Monday, 26 December 2011

A Christmas Miracle

Last night, after a seriously depressing party, I binged. I also binged on Wednesday.

And I binged less than two weeks before that.

This afternoon, all I could think about was bingeing again. I thought: Oh, what the heck? I'll start again tomorrow.

Except I felt horrible today, and I don't want to feel horrible tomorrow. And again there is that problem of deciding what to eat when I just want everything.

Truth be told, I was almost afraid of myself. Afraid to leave the house to get soda (and thus probably buy food to binge on); afraid to stay in lest I binge on what I had on hand.

Lately I have come to the crushingly obvious yet – to me – still shocking realization that just because I can (sometimes) understand why I binge does not stop the feeling. (I don't know why I've carried on for 36 years thinking it would.)

I'm not sure why I yearned so badly to eat my way through today, except that this holiday season has been very tough and painful. (I've started, but not finished, several posts, partly because I have not wanted to be this bath bomb of Christmas Grinch sentiments fizzing through the blogosphere.) Lots of memories and sad anniversaries, and a trip to my grandmother's earlier this month to do some cleaning. But why the endless urges to binge now, exactly?

I went round to visit my neighbour, as agreed, earlier today, and she wanted me to come back later to watch Love Actually, her favorite Christmas movie. (I remember having to interview Martine McCutcheon as one of my first assignments for People, but I haven't seen the film since. I also remember I wore Dolce & Gabbana's Light Blue perfume for ages because she was wearing it, and I loved the smell. Anyway.)

About 6.45 I got a text message from her telling me to come over. I wanted first to go out and get some ginger ale (I've been ill this week, though not the kind that stops you from wanting to eat). I kept thinking: I could just start eating now and deal with everything tomorrow. Isn't that what normal people do?

Except I'm not normal, and this wouldn't be "normal" Christmas eating, anyway. I wanted to buy one of everything in the shop, but I didn't.

It was a lovely crisp day, and the streets were mostly empty. I knew Magnolia Bakery wasn't open, but I thought about taking a walk around the corner to see if a place I like called Angelique – which sells these amazing cheesecake cupcakes – was open. You can just have one, I told myself, knowing full well that that would not be the case.

From the end of the block, I could see the lights on. My heart quickened. And then. And then. And then I arrived to see they had closed just minutes before.

I gave a silent prayer of thanks, but still flirted briefly with the idea of a binge.

I got to my neighbor's, where she had prosecco and food from the trendiest restaurant in NYC. I passed up the prosecco, knowing full well that it would only make me likely to overeat. I tried a few dumplings from RedFarm, which tasted unbelievably salty. She talked about ordering some more food – this from the restaurant downstairs – and I thought about the truffled mac and cheese my friend ate there last New Year's Eve.

I could binge, I thought again. I could just face the music tomorrow.

I thought about sitting there trying to watch a movie when all I'd want to be doing is be out getting more food. I thought about the dresses we'd been looking at online, and how none of them – and nothing – would fit if I kept on bingeing. I thought about what a struggle it would be to have to get ready to go on holiday tomorrow (I leave Tuesday) post-binge. I thought about how bingeing makes a mockery of my attempts to exercise and eat well – that it wipes away in hours what I have spent weeks and weeks achieving.

And still I thought about eating.

But I didn’t do it.

Hope it's been a very happy and miraculous Christmas (season) for you all, and here's to 2012.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Tuesdays with Frito-Lay

Last night at a party -- the first one I have been to in ages – I learned that all Frito Lay products (so potato chips, Doritos, Cheetos, etc) go bad on a Tuesday.

I also learned the proper methods for shelving them (most popular products on very top and very bottom rows, because people will hunt for those; at eye level are the worst sellers and, in Mexican neighborhoods, anything with the word 'limon' or 'hot and spicy' in it.)

This I learned from some flannel-shirt-wearing 23-year-old visiting from Oregon who also told me he turned up to a wedding and gave the couple an oil portrait of himself out of spite because the wedding was two hours away. (I guess he was annoyed that they didn't, say, hold it in his house so he didn't have to make any effort at all.)

And then after 45 minutes I find out even this dude has a girlfriend.


Here is something I am learning, reluctantly, about bingeing: That even knowing why I want to do it does not stop the urge.

