eating disorders

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Fixing the Relationship With Food

Published August 5, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

If you follow me on Twitter you’re probably already sick of me talking about my latest purchase.  Or should I say “investment”, because I’ve gone into hock to buy it!

I have bought a Thermomix.  If you haven’t seen or heard of Thermomix before, they’re a kind of multi-purpose kitchen device.  They’re so hard to explain without demonstration, because most people are pretty incredulous that they’ll do what they actually do.  Basicallly they do away with  most other kitchen appliances.  They chop, blend, process, mill, pulverise, stir, kneed, beat, whip, blend, crush, juice, mix and any other cutting/mixing method you can think of.  But that’s not all.  They also have a set of built in scales, are connected to an element so they cook through a kind of induction method as well.  But… they also have a steamer attachment that fits on the top, so you can steam food as well!

My friend Kerri bought one back in December and I’ve seen her go from someone who resented the space her kitchen took up in her house to a passionate and experimentally bold cook.  After watching her find a passion for cooking, I decided that it was time I jump in and invest in one of these wonder machines.

But I’m not here to sell you a Thermomix…

You see, I’ve always loved cooking.  I was taught by my Grandma from as soon as I could stand on one of her kitchen chairs.  But between my long history of a troubled relationship with food, thanks to a lifetime of dieting and disordered eating, and the fact that I have an incredibly busy life, with very little time to devote to cooking, I’d practically given up cooking altogether.  Which has always been something of a shame, because Grandma taught me to be a pretty good cook and I do find it enjoyable.

So what I’m hoping, by introducing the Thermomix into my kitchen, it will work with my time constraints (after all, risotto takes about 20 minutes to make in it!) and help me work through my food issues so that I reignite that love of cooking.

Food can be so fraught for we fatties.  Many of us have long histories of dieting and disordered behaviours around food, and even once we work on fixing that, it’s very hard to escape the blame and shame that is put on us.  Firstly general society likes to accuse us of being gluttons who “ate ourselves unhealthy”, and then when we are seen eating, we are shamed for it.  If we’re eating food that is considered “bad” we’re shamed for being junk food junkies and if we’re eating food that is deemed “healthy” or “good” we get told “You’ll need more than salad to fix you, fatty.” or even “Fat people shouldn’t be allowed to eat.”

Is it any wonder so many people have a fucked up relationship with food and eating?

As part of reclaiming my right to eat, and to enjoy eating and cooking, I’m going to start talking more about food, cooking and eating here on Fat Heffalump.  I’m hoping that those of you reading will find hit helpful too.

So to kick us off, tell me about your relationship with food.  What have been some of your experiences and issues with food as a fat person?  Have you been able to heal your relationship with food since finding Fat Acceptance?

*Please remember the comments policy and refrain from applying negative judgments towards food.  Fat Heffalump adheres to a “food has no moral value” policy.

When “You Look Great” Doesn’t Match How You Feel

Published June 26, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

“You’ve lost weight!  You look great!”

I’ve heard that quite a few times over the past week.  I’ve been conflicted as to what to say.  I don’t want to be rude (particularly if it’s someone at work), but I feel the need to respond with something other than positive/affirmative.  Because I haven’t looked great at all.  I’ve had shadows and bags underneath my eyes, I’m still coughing a lot of the time and I frequently turn green with nausea.

I haven’t looked great.  I have only looked thinner.

It has been two-fold.  First I was sick with a cold that turned into a chest infection.  It left me as weak as a kitten and with absolutely no energy.  I didn’t eat properly the whole week I was sick.  I was either too exhausted, too sore or when I did try to eat, it just made me cough more.  I’m lucky a friend dropped by with home made soup and rolls (and some other tasty noms for me to nibble at), or I probably wouldn’t have eaten anything solid all week.

Add to this that thanks to my recent diagnosis of T2 diabetes, I am back on Metformin again.  Diabex to be particular, though it doesn’t make much difference, all versions of Metformin make me sick.  Not to be indelicate, but they make me spend most of the day going back and forth to the toilet, with the occasional vomit in between.  At least for the first month or so taking it, and again when the dosage is changed.  I’m just settling down into my initial dosage now, and I know I have to adjust the dosage soon.

But I’ve lost some weight, so people say “You look great!”  Regardless of how I feel.

