Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Of Fried Food and Field Kitchens

Hello from the Salisbury Plain (or, in terms of the military exercise I'm doing, Helmand Province, Afghanistan). I'm through six meals out of 15, which, sadly, really is how I look at the week – like a hurdler jumping over I don't know what. Fat, perhaps? Cakes? Buttercream frosting?

Anyway, there is food galore and zero movement on this exercise (can you say misnomer?) One of the contractors I work with described this particular type of job as "never knowingly undernourished" (when I arrived, the major in charge of briefing us didn't know, as my mother would have put it, "his ass from his elbow," but he did know what times the field kitchen would be serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.)

Several of the other people I work with chat happily about how much weight they put on in these gigs, what with fried breakfast every morning, roast potatoes and chips at lunch and dinner, entire tables full of pudding choices… And yes, if you're wondering, apparently some of the puddings are worth eating – people have been raving about the cheesecake, although the custard I saw yesterday for the sponge cake looked radioactive.

I can handle a meal or two where I have very little control over what is served – and no way of judging whether the portions I'm taking are ludicrously large. But day in and day out it is difficult, especially when the porridge is pre-sweetened (they insisted there was no sugar in it, but there most definitely is) and there is butter, oil, deep fat and generally just fat-fat-fat in just about every possible option. It makes me anxious, and it doesn't help that there is about zero opportunity for exercise, shut up in a window-less room for more than 12 hours at a time. (I couldn’t even do my usual morning five Sun Salutations in the barracks where I'm staying – the carpet, if it can be called such, is that slippery. I thought briefly about yoga on the grass outside, but thought about the eyes of dozens of squaddies upon me and promptly reconsidered. The signs in the barracks may refer to them as "gentlemen," but…)

Anyway, I did haul myself out of bed this morning on little sleep to run around the camp for 45 minutes, so I was feeling a bit better – at least until I was faced at lunch today with bad, worse, and truly catastrophic for options. I chose the greasy meat pie and tried not to grumble that "healthy option" was written in red marker on the menu board, so why wasn't there something next to it?

It's also helping that on this assignment for some reason I care a whole lot less than usual about being in the middle of things – or what other people think. A group has gone down to the pub (or to the officers' club) both nights, but I stayed behind. I'm not drinking for 30 days, and besides, Sunday night I had to work that had to be finished, and last night I had to type up some interview notes before time renders them virtually unintelligible, even to me. (I also wanted to squeeze in a quick run – I could only manage 25 minutes, thanks partly to the too-heavy dinner.)I may go and be social one of the nights, but we shall see…

Must run…I've just been on a British foot patrol where the Afghan National Army has shot and killed a 10-year-old boy and there is mass chaos breaking out among the locals…

Friday, 25 June 2010

Cry, Cry Again

I'm 35 years old, and when I missed an airport train to London by 30 seconds at some hideous pre-dawn hour, I burst into tears. I cried the whole 20 minutes waiting for the next train, and then the whole hour home.

I cried because I'd sat for more than six hours on a Ryanair flight by the side of the runway without food or water, except if I wanted to pay for it in exact change in the proper currency given to a couple of lying cabin attendants (volcanic ash delaying us, my ass). I cried because I'd had 2.5 500g bars of dark chocolate for dinner and snacks because I had nothing else to eat, because airport security had taken my other food. I cried because I'd paid £35 for a dinner I really wanted to attend, and because I'd a thousand times rather have eaten 1500 calories worth of amazing food than 1500 calories worth of not-amazing dark chocolate. I cried because I was still hungry and felt slightly sick, especially after two days of cheap, crummy food. I cried because I'd had to wait for two hours at immigration, behind a planeload of kissing Korean couples wearing more designer labels than I've seen since my days covering fashion shows and in front of a chirpier-than-chirpy Midwestern American teacher who kept talking about her church. I cried because I couldn't just take a taxi from the airport, which I might have done a couple of years ago, and because I couldn't just take a taxi from Kings Cross (ditto). I cried because I had no juice in my phone because my international converter had gone missing and I had a spare at home and didn't want to buy an extra for a short trip where I shouldn't have needed one at all. I cried because Sicily looked like almost everywhere else in Italy I've ever been (which is most of it) and I didn't much care about seeing any part of it. I cried because I have unfinished tax returns in two countries and an overflowing inbox of emails from people wanting and waiting for things and a messy flat and blueberries probably rotting in my fridge. I cried because I'd had a bad photo of me doing yoga appear in London's Evening Standard on Wednesday and couldn't bear any more straining-for-something-positive-to-say texts about it. I cried because I couldn't think of who to call that would make me feel better anyway. I cried because I couldn't call my sister – who'd just given birth to triplets via emergency C-section (more on this later, possibly after sleep). I cried because what the f—k was I doing in Sicily when my sister was giving birth to triplets, and for that matter, what am I doing on the other side of the Atlantic in general. I cried because the babies are named for my mother and uncle and grandfather, none of whom are here to see them. I cried because I was tired – both from lack of sleep and from fighting on what feels like every front for the past several weeks. I cried because it was all just a little bit too much.

