This morning I stepped on my bathroom scale. The readout didn’t come as a shock: 133.4 lbs. I’d gained more than ten over the holidays. That’s more than most folks do, but let’s face it. When you compulsively gorm holiday cookies, pound down pound cake and fresh cinnamon buns with sour cream icing with abandon, what the hell do you expect is going to happen?
My norm, the level I like to maintain, is between about 118 and 125. I’ve been there since 1987, when I dropped from 205, which was a mild victory. I’ve been able to maintain for thirty-one years, because I made fundamental lifestyle changes.
This, given that I dealt with eating disorders for four long, awful, endless decades. For most of us who have been weight-obsessed for most of our lives, gaining ten pounds-hell, gaining ten ounces- is an outright disaster.
I could care less. Because, look, even at 66, when lots of folks either give up or say it’s much, much harder to drop pounds, that extra ten will slough off like snow on a rainy day.
- I know how to eat for my body type and my exercise level
- I no longer let my weight dictate the quality of my life
I turned myself into an athlete by redirecting my habit energies — no small feat, mind you. I still have compulsive behaviors, but they aren’t killing me off. I write compulsively, and I exercise a lot, but I also eat a LOT. So that I can write, adventure, and live out loud.
There is a Medium.com woman in her twenties whose work I read every so often. It’s like watching a slow suicide. Her work explores the visuals and outright awfulness of someone in the grips of bulimia, almost raising this deadly disease to the level of art form.
Here’s my problem with that. Having walked that road, having battled different versions of the emotional diseases around eating, there is a real and present danger of getting reinforcement (in the form of claps, if you will) for your wallowing in self pity, destructive behaviors and devastating your body. You and I will, in this age of social media, do what gets us attention. For those of us afflicted with these diseases, if we get more reinforcement for discussing what is eating us (rather than what we’re eating, if you will) then where is the value in getting healthy?
This is particularly true of younger people. Eating disorders are equal opportunity offenders and killers. They have nothing to do with our need for food and everything to do with the need to release emotions. It makes no difference whether you wash your hands repeatedly or avoid sidewalk cracks. We have a habit energy that must be expressed, usually because of emotions that we have repressed. Anger- at our bodies, ourselves- devolves into depression, and we take it out in some form. I had been raped, and my anger about my helplessness became body dysmorphia. It was, of course, my fault for being young, female, pretty, and in the Army. Shit happens, man.
In the all-out desire to lose weight at all costs to ride horses during the Depression, young men took this to such extremes that their efforts are still legendary. In the superb book Seabiscuit, author Laura Hillenbrand describes how jockeys would steam in Turkish baths, guzzle Epsom salts mixed with jalap (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jalap), vomit all day, don a rubber suit over multiple layers of clothing, then run repeatedly around the racetrack, usually in heat well over 100 degrees. Thousands developed fatal lung diseases, severe arthritis, lost all their teeth. They were desperate to make race weight because their ability to earn a few bucks depended on it. At least it was somewhat understandable, because without making weight they would starve. Which they did anyway, some of them limiting their food intake to two leaves of iceberg lettuce, set on a sill to dry out, water being enemy #1.
Some would take a capsule containing the egg of a tapeworm. That tapeworm would attach to the intestinal wall and suck the nutrients right out of him. The pounds would melt away. When he became too malnourished, he’d head to a local hospital to get the worm removed. Once recovered, he’d take another pill. This method was also popular in Hollywood.
These people died, committed suicide, and ended up with bodies so severely twisted they couldn’t stand up.
In a stunning and awful poke at celebrity fascination with the lollipop look, artists airbrushed a number of women to show us what this disease would do to those we obsess about: https://www.boredpanda.com/anorexic-celebrities-contest/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=organic&utm_campaign=organic.
We’ve seen those women on the red carpet. They make me ill. I used to look like that.
Let’s be clear here. This is what we are doing to ourselves. When the writer in question describes heading to the toilet to purge twice each night, this is where she’s headed. I am supremely fortunate that I didn’t lose a lot more than my teeth. That said, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if over time I find various illnesses show up that I put in place because of those abuses. However, I eat like the proverbial racehorse (not the jockey, thank you), supplement and work out like a banshee to prevent that. But four decades?
I’d be a fool not to expect some repercussions. I wouldn’t wish my journey on anyone else.
This young woman writes about what she has found in the outer awful edges of the Web which featured a dead girl, her body swelling and mottled, curved over a toilet. Here’s what bothers me most: the way she wrote about it was almost reverential. It struck me that as she stares into that abyss- and believe me I did plenty of times- the images that she can find on line and the sickening addiction to celebrating weight loss at all costs only underscore her problem. If we get likes and applause for being sick, being addicted, someone please help me understand, what’s the point in getting well?
It makes me think about those who stand below a distraught man on the edge of a building yelling JUMP JUMP JUMP.
Too many do.
This young woman isn’t the only one who pens her deadly fascinating with her eating disorder. I feel for her. I spent vastly too much time considering the curves of a million million toilet bowls up front and personal. She has my empathy. But not my pity. Therein lies the difference.
But by the same token, if she continues to feed the sickness with images of dead girls over toilets, and receive reinforcement from others who are seeking to swim in the communal pity party of this deadly illness, then the chances of her recovery continue to diminish. Too many of us confuse pity with love. As a result we do damage to ourselves, victimize ourselves in the hopeless attempt to attract an emotion that has nothing to do with celebrating who we are, but only serves to help push us right over the edge into oblivion.
JUMP JUMP JUMP.
I’m heading downstairs to jump on my stationary bike. Then I’m going to jump in my car, head to the local grocery store and stock up on yummy fresh food, veggies, fruit, eggs, yogurt. And feast. In a few weeks, the slight muffin top will disappear. I don’t care how long it takes. What I have around my tummy- however long it hangs out there- doesn’t determine my value to the world at large. And I most certainly don’t add value to the world focusing incessantly on my fat, my cellulite, or whatever my physical form is dealing with today. While I understand our fascination with same, it is only a body. It wrinkles, deteriorates and dies, because it must. How we treat it in the interim, and for me this was one hell of a hard-won lesson, is a statement of how well we are emotionally. I had to learn to redirect my habit energy, and did, but not without a lot of hard work. And, by surrounding myself with people who wanted to see me well rather than listen to me wallow.
That allowed me to focus my attention where it belongs: finding a way to be of service, not focus incessantly on my scale.
I don’t deny this woman her journey. I decry those who like her pieces which invite pity, which to me is tantamount to yelling JUMP. In every way I want her to find her way to joy.
Not everyone makes it. But I am sickened by a society which elevates the altar of self-immolation (by disease, by self-loathing, by eating disorder, alcohol, name your poison) to an art form. There is no art to be found in rotting over a toilet bowl, your life ended before you even knew what good you could do in the world.
The good news is that are other ways to enlist support on social media, which lead in very different directions.
By contrast, this young British woman found a way to use social media to recover:
She Instagrammed her food for the Internet, which meant that she had to eat it. She still has compulsions, because please, the energy never goes away. She simply redirected it. So yah she has a little muffin top. But damn, look at that smile and her energy. She invited people to support her, not pity her.
If we insist on sharing our struggles on the Internet, and that’s who we are these days, I might simply posit that we can choose to live- and be celebrated for choosing life- and in that journey we uplift and motivate others.
Or we can drag others down the toilet with us, literally and figuratively. One journey earns us love, respect, and support for life. The other, well.
I’m hungry. Let’s go get breakfast.