I have said many times before that this whole culture of thin supposedly equaling health actually has nothing to do with health and everything to do with appearance.  People see thin as “better” so they label it as “healthier”.

I have seen people who have weight loss surgery turn grey-skinned, lose their hair, have shadows and bags under their eyes, lose teeth, become physically frail and weak, their skin break out and develop chronic shaking.  Not to mention the things you can’t see – reflux, vomiting, bowel problems etc.  Yet they lose weight, so people say “You look great!”  When they are not well at all and their quality of life is far worse than it was when they were fat.  But we are so indoctrinated that thin = better, if anyone was to show genuine concern for how they feel physically, they become the enemy, the one who “doesn’t want me to be healthy.”

A few years ago, a friend of mine had cancer.  She had a hell of a fight on her hands and underwent huge doses of chemotherapy to try to beat it.  I remember at her lowest point, at the moment it was touch and go whether she would survive, people kept telling her she looked fabulous.  Simply because she’d gone from a fat lady to a thin lady.  Of course, she was dangerously ill and it was on the line as to whether or not she would survive.  But because she had lost weight, many people deemed that she “looked great”.

This happens a lot to fat people.  Even without any solicitation, all we have to do is look like we’ve lost even the tiniest amount of weight (even if it’s just clothing that makes us look this way) and people tell us we “look great”.  I remember in my deepest, darkest eating disorder days when I starved, purged and exercised myself down to my thinnest (which was a size 16-18 – I’m currently a size 26) and I was desperately unhappy because being thin didn’t fix my life at all, and I was physically sick from all the ways I was punishing my body, people told me that I looked great.  They told me I was awesome, fabulous and amazing.  Without ever once asking me how I felt.  Which was miserable and sick.

If that’s what I have to do to look great in the eyes of the world… no thanks.  I’d rather feel good, trust my body to show me what it needs, feed it as best I can and move it in ways that I enjoy, and stay fat than do that kind of damage to myself in the name of looking good.

It’s Easy… Just Starve

Published April 10, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

Last night I was reading blog posts through Google Reader, and somewhere in my reading travels, I read a commenter I think, relating something a thin colleague of hers had said to her. (I’m sorry I can’t find where I read it, if anyone knows let me know and I’ll link it up)  It went something like this:

My doctor says that it’s easy to lose weight, all you have to do is stop putting anything in here. *Pointing to mouth*

I can’t quite express how it made me feel.  It HURT at first.  Then it made me unspeakably angry, the red mist really formed before my eyes.  Then sadness, and some more hurt.  Followed by a big old mix of rage and pain and sorrow that all came flooding at once.

Because it’s not the first time I’ve heard the opinion that fat people should simply stop eating, AT ALL.  I’ve had it directed at me personally time and time again.  Let me share with you a couple of instances that stick in my mind.

More than a decade ago.  I was severely depressed, dieting (actually, pretty much starving myself) and generally just hating myself for being fat.  I was at the local shopping centre and I was so hungry, I was close to tears.  I hadn’t eaten all day, and I decided I could let myself have a small tub of fruit salad.  I bought the fruit salad, and was sitting on a bench eating it, when an elderly couple came by, pushing a shopping trolley.  The woman nudged her husband to look at me and said, loud enough for me to hear, “Look at that!  People like that should never be allowed to eat.”

I simply lowered my head, and cried.

About five years ago.  I was out on a date with the guy I was seeing at the time.  We were having dinner in a cafe.  I had improved a lot with my eating disorder by this time, but was still “watching what I ate”.  I am eating my dinner, a chicken and mushroom thing with a side salad and a pineapple juice.  He is eating his dinner, a burger with the works, large chips, a strawberry milkshake and a large serve of deep fried, crumbed calamari.  He is tall and very lean, I am average height and very fat.  Two women walk into the cafe, see us and as my date leans over, kisses me and helps himself to some of the food off MY plate, one woman says to the other “That’s disgusting, how can she just sit there eating in front of him?”

My date didn’t hear, but I did.  I fought back tears, and could not enjoy the rest of my date.

