Dieting is Disordered Eating? Ya think?

So I was reading the news, and after looking at 21 pictures of celebrities aging with and without the benefits of plastic surgery, I stumbled upon this.

Oh, good!

Now we all have eating disorders.

I have mixed feelings about this article. I am glad that Self  has the balls, quite frankly, to address this issue, because I can’t even pick up a copy of Self  without feeling like shit. Every issue has some tanned, toned uberwoman on the cover who will show me how to get the perfect abs and eat the perfect salad if only I turn to page 121. The sight of the magazine itself is triggering and every time I see it I want to upturn the sales rack in rage that I am expected to spend my life in search of the Mecca that is taut glutes.

What bothers me about the article, however, is the dismissal of certain behaviors into categories other than traditional eating disorders. Some of the behaviors on display, such as “secret eating,” or “purgers” are actually criteria of bulimia. They are medically serious, and shouldn’t be dismissed as “dieting gone too far.” While I recognize that Self  cannot diagnose anyone with an actual eating disorder, I do have a serious issue with the notion that they take real symptoms of eating disorders and minimize them, treating them as though if a woman was to stop the diet, she could stop the behavior. This is not the case: Once a behavior has stepped over the line into the realm of ED, simply ending Atkins, Weight Watchers, or the cabbage soup diet isn’t going to be the panacea a person needs. There will be no riding off into the sunset, eating healthily and normally, body image intact, smiling face turned toward a bright new day full of nutritious, binge-and-purge-free, starvation-free days. No.

I am appreciative that the Selfsurvey and this article recognizes that dieting is triggering for many people, that dieting is, in and of itself, a pathological form of behavior. Dieting gives us something to aspire to when everything else is out of control. Calories in, calories out, the motto goes. It is a soothing form of control when everything else is awry. Tame it, harness it, corral it. After all, when we cannot control the world around us, we turn to the body. That is a very basic principle of feminism, and the Selfsurvey and this MSN article seems to grasp that.

The quotes of the women in the article point to how desperate they are: They see the diet as the answer, the control of food as the salve to their problems in life. If only they can maintain the proper proportion of body weight, they will conquer the world. They may recognize this is a problem, but they do not care. And this is the hallmark of an eating disorder. When insanity about the behavior is recognized and discarded as unimportant. Only the behavior rules, the ritual matters, the numbers count. One woman says: I would be very upset if I gained 5 pounds. She weighs 103 pounds, and has given birth. She barely exists, a wisp in the world. Her literal footprint is tiny, and she works daily to keep it that way.

The second page of the article gives tips on what is problematic behavior when dieting. In reading the list, it’s hard not to see how any diet isn’t disordered eating. How repeated dieting can lead the vulnerable into an eating disorder. A simple “preoccupation with calories” is considered disordered eating. Is that not what Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig teach? Eliminating entire food groups is also considered disordered eating. That makes Atkins die-hards disordered eaters. Anyone who has ever dieted or is currently dieting, is, essentially, practicing disordered eating. And disordered eating in those who are susceptible can lead to full-blown, dangerous eating disorders.

I wonder what will happen as a result of this Self survey. There seems to exist a duality in the media: the fascination with dieting gone wrong, dieting that turns into a disorder, and the attainment of the perfect body, which cannot be attained except through, as the Selfsurvey illustrates, disordered eating. This is a dangerous Catch-22, played out on the bodies of people everywhere: Diet enough to look good, but not enough to look like a freakshow. The only ones who win are those who make money off of our bodies: The diet companies at the beginning, and the shrinks at the end.

On Madness and Body Image

I lied yesterday.

There is one reason I like mania.

It, more than anything else I have ever tried, cures my belly woes.

When I am manic, I have no IBS symptoms. I can eat with reckless abandon and nothing will touch me. I will not bloat, I will not cramp, I will not have pain for days on end after the purposeful or accidental ingestion of something forbidden.

