It’s hard to explain the way that I feel. I suppose the best way to explain the “now” would be to start with the “then”. I discovered a love for running; don’t ask me what’s so appealing about running until your whole body aches and you’re drenched in sweat, but I’ll tell you, there’s something addicting. Running was my first obsession.
The first time I ran 5km I was ecstatic, but that wasn’t enough. I knew that I had to step up my game. Over the course of two months or so, I built up my endurance to the point where I could run 10km multiple times a week. The thing with running is, the first time you really train your body to do it, fat just falls off of you. Without ever really intending to lose tons of weight, I lost almost 20lbs. The thing with unintentional weight loss is that when you receive compliments like, “Oh, you look so good!” or “Wow, your body is amazing!” you begin to internalize that the weight loss you accidentally incurred was the best thing that could have happened to you. Once I started dropping pounds I was hooked, but not in the way that I am now hooked on food. Through running, I was able to motivate myself to eat extremely healthy, and my lifestyle was one that looking back on, I now envy.
Everything changed when I became injured and was no longer able to run. The myths about cardio not providing you with long lasting weight loss began to show their truths, as I slowly began putting on every pound I had lost. In addition, I had to do physiotherapy exercises for a hip and shin injury, and began to develop muscles (one of my biggest fears as a slim girl). The thing about going from thin and lean to slightly muscular is, even though you are in no way fat, you feel fat. I had slowly returned to my original size (albeit slightly more muscular), and even though I had never considered myself fat, that is how I now felt. To combat this weight gain, I began trying to eat less, and even more “clean” (Note: when I was running, I was eating extremely healthy, but due to my increased metabolism I was able to eat crazy amounts and stay thin). To me “clean” means basically eating only fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, eggs, etc. Bread became my enemy (mostly due to the stigma on carbs as opposed to physical evidence that it was causing weight gain). At first it didn’t seem so bad – eating this way seemed manageable. But over time, the thing I tried to control most – food – has come to control me.
The first time I ever binged, I ate half a jar of peanut butter. According to my Google searches (I Google a lot), peanut butter is a very common binge food for many people. I couldn’t get enough of it. I’d eat it straight out of the jar, off of a spoon, even off of a knife (if the jar was almost empty and I had to do some scraping). This loss of control made me tighten the reigns even more – I started Post-It noting my jar of peanut butter with messages like “No!” and even one inside the lid (for if I got past the first note) that said “Are you serious?” Obviously these notes did not work, and only drove me even more crazy when I’d inevitably peel back that shiny metallic lid and inhale the aroma of peanuts and oil.
To me, there are two types of binges – the social binge, and the real binge. I know, without a doubt, that every time I see my friends we are going to socially binge together. The last game night we had consisted of 4 hours of us stuffing our faces with chips, candy, nachos and dip, timbits, and all of this was topped off with a bottle of wine. I ate myself sick. The feeling I had the next day I referred to as a “food hangover”. These binges, while concerning, are only part of the problem. The real problem I face are the binges that happen when I am by myself, alone, sad, and out of control. I can’t tell you why I binge. Why, when I know I should just go to bed hungry, or not stop at McDonald’s for an ice cream cone, or eat 14 individual packets of peanut butter, do I still do it? I don’t know whether one impacts the other or if the relationship is bidirectional, but eating so much with my friends sure doesn’t help me control my eating when I am alone, and vice versa. I without a doubt have stretched my stomach, and I no longer am able to feel the feeling of full. My mother always taught me to eat everything on my plate when I was younger, and I still apply the same motto now, which often leads to bingeing. If there is food in front of me, I can’t say no. Especially when drunk. We won’t even start on intoxicated me who thinks she is invincible.
Food has taken over my life. Every day is a struggle to “eat clean”, and every day when I disappoint myself, it’s a struggle to not sit down and cry with my trusty friends Peanut Butter and Crackers (my roommate has caught me in the act once before with these two). The truth of the matter is, it’s a vicious cycle. The more I feel shitty about myself, the more I want to eat. This eating leads to me feeling shitty about myself. Where is the end of it all? I don’t like to admit to purging, because that makes it sound like I am bulimic. Mentally, I’d say I am bulimic. I control myself all day and then lose control in a binge and feel the need to expel all the food and damage I have just done to myself. The only difference is that I’m not capable of making myself sick. I’ve done it about eight times in the past month, and I can’t say I get the full gratification out of it that bulimics do. As I sat on my bathroom floor crying and wiping vomit from my face, all I could think of was how much I hated myself for doing this. I hated that I ate so much that I had to go make myself sick to relieve the guilt. I hated how much my throat hurt from shoving my fingers down it. I hated that the moment I purged for the first time, I knew that it would always be in the back of my mind as an option for the next time I overate.
