Wednesday, June 20, 2012


For the past 2 weeks, I've been living in a suburb in California and in a situation which is vastly different from the cabin on the island I was on before. This makes the second big transition for me in about two and a half months. First, I left the Asian country I had been living in for over two decades and returned to the U.S. and stayed in an isolated rural area. Now, life has kicked up a notch and is more stimulating, but is also moving ahead.

It is the moving ahead part which has been daunting. I've been happy with the ability to walk around and see new places and things. The environment I'm in is closer to the one I was in for most of my adult life. That is, there are people around, places to see, and things to do. However, I'm also living in a huge house after living in two tiny spaces and have to face the steps that most people take for granted and view as normal.

It's hard to convey how complicated life in America feels to someone who hasn't encountered the changes that have happened. It's a little like stepping out of a time machine. Debit cards? Never used one. Driver's license? Haven't driven for about 24 years and it's long expired. Supermarket self-check-out? Never heard of it. Cell phone? Never owned one. All of these things require that I take a deep breath and go through the processes that others are completely accustomed to. In doing so, I feel stupid, naive, and disconnected from this reality. My sense of being an alien in my own culture is more profound here than it was in a bucolic setting, even though my satisfaction with suburban life is much higher.

All of the stress of adjustment has taken a toll on my eating. I have twice now done what I call "wobbling". That is, I eat more than I should for a period of time (a hard wobble), then I start to eat better about every other day (a less shaky wobble), and then I reach a point close to stability. When I was on the island, I wobbled hard for at least two weeks and was shaky for nearly another 3 weeks. It was only toward the end that I felt a return to normality. Here, I have also been wobbling pretty hard for about 10 days, and have started to regain my footing a little faster.

One of the things about this wobbling with my eating is that I never mistake it for the start of falling down. It is inevitable during difficult times and particularly with a complete loss of routine to wobble. I haven't panicked or felt that I'm a terrible person for this. I don't see myself as weak or a failure. I know I can recover and I will find my old equilibrium back. Even though I've gone through two intensely stressful changes and there is really no end in sight for the foreseeable future, I know this is temporary. I give myself the time to adjust and the luxury of not living everyday to my personal standards because I deserve it during this time.

A lot of people feel that it's "wrong" to "cut themselves some slack" during stressful or hard times. I should make it clear that this is not me letting myself go on some sort of eating free-for-all in which I gorge and make myself sick. I don't do that. Part of the benefit of using portion control and not denying myself any food is that there really is zero appeal to going on a all-out food binging marathon. I tend to serial graze too much at these times, though there are also out and out occasions in which I binge a small amount as conscious stress reduction. I know what I'm doing. It is like a cutter cutting herself. The relief is completely real, like a drowning person coming up for air. Even though the behavior is self-destructive, I can't deny that it is effective. It's something I have not yet extinguished, but I do less of and with less collateral damage than before. It's an ongoing process and getting worked up about it isn't going to help anything so I just try to do better the next day (and usually do).

The situation has mainly been my eating more than I need and not tolerating hunger for very long. It's the difference between buying a bar of chocolate and saying "I'll eat one square a day" and ending up eating two, or eating at night before bed rather than going to bed a little hungry. I may or may not be gaining a little weight from it, but I'm not overly concerned as I'm sure it'll stabilize and go back down again in the coming weeks. I think that attaching drama to stressful times and the subsequent changes in eating habits only makes it harder to recover.

Interestingly, people worry horribly if they overeat when stressed, but not when they don't eat enough when stressed. They know that, eventually, their appetite will return and they'll eat enough again. I know that, eventually, my appetite will abate and I'll eat "enough" again. Having confidence that normal will return is having already won most of the battle.