Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Dayenu

Tonight is the second night of Passover. I'm not particularly religious, but as I get older (and think/fear memories of observing the holidays have receded), I keep discovering new and strange ways the culture of the religion has lodged itself in my brain. (Maybe it's because so much of the religion for me is tied up with my mother and my grandmother, the keepers of it in our family.)

Sadly, I didn't make it to a seder this year, so a bit of Hebrew here and the charoses I plan to foist on a pair of extremely good-natured friends this weekend will have to suffice. (What's charoses? It's a fruit, nut and wine mixture/paste that's meant to recall the mortar the Israelites slapped on bricks when they were enslaved in ancient Egypt)

Last week – which included the three-month anniversary of my leaving BN2 -- I was remembering the Passovers of yore with my favourite uncle at the head of the seder table (my father generally refused), when I half-sang, half-chanted (I've been indecisive since, like, birth) Ma Nishtana, or the Four Questions. The literal translation of Ma Nishtana: What has changed?

Well, where do I start? Since last Passover – and since December, when I left BN2 – everything. I remembered the fights with BN2 on Jewish holidays past -- his criticism of the way I explained things (or didn't), his disgust with my indecision about how much I wanted to observe (he wasn't Jewish, so I'm not sure why this mattered), his irritation and the fights that would ensue if I wanted to do anything for the holidays that didn't include him. Last week I wrote my sister a thank you e-mail that basically read: I can't believe how much my life has changed. I am grateful for what you said to me every single day. I hope you'll keep this in mind the next time you struggle to say something you think is going to be hard for the other person to hear.

Enough about BN2 – onto the binge eating.

On Sunday – less than 36 hours post-binge – I ended up at the 10K race I'd planned to run extra early, thanks to my Blackberry (which as I use as an alarm) being smarter than I gave it credit for. I'd set the time an hour ahead for daylight savings, but then magically overnight it leaped another hour itself. Ooops.

Anyway, I arrived at the race over an hour early, freezing cold, exhausted (I'd had less than five hours' sleep), and feeling hugely heavy and fat. I dawdled in the bathroom, hoping to eke out some warmth from the hand dryer. Then I recognized a girl washing her hands in the bathroom as one whose blog I read. I got over my stalker freak fears and said hello, and she turned out to be as lovely in person as she is through her words – and the chat and connection made me feel instantly lighter and happier. As we say on Passover, dayenu, or "It should have been enough." (Dayenu is a song about the 15 gifts God bestowed on the Jews – taking them out of slavery, giving them the Torah, etc – and how just one of them would have been enough. In my family we only did the parts of the seder that involved eating, but we did sing this particular song. My sister, whose name has nothing to do with Dayenu but still happens to sound quite a lot like it, absolutely hated the song. Therefore, of course, I loved it and sang extra-loudly.)

Twice in the past two weeks, I've written to people asking me for help with binge eating extolling the virtues of cognitive behavioural therapy, which I had to help with my own eating problems. The second time I wrote the words I got out some of my old worksheets and realized I'd been slipping back into old patterns of thinking, like disqualifying positives and catastrophizing. I remembered that I don't have to interpret tiny negatives (overeating, or even a binge) as signs from the universe of impending disaster. They aren't signs. They are events I can make in my mind as big or small as I like, portending all sorts of horrible or fabulous things. Kind of like parsing a text message from a guy you like. You can read all the hidden meaning you want and call 14 friends to analyze it, but in the end it is all of 25 words and unless they were written in a sober state and include the words "I love you" or "I never want to speak to you again" – well, in the end, it's just a text message. A binge is just a binge. It does not mean I am doomed to weigh in the 230s or 240s again. Dayenu.

I'm still up six pounds but I'm feeling a bit better, day by day. I know from past experience that it takes about three to four days for what I'm calling the binge haze to pass – for the veil of despair, exhaustion, and general (for lack of a better word) weightiness to lift completely. I binged Friday. That hopefully means – to quote one of my childhood favourite gingers – the sun will come out tomorrow. (Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there'll be sunnnnn....) Dayenu.

