Sunday, January 23, 2005

The Small, Secret Battle

Regular readers know that I'm a binge eater whose default tendency is to overconsume mass amounts of food when I go through a chemical imbalance, usually because of emotional stress or because I've been triggered by eating something that gives me a big glucose spike. I've been fighting to stop this, permanently, for the last year and a half or so. Before that, I was pretty much stuck in the old binge-and-purge cycle - I'd be "on a diet" for 6 months or a year, then "not on a diet" for a couple years, then "on a diet," and etc.

I suspect that most of my body's imbalance has to do with this kind of dieting, which is why I have a vested interest in work being done by Paul Campos and research by Wendy Shanker, who've held a mirror up to the dieting industry and come back wondering how invested that industry really is in "making us thin," encouraging us to be healthy, or - heaven forbid - like ourselves.

My buddy Jenn and I ran errands today, and hopped into Trader Joe's for coffee beans. I picked up some mixed nuts and dried apples, and found myself increasingly twitchy around the prepared foods.

I was hungry, I admit, but I was also stressed about a number of things, angsting over boys (Should I throw in the towel and just go on dates? Just not pursue relationships? Figure out casual sex? Use it as a tool just to meet people? I plan to buy myself a dozen yellow roses and study for the LSATs on the 14th), angsting over the state of my apartment, angsting over the book I'm supposed to be writing, angsting over LSATs (I'd spent a bit of the morning going over practice questions) - and I knew it.

And as we walked down the chocolate-covered everything aisle, I had an intense desire for toffee. Jenn is a hoarder, and can buy a couple tins of this stuff and eat it a piece at a time over a couple of months. I can't.

I wanted a tin. I wanted to eat the whole thing. I stared and stared, and that incredible desire came over me, that full-body, must-have-this-now desire that's like death. I couldn't imagine not having that goddamn toffee. Excelerated breathing, shaky hands. Death. Death without toffee.

I got into line with Jenn, waited half a moment, and went back to the toffee. I tracked it down, put it in my basket, and crept back to the cashier.

The mere act of putting the toffee in my basket somewhat alleviated my intense desire.

Oh, how I wanted that toffee.

And as I stepped up to the cashier, internal yes-no-yes-no voices warring with each other about the goddamn toffee, I swiped the toffee out of my basket and put it in the basket of chocolate coins by the register.

I surrendered it.

My hands were still shaking as I bought the almonds and dried apples. I went after Jenn, got into the car, and ate a couple of the dried apples. I felt better. I didn't need to eat the whole bag. I was only hungry. Just hunger. Assuaging hunger does not mean consuming an entire box of something.

Reseal bag of apples. Neatly fold hands in lap.

Undergo a deep, abiding moment of utter self-loathing.

I hate myself when I do this. And no, I didn't buy the toffee and scarf it down in the car like a fat girl cliche. I didn't do that because that's not who I want to be, not ever again. Cause I've done that on and off for ten years, and I'm tired.

But quelching the actual *desire* to engage in binge behavior is a struggle. I've successfully beat it back for a year, but "not buying 5,000 calories worth of food and consuming it all in one sitting" and "not having the intense, overwhelming desire to consume 5,000 calories in one sitting" are very different things. And it's not fucking easy, and it's another one of those perpetual battles that I have to fight every day, because there's a person I want to be, and she doesn't hide up in her room stuffing away a midnight meal from Taco Bell that could feed a small village in Peru, for no other purpose but that she's depressed, and her body tells her this is the way she has to deal with it, because this is how she deals with it when the emotional stuff gets to be too much.

Thanks, no. I'm not doing that anymore, however briefly those times last.

And yes, there are days when I do wonder if my body is broken, if ten years of binge-and-purge American dieting has broken some key internal regulating device that's now malfunctioning. I don't know. All I know is that I fight it, because like all the things I fight, it pisses me off. And it makes me weak.

Seeing the weakness is the worst part. That was the part I hated, sitting there in the car as Jenn pulled out and we headed out on the next errand. I hated that weak part of myself that wanted, needed, desired, something that was absolutely unneccesary, something I didn't need. The part that desired an easy, temporary escape from my "problems." Because it's a short-term solution that will ultimately do me more harm than good.

