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My Story

Love and Marriage

I met my husband when I was in college. At first, I was honestly just glad that anyone was interested in me and I wasn’t necessarily going to die alone. I am painfully aware from the experiences of others in my close family that this method of choosing men is fraught with peril. But I struck gold.

In the beginning, I encouraged the relationship more than I really wanted to out of fear and self-loathing. Both of us have suffered from chronic depression for as long as we have known each other, and our relationship hasn’t always gone smoothly. Due to school and job stuff, we spent several years apart, and those years were rough, as were the years afterwards when we were learning to be together again. He was good to me from the beginning, but these and other events were rough patches nonetheless, and I stuck them out, at least at first, mostly out of the same self-hatred.

Over time, though, the strangest thing happened. I fell truly, deeply, madly in love with the man. Recently we celebrated our twentieth wedding anniversary. It’s hard for me to believe that I’ve spent well over half my life with him. It is not hard for me to believe that I will do the same for the rest of it.

When I was a kid I sort of had this idea that the way love went was that you fell in love, had a few wonderful years, got married, got bored, and just kind of drifted after that. That has not been my experience at all. Each passing year is better than the year before. As I’ve grown up, grown into myself, grown into more and more self-acceptance and confidence, our relationship has only gotten better.

As we have known each other more, our conversations have become complex, subtle, and wide-ranging. I don’t know what it means to “run out of things to talk about.” Our many shared experiences and past conversations have only led to a joint language and perspective. We have arguments about Soviet space missions, the proper usage of common household items, and what our 14-year-old dog’s name actually is. (And no, she isn’t recently adopted.)

What, you may ask, does this have to do with body liberation? This: In the six months or so since I woke up to the crappiness of diet culture and decided to actually care for my body, our relationship has bloomed. Apparently, it is actually true that if you love yourself, it is easier to be loved by others.

It turns out that my husband has been holding back in his appreciation of me, body and soul, for years–because I was so negative and dismissive.

Why was I dismissive? Somehow I imagined that if I didn’t draw his attention to my hugeness, he might not notice it as much. Somehow I imagined that he had been with me for 23 years in spite of my body, not because of, or at least in happiness with it. Somehow I imagined that if I let my only intimate partner actually interact openly with me about my body, that would make things worse.

Now that I wear clothes with pleasure and gladly show them off, enjoy his touch fully without demure, and let him say what he will without rejection, everything has changed. We are basking in the glow of love like newlyweds. People tell us we’re adorable on the street. We are both noticeably happier in all we do. It’s disgusting. It’s wonderful.

Also, the sex is stunning and about triple in frequency. So, yeah, there’s that.

Categories
Eating Disorders My Story

Binge Eating Disorder

Warning: This post contains specific details of my experience of my eating disorder. Some parts of it could potentially be triggering to others with eating disorders.

The DSM V says:

Binge Eating Disorder: 307.51 (F50.8)

A. Recurrent episodes of binge eating. An episode of binge eating is characterized by both of the following:
    1. Eating, in a discrete period of time (e.g., within any 2-hour period), an amount of food that is definitely larger than what most people would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances.
     2. A sense of lack of control over eating during the episode (e.g., a feeling that one cannot stop eating or control what or how much one is eating).

B. The binge-eating episodes are associated with three (or more) of the following:
     1. Eating much more rapidly than normal.
     2. Eating until feeling uncomfortably full.
     3. Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry.
     4. Eating alone because of feeling embarrassed by how much one is eating.
     5. Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty afterward.

C. Marked distress regarding binge eating is present.

D. The binge eating occurs, on average, at least once a week for 3 months.

E. The binge eating is not associated with the recurrent use of inappropriate compensatory behavior as in bulimia nervosa and does not occur exclusively during the course of bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa.

Specify if:

In partial remission: After full criteria for binge-eating disorder were previously met, binge eating occurs at an average frequency of less than on episode per week for a sustained period of time.

In full remission: After full criteria for binge-eating disorder were previously met, none of the criteria have been met for a sustained period of time.

