Dealing with the Demons

Published January 6, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

I was working on a building site for a few weeks.  It was awesome but exhausting.  The minute I hit the site each day, someone wanted my attention, something fixed, a problem solved, more information.  I would have three and four people waiting for me to be available to help them at times, people interrupting my train of thought, stopping me mid-task, dragging me off to something else so that the task that was at the front of my brain fluttered away from my attention like a half read newspaper on a windy day.  Tempers were short, folks were tired and stressed.

Don’t get me wrong, I was loving it.  I was learning so much every day, working with a new type of colleague, having to think on my feet and problem solve.  I was feeling challenged and stimulated.

But one cannot main that kind of intensity.  And things started to slip.  Firstly I was finding myself too tired to come home and follow my yoga DVD, a regular ritual of stretching my body and guiding myself into relaxation.  Then I wasn’t eating properly.  I grabbed a coffee as I rushed on to site.  I didn’t take breaks.  Lunch didn’t roll around until 2pm, 3pm.  I was too exhausted to cook at night.  And soon weekends disappeared into two days of sheer exhausted collapse, trying desperately to catch up on sleep and recharge enough for the next week.

Rationally I knew this wasn’t a good thing, but I kept telling myself “Just get the job done.  Just get everything over the line for the deadline, and then you’ll be able to go back to the routines and strategies you use to keep yourself strong and balanced, physically, emotionally and mentally.”

But my body, and my brain, didn’t want to let this happen.  It threw itself into disaster mode, because that’s what it thought was happening.

The critical moment came one day late in the job, a few days before deadline.  I realised at about 1.30pm I was really hungry and just wasn’t getting anything done.  So I slipped out to go and find a quiet spot to have lunch.  There was a nice little carvery cafe, so I ordered my lunch, a steak sandwich with the works (steak, lettuce, beetroot, onion, pineapple, tomato, cheese, bacon and egg with a few chips on the side) knowing that I hadn’t eaten anything of substance for a few days, and who knows when the next real meal was in this crazy schedule.

Just before they brought my food over, and I was just sitting there reading tweets on my phone when one of my colleagues spotted me and sat down with his lunch.  I didn’t mind at all, we didn’t talk much, just sat quietly and kind of did our own thing.

As my lunch arrived, another one of the guys I was working with on the project spotted us, and came and asked if he could join us.  The answer was “Of course!”   I really liked this guy, he’s great to work with and has a great sense of humour.  I was more than happy to have him join us for lunch.  He sat down and we talked about nothing much in particular, savouring a little time to not talk shop, just have a laugh and chat.

After about 10 minutes, it hit me.  I wasn’t eating my lunch.  I was pushing it about my plate, occasionally eating a chip, picking at the sandwich, just not actually eating the damn thing.  You have to remember, I was really hungry, and this was a damn good meal, tasty and with lots of variety.  I wanted to eat it, I really did.  But I couldn’t bring myself to either pick up a piece of the sandwich (it was cut into quarter triangles) or even use the cutlery provided and cut a piece off and bring it to my mouth.  It’s not that I didn’t want to, I just couldn’t.

I started to feel self conscious.  I started to lose thread of the conversation, because I was thinking “Why am I not eating this?  I want it.  Just pick it up and eat it.”  Soon the project colleague had clearly noticed that I wasn’t eating my lunch.  I could tell he was trying to be polite and not pay attention to the fact that I was pushing my now cold lunch about my plate, almost entirely there, except for a few small bites.  I tried to pick some of it up to eat it, but simply couldn’t bring myself to do it.  This went on for almost 45 minutes.  Eventually the guys said something about going off to the shops before they had to go back to work and left me.

And then I was faced with a stone cold lunch that was edible but not exactly tasty, feeling hungry, but more tellingly, feeling ashamed and embarrassed.

The real irony is that neither of the dudes I was sitting with would have given a fuck if I had picked up that sandwich and chowed on down.  In fact, they’d never have noticed… it was my NOT eating it that drew attention.

What the hell is wrong with me?  I’m 38 years old.  I’ve been doing this fat acceptance stuff for a couple of years now.  I’ve been in therapy for self esteem and eating disorder issues for 5 years.  Why does shit like this still happen?

Now that I’ve had a little time to think about it, I know why shit like this happens.  It happens because I am STILL in recovery from a lifelong eating disorder.  It happens because when I’m tired and stressed, the tiny voice inside my head that says that fat women shouldn’t be seen eating, that women should take dainty little bites, that a steak sandwich with a few chips on the side was “too big a meal” for me to be eating.

Because no matter how far down the fat acceptance road I get, I still hear what is said, I still see what is written, about women and food and fat.  No matter how hard I work on my self esteem, on recovering from that lifelong eating disorder, on learning to be an intuitive eater, I will always carry the old burdens with me through my life.