When I came home I worked through my eating schedule again. Am I doing OK? What am I eating that's triggering me? Can I cut back on anything? In actual fact, I suspect that my biggest problem right now is that my exercise schedule is erratic, and I've been down to two days of MA classes instead of three all month, for a variety of reasons, and jogging is precarious in the ice and snow, which leaves me lazy around the house (aside from morning weight routine), glaring at the elliptical machine.

On the food front, right now we're looking at a weekday of protein shake for breakfast, string cheese and mixed nuts for snacking, broccoli and chicken for lunch, protein bar snack at 3pm, another protein bar at 6pm, and either an omelette or a whole wheat pita with ham and cream cheese for dinner. I go out to eat once or twice a week, generally indulge in rice and some pastry-type item. Coffee and treat most Sundays. Beer once or twice a week.

This is not an awful thing. On Saturday and/or Sunday mornings, I'll sometimes have low-carb, sugarfree pancakes with sugarfree syrup.

I could become some sort of wack-out crazy and stop going out to eat all together, or only eat salads when I go out. I could stop eating the Sunday dessert. I could cut out all the cheese I eat.

But there's a point at which you cut out so many things that it's just not fun anymore. I just recently swapped the rice, chicken, and veggies I usually prepped for workday lunches for just veggies and chicken. That's worked really well for me.

But there's only so far you can push things before, I fear, what I'll do instead is *encourage* my binge eating by not eating enough during the week, and I can't do that. I've got to find something flexible that works not just *now*, but in the long term. Because I'm working toward a place I want to be with everything in my life - and that includes this body, me, my appetite, my strength. I've spent too long giving up my body while pursuing academic interests, or giving up the academics for my body, and I want that balance. I want that confidence.

Like everything else I push myself to do, this isn't easy either. A part of my deep sense of loathing does have to do with the fact that I feel that this is something I've done to myself. I spent a good bit of time hating myself, and I manifested that hate by showing it in what I'd do to my body. It was unfair of me to do to myself, and I mourn my foolish adolescent decision to punish myself and those around me by heaping it all into my health and appearance. It was stupid, and ultimately, not successful. The only person it actually hurt was me.

And at the same time I realize my fight is far, far, more difficult than that, because I have a grandfather who ate himself to death, an aunt who just had gastric bypass surgery, and my dad's scheduled for the same thing next month.

I know the battle I'm fighting. I know that, like depression, like self-confidence, like strength, it's a battle that's not won, but on-going, and that its origin is as complex as any war, a mix of genetics and environment and past experience.

I don't have any illusions about it. I also realize it's an intensely personal, somewhat trivial battle, because in the grand scheme of the world, one woman who spends her day *not* consumed by self-loathing because of what she desires isn't really all that important.

In some way, you're convinced that what you say and do doesn't change the world, but I suppose you hope that in some small, secret way... Because if you don't know yourself, if you can't overcome your own small, secret battles, how do you change the world? How do you go out there and say, "Listen up, fuckers, and let me tell you how it's done"?

Where's your jumping-off point? Where does that confidence of self come from?

I think it comes from these battles, however stupid and self-absorbed. If I can win the war with myself, I can take on anybody.

I'm my own worst enemy.

11 comments so far. What are your thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Hello Kameron,
I'm new to your blog, and while I'm actually shy about replying to this post, given its highly personal content, I felt compelled, in a way, to do so, knowing all too well how hard it is to put yourself on the line and to bare a part of your soul without knowing if it will be acknowledged. And yet you do it, so, my deepest thanks.
Anyway, here are my two cents on your final words about the importance of everyone's small, secret battles. Well, when you defend the right ideals but have them thrown back at you because of something you did that contradicted them, it hurts. And after a while of this, when you find yourself unable to wholeheartedly defend them because your inner voice is telling you that you are indeed a bit of a hypocrite, well, it ashames you.
And so I came to realize that, as long as you are not beyond reproach on a certain matter, everything will, at one point or another, be reproached to you. It's not a matter of what somebody else says; it's a matter of your conscience not being able to savagely kick their ass, out of sheer honesty.
So yeah, we can't properly give fuckers hell unless we are coherent ourselves. It sucks, because we are just as vulnerable to our own weaknesses as they are, but it ultimately makes us better persons. The ones WE are proud to know and live with (for, to a certain extent ?).
And I don't mean to say that your eating toffee is a terrible breach of your principles, just that it's equally important for your self-respect as anything on ACLU's agenda, and that battling our inner demons is the only thing that confers us true wisdom. We ain't after self-righteousness, right ?
And as for the binge thing... Honestly, I kind of have the same problem. But I refuse to feel guilty about food, because it is and always will be one of the greatest joys in humans' lives, one of the things, to me, that speak most about "the passion for being alive" of people, as you put it. I just try not to overindulge myself and refrain from utterly loathing myself when I do have a lapse, because it only ends up making me feel more imbalanced. No, the only obligation I have forced upon myself is to exercise quite a lot.
And if I do it and still have more weight than I'd like to, tough luck, because I'll still be a much stronger person, and that's all I really care about, not the freaky fetish our society has with bone-like stomaches and mantis-like morphotypes.
That's all, and I just hope this didn't bore you too much. 