And I cried because I'm too old to cry about such things.

Then, when I missed the No. 30 bus from Kings Cross – also by about 15 seconds – I kicked the bus stop advertising. Then I kicked it again several times.

It didn't make me feel any better.

During the whole 14-plus-hour ordeal, I thought several times about buying extra food, or bingeing. I kept pulling the options out of my pocket, rolling them around like pebbles through my fingers. "Would food make things better?" I asked myself.

No, it would not, was the answer every time.

That didn't make me feel better, either.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Saturday morning / And who's gonna play with me / Six in the morning / I got a long, long day ahead of me

One thing about last year I miss: My Saturday morning routine. I was up just before 8am, and out the door by 8:45 at the latest to run the four miles to my favourite Pilates class, which started at 9:30. I'd do the class, head over to a meeting, then usually run another 2.5 to three miles of the way back to BN2's. (I might have run all of it, but usually I had to pick up groceries.)

I'd do it even if we'd been up half the night fighting (which happened scarily often). My Saturday morning routine was the only real escape I had all week, I fought hard for it (and frequently had to defend it), and I loved it – not to mention the huge feeling of accomplishment I had by lunchtime.

In December, when my sister was trying to get me to see how bad my relationship with BN2 was for me, I told her I feared not just being alone, but being out of my routines.

"You made that routine and you'll make another one," she said.

Well, so far I haven't. My Friday nights are a whole lot less predictable, the run from my flat to Pilates would be about seven miles (slightly too long a run for the class to feel like anything but punishment), and my Saturday afternoons/evenings are also a whole lot less predictable (translation: I can't just stay a sweaty mess, so I'd have to start toting clothes and toiletries around, which makes the run that much less appealing.)

Last night friends cancelled the World Cup barbecue they were hosting because they were both sick. I didn't want to go to wine bingo (I've given up drinking for 30 days) or sit around a club in Soho with the NJB and his friends so I stayed home and scrubbed my kitchen sink and cleaned my bathroom. Yes, really. The glamorous life, isn't it?

This morning – despite not going to bed until after midnight – I woke up at 6:30 am and couldn't go back to sleep. I got up at 7, made some porridge (first in at least a week – I've been eating my US-import cold cereal, which is not at all filling but is delicious), and then ran a good six of the seven-plus miles between my flat and my meeting. I popped into Partridge's – aka the poshest, most outrageously overpriced corner shop in London – hunting for some good chocolate for a snack. (Green & Black's dark just isn't doing it these days.) They had none (hello, Partridge's, what's with the Thorntons? For American readers, Thorntons is at least as bad as, say, the Whitman Sampler) but they did have some diet A&W cream soda. My second favourite soda in the world after Dr. Browns diet cream. Score! I decided to use the tube fare I'd saved running to treated myself to a couple of cans – oh, ok, and also some Bear Naked granola nibbles. (For the record, no, I haven't had so much as a single sip of diet Coke since Jan. 12, but since my last US jaunt I've had the occasional diet soda.)

After the meeting I hung around chatting for a good 45 minutes, enjoying the feeling of knowing I didn't have to drag myself to the gym for a workout. (My usual running route has to be done at off-peak hours – because of both car and foot traffic – and a World Cup Saturday afternoon most definitely does not qualify.)

