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Some of us just can’t diet

May 8, 2012

Trigger warning: Frank discussion of dieting and eating disorders.

For me, not dieting equals freedom. Not the freedom to eat until I burst, engulfing everything in sight, but the freedom to eat at all. Admission to inpatient eating disorder treatment clinics has increased 18% between 1999 and 2006, and a disturbing 118% for girls under 12. For millions of men, women and children across the country, the War on Obesity has become a war on bodies; a war that you will ultimately lose (and regain weight) or win (wasting away, possibly to death).

When people think of anorexics, they think of super-skinny teenage girls, walking skeletons who refuse to eat while their family cajoles them. They don’t see a chubby chick picking at her dinner salad after skipping breakfast or lunch. They don’t see that “fat chicks” can ingest so few calories that they, too, stop menstruating (even when on the pill), lose their hair, and ruin their gums, teeth, and hearts.

The calories in/calories out theory DOESN’T work. If it did, I would have lost weight when my diet consisted of celery and Diet Mountain Dew for months, while exercising 3-5 times a week and walking to classes all over a major university (Mizzou is HUGE y’all). Until I collapsed. Then I was forced into intensive counseling by the administration.

But I left that therapy. I didn’t believe I was sick. I wasn’t thin enough. No matter that my health was suffering. No matter that I eroded the lining of my throat and stomach with all the purging I did. You see, from age 12 until the time I discovered Health at Every Size® (HAES) I was bulimic with anorexic tendencies. It took YEARS for me to realize it.

I mean I knew I was purging, but felt justified. I didn’t DESERVE the food. I would slowly wean myself off the diet, only to gain some weight, then go back on, getting harsher and harsher with myself when I didn’t permanently lose weight with any “plan.” And I did it all: Slim-Fast, Deal-A-Meal, Seven Minute Abs, Weight Watchers (no meetings, but I followed their plan), the cabbage soup diet, no carbs, nutritionist-assigned diets, EVERYTHING.

Every time, the diet would work for a while (weeks, months, a year sometimes), then stop. And then I would freak out and start restricting harder… and harder,which eventually turned into me puking up everything I ate from age 14 to 16… and again from 22 to 23… and again from 26 to 27… and again from age 30 to 31.

The comments didn’t really help. There were the usual “OMG you look amazing!” when I literally hadn’t kept any food in my system for 3-4 days. But then there was the time after my husband left me at age 30 when my sister told me to “just go back to purging. Then you can lose, like, 40 pounds really fast and be dateable again.”

Being a science nerd it was Linda Bacon’s solid  HAES research that first showed me the light. I was also impressed by the Medicare research that found diets fail 78-95% of the time within 2-5 years from the active weight loss phase. Coincidentally, this was about the distance between my dieting and its transformation into an episode of disordered eating. Go figure.

I read up on the dangers of yo-yo dieting, including a slowed metabolism,  weight gain, and heart issues. Then I got really nitty gritty and started reading up on satiety and hormones and all the other amazing things turning up in obesity research right now.

At age 32, I said goodbye to dieting forever. Letting go of the eating disorder thoughts was a bit harder, though. You can’t tell by looking at me, but I rarely eat breakfast and have to force myself to eat lunch. I still struggle daily with wanting to either to restrict or, once I do eat, ignoring that quiet, little part of my mind that says “OMG you are such a cow. You had a yogurt AND an English muffin.” But that’s what my body wants and NEEDS.

With the onset of epilepsy, I have to keep my blood sugars level and I have to drink enough water, or else I end up on the floor shaking. That means actually eating things on a regular basis. For a recovering bulimic, that is about the scariest thing ever. But I take it day by day.

Even when the trolls and bullies ridicule me, I’d rather be fat and semi-healthy than 30 pounds thinner but in a hospital for seizures or another disordered eating episode raging out of control and taking over my life again.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. May 8, 2012 3:54 pm

    You have strength I find really inspiring and amazing. I have never been bulimic, but I’ve had my own issues, and I can safely say without reservation that I would have done something stupid, had I been in your shoes. For whatever it’s worth, you have my respect.

  2. MrsS permalink
    May 8, 2012 3:55 pm

    I don’t understand why obesity receives so much more attention than eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia.

    I think that you’re very brave to tell your story.

  3. May 8, 2012 4:43 pm

    Really enjoying the posts on here. I have disordered eating patterns, though not bulimic/anorectic – I seem to go from eating nothing to bingeing on huge amounts of junk food. Though I have discovered that, when I’m on my own, I eat less junk because I allow myself to eat as much as I like. I live with parents, and they don’t like me eating sugar/fat or visiting supermarkets. So I hide food. I don’t really know why. Comfort eating I suppose. I don’t feel hungry very much, but I eat chocolate/biscuits etc at night. Parents think I should go back on Atkins as I lost 13lbs in two weeks on it. But it was so boring! Anyway, I like carbs.
    Sorry to ramble on, I just have no one to talk to who doesn’t tell me to join WW/Atkins/have WLS.

    • May 8, 2012 6:18 pm

      Emma,
      This is the place to ramble, so ramble on. 🙂

      I’m sorry you’re in that difficult position. Have you read Linda Bacon’s book yet? You seem primed for it’s message.

      Peace,
      Shannon

      • May 8, 2012 6:24 pm

        It’s on my ereader waiting to be read, actually. Must get round to that.

    • May 9, 2012 12:06 am

      I hide food too. I rarely get to go to the store without my husband–it’s just something that we do together–and the last two times when I have been by myself I ended up buying boxes of donuts that I would eat half of and then save the other half for later after strategically sneaking it into the house without him knowing it. Since I’m not working at the moment and he is, that leaves me all day to “secretly” eat food without him knowing it (and sometimes in the middle of the night too when I can’t sleep)….I say I don’t understand why I can’t lose weight, but really I do. I’m so ashamed of it. It kind of feels better telling you on here, if not admitting it to him or anyone else.

  4. May 9, 2012 11:00 am

    There’s a difference between ditching dieting and disordered eating. I’m not making a judgement either way. However Rapunzel you seem to be distressed by it, and that in itself not what your eating because even if you binge on carrots, that’s not any healthier mentally when you eat something you don’t feel you deserve,aren’t hungry for and can enjoy in front of other people.
    I was a disordered eater for a long time. I found books by Geneen Roth (I hope this isn’t against TOS) to be very helpful in overcoming distorted eating. The only forewarning I give about her books, is sometimes she does talk about her weight. She says “I was fat, at one time I was 170 lbs”. While she’s 5’1, I’m surprised about as much insight as she has to help people understand why they eat destructively that, her comment about her weight could trigger people in recovery from eating disorders. When I usually make a recommendation of her books, while they aren’t guaranteeing or being sold to purposely encourage weight loss, they do make the suggestion it’s possible to lose weight if you eat according to natural appetite, just as a heads up. I found with any entity, self help books, therapy etc, there is no one person who I follow to their letter their exact philosophy. To get to my most healthiest regarding how I eat, I take what I find is useful and disregard the rest.
    Best of luck to you.. Lisa

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