Posted by Ask, and you shall receive. Or not.

Anonymous said...

You know, I quit smoking a little more than two years ago. It was absurdly simple -- I just stopped lighting cigarettes and putting them to my lips. What people don't quite get is that simple doesn't mean EASY. It wasn't easy. It still isn't easy, but it's easier than it used to be, now that I've had some practice.

I still want them, at a stoplight, when a favorite song from my college years comes on the radio, and when I'm scared, angry, bored, upset, or impatient. (I'm impatient a lot.) I figure I'll probably want them, at least a little, until I die. See, I smoked for nineteen years and I imagine that wore some serious grooves in my mind.

I can't get much of a handle on the wanting. I've beaten myself up over the years, thinking that I could have more appropriate wants if I just tried hard enough, but my wanting does not seem to be particularly malleable. (Hoping and praying for "more appropriate" wants doesn't work for gay people... why did I think it would work for me? Am I an idiot?) What I have decided is that I *can* control what I actually do. That's what I get graded on. The stuff that happens in my head, well, the only person who sees that is me. 

Posted by teep

Anonymous said...

Don't beat yourself up over desire - or even the uncontrollable craving. Or even if you give in to it.

The problem isn't in the craving - it's in the denial. What is it you are really denying yourself? And why? You're working hard to be healthy, to be fit, and doing a good job of it. Perhaps a part of you feels it is being suppressed? It sounds like there is something you haven't integrated, something that wants desperately to be integrated into your personality.

But you can't beat yourself up over it. YOu have to ask that person what she wants. And find a way to express it. For you, Kameron, that is obviously in your writing, and it's really good that you wrote about this. It is not a war with yourself, though - it is not about who wins or loses. It is about integrating yourself so completely that no part of you is at war with any other part.

And yes, that happening in the individual is as important as that happening in the larger world. Because so many of our personal battles are taken into public with us. We look down on ourselves, and that becomes justification for looking down on others. We are lookd down on by others, for being overweight, or not as pretty, or whatever, and that becomes something we internalize into ourselves.

The trick is, and it takes a long time to learn, that when you are in balance within yourself, others can't hurt you. And usually, they don't want to, because it becomes obvious that you can kick their ass if you feel like it, but you don't, because you don't have to.

Then those toffees on the shelf lose their power. Then there is no need for hoarding, because there is always plenty. Then you are never rushed, because there is always so much time.

Take the thing you have to do in the present moment, and handle it. Then move to the next thing. Get to where all those things are cleared out, and make a space. Just be in that space, let the thoughts flow in, and just watch them. Don't feel you have to do anything about them, just acknowledge them. Yes, I need to do this. And that. And that other thing. Uh huh. Eventually, the noise will die down and you'll have a moment of quiet, and in that moment, let that person you are fighting with speak. And ackowledge what they say, without trying to do anything about it.

There. Now she's been heard. And maybe she will feel better and shut up for a bit, while you work on integrating her into the rest of yourself...

Posted by donna

Anonymous said...

Good thoughts, good thoughts. Thanks. 

Posted by Kameron Hurley

Anonymous said...

On a less motivational and more physiological note: about those protein bars. You're eating very low-carb, and two of your meals are chock-full of sugar alcohols. I binge-eat occasionally myself (legacy of a brief flirtation with not eating at all, and consequent fucking of my blood sugar, mostly, with only incidental emotional ties). I can't do serious low-carb at all for long (tried last year for a cutting diet) and if I cut back on carbs at all, I consume any sort of artificial sweetener at my peril. Sugar alcohols are the very worst of the bunch. It's not just me, either; my brother, who's an insulin-using diabetic, won't eat them because he says that not only DO they affect his blood sugar, but they do so unpredictably. 

