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Why am I afraid of eating less?

            It feels silly to even be thinking about this when I feel so fat and ugly, and so far from being able to lose weight, but this is probably the right time: because I’m not losing weight, and I’m not making progress with Intuitive Eating, and I’m not sure why. I’ve noticed that when I get to those moments where I could stop eating or keep going, a lot of fears come up, and that’s part of what makes me choose to continue eating.

            One of my fears is that even if I lose weight, nothing else in my life will change; nothing else in my body will change, so I’ll still be sick and tired and in pain, and nothing else in my mind will change, either. And if that’s what I’m thinking when I’m trying to decide whether or not it’s worth it to eat the last few bites of something, no wonder I choose the momentary feeling of relief that comes with eating, instead of the fear that I will never feel any relief at all.

            Another fear I’m aware of is that eating less food will lead to depression. I rely heavily on food to make up for the happiness hormones I don’t have in my body (and that my antidepressants can’t seem to completely make up for), and I’m afraid that eating less will mean feeling worse.   But I don’t understand why I feel quite so wretched and impatient and frightened and hopeless over just a few more bites of food.

“We’re starving!!!!!!”

My theory is that, maybe, food has been the secret to shutting off a lot of uncomfortable feelings that I haven’t wanted to feel, and if I eat even a little bit less they will all come rushing back; I will be swamped by loneliness, and impatience, and so much more, like a sleeping giant that I have been drugging into a stupor for years.

            When I check in with myself during a meal I feel uncomfortable in my body, but most of all I hear this crowd of inarticulate mush in my head that I can’t identify, and I can’t tolerate sitting with those thoughts and feelings long enough to figure out what they really are, let alone to manage them.

            All of this makes it sound, to me, as if I should keep eating the way I’ve been eating, because if I stop I will be in hell.

“Sounds about right.”

            But what about all of the uncomfortable feelings that food doesn’t get rid of, and what about the discomfort that eating too much actually causes itself? And what about the idea that feeling these feelings could give me a chance to heal the wounds that created them in the first place?

Except, my brain is so programmed to believe that food is the answer to everything, that even when food doesn’t help I can’t quite believe it. In science I think they’d call that a confirmation bias.

            So I tried to figure out which emotions might be part of the big inarticulate mush I’ve been avoiding, in the hopes that starting to identify the specific emotions could make them more bearable.

“Just feed me.”

Shame is one of the biggest feelings I try to mute with food. I feel it like a heat in my belly, and I felt it most acutely when I was skinny, especially as a teenager. Eating didn’t resolve the feelings of shame in the moment, but as I gained weight the shame started to quiet down.

Anxiety is another big one. Anxiety makes me feel as if everything in my body is in the wrong place: my belly is in my heart and my shoulders are at my knees. Also, I feel sped up, even manic, like I’m jumping out of my skin, and if I eat something I can start to feel more grounded. There are often times when I can write through, or exercise through, a bout of anxiety, but first I have to eat something so that I can even think about a better way to handle it.

            Helplessness and hopelessness bring on an on-the-edge-of-tears feeling, in my throat and behind my eyes, and sometimes an overall body shivering, and food seems to settle my body down, even if it can’t relieve the underlying hurt.

            Disappointment, or feeling like a failure, feels like an overwhelming emptiness in my belly, which is probably why it seems so much like hunger to me.

Loneliness often leads to eating too, because food is like a good friend who knows me and knows what I need without having to ask. When I feel really lonely, the feeling of disconnection is inside of me and makes it impossible for me to connect with other people, but food starts to help me feel reconnected to myself, which is at least a place to start.

            These are the emotions I can identify, but I think there must be so much more that I’m keeping on mute, because I just can’t figure out how to eat less, no matter how hard I try and no matter how many writing/thinking/eating/breathing exercises I put in place. It’s not even that I eat so much; it’s that what I eat, and when I eat, and how I choose what to eat is determined by the need to mute those unbearable emotions, instead of by physical hunger. And until I can feel my physical hunger, and not confuse it with all of these other feelings in my body, I can’t figure out how much I really need to eat and how much is too much. No wonder I felt safer being on a diet for so many years, with someone else to tell me what to eat and what not to eat. As long as they did the thinking for me, I didn’t have to listen to the thoughts in my own head around food, and even if I didn’t lose weight from those diets, at least I felt safer. From myself.

