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Activity body liberation Living While Fat My Story

Exercise

Is “exercise” a diet culture word? Is it “diet culture” to want to work out to the point of feeling some soreness the next day, to push yourself and want to develop strength and tone? I am not sure. My nutritionist often gives me push back for using words like “workout” and “exercise” and my HAES trainer always seems a bit perturbed if I experience any soreness. But for me, working out is a source of joy. I really enjoy the feeling of pushing myself, of trying things I don’t know if my body can do. Of getting stronger.

The pain that comes from mildly tearing muscles while lifting heavy weights, that sense of not knowing if I can finish a certain set or even rep, the feeling of trying to truly push my strength limits–that works for me. I am very strong. I have always been very strong. I have slow-twitch muscles, so even at my fittest I could never keep up at any kind of aerobic exercise, but when I am working out regularly I can leg press hundreds and hundreds of pounds and do other very heavy weights on weight machines.

How do you separate that from the urge to over-exercise in order to burn calories, lose weight, make certain body parts (like your upper arms or belly) look how they are supposed to look? I genuinely don’t feel like my tendency to do heavy strength training is a diet culture holdover. My tendency to do 45 minutes on the elliptical machine, maybe. The strength training, no.

So what about the terminology? Is it ok to say that I am “exercising,” that I am “working out” my body? My husband often likens me to a prize racehorse, because I am in constant need of care and service. And what does one do with a prize race horse? One trains it. One works it out. One gets it ready to do its very damned best at the physical contest it lives for. Is it so wrong that I want to do the same?

This is a genuine question. I cannot decide if I should be worried about my perspective on this being twisted by diet culture, even though it doesn’t feel twisted in my head. With several professionals giving me pushback on working out and straining muscles and feeling “good pain,” I wonder if I am the one who is confused.

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Eating Disorders My Story

ARFID

As I have written about before, I have binge eating disorder. I have been working hard on this, on staying in tune with my body so I don’t fully check out and eat more than I mean to, on letting myself not finish food that I have obtained, and on knowing that food will be there later if I leave it now. This is working. I haven’t had what I would describe as a true binge in a number of months. I am still partially checking out. I am not eating often enough and therefore eating too much in each eating episode. I am still eating highly dense and heavy foods which I don’t even want to be eating but which seem like a good idea at the time. However, my binge eating disorder is a much less serious complaint than it was six months ago.

I am losing weight. I am not weighing myself regularly, but I did weigh myself about two weeks ago and I found that I had lost about 15 or 20 pounds from where I was in late summer. This is to be expected as I am not bingeing nearly as much. The theory is, as one gets closer and closer to eating as one’s body truly wants, one’s body will naturally approach the weight that it wants to be at–an internal set point.

Problem is, I also have ARFID, Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, about which the DSM V says this:

  • An eating or feeding disturbance (e.g., apparent lack of interest in eating or food; avoidance based on the sensory characteristics of food; concern about aversive consequences of eating) as manifested by persistent failure to meet appropriate nutritional and/or energy needs associated with one (or more) of the following:
    • Significant weight loss (or failure to achieve expected weight gain or faltering growth in children).
    • Significant nutritional deficiency.
    • Dependence on enteral feeding or oral nutritional supplements.
    • Marked interference with psychosocial functioning.
  • The disturbance is not better explained by lack of available food or by an associated culturally sanctioned practice.
  • The eating disturbance does not occur exclusively during the course of anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, and there is no evidence of a disturbance in the way in which one’s body weight or shape is experienced.
  • The eating disturbance is not attributable to a concurrent medical condition or not better explained by another mental disorder. When the eating disturbance occurs in the context of another condition or disorder, the severity of the eating disturbance exceeds that routinely associated with the condition or disorder and warrants additional clinical attention.