And on two separate occasions today I got (food and weight) reality checks from two separate friends, one of whom e-mailed that she knew I'd been struggling with the food "but you really do stick at it, don't you, and learn learn learn." She's right, I thought. I am anxious that I may fail, sure, but I haven't quit, and I don't plan on quitting. And that is something to celebrate. Dayenu.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

W(h)ine and T and the NJB

I thought about just not posting for a while. About waiting a few days until I had something else to say, and maybe, just maybe, better news to report.

But that's like avoiding putting on jeans because you know they'll be too tight – or maybe, won't fit at all. (I'm wearing mine right now. They just barely fit. Ugh.)

It's denial. And denial is how five or ten pounds turns into 50 or 60.

I could feel the binge coming on Friday morning. I was exhausted and stressed out and overwhelmed from the moment I woke up at 6 am – which is pretty much how I've been feeling every moment of every day for the past few weeks, if not months.

Rush, rush, rush to finish story and sneak in a workout before huge lunch. I thought about skipping the workout, but thought doing one would make me feel more in control about lunch, which usually it does.

Except sometimes it doesn't.

I thought about the weight I'd seen on the scale that morning, and how it was still up more pounds than I'd like, despite my best efforts. I thought about the fact that I'd be eating a big lunch, at friends for dinner on Sunday, then a handful of events during the week, then a week in Dorset, then a trip to the US, then...

I figured I'd better work out. And so I did. Then I raced to Covent Garden to the lunch, feeling resentful. Rush, rush, rush. That's all I ever do, I thought. So why do I seem to accomplish so little?

I wanted a glass of fizz, which was supposed to be during the "reception" part of this lunch, not, of course, during the main event. There wasn't any. I had a glass of white wine. Bad idea. I knew it the moment I started sipping it, but I didn't care. All I do any more is race around and worry about money, I thought. I just want a break. I thought about the conversation I'd had with my grandmother a couple of weeks ago, when she asked me why I didn't travel anymore and didn't have any good stories. I've told her before that I'm struggling with money, and I repeated it. She dismissed it. I told her I'd had to get through the last week in February without spending any money, so survived mostly on peanut butter and eggs. "That's very fattening," is all she said.

I gave a primer on American political processes in general and health care reform in particular (I've written at least 3 articles in the past week on the subject) to various people, including Armando Ianucci, who wrote the brilliant In the Loop. I had another glass of white. Bad to worse.

We sat down to lunch and I ate 3 rolls – soft, warm and delicious. You can see where this is going. In case you can't, let me just tell you that I not once but twice excused myself to "take phone calls" and ducked out to binge. One of those times I bumped into a guy I met at the Venice Film Festival several years ago and had lunch with once right around the corner. I haven't seen him since. "Wow, you've lost a lot of weight," he blurted out. I didn't want to chat; I just wanted my cupcake. I grabbed it and ran out the door, eating it on my way to the next shop.

After the lunch I eyed the chocolate truffles left on the tables (I'd already had a good share of the ones on ours). I felt sick and full and just wanted to go home and die, or at least take a nap. Just the thought of getting myself to the Tube made me want to lie down on the floor and give up. A handful of people – among them the NJB – were going to a private members' club around the corner to carry on drinking. I didn't want anything else to drink but I figured I'd sit for a couple of hours until I could face getting myself home – or maybe I'd even feel good enough to go to a party I was supposed to attend.

The guys (they were all guys) ordered me a glass of wine, which I'm not sure I took so much as a sip of while they made it through four or five rounds. The NJB started talking about getting fish and chips. The old "last supper" part of my brain fired up and I thought oooh, yes, please. And then I thought: No way. I'm not hungry, fried food makes me feel sick even at the best of times, and I'm probably having fish and chips that will be way better in Dorset next week.

Partly because one of the guys was hell-bent on drinking and kept ordering rounds, we didn't end up leaving until nearly 10 pm (I had maybe half a glass of wine in the whole five hours we sat there), by which point I was beyond cranky and tired. The NJB kept talking about the fish and chip shop across the street. I told him he should go ahead.

"Not unless you want it," he said. We kicked around a couple of other options. I had very little patience at this point.

"I'm exhausted," I said. "I'm really not up for sitting through a meal at a restaurant." I wondered if I could get away with skipping dinner entirely or if I'd just end up starving by the time I got home. Cutting back is one way to end up bingeing again, so I decided I'd better eat something.

