Wednesday, April 14, 2010

No, I can't lose weight

Because I've had some form of an eating disorder for more than 20 years, I have absolutely no idea what my natural set point is. I mean, I know that there's a weight range I've never fallen outside, and that when I've been on the upper end of it it's because I've been eating terribly, and that when I've been on the lower end of it I was chronically underfeeding myself. So I know my set point is somewhere in the middle. It's around where I'm at right now. In fact, given that while I've had flareups of my ED I haven't had a single true lapse (until last week, but it was indeed a lapse, not a relapse, so I'm OK) since November, it's probably exactly where I'm at right now. It's a healthy weight for me. It's not difficult to maintain. I look fine, I feel fine.

But--but. But. To say that--to say I do not need to lose weight, I am not trying to lose weight--is incredibly foreign to me. When I first entered treatment I remember feeling in awe of the possibility that I could eat normally; that no longer seems foreign to me. But as the weeks pass and I continue to be dissatisfied with my body and know that I am not doing anything to "fix" it, and that in fact I never will--well, that is really hard to accept. I am not "fixing" it because there is nothing to fix; this is where I should be, and I know it. But I feel like I'm trying to learn a language that I can read but not yet speak: I can see the words and know what they mean, but my mouth cannot form the sounds; the wrong words tumble out, unintelligible even to myself, the aggravating unease of knowing what I want to say but not having the tools to do so underlying my every word. I feel--helpless, like I'm stuck in this body that I'm just now getting to know.

One of the biggest surprises for me in getting treatment was how little I wound up thinking about my body. Part of the whole ED thing is that everything becomes wrapped up in the body: All troubles and frustrations center around food and eating and the body. When I pictured ED treatment, I envisioned lots of seminars on body image, and instead I got none. I grew to see poor body image as a symptom of my disorder, not as a cause. This makes it easier to sort of grin and bear with myself when I have poor body image, like I have been lately: I know that my body image and my eating are separate, and in fact need to be, because one is an act that I need to do to live and one is a series of funhouse mirrors that reflects absolutely nothing about reality. But what it does mean is that I'm left with that tongue-tied frustration when I have it: I can't do a damn thing about it. I have to sit with the feeling of looking down and hating what I see. I have to let that feeling just be. I have to let it just be.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Momma Don't Take My Kodachrome Away

Even before I got to the quote from the ED specialist in this Times piece about people who photograph everything they eat, disordered-eating alarm bells were going off in my head.

When I was initially assessed at Renfrew, one of the questions they asked was about "food rituals" and whether I had any, to which I replied no. It wasn't until we had a session on food rituals that I understood that pretty much every ED sufferer has them, to varying degrees of codification. I almost always ate one food at a time; I used to count how many times I would chew. Others smothered their food in condiments or seasonings; others couldn't have one food touching another. The mark of whether something was a ritual or a mere preference (I know plenty of non-disordered people who hate it when their potatoes touch their beef) was whether it was anxiety-producing to not do it. So when I read this...

She said she takes pictures of at least half the meals she eats, omitting, for example, multicourse meals when it might “interrupt the flow.” But she has noticed lately that it’s becoming harder to suppress the urge to shoot. “I get this ‘must take picture’ feeling before I eat, and what’s worse is that I hate bad pictures so I have to capture it in just the right light and at just the right angle,” Ms. Sherman said. sounded familiar.

Certainly the hordes of amateur food photographers out there aren't all quietly suffering from eating disorders. But the reporter was perceptive enough to highlight that the hobby isn't always harmless:

Photos are also a means of self-motivation for Mr. Garcia, who began photographing his food after he lost 80 pounds. “It’s definitely part of my neuroticism about trying to keep thin,” he said. “It keeps you accountable because you don’t want to have to see that you ate an entire jar of peanut butter.”

And, ever the scientist, he hopes to one day use the photographs to calculate how much money he spends to consume a calorie versus how much he spends in gym memberships and sports gear to burn a calorie.

I can't see how this brings Garcia any joy; it seems like Kodak handcuffs to me.

This seems to bring attention to a major point for people in recovery: How do you celebrate the social rites of food without falling into the rabbit hole? When I traveled through Vietnam, I went nuts photographing what I was eating, and it felt joyous to do so. It was a way of recording and, later, sharing a vital sense of that most sensual country; I'm terrible with a video camera, so recording my gustation was one way I was able to keep Vietnam with me. I know other women who have recovered who turned their former fear of food into a celebration, with photography, food writing, and dinner clubs. But I also know that can be a dangerous line to toe: I have no doubt that my short-lived foray into pastry cheffery was linked in part (though not fully) to my disorder, and a good number of the women in my pastry course reported some seriously disordered eating in their past. At what point does waxing rhapsodic about hazelnut dacquoise veer from genuine appreciation of the gifts of food to an obsession?