Eating Disorders and Evolving Identity

It's a tricky spot of rope I'm walking now.  The first time I went into deliberate, purposeful eating disorder treatment was in 2003.  I was still a student, still single, still utterly living my own life, about and for me and figuring out who I was.  I wasn't a pre-teen or high schooler with an eating disorder fogging up my view of my own reflection, but in retrospect, I was closer to that kind of ED patient than I was closer to the ED patient I am now.  Life is never simple, and eating disorders don't fall into the "simple" bin at life's store of complexity; still, recovering basically on your* my own and (on the surface) for your myself was relatively simple.  It's just you me.  (And your my parents and your my friends and your my concept of the future and your my concept of your myself, and and and...  But my point stands.)

The second time I went into deliberate, purposeful eating disorder treatment was in 2008.  I was married for just shy of a year, and starting to marinate the idea of pregnancy.  What with one thing and another, we never ended up trying, which worked out for the best.  But the concept of a pregnancy, of an infant, a toddler, a child, acted as a spur in my flank.  For about five months there, I was the healthiest I'd been since November 2001.  For some reason, that spasm of recovery didn't require much thought.  I made up my mind one day to go back on Lexapro.  I made up my mind one day to find a non-traditional therapy group.  Then in January '09, everything kind of really hit the shit.  By March the recovery period was over for me, and since then it's been a slow downward slide, in terms of weight, sure, but more importantly in terms of living with and in an eating disorder.

So now I am in my third deliberate, purposeful eating disorder treatment stint.  I've been married closer to four years than to three, and the idea of recovery is an abstract.  I'm finding it harder.  The questions are more complex.  I'm no longer the single 21-year-old ignorant of her own possibilities.  I'm no longer the newlywed with baby on the brain. There is this whole, permanent part of me that's grown in since 2003, and knotted up since 2008, and I have no idea who that part is, or how it fits in with the rest.  I revolt at the idea of connecting with the idea of recovery for an other (say, a hypothetical baby).  I can't connect with the idea of recovery for me, yet, either.  Which I suppose isn't terribly surprising, given that I don't actually know who I am just at the moment.

Eating disorders (like addictions) like to whittle you down to their own perfect idea of your identity, until they leave you only with your body and your food.  I am absolutely not there.  I am more than my body and my food.  But unless we're talking in list form, I'd be at pains to tell you just what I am.

* Went back and changed that from second person to first person because, imagine, my experience is not universal and my second person description might be seen as belittling to younger or single or student eating disorder patients.  Which is not what I meant by my use of second person, of course.   I have a bad habit of slipping into it, when I do not mean to generalize or assume others' experience, but more when I'm edging into my tendency to distance myself from something.


Shopping with Your Eating Disorder

On Saturday I went shopping for a dress for a friend's May wedding.  (I was going to wait until I was all stressed out about it, but I had a revelatory realization that: how much weight can I really lose or gain in 4-6 weeks?)

It was one in a string of slightly eye-opening experiences, in that I kept grabbing the size I associate with myself, then the size below it... then having to send the saleswoman back for the next size down.  Some of the designers didn't actually make dresses in sizes small enough for me.

It was weird.

Now, I suspect some of this is owed to the fact that no designer anywhere wants to agree on a size about anything, ever.  Seriously, one Ralph Lauren "Lauren" dress I tried on in "size B" fit like most of the other designers' stuff at least two sizes up (we'll call it "size D").  I ended up with a "size A" dress, though the saleswoman made a point of saying that that designer made things "big."

So I really don't come away knowing anything, do I?

Well, I know I didn't quite look right in the mirror.  Our only full-length mirror at home is inside the door of our book closet (yes, book closet).  That's out in the living room, and I am not one to make a habit of parading about mostly naked.  So when I disrobed in the dressing room, I did a bit of a double-take.  "Oh.  Huh.  Oops," was basically my train of thought.

ON THE OTHER HAND, it is a department store dressing room we're talking about, and aren't those notorious for slimming effects?

Again, I really don't know anything, huh?

I know my bras are too big right now, like, whoa.  Except when they're not?  And it might all be slipping straps and crazy brain?