“Oy.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

I Don’t Want To Go To the Doctor

            I got a call on the answering machine (yes, they still exist, as do land lines), cancelling an upcoming appointment with the cardiologist. And I was thrilled! It’s not that I particularly hate my cardiologist, but every time I go to a doctor, whether it’s my primary care doctor, or a rheumatologist, a pulmonologist, an endocrinologist, a cardiologist, etc., they weigh me and then tell me that my real problem is my weight, and proceed to lecture me on how to go on a diet.

“I’m not fat, I’m fluffy.”

            I have been on every diet, and read every diet book, and lost and gained weight multiple times, and now I am working on Intuitive Eating with a Nutritionist and trying to undo all of that damage, but even so, every time I see a doctor they insist that if I just ate less and exercised more it would all be fine – as if my problem is that I’ve never heard of a diet before.

            Or as if my weight is my primary medical issue, which it’s not; the added weight is a symptom of both the psychological trauma of my childhood and the medical disorders I have had to deal with as an adult (and the medications I need to take to manage both). I’ve said this to my doctors over and over and over again, but it doesn’t seem to make a difference.

            When I told my nutritionist about all of this – and about my rage at the doctors, and adults in general, who encouraged my eating disorder when I was a child, and who have continued to push me into disordered eating as an adult, without ever feeling shame or responsibility, let alone bothering to educate themselves about an alternative way to address issues of nutrition and weight in their patients – she said, well then, that should be our next project.

            Huh?

            She said, you need to practice setting boundaries with your doctors around weight, and even try to educate them about the pervasiveness of the Diet Mentality and the endless Mobius strip of weight loss and weight gain that they seem to think of as such a wonderful idea but that has actually been shown to cause more health problems than remaining steadily overweight your whole life.

            But I’ve tried, and they never listen to me, and it’s not fair, and why don’t they have to learn this in school, and why is it my job to teach them and…

            And she agreed with me, and listened to me, and said, we need to work on setting boundaries with your doctors around the subject of weight.

            But, but, but…they never learn, and they keep repeating the same things, and whenever they tell me that I should just stop eating so much I believe them and…

            Oh.

            I had the aha moment at the same time she did: the real problem is that I don’t have confidence in what I already know and have worked so hard to learn, so that when they challenge me, I give in.

“Never give in!”

            I’ve worked so hard this past year to learn how to hold my ground when the “You just need to stop eating,” and “You’re less of a person because you are overweight” messages are said by movie stars, or social influencers, or random people in my life; but when a doctor says it, the ground under my feet still gives way. I sit there feeling small and hopeless and I forget everything I know, and believe everything they tell me – that if I would just stop eating so much I’d never have health problems again.

            Depending on how brittle the doctor is in presenting their message on my weight, it can take me hours, or days, or even weeks to get back to solid ground and remember that, actually, my weight is not the problem. And diets have never been a long lasting solution even to the weight issue, never mind for my health overall.

            So what can I do to fix this? And can it be fixed before my rescheduled appointment with the cardiologist which is coming up way too soon?

            The nutritionist suggested that I remind myself that, on this subject, the doctors don’t know me better than I know myself. She said to tell them – I know you’re going to bring up my weight, but I am working with a nutritionist on Intuitive Eating and I am making progress at my own pace, and, for now, your advice is not helpful on this subject. My weight is the least of my problems, and if we can focus on the physical pain and exhaustion that make life so difficult for me, and the connective tissue and auto-immune disorders that cause the pain and fatigue, and numerous other symptoms, that would be a more productive use of our time together.