"Let's go to this vegetarian Chinese place," the NJB said. "It's healthy, and you know I'm all about the healthy." (He's very far from it.)

"Is it fried?" I asked.

"It's vegetarian," he said. "It's vegetables. They don't fry vegetables, do they?" This actually sounded eerily to me like something the Fig would have said, except the Fig was healthy, and I was absolutely mad about him, so everything he said was swoon-inducing. Also, the Fig would have been kidding, which I knew NJB was not.

The place he talking about was Korean and very definitely not vegetarian (or healthy – there was fried food galore) – and so crowded we'd have had to wait for hours. We ended up going to the market and buying bagels and light cream cheese and smoked salmon and Mullerice, which I haven't had in years. I didn't look at calories or weigh or measure anything, but I had one bagel with cream cheese and salmon plus one pot of Mullerice, the last of which I really didn't need. I knew the NJB wouldn't comment or even care if I had another bagel (he had one) but I also knew it was a bad idea, so didn't. At least one good decision made in an ocean of bad ones.

***

One of the three guys in the NJB's Internet venture is called T. He's 29, from Essex, and used to play in a hotly tipped indie band before he decided he wasn't cut out for a life of constant touring. I hardly spoke to him all afternoon, but at one point we were the only 2 people sitting in the nook we'd taken over.

From various bits of conversations I'd pieced together that he'd lived in Japan and New Zealand. He told me about a trip to Idaho he'd taken, because he'd ended up doing some writing for a newspaper there and figured he'd hop out there while he was in Los Angeles.

"Everyone in Idaho is stupid," he said. "Even the editor was stupid. It's beautiful out there, though." He went on a 10-minute rant about Idaho. I half-listened. He seemed argumentative, but – stuffed and tired – I had little fight in me. I thought briefly that he must think I was the most boring woman alive.

By this point the NJB had returned to his place between me and T. (Maybe that was why I hadn't spoken to T. all day.)

T. wanted the NJB and me to listen to his new band and give him an honest opinion. While I listened to the track on his iphone I stole a peek through his other music: Yes, the Libertines. Yes, the Kaiser Chiefs. Yes, a bunch of 90s jam bands. But also all the Killers' albums (and demos), all of Counting Crows, plus Keane and Don McLean. Awww.

I said: "I pretty much want to listen to every single thing on your ipod. If you just had Dan Fogelberg on there I think I could die happy." (I was half kidding. There actually is one Dan Fogelberg song I like but I doubted he'd even heard of the man.)

T. looked at me like he'd never seen me before. "Will you marry me?" he said. "Like, right now?"

The NJB looked at me expectantly. I looked down at the iphone. A text had popped up. "I think that's your girlfriend," I said. (Really, it was.) I handed him the phone. He glanced down, pressed a button to make the text disappear, and handed it back to me.

"Let's get married," he said.

The NJB – who is (a) not my boyfriend and (b) has never said a word to me about what he feels about anything – put his arm around me. It didn't seem to be the time to wriggle free of it.

I didn't know what to say. "Aren't you already married?" I said. (Earlier he'd told me he'd married his Kiwi girlfriend so she could get a passport. Then they'd split up, she's back in New Zealand, but that they hadn't gotten round to getting divorced – "and my new girlfriend really wants me to sort that out.")

"I can fix that with a phone call," he said.

"I'm from Idaho," I answered, rolling my eyes so both he and the NJB could see.

"You're not really, are you?"

"No," I said. "You're not really from Essex, are you?"

He burst out laughing. "Give me your number," he said. "I'm going to marry you one day."

I didn't speak to T. again after that. The NJB made sure of that. I didn't have the energy to fight or otherwise do anything but watch events unfold.

Somehow it was just the three of us standing on the sidewalk outside at 10 pm.

"Which way are you going?" T. asked me.

"We're going north," answered the NJB, taking my hand. Again, probably not the time to drop it and make a scene.

"Aren't you, like, three hours late to meet your girlfriend already?" I asked T.

"I'm already in trouble at this point, so what's the difference of a couple more hours?" he asked. (Classic boy logic. I wish my mind worked that way. Once I think I'm in trouble, I can't enjoy anything else.)

"We're not staying out and we're not going your way," the NJB said, almost rudely.