I’ve been dealing with some anxiety issues lately, and the counselor I saw claims that these anxiety issues are leading me to use food as a numbing agent. I admit this is probably true. The day my most recent fling dumped me I ate 3 timbits, 2 cookies, half a tray of brownies, an oversized portion of sushi, and then chased that all down with beer, nachos, and a whole bag of cookies (in a drunken stupor). I also believe however, that my issues with food lead to some of my anxiety. I constantly have my meals planned in my head – what I’m going to eat for breakfast, snacks, dinner, and etc. – and when someone invites me to a social event or to go out, I feel panicked. I immediately know that my efforts of having a clean eating day are gone out the window (as you will read further on, I don’t believe there is such thing as healthy restaurant food). The most challenging part of all of this for me is that no one believes my eating is a problem. Most of my friends think it is funny that I am capable of eating a box of cookies in one sitting. But they don’t know the way that my mind works, how every piece of food I see suddenly becomes a challenge, a calorie that must be considered, an item to add to my list of food for the day. I constantly find myself in a state of cognitive dissonance; I love food too much to not eat it, but at the same time I hate myself for lacking self-control.
The counselor I saw also gave me a workbook on bulimia. He is the only person who knows I have purged. In this workbook, there was a page on which you had to write down everything you considered “risky foods”. These foods were foods that you associated with weight gain or were trigger foods for bingeing. Today I completed this list, and although very honest and true to my current perceptions, I was terrified with the end result. My list (with my mental comments in brackets) consists of:
– peanut butter (largest binge trigger)
– baked goods (who can seriously just have one?!)
– cheese (might as well be fat in a block form…but so good)
– bread and bagels (carbs, carbs carbs)
– restaurant food in general (even the salads are appalling in terms of calories)
– ice cream (solidified sugar)
– candy/chocolate (one pack of Nibs is 1400 calories… been there, done that a few too many times)
So my serious concern is, if I consider this many foods to be bad, how am I going to live the rest of my life? I constantly think about my struggle with food and the fact that I do not want to live like this for the rest of my life. Planning your meals every day is exhausting, going to bed at night and wondering what you’ll eat the next day is mentally draining, and feeling the obligation to go to the gym at least four times a week takes any joy out of physical activity.
I have another confession. People who “eat clean” but claim they don’t judge others in their life who eat shitty foods are big, fat, liars. I had an ex boyfriend who wouldn’t touch bread with a ten foot pole but told me, “there’s nothing wrong with that” when I’d confess to a late night Marble Slab and Metro run (meaning ice cream followed by a full pack of Nibs – what evil person decided the two should be in such close proximity?). Who are we kidding here, he judged me. I am possibly the worst for this. When I see people eating the things on my “risky food” list, I cringe and wonder how they can do that to themselves. I feel secretly smug when I opt for a salad with grilled chicken while others around me indulge in typical university student-esque meals. In some way, I have come to associate eating healthy with a sense of accomplishment, power, and superiority – most likely because it requires such discipline and control to truly attain. It is this feeling that leads me to feel so down when I am not capable of eating clean for even a single day.
The thing is, there are days where I don’t eat terribly, and I still feel awful. On days when I binge, feeling mad at myself is justifiable. A binge is more than just making an unhealthy food choice at a restaurant – a binge is allowing your mind to take over your body in a way that you will later regret. Last night, in the midst of fighting off the urge to go into the kitchen and take out my roommate’s box of 6 month old Raisin Bran (possibly even older) and being eating it, with my hands, like a small woodland critter would do, I adopted the new mantra of “Think how you’ll feel tomorrow” to remind myself of the regret I’ll feel tomorrow if I continued. That of course didn’t work today when I walked by a McDonald’s and just had to have an ice cream cone. I barely remember making the decision to get one, I just remember my anger upon receiving my ice cream cone and seeing that the girl who made it had been overly generous (she thought she was being so nice) and super-sized the shit out of it after I had simply asked for a “small cone”. I feel mad at myself for eating stupid things. Last night, after a day of healthy eating (I’m pretending I didn’t have a bagel for breakfast), I decided to have soup (40 calorie Cup-A-Soup at that) and Goldfish crackers. Yes, Goldfish Crackers are a little bit fatty and technically a carb, but in no way do they compare to the bags of chips that some people devour in a night (and I suspect the 12 almonds I ate also contributed to my guilt as well). But still, I went to bed angry and myself, vowing to be better tomorrow. And today, I was not better. I overate at sushi; I had a granola bar and a bagel (foods on the “no no” list), and finished the night off with ice cream. To a normal person, these things are not bad – in fact my best friend, (who refers to me as a “dolphin” because I will eat anything one offers to me) might say I had a great food day – but to me, these just bring the weight of another “I’ll be better tomorrow.”
My life has become one big I’ll be better tomorrow. But the tomorrow never comes, and the way I’m living is crazy. I don’t even know why I care so much. Nobody looks at my body as critically as I do. I am hardly a girl who goes out and gets noticed. Nobody would ever call me fat. But I know that my favorite jeans don’t fit anymore, that my arms look fat at certain (most) angles in pictures, and that my stomach is constantly rumbling, unable to determine hunger from my psychological need to eat.
I have lost the ability to think realistically. Some people don’t workout, at all. Some people eat whatever they want and don’t even consider the consequences (the worst are the people who eat whatever they want and don’t suffer any physical repercussions either), and some people don’t just truly don’t give a shit. But at this point, I’d have to say most of those people seem a hell of a lot happier than me.