            But I’ve said all of that, or at least most of it, to my doctors, and they just talk over me. Though maybe I haven’t said it with confidence. Maybe I’ve said it with my eyes on the floor, afraid of what they would say in response, afraid of their disapproval. Because even when I’ve said “the right things” I’ve only said them once; and when the doctor, inevitably, pooh poohed it, I shut up. Because I freeze in the face of their disapproval. I forget everything I know, and I let them talk down to me and blame me without contradicting them. And, no, it’s not my responsibility to teach them, or change them. But if I could stand up for myself, maybe I wouldn’t be so negatively impacted by each doctor visit.

            But how do I get there? How do I hold onto what I know when I start to feel shaky and small? How do I convince myself that I do know my body better than they do, and that I have done the research and I’m not just believing what I want to believe because it sounds easier?

            The temptation to just cancel appointments, or to go but shut off my brain for the duration, is very deep, because I don’t feel strong enough to stand up for myself effectively.

“Yeah, let’s stay home.”

            I wish I could promise myself that next time will be better, and that I will be different. But I don’t know how to make that happen. I had hoped that writing this essay would give me the confidence to believe that I can stand up for myself, but instead it has made it clear to me how much more work I need to do.

“Oy.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?   

                        

           

           

           

           

           

           

          

         

           

           

           

           

           

           

           

           

           

Intuitive Eating

            For my birthday this year, at my request, Mom got me an appointment with a nutritionist recommended by some of her friends who specializes in Intuitive Eating, rather than in creating meal plans or excluding certain foods. I’d found a book on this subject years ago, called When Food is Love by Geneen Roth. It was an exploration of how to teach yourself to feel your hunger cues, and trust your body to tell you what and when to eat. I could relate to so many of Geneen Roth’s stories about her own childhood eating issues and I was inspired by her journey to making peace with food, but I couldn’t translate her lessons into my own body and my own eating. I ended up going back to calorie counting, and then counting points, and then excluding categories of food altogether, and on and on. But it always stuck with me that, one day, I’d really like to be able to eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full.

“I’m never full.”

            My first visit with the nutritionist, on Zoom, was promising. She has experience working with people with trauma backgrounds and autoimmune disorders and a history of eating disorders, so nothing I said was shocking to her. And she was kind. Much kinder than I am to myself.

            I have been dieting since I was a kid, and I’ve had bouts of anorexia and binge eating and over-exercising and excessive dieting since then. My body is not built along the lines of the perfect American woman I see in magazines, or on TV, who is either taller than me with spindly bones or shorter than me with spindly bones. I am big boned. Even when I was anorexic and fainting from lack of nutrition, I could never get thin enough to fit into the skinny-girl clothes at the mall, because my bones stuck out. My mom was scared, because she saw that I was starving myself, but most other people thought I was just barely thin enough. Even my doctors weren’t concerned, though I was thirty pounds underweight for my frame, because they were looking at the wrong charts.

            The assumption behind every diet I’ve ever been on is that my body is wrong and bad and needs to be fixed, and I have believed that my whole life, but Intuitive Eating will require me to learn a new way of talking to myself, and I’m not sure I can do it. One of the first things the nutritionist told me was that I may have to accept my weight as it is; that people can lose weight with Intuitive Eating, but a lot will depend on what’s right for my body, not my expectations for my body. This is a hard thing to hear, because I feel certain that my body isn’t meant to be its current size, and that if I were a good enough person I would reach my ideal weight without effort.

“I’m perfect just the way I am.”

            I’m working on balancing out my meals, adding more protein to breakfast and more vegetables to lunch and more fat here and there, so that I feel full at the end of each meal. The nutritionist suggested that I replace the peanut butter powder in my overnight oats with real peanut butter, and the almond milk with Fairlife milk (high protein and lactose free). And she suggested making snacks ahead of time, like trail mix and bean salad, so that when I’m starving I won’t just reach for cookies.

“Did you say cookies?”

