My eating is out of control again. Sometimes I get wee thoughts like “at least I’m not eating until I nearly throw up”, “at least I’m not eating until I am worried about gastric rupture”, etc, as if it’s not that bad really. I am not logging my binges because I am not logging anything. I was always shocked when I logged them at how large they really were. I think “oh that wasn’t so bad” but I bet it was.
Now it’s 2-3 times a day which is back to its worst. I feel totally helpless in front of them. I say “no more” then the next thing I know I am binging. I feel like it is already decided and my attempts at stopping are just laughable.
I am piling on the weight. It’s everywhere. My abdomen, my breasts, my arms, my legs. I feel grotesque and huge. I feel like a monster. Wearing clothes two sizes bigger. Bits of me disproportionately distended and massive. Feel like discontinuous parts. Not human, anyway. I realise this will make me sound crazy but honestly, my body is shaped so wrongly now that it does not look human anymore. I think this is another one of those things that only makes sense on the inside of my head.
All this nonsense about a body a bit bigger. It’s not a few extra inches round various circumferences. It’s what it means. It’s means more and more people are starting to treat me like a fat person again which is not intrinsically or fundamentally a bad thing in itself. But here and now, where I live and who I know, it is unsafe. It’s men thinking I must be ‘easy’ or ‘desperate’ and not accepting no. It’s having “fat cunt” shouted out of cars. It’s fucking doctors. It’s people looking down on me.
Things are nowhere near as bad as they were when I was ‘morbidly obese’ but it’s starting. And I can’t bear it. Which makes me feel desperate which makes me binge. Round and round. (There’s a joke in there about me getting rounder. Can’t work up the energy.)
What do I actually want? If I disregarded everyone else’s opinions, what I want is to go back in time to the hotel and put the bag and elastic over my head with the noose and sink down and let it tighten. Actually do it. I want none of this to have happened. No traumatic hospital stay, not meeting the man on the ward, not thoughts getting even more batshit, not eating out of control again. Not all this relentless, overwhelming pain.
After the list I posted earlier today, and because I like to torture myself, here is a list of things I could do to rebuild my life and try again:
Get a dog or some other pet for company and love
Do a second day at the charity project I go to for more structure and company
Alternatively, or in addition to the above, volunteer to do something useful and try and build some self-esteem
Get a private psychologist and really talk and open up (I am very lucky that my obsessive need to control my spending, after getting into the worst kind of trouble in my twenties, has had the beneficial effect of allowing me to build up some savings. I am the only person I know of that has been this lucky.)
Start running again and be brave and try new routes but cancel the gym and admit I never enjoyed it
Do the Open University Access course I have been eyeing up for… uh… years to give me a little hope that I could possibly have a future
Get a tattoo and do the other recommended things to start reclaiming my body and stop despising it
Comparing this list with my earlier list: there are major areas not covered. I don’t think those things can be solved or ameliorated. Which is why I am eating nutella and butter sandwiches and booking a hotel.
I have so many bastard lists on the go at the moment as I try to get organised. My memory is hopeless just now so I am using lists for even the most basic things. Here’s a list from ten days ago that I am referring to frequently, for comfort, reassurance and to torture myself (impressive résumé for a list):
I feel guilty for the terrible things I have done which I can never fix or undo
I hate and despise myself; I am a terrible person
I have never achieved anything and I am intensely ashamed of that
I am a burden and I drag down my family and friends; I know for a fact that they will be better off when I am dead
I will never have someone to hug and hug me
I will never have someone to love and love me
I will never have someone to cuddle in bed with
I have feelings of intense loneliness which are very painful
I will never have someone I feel safe enough to have sex with
I am putting all the weight back on and everyone is laughing and looking down at me
I am ashamed that I can’t manage my eating
I hate my body and want to rip it apart and set it on fire
I am ashamed and horrified that I didn’t apply for the ordinary degree that I had credits for and so ruined even that faint hope for a future
It really hurts and I feel intensely ashamed every time I see someone talking about managing to be a doctor or medical student with a mental illness
I am a waste of the Earth’s resources; one less human is better for climate change
I am a waste of NHS resources
I am a waste of taxpayers’ resources
I am ashamed that I can’t manage my mental illness
I am ashamed that I so desperately want people to like me
I want to be free (though I don’t deserve that)
I want to be at peace (though I don’t deserve that)
I want to be finished and gone and in the past so that the harm I did can heal
It was hard to write but I felt better for it as my head felt clearer and emptied out. It is like cutting into raw, burnt skin when I expose this intense, overwhelming shame. If it wasn’t for the fact that I will be dead in a few days I wouldn’t be able to. I don’t know why I am publishing this. It eases something and makes these last days less painful, I think. I have no right to ask or hope for that of course. Also, it’s a kind of proof to myself. I would never, never, never talk about these things if I thought anyone I knew could even remotely possibly find out. There is always a possibility that you can be outed from an anonymous blog. But it doesn’t matter if you’re dead.