But that doesn’t mean I am a failure at fat acceptance.  It doesn’t mean that I’m permanently broken.  It doesn’t mean that my life will always be ruled by those factors.

It actually means that those things, the low self esteem, the lifelong eating disorder, the pressure on me as a fat woman, have merely been contributing factors to who I am today.   Those factors are the things that have led me to do what I do today.  The fact that they sometimes crop up again is a very handy reminder of why I am committed to fighting for the rights of fat people, in particular fat women.

Most importantly, they serve to remind me that I am not alone, because I can talk about them here and if I connect with just one of you, it’s worth it.

24 comments on “Dealing with the Demons

  • I’ve been doing FA with a lot of what I feel to be success for three years now. Yesterday, the cupboards were bare, and before remedying that, I decided to take myself for pancakes, because they are cheap and I love them. So I’m by myself in the diner booth, the waitress was friendly, the group of young men in the booth next to mine a little unnerving, but not because of anything they were doing, just because of past experiences of mine. The pancakes arrive, I spread the little pat of butter about, pour on some syrup, and out of the blue feel tremendously guilty for eating something so “fattening.” I seldom get that feeling anymore, and to feel it so acutely startled and shamed me. I made myself continue to eat, though I didn’t enjoy my meal much (and thus I broke my own cardinal rule of eating: only eat it if you’ll really enjoy it). Anyway, I was fine by dinner, but it just … well, I don’t know, it just seems similar to what you describe here. FA and related eating matters is hard, sometimes when you’re not expecting it to be.

    • I’ve had that happen too Sabrina. Even on my own, eating somewhere public when I’m hungry and really want a particular food, it has hit. Sometimes it just seems to sneak up on you.

  • I used to not eat in front of men I liked, but that was only because I was so damn nervous and had to focus to keep a good conversation going rather than focus on eating.

    Now, I’ll chow down on a steak or burger, and anyone in my precence will just have to wait til I’m done.

    I hope you can overcome your last bits of struggle.

    • It’s funny but the following day I had lunch with the man I like very much, and while I was still struggling with a few demons, and was more self conscious about my eating than I usually would be these days, I felt FAR more comfortable eating in his company than I had the day before with colleagues that I have no “feelings” for. With him I seemed to be able to get hold of the concept that if someone has a problem with my eating, then they’re not welcome in my life, but for some reason that ran away the previous day.

  • OMG hon, this happened to me during a summer program I help run. Three weeks of not eating…and I was in frakkin’ ITALY. I realized at the end of it that I’d had about three or four actual full solid meals the entire three weeks, despite having sat down to lunch and dinner every day for 21 days (so, 3 or 4 meals out of 42 possibilities).

    It was NOT GOOD. When I got back the ED monster was breathing down my neck again, telling me that I could “keep it up!” “finally get control back!” and so on. When, of course, it was the *lack* of control with which I flirted, not control (ED masquerades as control when it is really anxiety).

    But yeah, I was with colleagues who I wanted to respect me, and under so much stress it killed my appetite. A bad combination. I understand how this can happen. Hugs!

    • It sucks doesn’t it? But we’re not alone, and the more we talk about it, the more we can unpack what is going on in our heads and work through it. REALLY sucks that it happened to you in Italy!

  • I have a lot of issues around eating in public, too. So, I totally understand. Most of the time, everyone else ignores you, but all it takes is that one time where some asshat says something, or just gives you “the look” to ruin everything.

    I’m doing pretty good at fighting that shit back now, but there are still times when I just can’t eat in front of someone.

  • I have to comment because this whole fat acceptance thing is totally new to me. I stumbled upon a website yesterday and have been feverishly researching this amazing new concept. I have struggled most of my adult life with feelings of shame about eating. I don’t want to go to lunch with coworkers because I don’t want them to see me eat, yet I won’t go by myself either, because I’m ashamed to go to a restaurant by myself. Instead I bring my lunch and attempt to sneak back to my office after I heat it up in the microwave because I don’t want to be questioned about what I’m eating. There was an office contest recenty to promote losing weight, and although I didn’t participate, I cringed every time someone told me I should. I have people come offer me diets all the time, even fasting, etc. I realize should be healthier, although I weigh 240, I go to the gym 2-3 times a week. I just hate the shame. It’s torture to me. I just wanted to thank you for putting yourself out there so that people like me can rest assured there are others out there struggling with the same insane feelings of guilt about their size and the perception others have towards us.

    • Welcome to the Fatosphere Jill.

      I have seen those weight loss contests in my company too, and they’re fucked up.

      You are under no obligation to be healthier, there is no “should” be healthier. If you want to work on your health, for YOU, then that’s great. But as the fab quote I found on Tumblr says “You do not owe other people a thin, healthy version of yourself.”

      We are all here when you’re ready for us. Bloggers and activists and artists and all kinds of fabulous people. I’m so glad you stumbled upon Fat Acceptance.