I know I walked home after I went shopping, lest I gain one ounce, despite the fact that I could gain well into several ounces, nay, a pound or three, and the dress would still fit.  And despite my earlier realization that four weeks cannot a dress size make or break.

I know that I am measuring the time running up to this wedding in a back-and-forth hopscotch of I should gain weight/I should lose weight/I should gain/I should lose, because it's in Atlanta, which means seeing my parents, which means... complicated psychological stuff:  I want people to worry, I want no one to ask me about it, I want people to see I'm underweight, I want no one to know I'm not okay, everyone already worries and knows I'm not okay, oh Quantum Field I don't want to get into it.

Hm.  Well.  At least it isn't Passover again, right?  Right.  And at least I ended up paying 10% of the total cost of the dress.  Seriously.  Ten percent.  Thank you, gift cards and pre-sales (not that I fully understand what that is).


Les Comtesses on the Chicago Tribune's Massive Dose of WTFery

Today Les Comtesses attempt to answer the age-old question, "WTF?!"  (Specifically as it relates to a Chicago Tribune article that is just beyond description.)

via Shakesville, Broaching a weighty subject

Cynical Nymph:  This article.  What? What is this??  WHAT IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE???

Marzie:   I dunno... I'm thinking this is a great way to let people know you're an asshole without the risks of face to face interaction where you'll have to deal with their tears or anger or possible weaponry.

Personal Failure: PF MAD.  Look, I've lived with an obese to morbidly obese man for close to 13 years now.  He does not need to be told he is obese, he knows it. He knows all about the "health concerns", he's tried numerous diets and you know what? Some asshole walking up to him and saying, "a gun to your head! you have it!" is not going to help. Fuck off.  Oh, and another thing? He really doesn't eat much more than I do. My body likes being at the edge of underweight, his body likes being obese. He has lost weight -- and gained it right back. He's not fat for lack of trying, he's fat because of biology. You can't fight millions of years of evolution with a website.

Marzie:  You... You mean, you don't think this website isn't offering the New Mirror?  PF, you are so damn picky.

[redacted]:  Note: this is the newest anti-gay concern troll line of reasoning, as well. Some of them may just be cluelessly parroting the misused stats that they were given, but I don't care what their intent is. I want them to STFU and stop pretending that making it legally impossible for gay relationships to be economically intertwined and harder to get out of when the going gets tough is somehow a solution to STIs associated with promiscuity. First the person trots out the "stats" (without context, or with horrible misunderstanding of it) of STI rates for teh homoz, and then they go all "we're not being hateful, we're trying to save people from an awful death from AIDS."  Obvs, I've left out a lot of nattering, but that's the gist of it.

CN:  I still can't believe Lynn Grefe, the president of NEDA, is actually saying these things.  I want to punch her in the ovaries.  I really do.  Part of NEDA's whole thing, traditionally, is to educate people about not conflating certain weights or body states as eating disordered or healthy, per se.  HI, LYNN, GUESS WHAT YOU JUST DID.

PF:  Really, the CEO of NEDA managed to slap the entire spectrum of ED and weight issues in one interview. I'd be impressed if I weren't so disgusted with her.  Seriously, if I hear "Well, they just don't know they're fat" one more fucking time, I'm going door to door punching everyone who answers in the face in the hopes that I will punch the people saying this shit.

[redacted]:  Excellent idea. I shall invoke the wrath of The Girl Child, as well, because damned if her "friend" didn't call her "fat" the other day.  Note: yes, same friend who told my daughter that "the 'h' 'whore.'"  Yes, I've already talked to school.

Marzie:  Geez!!!

PF:  What the hell are those parents doing?!

CN:  Calling each other fat whores in front of their daughter?

[redacted]:  I can speak from personal experience, though, on pretty much all fronts here. And just because I'm at a healthy weight (almost) and running a mini in two weeks doesn't mean I don't have ridiculous jacked up ideas and behaviors about food AND exercise.

Marzie:  You know, the thing that just bothers me is that idea of people making such assumptions and knowing nothing about what you may be going through to put you where you are.  Me, at 40: [too low] lbs of lean muscled rock climber, virtually counting every single calorie.  Me at 44:  [higher] lbs of bloated, prednisone-swollen celiac out of control, joints swollen and painful, having trouble keeping almost anything down or in.  People would ask me why I gained weight, that I had looked so good before, etc. I mean I looked really SICK, and people are asking about my weight? Hello?