It happens all the time, not just the “stop eating” but everyone seems to be an expert on what fat people should do with their bodies, without any real knowledge at all about those people, their health, their bodies, their lives.  Everyone out there is an expert on fatness, you only have to take a look at the hashtag that has been busy on Twitter today #thingsfatpeoplearetold We suffer people telling us how to diet and exercise, as though we have never considered it in the past.  We suffer people commenting on what we are eating, how much (or how little) we are eating, how we are eating, when we are eating and why we are eating.  We suffer people making snap judgements on our bodies simply based on what they see before them, and their own fucked up assumptions about fat.

There is this fucked up thinking that if fat people simply stopped eating, ceased consuming any food at all, they would no longer be fat and the problem would be solved.  How we’re supposed to do that, when you know, humans need food to live, to survive, I don’t know.

I think the assumption is that fat people can just “live off their fat”, that if we stop eating, our bodies will just consume the fat on them and go along as per usual, without any negative consequence.  But it simply doesn’t work like that.  Ketosis for one, can be highly damaging to a body that is consuming it’s own fat, particularly to the liver.  Bodies that are not receiving nutrition can quickly become malnourished and begin to break down their own muscle and other vital materials rather than the fats stored.  It raises the risk of osteoporosis later in life.  And most of all, starvation makes people lose their ability to function generally throughout the day.  One cannot think straight, focus, remember etc when one is starving.

But all of this is considered acceptable by some, if it means you’re losing weight.

The thing is, weight loss is not guaranteed with starvation dieting.  In fact, I’m living proof that it simply doesn’t work, in fact, makes you fatter.  I starved myself, for long periods, on and off from when I was in my teens to when I was in my 30’s.  I rarely lost weight.  Sometimes I lost some, only to have it come back, even without going off the starvation diet.

Of course, it’s really not about health at all.  It’s about the sight of fat bodies being offensive to some people.  Because no matter how healthy you are, if you’re still fat… well then you are not doing it right.  You must get rid of your fatness, or at least hide it.  Cease to be fat, and if you can’t do that, cease to be.

But what really bothers me is not so much the epic wrongness of these assumptions, but the sheer injustice of being expected to live a life of deprivation, starvation and unhappiness, simply because my body is fat.  That to these people, I am never allowed to taste anything, to celebrate with food, to spend time with friends, colleagues and family over a meal, to experience the world through it’s cuisine, to enjoy food and eating, and most importantly, I am not allowed to make my own choices when it comes to food and eating.

I get angry that there are people who believe that my fatness negates my human right to live my life as I choose to do so.  There are those who believe that simply because my body is fat, that they, or society, or someone, needs to intervene in my life to direct me in how to take care of myself.

Well fuck that shit.  We are grown adults.  We are not stupid, or lazy, or somehow morally corrupted by our fatness.  We are capable of making our own choices when it comes to food and eating, particularly if you let us do so without ramming diets, or general fat loathing in our faces.  When removed from all the hateful messages society shoves on us about food and fatness, we can even become competent eaters.

If you are concerned about fat people eating, then don’t be, because it’s none of your concern.  Be concerned about your own eating.  We don’t need you to be concerned about ours.  I promise you, if fat people are left alone to eat as they wish to, without your concern, they won’t eat everything and leave you nothing.  The world won’t end.  You won’t miss out on that delicious thing that you are craving.  The economy of the planet is not going to collapse.  Children won’t suddenly drop dead from heart attacks.  You’re not going to see human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria.

What will happen is that grown adults, regardless of their body size, will make up their own mind about food and eating, and that will be ok.

Psst… Wanna Talk about Food?

Published February 10, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

So I have this piece up on Adios Barbie today.  A post I was asked to write after commenting on the piece about Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) a couple of months ago.  I would have had it written back then but between major work projects, disaster-zone flooding and various other life events, it took me far longer to write than I normally would.   Every time I picked it up to work on it again, it would bring me back to thinking about food and how we as a culture treat it, perceive it, moralise it and fear it.

Plus I’ve been home on annual leave from work for the past two and a half weeks, so I’ve had a whole lot more time to prepare, cook and eat food than I normally would have.  It gives me a lot of space to think about this stuff.

My eating habits are radically different when I have all this spare time.  I have the time and energy to shop, to prepare and cook food, and to sit down and eat it.  And when I have this time, my relationship with food is far better.  I’m not feeling guilty or shameful about eating at all.  I’m enjoying planning each dish, of writing shopping lists for the things I need to make something, and I’m eating pretty much exactly what I want at any given time, and eating the exact amount I want.

