Psssst…. I Have a Secret

Featured Image:  “Black Capped Chickadee,” © Tony Alter, Feb 2012. CC-BY-SA-2.0.

“It’s going to be OK!”  Shocker!  I know!  When I am not whispering these words to myself, I probably could be.  As Elliot* the charmingly precocious, three-going-on-four year-old son of my friend-and-former-college-roomate, Alice, often says, “Here’s the thing…”

It turns out that in much the same way that through repeated self-talk I became undeniably, firmly, entirely, almost delusively convicted of the unarguable, irrefutable, incontrovertible fact that I was a) hideously, disgustingly fat, b) horrifically, unnaturally worthless, and c) so seriously flawed, broken, and defective that I must have been some sort of accident or mistake of God’s creation… by repeating to myself over and over and over and OVER a bazillion times that all of this mess of life’s journey, “Might just turn out OK in the end, eventually, some day… why don’t I just wait and see…” I am actually coming to believe it!  It’s as if every time I repeat the statement, I am shoveling some dirt over the ruts left in my brain’s neural networks where the automatic negative thoughts used to fire away in fractions of a second while laying down new tracks for healthier, positive automatic thoughts.

I would not have believed that these changes of mind and heart were possible six months ago.  A few weeks past, during an appointment with Kelly, my nutritionist, she leaned in and, half laughing, half grinning, with a twinkle in her eye, asked me, “You DO know that all of this turns out OK in the end, right?”  It was as if she was in on the secret, and suddenly I felt in my soul that she wasn’t just making shit up to placate my anxieties.

Here’s the thing… I’m learning to trust my Wise Mind.  It’s my Wise Mind, which I sometimes also call my Reasonable Mind, that whispers to me, “Hey, you know this is going to be OK, right?”  My Wise Mind is that concerned, comforting, compassionate voice in my head that listens to all of my screaming, crying, arguing, debating, and ruminating, and then says, “Are you done yet?  Let’s go over this again…”  It’s not judgmental, critical, or harsh.  It’s forgiving, but it’s also honest and holds me accountable.  “So, let’s review why that wasn’t the best decision,” might be something my Wise Mind would say.  And then it would conclude, “But, you know what?  I have a secret… It’s all going to be OK.”

*Names have been changed

Photo Credit: Thomas Schultz,
Photo Credit: Thomas Schultz, “DTI-sagittal-fibers,” CC-BY-SA-2.0, Sep 2006. Dataset is courtesy of Gordon Kindlmann at the Scientific Computing and Imaging Institute, University of Utah, and Andrew Alexander, W. M. Keck Laboratory for Functional Brain Imaging and Behavior, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Um, Excuse Me, But I ATE A POTATO!

You say potato, I say, "Yes please!" "Sweet Potato," by National Cancer Institute's 5 A Day Resources & Tools. PD-USGov.
You say potato, I say, “Yes please!”
Sweet Potato,” by National Cancer Institute’s 5 A Day Resources & Tools. PD-USGov.

That’s right, folks.  POH-TAY-TOH!  One of my best friends showed me some “Baby Milestone Stickers” once when I was visiting her in Boston.  It was before my goddaughter was scooting, crawling, or even holding two blocks.  They said little phrases like, “First word!” and “First tooth!”  Well, I want a sticker that says “FIRST HOME-COOKED SWEET POTATO!” gosh darn it.

Let me explain a little something about my flavor of orthorexia.  It goes beyond a mere preoccupation with healthy eating.  I was OBSESSED with counting calories, grams of sugar and starches, reading every ingredient on a nutrition label, and knowing exactly what chemicals, contaminants, germs, or specks of dirt I might be inadvertently putting into my body.  The more crazed I became, the more out of control my life felt.  The more out of control my life felt, the more I turned to rigid food rules to try to create order from the chaos.  I cut out all carbohydrates except oatmeal.  I went years without touching a potato.  Even peas were too starchy and were eliminated.  Carrots contained too much sugar.  The only nuts I could trust were almonds.  Cooking with olive oil was too high in calories.  I developed a serious salt addiction… probably because my food tasted like… well, like celery, radishes, and spinach, which were main staples of my diet for about four years.

It was quite the battle when my first nutritionist attempted to convince me that I needed to reintroduce carbohydrates to my diet… AT EVERY MEAL!  *GASP*  I lost many nights of sleep tossing and turning.  I cried.  I fought.  I am pretty sure I screamed (although not at my nutritionist, but rather on the phone to a friend as I vented my frustration).  I was convinced she was going to make me fat, and I was certain that I did not need any more carbs.  I was getting plenty with my one bowl of oatmeal a day.  I.  Was.  Wrong.  It was a knock-down, drag-out, bloody street fight, but I really didn’t have much to lose.  My career was in the toilet, and if I didn’t get a handle on my eating disorder, I was pretty certain I was going to die.  So, begrudgingly, I ate some toast.  Now, I would only eat toast made from organic, sprouted, multigrain Ezekiel bread, but it was progress.  I adjusted to my new diet of *GASP* sandwiches, and soon I was trying a little quinoa (not too much, though, because it’s rather calorie-dense, you know!)  My crazy mood swings leveled out, and I started to actually feel better.

Toast, toasted,” © Rainer Zenz, CC-BY-SA 3.0. Wikimedia Commons.

My first sweet potato recontre happened a few days after Christmas.  The challenge – to eat out in a [freaking] restaurant.  Again, there was profuse and abundant protesting on my part, accompanied by overwhelming, paralyzing fear.  Terror and anxiety lurked behind every thought.  How would I measure my portion sizes?  What if there was nothing I wanted to eat on the menu?  What if I just couldn’t control my binge eating impulses and I completely lost it all?!  I planned out every detail.  I chose the restaurant, the time, perused the menu in detail and decided exactly what I would order, and arranged it all with my mother in advance.  I went over and over my meal plan, “Ok, how many inches across and how many inches wide is one serving of potato, again?”  Yup, it was horrifying.  Yup, it was an awful feeling to be sitting in that restaurant at that table surrounded by all the noise, unable to hear my own thoughts.  But, it was not intolerable.  I survived.  And… I learned that sweet potatoes are delicious!

Sweet potatoes became a safe food that was ok to eat in limited amounts sometimes, on special occasions like dining out with friends, but I never, ever would bring one into my kitchen to cook it for a routine, everyday, hum drum dinner.  Until one day I did.  Now, I must confess, I did whip out my ruler to slice off the exact amount that constituted a single exchange by the Walden meal plan, but the moral of the story is that I baked a potato in my own apartment and happily ate it.  I wanted to declare it to the world.