GlamKitty:  People asked WHY you gained weight?!? WTF answer were they expecting?  Maybe... a). "Oh, I just kind of FELT like it, of course! (teehee!)"  b). "I realized that all my clothing fit me too well, but I had grown SO bored with it, and gaining weight was the perfect opportunity to buy lots of new things!"  c). "BECAUSE I REALLY, REALLY WANTED TO FIELD THAT PARTICULARLY-RUDE-&-INSENSITIVE QUESTION FROM ASSHOLES LIKE YOU!!"  Grrrrrrr...

Marzie:  They got the cold stare.

PF:  When I first started dropping weight, I looked awful. My hair was also falling out, I had bags and circles under my eyes, my skin looked waxy, I could hardly move, and people were like "Wow! It's so AWESOME that you're losing weight! Good for you!"  Basically, our entire society has ED.

[redacted]:  If one more person (and let's be clear here: none of these persons has a Y chromosome) whom I haven't seen in a long time but knows I'm running the mini emails me and says "That is so great that you're running a half-marathon! It's so inspiring! I'M JEALOUS; YOU MUST BE SO SKINNY." I am going to beat the crap out of them.  I'm SO MUCH more proud of the fact that I can RUN (well, "run") 11 miles than any of the weight loss or working out or just...anything else right now. I suck at this, and I still do it.  That is unheard of for me.  Also, it's damned hard.  And I still do it.  Also unheard of.  It's the not quitting that I am proud of, not the nonexistent six-pack or quads of steel or whatever.  I's SO frustrating.  SO SO frustrating.  Why is it that my body or my activities are somehow sending this completely false message?  What about the world makes THAT the message they're getting, and how do we shake up the frame that everyone uses to see it?

GK:  I'm torn between two possible courses of action after reading that, and all because of one little word (no pun intended here, believe me): "I'm jealous; you must be so skinny!". (Beating my head against my lovely green wall is my first instinct, but given today's headache level after only a couple hours of sleep, I'm going with Door #2, pinching the bridge of my nose very hard.)  There is something seriously wrong with any society in which people equate being "skinny" with something good and desirable. "Healthy" and "fit" are admirable goals (no matter what size or shape that takes); "skinny" should only be the result of some sort of illness (unless, of course, the goal is weakness and malnourishment, in which case... ~sigh~ there is just no hope).

CN:  This plays back into my obsession with Your Body As Public Property.  It also dovetails nicely with PF's post yesterday about purity obsession in evangelical Christianity.   If I am allowed to feel like I have some say in your body, then the only way I can reason my way to that is to believe your body is in some way mine.  If your body is in some way mine, then I get to control it, or at least feel as though I'm entitled to control it.  And if I'm entitled to control it, then the first step toward control is being Totally Justified In Sharing My Opinions About Your Body With You.

Marzie:  Female body as public property?   I don't see too many men getting questioned...

CN:  Well, if you're a man and you're FAT you get questioned.

Marzie:  Not so much and not as overtly and not as much "Right to know".

[redacted]:  Well the default for "public" property (or really anything in the public sphere, right?) is "belongs to teh menz. Teh white menz speshully."  Right? I mean, you don't get much more uppity than expecting to participate in THEIR world at the same level, hunh?   Also nicely dovetails (how many damn doves are we up to at this point?) with how pregnant women get treated.  I love how they've already got "protecting the rights of the helpless" into the national vocabulary so that any pregnant woman can't possibly be autonomous, because there's a helpless baby in there and IT'S YOUR CHRISTIAN DUTY TO GET ALL UP IN HER UTERUS.  (Note: don't take your wallet with you though.  Or something.  Maybe it's okay to get your wallet up in there if there's a zygote already? No, wait. I don't know.)

CN:  Oh, Quantum Field.  There is too much Body Control All Your Body Are Belong To Us going on for 11:30 a.m.  I think I might have to go break into the booze.