I have a whole menu of self-destructive behaviours to call from when times are bad. I rarely do them nowadays and I think to the outside it looks like they are in my past and done with but they feel very much available to me whenever I need them. I find that a comfort and it makes me feel safe.
I self-harmed a lot as a teenager. I drank problematically and took recreational drugs too much in my early twenties. I binge ate for two periods in my late twenties and late thirties though a large part of that was down to the physiological effects of dieting. I have comfort eaten/emotionally eaten (eating when not hungry but instead to relieve emotions; not binging) my whole life. Neglected my sleep despite knowing it was key to managing my mood. Not exercising at all for most of my adult life then over-exercising to the extent of injuries in my late thirties. Deliberately and accidentally socially isolating myself despite being the type of person that really needs social contact. Deliberately being horrible to people to push them away because I don’t deserve people being nice to me (it feels wrong). Fucking with my prescription medication (it’s going great). Deliberately not doing things I enjoy to punish myself. Oh, the list just keeps going on.
How I haven’t ended up with a borderline personality disorder diagnosis is a miracle and I think basically is because I am naturally a very personable person and was brought up middle class. I did four years of medical school and am pretty well read and get called “articulate” (I smile and try not to tell them to fuck off) so know the pitfalls of what healthcare professionals find difficult. I get on well with them and make an effort to do so. I wonder if that sounds manipulative. I bet it could be interpreted as manipulative. I see it as self-defence. They can literally decide where I sleep that night and whether I am dragged out in a cage of nurses unable to move properly. I think they are less likely to do that if they think I am an ‘easy’ patient. I never tell them if I have suicidal thoughts and answer only vaguely when directly asked which they don’t do very often. Healthcare professionals are a potential threat even when they are being nice to me. I would rather keep away from them, or at least keep them at arm’s length, and be safe even if I am alone. Does that could as a self-destructive behaviour? Not really engaging with psychiatric services? Or only engaging superficially. I don’t think they could do anything anyway. All I see is disappointment from my real life and online friends. Obviously this strategy is working out tremendously as you can see from how well my life is going.
In the post linked above, I was bragging that I hadn’t self-harmed in a very long time. Whoosh, gone. Have self-harmed several times in the last week. I don’t know if self-harm is generally seen as a kind of addiction anymore but to me it feels addictive. I feel like I want to do more and I have to exert effort to stop myself. My mood is fucking horrendous just now (bet you can’t tell from how articulate I am) and the self-harm was the most beautiful relief from the agitation. Better than any medication or ‘healthy coping strategy’. There’s the secret: it’s so addictive because it just goddamn works. But but but… It always escalates and always spirals out of control eventually. It isolates me from real people as it’s a barrier that they can’t understand and I can’t overcome. And it damages my poor, abused body that has really had enough. I can see that it is innocent and doesn’t deserve this. I do but it doesn’t.
Your body is not an object, not a sculpture based on some universal and enduring Platonic ideal of beauty — it is a living creature, an animal in your care that needs care and compassion, that suffers and dies if neglected. https://t.co/Q1lTdtI1or— Michelle Allison (@fatnutritionist) December 20, 2017
So going to have to knock this self-harm on the head again. I read this thoroughly compassionate article about self-destructive behaviours in Psychology Today. Cried but the soft tears when you feel like an awful, tight pain is unclenching and releasing. Then I read the follow up article by the same writer about how unhelpful shame is when trying to deal with self-destructive behaviours. And I sobbed for a while because I can’t deal with my shame. It’s too huge and overwhelming. I’ve self-harmed pretty severely (until it doesn’t hurt anymore; you either know what that means or you don’t and I’m not going to spell it out because I worry more about triggering the people who do understand than I worry about educating you) and shame hurts order of magnitude more than any physical pain I’ve experienced. The second article made so much sense to me. This is the key quote: “[D]o not shame yourself as an attempt to make yourself overcome the behavior. At best it will leave you feeling worse about yourself. At worst it will increase your dysregulated behavior.” I’ve heard that so many times before but the writer actually laid out her thinking here. It was like she levered some space in my head.
