Old Habits Die Hard
Truth time. I have a confession - I hate eating most days. There I said it. I find that I often have no desire to eat and the process of thinking about what I'm going to eat exhausting. It's like it's just another pain in my already hectic day. I get this way sometimes when I'm stressed and disappointed, and there's nothing readily available for me to eat. I keep my trigger options in the house limited because of this.
If you know me or have seen me recently, you might be surprised by that statement. You might be saying, "how can that be, Beth? You have a bit of a tummy on you - wouldn't think that would be the case for someone who hates to eat."
And there lies the rub. The bain of my existence right not is my belly. I'm all about body positivity and self-love, and I do not hold others' body shapes against them. But I do have a problem with loving my own shape and those roots grow deep. I've tried over the years to have that perfect athlete body or six-pack, but I usually end up sabotaging my efforts along the way. One of these methods of self-sabotage that I prefer is the binge.
Here's how it plays out:
I don't feel like eating, and so I don't. Eventually, my body rebels and I get huge hunger pains and it ends in a binge. The starchier and cheezier, the better. If there are Cheez-Its in the house during these times, they aren't there for long. If I'm out doing errands, there's a good chance I'll be pulling through the drive-thru of Taco Bell.
As I noted before, a lot of times this failure to eat initially is brought on by some emotion or stress. When I binge like this it helps to quiet those feelings and turn everything off for a bit. But, then the numb wears off and I feel like crap. I will admit that I have purging habits in my past because of this. They are pretty much under control now, but I have fallen back into them on really tough moments. This is not a proud part of myself, and this is actually the first time that I've written it down on paper. But there it is. It stinks more when you know so much about eating disorders and see that pattern in yourself. I can stop it. I do stop it most of the time, but sometimes I just need that release.
Over the past 15 years, I've worked hard to change these habits. Since realizing that I have a strong empathic nature, I've learned that this habit isn't so uncommon for people like me. If you read the literature "food empaths" are those who numb their emotions with food or alcohol. I do both. I'd say I'm in the moderate category of this group, but when I fall, I fall hard. Food was the beginning even since I was a kid. As I got older, especially in the past 10 years, alcohol has taken its place.
I remember coming home from school which was always difficult for me internally because of trying to fit in. Trying to be the person who was liked and fit the mild of my peers. I've always wanted to be liked, accepted, and cool. I played the game well, and while not on the top of the social pack, I was cheerleader and well-liked. And pretty much miserable, unless I was surrounded by my small circle of close friends or alone. When I got home from school I would usually fix a snack - a box of Kraft Mac & Cheese, make a batch of pancakes or biscuits (loved Bisquick back then). I would eat them all and turn around for dinner just a few hours later. It felt good and calming to eat these and I could deal again. I didn't worry about the health or weight issues of those habits back then, because I never gained any weight. I was young and thin, with a great metabolism.
The habits continued in college, but I no longer hid these. Binging on junk food and carbs is what you did in college. I also have a close group of friends where I felt comfortable and accepted. But, the comfort eating continued - not so much binging (and I should mention that purging was not a factor here), but just eating warm comfort foods. I gained a lot of weight during those first two years. That got my attention.
My junior year was the first time I tried to establish better habits. I joined the crew team at my school. I started eating better - not restricting, but just less junk and obviously more exercise. The weight came off. I was lifting and strong. I was healthy and felt good, but I guess it wasn't good enough. My coach came to me asking if I would want to cut down to Lightweight for the next years. I'd seen the other rowers - Open Weight rowers are very tall (most close to 6-foot) and very strong. At 5'8", I was a mere shadow of them. I was the height of the lightweight rower, but about 15 pounds heavier than the limit of 130 pounds. As I mentioned before, I don't like to disappoint and want the chance to be great. So I agreed. I spent that summer falling away from the healthy habits that I had established. Not it was extreme restriction and exercise. Exercising in layer to sweat. Eating a salad with lemon juice and maybe some soup - not bread!!! Little protein. My college was small and this was the mid-90's, and so we were not giving access to a nutritionist or dietician. I was left on my own to make this goal. And I did. I starved myself. I left my weight training in lieu of the many hours of cardio (in sweats) instead. I would usually be about a pound overweight on regatta day, which led me to run with a Jolly Rancher and spitting the weight off. This was after an evening of little to no food or water. I would make weight, eat as many bagels & peanut butter, bananas, and PowerBars as I could be for my races. I would "refuel" with cranberry juice and more food between races. We would do well. And that night when my team hit the all-you-can-eat buffet on the way home, I would take full advantage of it. The mini muffins were my favorite. I was usually up about five pounds by mid-week when I would start the entire process again. A year of weight cycling. The pictures of me back then are alarming to me - I am pale and gaunt, with a crazed look in my eye.
After that year I never wanted to go through that process again. I was 23. I told myself that I would "take the year off" to let me metabolism recover, but it never did. That one year of extremes did permanent damage to my system, so you can imagine how all of the following years of crazy diets, pill (Ephedra user here), and crazy fitness wreaked havoc on me. In my 20s and 30s the weight would come off for a bit, but always come back. In my 40s, the weight seems to want to keep on creeping on.
And remember all of the emotion that started this story? It just got worse. Turns out the life as an adult is HARD!! There's the job searches and figuring out how to live on your own. The crippling debt and navigating a way out of it. The dating scene!! There's a lot of stress as an adult and I haven't done a great job of dealing with it. Hiding out isn't an option when you have to pay the bills. I think the introduction of alcohol came in here. We went out after work a lot and that was a good excuse to numb and be with people who had the same complaints as I did. Drinking, smoking, and big plates of smothered burritos, chips, and fries. Hangover food the next day while hiding out because of the overwhelm of what an idiot I'd been to night before. Rinse and repeat. Ive never been a day drinker, and so the binging came in during these moments of need, which led to the purging. There was a time when I though if I could only be anorexic it would solve this problem for me. I even looked at the pro-Ana websites. But, as much as I hate to eat at time, my body won't let me go there thank goodness.
I've worked hard over the years to identify that my binges are triggered by stress and negative emotion, and to put other habits in place when these feelings come up. Overall I've done a good job, but we all have setbacks and that's the case for me. As far as my growing belly, well, I can bring that back to a few things. First, yep, my metabolism is a bit jacked due to my choices of my early adulthood. I own that. I am now 45 years old, in the throughs of perimenopause and my body is handle hormones differently. Mine are not balanced right now, which is leading to more belly fat being laid down. That scares the crap out of me, but I'm working on better choices to correct this. And then I think this empath lifestyle I've been leading isn't helping either. I self-isolate and get stuck at home wondering what to do. I'm just now putting those pieces together and working at a healthier plan here as well. Hence, this blog. I'm taking it day-by-day. Working with a coach who is helping me see my own path a little more clearly. I often think of stopping all of the coaching and movement work that I'm doing to simply focus on myself and heal, but that scares me. I don't think I can do that. I don't think I can allow myself to not help others who are asking for the help that I can provide. I know I need to help myself, but the drive to "fix" others is too strong. My family always reffered to me as the "fixer" because I was the one who could moderate the arguments and bring them to a conclusion, and also because of my sports med background to literally "fix" injuries. Maybe that wasn't such a good thing to encourage. Because after I've been encouraged to fix others for 35 years, it looks like I've lost the ability to fix myself. That has to come first.
What past behaviors or habits from your past do you still struggle with? What are they keeping you from? Have you found your own way of warding them off? I'd love to hear about it!