The Problem with Food

As I write this, I’m trying to sit through the very uncomfortable feeling of fullness that accompanies eating. Just trying to process the discomfort–which, in my case, is both physical and emotional–makes me realize that it’s not only been a while since I’ve tried to sit with these feelings, but it’s also been a while since I’ve blogged at all about my relationship with food, eating, and hunger.

Junk food copy

Image via Wikipedia

I wish I could say the silence was because I had nothing to say. Sadly, though, that’s not the case. What’s more accurate is that I’ve had a lot to say, I’ve just been avoiding having to say any of it. Moreover, in avoiding saying it, I’ve avoided dealing with it. I’ve been working to maintain a healthy, balanced diet over the past few months, but I haven’t really succeeded. Instead, I’ve struggled off an on with feeling like I’m not eating too much, and then feeling like I’ve eaten far too much. Most of the time lately, I think I’ve been in the latter category. And that, I think, brings us full circle to where things stand right now.

About an hour ago, I had a late lunch: a bowl of penne pasta with vodka sauce. Nat brought it home for me after being out for a little bit, correctly predicting that in his absence, I hadn’t eaten. I’d had some pretzels (and what I consider a surfeit of junk food–a bagel with cream cheese for breakfast, and a salted caramel blondie, the last of a package of four Nat brought home on Friday). I wasn’t particularly hungry when I ate the pasta, and now I feel almost sick to my stomach as a result of eating it. I felt obligated to, though. And therein lies the problem with food, especially when you’re recovering from an eating disorder.

Food, I think it’s safe to say, is widely viewed as a means of comfort; it’s the centerpiece of family meals, a way to show sympathy in difficult situations (just think of how common it is to cook a casserole for a neighbor when someone in their family passes away), and a method by which people care for someone who might not be able to do the care-taking themselves. But seeing it in that context doesn’t make it any easier for me to want to have anything to do with it. And in fact, all it really does is add a level of complexity to the act of eating that I really just don’t need in my life. When I’m presented with a package of blondies because I had a long day at work, I’m grateful for the emotion that spurred the purchase. I can also appreciate the motivation behind coming home with ready-made pasta and a huge slice of red velvet cake. But I have a very hard time when I then have to deal with the fact that I’m meant to do something with these gifts (specifically: eat them). At times like these, I can’t help but feel burdened by a sense of obligation, guilt, and expectation. If I don’t eat the food that’s presented, I’m not only rejecting a present that’s been offered, I’m also caving into my illness.

Perhaps the hardest part of all of it is how difficult it is to explain to someone who doesn’t have similar feelings about food the reasons why I’d prefer not to have to deal with edible gifts, especially given how appreciated and accepted they are by others. How do you tell someone you don’t want a plate of cupcakes or cookies on your birthday, or that you’d prefer meeting for coffee instead of going out to dinner? When you’re in the minority, it can be really hard to express to people that what they consider a warm, friendly gesture has the potential to come off as somewhat uncomfortable or thoughtless to you. Obviously I don’t want to come off as ungrateful or accusatory, but it can be tiring enough when normal interactions with food are stressful. When you add the dimension of social obligation or expectation, the entire thing just becomes a mess.

I can’t help but wonder if there is a way to get people to understand that although I appreciate the thought, I would prefer not to come home to find a slice of cake waiting for me. Or is it possible that as someone with admittedly disordered behaviors and thoughts about food, I should be responsible for adjusting in such a way that makes gifts like these more welcome? When (or if) I figure it out, you will all be the first to know.

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Happy Food

Although I can’t remember a time when I didn’t struggle with my feelings toward food in some way, my relationship with it has only really become antagonistic in the past couple years. It’s pretty rare these days that I have positive feelings toward food or meals, and equally rare that eating brings me any joy. That’s what makes it so remarkable to me that ever since receiving my order of groceries from FreshDirect earlier this week, I’ve been pretty excited about it.

I don’t want to jump the gun here in any way and claim that I’ve made some incredibly huge step forward and resolved my difficult food issues. But I do think it’s important to acknowledge this slight shift. I’ve spent a long time trying to avoid anything having to do with food, including its selection and preparation, and even though I’ve also put energy into working on why I’m avoiding those things I know I could be doing more.

If I don’t make an effort to actively address the various ways in which I try to deal with food as little as possible, it’s pretty likely that the habits I’ve developed will just settle in and make themselves at home. Obviously that’s not what I want. Instead, what I want is to get to a point where I feel comfortable enough with things to grocery shop on a regular basis without feeling completely overwhelmed by it; plan and prepare meals that taste good and are also good for me; and share food with other people without it becoming a big source of anxiety. I think one of the biggest components in determining how successful I am in making the changes that are needed here is going to be adjusting my attitude toward food, and eating in general.