Of course, I feel like I very much deserve my shame and deserve to be punished. Still have that strong push to punish myself and like that would be doing the right thing. But it’s nice to get that little unclenching and space for a while at least.
[self-harm, mention of sexual assault, suicidal thoughts]
I don’t really know why but I grew up hating my body. I hated how it looked and I hated how other people treated me because of how they thought it looked. I read somewhere when I was a young teenager that your body is just there to carry your mind around and that framing stayed with me. I never considered how it felt.
I started self-harming when I was 14 years old. I mostly cut my abdomen with a razor blade. I also cut the tops of my thighs, my inner thighs, my hips, my left shoulder, my chest and my breasts; anywhere that was covered by my PE kit. I think I self-harmed because I didn’t know the words how to express my pain, frustration and anxiety from my untreated depression. I had also been extensively bullied at school for years. I had a lot of suicidal thoughts and plans too.
After eighteen months or so of self-harming, I finally went to my GP, was honest about my symptoms and I was given fluoxetine (Prozac) and weekly counselling (changed days to what people get today) which helped a lot. My GP was very matter of fact about my self-harm and focused on what I now know is called harm minimisation. I never felt even a flicker of shaming. I had been self-harming every day: every night in the bathroom before I had a shower. I always had wounds in various stages of healing. This is actually kind of horrifying me now to look at these memories from my current relationship with my body but it was so normal then. It felt like a logical and sensible response to my life. It fucking was a logical and sensible response to my life. But the self-harm just melted away as the depression melted away. I don’t remember any kind of fight to stop. It just naturally camed to an end. From the time I was 17 years old to now in my early forties, I have self-harmed less than a dozen times. When my mood is bad, thoughts of self-harm do come into my head but they feel miles away. It’s only in the worst of situations that I actually do go past thoughts and act on my body.
Can you only self-harm if you hate your body first? I don’t think that’s true. Sometimes things are just very desperate. There are no good choices available in some situations. But I did hate my body; almost as much as I hated myself. Those hatreds and despairs felt separate from very early on and remained separate until this year. Note that I’m not saying the hatred and despair has melted away but it feels like a frayed, stretched apart cloth between me and my body rather than a solid, impenetrable wall.
When I look down at my hands, there is still a tiny pause while I recognise them as mine. They don’t feel like mine but intellectually I know they must be. There is a much bigger pause when I look at body parts that I dislike more like my abdomen or my breasts (it still feels weird typing “my” there; my habit is to say “the abdomen” or “the breasts”).
That pause and the detachment were put there deliberately to protect my body from me. I can’t remember exactly what I read or what I heard that made me decide to pursue this detachment but I remember pushing it in my mind until feeling like I was quite separate from my body was a very natural state. It tied in well with my depersonalisation.
The next stage was a calling of a sort of truce between my body and myself. I think this happened in my early twenties. I had been sexually assaulted a few times by then though had convinced myself that it wasn’t affecting me. I was dealing with a lot of psychiatric medication side-effects. I was fat and finding that unacceptable to myself. My body didn’t feel like mine and I still hated it. I was reading about fat acceptance and I longed for the peace that the people I was reading about had found. It wasn’t this but I read something like this tweet from Michelle Allison (the Fat Nutritionist):
Your body is not an object, not a sculpture based on some universal and enduring Platonic ideal of beauty — it is a living creature, an animal in your care that needs care and compassion, that suffers and dies if neglected. https://t.co/Q1lTdtI1or— Michelle Allison (@fatnutritionist) December 20, 2017
It lead to a sort of ‘truce’ or ‘deal’ in my head: I won’t hurt you anymore and you will leave me alone. That was the basis of my relationship with my body for the great majority of my adult life. I did the basics to look after it, to some extent anyway, and the rest of the time I was free to ignore it. The best that can be said for this ‘truce’ or ‘deal’ is that it eased my relentless drive to kill myself which had been powered by my hatred of my body. The thoughts were still there but there was a distance too. I self-harmed very rarely. I gave up drinking alcohol entirely and I didn’t take drugs (I was very lucky in that I hadn’t developed addictions to either). I didn’t exercise and didn’t eat very nutritiously but I don’t think I had any disordered eating behaviours either. But it was a miserable, joyless way to live, I see now. Not taking any pleasure in my body, whether that was eating or sex or physical activity, etc, meant missing out on a lot of the experiences that make life worth living and make a human, human.