One week binge-free. I've got at least four trips in the next month, including a British Army gig where the food will be horrendous and the opportunities for exercise nonexistent. One foot in front of the other...

Friday, 18 June 2010


Years ago – when I was young, still dreamed a Pulitzer Prize might be around the corner, and was obsessed with what people in my business call "narrative journalism" I read a fantastic book called The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down in my then-relentless attempt to improve my "craft." The book specifically is about a Hmong girl with epilepsy, but also about the collision of Eastern beliefs and Western medicine, since the Hmong believed the girl's soul had been shaken from her body.

This is the best description I can come up with of bingeing and its aftermath: That when I binge I feel like my soul – the essence of me; whoever that might be – has come unmoored and is floating skywards, like a balloon. That the body on the ground is a hollow shell – I'm not there inside it. From above I can see this body going to crazy lengths to fill the empty space with food. I can see it like a cartoon drawing: The muffins and chocolate and cake all whole and in lurid colors, like something out of The Simpsons, only a whole lot less funny.

After the binge there is the awful heaviness: the weight of sadness, regret, disgust, and shame; the fat-ness. And slowly, slowly, maybe three or even four days post-binge, those feelings fade, leaving a space to fill. It is then that I return. There's even a moment when I can feel myself clicking back into place. It's nothing huge and dramatic, only a tiny moment of connection. Sometimes it's when someone makes me laugh, or when I make someone else laugh. Other times it's that feeling that someone not only hears what I'm saying, but understands it perfectly. Or vice versa. Click, click, click.

I'm back.


Monday morning, after my plane landed from Chicago, I got an email from BN2. It said only: "I miss you." It did not have the usual number of x's, odd only because he hasn't omitted them over the past six months. It was time-stamped 1:33 am.

We haven't spoken since March, and my last contact with him was a text message wishing me a happy birthday in May. But I've been thinking about him a lot recently, in the context of my bingeing, and how (mostly) safe and (mostly) predictable that area of my life was with him. (It was the only thing I could control, and boy did I control it.) In the last year we rarely went out, and I ate (mostly) predictable meals at predictable times with predictable company.

I also was thinking about him because it was his daughter's fourth birthday last week. (For the record: I knew it wasn't right for me or for his daughter for me to acknowledge the birthday, and didn't.) My relationship with the little girl pains me both for what it was and what it wasn't; what I wouldn't and couldn't allow it to be. I was remembering how much I hated being told how to behave around her; prompted always to show more affection. I resented the poor child herself sometimes for behaviours she adopted that were his fault and not hers. I hated that he was always feeding her junk food and hated having to sit around while the two of them ate all kinds of crap at all kinds of strange hours. I hated that one out of every two weekends was all about baby stuff and that I could not escape, and that on the other weekends he'd mope and I had to listen endlessly to how much he missed her and often be berated for my lack of sympathy.

There have been a lot of significant dates over the past couple of weeks that touch off floods of memories. And damn my Rain Man memory, as O calls it, I remember them all: meeting his parents for the first time on his mother's birthday just after Cannes on the last bank holiday weekend in May; going to an Oxford ball (where I saw texts from other women on his phone and binged); the ball he went to without me last year because he'd organized it when we'd split up and then said he didn't think it appropriate for me to come (not that he admitted this, but because he didn't tell the women he'd invited that we were back together).

I didn't respond to the "I miss you" email, but this afternoon I sent him an email asking if he wanted to meet for a tea. I don't want to go back to him; don't worry. I just want to not have to avoid chunks of social events for fear that I might see him. Basically, I wanted to face him.

He wrote back:

Good to hear from you, but the transition to occasional tea acquaintance is just torture for me. It's my problem I know, and you've been perfectly kind and reasonable so please don't take this as a criticism. I'm just not over you, and still not able to connect meaningfully with anyone else I've met despite my best efforts.

Seeing you last time reminded me what a wonderful woman you are, and just made my heart ache.

He signed it with the usual number of kisses.

I cried a little bit – sadness, regret, and probably some other things too. Relief.