As difficult as it is to admit it (and as strange as it may sound), eating sometimes feels like defeat to me. It’s like giving in, or showing weakness–I was unable to weather my hunger, and here’s the result. It’s obviously not a healthy way to think about my body’s needs, and that’s what I’m trying hardest to change. My goal is to work on adopting a new, more positive perspective, and see food as something that can help me to treat my body better, enjoy better health, and feel happier overall. As I move forward down this path, I have to constantly remind myself that the positive effects of healthy eating are far more appealing than the negative effects of under-eating, as well as the impact that under-eating has had on so many other aspects of my life. I’m convinced that my poor, inconsistent diet has a lot to do with my equally poor, inconsistent performance in running, and especially in my training for and running of marathons.

So I want to give myself credit for this baby step: appreciating and enjoying the food I have now, allowing it to be a source of positive feelings rather than guilt and anxiety. In acknowledging this, I think I’m setting myself up for more success down the line.

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Programming Note

I’m starting to feel like a broken record.  Once again, it’s Saturday.  And once again:

  • Emotionally, it has been a very difficult day for me.  Suffice it to say things are not feeling or looking rosy.
  • Physically, I am exhausted.  The week wasn’t particularly strenuous, but I barely managed to rouse myself from sleep this morning at 10.  I had woken up briefly at 8 and felt like I’d been drugged.  I think if I hadn’t forced myself up when I did, I would have slept for several more hours.
  • I have no idea why I’m as tired as I am.
  • I have felt extremely nauseous most of the day.
  • The fatigue and nausea wreak havoc on me.  The fatigue prevents me from doing basically anything because I feel so run down.  “Basically anything” includes running, so this week’s mileage remains dismally low (cue increased depression as a direct result).  The nausea takes away any semblance of appetite because the thought of any kind of food makes me feel more nauseous (cue increased fatigue as a direct result).

I’m sorry to be such a downer, but feeling this tired and depressed so often and with such regularity (and not being able to identify the cause of the fatigue) is really taking a toll on me in a variety of ways.  In an effort to give myself a bit of a break, I’m indefinitely postponing Body of Knowledge posts and taking Saturdays off from blogging.  It’s a small change but maybe it will help a little bit.  I might also end up deciding to take a couple other days of the week off as well.  I haven’t really decided yet.

Other than do that, try to get more sleep, and start taking a multi-vitamin just because it couldn’t hurt, I don’t know what else to do.  I’d like my life back–I don’t really think anyone really enjoys spending most of the weekend feeling so exhausted that a nap is non-negotiable, and given that I’m supposed to start training for a marathon and will need all the energy I can get, this is not really a welcome state to be in.

Body of Knowledge

This week has been strange in that it has gone by very slowly (I thought the weekend would never come!) and very quickly (it seems like just yesterday I was writing the last Body of Knowledge post) at the same time.  Maybe it’s because I am well and truly exhausted, or maybe it’s because the week has been so busy.  Regardless of the reason, here we are approaching the tail end of another Saturday.  And just like the Saturdays that have come before, I’ve got some knowledge to pass on.

Image via lovely package, design by David Fung

  • Sociological Images is a pretty incredible blog, and in any given week they do like 1,000,000 posts that I could link to, but I found this one on a new book entitled What I Eat to be compelling.  If you’re not already familiar with the site, I recommend spending some time there.
  • Bad news for everyone except men and thin women!
  • Dating from April and falling in the ‘new to me’ category, I found this post on the practice of douching interesting, especially in light of things like Dove trying to make us feel bad about our armpits.
  • Personally I prefer soy milk to cow’s milk.  But if I did drink more cow’s milk, I would also prefer that it not be genetically modified to this degree.
  • One of my favorite bloggers, Virginia Sole-Smith, is reporting on the hunger crisis.  Please take the time to read her article, and share it with others to increase awareness of this problem.  You can also find out more about how to help through Virginia’s blog.

Share your knowledge in the comments!


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Missing the Mark


Image by farlane via Flickr

I harbor no delusions about the size or popularity of my blog.  If anything, I may be slightly delusional in that I assume that it is only read by a small handful of people.  I don’t check blog stats, so I don’t really know.  But getting back to the point–since I tend to think of my blog as pretty small, I’m always surprised and very flattered when I get contacted by people asking me to review something or partner up with them in some way to help promote a project or initiative that’s related to the topics I post about.

