I Am That Girl Now

Monday, June 06, 2005

On food, and eating

I've been mulling over one of Wendy's posts for a few days now. It really made my head explode at the time, and I had to chew through the thought process and manage to put it into my own terminology and... you know how they always say (or maybe this is just from being a teacher's child) that the best way to learn something down to its very bones is to turn around and try teaching it to someone else? Something like that. Rephrasing things and putting my own spin on them is my way of doing that, I think.

Wendy said:

...I finally saw what the craving was. It was like the moment in The Matr1x where Neo finally sees that what surrounds him is not walls and people, but just flowing binary code. I finally SAW it. I saw that for ME, these cravings were cravings for emotions, for confirmation of the reasons for my insecurity, for confirmation of my unworthiness, and they were for sedation from the negative feelings - so those feelings can continue to live on, undisturbed. See? I craved not the food but the self-loathing that follows. It's the self-loathing, not the food, that I took a pass on. This time anyway.

For me, it was a huge epiphany to see overeating as a form of self-mutilation. At least sometimes, I think it is, for me, anyway. And when you realize that what you're really trying to do is to harm yourself, your craving abates. You know?

I had to stop and gape at the genius of this. Because, see, I'd grasped a long time ago that the fastest trigger for a binge was feeling inadequate, judged and found wanting, a big ol' failure, and that in some way it always made me feel better. I mean, I knew I was self-medicating; I knew I was just muffling the emotions; I knew that I shouldn't do it and I tried not to, but when you have only one sure fix in your arsenal, you turn to it sooner or later.

What I never thought to ask was why it worked, and how. Which is where the genius of Wendy's epiphany comes in, because it answers both those questions that I'd never thought to ask. (It also goes a long way toward explaining self-mutilation, which I'd never been able to get my brain around.) It's not a cure, it's a sleight-of-hand. By indulging in behavior that's guaranteed to horrify us later, that, if anyone else saw it in action, would horrify others, I'm rationalizing my emotions. I'm fulfilling them. I'm giving them a reason to exist that I can handle, that I can accept.

Failure terrifies me, particularly when I've failed somebody else-- and I have an oversensitive trigger on this one, I know. I get this huge, nasty ball of guilt, shame, fear, and horror welling up inside me, something so overwhelming that I freeze up and freak out. It's an oversized reaction for ordinary circumstances, like swatting a fly with a tank; it's something huge and primal that pushes directly at my sense of self, and as such, turns into something that I must feel that I have to protect myself against feeling.

Thus, I do something "bad". The only things that are "bad" in this context are things that my dad has traditionally particular fury against-- overeating, overspending, and sneaking around and/or lying. (Which may be why I get the same evilly satisfied feeling for sneaking around and charging things on my credit card.) I do something "bad", in an extreme enough way that I deserve these feelings of horrifying inadequacy-- but for the binge, not for whatever came before it. The emotions are deflected onto something that I'm comfortable with feeling bad about. I'm horrified about overeating like that, of course, but it's not as threatening to my sense of self-- and underneath it all, there's that sneaky feeling of relief. Relief that I don't have to spend more time feeling bad about myself; relief that I don't have to deal with that issue.

Granted, once the pressure is off, I'm so distracted by the fact that I just ate half a roasted buffalo or whatever that I spend all my time trying to control the binging, not dealing with the emotions that triggered that particular response. Particularly clever of my neuroses, really; they don't have to fret about being poked at because they can send me off after the red herring of my stupid eating disorder.

It now occurs to me that the three months I spent face-down in someone else's candy bowl weren't just a way of dealing with stress, the whole thing was in fact designed by some desperate part of my psyche to be just as horrible and shameful as possible in order to distract from the brain-busting feelings of impending doom and impending failure-- that I would fuck up the project I was working on, a bigger one than I'd ever done before, with more riding on it and more people depending on me than ever before. I was terrified that I wouldn't be able to hack it, that I was going to screw up and completely fail and that everyone would hate me for it. It all worked out, eventually, but during those three months I was a wreck.

It occurs to me that this might be tied in with my reasons for staying fat, before-- that as long as I was fat, I had an easy excuse for being a failure in so many other parts of my life. As long as I was fat, it was okay that I couldn't handle the process of getting into grad school, it was okay that I had to ditch my original chosen profession and start over as a mere administrative assistant, it was okay that I was single and horribly shy around men, it was okay that I was a complete social dimwit, that I was horrible with money and spiralling into debt, that I was a doormat to my friends. It was all okay because I could either blame my weight for these things or use my weight as a nifty distraction from these things. Compensating for failure by engineering a bigger and more obvious failure: brilliant! Somehow it was more acceptable, in my mind, for me to "fail" with my weight than at those other things. I honestly don't know why that is.

Honestly, I could babble about this all day, but the moral of the story is this: I'm really hoping that changing the way I see those urges to binge, by seeing it as a useless sleight-of-hand for those emotions instead of a (however unsavory) solution, I'll be able to stop turning to the binge and instead start dealing with those actual emotions. Between that and (as mentioned before) the lovely structure that BFL is giving me... damn, I think I see a light at the end of this tunnel. It might work. It just might.


  • My God I feel like you just looked inside my head. How frightening to see it all laid out like that, yet still how enlightening. I understand where you are coming from, I see it in myself too. I wish you well working it out, it sounds to me like you are on your way. Good luck. :-)

    By Blogger Joc, at 11:35 PM  

  • Meg, I have known a couple people who self-mutilated, and did some research to find this behavior described as a coping mechanism for pain - creating a controllable pain as a management technique for uncontrollable pain. But it's one thing to understand this intellectually... and quite another to "get it" on a fundamental level.

    Which obviously you do.

    What else can I add? not much at the moment. You've expanded the concept out beautifully, but I'll be needing to spend more time on this, too. Because, even though it's big to "get it", that's just the first of many steps to changing the actual behavior.

    Thanks so much for expanding on this. For me, it's a big issue, so I think this will be very helpful. It's like free therapy! yay!

    By Blogger Wendy, at 9:53 AM  

  • is it is just me or are there a lot of fearsomely smart gals doing this blog thing? i too was gobsmacked by wendy's post and this compliments it so well. cheers to you both!

    By Anonymous dietgirl, at 10:00 AM  

  • Extraordinary post and a fantastic blog. You should think about putting all this stuff and selling it to people who just made goal in WW or are on WW.


    By Blogger Nikki, at 11:36 AM  

  • What an amazing post - and timely for me to read. I am finally getting to some of the last roots of my eating issues - this describes my feelings in a very articulate way.

    By Blogger neca, at 7:50 AM  

  • Unbelievable how a perfect stranger can pinpoint exactly my problem. It is freaking me out a little, in fact. On the other hand, it is so reassuring that others are doing and feeling the same things I am. You described me, and how I cope with thing, to a T. Thank you for opening my eyes a little more today.

    By Anonymous Beth, at 3:55 PM  

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