"I could come yours," said T., who was not getting the hint.

"I'm not up for anything else," I said, and finally T. left. The NJB looked relieved. He tugged my hand like an owner with a recalcitrant puppy. I followed reluctantly, wanting nothing else except to go home.

***

By the way, O and me? Not going to happen. He's back with the ex. It wasn't ever going to happen, frankly, because of two major reasons: (a) he's not attracted to me, and (b) he is shockingly, appallingly, makes-you-lose-faith-in-men unfaithful, not to mention perpetually dissatisfied (see "unfaithful," as before).

Just so you know.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

The Aftermath

Yesterday I was up 8 pounds thanks to Friday's binge – the worst gain in a year, I think, from a binge that wasn't even the worst of the year. And unlike previous binge gains this one doesn't seem to be disappearing anytime fast.

I used to roll my eyes at (thin) friends who would whine about how heavy they felt when they'd put on five or six pounds. Now I get it. My waist has disappeared under a doughnut of excess fat – and it's one leaden doughnut. I can feel it (when I try to run, when I button my coat) and I can see it, and all it does is make me anxious.

Which in turn makes me want to eat. Which I know perfectly well will not help, and so thus far I haven't. If hunger isn't the problem, eating isn't the solution. No one ever starved to death between meals. (Maybe I should pull a Bart Simpson and write each of those on the chalkboard a couple dozen times.)

***

So, the single life. All of my lovely friends tell me I'll meet someone amazing, but the trouble is, no one knows him.

O nags me about Internet dating, and I check out the site he recommends. In order to join I'd have to answer questions such as "Why should you meet me?" to which all I want to answer is: "Um, should you?" I'd have to rank myself as below average, attractive, above average attractive. (Attractive to whom? I know mosquitoes find me attractive.) And then there's my personal favorite: "Eats healthy or eats most things." Eats most things? I know exactly what they mean, but the contrarian in me can't help wondering if they're referring to quantity or quality.

Just for kicks (and because it's free) I fill in some details and a nom de plume and click the "show me my matches" button. At the top of the list: O.

I burst out laughing and -- because I haven't actually signed up and so can't message him through the service -- text him to tell him we have to stop meeting like this. He responds apologizing for having stolen all my best lines about him for his profile. The semi-obnoxious texts (our specialty) fly back and forth furiously until finally I stop, thinking this is the problem I've had with dating recently is that no one I've met is as fun, funny, kind and interesting as my friends, male and female.

Before I go to bed I have a look at O's profile, which is pretty close to what I'd have written about him if I were trying to pimp him. (Not a surprise when you consider most of the lines were things I have said about him in the past.) One of the few lines he's added includes how much he likes a particular museum in London – one very few people have been to -- that happens to be one of my favorites.

Hmmph.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

In the Interest of Honesty

So I binged again Friday night. I'd like to blame it on the appearance of BN2's best friend at the birthday drinks, perhaps, but honestly, I could feel the binge coming earlier in the day. It wasn't that I was so hungry – I wasn't. I wish I could put my finger on exactly what it was – I think a combination of loneliness and trying to pack too much in, the latter of which is a trigger for me. (I headed from the birthday party to another party in Mayfair, this one populated entirely by hedge fund managers and the models and hookers who hang around them. The male owner of the flat walked around in silk pajamas. I think the last time I saw a party like that I was in Moscow.)

I seem to be bingeing about every two weeks, which I'm not at all happy about. Frankly, it makes me panic if I think about it too much, considering how much travel and how many triggers I've got over the next couple of months. My goal is to get to 30 days binge-free again. I've also decided that if the next binge involves alcohol at all, I'll give up drinking until I get to 30 days.

Predictably, I woke up Saturday feeling exhausted and bloated. I stayed in bed, alternately reading and sleeping, until 3 pm, something I haven't done in years. (I can't remember the last time I wasn't up early on a Saturday morning to head to Pilates or go running.) I skipped the gym and finally managed to get myself dressed and walk an hour to Shoreditch to meet the NJB. I'd decided I couldn't stomach Shutter Island -- the original film choice – so we agreed to meet at a Shoreditch bar I've been dying to try. It's a tiny, hidden Czech drinking den – all '50s and '60s mod, with tasting flights and crazy infusions, some of which are served in test tubes. It's the sort of place you have to book – we watched them turn away people all night – with a proper hostess and the most fantastic list of cocktails I've ever seen. I adored it instantly and could go back there every night for a month and try everything on the list. You'd think the joy of discovery would have lifted my spirits, but it was tempered a bit by the fact that I was with the NJB. Sigh.

