Today I drank coffee for three hours, started writing this post, said to myself out loud, "What the fuck are you doing?" and got up to make myself some belated breakfast. Because seriously, if I am able to identify that this is a problematic behavior, this thing of putting off eating as long as possible, if I am sitting down to write about it, what exactly is my excuse for not doing something about it? There isn't any. "You're a smart girl," I said to myself (still out loud: living by oneself is great) while heating up the cast-iron skillet. "Why are you acting like such a dumbshit?"
But the thing is that it's hard. For several days I have had the alarm bells going, the bells of you're eating too much, you weren't even all the way hungry for that, why are you drinking cocktails instead of whiskey-and-diet, couldn't you at least eat protein instead of carbs, do you even know how many calories are in that. And it's so tempting to say, the cure for this anxiety is eating less. The cure for this is to get it right.
I hate this. I hate having to push against those anxiety alarms. I hate eating and not knowing if it's okay or allowed or within bounds. Sometimes I feed myself and I get a rush of joy, and I feel like I'm serving well the little girl whose picture I keep on top of my refrigerator, the little girl with my curly hair and my rosy cheeks playing in the grass, and other times I get this, this constant swamp of anxiety. Was it too much? Am I going to gain weight? I hate inching out on this stupid fucking limb, still at some level convinced it's going to snap at some point but not knowing when.
What a diet does more than anything, more than forbidding even, I think, is provide authorization. If you're eating within the bounds of the diet, you're okay. It alleviates the constant baseline thrum of anxiety engendered by being a woman and having to feed oneself, amplified significantly by being fat and by a lifetime of dieting.
At this point, I have a secure intellectual conviction that recovering from that lifetime of chronic dieting is the only way forward. It's the only way. Nearly a year ago now, I read an article on Paleo For Women (trigger warning: that post isn't full-on HAES) and had a violent emotional reaction to it. I realized that even though I've been "in recovery" for years now, I've never stopped identifying the problem as overeating, because to me, weight loss and thus restriction has always seemed like the goal. And what that meant was that I'd never really stopped being on a diet. I'd never really stopped thinking of a day of eating as a thing to be controlled, a thing to be careful about, a thing that should exist within certain rules and boundaries. If it's inside them, it's good. If it's outside them, it's bad.
Here's some of what I wrote in my journal that day:
It's time to let it go. It doesn't work. It doesn't work. It doesn't work. You have suffered. For a lot of years. Years and years. Most of your years. But you have so many years left—are you going to diet through your whole life? Let me remind you: it does not work.
What do I want? A true recovery. Yes, I want to be smaller. I do. (Which is not to say that being smaller will solve the things that I still, at some level, think it will. But I do think it's important to allow the truth of that statement. One reason the diet mentality has such a hold on me is that I'd like to be smaller.) But I know, for true, in my brain and sometimes also in my heart, that a true recovery is more important. That it will make me happier. Because the alternative is more of the same. More white-knuckling, more platitudes, more fear. I can give it up, or I can be thirty-five, forty, forty-five, and still afraid. I can give it up, or I can end up my father, cutting sliver after sliver off a brownie at age seventy-seven, making each sliver as thin as possible, promising himself each sliver will be his last. And (the carrot after the stick) I know about that disordered diet cycle and what it does (make you sad and crazy) and what it does not do (make you thin), so the options sort of look like this:
- Sad and crazy (at least in this specific way, but this way bleeds out into other parts of one's life) and weight-cycling and almost certainly still fat, though with the palliative of believing you will be thin if only you can get it right.
- Not sad or crazy (at least not in this specific way), not weight-cycling, quite possibly but not necessarily still fat, though without the promise of future bodily perfectability.
Option #2 is not a diet panacea option. It sacrifices the great white hope, the fantasy of being thin. But I think it's a better option. Hence, breakfast.