Not the Food

Feature Image: “Polar Vortex,” © Rick Schwartz, Jan 2014. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Something is different. Something is off. I can feel it in my sinews and sense it in my thoughts. Rigidity. Inflexibility. Fear. Uncertainty. Conflict. Confusion. Control. My muscles are tenser. The hollow that caves out beneath my sternum when I’m anxious is sharper. Even my sleep, usually blissful and serene, is nervous and fragmented. Tight. Forced. Edgy.

On Thursday, I realize that there is not enough plain, Greek, 2% fat yogurt left in the refrigerator to make up a full protein exchange. The cottage cheese is nearly gone, too. My thoughts begin to loop around themselves. “What will I eat? Not enough yogurt. What will I eat? No cottage cheese. There is nothing to eat. I have nothing to eat. What am I going to eat? I want yogurt. I could eat chicken or fish. I want yogurt. What will I eat? No yogurt. What am I going to do?” Four nights in a row, and I am eating the same thing for dinner every evening. The idea of something different scares me. I won’t be full. I’ll be vulnerable to a binge. (It doesn’t matter that in all the innumerable times this fear occurred to me over the course of the last year, accompanied at various times by various levels of anxiety, not once did it ever become a reality.) Somehow, I summon the flexibility to cobble together something different for my Thursday dinner. Just for this one night. Tomorrow, I will go to the grocery store. Tomorrow, there will be yogurt, and I will be OK.

On Monday, a box of chocolates arrives at work from Inga, who is in Germany at the moment. By box, I mean, a shipping box. Full of German chocolate. Ritter Sport and Kinder. (Ok, technically, Kinder is an Italian company.) It’s 9am and my colleagues are already stuffing themselves full of Happy Hippos, but I know that eating pure sugar this early in the morning will result in anything but happiness for me. I remind myself, “What is right for someone else is not necessarily right for me,” as I try not to judge them and try to not let their actions influence my own decisions or my emotions. My thoughts feel balanced and not triggered, but my body is telling me something else. That ball of rubber bands in my chest is wound tight, and my breathing is short. I am noticing this reaction is different than my non-reaction to the bowl of Kit-Kats that Brad keeps on his desk. I barely pay those unappealing, highly processed, waxy-tasting, artificially flavored concoctions a half-second’s glance. My eye flits over them and then forget them as soon as it turns to another object in the room. “I hate that the Ritter Sport and Kinder chocolate is different. I can’t change that this is different.” Acceptance is such a rotter.

Vortex bw,” © Tony Higsett, Aug 2007. CC BY 2.0.

Throughout these days and weeks, my thoughts chug along the familiar railroad tracks of, “I’m eating too much. I’m eating too many calorie-dense foods. This time I will gain weight. This time I am eating more than I did before, and I will definitely be heavier when Kelly weighs me again. Why am I doing this? I don’t need a mug of hot chocolate in the evening after dinner every night. Why do I need the television to unwind at the end of the day? What is wrong with me?” It isn’t fun, but it isn’t intolerable. As my therapist observes, it’s remarkable that I’m not “white-knuckling it” through these periods as I did last winter. I do not need to consciously repeat to myself over and over and over, “Thinking about binging does not mean that I need to act on my thoughts. I don’t need to be afraid of food. I do not need to reject my thoughts. I can tolerate my thoughts. My thoughts can’t hurt me. Just because the food is there, does not mean that I will eat it.” I am not breaking into stress hives. No panic attacks so far. It’s irritating and annoying, it’s confusing and it grates on my mind and spirit, but I know that it won’t last. And I probably won’t even gain any weight. And if I do, it will all balance out.

As I sit at my desk on Friday afternoon, grimacing with the intrusion of perseverations, I tell myself, “If Kelly was here, she would ask me, ‘What is going on with you right now, because this is NOT ABOUT THE FOOD.’”

The funny and confusing thing is that I don’t feel anxious or distressed about anything in particular. “There’s nothing going on!” I am tempted to protest. Consciously, that is true. But… under the surface… I take out a piece of paper and in ten minutes make a list of twelve inciting factors. Why does one workplace need to throw FOUR different parties within the span of two weeks?! The Christmas shopping isn’t finished, the Christmas cards are mostly unwritten, and I am flying home again on the 19th. I’m considering undertaking a new volunteer activity. My imagination is beginning to stir with ideas of foreign travel for the first time in years, which is both exciting and uncomfortable, exhilarating and threatening. There are uncertainties at work and in life that I can’t control. The future is unknown. I can’t pretend it doesn’t bother me. Clearly, it bothers me. I try to make the uncertain certain. I tighten up my control. I channel those thoughts and energies into food and weight, without being any the wiser to what is happening just below the surface of my awareness. It’s unsettling and fascinating at the same time. I marvel at my mind’s capacity for manipulation. What a survival skill!

Last year, it was all about the food. It was about gutting it out against all obstacles. I was practicing distress tolerance daily. It was a minute-by-minute guerrilla war against my binge eating disorder. It took all of my supports, all of my resources, all of my new, tentative, abecedarian coping mechanisms to survive.


Bandaged Hands
Bandaged Hands,” © Beth Scupham, Oct 2011. CC BY 2.0.

Without the white-knuckling, I am becoming aware of what lies beneath, behind, beyond my fixation on food, weight, body image, and control of all of the above. On Monday, I find myself at dinner with Brita. The Christmas lights on the storefronts set my eyes and heart aflutter. The brightly decorated windows glow with the spirit of the season. I am bursting with warmth and gladness at the sight of my friend. Two weeks is too long! There is too much news to share between us! The restaurant is quiet and dim and as we slide into our booth, and the room seems to wrap around us like a soft blanket. There are only a few other patrons, and the waitress is all ours. The analyses, the ruminations, the compulsions about what I am eating melt away. I don’t even care that th(e roasted vegetables I order turn out to be half potatoes. I tell myself that potatoes are nutritious in their own way, and eating extra starch on this one occasion will not do me any consequential ill. When our desserts are served, I slowly nibble away at the entire slice of chocolate cheesecake. I’m way too full, and I know that I ate right through my satiety cues, but it’s OK, because it isn’t about the food at all. It’s about being with Brita tonight, in this place, in this moment in time. Even after we part ways, I am not shaming myself or berating myself, I’m not assessing how I need to act differently the next time. I just assume that I will do better, and I continue to relish the dancing embers in my chest where the cavern of echoes reverberated just a short time ago. I sleep as if in a cocoon of clouds and don’t wake until the next morning. When I do, I smile and think, “It isn’t about the food at all.”

Happy,” © Pete Georgiev, Apr 2009. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.



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