This morning I went to Pilates and then dragged myself to the gym. It took me an age to get myself there, but once I finished I felt about a billion times better. As I sometimes used to tell BN2, exercise is like a reset button for me. I need to remember that.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Watch It Spin Round to a Beautiful Oblivion

So, the scones? Not that great. Or filling, for that matter. (If they tasted fantastic I guess I could deal with the latter.) I've eaten 3 of the 4, and the last may have to go wherever not-so-great scones go to die. By which I mean the bin, not, say, used merely as a conveyor belt for clotted cream to enter my mouth.

Meanwhile, the Nice Jewish Boy responded to a press release I'd forwarded about some amazing new tasting restaurant's soft opening that I missed (I'd already agreed to attend the opera with a friend, and so spent 4.5 hours listening to baroque music and the approximately 95-year-old man to my right alternately drum on his program and then suddenly, narcoleptically, fall asleep and then jerk awake). NJB is the world's cheapest person – well, among them, since I think my dad definitely is a contender – and so suggested I contact the PR, say I'd missed the dinner, and try to cadge a free one. Can you say ugh? Besides, American journalists (or American journalists who are not beauty editors) don't do that. Or at least, I don't.

Anyway, he then began asking me about new restaurants worth going to and I could see where that one was going – he never steps up to the plate directly. Then he suggested one off my list and I told him quite honestly that it was out of my budget. Keeping in mind one of the most useful things I ever learned from BN2 (namely: if you offer a practical objection instead of the real reason your bluff can very easily be called), I then told him this wasn't a shameless ploy on my part to get him to pay, only that I had very limited funds (so horribly, scarily true – it weighs on me daily) and that going out to eat wasn't really a priority for me. Which I knew full well was a practical objection of its own. And my bluff was called. He suggested a film.

Which I confess I agreed to, mostly because I've been feeling generally overwhelmed, exhausted, and yes, lonely. Plus, frankly, I do love going to the movies – actually going to the movies, as opposed to renting one (you never give a film the same respect at home as you do in a cinema. You get up, get a snack, answer the phone...). We're going on Saturday. Yes, I shall be keeping a film in my head of last Friday to keep me from doing anything I shouldn't. Not that I think it will be that hard to resist.

***

Debbie asked: "When the notion to binge strikes, do you think it can be totally extinguished? Or merely delaying the inevitable?"

I guess the answer depends on whether I view my own binges as reactions to times I have restrained myself from bingeing – if the seed of a binge can be sown, say, two weeks before it happens. That's something I'm still trying to figure out myself. I do tend to binge on things I deny myself (or really, have only rarely, because I don't deny myself anything completely), but very rarely is it on the food I have most recently not allowed myself to have the minute I wanted it. Of course, what I actually binge on is probably a function of the time of day that I binge (late – most shops shut) and the fact that I will go to town on just about anything once I take the leap off the cliff.

So, the answer is, I'm afraid, I don't know. I'm still trying to work out why I binge – what purpose it still serves after all these years. I think it used to be for the oblivion. My brain goes a million miles an hour at all times (sometimes I want to cut off my head and throw it across the room), an elaborate chicken race of acute self-consciousness, fear, anxiety, and often, self-loathing. Bingeing doesn't eradicate those feelings, but it quiets them down considerably as I go through the ritualized steps of a relapse: the plotting, the acquiring, the eating. And then the fullness – combined with the fact that I usually binge at night -- makes me so exhausted that all I can do is go to sleep.

My most recent binges I think are rooted in escaping a cage, whether BN2's or one of my own devising. (Yes, I guess "oblivion" would still technically be the reason). As I've said, I struggle daily with limits – financial and caloric – that at times feel like a straitjacket. Objectively, the caloric ones are not crazily limiting – hello, I ate two scones as planned snacks yesterday. But sometimes I look at my week and see a lot of meals out and lack of time to work out and I despair of keeping weight off. And that is what feels limiting: The constant give and take and general thought and planning that is required to maintain a weight loss. Sometimes it's very easy and almost second nature. And at other times it feels like the most unbearable weight in the world – a heavier burden than the 90-plus pounds I lost. And sometimes, I guess, I want a break from thinking about it.