But the reality is, this is a vast luxury for me.  Even with the fact that I have a good wage and can afford pretty much any foodstuffs I want, which is a huge privilege to have, I only have that because I spend huge swathes of my life working.  When I’m working, I just don’t have the time to prepare and cook or even shop for the foods that I’m enjoying just now.

And I’m one of the lucky ones.

There’s also a vast kind of snobbery to being able to buy, cook and prepare foods.    Where once the work of feeding people was passed off to servants as “housework” by the privileged few, now it’s seen as incredibly chic to source your food locally from organic growers, choose it yourself, and take it home and prepare it in your expensive kitchen.  Time has more value than it has ever had, simply because it is becoming a more rare commodity.  And of course, that means those who have it, look down on those who don’t.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the way food is demonised.  No matter what the food, at some point, somewhere, there’s someone talking about it as if it’s the stuff of evil.  Carbs are bad for you.  Sugar is poison.  Fat is going to kill you.  Fruit and vegetables are covered in pesticides.  Meat is clogging your arteries.  Milk and it’s derivatives aren’t supposed to be eaten after we are weaned.  Processed food is all chemicals.  Fast food has “zero nutrition”.  X food is “not what it used to be”.  Blah blah blah blah blah.

But what it usually boils down to, is the belief that “food makes you fat”.

I had a bit of a rail on Facebook the other week at a cultural phenomenon of young women who moralise food as something that they have to earn, something that they’ve been “good” for avoiding, but will brag about how much alcohol they have consumed.  It seems to me to be a mighty double standard.  Is alcohol not a foodstuff of kind?  Does it not get consumed and digested like any other foodstuff?  How is consuming alcohol different to consuming any other beverage, particularly one equally loaded with sugar?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting there is anything wrong with adults drinking alcohol (note: I currently don’t drink alcohol, but that may or may not change in the future), just that there is something wrong with a culture that allows women to “drink like a man” but not eat like one.

That was certainly my attitude for a lot of years in my youth.  I used to be a BIG drinker.  Not only did I drink a lot, but I seemed to be able to do so without most of the effects it had on my friends, both male and female.  Oh yeah, I’d be drunk, I’d slur and stagger, but I was still standing after a bottle and a half of Jim Beam or Absolut, when my friends had passed out long ago.  I would party because it would be an amazing escape from the real world.  And it was the one thing I could do well.  My friends and people around me celebrated the amount I could drink, cheered me on and were impressed.

But at the time, I was also starving myself of all other food.  Or purging what I did have.  It’s strange, but during one of my lowest weight periods, I was drinking far more than any other point in my life.  Nowdays with hindsight I know that I was really ill at the time and the weight loss was a symptom of this illness, not my “virtuousness” in dieting and purging.  Adding alcohol to restricting/purging made me sicker, and the sickness made me thinner.  When I got well again, and stopped drinking so much, my body put back on the weight it had lost, despite me still restricting and purging.  Friends, family and people around me celebrated my starvation and purging kicks as much as they celebrated my drinking.  “Aren’t you amazing for having the willpower to diet?  Well done you!”

Remember breatharians?  I remember seeing them on TV and just admiring them so much for not needing to eat.  I’d think “If only I had MORE willpower, and could be like them.  Then I’d REALLY lose the weight.”  What the??

Why did I have it in my head that it was ok to consume alcohol at huge quantities, but loathed myself every time I consumed anything else, even tiny amounts?  Where?  From the very culture around me.  From the people who congratulated me on losing weight (whether they knew of my disordered behaviours or not) to those who cheered me on as I drank.  From the magazines I read, the television shows I watched, the movies I saw.  Even in something like Sex and The City, which was supposed to be empowering to young women, had the characters getting stuck into cocktails but demonising food.

The reality is, every single human being requires food.  All food has nutritional value.  And as Michelle the Fat Nutritionist says in her paper on How to Eat (In Front of People)*:

“People have as much right to judge what you eat as they do to judge how much you pee, how much water you drink, or how often you breathe.”

So how is your relationship with food? What bothers you about our cultural attitude to food?  What are your challenges to eating in a way that you would like to?

Let’s talk about food folks!  Radical huh?  After all, it’s more socially acceptable to talk about sex these days than it is to talk about food and eating.

*which you can obtain by signing up to her mailing list.

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.