I left him six months ago tomorrow, and it's o-v-e-r. Finally.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Unedited Scenes From the Life of a Recovering Binge Eater

Last night I was already hungry and tired (and therefore grumpy) about 10 seconds after eating my afternoon snack. I had plans for dinner with the Nice Jewish Boy, who I have put off repeatedly over the past few weeks. I did not want to go, but nor did I feel I could cancel. I reminded myself that it wasn't fair to the NJB – one of the world's easiest going people – for me to be miserable to him because I feel overwhelmed and out of control, because he isn't the man I wish he were, because nothing in my life at the moment seems to be the way I wish it were. That it wasn't fair to the NJB for me to be miserable to him because I can't eat what I want in the quantities I want whenever I want; can't stuff down the anxiety and the fear with food, food, food.

I arrived at 8 pm – even hungrier and grumpier than I had been earlier because my jeans felt like sausage casing – to find him sitting outside. Now I know it's June but despite signs of heat earlier in the day, the temperature had dropped precipitously and my fingers were freezing.

I have told the NJB repeatedly that I don't do starters and could he please stop asking. But still he persists on asking me if I will split something. Last night I wasn't in the mood for it – or to be polite.

"I don't do starters," I said flatly. "That doesn't mean you can't have one," I added, trying not to be a total bee-yotch, as my friend from Arkansas would say.

"How about soup?" he suggested. Grrr. No.


When I said no thank you to that he asked about whether I'd want a pudding later. No. No. NO. (I felt like asking him if he had ever seen me eat a pudding, and the realized the question was fruitless. This is a 37-year-old Cambridge-educated journalist who asked me quite seriously what happened to women's engagement rings once they got married. "What do you think those diamonds are that women wear on their fourth fingers?" I asked. "I never noticed," he answered.)

I thought I was going to burst into tears right at the table and asked for a minute. The poor NJB looked concerned and said he'd delay the order. That is not what I wanted, especially because he'd gone ahead and ordered a starter anyway, which meant that much longer until my dinner arrived.

"No, it's fine," I choked out, rummaging around for my phone and running off to the bathroom, wondering what on earth he was thinking and what I could possibly say to explain. But I didn't care. Inside I leaned my forehead against the cool stall door and repeated the serenity prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can't change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. I said it over and over again, until the words lost their shape and became almost nonsensical. Then I left a voicemail for a friend. Deep breath.

Back at the table the NJB was nearly finished with his starter. I smiled. I apologized. He already knows I get grumpy when I'm hungry, so I explained this as an extreme form of that combined with jetlag and a to-do list the length of my leg that I feared might eat me alive.

"It took me almost six months just to get myself to the bank today," the NJB said, his very best attempt at sympathy, I knew. I tried not to hate myself too much for being difficult; for not being, for lack of a better word, normal. I could hear the voice of the binge eating counsellor I saw a couple of years ago, quoting Alcoholics Anonymous literature: And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation – some fact of my life – unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.

I sank into the words, the way you sink into an easy chair. The NJB chattered on about football and 90s jam bands and a Mitch Winehouse event (yes, Amy's dad, who's released a Sinatra-esque album) I have no intention of attending, but I wasn't irritated any more. It's literally been years since I watched television, but I watched the first four episodes of the first season of Peep Show on DVD, then went to bed.


On a totally unrelated note, I just used the phrase "(downward facing) dog's dinner" in a story about yoga and supper clubs. Clearly I need to get out a little more. Also unrelated: Trader Joe's dark chocolate covered pretzels = Crack.

That is all.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Last Tango

Sunday, for the fourth or fifth time in less than three weeks, I woke up and wished I could be anyone but myself. I'd spent much of the night awake, too full to sleep, marinating in disgust and fear. I wondered whether anyone had noticed how much I'd eaten and at what speed, and what I might have said.

I binged at both the rehearsal dinner and the wedding, and I'm sure a couple of people noticed. I hate that.

I didn't (and don't) want to write about it. I just want a break from being in my own head for a while. But that is not to be.

If I'd written this yesterday or Sunday it might have been a very different post. I was so sad and fearful both days. I'm always a bit depressed post-binge, but the depression was particularly bad this time around. I picture the bingeing like a bloodstain seeping into clothing – how many more days of my life and friendships will it taint? I thought about all the days and should-have-been happy events (or carefree ones) that have been spoiled by my inability to think about anything much besides: How can I get some more of that? I thought about all the days and hours that have been spoiled by my shame and regret of the things I did to get more, and my fear of what people might say.