ARFID means I am picky to the point of disruption in my nutritional health. In my case I am unwilling to eat virtually any fruit. My nutritionist says this is fairly normal for ARFID sufferers, as fruit is very delicate and unpredictable–sometimes it is amazing and other times gross, and you can’t always tell before you bite in. I have an unnatural level of anxiety about whether I will bite into a mealy apple or a soft blueberry, and so I don’t bite into fruit at all. Veggies are a bit better, but have similar issues.

My eating habits are extremely texture- and smell-driven and focus on high calorie density foods, because every eating episode is an anxious and stressful experience for me. So I eat as much as I can in each one so as to avoid eating for as long as possible; I eat the simplest, mildest foods possible because I want to minimize the stress of the eating episode itself.

It would seem that the binge eating disorder is actually a coping mechanism–to ensure that I get enough food, I overeat when I do eat. Now that the binges have eased off a bit, I am starting to get to the root of the matter, which is that I routinely (as in at least once a day) find myself avoiding eating, even though I am hungry and aware that I am hungry, because I am too stressed out by figuring out what I am willing to eat, how to get it, etc. Hence, weight loss.

Any sane person would probably be pretty sanguine about a superfat losing weight, but to me it is a mixed blessing. Yes, I have health effects from my weight. Yes, I have social and career impacts. But I have spent the past year learning to love myself as I am and to accept that dieting is a cruelty imposed on us by a sexist, racist, cishetnormative culture. So now I am not sure if I am allowed to feel happy about losing weight. Worse, I am afraid that feeling happy about losing weight will let loose the diet culture in me all over again.

My nutritionist in fact fears that I have anorexic tendencies as well, typified by not wanting to eat because of the joy of controlling myself and the sense of cleanliness and lightness that not eating brings. Diet culture and weight loss honoring are triggers for that.

I have no answers right now. I am working to figure out what I can and will eat that is a bit more nutritious than my usuals without becoming judge-y and diet-y. But it’s a hard road so far and I’ve taken maybe 8 inches of steps along it.

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My Story

The Scale

I weigh a lot. A lot of a lot. I know this for sure, because I weigh myself nearly every day. This is a holdover habit from one of the last diets I truly threw myself into. My scale is in my entrance hall. Seriously, you come in, welcome to my home, there are the main stairs, the doors to the two front rooms, a table with a bunch of minor clutter like mail and keys, a bench for putting on shoes, and the world’s most heavy duty scale.

I own this scale because my mother bought it for me. I already owned two scales before that, but I had exceeded their weight limits and was no longer weighing myself. Nevertheless one of those scales was (and still is) in my master bath and one was (and still is) in my family room where I go to relax and unwind. Nice quiet reminders that I am so goddamned fat that even scales don’t fit me.

Me not weighing myself freaked my mother out so much that she spent about $100 to send me an unsolicited scale in the mail. This pissed me off. Who the fuck was she to be telling me I needed to weigh myself? (And expecting to hear about the results, with decimals.) This was when I was still deeply enmeshed in diet culture and self-hatred, not to mention poor family dynamics (obviously), so it took a lot to break through my shell and cause me to get pissed off in self-defense.

Nowadays if someone did something so absurd at me, I would return the thing for an amazon gift card and use it to buy fucking awesome fat clothes or astronaut ice cream.

Back then I just left it in its box for a year. One day the diet wave rolled around again, the need to know the fucking decimals became overpowering, and boom, the scale was out of the box, the weight was recorded, and my entrance hall was slightly redecorated.

I’m a journaller and I record a lot of daily data about things like food, activity, what I do with my time, whether I took my meds, whether I had sex, etc. So you can imagine that as soon as I started weighing again, I had to write those weights down. In red ink, at the top of each journal page. Then the pages without them were naked, so all the pages needed weights, and the need to weigh every day was firmly established.

And so it goes. Now I’ve declared my supposed freedom from diet culture, am working on intuitive eating, self-liberation, and all, but I still weigh almost every goddamned day.

My nutritionist has suggested I run the scale(s) over with my car and make some sort of art from the pieces.

I’m not there yet. Maybe someday.

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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?