Hmmm. Not sure I've answered the question. The editor in me says I should delete the above as verbal diarrhea.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

You're (Not) My Favorite Waste of Time

A funny thing happened at the Sainsburys tonight: I didn't buy cupcakes or scones or jam tarts or anything else on buy one, get one free or some other offer not just because I feared bingeing on them – but also because I realized there'd be just as good a chance I'd get bored of them and they'd sit in my cupboard until I had to throw them out. (For budget reasons, I'm trying not to waste food.)

Yes, if I like something a lot I will happily eat it multiple times a day. But if I'm not that enamored of it (and if it's sweet, I'm always enamored of it – or used to be), it just sits. At the moment, my refrigerator still contains more than half of the American chocolate I brought back from my US jaunt, plus several Seeds of Change chocolate bars I'm eating my way through slowly (they beat the American chocolate). And in the cupboard I still have a bag of Trader Joe's peanut-butter filled pretzels (good, but frankly not that filling so I don't opt to snack on them very often) plus a handful of packaged biscuits looted from my Army ration packs from the two jobs with the squaddies.

I won't lie – I stood in the supermarket tonight quite literally terrified as I was eyeing the goodies. How could I ever choose, and what if I couldn't and bought tons and ate them all? I felt the familiar resentment I feel whenever I have to make choices about food – why can't I have it all, and why can't I be normal and not want it all in the first place? I feared buying and I feared not buying – because not buying means deprivation, which at some point usually leads to a binge.

And then I looked at the ingredients and I looked at the goods themselves and thought: These probably aren't that great. Prepackaged cupcakes with sickly sweet icing are really no substitute for one good cupcake with buttercream icing. I've had the packaged mini Victoria sponges and they're really not that good. Scones? Well, I did buy one package of the ones with the best ingredients I could find (as opposed to the buy one get one free option, which I don't need).

Then I hunted down the Sun Maid raisins I'd come to the shop for in the first place (I like them in my porridge, and Sun Maid is the only brand I've found that doesn't add oil or anything else), and left.

***

I have had two ridiculously posh – read, inhibited – boyfriends (BN2 not in this category), but never have I seen anything like Friday night.

O had flaked (girlfriend problems) and I didn't feel like being on my own. The nice Jewish boy had said I should let him know if I were around... and so I did. Long before any cava sangria had been consumed (and waiter, claiming to be charmed by my Spanish, gave us about four free shots of some alcohol that tasted like creme brulee in a glass), I think I knew where this was going, and I think I just decided I didn't care. (Frankly, it's all eerily similar to the binge mentality – freak out, freak out, freak out... and then just surrender and deal with consequences later.)

Of course, leave it to me to choose someone to behave badly with who has absolutely no idea what he's doing. Is it really possible for a man to reach the age of 37 and be just that clueless? I don't mean just bad -- it was that, too -- but just... clueless. Poor guy.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Now, Let's Try This Again

So where were we?

I woke up Saturday morning – three days post-binge – feeling somewhat close to normal, but slightly anxious. After all, I had three parties to attend (one Saturday afternoon, one Saturday night, and one Sunday afternoon), two of which were going to involve sure-to-be-amazing baked goods and champagne, both of which I love.

I'd already decided I wasn't drinking at either of Saturday's parties because I was running a 10K race through London's new Olympic Park on Sunday morning. I also knew this would be a challenge, since Saturday afternoon's party was a girly cakes and champagne birthday for a friend, and that everyone else would be indulging full-speed ahead. I knew my abstemiousness (is that a word?) would draw comments (it did), and I hate being the center of attention like that. I hate seeming about as fun as an unmarinated lump of tofu.