I think I've written before that a friend of mine has said repeatedly that I should not tell men I've recently met how much heavier I used to be. I think the reason I bring my past up more frequently than perhaps I should is because I feel this need to explain myself. There are so many times when I behave what feels like (and sometimes flat out is) so irrationally that I want people to know: It's not me; it's that. Except frankly, having once been overweight does not explain why one, say, ate more than just her own wedding favour chocolates.

I spent a lot of time on the airplane back from Chicago thinking about when and why I binge. Alcohol is always involved, and – as I know I've written about before – there is an element of me feeling trapped. But you're not with BN2 anymore, you say. What could possibly make you feel so trapped now? The answer is that I feel trapped almost every day: Trapped by too much to do and not enough time to do it in; trapped by the almost-paralyzing fear of never having enough money and of yet another day spent trying to make it stretch and trying not to think too hard about where and when I might get more and if this will ever end. Trapped by trying to pretend it is okay, that I'm okay, that I will get through this and oh yeah, here's a funny story about the crummy date I had last week. I feel trapped by circumstance: Single and living in London and unable to do most of the things that I want to do – that one should do when one is single and, um, living in London -- because I can't afford them. And often I feel trapped by the sheer time and energy required to exercise and (attempt to) eat healthy – the huge chunk these things take from my day; time I wonder if I should be spending sending out story ideas. (Or finishing my taxes. Or cleaning.) And I feel trapped by the push and pull of balancing exercise/healthy eating with the rest of my life, because I do sometimes go to extremes. (Me? Extreme? What you talkin' about, Willis?)

Is it any wonder, then, that I have a couple of drinks and I go crazy? It's an escape from reality and from obligation, if only for a few minutes.

I think I preferred the days when I used to escape by daydreaming.


Today is three days post-binge, and I can honestly say that I never again want to wake up and feel the way I did on Sunday. Or Saturday. Or the Monday before that – all post-binge mornings. Why can I not remember this in the moment? What kind of disaster is going to have to befall me? I don't want it to get to that.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

A Signal and a Sign

There are times when I debate giving up blogging, because honestly, I bore myself some times. OK, a lot of the time.

I'm having a few weeks of struggling mightily with binges, and I thought about describing it, but you know, I have. But why is it that the urge – no matter how familiar – always seems newly desperate and, erm, urgent?

I binged Thursday after the blind date, a binge so bad I woke up and discovered a couple of blocks of Cadburys on my floor. Seriously. I think there were doughnuts. Lots of doughnuts. I'm not sure what else. This was just four days after Sunday's binge of bread and butter (lots of it), a McFlurry (I know, WTF?), some chocolate, a muffin (two? Three?) and hot chocolate.

This afternoon I went to a birthday party on Clapham Common – the sort of thing that frankly can be a disaster for a binge eater, because it's endless drinking and nibbling. It was couples galore, I knew only the birthday boy and the Nice Jewish Boy, and the NJB was on (and on) about the cricket, the World Cup, and what he could get for free and where. I had a couple of drinks, a (planned) bar of Green & Black's I had in my bag, and a small (crappy and unplanned) pork pie. When I got up to leave I thought about all the things I wanted to eat and could easily buy en route to the Tube, and I could feel myself accepting the fact that I would binge.

Except I didn't.

I bought a Classic Magnum and set off for the Tube, only to discover there was a hole in the packaging. Took it back to the shop who had no more. It's a sign, I thought. I'm going to binge now.

Except I didn't. I bought another at another shop, got on the Tube, and thought desperately of what I could do to keep myself away from food. I settled on going to Selfridges to get my makeup done, as was meeting a very glamorous friend for the book party. (Went to Trish McEvoy – not bad. Think so far my favourites have been Laura Mercier and, believe it or not, Benefit.)

Then I came home, slipped into my little black dress (grateful it fit, even if it felt a bit tight) and four-inch nude peep toes, and off I went. I had a couple of glasses of champagne, debated sticking around when my friend left (she had to get up to be on television tomorrow), then looked around and decided it would just be a recipe for disaster.