I don't know why I thought that being able to isolate the cause would allow me to rip the urge out at the roots; to cut it out like a cancer; but it does not. Presumably this is because I cannot do much about the underlying feelings that make me want to binge besides wait them out. How totally bloody obvious, of course, but I have only just made the connection. Which is this: You mustn't think, you must accept.

I binged last night, the first one in almost 100 days (98, to be exact). I'm here to report that it was totally unsatisfying, as I knew it would be, and that I was too full even to eat what I really wanted, which I also knew I would be.

That said, it was a most bizarre binge, at least by Beth standards.

I could feel it coming on for days, like the onset of a cold. I was thinking about food constantly; I was eyeing it up in shops. I kept thinking that I could not binge because the decision of what to eat in what order would just be too much. That is the truth.

Just a couple of days ago I looked at some cookies in a shop and thought: Yes, but if you ate those you would have to decide what else to eat and you would go crazy from wanting it all. That, too, is the truth.

As is this: Yesterday I knew I was going to binge. I had two events to go to, both of which would involve drinks, and I had been working absolutely nonstop. I'd stayed up until 3 am finishing a story, then got up six hours later and promptly filed two more. I've been quite sad lately about a couple of friends who are no longer in my life, something I can ascribe almost directly to the way bingeing makes me behave. And in a couple of days I have to fly to Miami to do some sorting of my grandmother's apartment with my sister, something I expect to be ugly.

I'd spent nearly a week thinking about both of these events I had to attend; how I really didn't want to binge at them but I sort of did.

But no, I really didn't. At least enough to call someone and spend 20 minutes talking about why bingeing would be a bad idea.

And then I went off to the first event without a plan for dinner.

Dumb, dumb, dumb.

I had a glass of wine. Dumb.

Another glass of wine. Dumber.

I eyed the blondies on the cake stand in the restaurant. I thought about what I would eat – really, binge on – when I left. I pushed the thoughts out of my head.

Then I had a breadstick with some hummus, which was very, very dumb. Because I do not graze. And grazing in my head usually is the prelude to, well, nothing very good. It says to me: You are eating in a way that is way out of the ordinary.

And then I left the restaurant and bought a cupcake. Not even a good one.

I thought to myself: You could call it quits now. A cupcake is not a binge.

But I did not. I passed Hill Country Chicken and spied biscuits. I bought two. I still was absent that frantic need I usually feel when I binge, but still, there I was doing it.

And then I had three cookies from the Subway, and two whoopie pies from somewhere else. The second one made me feel almost sick.

I walked into the second event and started eating cheese, caramel popcorn, nuts, dried apricots, some not-very-good cookies and blondies – even some gum drops.

I left the party and walked into a 7-Eleven where I perused the options quite calmly – again atypical – and selected a jelly doughnut. I had a piece of pizza. And then my taxi passed the Magnolia Bakery on the way home.

Of course I got out. Though I could barely finish ¼ of a slice of "van van," as the shop calls it – vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream. And it tasted ridiculously sweet. (Is it possible I've lost my taste for it?) I threw it out on the way home, which was lucky.

All day today I thought about that ¾ slice of cake I left over, wishing it were in a trash bin from which I could rescue it.

And that also is the truth.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The Only Living Figs in New York

I ended this year's Thanksgiving dinner upright (though just barely), and still wearing the clothes I'd worn at the start of the meal (though stomach straining against the tight-to-begin-with waistband). I went to sleep just past midnight, uncomfortably full.

I consider this progress. Maybe even major progress.

Last year, for example, I ate and drank so much that I could not eat any dessert, not even with the Thanksgiving-mandated several-hour break. And that, my friends, is saying something, considering the vast quantities of food I am capable of consuming during a binge. I was beyond full and sweaty and could not sleep that night. My back hurt, always the sure sign of a horrible binge – my theory is that my stomach is so distended that it pulls at my back.

In previous years I have nearly passed out from the amount of food I've consumed, and woken up in the middle of the night, hating myself and wondering how much of my insane behavior other people noticed.

But this year I felt like I overate like something approaching a normal person, whatever that is. I ate a lot, that is for sure. And then there was this messy behavior: While the rest of the family went on a post-prandial stroll (I was too cold and so stayed home with my sister's sister-in-law, who was too full to move), I attacked the cheese plate I'd ignored before dinner. And I had a few handfuls of chocolate chips, a few chocolate mints, and some dried figs. And a spoonful of peanut butter. And a couple of toddler-friendly vanilla cookies. Don't ask.