Two days ago, I ate The Worst Meal Ever. It is also one of my favorites. It is white bread slathered with sundried tomato cream cheese as an appetizer, pasta with cream and Gorgonzola cheese with bacon and chicken as an entree, and flourless chocolate cake for dessert. I have ingested this while not in the throes of mania, and have suffered its consequences for days: bloating, gas, pain, cramping, constipation or diarrhea. I eat this meal only when I think I can handle it, when my belly isn’t already distended from some other food issue, when I really want the food and am prepared to suffer its consequences.

This is how much of my relationship with food has been over the last number of years. What I enjoy eating has to be weighed in terms of how much pain it will cause me over how many days. It is almost formulaic.

Except when I am manic.

Mania is such an interesting proposition for my body, body image, my weight and my IBS. When manic, I have dropped weight in the blink of an eye. In my eating disordered days, it has been during times of mania that I have dropped the most weight, because mania is a natural appetite suppressant. Sixty pounds in three months? No problem. Mania did it for me. There have been days where I have been simply so enamored with my own thoughts and doings that I literally forget to eat. The concept of hunger does not factor in. I used these times to diet, and extended the manic episodes indefinitely with ephedrine when the natural high wore off and hunger returned.

When I am hungry, I crave bizarre foods. Crackers and cheese for lunch.  Peanuts for dinner. Whipped cream for breakfast! And I indulge, indulge, indulge. Yesterday I ate six 100-calorie cupcake packs over the course of the day and washed it down with soda. I eat more fast food. I do all of this because I can. Because on days when I am not manic, my stomach revolts at, literally, the mention of these foods. I think of saccharine nonsense like frosting and immediately my colon cramps, it has become that Pavlovian. Mania somehow stops the IBS from happening, and I am so thankful that I just binge on things I cannot eat 75% of the time without becoming significantly impaired.

IBS contributes to fair amount of my body dysmorphia. I can be bloated so uncomfortably for days. I don’t know how visible this is to the population at large, but for me, the visibility isn’t what matters: It is how I feel. I have considered giving up eating for good, and simply fasting for days on end just to avoid the discomfort of bloating. It is a nightmare. I feel sluggish, ugly, my clothes don’t fit well, I imagine I am the fattest person in the world, unlovable, disgusting, vile, obese, tragic, and hideous. The image in the mirror is so distorted when I am bloated: I appear twisted and three times the size I actually am. If I don’t feel right, I don’t look right.

But with mania comes a reprieve from IBS. There will be no bloating, no trying to figure out what foods to eat in what combinations or when or how. There will be no accidental ingestions. I feel good, and slippery and slick, like a silver fish swimming in a stream. It’s smooth and right. My body just feels nice when I am manic, and that’s the best feeling of all.

I am not sure why all of this is. I have been thinking about it a lot this past week. When I am just a regular old person, not mixed, not rapid cycling, not depressed, and not manic or hypomanic, my bowels are ornery and cranky. They require a certain kind of care. Certain foods must be avoided, certain restaurants are really bad. I can’t have soda with meals. A bathroom must always be nearby.

And I’ve noticed other things, too: When I am depressed, or in a dysthymic state, I am more prone to generalized pain all over my body. My back hurts more, my shoulder flares up. I’ve noted I get worse migraines in the winter, a time when I am typically more dysthymic. Mania cures all of these physical ailments better than any pill. The elevated levels of neurotransmitters is the balm for all my troubles.

If nothing else, it continues to be proof for the mind-body connection. On my end, I just enjoy the body goodness while I can. I try to keep myself in check in my mind, try to be present for important conversations while my mind is singing inside, try to corral myself when I need to sleep, try to keep a leash on my ever expanding euphoria. But I revel, absolutely revel in how wonderful I feel in my skin. I eat whatever I want and know that soon my intestines will not be so forgiving. I place my hands on my flattened belly and take comfort in knowing there are no extraneous grumblings. I move with ease, not bent over slightly from pain. For me, this is the best part of mania, it’s gift to me: Remembering what it’s like to have a normal body.

Manic.