What changed was I read two books this year that profoundly challenged my thinking. The first was Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski about female sexuality which explained a lot of my past experiences to me, not just about sex but also about emotions and the stress responses. The second was Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch which explained a lot about eating, hunger and fullness. Both of these books talked matter of factly about taking pleasure in your body and of being connected to your body. It probably sounds ridiculous but I’d never considered that was possible. I kind of knew that some people had strong, solid relationships with their bodies but I didn’t think that applied to any of the people in my life and certainly not to me. But these books were arguing that yes, it was possible for me too.
So I stepped inside my body. Quite terrifying at times and very unsettling. These books made my thoughts safe enough and the meditation released my depersonalisation enough to make it possible. My medication and all the endless self-care I do controls my mood enough, at the moment at least. I still feel some detachment but I think that is fading as my new thoughts bed in. In some ways, I am convinced being connected to my body is a much better way to run things rather than my old detachment and ‘truce’ but in other ways, it feels riskier and more unstable.
I’m still afraid of my body and I still don’t like parts of it but the old hatred and despair has faded away mostly to nothing. I’ve seen it flare up a bit at times but not for long. Is this a new truce? Not really. This is very soppy but I feel like my body and me might be on the same side now. There is something very peaceful and lovely with that.
I continued with the intuitive eating in July but knew I wasn’t making a very good job of it. I was eating emotionally a lot and not stopping eating when full instead eating ‘to completion’, i.e. cleaning my plate. I had a rough plan of weighing myself every month after my period when my weight is at its lowest. This was to assuage my need for cold, hard data about the size of my body, because I find it very hard to tell what size it is, and in an attempt to prevent me regaining the weight I lost.
I weighed myself this week and was 4.8lbs up. I could feel that my abdomen and breasts were bigger but had been hoping that it was in my imagination like last time. I was horrified and felt very out of control. This is what I wrote in my diary at the time:
Weighed myself. 10st 7.6lbs so put on 5lbs in a month. Horrified and devastated. Didn’t think it would be this bad. How have I managed to fuck up so badly? Is it the binging? Had two moderate binges and one large binge plus started to binge but stopped a fourth time. That’s a lot. Is it the reduction in thyroxine? Body was bigger even before I went to visit my family. I hate this. I don’t know what to do. I want to diet. I want to shrink my stomach. I can’t stand this. If I diet then I’ll binge but I am binging anyway. Am I binging because I had the stress of going to visit family and of seeing the psychiatrist? Both of those were intensely stressful, before, during and after. I have to lose weight. I can’t have people see me like this. I’m going to have to diet but I really don’t want to. It’s so unpleasant and uncomfortable. Really the most sensible thing to do would be to kill myself and then I’d be free of all of this. Wouldn’t that be nice. I can’t do this anymore. I am so tired and stretched out.
Compared to what I wrote in my diary at the start of the month:
Weighed myself (yes, again): 10st 2.8lbs. Very good conditions: period finished, gut cooperating, nothing salty to eat yesterday (though not restricting salt either) and haven’t binged for over two weeks. Glycogen stores will be full though. Feel relieved, very happy, lightened. Stood in kitchen and said “I could live like this” and burst into tears. I would be okay living eating like this and at this weight I think. Not overjoyed at the size of my abdomen but I think I could come to terms with it. I think I might be okay.
Very histrionic response to weighing myself and getting a higher number than I wanted! As I’ve said here before, when I was fat I felt fundamentally unsafe due to the way people, strangers and family and friends, treated me. I felt profoundly unacceptable. Going back to that, which is statistically by far the most likely thing to happen to me, frightens me and makes me feel very desperate. Suicidal thoughts, even with some sarcasm, is an extreme reaction.