Passover 2011: In Which CN Is Stuck With The Worst Conversation Partner Of All Time

We are minus the Internet at home right now, so I had the night to figure how not to turn this into another whiny post about our culture's pervasive diet obsession and made up food rules and food-based holiday perversions and other points of why is this so much lose?  Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful in my attempts to reframe the night outside of the frame of whinging.  (I think that frame is probably a nauseating puce hue, don't you?)  Instead, I shall simply take you through the first night of Passover.  I preface this by stating that I love my mother-in-law forever, the end.

4:30 p.m.:   I arrive at BIL & SIL's apartment not far from ours.  Everything's fine....

4:45 p.m.:   .... for about 15 minutes, until an extended-family-member-by-marriage (SIL's family) arrives and sees my husband, who has lost a lot of weight (in the healthy sense) since the last time he saw this guy, and who has started going to the gym again recently.

4:46 - 5:00 p.m.:   Uninterrupted monologue at me about food and diet and weight loss.  This guy recently lost 23 lbs. and is so! excited! about it!  He has more energy!  He has to restrain himself from eating as much as he wants!  He's so much healthier!  It's easier when you both [in a marriage] get into the fitness thing!  He can tell that my husband's health kick was really all because of me because I look so good and am obviously into the health thing!  Actually, I tell him, I'm not really doing anything different than I've ever done in a long time; the newfound healthiness is all to my husband's credit.  Well good for him because it's so important to stay trim!  Also fad diets are awful, but here are some food rules!  And here are some more!  Also, some crazy people eat raw food!  Also the entire food supply is tainted and meat is evil!  But this guy still eats meat!  Also, they tracked anorexics and they actually lived longer!  Oh, I mention, as my MIL sidles over and slips her arm through mine and squeezes -- he isn't talking about actual anorexics, he's talking about that primate study where they found that a "restricted calorie" diet may contribute to longevity?  Yes!  That's exactly the one he means!  But who can enjoy their life like that?!  If you're not eating you're not really living!  Also, being thin does not necessarily mean being healthy!  I mean, you guys, not fifteen minutes ago, he was talking about how he's living 100% magic-level better because he's started eating less, but if you're not eating what you want, you're not living.  He can look at me and tell I'm healthy because I'm thin, but being thing does not equate to being healthy.  I cannot even with this cognitive dissonance.  I cannot even.

5:00 p.m.:   The seder starts.  Guess who I am seated right across from.

5:30 p.m.:   Super-reform and fast seder is super-reform and fast.  Time for eating.  Guess who comes back to the table with his plate piled ridiculously high and tells me that he breaks all his food rules today.

5:31 p.m.:   I sneak into the coat room to text my mom because WHAT IS THIS, I CAN'T EVEN.

5:32 p.m.:   The husband leaves me here, with his family, to go home and do work.  Visions of cast-iron skillets and blood-spattered walls dance in my head.

5:32 - 6:15 p.m.:   Guess who spends all the actual eating time talking about food rules and the meat in the stew that is evil (evil with hormones and toxins, that is) but delicious.

6:15 p.m.:   The evening takes a promising turn when the guy and I remember that we were both raised Catholic.  We begin to have a non-food, non-body-related discussion about the issues that caused us to break with the Church, and Catholicism and its contrasts with Judaism... Only the discussion doesn't so much remain a discussion; it morphs into a monologue.  It's a shame, too, because it really could have been an interesting two-way conversation.  I tried, I really did, but I very literally couldn't get a word in.

6:25 p.m.:   The two doctors present at the table start to discuss the deficit, and how nothing will ever be solved until overspending in Medicare is addressed.  Some of their statements are sweeping generalizations, but some of them are fact-based and experience-based, so I can live with that.

6:26 p.m.:   Then other people chime in about Social Security.

6:27 p.m.:   Then someone says that Trump would be a better president than Obama.

6:28 p.m.:   Then I leave, because that, apparently, is the line for me.


Food and Body Peace

Thank you for your comments and emails after last night's post.  I really do appreciate the understanding, the support, the sounding back of the "oh, so it isn't just me?"

What it comes down to is that I want to feel peace.  I want to feel peace in my body, and peace in my eating.  I want my body just to be my body, and my food just to be my food.  I want my body to be just an intricate organic machine housing who I am.  I want my food to be just the enjoyable fuel running the machine and rebuilding its damaged parts.

