The Difference Between The Grapefruit and The Chocolate

I don’t know that it’s a secret that I’ve struggled with food.

As someone who was/is best-known for her weight-loss efforts and body image commentary, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there is more to the story than all that weight I lost several years ago. All that attention. All those races. All those … things.

(I’m not even sure where to begin here, at the risk of being – ahem – melodramatic.)

I’ve talked at great length about my food binges of the past – the sushi I would order in mass quantities, the candy bars I devoured – but I suppose since those binges don’t occur with the same gusto that they once I did, I neglect to mention them. That and I got incredibly tired of always talking about my weight, my body and what it all meant.

If I’m honest, it was a little less than two years ago, when I fielded what has been the final email/call from a national magazine that asked me, again, to talk about being the poster child for weight-loss bloggers in some fashion, that I just kinda broke. I no longer believed in Weight Watchers or corporate-sponsored diet plans …

though I should admit it didn’t stop me from signing up again, a time or two, late at night, after a bowl of Ben and Jerry’s, because I was certain that I needed it again

…I really hated the idea that all of this was about losing weight…

because I still berated myself, daily, about my weight, and what a “fraud” I was, even when I briefly reached 138 pounds

…as I was certain, sure as anything, that there was more to me than my body, and I had to start figuring out who in God’s name she was…

even if simultaneously I kept thinking that eventually I would be thinner and it would all stop being so fucking hard

…before it was too late.

And then there was the thyroid. Oh, the thyroid. It wasn’t until mine got all jacked up did I truly understand what I learned all those years ago, that it would change over time and I’d constantly live a life in service to monitoring it. And then I went and took a job where I was so stressed that¬† I ate 15 pounds of that stress onto my body.

I’m not necessarily bemoaning being 160 pounds because, you know, I do believe it’s just a number, but boy howdy do I hate seeing all of that misery reflected back at me in pictures. My face is puffy and stripped of much spark. My hair is dry and brittle, despite my best efforts. I don’t look like me at all. And I don’t feel like me either – tired, oh I’m so tired.

I don’t really know how I managed to train and complete that half marathon. I really don’t, because some days it’s all I can do to get out of bed I’m so exhausted.

Then we couldn’t/aren’t getting pregnant. And my husband lost his job. I could feel my brain get numb. In and out. In and out. Cope. Cope. Cope. Always the little coper, the little trooper. Move. Move. Move.

I ate…something, I don’t really remember. It wasn’t important. Or I drank a bunch of wine. I binged on something. Not with the unbridled manner of the old days, but does volume matter? The voices took over, the ones that give me permission to feel something and to cope enough to move along. Just as I did with the job stress. Just as I did as a kid when things got hard.

I got a notification that Oprah.com was following me on Twitter. Oprah.com had given me a shout out over their Twitter stream,¬† after I sent folks their way, and I soon got a notice someone else was following me, someone who seemed Oprah-esque, if you’ll excuse the term. The follower was Geneen Roth, and I remembered my friend Amy telling me how much she loved her work. I headed over to Oprah.com and noticed that Oprah says we all should be reading Roth’s latest book.

(It used to be my job to read everything Oprah says to read so maybe old habits die hard.)

I acknowledged before that job loss ranks with my largest fears in life. And while a couple days into Scott being unemployed, I was OK, and it was only later when Glin tried to dig out under the fence, to reach a racquetball next door, that something in me snapped a little. I think the fear of losing Glin was more than I could handle, irrational as though it may seem, but maybe not to a person whose first dog was hit by a car, whose other dog constantly escaped from the yard by digging under the fence.

I couldn’t keep coping coping coping. I just couldn’t, mostly because I wasn’t, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to without something giving somewhere. And I’d already been saying so many awful things to myself because the scale hadn’t budged, and because I’ve been so preoccupied and well…

I picked up one of Geneen’s books the next morning on my way to work. I read it in two days. I was tired of hating myself for things I couldn’t do much about. Every time I ran five miles, every time I made a salad, every time I didn’t do either, I just hated that I have this body that malfunctions on every level.

I can’t lose weight.

I have migraines every other day.

I have black hairs all over my face.

I wake up with stomach pains regularly.

My hair falls out.

I can’t conceive a child.

The shameful amount of time and energy I have spent hating my body is ridiculous, over something that my doctors have already said is not my fault. It’s just my body. And yet? I punish myself and make judgments about my character because I want a TLC Kashi Dark Chocolate Oatmeal cookie, or because since the half marathon I’ve only worked out three times a week.