Specify current severity: The minimum level of severity is based on the frequency of episodes of binge eating (see below). The level of severity may be increased to reflect other symptoms and the degree of functional disability.
Mild: 1-3 binge-eating episodes per week
Moderate: 4-7 binge-eating episodes per week
Severe: 8-13 binge-eating episodes per week
Extreme: 14 or more binge-eating episodes per week

https://www.psychiatry.org/psychiatrists/practice/dsm

Binge Eating Diagnosis

Binge Eating Disorder. They say I have this. I feel like I drifted around and through this diagnosis for many years, not having a clear idea of what was happening or that it could be thought of as an eating disorder. Providers would ask me if I binged, or purged, and I would say “No, I just eat too much.” They almost never asked a second question, so I got away with my ellipses.

My last two serious diet attempts were more medicalized than the previous ones. One was an inpatient weight loss clinic and one was an outpatient program through a local hospital. Providers at both of those programs were more persistent about questioning my bingeing. Honestly, I think they were trying to cover their butts–if I had a real “disorder,” then it couldn’t be their fault when their diets failed. They simply weren’t equipped to handle someone as ill as I. Both programs diverted me from their main weight loss groups into more binge-eating-oriented sessions.

Ironically. I believe that was the seed that finally got me free of the whole diet industry. Because even these diet industry programs had to admit that their stupid fasting and limiting and protein drinks–one of these was a diet so parsimonious that I became sodium deficient, something I had had no idea was even possible*–could be triggers for binges. So even they had to start letting me think through how often and how much I needed to eat to stay “under control.”

*The solution to sodium deficiency, apparently, is permission to eat 1-2 zero-calorie cups of bouillon per day. Not more. We don’t want to trigger water retention.

Some combination of them having to be honest about a few things, which actually got me some proto-information about this disorder, and the mere fact of the increasingly absurd bullshit I was being fed (instead of food), broke through. I started questioning whether it actually made sense to force myself, when already in pain from hunger, to postpone eating for at least 15 minutes by drawing in an adult coloring book.

The whole thing is still pretty amorphous. I don’t, so far as I am aware, have a written diagnosis by a doctor of binge eating disorder. I’m not aware of there being any particular prescribed or organized course of treatment. I’m not even sure, some days, that I have it. It’s not something that has worked its way into my “identity.”

In the book The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls, by Anissa Gray, there is a vivid description of the experience of a binge episode. It rings true to me, but doesn’t feel like me. I don’t feel like bingeing caused a blissed out or numbing feeling for me. I don’t feel like the compulsion to binge was ever consciously associated with particular emotions. It always really truly felt like just a rebound from the restriction and like a failure of control, like not being at the helm of my own ship.

Diagnostic Criteria

Some parts of the DSM V description feel very, very true for me. A2, B2-4. A2–a sense of lack of control in your eating–is the hallmark of how I have felt about eating for 42 years. No control, and, truly, no belief that I could ever be in control. Of course it turns out that the right way to not lose control is not to try to over-control things in the first place. Trite but true.

These days, by the way, a common occurrence in my half-recovered state is for me to get too hungry (more on that in another post), gather a huge pile of food, and begin to eat. A few minutes later, I will think something like “This is great, I’m really going to finish this, I am going to binge! I am never going to stop.” And then not long after, sometimes just a couple of bites after, full stop. Lots of food gets wasted and, unfortunately, food finds itself abandoned all over my house, office, and car. (Other aspects of my self care also need work, apparently.) But not only do I no longer feel out of control of my eating, I no longer even feel able to be out of control of my eating. I kind of miss that sometimes.

B2, B3–pretty well the definition of a binge. B4–this is huge. I’ve eaten secretly for years. Even my husband rarely saw my worst binges. I would wait until he went out to work or see his friends on my day off, and then order and eat an entire pizza or a huge pile of takeout chinese. One of the first hints, in retrospect, that I was starting to win free, was the willingness for him to know that I was eating these things and how much I was eating. Because the shame and the hiding is also the joy and the glory of having a secret, a special thing all your own.