That's what I want.  I want us to be at peace amongst ourselves.  I defy that such a thing is impossible in this culture in general, or for me in particular.  I defy and deny it and refuse to believe it.

Last week, my therapist and I discussed how bingeing and then purging acts as a vehicle through which I manage my desires, and try to regulate longing.  For now, it's literal longing for certain foods I feel I can't have in moderation, for whatever reason. But underneath the literal food stuff lie the actual desires that part of me wants to regulate.

Maybe that's what the battle fever has been about lately: unearthing, via dynamite, the desire for peace.


Food Wars

Tonight I emailed one of Les Comtesses that "I mostly spent the weekend at war with food."  I must not have an impartial view of my own writing style, because right until I typed out the words "at war," I would've said that was just too hyperbolic for me.  But then I typed just those words, and they sure did seem just right.

I am at a point where every food feels as though it teeters on a fence.  If the food falls one way, I can engage in normalized eating.  If the food falls the other way, the food is either a total no-go, or a surprise binge food.  (Binge foods and forbidden foods are not necessarily the same foods.)  This is a maddening way to exist, when apples act as land mines.

When I say "binge foods," I don't mean necessarily that I go out for lunch, buy a salad, eat the salad, it turns into a binge food, and I go get three more salads.  I mean that I go out for lunch, buy a salad, and proceed to eat the salad in such a way that I am not just eating a salad.  I find I can't articulate better than that.  Sometimes, I'm just eating a salad.  Or an apple.  Or whatever.  But sometimes, I'm eating a dirty bomb.  Or a biological weapon.  Or a good, old-fashioned hand grenade.

This weekend, everything was the hand grenade.

On Thursday, the therapist and I tried to strategize.  Rather, I tried to strategize and she tried to get me to quit strategizing and list-making and to possibly just be okay with observing.  In my fit of battlefield mapping, though, I did realize that food journals and meal plans are not going to work for me right now. They work against my every instinct to resist taking things one day at a time, one meal at a time.

So at the moment I'm meant to be not planning, not strategizing, not going over the top just because I'm sick of being down in the trenches, only to be mowed down by the first truffled-colored bullet that plants itself in my gut.  I'm meant to be above the battlefield, watching how it plays out, observing, accepting.

Apparently I really suck at that, because I still spent the weekend all at war.  And while I was, by definition, just observing, not strategizing, it's hard to keep up troop morale with what I see.


Exciting Business Venture

h/t to Personal Failure, snazzy certificate of incorporation via


Off Topic: The Perfect Vagina

I had my annual gynecologist appointment this past week.  Aside from your run-of-the-mill stuff, I mentioned to her that I'd recently seen The Perfect Vagina, a 2008 documentary out of Britain.

The documentary itself got going based on the producers coming across the factoid that the fastest-growing elective surgery in the U.K. was vaginal surgery, that is to say, labiaplasty, hymen reconstruction, vulvoplasty, etc.  The documentary is really quite moving - as well as eye-opening.  (Be prepared to see vagina.  A lot of it.  Also, you get to watch a labiaplasty procedure performed on a 21-year-old.) (Yeah.  21.)

Anyway, my doctor and I got to talking about the fact that this has grown into its own industry here in the U.S. as well.  She did her residency in L.A. and saw a bit more of it there, but she practices here on the Upper East Side, so still sees her fair share.  She hadn't seen this documentary, but shook her head at the idea of a 21-year-old having cosmetic surgery on her labia, and generally at the idea that the visual definition of the vagina ought to be anything less varied than the visual definition of the human face.

So very many people visit this blog through my Brazilian wax post (a post I almost delete about every other month, mind).  With bathing suit season approaching, I have the urge to fight against the cultural insistence that women's bits have to look just a certain way, an insistence I am reminded of every time I log into my IP tracker and see thousands of hits a month pouring in to the wax post, a post I wrote to be funny, and a post that people from all over the world read presumably for information.

So, Women's History Month may be over for another year, and I may be a good three years late to the game with this documentary, but, again.  The Perfect Vagina.  You have a perfect vagina.  Don't believe me?  Watch it.