Still, though. It could have been much, much worse. When they returned and we had dessert, I left over part of what I liked the least (my sister's homemade Boston cream pie). I didn't feel at all well, but I didn't think I was going to have to lie down on the floor and pray silently to be put out of my misery.

The next day I woke up feeling, well, not great. But I could put my jeans on (there have been years where this has not been easy). I didn't feel hungry, exactly, but nor did I have either the I'm-stuffed-from-the-night-before feeling or the post-binge stomach-stretched ravenousness. And I did not go to the gym, something I also consider progress. Not only do I not need to work out every day (and I had done so in the few days pre-feast, and on the day itself), but I do not need to contort myself into crazy sleep-deprived overscheduled insanity to work in a workout (something of which I have been and still occasionally am guilty).

I don't know why I didn't expect, though, that the day after Thanksgiving would be at least as hard if not more so than the day itself. I struggled not to binge on what felt like a second-by-second basis.

I wanted my snack right after breakfast -- something that happens a lot, frankly, but this was with unusual intensity. Then we went to the Newseum – given that it's about the news business, not my first choice of museum, but never mind – and all I could think about was sneaking off to the cafe to binge.

Later on, when I realized I had enough time to skip the subway and walk across town, almost every step was excruciating. Although it was a beautiful sunny day – so warm even always-cold me didn't need a coat – it was a tour of binges past and, please please not, I hoped as I walked, present.

Almost every shop and restaurant set off a binge memory – buying food, needing food, wanting food. Even the White House itself wasn't exempt: I flashed back to a New Year's Eve at least a decade ago, where I'd lost some weight but had begun bingeing again. I took a brisk run to the White House before slipping into my dress for the evening, hoping desperately the exercise might (a) help my dress fit and (b) hit some sort of reset button and stem the disastrous tide of overindulgence. (The dress fit, but barely, and I binged that night.)

I passed 2000 Penn, a little shopping center where I used to sneak to binge sometimes from work. That's if I made it that far: there were three Au Bon Pains within a block of my office, plus a Borders with a cafe that sold crumb cake with inch-thick sugary streusel topping.

And when I reached Foggy Bottom, I eyed the Whole Foods bakery warily. I thought both about how much damage to myself I could have done at the place years ago -- and how much I could still do at that moment.


Just before 5 pm on Thanksgiving eve, I received an email from my sister requesting black mission figs.

I do not do well around food – well, food when combined with family – unless I am eating it, so I had timed my arrival to avoid a lot of the food prep. (If this sounds ridiculously selfish, please consider that my brother-in-law loves to cook, my sister loves to bake, and their kitchen barely has space for two of them. Plus everyone else was also turning up on Thanksgiving in time to eat.)

I also particularly struggle with grocery shopping for unfamiliar items – the hunt through shops forces me to consider all sorts of items I would usually bypass, and often, just considering them makes me crave them. You can only imagine what sorts of things there were to look at in shops on the night before Thanksgiving – and how intense the crowds were.

I rolled my eyes at my sister the martyr – since when did our Thanksgiving dinner ever include black mission figs with goat cheese crostini, and frankly, wasn't there going to be enough food anyway?

Once upon a time I might have made a quick check of a shop or two and told her I couldn't find them. (Or maybe I would have used the hunt as a binge excuse, and so not made it all that far? That's possible, too.) But I genuinely wanted to be helpful, and so went out in the pouring rain to at least six specialty shops. I knew it was useless to try the phone at that point – all the lines would be engaged.

(Note: The questions I received when enquiring about figs were ridiculous. I particularly enjoyed: "Why didn't you look earlier in the week?" My response: "Why didn't you stock more figs?")

As I trekked around Lower Manhattan I mentally sang "The Only Living Figs in New York" to the Simon & Garfunkel tune, and almost enjoyed the hunt.
I finally found 10 figs (my sister had requested 20), and packed them in an egg carton so they wouldn't bruise during transport.

The morning of Thanksgiving, as I schlepped to Penn Station with my bags while babying the figs, I watched people carefully carrying all manner of food. Sometimes, we smiled knowingly at each other. I filled up on the feeling of being a part of something, at least for a few minutes.


Thanksgiving launches five of the toughest weeks of the year for me – and it only seems to get worse as the years pass.