B5 and C are a bit iffy–I didn’t really have consciousness of bingeing so much as categorically overeating, so it’s hard to recall feeling marked distress about the binges in particular. Plus I was hideously depressed the whole time, not just about eating. I felt disgusted with myself pretty much 24-7, so I don’t know where one disorder ended and the next began. I do recall marked distress over the occasional periods when I would also purge. I had strong awareness of the health risks of excessive vomiting and wished I could resist purging, although at the same time that was mixed with pride that I had “cleared my system” of the results of the binge. And a relief of the physical pain of overfullness, of course.

D–I never tracked my binges carefully, or even my eating in general, until things were already starting to get better, so this is hard to say.

But Wait, Really?

But what I really want to talk about is the rest of the description. A1 and E in particular.

It frustrates me that in A1 this disorder is characterized in opposition to, or comparison with, “normal” eating. I’m pretty goddamned sure that even when I don’t binge I eat more than “normal.” I know this because first, I’ve had my resting metabolism tested (by one of those “medical” diet facilities) and it’s quite high, so if I ate a “normal” diet of 2000 calories a day, I would be rapidly shrinking. Second, I’ve watched normal people eat. They don’t eat shit. I’ve seen them, in all seriousness, be defeated by a tiny container of Teddy Grahams after their lunch, and I’m not talking about dieters. In fact, whenever I have lunch with my coworkers in a group, I always end up undereating because I am unconsciously keeping pace with them. Then I’m ravenous two hours later. (Probably also a good topic for a future post.)

This kind of vague, moralization-tinged definition of the disordered eating process is, in my opinion, symptomatic of the bullshit fatphobia with which the medical profession is rife. And I bet it makes it hard to diagnose fat people properly, because where does eating an appropriate amount to nourish your larger body end and disordered eating begin? If you only had the DSM V to go off of, I think you would have a lot of trouble answering that question.

Warning: The next bit is the part I am most concerned could be triggering, particularly for those in recovery from a restrictive eating disorder. Proceed with caution.

Worst of all badness, though, is E. Reminder:

The binge eating is not associated with the recurrent use of inappropriate compensatory behavior as in bulimia nervosa and does not occur exclusively during the course of bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa.

You know what this sounds like to me? It sounds a hell of a lot like binge eating disorder is what you have if you aren’t cool enough to qualify for anorexia or bulimia. You aren’t clever enough to realize that you are supposed to engage in “compensatory” behavior to balance your bingeing. Yeah, they covered their asses with the word “inappropriate,” but “compensatory” is pretty strong. You also haven’t quite managed to qualify for a restrictive eating disorder–which is always checked for first–so congrats, you get the consolation diagnosis.

Admittedly, I’m sure some of that is me reading things into it, because that’s what I’ve always believed. Do you know how many times I have prayed–literally prayed–to get anorexia instead? If I were going to be sick with an E.D., the reasoning went, then couldn’t I at least lose some weight while I was at it? Why, oh why, did I have to have an imbalance in the direction of bingeing over purging? I’ve actually tried, on multiple occasions, to “flip the switch”–trick my brain into addicting to the feeling of emptiness instead of the feeling of fullness–as a weight-loss technique. Go American social pressures! Go!

So thanks a fucking lot, Mr. DSM V (and I feel confident you are a Mr., although I realize I shouldn’t project that genderization onto you without your permission) for making me feel, even in the moment of my diagnosis, like a failure with the wrong, less cool disease. That was really a value added to the whole journey.

Remission

Raise your hand if you had any idea that eating disorders, like cancers, could go into remission. Anyone? Anyone?

By the definition in this manual, I am now in full remission. I haven’t had a real binge in months. Some of the emotional distress still happens, and I still have bad eating habits and eat too much too infrequently, but I no longer lose control or awareness of my eating. I no longer finish entire containers of food in one sitting. I no longer hide my eating.