I was surprised at how unpleasant I found the thought of going back to dieting. I really, genuinely don’t want to. As recommended by the Intuitive Eating book that I am following, I had promised myself that I wouldn’t ever restrict/diet again. But I felt like I had no choice now. My body was just too big and unacceptable. Writing this down makes the situation seem so small and bizarre. How could I believe all these thoughts and just mindlessly follow them? How did a 5lb weight gain become so big? When did I become so dependant on other people’s opinion of my body’s appearance?
I weighed myself again today and was down to 10st 6.2lbs. Somehow that seems more acceptable. It’s more under my threshold of ten and a half stone and 3.4lbs gained in a month doesn’t seem so horrifying. But, and this is the key point: my actual body is exactly the same. This is just laughably ridiculous that I am so affected by these numbers. The bad binge (3000+ calories) I had on Monday evening when I got home from my trip seriously fucked with my mood but these are long-standing patterns of thinking with me. I get overwhelmed so easily by these thoughts. Swept away and lost in them
So what I have decided to do, mulling it over for a few days, is to continue the intuitive eating but to aim to finish eating when feeling just full (6 on the hunger fullness scale), with occasional comfortably full (7), and to really focus on stopping the binge eating. I have been avoiding doing the chapter on emotional eating in the Intuitive Eating Workbook for weeks but will get that done. Would be a good idea to review earlier chapters too. Also, will make more of an effort with being consistent with exercise as have missed a lot in the last few weeks.
I am a little proud of myself that I didn’t slip back into dieting in response (to my overreaction) to my upsetting weigh-in. I had all these extreme thoughts, which, to be fair, I let swirl out of control around my head, but I didn’t actually take any action on them. I think I have been quite measured. I will see what effect my adjustment to intuitive eating has on my weight and whether this is sustainable. Fuck me, is this growth? Maturity? I just feel quiet and calm. Dieting was very emotive for me, which motivated me and drove me onwards, but god, did it hurt when it didn’t go to plan. This intuitive eating is much more about finding peace and just being okay. Sounds boring. It’s actually so lovely I could cry in relief.
One of the principles of intuitive eating is to try and get as much satisfaction and pleasure from your food as possible. It not only makes you feel better and improves the quality of your life but helps regulate your eating to the quantities that your body needs.
That last part will sound totally ridiculous to a dieter. Surely, if you eat what you really want and what gives you the most pleasure then you will just continuously binge on high calorie, high fat, high sugar, bad bad bad, etc, food? That’s just common sense: we got fat because we couldn’t stop eating and now you are telling us to eat the foods that we can’t stop eating.
Turns out that’s all bullshit when you actually get down to it. When you give yourself true unconditional permission to eat anything then food loses its power over you and furthermore, when you eat what you really want, and eat it mindfully, your brain gives you fullness signals/cues to stop and then a profound sense of satisfaction afterwards. And a beautiful, quiet, calm moment of peace if you are really lucky. So you just stop eating the food after a moderate or even small amount, whatever satisfies you. That’s the dream anyway. Intuitive eaters have that experience consistently though not all the time of course as practicalities sometimes get in the way.
When I was dieting/restricing, I wouldn’t have believed a word of that description of eating as it was so alien to my lifetime of experience. There are several skills you need to be able to get there: identifying when you are hungry, identifying what you would really like to eat and recognising when you are full. From what I’ve read, most naturally and lifelong straight sized people do all of the above almost effortlessly and intuitively. I have had to learn.
I am getting better at identifying what I really want to eat. It’s usually a notion that jumps into my head and suddenly sounds or looks very appealing in my mind. My relentless thoughts stop and go “oh!” and focus on that food like a flood light. “I want carrots. Something very carroty. Orange carrots.” Yes, those were my very sophisticated, adult thoughts when I was trying to work out what I wanted for lunch at the weekend. I’ve been having cold soups for lunch as it has been warm and I prefer cold soup to hot soup. So I searched for cold carrot soup recipes and found this one. As is my way, I did not really follow the recipe but instead used 1kg of carrots, 2 pints of vegetable stock (from a stock cube) and no ginger (I forgot; it’s still sitting in my fridge).
My version of the carrot and honey soup was just delicious to my taste buds. You’d think that carrots were sweet enough but pushing it a little further with the honey was perfect. It was what my body wanted and it rewarded me with intense feelings of satisfaction for providing it for myself. Not like a high rush but a solid, calm, quiet peace. I also felt a sturdy confidence that I was full and properly fed. I can imagine that this is very routine and everyday to lifelong normal eaters but it’s been astonishing to me. I rarely felt satisfied and rarely felt full (other than binges) and never felt peace.