My grandfather died on Thanksgiving eve – the table already was set for the feast – when I was five. My grandmother died on the Saturday after Thanksgiving last year. My mother died the week before Christmas 2003 -- and her birthday is the first week in December.

My father's birthday is December 13, and although he's very much here, it serves as a reminder of a relationship with which I struggle – and about which I feel immensely guilty and sad. Chanukah usually does little more than breed a bit more resentment: My father does not acknowledge the holiday for his daughters (he doesn't always acknowledge birthdays either, though I must note he has observed both of these for girlfriends). And I think of the cards – and the familiar, distinctive handwriting – that always used to arrive from my mother and grandmother.

I could go on, but I won't.

A friend calls this season the Bermuda Triangle. Here's hoping I don't disappear into my head – or the food.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Five Years

Five years ago, I got as fat as I've ever been and then proceeded to get fatter: bingeing at my sister's wedding, gorging myself on lobster spaghetti and arroncini at Tom and Katie's wedding, and finally, eating so much chocolate and drinking so much wine at Thanksgiving dinner in Rome that I could not crawl out of bed for hours the next day.

I arrived back in London on the Sunday in time to meet a friend in from the US for lunch at Ottolenghi, where I may in fact have not eaten a thing. I remember that even though it was a Sunday and I may well have binged at breakfast or at least, eaten poorly, I started my diet as soon as I landed back in London.

That was five years ago today.

Since then I lost a job and a grandmother and survived both an abusive relationship with a very damaged man and having so little money there were days I could not afford even to take the bus. I left a city I loved and a life that felt like it finally was falling into place for a job I ended up hating more than anything else I've ever done and a city in my home country, that, although packed with more people per square inch than almost any, can make you feel curiously alone and apart.

I left the horrible job and fled back across the Atlantic for a few weeks, where I proceeded to binge without stopping, huge scary embarrassing binges of the kind that make you fear you will not – simply cannot – ever stop. The kind where things that fit at the beginning of the day don't fit at the end, and where all you can think about it getting more and yet what you're going to do if you can't stop and getting more and how awful it is that you can't stop and more please more. And you're exhausted and ready to jump out of your own skin and ready to do anything tells you to do just to stop – but oh first let me just have another Ben's Cookie. Or three.

And life shrinks as you get bigger. Mine does, anyway. As I have said before, no physical exercise exhausts me as much as constant bingeing, and that lethargy from being too full. And then feeling like I need to hide because I have stacked on so much weight.

And somehow I string together a couple of days of not bingeing and I think maybe maybe I'm going to be OK and then I fall headlong again, like one of those nightmares where I'm falling – a huge, long fall and there's nothing to grab on the way down to stop myself.

But somehow I do. And I string together enough days of eating and something approaching sanity that if they were pearls, I'd have enough for a necklace.

Or, um, something like that. Maybe I should say something, um, less crazy-sounding than that.

And life is tiny and I feel like a bath bomb of resentment exploding and fizzing everywhere. Why can't I just eat this? Why can't I just eat that? Why can't I just be normal already?

And the feeling passes.

And I do a lot of spinning and running and very occasionally, some yoga. And I eat a lot of Kashi Go Lean and Fage Greek yogurt and whole wheat tortillas stuffed with veggie omelets and cheese, and also blintzes and squares of dark chocolate and very occasionally, biscuits of the American variety.

And slowly I can wear things that are not the one maxidress I survived most of the summer in.

I don't know what I weigh right now – I don't weigh myself at the moment – but I can wear most of my clothes.

And I cannot believe it's been five years since I weighed nearly 250 lbs.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Zen and the Art of Cleaning Baby Puke

Have you ever wanted to rip a pizza slice out of the hands of a passerby or break the glass on the toppings bar at the ice cream shop so you could scoop up huge handfuls of chocolate chips and cram them in your mouth?

I thought not.

And for the record, I've eaten very well this weekend. Some days, I guess, are just like this.

A couple of weekends ago, I found happiness while holding my breath, cleaning baby puke out of the crevices of the stroller.

I went down to Washington DC to visit my 16-month-old triplet nephews, whom I have dubbed the trifecta of cuteness. One of the 'phews – Ethan, I'm looking at you – threw up while at a Halloween event at the zoo. (And none of them even eat candy yet, so just think about the, erm, treats future Halloweens may have in store for my poor sister. Or would that be tricks?)

