Saturday, July 16, 2011

Not There Yet

Recently, one of my clients told me that she thought she suffered heat stroke after returning from a vacation in a very hot part of the country. She said that she felt terrible and had no appetite for three days. Though she wanted to eat, she couldn't make herself do so. I had two reactions to this: I felt very bad for her that she was so sick for such a long time, and I envied her that she had no appetite for three days.

The latter response is one that I didn't think about, but several days later, as I walked in scorching heat and sweat ran down my brow and thoughts of heat stroke entered my mind, I rolled it around a bit more thoughtfully. My thought as I wondered if I had drunk enough water or been in the sun too long was not, "it'd be awful if I suffered heat stroke, too." I was thinking, "at least I wouldn't want to eat for several days." As soon as I reached the end of this line of thinking, I realized that my relationship with food, much improved as it is, is still not in a good place.

While I have very successfully divorced myself from the idea that some foods are "good" and some are "bad" and will eat whatever I want (though in controlled portions), it became clear that I still embrace the idea deep down that "eating is bad" and "not eating is good". When I was in junior high school, while sitting near one of the more popular girls, I heard her remark that she thought she might be catching a cold or the flu. She said that she hoped that she was because she wanted to lose some weight and that would expedite the process. At that time, I thought about the fact that getting sick never made me not want to eat. In fact, it only made me want to eat more and more unhealthy food.

Eating is a part of life. It's for pleasure. It's for sustenance. It's an experience that we should approach with joyous anticipation at the variety of experience and quality of nourishment that we are about to receive. It's a part of our celebrations of important events and a component of building rich memories. Instead of viewing the desire to eat in such a light, some part of me still sees having an appetite as an undesirable impulse.

Part of the reason I feel this way, I'm certain, is all of the censure I have received all of my life for wanting to eat. Fat people aren't supposed to eat at all. They should lose weight in order to gain the privilege others have to nourish themselves. If they must eat, they must only eat for nutrition and never for pleasure. For fat people, wanting to eat is "bad". Not wanting to eat is "good". Part of me, the conscious part, has no interest in being a "good fatty", but obviously some unconscious part of me still subscribes to the idea that I shouldn't want to eat.

Not all of these feelings are inspired by direct societal messages about being a "bad fatty". Some of it is also the result of a life spent fighting urges to eat things that made me heavier and failing to resist those urges. The battle fatigue I sometimes feel at not acting on hunger immediately quite naturally inspires a sense that it'll all be a hell of a lot easier if I had less of an appetite.

Frankly, I do have less of an appetite now than before, but I still feel like eating more than I do most of the time (and definitely more often than I do). The bottom line is that I think I would eat nearly all of the time some days if I didn't resist my urges. And I know that doing so would result in an ever upward spiral of eating more until I started to put weight back on again. The appetite can contract through behavior modification and gradual reduction in portions, but it can so easily expand through similar increases.

Sometimes, I'd just like to dive into a pile of food and not come up for air until I'm ready to burst, and occasionally, I do that and regret it a little because I feel uncomfortably full. Fortunately, doing so rarely lands me at consuming more than 2500 calories in a day these days, so it's not a serious problem. However, I'd still rather not want to do it at all. I need to deal with the part of me that thinks being sick and not eating might be better than being well and eating. At this point in time, I'm at the recognition stage. From here, I have to work on healing my thinking in this regard so I can form an even better relationship psychologically with food.