I received one of these emails yesterday, but instead of being excited about it, I was disappointed from the second I read the subject line.  I’m not going to say what company sent the email, but I will say that it is a company I follow on Twitter, and that their primary interest could be called “quotidian fitness”.  Here’s the email, with only the identifying details redacted:

Subject:* Working with [redacted] and its New My Calorie Counter**


As a member of the [redacted] team, the #1 online health destination with 27 million monthly unique visitors (plus, a health nut, calorie watcher and exercise enthusiast, myself), I’ve been following your site, and have noticed you cover healthy lifestyle choices regularly in a fun, enticing way. We have had a lot of success partnering with sites like yours, and I’d like to send you a copy of the first ever [redacted] book (launching now) to review and share feedback with your fans.

On its own, the book guides your weight loss process, but when coupled with [redacted]’s My Calorie Counter online tools…and mobile apps, it is as though you have a concierge weight loss specialist at you [sic] beck and call any time of day or night, when cravings can be their most powerful***.

You have created a successful site**** (kudos!) and we can create a mutually beneficial relationship to provide relevant news, giveaways, and exclusive content moving forward. In addition, we have a “Low Calorie, High Taste Recipe Contest” starting now through June 20th on Facebook…and our message board…that we would love for you to participate in***** as well as share with your visitors–for the chance to win a healthy basket of snacks and gift cards worth $150.

If you need additional information on the book’s value, including interactive quizzes, success stories and other material, please don’t hesitate to ask. We’re happy to send you whatever you need and as many copies as of the book as necessary.

I know it’s not uncommon for bloggers to receive all sorts of spam press releases that don’t really have anything to do with the content of their blogs, and that as a result the releases can range from laughable to offensive.  The one I’ve reposted above included contact information, the job title (which seemed to be a pretty good title, the kind of title I would like to have in a company like this one, as a matter of fact), and the full name of the sender.  Although I don’t know for sure that it was actually sent by that person, the Outreach Director, the personal touches make it seem like a little more effort was put into this than your run-of-the-mill rapid-fire email blast approach.

Sadly, though, the email is overwhelmingly disappointing, and as a result of it, I don’t think I would pair with this company even if they did send me a more appropriate offer in the future.  Let’s review some of their biggest mistakes, which I’ve helpfully indicated in the passage above with asterisks.

*  That’s not the web address of my blog.  In fact, that hasn’t been the web address of my blog for months, and verifying that information would have been incredibly easy to do.

**I don’t count calories, and although I know it can be a technique that works for some people, it’s not a technique that has worked for me.  Moreover since I consider my blog to be a resource for ED recovery, I think that endorsing a book on calorie counting would be problematic, to say the very least.

***This entire paragraph bothers me.  First, I don’t write a weight loss blog.  Second, I am very open about being in ED recovery, which makes lumping my blog in with weight loss blogs pretty insensitive–not to mention the fact that it’s like a flashing neon sign that reads, “I’ve never actually read your blog!” (just in case that wasn’t already clear from the subject line).  Third, I don’t believe it’s healthy to promote the idea that cravings are a thing that need to be feared; instead, I think it’s important to recognize cravings, and, if you’re in a position to do so in a way that’s healthy, honor them.  Finally, if I were in a position where I wanted to lose weight, I would first consult a doctor or a dietitian.  Not a book and a website.

****A comment that is entirely invalid considering that you’ve clearly never visited my site.

*****Again, if you’d read any of my blog, you’d know that cooking, recipes, and food in general are very problematic and difficult topics for me.  Suggesting to me that I participate in a recipe contest strikes me, once again, as insensitive.

Overall, the email has a mixed message–“I commend you for your great blog that I follow and read regularly, but I know nothing about you or your blog and want to offer you an opportunity that is completely unsuited to what your goal is as a blogger!”–and it’s a message that really makes me lose faith in the company.  If their outreach director doesn’t feel that it’s necessary to do any research prior to contacting people about a potential partnership, then I have to assume that the company isn’t all that interested in responsible partnerships in general.  I mean, without my blog having been vetted beforehand, how could the company be sure that I even promote a message that is consistent with their concept of health?  For all they know, I could be writing a pro-ED blog.  On top of that, it makes me wonder about the quality of the information contained in the book itself–if this is the sort of attention to detail that is common across the company, I’m concerned for anyone who uses this book and the accompanying resources as their “concierge weight loss specialist.” 

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Embrace: Your Body

Maybe you read the title of this post and thought, “Isn’t the whole point of Embrace:Me to embrace the body you have?  Isn’t that title a little bit redundant?”  Yes and no.  Yes because the whole point of Embrace:Me is to embrace the body you have; no because tonight instead of talking about our physical bodies, I want to talk about our bodies’ needs and how we deal with those.