When we got home, my sister and her husband were exhausted and decided they'd leave the stroller outside and clean it properly in the morning. I, too, was tired, and it was dark and freezing outside. But I marched out there with paper towels and disinfectant and proceeded to spend 20 minutes doing a proper job cleaning it. As the Girl-Most-Likely-to-Be-Carsick, I know very well that if puke is not cleaned up promptly, the smell can linger for months. Plus it would be 10 times as hard to clean in the morning.

As I carefully wiped down each little buckle and checked for stray, erm, chunks (sorry), I felt this huge rush of joy. I realized that as recently as a few months ago, I would have done a cursory job, wanting to be helpful (or realizing I should be) yet unable – or unwilling – to follow through.

What does this have to do with food and bingeing, you ask? When I was at my sister's I had not binged for nearly seven weeks, and there is a subtle pink glow – OK, sometimes very, very subtle -- even to crummy days and crummy situations. Which is to say: I feel happier and lighter, and that makes me want people I love to feel the same way. And I am not too fogged out by food – or grumpy-hungry from starving myself – to stand outside and do something useful.

And I genuinely wanted to do it – not just get credit for it. Part of that is because for the first time in about three years, I did not arrive at my sister's super-fragile or otherwise on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I realized as I sat in my sister's kitchen that every time I have been there since the beginning of 2009, I've either been in that horrible relationship with BN2, struggling to recover from that (plus huge financial worries), and then struggling in New York. I also realized that although my sister has never been my biggest or most supportive fan – and although we have a fractious relationship – she has never made me feel like I was too much to deal with, or that my presence was in any way an imposition. (And I'm sure at some points it was.)

I came back inside and put the disinfectant away. About 20 minutes later my sister came downstairs and wearily said to her husband: "I'll deal with the stroller tomorrow."

"Beth did it," he said. (Was that surprise I detected in his voice?) "She spent like 20 minutes out there."

"Thanks," my sister said. Then the next morning she showed her gratitude by, erm, reading the text messages on my phone and yet denying it when I caught her red-handed. Some things never change, I guess.


As of today it's been 68 days without a binge, and the past couple of weeks have had their share of challenges: the visit to my sister's, a trip to Chicago, a visit from Friend-Bearing-Chocolate and more. I wish I could post more regularly, and more promptly, but at the moment my work-life balance is still way, way, way out of whack. More on all that soon. Cannot believe Oct. 28 was a year in New York...

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Fossilized Fear & Prehistoric Luggage

Like a toddler who's just learned to walk, I am terrifyingly easy to knock off balance.

I was feeling like I was finding my footing in New York. Last week I went to a film preview, met an old colleague for a drink, attended a journalism school seminar on productivity, went to my French class, and worked an awful, awful lot. I landed a couple of new assignments. I got some good news.

I went to the gym. I did not binge.

I felt this nagging sense that there would be some payment coming for my sudden, well, lightness of being (if not body).

And when you look for something, it seems, you find it.

Midafternoon Friday I found out that a piece I wrote for The New York Times – and that I'd been looking forward to seeing published – was being held for space, and may not run as prominently as originally scheduled (if and when it runs at all). Against my better judgement I had told a few people it was running, and so relaying the disappointing news did not help.

I was exhausted, thanks to a lot of work and deadline – and having gotten up at 5 am to join a bunch of Wall Street guys in Central Park for something I was hoping would be a story. And not just any story, but a story for a publication I've always dreamed of writing for. I don't think it's a story – and by the way, I felt like the wimpy fat girl in gym class doing a workout with these guys (and they were all guys) this morning. I hate running down steps in the near-dark when they're slick with rain!

The physical tiredness combined with my general mental fatigue probably is partly to blame for my lapse into checking up on the Married Guy online. And then Googling various people, which basically is code for spending a couple of hours comparing my career and life to theirs and finding myself lacking.

And so I slouched further towards depression.

Suddenly all I could think about was how dark it already was in New York, how much work I had to do this weekend – and what I could have for dinner that would seem like a treat.

I recognized myself falling, and yet I felt powerless to do anything about it. I could not think of a single thing that would make me feel better, and that made me feel worse. I reminded myself that at least I wasn't bingeing; that everything really would be worse if I had to struggle through disgust and despair on top of it.

I tried to read a magazine, but the noise from the bar downstairs was so loud it felt like my bed was in the middle of a party I hadn't been invited to. Somewhere north of 1 am I remembered some earplugs I'd taken from the spin studio and dug them out of my bag. Finally, I fell asleep.


