Sweat running down the insides of my elbows and my stomach churning, I stared down my lunch. Watching me you’d have thought I was afraid that fish was going to seek vengeance on me for its shortened life by jumping off the plate and biting my nose. Or perhaps breaking out in that oddly compelling “gimme that filet-o-fish” McDonald’s jingle. (I think I’d prefer my nose being bitten off.) But it wasn’t the food itself I was afraid of. It was the fact I was going to eat it completely sans distractions. I thought eating in front of people was the hardest thing for me to do. It turns out I was wrong: eating alone with nothing else to focus on is way, way worse. I blame you.
You guys surprised me. I’ll admit it. A couple of weeks ago when I published my post “I Hate Food” outlining all my disordered thoughts surrounding food, I was scared. I was scared to admit how very disturbed my thinking had become. I thought for sure that I would get some mean comments telling me to get over myself and my first-world worries or to grow up already and be an adult or, simply, to just quit whining so much. Nothing like a good Internet freak out to bring on the trolls! But my fear was overruled by my need for help. 130+ comments later that is exactly what I got. Tons of help. And not one single negative or mean comment. This may have set some kind of Internet record. I was overwhelmed by your outpouring of love, support and really great suggestions.
Which is how I found myself staring down my food as if it were wearing blue and I gray and we were stuck in Paris together with nothing but our forbidden love to stave off the advancing armies. There were several themes that many of you included in your comments and one of them was to respect my food, to pay attention to it or treat it as a source of life-giving fuel (which it is) rather than a source of severe anxiety (which it also is but I wish it weren’t). One particular comment by Rachel stuck out to me. Essentially she said that when she eats, all she does is eat. She doesn’t read or work or watch TV. She just sits down with her plate of food and eats it. Then when she’s done eating, she puts her dishes in the sink and moves on to thinking about other things. How awesomely normal does that sound? I can’t imagine eating that way.
My meals generally start out with a growling stomach. I know that this means hunger but I don’t want to be hungry so I try to stave off the feeling by distracting myself. That doesn’t work for very long. Still in denial about being hungry, I grab a few bites of something easy – generally some nuts or a piece of fruit. That’ll hold me off for an hour or two. But then I’m realllly hungry. Except I feel guilty about feeling hungry (and yes I realize that makes as much sense as feeling guilty for needing to pee). So I finally decide I need to eat some real food. But what? Just choosing what to eat feels like walking through a minefield. I can find something wrong with anything. So then I grab a couple handfuls of jelly beans. I know they’re terrible for me but I’m starving and I’m feeling deprived and the sugar is like a drug. And then I feel 100 times more guilty. Generally at this point I’ll make myself something – of course it can’t be the healthy meal I cooked for the rest of the family – but taste it so much while I’m making it (because I’m still starving, see) that by the time the meal is ready I think I’ve already eaten the equivalent of a meal and so I end up just putting it away without sitting down to eat any of it. Of course I have no idea how much I really ate and this makes me feel both deprived and overly full thereby setting me up for the next go-round in a couple of hours. I fill the time in between meals feeling guilty about what I just ate and worrying about what I will eat next. If I do sit down to eat anything I’m always reading a book, at the computer or talking to my kids or on the phone (my apologies to all of my friends who’ve had to listen to me chew.) Repeat that cycle for the rest of the day.
It’s messed up. Clearly Rachel’s method of eating is much better.
The first time I tried to Eat Like Rachel, I learned something about myself: I get really really freaked out eating undistracted. Because I don’t like to admit that I’m eating. If I’m reading or answering e-mail my mind can pretend that I’m not really ingesting all those calories.
I wasn’t sure I could actually do this conscious eating business until I tried out another one of your suggestions. Ann wrote in her comment about her similarly extreme food personality and said she had found solace in “The No S Diet.” It turns out that this isn’t really a diet in the sense that you are instructed what to eat and how much but rather a method of eating similar to Rachel’s. The entire diet is this: “No snacks, no sugar, no seconds… except sometimes on days that start with S.” Basically you put your entire meal on your plate, take it to the table and eat it. You decide the number of meals that is right for you – although they suggest 3 – and in between you don’t snack. (I know many people swear by the 5 or 6 mini meals a day concept and I’m not knocking that approach but the research has some interesting things to say about snacking.) This way of eating was remarkably liberating. There was no guess work as to how much or what I had eaten – it was all right there in front of me – and because I made sure to eat healthy well-balanced meals with plenty of calories, I wasn’t hungry!
It all sounds so stupidly simple when I type it out but it was kind of a revelation to me that I deserve to eat a whole meal and that I don’t have to feel guilty about it. In fact, I feel better when I do it. Not to mention it frees up a ton of time. Unfortunately I had to make a little compromise and allow myself to read during breakfast and lunch as the anxiety of just eating was overwhelming. Still, it feels like progress.
Another suggestion from many of you was to get a hobby. I have many many hobbies that don’t get nearly enough attention and so I used this as an excuse to redecorate and organize my bedroom. I also practiced the piano, crocheted, played with my kids and changed out all the clothes from winter to summer. This tip definitely helped keep me from obsessing over what I just ate.
A third suggestion that kept popping up from you guys was to do something for someone else. This was probably my favorite one to do and once I started looking around, I found lots of opportunities to be of service. It felt great!
A fourth suggestion involved reading – my favorite pastime ever! – with Geneen Roth’s books high on the list. I requested all of her books and the others you suggested from the library (although KatieO suggests I just buy her latest Women, Food and God because it’s that good.) Expect my book report shortly.
The last and most popular suggestion from you was to go back to therapy. A few of you suggested I go back to eating disorder therapy but most of you just told me to get over the loss of my old beloved therapist and find a new one. Some of you suggested particular types of therapy to try out. You all are, of course, right. As helpful and wonderful as you all are, it is unfair of me to use you as my primary source of therapy. I did not begin the daunting task of finding a new therapist this week. But I will. I know I need to. Every major resurgence of my disordered eating has come after the birth of one of my kids. I’d be a fool to not recognize the pattern.
By way of explanation, the day that I posted that post I got my period. First one since the birth of the Jelly Bean. That may be TMI but I think the hormonal carnival of that time of the month played a significant part in my level of hysteria (and the bloating didn’t help either). It’s so funny to me that I’ve been dealing with this every month for almost 15 years now and it still surprises me every month.
I want to thank each one of you who took the time to reach out to me on that post. Every single comment, whether it was a suggestion or a “me too!” or a show of support – means so much to me and I’m deeply grateful for your concern and love. Thanks for loving me even when I’m a mess. Especially when I’m a mess. And know this: I love you guys right back!
So – anyone else have a hard time eating without distractions? Anyone else try the “No S diet”? How do you feel about snacking vs. 3 squares a day?