My struggles with food are well documented on this site and elsewhere and so it will probably come as no surprise when I say that I have a very hard time trusting my body’s hunger signals.  Today, for instance, I waited until I was exhausted, fuzzy-headed, dizzy, and experiencing pretty bad hunger pangs before having anything to eat.  I’d had breakfast, lunch, and two afternoon snacks, and even though dinner time was approaching, I felt like I shouldn’t be hungry.  So I chose not to eat.

A choice like that is ill-advised and careless for anyone; a choice like that for someone with a history of an eating disorder can be disastrous.  The problem is that even though my body is sending me very clear signals (“EAT SOMETHING”), the message gets wrapped up in all my anxieties about food.  By the time it registers, it’s more than a simple command to eat.  Instead, it’s an ED voice monologue: “You’re hungry, you should eat something.  But why are you hungry?  You’ve had two snacks already, you shouldn’t be hungry.  Don’t eat anything, you don’t need anything to eat.  You’re just being greedy, and eating something now will make you fat.  Besides, what would you eat anyway?  There’s nothing you could eat that would be healthy, you don’t have access to anything that you should be eating.  You don’t need any junk food, better to just keep on feeling hungry.  And don’t you feel in control?  Doesn’t that feel better than eating would feel?”  Nasty, tricksy voice.  Just in case you need reminding: that voice does not have your best interest in mind.

Things would be much simpler and much healthier if we could hear our bodies, and respond to what they need without our thoughts interfering.  This was a major topic of discussion this evening between me and my therapist, and during out session we established how I need to work on listening to my body, and accepting what it’s telling me.  One way of doing this is to break things down into their simplest components: “I’m hungry.  I need to eat dinner.”  Doing this eliminates the interference we get from all the shoulds, shouldn’ts, and what ifs that come into the picture once we start to over think things.  Once we manage to separate our body’s needs from our mind’s irrational (and sometimes rational) standards, we put ourselves in a better position to treat ourselves with the love and respect we deserve.

Accepting and embracing what our bodies are asking for isn’t just applicable when it comes to hunger, either.  There are all kinds of situations in which our thoughts conflict with what our bodies need or want: how often have you felt guilty about taking a day off from working out even though you were feeling really tired?  Next time some of these conflicting thoughts come up and make it difficult for you to pay attention to what your body is trying to tell you, try to quiet them.  Break down the message you are getting from your body, and see what you can do to respond.  The thoughts may not go away (especially not immediately), but over time they will get quieter, and embracing what your body is asking for will get easier.

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Sunday run-down: May 30-June 5

Très riches heures du Duc de Berry: Juin (June...

A depiction of June from a medieval book of hours. I love medieval manuscripts. Image via Wikipedia

So it’s June.  The year seems to be going by really quickly, and I feel like I’ve let a lot of it pass me by so far.  I’m actually a little bit–I don’t know the best word, distressed, maybe?–that we’re almost halfway through the year and in some ways, I don’t think I’ve come all that far.  Like many Sundays, today has been a rather difficult one, and I’m feeling frustrated with my running and my recovery.  Lately I’ve been feeling like I should be pushing myself a little bit harder, accomplishing more, and taking better care of myself, and I don’t know why those things have been so difficult for me or why they are such a source of tension and aggravation.  I have to keep reminding myself that I won’t get anywhere by beating myself up or failing to acknowledge the things I have accomplished.

Running-wise, this was a somewhat mediocre week.  I planned on doing a long run today of 8-10 miles, but I just felt so run-down that instead I succumbed to laziness and spent the day inside doing mostly nothing.  I did just finish a yoga practice, though, so at least I have that to check off the list.  Pretty soon I’ll start training for the Marine Corps Marathon, which is 21 weeks away, and I would probably do well to take it a bit easy until I get into training mode.  Part of this means accepting that running three times a week is fine and not a sign of failure.  Easier said than done, though!

Here’s a look at the week that was:

Monday: rest

Tuesday: Yoga, which I thought was incredibly hard.

Wednesday (National Running Day): 6.24 miles

Thursday: 2.1 miles

Friday: Yoga

Saturday: 5.05 miles and a few walk/run intervals with Nat.

Sunday: Yoga, a repeat of the same practice I did Tuesday.  Instead of finding it incredibly hard, though, this time around I thought it was great.

I haven’t put much effort into weekly goals for the past couple months, so my intention with this post is to return to that habit.  To that end, here are the things I want to accomplish this week: start a detox/cleanse (but not in the way you think!  this will just be an effort to cleanse some negative habits from my routine); go for a morning run; cook one meal; go for one run with a running group; exceed this week’s mileage; and do at least two yoga practices.

How was your week?

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