The weekend did not get easier.

On Saturday I saw friends visiting from London. When I left them in the early evening, I headed home feeling disconnected – a stray molecule who doesn't really belong in London anymore, but doesn't belong in New York either.

I walked home without music – I didn't have the heart even for that. The sounds of Saturday night were all around me, and all I could think about was getting a huge slice of cake from Magnolia Bakery, where we'd been earlier (I hadn't had any) and chasing it with all manner of cheap pre-packaged pastry from the bodega.

I had to work cake but I didn't know how I would manage it. Cake. Cake. I reminded myself, as I have eleventeen billion times cake cake, that I will have to get better about saying no to work, and that the price of cake finding balance may be cake less money. Cake. Cake. Cake. Cake.

F**k it all, I thought. De facto, life is supposed to be better when I'm not bingeing, and this just sucks. I might as well just eat what I want. Caaaaake.

But what would that accomplish? I asked myself. You can go and have a piece of cake, but in this state you're not even going to enjoy it and chances are you won't be able to stop.

I was unconvinced.

Then I did something I have never ever in my life had the willingness to do. When I want to binge all I want to do is binge, and I don't want to be distracted from it. But Saturday night I picked up the phone and called a friend. And then another. And another. After leaving messages – of the non-hysterical variety -- for seven friends I'd nonetheless worked myself up into a state that bordered on tearful.

What the hell is the point of this? I thought. I'm supposed to feel better and not worse.

And then I realized the binge spell was broken.

And then someone called me back. I told her I'd started feeling like I didn't belong in London anymore and feared that the option to go back was vanishing; a shimmering road that is only a mirage.

"You don't have to figure it out right now," she said. "Wherever you are right now is still better than where you were two months ago."


I worked all day Sunday without stopping. It sucked. It did no favors for my mood but I had four stories due today and therefore no choice.

I woke up today feeling grumpy and resentful and hungry the minute I finished my breakfast. I did not want to write another word. I did not want to do an interview I had scheduled. I did not want to fetch my tax return from FedEx and then send it off. I did not want to answer questions about stories I'd already filed. I did not want to exercise.

But slowly I started to tick things off my list. I started to feel better. And then I ran into a spin instructor acquaintance who invited me to a class he was teaching in a half hour. I'm hungry, I thought. I'm too busy. I don't wanna. But considering it was going to be that or no workout – I couldn't imagine motivating myself to do anything – I decided to do it.

I spent two-thirds of the workout resenting every minute of it. And then suddenly it was over, and I felt better. I felt good.

Forty-eight days without a binge.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Summer Dreams Ripped at the Seams

Last night I met someone who works with the Married Guy. And his company employs about six people.

Did I ever tell you about the Married Guy? I bet I didn't, though I still think about him every day. Nothing much happened beyond the exchange of literally a thousand dizzying, dazzling, and at times, hilarious, emails (I received about 460, and sent slightly fewer) over the summer. But he unfortunately was proof that a certain type of man really does exist – and yes, is always taken.

I have not spoken to him for several weeks, and it's unlikely I ever will again unless our worlds collide. Which I guess, given that we seem to share the same brain, is entirely possible. I also noted on Facebook that his wife and I have a friend in common, though not a close on my part. Friend is a rather charming, attractive, clever, flirty, successful journalist – with a personality, come to think of it, that is not unlike the Married Guy's. (He's not as literary, though.) What is it about these Princeton types?

It would not be hyperbole to say this relationship, such as it was, changed my life – though anyone you have any kind of meaningful interaction with does, don't they? It's like a pinball that pauses on the brink of one chute and then goes a centimeter off and veers down another. He affected – and affects – the way I think about so many things.

And there this woman was, telling me she works at his company. I said I knew their product, and she asked me if I knew someone there. I said I did; I've never been good at hiding things.

She gushed about him. I wasn't surprised. She finished her tribute with something like "...isn't he?"

It was at that moment I felt on the cusp of great power. Just a couple of seconds and I could alter the course of his life, and possibly my own, in a way – like a bullet – that cannot be undone. I didn't delight in the power, but instead was somewhat terrified by it. Occasionally I thought about this in my days at the magazine in London, but that was so over-lawyered and usually so harmless there honestly wasn't much to think about. But the moment with this woman made me wonder how often I have thrown the power of words and someone's confidence into the wind, and made me suddenly cautious and newly keen to avoid gossip in the future.