I can't imagine writing and exercising together – I find both tough enough on their own. But this morning at the gym I spotted a guy doing what looked like edits on something that was handwritten while cycling on a stationary bicycle. So I had to comment.

He said it made time go by. I said that was what music was for.

He said he was writing a book review for the Sunday Telegraph, and I noticed the book he was reviewing was Sebastian Junger's War, about Afghanistan. "Kabul actually is one of my favorite places in the world," I said. "I guess you've been?"

I knew he probably had, and I was right. Swoon. Plus I suddenly noticed he was cute. Really, really cute. (Swoon.) Also Cambridge-educated (swoon). Posh-ish accent (ditto). Funny (pick me up off the floor right now.)

We chatted for a few minutes about Afghanistan's underground bars and drunken dinner parties and the generally fascinating expats who populate them, then about a handful of notorious war correspondents and their generally appalling behaviour. Then I hopped on the cross trainer. A few minutes later he left, saying – as probably any journalist would – that he'd Google me. I wished I'd done laundry more recently and wasn't wearing my most hideously unflattering workout trousers (three-year-old gray cotton capris I bought in a Monoprix in Paris). I wish I hadn't binged quite so recently and wasn't splooging out of my workout top. But such is life.

Fifteen or 20 minutes later, as I was singing along to some song on my ipod, he reappeared in the doorway, wearing jeans and carrying a Daunt Books bag (swoon). "Nice to meet you," he said, a small gesture that made my day. No doubt he was going off to meet the girlfriend/wife for lunch, but a girl can dream otherwise. And so I do.

Thursday, 3 June 2010


This morning, for the first time in nearly three weeks, I managed to make porridge for breakfast.

First I was away. Then I was too busy eating bagels with Barney Butter imported from the US. Then I moved on to Kashi honey flax and Nature's Path Flax Plus Pumpkin Raisin, both also imported from the US (and the latter given to me by my sister). Another day I ate two breakfast bars: Kashi cinnamon roll and a honey graham Cliff Z bar (you guessed it, US imports). I carried on eating all these alternative breakfasts even though – after multiple tests and despite being roughly same number of calories – they didn't fill me up as much as porridge does. (For the record, as a kid I hated cold cereal. Then again, I also liked white chocolate, so there's no accounting for my taste then.)

Yesterday I thought about making porridge but again reached for the cold cereal. I don't wanna, I whined inwardly, as though making porridge were as time-consuming and labor-intensive as, say, homemade lasagna. This morning I started the whine again: I'm hungry. I don't want to. I'll make it tomorrow.

I thought again about my response to the Harpers Bazaar editor's question about how difficult weight maintenance is: That it requires constantly daily effort. And I seem to be having a spate of feeling particularly unwilling.

It took me until yesterday – so five days, on top of all the days I was travelling – to return to doing my five Sun Salutations in the morning. This morning I got back to the porridge. They're only little things, but they are part of what center me and set me up for a day of good choices. (One of the reasons I usually avoid breakfast out is because when I eat breakfast badly, I usually eat badly all day.)

Every little thing seems to be a struggle at the moment – I can already feel myself resisting getting the pot and measuring cup and bowl and spoon ready for porridge tomorrow. Often I can block out a lot of foods, but not this week -- suddenly every corner is teeming with things I'd like to eat, and every second, it seems, there is a choice to return to a habit I thought I'd long since broken. Tonight I opened the cabinet for some tea and thought seriously about eating my way through the Twix bars and shortbread I got on the airplane.

This too shall pass. I just hope it does soon.


Monday, I told my grandmother I have a blind date coming up. And it is 100 percent blind, because I have no idea what he looks like and actually don't particularly even like the person who's setting us up.

"I wish I knew how tall he was so I could decide whether to wear heels," I said.

"Well, on the second date you won't make the same mistake," my grandmother said promptly. Who knew she was such an optimist? (Maybe she's given up – she didn't even ask if he were Jewish. Which, for the record, with a surname that is O'Something-or-Other, he most certainly is not.)


Thanks, by the way, for all of your lovely photo comments. I'm blushing! The photos, for the record, show a loss of about 85 pounds -- my total loss is 95 pounds.