Mania sets in like an electrical helmet on my skull, and I have no memory of what it was to feel like I did even an hour ago.

I am alive, abuzz, full of life, energy, ideas. I must see, do, be, create. I am alive, in love, purposeful! I am human; no, more than human! The trees are blooming, and I am too! Can’t you see? Of course you can’t! How can I expect anyone to know this feeling? It is immense, full and rich; I feel my chest bursting with a thousand feelings, rich, colorful. I see feelings. They no longer exist in physical, emotional terms; No! I see them! They are peaches and purples and sunsetting hues all alive underneath my ribcage, too gigantic to be contained and I am sure that they will explode right out of me at any minute, pouring forth onto my desk like melted rainbow sherbert, sticky sweet.

I could cry from the euphoria. I want to chase through my office, wild laughter exhaling from my mouth; it is too slow so it will follow behind me in a trailing streak, my body moving at the speed of light, so fast I am faster than the thoughts in my head. I would grab stacks of paper and file folders and pens and whip them behind me and demand that people liven up, enjoy the day, it is spring after all! We have survived, survived 100 inches of snow! We are unfurling like flowers, we deserve joy, let us rejoice and show it by dancing madly among the sterile cubicles, the drumbeats of our hearts beating so loudly we hear them in real time and they join as one, because we are our own tribe.

I will write stories, enter contests, I am brilliant, I am productive, I am on fire. I am answering phone calls, I am in love, I am a goddess, I am cosmic, I understand the nature of the soul, I am divinity unto herself, and it is good, she said. Music pulses through my veins and I understand that it is the tapestry of the world and I am but one thread that weaves its way throughout for we are all one and that is how it should be. All is right, all is well, how could anything have been any different?

Stop.

This is the feeling that prevents people from taking medication. This is the feeling that people want when they take cocaine. This is the feeling people wish they had, always. If I could bottle it, I would be a millionare, a thousand times over. I am powerful, beautiful, brilliant, funny, talented and productive. I am, quite literally, on top of the world.

I do not want this feeling. I want it to end. This feeling. I used to love this feeling. It is predictable. It comes every year at this time, and I swell with it, engorged in euphoria, fat from feasting on it. I am a thanksgiving turkey, stuffed to the gills with good feelings. 

How good is too good?

Eventually I will level off, and I’ll sail into summer a little less, well, manic. I feel invincible now, but I am sure I appear frenzied to the outside world. My confidence comes across as conceit, likely. My benevolence, arrogance. I will not sleep tonight, my mind wired with ideas, ideas, ideas. This time it will not be dark thoughts that haunt me, but thoughts of future successes, endeavors, things to do! Things to be! And oh so many questions. They will stalk me until I get up, pace around, jot them down, try to assuage the Muse that I will write another day. That I don’t need to send out a 1 a.m. text message about how the trees weep with joy when they begin to leaf again and I can hear it in my soul and that’s why I can’t sleep. That I wonder what it sounds like to roll downhill in tall prairie grass. Or that I wished my house was made of adobe so I could lean against it at midnight and it would still be warm, like an oven. Or that I want to hear a moose sing his song in the woods, just one time. And why isn’t there spanish moss in Wisconsin? Or tree moss at all? And why do nails sound so horrible on a blackboard? Chalk is disgusting. How come there is still water in Niagra Falls? Why isn’t it empty? What’s at the bottom of Lake Superior? When will the sun stop shining? Who will overtake the earth after the mammals? Why do flamingos stand on one leg? How many shrimp do they have to eat to be pink? Why do nurses sometimes wear hats? Why aren’t there adult sized swing sets? What is dew? Why are there boats with fans on the back and why don’t we have them here? Why didn’t Don Johnson wear socks and did he ever get blisters? What is the difference between a hurricane and a typhoon? I like the word typhoon better, because I like p-h together. P-h. P-h. P-h. Phhhhhhhhhh. A tis-ket, a tas-ket, something, something bas-ket. Ring around the ro-sie, a poc-ket full of po-sies, ash-es, ash-es, we all fall down.