Then I realized she still was waiting for me to answer.

I smiled and nodded and finally said: "He's one of a kind."

Monday, 10 October 2011

Forty Days and Forty Nights

Forty days without a binge and today the food – cheap pastry, candy pumpkins, pizza, muffins, anything – didn't just call to me. It was screaming and whistling and demanding I pay attention.

Maybe it was because it was a Sunday where I hadn't made many plans. Maybe it was because the unseasonably warm day made me feel like I should be out taking advantage of the weather, but I wasn't. Maybe it was because I feel like I can't catch my breath; that I have way too much to do and never enough time to do it.

Maybe it was because Neptune was rising. Or something. The truth is that I may never know why, and I hate that.

This morning I realized that honestly, it doesn't matter if I know why, because knowing why will not stop the urge to eat candy pumpkins in huge handfuls until the sweetness makes my throat hurt. And I don't even particularly like candy pumpkins and am not even sure I've ever bought a bag of them.

It is both humbling and terrifying to realize that the urge to stuff myself can rip through me like a tornado, and without warning. The other day it happened to me when I was feeling jaunty and happy and that life was shimmering with possibility.

I feel like bingeing and I may be two people who cannot even agree on the same set of facts – and so we can't have an argument. Perhaps it's time for me to stop trying.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Like a Prayer*

One of my best friends and I recently had a discussion about how we don't really do casual friendships any more – that we crave connection, not just people to pass the time.

For someone who has spent much of her life with about two feelings (starving or stuffed, because "fat" is not actually a feeling), the honesty required for connection still makes me feel like I'm on a rollercoaster, just before the dizzying plunge. But as I've discovered – mostly from writing about weight and bingeing – most of the time the results are surprisingly wonderful.

This morning at a meeting I was attending I happened to mention my guilt about being there on a Jewish holiday. I was feeling especially so because of a memory that bubbled to the surface – something I'd somehow allowed myself to forget: That I did not speak to my grandmother the weekend she died -- because I'd binged so badly at Thanksgiving dinner that I was too full and exhausted to do anything but lie on my sister's sofa. The next day I struggled to get through the day, then binged again. Grandma died on Saturday.

At the end of the meeting I went to give an acquaintance a jacket – she'd admired mine the week before and I happened to have a spare one that I'd been sent in my days as an editor. I'd decided – much as I love this jacket (it folds up to be a travel pillow!), and much as it's my instinct to hoard – that I didn't need two.

A woman I knew only slightly was hovering. "I'm actually going to synagogue right now – it's right around the corner," she finally said quietly to me. "I'd love some company."

"Like this?" I said, indicating my sweaty workout clothes.

She shrugged. "It's a progressive synagogue in the West Village," she said. "Believe me, no one will care."

In fact, everyone was dressed up. (The woman in front of me had fabulous Louboutins.) But honestly, I didn't care. Growing up the High Holidays – as Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are known – essentially were the start of the Jewish social season. Usually you wore new clothes, and if the holiday fell too early in September, most women – particularly single women on the lookout -- would risk roasting just to wear autumn clothes.

I am here for the services, I thought. And it was liberating. (Though one of the rabbis was distracting adorable and referred to the OED, then explained: Oxford English Dictionary. Swoon. He was also about 25 years old.)

I haven't been to synagogue in about eight years, and I went only sporadically before then. Still the prayers and the rhythms – Adorable Underage Rabbi played guitar – came back to me. I used a spare bandanna in my gym bag to mop away tears I couldn't seem to stop from falling. Then – as if someone knew why I was there – Yizkor (the special Yom Kippur memorial service) was held right after the morning service. Usually it is at 5 or 6 pm. The rabbis read the names of everyone the synagogue members were remembering, and I silently added my mother, grandmother, uncle, and grandfather.

As I left the school auditorium -- yes, it's a synagogue without an actual home -- I felt lighter.

During the service I'd received a text from the acquaintance thanking me again for the jacket and saying she didn't know what to say.

I did. I texted back: "As my grandmother would say, 'Wear it in good health'"

*No, this isn't going to be a religion blog. Regular programming will resume promptly!

Saturday, 8 October 2011


As summer turned to autumn in London, I knew every year to keep an eye out for Yom Kippur.

