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I’m hungry

By December 2, 2009How To, Myth or Reality

hotLike so many of my sisters (the majority of whom happen interestingly to be white and middle/upper middle class), I have, in my life, suffered from eating disorders. Yes, ‘disorderS’, plural – bulimia, anorexia, compulsive exercising, distorted body image and on and on.

Why? Why, oh why, would a healthy looking, seeming to have-it-all-going-for-her kind of girl harm herself in this way?

  • Control. If I can’t control school, work, family, lover, world peace, death – then I’m going to control what I put in my mouth. God dammit.
  • Protection. If I starve myself or make myself throw up, the pain will be greater than anything else coming my way. If I eat myself into oblivion (or at least a few dress sizes up), no pain will be able to get through these armor-like layers of fat.
  • Fear of Death. Really. Food keeps us alive. So if we eat, we won’t die. But, we won’t be able to fit through doors either. But really, at the end of the day, fear of death is at the bottom of most of our insanity.
  • Substitution. If I can’t have love, I’ll eat chocolate. If I can’t have the perfect job, I’ll eat french fries. If I can’t live forever, I’ll eat ice cream.
  • Society. For girls, life is a big, fat (pun intended) Catch-22. Basically, we’re f*cked. We’re told, in no uncertain terms by the majority of our cultural doctrines – both spoken and unspoken, that we should:
    • Be uber-mothers and uber-career mavens
    • Be strong & powerful and pretty & feminine
    • Be sizzling sirens that love sex and sweet virgins that can be introduced to Mom

…and as we try to make sense of this insanity, there is comfort in food – or, conversely, we punish ourselves with or without food for not being able to master the impossible.

  • Holes. And the need to fill them. When I was in college and first developed my knack for disordered eating – I had many holes. I missed home, I missed my friends, I missed being hot shit. So I ate to fill those holes – and then I panicked and threw it all up.
  • Malnourishment. No one can live on rice cakes, non-fat yogurt and grapefruit. You will be starving – literally. And then you’ll eat a jar of peanut butter. Trust me. One of the best things you can do is see a nutritionist and make sure that you are actually getting the nutrients and sustenance your body and mind need to function properly. Eating disorders are really not all just a head game. If you are nourished, you won’t obsess over food (or at least not nearly as much).
  • Satisfaction. If we aren’t satisfied in one place, we’ll try to satisfy in another. It’s really easy to eat to satisfaction as food is so gosh darn available. Not as easy to write, sing, high-jump, close deals, etc. to satisfaction.

So…why am I so hungry the last few days? As I wrote the above socio-political reasons down, I took my temperature on them all. And I came up with two main reasons for my hunger – one which I mentioned above, one that I didn’t.

  1. Protection. It can’t be denied. I’m in a phase of my life where I’m taking risks and being seen by a lot of people. It makes sense to me, absolutely, that I would have an insatiable desire every now and then to throw some padding on – as a way to buffer myself, to not be seen quite so rawly, to dissuade some of the eyes, to hide.
  2. Physiology and Nature. Ah, yes – I’m ovulating (TMI?). That’s bound to make any red-blooded girl hungry. And I’ve been running a lot requiring more calories to keep the engines running. And it’s winter and I’m of cold-weather European descent, so my body thinks it’s time to fatten up.

Great. Good to know. But, I wonder if there’s another way. I mean, could I protect myself by loving myself, by knowing that I kick ass no matter what? And can I embrace my physiology and nature – honoring them by answering their call?

Yep. By golly, I think I can. But after lunch.

Image credit: Toni_V

Join the discussion 10 Comments

  • Jason says:

    Well, just to get the other side of the coin, guys don’t ALWAYS get off easy. The “reverse bulimia” that is so pervasive in western society has caused the widespread use of steroids right down to high schools, and not even just the athletes. I’ve been a fitness fanatic since before watching Arnold win his last Mr. Olympia, but THAT was when I wanted to be BIG! I was gifted with the genetics, but I also spent enough time in the gym each week for it to qualify as a second job. I was 220 lbs when I was a private investigator and process server and it made my job easier in certain situations, but it soon qualified for the clinical definition of an obsession when it interfered with other aspects of my life. When I shoveled my car out of a six foot snow bank the morning after a blizzard, just so I would not miss a single workout, I knew it had gone a bit too far. We all have issues, and they speak volumes… just take your pick! Nice post, noodles, BTW.

  • Lorraine says:

    I’m sure you’ll get 100 comments on this. The issue is–still after all these years, sigh–so common to so many of us.

    I can’t add a thing to your eloquent bullets on women’s food-body image dichotomy. You describe it to torturous perfection.

    I’m angry that we–women–still live this double bind. While many middle aged women have managed to stop acting on disordered impulses, distorted thinking persists.

    On a related note: I think the same issues are at the root of the cosmetic surgery craze. Women are tasked to bear and raise children, work challenging jobs, support families–not always one and the same–and age without looking like we’ve aged.

    Hope you ate something yummy and nutritious that fueled your athlete’s body!

  • Great post, Julie! I somehow managed to avoid getting fully pulled into the eating disorder vortex, but I’ve come pretty close. And even though I can generally just eat what I want now because I exercise hard, I still head into that panicky place if I get out of energy balance and gain a few pounds…

    I’d love to think my 17-year-old daughter and the rest of her generation will be spared these irrational, self-esteem sapping internal conflicts, but sadly I doubt they will because the absurd external expectations show no sign of shifting.

  • Ed says:

    Wow, that was heavy. (No pun intended.) Eating disorders are so hard to understand. At the same time, they are so common. I’m sorry that you are still plagued by remnants of it. I’ll have to tell you some time about the first encounter I had with bulemia in my previous life. I read an article in today’s NY Times that indicated that good exercise is helpful when encountering emotional distress. Not a secret to you, probably. Sounds like it’s time for a long, hard run.
    Stay well. Thanks for the revealing post. As a guy, I’m sometimes oblivious to this issue.

  • Andi says:

    Been there, done that. The psychology of food is incredible and I think ever woman is a student of the science, some fail, some maintain a “C” average and some become the straight student by realizing early on that knowledge is power and just being aware in the first place can not always save you the pain, but it certainly can make things a lot better.

  • Van says:

    I love this post; I’ve read it 3 times. I know any woman with a pulse can relate to this bit of writing from the soul. Food and I dance the tortured tango every day. I desire it, I crave its warm embrace. Being a full time writer stuck in an office without scheduled gym time (yet) I have to be incredibly cautious about what I eat. It’s a daily struggle, calories add up so quickly. I’ve won a few battles, but I’ve never won the war.

    Also, to add to the stats at the beginning on your post: I’m a minority (Hispanic, so maybe quickly becoming a majority?) from lower class origins, and I’ve never had an eating disorder. Like Sir Mix A Lot sings, Red Beans and Rice didn’t miss me!

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