I knew the cakes Saturday would be of the pre-bought variety, and had decided I'd only indulge if there was something worth it. And there was: Lola's Cupcakes. Only before it came around to 4 pm – my usual snack time, which is when I planned to dig in -- all the vanilla ones were eaten. The hostess wanted me to eat a banana or strawberry one (ew) but I just wanted a vanilla one with its inch-high cap of frosting ("too much frosting to cake," complained a couple of the girls), and I didn't want to eat several hundred calories out of politeness. Actually, it would likely have been several thousands, because eating calorie-laden treats I don't really want is one surefire binge trigger. (Of course, I was still stuck with guilt about being rude – in my head or otherwise – and never being invited again, both of which are also a binge trigger. You never can win, can you?)

I was unreasonably grumpy about the cupcake – like the world was against me. I thought (very briefly) about bingeing, and then about how crummy I'd feel all day Sunday if I did. I teetered on the brink. I escaped to the bathroom to remove myself from cake-view, and also to calm myself down. (Like I said, unreasonably angry.) I texted Peridot, who I knew would understand. She did. She promised – post-10k -- to bring me a brownie from the batch she'd baked.

I thought about going to Selfridges Monday to buy a Lola's cupcake, but then thought (in frustration) that I couldn't, because I'd likely eat some kind of cake today, brownie post-race and cakes at parties tomorrow, and then out to a big dinner with Friend Bearing Chocolate (visiting from Istanbul) on Monday, which is already plenty of indulgence. Plus I've got crappy (but very caloric) military rations Wednesday and Thursday for a training exercise I'm doing...

I had a meringue with some cream and jam and a couple of figs and eyed some homebaked fairy cakes with non-buttercream frosting (a poor substitute, in my mind, for Lola's). And I stayed until after 9 pm, laughing and hanging out. I skipped Party No. 2, (a) because it was in Clapham and Party No. 1 was in east London and I'd first have to go home to change, (b) because by the time I got there I'd probably have to leave, and (c) because Nice Cambridge Jew had warned me it was going to be a crazy party, and it just would have been too tempting to give in.

Woke up Sunday, did my race (very cool to run into an Olympic stadium, even if it is unfinished! When else will I ever have that experience?), met Peridot and her boyfriend for handover of Best. Brownie. Ever. Then off to Party No. 3, where again there were vanilla cupcakes (this time homemade) with loads of frosting – and again, before I got to them, they were gone. I almost went crazy waiting for the birthday cake to be cut so I could grab a slice -- even though I didn't much fancy the marzipan icing on it, I still ate it (and felt slightly resentful that the slice I'd been handed looked smaller than other people's). Then a friend spotted a vanilla cupcake in the kitchen and I inhaled it in about four bites, hoping no one would see me. I could feel myself surrendering to a binge, and then stopped and thought: This does not have to be. Just because you ate an extra cupcake does not mean you have to eat several thousand extra calories on top of that, and then feel crummy for the rest of the night and possibly all day tomorrow.

This does not have to be, I repeated to myself. And it wasn't.

I got home at 8 pm, sober, happy – and very hungry for dinner. I told myself if I really wanted the Cupcake That Got Away I could go buy one on Monday. It's Wednesday and the urge frankly hasn't been pressing enough (it hasn't been there at all, actually). Score for me versus binge this weekend, 1-0. Six days clean.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Anatomy of a Binge



Wednesday night, I looked at the guy across the pub table from me and thought: I don't fancy you one bit. I couldn't stop noticing his crummy teeth (sorry, I am hopelessly American in that regard). I made polite conversation and wondered, for what felt like the eleven billionth time this year, if this is what I will be doomed to for the rest of my life: A not-unpleasant evening that's just... dull. No spark. No connection. The flames of fear licked at my feet: Maybe I'll never connect to anyone. Maybe that (gay) friend of a friend I met a couple of weeks ago is right: There's no worse and sadder thing than a straight single woman in her 30s, because all the good ones are taken.

When my date went to the bathroom, I ate a snack bar out of my bag. Suddenly I couldn't stop thinking about what I was going to eat on the way home. The last 20 minutes of the evening seemed interminable. As we approached the Tube, I said I was going to catch the bus. "Well, I'll email you," he said. The kiss of death. (Not that I wanted this particular relationship – if such a word can be used to describe it – to receive the kiss of life.)