And holy shit – I ran a half-marathon six weeks ago. I’ve fallen so far down a pit of self-loathing that I don’t even get excited or filled with pride for having done that. All I think about is how after all of that training I didn’t lose a pound, never mind that that sort of work and training rarely sees huge weight loss results OR that Lord almighty, I ran 13.1 miles without stopping or hurting myself for once.

I’ve always known and, for the most part, practiced a fair amount of love and care for myself, but in the past 18 months, there has been little of that. And I’ve found comfort in bad habits. One of the practices Roth discusses is the idea that we spend so much time trying to deny and punish ourselves, instead of trusting ourselves, that we sabotage ourselves in the process. Those oatmeal chocolate cookies? They’ve become such a huge thing for me. I love them. And yet? I will eat everything else in my path, but the cookie, because I don’t think someone who can’t lose weight should eat a cookie that contains 150 calories a pop. But you know what happens? Eventually, after all of that food, I can’t take it anymore and just eat the cookie. Followed by two more.

Should have just had the fucking cookie.

I am tired of telling myself I should eat grapefruit when what I really want is chocolate. And the thing is? I’m a healthy person, and I’ve learned what makes me happy is to be healthy, and because my entire body has turned into this nightmarish mess of screwed up hormones, I have stopped trusting myself and turned right back into dieting to control what, at best, can’t be controlled and shouldn’t. It’s OK that I’m hungry. There is nothing wrong with being hungry. It’s OK to want chocolate. What’s wrong is that I’m so incredibly sad and frustrated by what’s happened with my body that I don’t deal with that and love myself in spite of it.

Or maybe because of it. And then just have some chocolate. Because, you know, it’s just chocolate.

I didn’t want to not be present for what’s going on in our family right now. I knew it was time to stop some of this madness because these triggers with Scott’s job would just send me spiraling to a place I didn’t want to be. I knew the process would be painful and, for as much as I may have – ohmigod still do – wanted to use food to just numb this panic away, I knew it wouldn’t help. It didn’t when I was a kid and packed away 12 clandestine chocolate bars in a sitting, it didn’t when I was stressed out at work last year, and it won’t now.

I’m taking it day by day – do you know how hard it is for me to eat a meal with no distractions? Because this is one of the steps Roth instructs you to take, to eat a meal, sitting down, not reading or watching TV. Just sitting down and eating. For people who use food to cope or for comfort, this is radical and weird. I actually feel my palms get clammy when I think about it. This morning I was almost paralyzed by having to eat breakfast at my dining room table, instead of at my computer reading email and the paper, because the disruption to the thing that brings me so much happiness – eating and geeking out online – would have to part. It’s really similar to how I felt about writing when I gave up smoking. How would I ever relax again without a cigarette to guide me through?

I didn’t die this morning, or at dinner tonight when Scott suggested (because I haven’t been forthcoming just yet about this) we eat dinner at the table, but it’s still not easy. It means changing something that I take great joy and comfort in. Just the same, part of being present means being present while I’m eating and associating eating with, well, eating. I kinda forgot to do that at lunch, and I did bring my laptop to the table with me in the morning. Baby steps.

I’ve said this before, and I accept that I’ll deal with this my whole life, but I hate dieting, and I don’t want to get sucked into its lure again. It doesn’t actually help me lose weight, and it simply reinforces the idea that I don’t deserve to eat food, and Lord almighty is that ridiculous. Plus, you know, it doesn’t last. I want to focus my energies on things that are more exciting and fulfilling, and stop wasting my time counting calories.

I know what to eat and how much and what will make my body happy. I know if I’m not finding the energy to wake up every morning at 5 a.m. to hit the gym, it’s because I’m tired. It’s not because I’m an abject loser. It’s nice to be deep into a book (or five, because I have five of Roth’s books now) to remind me of that, to help me climb out of this hole I’ve dug myself into. I’m not worried about losing weight anymore, just about changing my relationship with what I put into my mouth.

The difference between the grapefruit and the chocolate is that there is no difference. Some days I’m going to want grapefruit, some days I’m going to want chocolate. It’s not more complicated than that.

For those of you interested in learning more about Roth and her books, I highly recommend beginning with When Food Is Love, but I imagine any of them are solid places to start. I’ve since heard from many, many people who have already read her on the recommendations of therapists and nutritionists. That said, I’ve also heard feedback that some people who are considered addicts don’t benefit from Roth’s work. So I guess I’m saying that your mileage may vary, read at your own risk, blah blah blah. For me, I’m finding her eating guidelines and general guidance to be incredibly helpful, but it may not be the answer for everyone.

I still highly recommend checking her out. Oprah will be featuring Geneen and her book on a show coming up in May.