Do I feel like I am in remission? I do not. I actually find this possibility terrifying because if I am getting better than why can I still not feed myself successfully? I can barely get through a single day without a food-choice-related disaster and I have regular panic attacks about how to nourish myself. I can’t handle the grocery store and even Instacart is often a big fail. Our oven has been broken for 16 months and it only impinges on my consciousness once every couple of weeks, because I don’t cook.

Also, why am I not losing weight? — argh, so much work still to be done on the body liberation/ fat acceptance side of the aisle!!!!

And finally, what the fuck do I do with my Saturdays now?

Categories
Living While Fat My Story

Fat Accessibility

I’m lucky in my life these days not to face a lot of explicit fatphobia. But what I do face, and I think all of us super- or infinifats face, is fat ignorance, fat invisibility, and a lack of fat accessibility.

This weekend I attended a large, many-hour event at an old public building. I was not the focus of the event, but I was supposedly a fairly important player. The experience, from the perspective of my fat-colored glasses, was pretty awful.

The venue had about 30 steps up to get in the main entrance. The elevator was in a different wing and required a long walk each way. I actually walk pretty well so the walk didn’t bother me, but what did bother me was that every time I needed to detour to the elevator I would be forgotten and left behind, or sent ahead and forgotten. The whole large party would do whatever it wanted and as far as I can tell not one person ever asked where I was or why I wasn’t there.

The one and only accessible bathroom was next to the elevator. So every time I had to pee, same story. Again, I’m not talking per se about handicapped accessibility–I don’t consider myself handicapped. I don’t need a handrail or a raised toilet, I just need a stall wide enough to fit my ass. (And I don’t mean that to say that it shouldn’t be more accessible to everyone, particularly the genuinely handicapped, but just to be clear about my needs.) This older building did not have full size stalls except in the handicap bathroom.

The venue did not have chairs. It had strategically placed benches, but those could not be moved. The chairs that had been rented for the event were not sturdy. They creaked when a six year old sat on them so I wasn’t about to try them. I am actually very lucky that the event facilitator had brought two chairs with her that worked for me. One of them was filthy, and I was wearing beige, so that brought us down to one working chair in the entire extremely large building.

The chair had to be carried around by someone everywhere we went. Sometimes the chair would vanish, and I would have to stand, in significant back pain (standing still is the worst for my back), for 5 or 10 minutes waiting for the chair to catch up. Sometimes the chair would be in the wrong place and I would have no choice but to stay with the chair so as not to lose it.

Eventually the people running the venue got pissed and put me in a wheelchair. This was humiliating. It was also very hard to get into and out of because it was soft and tended to tip over. The wheels ran over my dress, undoing my labor of refusing to sit on the filthy chair.

I lost it. I got tired and cranky and I started yelling at people. I was told to calm down. I tried. I felt awful. It was not my event and I didn’t want to cast a shadow on a joyous day. I didn’t want or need to be the focus of attention. So breaking down and getting dramatic about my needs only made me feel worse.

I’m not sure how I could have navigated the situation better. I am working hard to be expressive of my needs and I don’t think that hurting myself on narrow chairs with arms, tiny bathroom stalls, or long flights of stairs without banisters was the solution. I don’t think that not attending was the solution. I don’t think that losing it and throwing a fit was the solution. I don’t have a solution.

All I can say is if you have a fat person in your life and you are planning an event and you want them to feel welcomed and loved, please think of them when you’re planning. The event facilitator had been warned by the event hosts that I would need to sit down for any long stretches when others were standing, and that helped a lot, but that was far from enough to make me feel comfortable and, well, human, through the day.

Categories
Eating Disorders My Story

Food Sharing in Binge Eating Disorder Recovery

Do y’all live alone? If not, do you have your own separate food or do you share? I live with my husband and no other humans. (We do not have children.) We mostly have very distinct eating habits so we rarely share food, but sometimes we do. More often, we think we’re not sharing until one of us discovers that the other has finished something they were counting on eating soon.

I’m very bad about food ownership. I really don’t like people to touch my food. I really like to know that there will be exactly as much of whatever tomorrow as I left today.

Yesterday, as we were driving home, I was eating a bag of Doritos. I was eating them quite slowly and it was quite a large bag. Cool as you please, without warning or query, my husband leaned over and took one and ate it.