I went round the corner, bought 2 filled bagels and two pieces of cake and ate them. On the Tube, I ate two packages of seeds and dried fruit I'd stashed in my bag, leftover from the weekend's snack pile. I got off at Euston, knowing the train station would be open, and hit up the Delice De France (disgusting, I know, but the only thing open) for more sweet carby goodness: more muffins. Four of them. I got to my own stop and hit up the newsagent (Cadbury cr̬me egg, Twirl, maybe there even was a Yorkie in there Рcan't remember) and Рjust to show you that I will eat anything in mid-binge -- then the McDonalds: chicken McNuggets, apple pie (I remember an Olympic athlete I interviewed in 2006 telling me how much she hated that the pie was no longer fried РI think this is the first time I've had it since the change), and two more muffins.

On the plus side (and I may in fact be on the plus side – erm, size – if this keeps up), I felt far too wretched Thursday morning to hit up the Temperley sample sale. Which, frankly, I had no business hitting up anyway.

I can't remember a binge this extreme in years, if ever. Oh, except for the second most recent one, Feb. 13, which involved, among other things, an entire jar of peanut butter and chocolate. It is terrifying to think one has made such progress only suddenly, it seems, to be worse than ever.

I thought the February binge might be because I'd been too strict with my food, but I've been quite permissive over the past couple of weeks. Millionaire's shortbread, brownies, apple crumble with ice cream, Ben's Cookies – I've had them all. And so I can do nothing but pick myself up yet again and keep walking.

I struggled through Thursday – no athletic event has ever exhausted me as much as eating far, far too much. Earlier in the week I'd promised myself Thursday off from the gym, and I didn't think forcing myself to go would help my state of mind (or body). I debated cancelling a dinner I had that night that I knew would be a big meal in favour of staying home to control, control, control. But I didn't want to (and frankly, that scared me slightly – the fact that I just wanted to keep eating).

At the dinner I ate too much bread and more than my share of the two puddings we split (an apple and blackberry crumble and a steamed ginger). I did have a healthy starter (peel and eat prawns) and my main was steak with a side of roasted vegetables (I had just one of the onion rings). But it was a meal and when it was done, I didn't eat any more.

This morning I was up six pounds on the scale, a couple of which I know will disappear quickly, provided I'm back on track. (I was OK today.) This weekend, though, holds two afternoon birthday parties: a girly tea (hello, can you say cakes and champagne?) and a garden-type party given by one of the best bakers I know. Plus an invitation to a flat-warming party on Saturday night that is supposed to be one crazy party. (If I go I'll have to behave, because I'm running a 10k Sunday morning.)

***

Almost since it happened, I've been debating whether to post the full details of the binge. I'm embarrassed about it, plus more than a bit ashamed and a touch frightened. But, I reasoned, not posting doesn't mean it didn't happen.

And then today I walked into the gym locker room and saw a teeny, tiny woman I've seen frequently working out with a personal trainer. She's blonde and stunningly beautiful, and would be more so were it not for the intense, almost fierce, look she has on her face; the grim set of her jaw. We've only spoken twice. Once was a question from me about a sports bra she had, and the second – from her – was a couple of weeks ago. Upon hearing from someone that I wrote about fashion, she wanted my opinion on a dress she was having made.

Today I wearily flung my things in a locker and she said: "Oh, you're so disciplined." (Cue fraud alert: She doesn't know what I ate over the past couple of days.) "I was just saying to [the trainer] how much I wish I could do what you do."
I had to struggle not to visibly shake my head and tell her I wouldn't wish parts of what I do on anyone.

"Thanks," I said, and tried to change the subject. "How's your dress coming along?"

"Oh, I just took it off because I just want to be comfortable. I've been bingeing on chocolate," she said sheepishly. "I'm already up two pounds. I just can't stop eating it sometimes."

"I do that too," I said. "It never really goes away."

She looked disappointed. "Really? I thought to do what you did you'd have this kicked."

"Nope," I said. "In fact, you wouldn't believe what I ate the other night. I'm not talking about polite overeating."

"I can eat six or seven thousand calories in a go sometimes," she said. "Six or seven thousand," she repeated, sounding incredulous, and a bit fearful. "I just can't stop."

I nodded and said: "I've been there."

"I feel like I can't tell people that – that they'll think I'm crazy. I'm a normal person. I run my own business," she said, sounding almost desperate.

"I don’t think you're crazy," I said. If she weren't British, I might have hugged her.