            But that’s the easy part. It’s sitting down and recognizing where I am on the hunger scale, from 0 (starving to death) to 10 (so full it’s unbearable) before and after each meal that’s getting me frustrated. I struggle to tell the difference between the kind of hunger I feel first thing in the morning, when my stomach is truly empty, and the hunger I feel after breakfast when I want to eat more but I don’t know why. I’m trying to honor my hunger, and eat when I think I need to eat, but it’s hard to differentiate between physical hunger and emotional hunger, or even my long-trained instincts to eat certain foods at certain times of the day. Keeping a hunger journal is forcing me to look more closely at why I’m eating, and what I’m feeling and thinking as I eat, and it is uncomfortable every time. I’m also afraid that moving away from the dieting mentality will lead to weight gain, because I believe that there are monsters inside of me and if I don’t set strict eating rules they will take over and make themselves visible to the outside world instead of just to me.

“Monsters?!!!!!!”

            My therapist is excited about this new eating project and has high hopes that the work will help me get in touch with deeper issues that I’ve been avoiding for too long. But I’m scared. What if I’m still not ready to deal with those feelings? What if overeating is the only thing that works to soothe the pain?

            After I cancelled my Weight Watchers membership, they sent me an email survey, asking if I’d be interested in a new plan with them that would involve being connected with doctors who could prescribe diet medications through Zoom, and that idea is sitting in the back of my mind, as a temptation and a get-out-of-jail-free card in case Intuitive Eating is too hard for me. But I hope I don’t fall into that trap again. I want to be at the point where I can accept myself as I am, and sit with my feelings when they are uncomfortable. I just don’t know if that’s possible. Yet.

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

Weighty Issues

 

My weight has always been an issue. I was a chubby kid, and then anorexic, and then a compulsive eater, and then on every diet known to womankind, and then mostly normal for a few years. But then, during the trials of endless medications for my body pain and neurological symptoms, we found one that really helped, but also increased hunger and slowed metabolism. And no matter how helpful the medication has been, it hasn’t increased my ability to exercise at any reasonable pace. That means that I can’t maintain the weight I want to be. I don’t overeat, by much, and I do exercise regularly, but I would have to cut or burn at least five hundred calories more per day to make a dent in my weight, and at this point, that’s not possible.

I do what I can. I’ve tried protein shakes and high fiber foods, I’ve cut out refined sugar (and added it back in), and cut almost every other kind of food at one time or another. But if I try to go below a certain number of calories a day, I feel like I’m dying, and if I try to exercise more often or more vigorously, I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck.

And I’m angry about it.

I had hoped that, at some point in my life, my relationship with food and exercise would fall into a regular pattern and stop being a problem. I’ve worked hard on the practical side of eating and exercise, and the emotional and psychological sides too. But it’s all still there, still making me feel like a stranger when I look in the mirror, or making me panic when I open the refrigerator. I want to be one of those people who doesn’t have to think about her weight: someone who exercises because it makes her feel better, or can say no to chocolate frosting without feeling the residual longing for the rest of the week. But I’m not there yet.

Both of my dogs, food obsessed as they are, have zero weight problems. Butterfly can eat kibble all day long – and she does – and it never impacts her weight. Cricket could probably eat a whole chicken without showing any signs of it, except in the stomach upset that she would inevitably pretend she was not experiencing. They exercise when they feel the urge, and then rest most of the day without guilt.

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I keep a food and exercise journal. I drink bottles of water every day. I try out new, healthier recipes, and buy single portion low calorie snacks, but I don’t get anywhere with it. If I could stop taking the offending medication and still function, I’d do that. But I had to make the decision to function, at some point, rather than to maintain my weight. Most days it doesn’t feel worth it, until I try to stop the medication and find myself struggling to breathe, and struggling to walk, and then I remember why I made this decision in the first place.

But it still doesn’t feel worth it. And when I look around me, I see millions of people who believe that a woman should be willing to be sick and in pain in order to look the way she’s supposed to look, and hate herself for eating when she is hungry or resting when she is tired.

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The puppies know they need their rest.

The dogs think this is insane. They believe that how they feel is everything, and how they look is only useful when it gets them more scratches or treats. And even then, they’re pretty sure that it’s their powers of persuasion that get them what they want. I don’t think they even know how cute they are; though I could be wrong about that.

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“You want to give us food.”

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We are not relying on our cuteness to get what we want.”

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“We’d never do that.”