Posted by Katharine

Anonymous said...

Toffee has the same effect on me. The only way I made it through my summer in London without gaining another me was due to the insane amount of walking I did.

On a more practical note, do you cook? Chicken and brocolli, while good, are not going to satisfy cravings productively. More variety in your meals, especially ones that you prepare yourself, are bound to be more satisfying while remaining very healthy. When I'm home I cook most of my dinners from scratch (the road is a whole 'nother story) and it's great because I can control exactly how the food tastes as well as what goes into it. All of my cooking is very low in fat and is generally quite healthy. If you're looking for some simple recipes I'd be happy to email them to you. Oh, and don't cut out carbs entirely (unless you're sure that they're somehow adversely affecting you), life without bread just ain't worth living.  

Posted by Rebecca

Anonymous said...

Carbs are good! Carbs help keep your emotions on an even keel. Inadequate carb intake will make you irritable, edgy, and will bring on cravings. Pasta is your friend!

Also, a part of me thinks this is related to your clothing's not you, it really was the pants. Hell, I'm only 5'5", and have a hard time finding pants long enough! The way women's pants are cut this season, would make Sarah Jessica Parker feel like she needed to go on a diet! Fuck that shit! It ain't you. It's the fucking clothing manufacturers.

Have a plate of pasta, go beat the fuck out of the heavy bag, and you'll feel a lot better. And reward yourself with a piece of toffee every now and then. Like, maybe after writing! 

Posted by La Lubu

Anonymous said...

I don't know what to say after all that's been said, but you're a strong woman. You're fighting, and it's the fighting (not the winning) that makes you strong.

You can't be brave if you don't feel fear. 

Posted by Quail

Anonymous said...

RE: food. As a general rule, I do control my carb intake. I stick to rice, whole wheat pitas, and whole-wheat bread. So, I do eat them, I just make an effort to eat "good" ones.

And yes, I do think that a lot of my freak-outs lately haven't really been about the food. I do cook and mix up the chicken/veggie pairing once a week, though I may go back to chicken and rice. I'm dealing with a lot of self-imposed stress, and my default is to reach for sugary food to "fix" them.

But food's not a fix... and that, I think, is my big life-altering battle right now. Looking for a long term fix and not a sugar rush. 

Posted by Kameron Hurley

Anonymous said...

All the women in my family are fairly slender (not skinny, just tend to hang around at like a size 6 without much trouble), even into their middle age. I, on the other hand, am certainly not. I'm tempted to blame it on actually being adopted or something, but I know that its lifestyle. I was a skinny kid until my parents told me they were getting divorced, and within a year I ballooned. Its been a struggle ever since. I relate quite a bit to the intense desire to just eat all of a bag of candy or something. I don't know how to eat just one piece unless I put myself on a strict one-candy-per-day-period schedule and that doesn't usually work anyway. The only thing that ever worked for me is Weight Watchers (which was incredibly effective) because I didn't feel like I was ever denied anything, I just had to work for it if I wanted it. But it took over a month of struggling with 'well can't I just call this 3 points instead of 15?' to get to the point where I could work within the system. So maybe you just need to stick with it for a while longer, and I definately agree with the poster above who said that you might want to try some variety, because of course you'll crave stuff if you're eating the same thing every day. Of course, I gained most of the weight back since then and am having a hell of a time motivating myself to start back on it so maybe I'm full of crap.

Also, I relate to the jeans thing. I'm a really curvy girl (and that's not a just euphamism for fat), and my weight fluctuates a bit. When I am a 12, its impossible to find jeans that fit me right. The waist is always huge or the butt is smashy. When I'm a 16, like I am now, its no issue to find clothes that fit. I guess only fat girls are allowed to have hips. This was probably not your issue with the jeans, but really...why must manufacturers cut pants like everyone is shaped the same?  

Posted by Rabbit

Anonymous said...

*sigh* I know this feeling so well. And this is my same struggle, too. I hate that I feel hate toward myself, and then I hate that I hated that I hated myself, and on and on.

Some days the battle is easy, some days it is hell.

You put it all into words so well. 

Posted by Beverly