I want to say that all these positive feelings are worth some weight gain (I am almost a stone up from my lowest weight six months ago though that was when I was manic; I still have a normal BMI, not that that counts for anything) and I mostly believe that, most of the time. But the overwhelming, out of proportion value I have placed on weight loss means that my thoughts are still skewed and I still have thoughts that it is absolutely unacceptable to be my current weight. That I am not safe.
So I need to remember this soup and the satisfaction and peace that I felt from eating it. I don’t have to condemn myself to the pain I felt when I was dieting/restricing with the inevitable binging. I actually have a choice here.
I wrote last week, “I need to find other ways to make myself feel safe that don’t involve false reassurance from a number on the scales. I have no idea how to do that or where to start.” I’ve got nowhere with that. Instead, I weighed myself not one morning, not two but three mornings. I have been incredibly lucky once again.
I am 0.6lbs up in the five weeks I have been eating intuitively. That is nothing; a normal fluctuation. In other words, I am maintaining my weight. I stood in my kitchen and said out loud, “I could live like this” and burst into tears. It is an overwhelming relief to know that it is possible that I might have found a viable and sustainable way to eat and manage my weight after the years of desperate fighting. I don’t feel that confident that I can do it but it at least feels possible. Or maybe I do have some quiet confidence when I actually examine my thought. I certainly have some quiet hope. To paraphrase Terry Pratchett, “Hope is heady stuff except heads aren’t often involved”.
Of course, since this time two months ago I was in the depths of my eating disorder (I have been very lucky and have only had mild to moderate symptoms compared to many people), I have also had some thoughts like “if I can maintain my weight eating all this crap [value judgments on food are bullshit but one battle at a time] then I can lose weight if I cut it out” and start having little daydreams of losing weight. One of the essential tasks when learning how to eat intuitively is to “put losing weight on the back burner” which I have pretty much done, though fuck me, was it tough giving that up. If I am still aiming and working towards losing weight then I can’t eat whatever my body asks for because, at the beginning, when I’m healing the feelings of deprivation caused by dieting, I will most likely want my previously forbidden foods. When I ate those freely, while trying to let go of guilt, those foods stopped being so special and powerfully appealing. They became just food. I thought that sounded impossible but it has happened several times now. I discovered that I genuinely don’t much like most sponge cake or muffins, etc, when I ate them mindfully and as much as I want and that was a bit of a surprise considering how much I used to lust after them. Now their appeal and their power has gone. I still find other foods powerfully appealing sometimes (icing!) but I will work through healing those feelings of deprivation too and they will just be food that I like to eat sometimes. If I go back to deciding what to eat based on calories then these foods will regain their power and I will be launched back into the binge-restrict cycle. I will certainly not lose weight then. More importantly, my mood will be damaged by the disordered eating and I will feel like crap.
I felt safe this morning when I weighed myself and the number was ‘good’. Relieved. Happy. Lightened. What if the number had been ‘bad’? I’d be feeling despair and shame and probably very unsafe. I can’t seem to keep track of my body and what it looks and feels like. I am using these numbers as the ultimate arbiter because I know my own judgment when looking in the mirror or even just looking down at my body is rubbish. I can’t tell if my clothes are looser or tighter or I’m just imaging it. I can’t do objective or realistic. I don’t know why. Maybe since I lack these abilities and weighing myself reassures me then it’s okay to continue weighing? That reasoning is just me kidding myself. I have been lucky so far with the numbers I’ve got on the scales but that won’t last. There is so much potential damage to be done by ‘bad’ numbers: it could derail me entirely from intuitive eating and throw me back into the binge-restrict cycle and all the pain that would cause. It’s too risky. I will have to find another way to reassure myself.
