napoleon Dynamite, Rambo & Midnight Cowboy - how's that for eclectic taste?) then went out and bought a 2005 wolves calendar, a copy of Bitch magazine, and the extended edition of Return of the King." made me want to do the exact same thing. Except for Rambo and the wolves.

I think the "what's the worst that can happen" scenario is a good technique. I have a professor who, when I start getting stressed out about stuff that is genuinely important, always says something to me like..."Well, will you be out on the street if x happens? Will you go hungry?" Of course, the answer is no, and things shift, perspectives shift, etc. I changed jobs recently and that sort of thinking helped me quite a bit.  

Posted by jp

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you've mastered positive self-talk. Congrats! I'm busting my ass over some of the same issues. Great post, by the way. I second the comment above about this being an inspirational post, and also wanted to tell you that the post at Alas about food/weight issues was too.  

Posted by Erin

Anonymous said...

Glad you guys connected with this one. I think these are some of my most important posts, because I think that some of the things I present about myself here might make it look like I somehow "have everything together" and I want to be clear that these are issues that I have to get up and deal with every day, and it doesn't mean I'm weak or bad, it just means I have to work with it.

And, of course, I write these for myself, too. Cause sometimes *I* need the reminder....

Posted by Kameron Hurley