Friday's post brought up alot of emotion in me. The emotion was in part from defending myself and in part from some self conscious concern over whether all my interactions with my kids have been positive. I want my desire to eat healthy to be just that, healthy eating. I DO NOT want this journey to be just another type-A orthorexic hissy fit. The whole point is to heal what we eat and how we eat, not to be excessively controlling and evangelistic.
After writing Friday's post, I thought maybe it was time to tell you all about where I have been and how eating real food has changed my outlook. I touch on it a little in my very poorly formatted first post. But I suppose I need to go into more depth. I spent much of my early childhood overeating. I especially loved junk! Fritos and potato chips, Dr Pepper and cookies, you name it, I loved it. Down South, Fried is just the fifth food group and I took any chance I got to eat anything that was deep-fried.
I began to struggle with my weight around age 10. I was a heavier kid just because I liked to eat alot. I got a few glances from people over my food choices at times. But my parents generally stayed quiet. They had some mild food limits (no more than three cookies at a time) but it was nothing excessive. I do not know if that was because they saw nothing wrong with my eating or if they didn't know how to tell me that I was overdoing it. Also, parents are routinely encouraged not to chide a child for their eating habits since often kids do eat more to prepare for growths spurts. Perhaps my parents didn't realize how much junk we were eating during that time in our lives. Whatever the reason for their silence, I packed on a few pounds because of the choices I was making.
I never really was FAT. To say I was fat would be an insult to those who really struggle with their health and diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure among many other things. I actually was preparing for a growth spurt in 1992(she says laughing)but it was a growth spurt three years in the making. AND I prepped for it by drinking Dr Pepper and eating Cool Ranch Doritos. And yes, people noticed. And yes, people told me what they thought about me. I hated junior high school. If you were to ask me what my darkest days were, I would say 91-93 without a doubt. 7th and 8th grade, where social competition is cut throat and the playing field isn't even thanks to the different players' biological schedules. Some girls look more like women, whereas I looked more like a child. Words like 'fat' or 'ugly' from my peers left me unable to defend myself. And if I had only been able to shut my mouth and not fight back so loudly I probably would have been better off. But I played into the game unwittingly and made my own plight worse by boiling over with anger. I have never been a shrinking violet. Still, it always came back to weight, self worth equaled weight. And If only I could eat less!! Less was the only answer. But hunger would always return, and eating felt good. And no one was telling me to stop.
My parents seemed pretty unaware or perhaps just unsure of what to do with this riled up emotional little girl. All the turmoil at school seemed to go unnoticed. I found out in March of 1993 why they seemed so preoccupied. Divorce.
My parents began divorce proceedings when I was 13. It was a hit during an already difficult time. My parents divorce forced another character trait in me to the surface, determination. Stressed from all the upheaval and change, survival kicked in. In order to cope with the stress, I threw myself into school and extra-curricular activities. Thanks to non-stop work, I received better grades during the spring of 1993 than I would ever see again in my school career. I got straight A’s during the period right after my parents separated. Until that point in my life I never knew that I reacted to extreme stress by working harder. I find I still do so today.
I started high school in the fall of 1993, which was a better environment. In a new school of 2000 kids there were more groups of friends to find, there was more distance and more opportunity for me to find my own voice without the ghosts of past mistakes to haunt me. I discreetly slipped away from the friends I had had the previous years. My parents continued to argue about their separation and how to handle it. In the state of Tennessee there is a year waiting period between the time that you file for divorce and when things become finalized. I suppose the thought was, to some conservative southern law makers, that a waiting period would give hot headed couples a chance to reconcile. But all it did for my family was put off the inevitable and delay the healing process. We were all on hold for an entire year.
Meanwhile I was still obsessed with food, and the nation as a whole was too! So much new research was coming out showing a correlation between fat and well being FAT. Low fat everything was available! Low fat cookies, low fat ice cream, yogurt, fanciful food science concoctions! Everyone was talking about low fat everything. Soda was even okay because there was no fat!
But I was on the sidelines of the low fat debate with a different motivation. While my parents and friends weren't looking, I took a brief hiatus from eating.
In the Fall of 1993 I simply stopped eating meals where no one was watching me.
It started the week before school began that August. It wasn’t a conscious decision, or one that I toyed around with. I was about to start high-school and with my parents’ divorce proceedings taking up so much time and energy, I started to have a lot more alone time. I remember toying with the idea of eating less. Then one day I got the urge to bake lemon poppy seed muffins, of all things. When they were done, I began to eat one and I suddenly felt so full. I felt disgusted that I was eating when I was already full, stuffing my face like a pig. I looked at the muffin, and I thought, ‘what would happen if I just didn’t eat this food?’ Would the earth begin to crumble if I wasted one morsel? Could I possibly say no to this tender combination of white flour and white sugar? I threw the muffin in the garbage and it began.
