Sunday, February 7, 2010


Yesterday, I buttered my bread, thoroughly. Yes, I toasted a piece of bread, sliced the butter with my knife, and spread it on my warm bread. The creamy goodness oozed into the nooks and crannies of the bread. Then, I ate it.

I do not write this because eating buttered bread is a sin.
I do not write this because eating buttered bread shows indulgence or lack of self-control.
I write this because it's been a long time since I ate buttered bread and enjoyed it, guilt-free.

I feel like I need to offer all of these disclaimers because I don't want anyone to think that somehow eating butterless bread makes me a better person, in fact, it makes me quite a ridiculous person. For the last four years, the decisions I make related to food and exercise have been loaded with deep emotional meaning. It's not just buttered bread my friend, that right there is downright, blatant rejection of that little voice inside that says, "Don't do it. You're just going to get fat."

This is me saying, "Shut up, I'm trying to enjoy my breakfast."

Sometimes the most obvious realizations seem to come to me by way of brilliant people who show me the light. Like last week, my new counselor, Lynn, asked, "Why do you think you binged last night?"

To which I replied, "I lack self-control? I was tired? I was lonely?"

"Umm, I think you're body was saying, "I'm tired of vegetables! Feed me something good.""

"Huh?" I've only associated my disordered eating behaviors with emotion instability and deeper issues, to which Lynn said: "Nuh-uh."

She's been challenging me to consider this ED from a more physiological viewpoint. More than habit, more than inadequacy, more than stress, and self-hatred, she says, "What if your body is simply craving what you've been restricting for so long?"

I've never once binged and purged on broccoli or radishes or oranges or cantaloupe (wait . . .oh nope, never on cantaloupe!). If I'm seeking to fill holes within myself with food, the last thing I'm going to pick is produce. When I'm full of self-hatred and wanting to control, distract, and numb myself from a life that hurts too much, I'm going to eat peanut butter, cheese, cookies, ice cream, and nachos.

Ding, ding, ding! Duh. Comfort food.

Okay, I can't say I've never thought of that before, but Lynn's got a good point. If 90% of the time I'm restricting my body of these foods, of course I'm going to want them more than just about anything else. We always want what we can't have, especially if we're told we "shouldn't."

"How many grams of fat do you eat on a typical day?" Lynn asked me.

"Umm, I eat nuts. And there's some fat in my soymilk."

"Yeah, okay. That doesn't count. The RDA recommends more like 50 grams of fat per day."


"Yeah huh!" (Yeah, we have pretty intelligent discussions sometimes. This is why she gets paid the big bucks!) "If you ate what you actually wanted to eat during the day, you'd be far less likely to binge and purge at night."

The idea sounds terrifying. I realized this as she began explaining practical ways to add slightly more fat and protein into my diet. "What happened?" She stopped mid-sentence, "I lost ya."

"Oh, um. I just....I don't want to."

"Well, it's your call. But I just imagine that since you're depriving your body of the food it actually wants and needs, you're going to continue feeling ravenous and unhappy."

Dissatisfaction is a great American past-time. We are educated to be unhappy with their bodies. We are primed at an early age that, no matter what, we should probably always be dieting, always exercising more, always reading more books, always recovering from something, and always trying to make ourselves better. While I may not intentionally go on a weight-loss plan, I'm always well-aware of the extra 20 or so pounds I gained in Cambodia. Always.

Lynn says, "There's a good chance that you'd been anorexic for so long, only now do you actually weigh what you should for your height. So it might feel like a lot, but that was your body saying, "Feed me"."

I don't like to hear that. I don't like to think that the way I look now is how I'm supposed to look. I don't want to hear that this is my healthy weight. Counselor after counselor has told me, "If you eat right and exercise, your body will decide what it needs to weigh." This seems backwards to me, but really, it's our culture that is messed up. We tend to pick the number on the scale or the pants size that we "should" have, instead of letting our bodies do the talking.

My body may be talking, but I've gotten really good at ignoring it. I have a system for the way I eat. I usually leave home and spend 12+ hours at school each day. So I pack my food for the day: snacks, lunch, dinner. I divvy out the portions like a scientific equation. I don't think in food, I think in food groups: 3 fruits, 3 veggies, at least 50 grams of protein, some gluten-free grains, and some healthy fats. Whatever fits in those categories goes in the lunch box. I eat while working on homework or distracting myself with something else. Sometimes I'll eat cold pasta or soup. Heating my food doesn't make sense when I'm just trying to get it over with. I eat quickly, usually alone, and brush my teeth immediately after. Get it over with and move on, forget. Eating around people makes me nervous. Being in the presence of food makes me uncomfortable. If any meal takes longer than 10 minutes, I just get weird.

"The way you eat sounds like punishment," my friend, Rachael, told me sympathetically last week. She's right. Why should it be anything different? If I enjoy food, then I'll eat too much, and I'll become out-of-control, and...and...I fear food taking any more time, effort, or thought than necessary.

I realize this is sad. I realize this isn't normal. Lynn wants to help me with this because I've learned that I can't do this for the rest of my life. I can't just avoid and stuff away the uncomfortable feelings. I have to deal with them. I have to learn how to eat again. Humbling, because I feel like I am back in diapers to the time when children, even infants, learn how to eat. I guess in a lot of ways I am.


Carley Brown said...

I just found out today that a friend I've had for several years has struggled with bulimia (spelled it wrong I'm sure). I never knew til now. She's done much healing though and handles everything much better. Thanks for writing. I always enjoy it

Life's short. Eat your bread buttered :)