These thoughts are just as exhausting, but ever more pleasant. They take me back to a kid-like state of awe, where the world is new and fresh and ready to be explored. I am an archaeologist, a pathologist, a cosmologist, theologist. I wonder. I wonder.

For now I focus on containment; how to appear as sane as possible, never too happy, never too out of control. I need to rein myself in a bit, check myself. Under control, under control, just keep it under control.

Insomnia

I am tired of not sleeping. It exhausts me, the tossing, the turning, the waiting precisely one hour after taking the appropriate amount of antipsychotic medication to shut off the lights so that I can lay in bed for yet another hour to see if my brain will give me the luxury of falling asleep.

I read somewhere once that people who take longer than seven minutes to fall asleep can be considered insomniacs. I have been an insomniac my entire life, as 10pm becomes 11pm becomes midnight becomes 1am. I have greeted 3ams and 4ams, and songbirds and dawns. I hate it, hate it all.

Tonight, the experiment begins. I have taken a third pill, a never before heard of amount. I am scared of the amount of medication I have had to consume this year. I lasted this long without changing meds. Now, at 30, I am titrating psychopharmaceuticals like a mad chemist to keep up with the changing midwest weather. A bit too cloudy requires extra antidepressants. A bit too sunny requires extra antipsychotics. Somewhere among it all I become blindsided with raging migraines that leave me grinding my teeth and numb to the world, its own mood disorder in and of itself. What did I do to deserve the gray matter I inherited?

I just want the racing thoughts to stop. At 10pm, I want a pass, a break, a way to muffle them so they shut up, so they stop haranguing me with their endless tirades of hatred, fear, anxiety. What is their point? What good do they do me? I do not need the barrage of reminders, the nagging doubt, the inner voice, the singsonging, clanging, nutso, rhyming, chyming chatter in my brain that goes on and on, cyclonic, taunting and cruel. Useless, all of it. I want to be knocked out flat, cold, lifeless at 10pm. Turn me off, shut me down.

Maybe I need new pills. Maybe I should convince the doctor the ones I have are not good enough. Maybe I play too good a game at the shrink’s office, talk myself up too well. Maybe I do not appear crazy enough. Maybe I need to talk about how long it takes me to fall asleep, how plagued I am, how bad its gotten this year, how worried I am about the increasing doses. Maybe I should make a pitch for a new prn, a benzo, perhaps, or maybe a nice sleeping pill. Maybe she’ll suggest lithium instead. Or depakote, or zyprexa, and those all make you fat, and damage your liver, and make you blind and tremor and lose your hair, and then I’ll have to laugh and say: Just kidding! Haha! Not really that crazy! I was just testing you. To see what you’d do. No, really, I am just fine. Just fine. Just fine, indeed.

Absence

I am doing intensive work in therapy right now, and sometimes I wonder if I am going too deep, too fast. I’ve never been one to go slow or gentle. I wonder if this is dangerous, given my history of mental health. It’s a lot. I am the kind who mulls and chews and gets lost in her own thoughts, murky and muddy, and I worry that what is going on is is too hard and deep for me to rise above. I am having nightmares every night now, vivd enough to be woken by them, hearing in the corporeal realm the booming, screaming voice of my father that I had heard in the ethereal dream world just moments before. It’s almost hallucinatory.

And so, I am trying to keep most of my day time, non-therapeutic time light and sunny to balance out the darkness that is overtaking my unconscious, my psyche.

I had a lotus tattooed on my foot, and a solar symbol tattooed on my left wrist this week. The solar symbol completes the lunar symbol I had previously tattooed on my right wrist. But it is rather appropriate at this time, to remind myself not to get too dark, to keep lightness in my life.

The lotus symbolizes the beauty that will blossom from this time in this slick slime I am spending. I have to remind myself, as I analyze, therapeutize my life, that what has happened had meaning and purpose. That the pain can and will be transformed.

So it’s been hard for me to write about being fat or much else, because I’m stuck inside my head right now, figuring things out.

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