How do normal people make themselves feel okay about their bodies? There are lots of people who hate their bodies and even more who are just dissatisfied and indifferent. Do they just put up with these feelings and go about their day? Are the feelings just not that strong so easy to ignore? I see so much disordered behaviour around me in my family and friends now I know approximately what ‘normal’ counts as. A big reassurance seems to be having a partner and the privileges that brings. But I don’t have a partner and don’t think I ever will again so that route isn’t available to me. There’s CBTing the thoughts but while that helps in the short term, it never seems to stick in my brain and my ‘distorted’ thoughts bounce right back. Affirmations or trying to overwrite the ‘distorted’ thoughts with new thoughts. Again, doesn’t seem to stick. I feel so hopeless that I will ever feel okay about myself outside of mania. Which is why I am drawn to the false reassurance of the scales. It is something to hold onto in the maelstom of my head.
Another post with me saying I don’t know what to do. I suppose at least I answered the question: weighing myself is false reassurance. It was nice to feel okay, to feel safe, for a little while this morning but it doesn’t last and is too risky. I’ve no idea what to do next.
I’m struggling again with my weight increasing and my body getting bigger. I look in the bathroom mirror and my face is much fuller. I look in the full length mirror and my stomach is much bigger. I put on my sports bra and the band is too tight. I sit down and my stomach spills forward. Again and again, my mind is filled with self-hating thoughts.
I tried on winter clothes yesterday. Clothes that were loose the last time I wore them are now definitely tighter. The dress I wore in March is too tight round the waist. The size 14 trousers don’t fall down anymore.
I desperately want to weigh myself and know for sure how bad it is. I have a little hope that I will have the same experience as last time and I will get a lower number than I fear. I said in that post, “I have to make the most of this reprieve and make progress on my thoughts and feelings about my body, my weight and my eating. I can’t go back to dieting/restricting and binging”. How will knowing the number on the scales change things? I know from my two years of daily weighing that there are a lot more factors involved in that number than just the amount of fat on my body. It’s not an objective assessment on the health of my body, the attractiveness of my body or the acceptability of my body. But I treat that number like it is the last word on all three. I relied on that number to make me feel okay about myself. I never learnt how to do that in any other way.
If I get a higher number than what I think is acceptable then what will happen? I will be devastated, I think. Probably will entirely over-react and take it as proof that I am going to regain all the weight I lost. Go back to being treated very badly because I am fat. Not be able to run or go to the gym anymore. People will look down on me. Hating myself. Catastrophizing much? It’s all so painful. What if I am above the next stone bracket? Will I go back to dieting/restricting? That means going back to binging. I should be very proud that I only binged once in the entirety of June. If I go back to dieting/restricting then the binging will escalate again. It will be much more frequent and they will be bigger binges too. I will gain weight from that as I did every month from January this year. The options are not 1. continue intuitive eating and gain weight and 2. go back to dieting and lose weight. Rather it’s 1. continue intuitive eating and gain some weight in the short term with some hope of losing weight in the long term and 2. go back to dieting, start binging again and gain weight anyway.
Even if this number on the scales is acceptable what does this really prove? When I got a much better number than expected the last time, I cried in the shower repeating to myself “I’m okay, I’m still okay, I’m okay” as if suddenly I was safe again. I think it is all about safety for me: looking acceptable means I am not a target anymore. I sometimes get thoughts that losing weight will make me ‘healthy’ but I know full well that weight doesn’t indicate health status. It would be nice to have a partner but I can’t imagine anyone ever wanting to be with me even if I had a conventionally attractive body so I don’t think it is about aesthetics, much at least. I just want to be able to walk down the street and not worry that people will shout “fat cunt” from their cars at me. Or the glares and pointed comments. People’s automatic reaction to me being dislike. Have people pity me or be frustrated with me or laugh at me because I couldn’t keep the weight off. Catastrophizing again… except all these things really happen to fat people and I am not strong enough to endure it again.
This is all a lot of feelings and thoughts to put on one number. Going back to a previous thought experiment: it I was on the planet with no other humans but everything that I needed, would I care what the number on the scales was? No, it would make no difference to anything. So my problem is not the number, it’s me basing my assessment of how other people will react to my body on that number. I have a lot of justification for my expectations of being treated badly if I regain the weight but it doesn’t mean every single person, or even most people, will treat me badly. There are a lot of people that genuinely don’t care or notice.
I need to find other ways to make myself feel safe that don’t involve false reassurance from a number on the scales. I have no idea how to do that or where to start.
When I was dieting, I had a relentless drive to try to feel full and very often did not. My hunger signals were numbed though. I just felt stretched and under pressure. That’s because my body was stressed by the calorie restriction. The disappearance of that stretched feeling is lovely.