Instantly I suffered a massive surge of rage and anxiety. Mine! How dare you!?

Almost as quickly, I realized that this possessiveness was a food anxiety/scarcity response. I needed to know that those Doritos were there for me. I was working hard not to chug the whole bag down in a rush, but I needed to know that that wouldn’t lead to them going away.

I also realized that I could pull over and buy more Doritos anytime I liked and then eat them. This calmed me down a lot. I moved on and even offered my husband the rest of the bag when I had eaten what I wanted at that time.

The incident made me think, though: is it possible to share food while in recovery from my ED? I don’t think it is. I think it vastly increases the chance of a binge resulting from needing to know that the food won’t disappear and be lost to me. I think it makes me feel a loss of empowerment and I think it diminishes my very limited baby steps towards caring for myself by having the right foods available for myself at any given time.

I feel guilty about this. After all, my societally approved gender role involves not only sharing food, but actively providing food to my mate. Food should not be mine. Food should be something I give to the world, not the other way around. So buying, keeping, and not sharing food like an angry squirrel feels very wrong.

I hope that someday my food anxiety and scarcity-tinged panic will subside, but until then I guess I’m going to start putting post-it notes on my stuff in the fridge.

Categories
My Story

A whole new world

About six months ago, I started to work with a new nutritionist. I’ve been dieting, weight cycling, and bingeing since I was about 10 or 12 years old, so I’m an old hand with nutritionists. I had a psychologist who specialized in eating issues, and she suddenly left private practice, and I had no one to talk to anymore, and I panicked. I told my regular psychologist about this and, a week later, she had a name.

With apprehension, I went to meet this new nutritionist. Every nutritionist is different but they always have charts and lists and forms and numbers. This one didn’t. She wanted to know about my dieting life, how I felt about myself–my body and my size and my weight and my eating. And she asked me what was wrong with me as I was.

Why was I at war with myself? Was I a lesser person because my body was bigger than almost everyone else’s? Did I somehow “deserve” to suffer shame, stigma, self-hatred?

I had no answer to those things. So I started to think. I thunk. It made no sense–if I was, as I clearly was, unhealthy as I was, then surely the right thing was to fight my body, hate my body, attempt to forcibly shrink my body. Surely I simply hadn’t yet–in 30 years of dieting–found the right path to force myself to finally give up eating? That’s how I thought about it–give up eating.

She pushed. She got me reading–Intuitive Eating first, then, when she felt I was ready, Body Positive Power. She got me talking to others who had similarly disordered eating. She more-or-less forced me to go on Instagram and look at some of the amazing people who share of themselves in that forum.

It worked, all of a sudden, like an earthquake. One morning I woke up and I was there. I spent an entire day and night looking at fat women and plus size clothing options on the internet. With my husband, who was not unappreciative of the new visuals.

Of course, I’m still fighting. Forty years of mental habits don’t vanish overnight. There are many bad hours and bad days. But the future is now and I am in it. My nutritionist has told me again and again that I need to tell my story.

Very few of the fat-positive, body-liberation folks on Insta are nearly as old as I am. Aging sucks sometimes, and pairing it with being an “infinifat” (a new term I learned today and find charming) is fraught with peril. I brushed her off, because, frankly, I have a life. I have an excellent job in a conservative industry. I have a wonderful marriage. I have hobbies and a social life. I don’t need, or have time for, a blogging habit. It could even hurt my career.

So why am I here? I’m here because every single goddamned time I tell a woman friend about my new perspective, they are blown away and desperate for help, advice, sympathy, you name it. Today a friend I hadn’t seen in a while started weeping when I spoke to her about body positivity and self acceptance. Last week an acquaintance with whom I went for drinks for the first time spent an hour interrogating me about the changes in me and who/what/when/where/how.

Maybe no one will ever read this story, and that’s fine. It’s helpful for me to put things down while they are fresh even if I am the only audience. But if even one person gets something from hearing about my journey, it will have been worth it. So here we go.