As school got underway I experimented further with not eating. I was unsupervised during breakfast, so instead of eating a full breakfast, I had a slice of bread. Then after some time, I cut the slice in half. But I didn't want to draw attention to myself, so I would throw away the other half slice. I would have my half a slice of bread with a glass of water at 6am, then get ready for the day. Some days I could skip lunch. But being at school you are never alone, so most days I would eat some small sandwich or lettuce that I had packed from home because someone was around, but no chips. And I eliminated snacks completely. Those snacks which had once been Fritos and Velveeta cheese and potato chips and cookies now completely disappeared. I remember being hungry, but not like before. Once I stopped eating the hunger went away. Furthermore, my heart was hurting so much from the stress at home that I wasn’t interested in enjoying food. It was easy for me to cut out that once loved sensory experience. In my mind I reduced food to a caloric experience. I knew I wanted to lose weight, and so I rationally ate less.
But I didn’t stop eating completely. Dinner was supervised, so I would have to eat a normal meal. Weekends were largely supervised, so I would generally cut myself some slack. But I wouldn’t allow myself seconds or foods deemed fattening. And snacks were still out of the question. I didn't want to draw attention to myself. I didn't want anyone to catch onto me for fear that I would be spoken too. I knew that what I was doing was not healthy. I had heard about Anorexia, though I know now that I was far from it. And the last thing I wanted to hear was that I needed to wait out some stupid assumed growth spurt. No one was going to tell me that I had to eat! This was my body and I was damn well going to do with it what I wanted!! Besides what other options did I have? The only nutrition information I was getting in school was the grain heavy USDA Nutritional Pyramid and a stern lecture about not eating potato chips and cake. I didn’t need to be told what NOT to eat. I needed someone to tell me what TO eat!
I was smart, I was determined and I could out-think many people. As long as I was chipper and upbeat, no one thought any differently about my losing weight. My mother was never the wiser. She was too wrapped up in her own Prozac cloud to worry about 10 or 15 lost pounds in her daughter. In fact eventually she did notice that I was looking slimmer and she was proud of me. I even remember her saying to me that she had been right all along, I was going through a growth spurt and the extra weight was just going away. She never knew about the mornings at 6 am in the dark house where I stared down that half a piece of bread to give me all of it secrets with none of its evil. I was convinced that food was evil. Its only purpose was to make me unhappy and overweight.
But suddenly, as I was growing inches taller and shedding pounds, everyone seemed to approach me differently. No one was rude to me any longer. Many of the people who had once taunted me in such a cruel way faded into the background, no doubt moving onto easier prey. In my hunger I found strength. I found will. I found control. At this point in my life, being thin was about being in control and having dominion over all my actions. Unfortunately, all of my focus was about eating LESS. The focus was never on WHAT I was eating, always how much. Of course I ate more lettuce and celery, the diet foods of the time. But I knew precisely nothing about vitamins and nutrients, so all food was to be feared. Especially fat. I meditated a lot on gluttony during this period in my life, as though thin people were somehow morally in control of themselves while overweight people were sinners. Which is of course not true. Still, the process of losing weight, looking differently and living in this new unfamiliar and newly beautiful body was fantastic. Of course I loved the new way people treated me. I loved seeing how boys treated me differently. I began to see myself differently.
But do you know what inadvertently happened? My self-worth now became tied to my body. As long as I was thin I believed that that was what people liked about me. My personality, heart and mind were just accompanying the real deal, a slim figure. I did of course want people to discover the 'real me'. But I assumed that no one ever would want the inside me without the outside package. That's how it worked right? That was what other people valued right? Never mind that I never judged my own dear friends on anything but their good hearts and intentions. I had an impossible double standard going on in my mind. One set of standards where other people's value was measured in their goodness and the kindness of their actions and my own value which was largely measured by my outward appearance and whether I could keep my hunger in check and weight in line. This warped viewpoint continued for at least a decade until I met my wonderful husband.
I have not experienced a similar period of non-eating in my adult life. There have been very stressful times, like after my mother's death, that I have been unable to eat normally. But never where I specifically stopped eating to lose weight. More so in my adult life I have struggled with my inability to stop eating. Before I eliminated processed foods, I was hungry all the time. I snacked often and bought tons of what I now consider to be junk. Saying no to a bowl full of office candy was nearly impossible.
The only thing that has helped my relationship with food has been the real food mentality. When I identified all the non-food ingredients in processed food, I found it much easier to say no. Then when I started eating more fat, more fiber, far more vegetables and fewer grains, I found I was no longer hungry. I don't snack all that often now. And when I do I know that it is because I didn't eat enough lunch, or because I am bored at work (yes, everyone snacks because they are bored). I am finally in control, not the food. My food mentality is not just about what needed to be eliminated from my diet, but what needed to be added. In fact I would say that what we have added to our diet have been more influential than what we have taken away. Maybe because all that junk we always ate wasn't giving us the nutrients we needed. Now that we are so full of good food we don't want any of the junk. Whatever it is, I finally feel like I can say no to an Entenmann's cake or even a snickers bar. All that junk just isn't...good enough for me anymore.
This post is shared with Fat Tuesday, Simple Lives Thursdays and Fight Back Fridays