  • I feel you here, I really really do. I stopped artificially restricting food over three years ago, but I still have a hard time eating in public. Most days I will walk home and eat the exact same lunch I would have packed instead of eating it in front of other people at work. I feel really lucky to have the privilege to do that, because I remember when I didn’t have the choice and had to choke down whatever I could manage in the office lunchroom.

    I dread office lunches, even when they’re to celebrate my own birthday. I dread holiday parties, and even dread social occasions with my own family. I just know that the moment I sit down with someone who might possibly be judging what and how much I am eating, I completely lose my appetite, and this happens whether or not they actually say anything about my food choices. And it doesn’t, of course, stop my stomach from growling or my blood sugar from crashing later on because I haven’t eaten enough.

    Intuitive eating can be really, really hard when you’re coming from a disordered eating background.

    • It is indeed Fantine. I really believe in the “one foot in front of the other” method of progress. Just keep swimming, as Dory would say.

      In my office, I have a food stalker, who monitors everything I eat, insists on “eating” her diet shakes and crap at the same time as I have my lunch, sitting directly opposite to me so that she can watch every morsel of food go into my mouth. It messes with my head, and she’s as disordered around food as anyone else. I have found a few little spots I can disappear to so that I can have some peace. A nearby cafe, some public seating away from my office, a quiet room on our floor. We just have to do what we have to do to take care of ourselves as best we can.

  • I’ve been struggling with old baggage lately too – not the same type, exactly, but because of similar tapes playing in my head.

    *hugs*

  • I still struggle eating publicly or with strangers. Visibly eating while fat takes courage. It’s okay to not want to do it sometimes, I know how it feels. And then you kick yourself for it. There’s no winning this one. Running my cafe even, I won’t eat in front of customers. I just won’t. It started for me in 9th grade. I couldn’t eat in front of guys I liked. I didn’t know why, just paralyzed by the thought I think. So many years of isolation didn’t help. Now I’m generally okay, but I still get that weirdness from time to time. I think it’s important to acknowledge it, try to figure out why that day/situation/etc did it, but in the end I try to move on and hope it won’t become an issue for me again. *hugs*

    • I have found unpacking why I think and feel the way I do has been the most useful tool in my bag of tricks for healing all the damage from my life. It’s the only way I can get myself back on track, out of that downward spiral, you know?

  • This is a great post. I love all the positivity there is in the Fat Acceptance community, having a space where (almost) everything said about fat bodies is positive is wonderful, empowering and very helpful. But it’s also comforting to know that everybody has to struggle some days, and you can struggle and *still* be positive and strong.

    Those factors are the things that have led me to do what I do today. The fact that they sometimes crop up again is a very handy reminder of why I am committed to fighting for the rights of fat people, in particular fat women.

    This really resonated with me today. Lately I’ve been feeling a little burned out when it comes to Fat Acceptance, I’ve had a lot of stuff going on and keeping myself healthy – mentally and physically – got pushed down the list of priorities, which of course leads to the same kind of thing you described. This post has actually been sitting in my browser for a few days waiting to be read, but now I’m glad I have read it because you’ve reminded me why it’s important. So thank you🙂

    • Thank you Sarah. It’s incredible to just jump online and see so many people saying “I know how that feels!” because it reminds me that I am not alone, and that by sharing what I feel, I can connect with awesome people all over the world who just GET IT.

      One foot in front of the other is very much my motto when it comes to dealing with the ED demons.

  • I’ve never suffered from an eating disorder or had too much trouble eating in public (although I did change my eating habits in front of colleagues for some years so I relate to the lunch-room anxiety thing). Recently I’ve had some concern-trolling from someone close to me. Suddenly, I was reluctant to eat in front of this person, even though I was hungry and they were eating too, and encouraging me to join them. This only really lasted for one day but it was awful, a really disempowering and upsetting experience. I think the messages we get from our culture every day about how we don’t deserve to nourish ourselves with good food are so difficult to shut out sometimes.

  • I just want you to know i’ve heard of you before but because I am still a newbie in the FA world, i’ve never had the opportunity to make a concentrated effort until now, of studying your work and I just want you to know I like what you have to say and how you say it. I also admire your ability to call things like you see it, it’s hard to say this on a public board, but you had called out a blogger that we both have followed, you were so right on in your comments, and I was at the point with that person’s work of feeling the same way you did, and the way you expressed yourself was awesome. I don’t believe in my case everyone around me has to be a Fat Activist and Size Acceptance advocate(I wish they would be but it’s unrealistic,in my situation, which is too bad, as everyone should be), but she can’t make up her mind whether she is in or out. The flip flopping was driving me nuts…

    • Welcome to the Fatosphere.

      You know, I really don’t care what people’s personal choices are, because I believe in body autonomy, but when they start pulling the judgement of others into what they’re doing, I believe that needs to be called out for what it is. Nobody has the right to police other people’s eating or any other choices.

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