Food had a lot of power over me. If I broke the rules that I had made, the main one was going over my set number of calories which was logged in an app on my phone, then I felt completely out of control. I would think, “fuck it, I’ve ruined everything” and then I’d binge badly, usually thousands of calories. While I was binging, I couldn’t stop and would have overwhelming feelings that I had to eat while I could, while I was ‘allowed’. That would reinforce to me that I was out of control and that it definitely was imperative that I never went over my calories in the future. I would restart restricting my calories and that would cause that relentless drive to eat so round I’d go again.
The Tribole and Resch Intuitive Eating book and workbook talk in detail about this cycle happening to their patients. It’s a common experience. I’ve seen a lot of talk about it on weight loss and dieting/wellness/’healthy eating’ forums. There are a few things going on at the same time.
First of all, if you don’t satisfy your hunger drive then the “hunger increases and sets off a biological cascade, both physically and psychologically – ‘primal hunger’, an urgent and intense desire to eat – which often results in overeating”. If you are in a state of chronic undernourishment (some people talk about dieting as being a form of semistarvation) then your hunger drive will be very active. Physical deprivation affects people differently. For me, I didn’t have much ill effect for the first year or so and lost weight steadily. Then I started binging again. Infrequently and small amounts at first but it escalated rapidly. Eventually, after a further year, I was utterly out of control, on the road to regaining my weight back and had intense suicidal thoughts for days every time I binged.
Secondly, there is some dodgy thinking going on, otherwise known as cognitive distortions. In this case, it is dichotomous thinking (also called all-or-nothing thinking or black-and-white thinking). My eating was either rigidly ‘perfect’ or ‘good’ and fully in control and planned or the exact opposite meaning wildly out of control or ‘bad’ and binging. I talked to folk online about how I couldn’t have a single meal of mild overeating and then just carry on as normal. It always flipped into a binge. So of course I avoided those meals which were usually social occasions. And my world shrunk a bit more. In the month before I committed to trying intuitive eating, I had actually started to make progress with this and was able to have a range of calories that I was okay or okay-ish landing in. But it was still very rigid and limiting.
The last thing driving my restrict-binge cycle was the psychological effects of deprivation. I did not appreciate that this was happening at the time at all. I still don’t fully understand what was going on. I see the effects of it now though with my reaction to when I start to feel full when eating. At first, when I started intuitive eating, I could not bear to leave any food from a meal or snack. It wasn’t just ‘clean your plate’ habit. It felt like a desperate imperative that I wasn’t safe until I got all this food inside me. I knew I was full but that wasn’t enough. When I binged this month, I had thoughts that I had to ‘make the most of it’ and eat as much as possible while I was ‘allowed’. Also, I have been feeling a strong push to keep my kitchen packed with food. I feel like it’s essential that anything my body wants to eat is there waiting for it at a moment’s notice. I have spent nearly £300 on groceries this month! A lot of that is sitting in my cupboards simply there to make me feel better. With intuitive eating, if you genuinely give yourself unconditional permission to eat whatever you want, when you want, then these drives disappear because your body (or mind or whatever it is of you that isn’t part of your rational thoughts – instincts? emotions?) actually believes that it is safe and will be fed when it needs to be.
I started having moments of peace with food when I started mindful eating (being as aware as possible of the experience of eating and eating without distraction; it’s a key part of intuitive eating) before I really started intuitive eating. They were very strange little calm, cool raindrops in my mind. Just quietness and stillness and a surprised feeling of “oh, I’m okay” when I had satisfied my hunger and my body. Something unclenched in my mind. The oppositive of the frenetic, overwhelming drives to eat that were so intense that they were painful, though also exhilarating to be fair.
These moments of peace are what have kept me going through all the confusion and uncertainty (intuitive eating is really fucking hard at times) and the sense of loss from losing the benefits of dieting like feeling in control, like I was achieving something and like I was doing something right that other people approved of (which have turned out to be illusions). I had hoped that once I started following intuitive eating properly then I would have this peace more frequently and for longer and that’s not turned out to be the case so far. They are still there but sometimes I go days without them and sometimes I feel peace a few times in a single day.
I suppose I have to not just pay lip service to the idea that these are early days but actually work on being patient. Maybe after another month, I will be writing about how these moments have increased. Hope is heady stuff when you’re not used to it.