Preprinted calendars sold in England don't tend to list the holiday, the way those in the U.S. do. Apples and honey and honey cake, the traditional desserts of the Jewish New Year (the week before Yom Kippur), don't crop in supermarket displays, the way they do in many U.S. cities. Nor can you buy a Yahrzeit candle from the local Safeway – though after years of nicking the memorial candles from my grandmother, last year I discovered they're sold in Selfridges.

Back in the U.S., where the American language setting on my iPhone even recognizes the occasional transliterated Hebrew words like kaddish (mourning), I thought reminders of Yom Kippur would be unavoidable. Certainly in New York, arguably one of the most culturally Jewish of all American cities, I never thought I'd have to hunt for a Yahrzeit candle in the hours before sundown.

I have an uneasy relationship with Yom Kippur. For years I loved the idea of being forgiven once a year; a slate washed clean, or – my preferred method for starting anything anew – a fresh notebook. Except Yom Kippur required 24 hours of fasting, so either my head was full of food or my stomach was (and therefore my head was full of guilt, not just for bingeing, but for doing so on a day meant for atonement).

I stopped fasting about eight years ago, availing myself of the Jewish get-out clause of doing so if one is sick. I don't know that the relief from the more practical aspect of the holiday made me any more spiritual about it, because then my mother died. Until her very last Yom Kippur – a couple of months before she died – she always went to synagogue on the holiday for the special memorial service for the dead. Like every other religion, Jews have our superstitions, and because of this, generally you do not attend a Yizkor service, as it's called, unless you have lost an immediate family member.

My arrival in London in 2002 was timed to be just after Yom Kippur. I didn't want to spend the holiday alone in a new city, so my flight was the morning after break-the-fast. I remember reluctantly leaving the party to finish packing. The next year may have been, I think, the only year I went to synagogue in all the years I lived in London – and I have a memory of meeting my friend Graeme, at the time the only English Jew I knew, in the pub afterward (He had not gone to services.)

Still, I always lit a candle for my mother and called my grandmother, her mother, who had a lineup of flames so long it must have looked like a menorah. Her parents. Her husband. Her son. Her daughter.

Last year she was upset because she hadn't wanted to bother anyone to buy Yahrzeits for her, and so she didn't have any. I looked at the candle I'd bought in Selfridges and told her it was the thought that counted; that she could light a regular candle and everyone would still know she was thinking of them. I told her that like cards and presents on Valentine's Day and Mother's Day, lighting a candle on Yom Kippur is nice but what really counts is how you remember them the other 364 days.

She was quiet for a few seconds. My grandmother was a worrier by nature; she frequently sighed in her sleep and would be up at 3 am, panicking about details that became smaller and smaller as her world did. (In the last years of her life, she would be worn out just by all-night thoughts of how she was going to get out of a car or a restaurant booth – both exhausted her.)

"You know, you're right, Beth," she said. Except she used a diminutive of my name. I remember it specifically because my grandmother wasn't one for endearments. It felt like an anointment of sorts. I could not take away my grandmother's considerable pain, but I glowed thinking I had given her a bit of peace, even for a few minutes.

This year I kept forgetting it was Yom Kippur. I briefly considered going to my sister's for the holiday, but decided against it. I realized I rarely go to supermarkets anymore; it's just not where I buy food these days. And today I tried all the ones in the neighborhood – and all the drugstores, which seem to sell everything these days – and came up empty-handed.

I guess I could have trekked up to the Upper West Side, where I'd be more likely to see them, but I didn't think of it. I felt a little sorry for myself and a lot guilty as I headed to a bootcamp I was trying near the river; I knew by the time I finished it would be sundown. What kind of child was I that I couldn't even get a couple of lousy candles? (My mother liked the word "lousy" as an adjective, and so I deliberately use that word so I can hear her voice saying it.)

The sunset on the Hudson was glorious: A luxe deep red and orange that backlit the piers; colors so intense and rich they looked almost unreal. My mother loved the color orange.

The colors hovered in the sky – like they, too, hated to leave – for far longer than any other sunset I can remember. It wasn't me projecting: Even the instructor commented he couldn't believe how long it had stayed light.

I felt a strange push-pull: Alternately at least temporarily at peace in New York – and wishing I could call my grandmother to tell her. And then also guilty about my total lack of observance of Yom Kippur in the one place where it should have been so easy to do so.

As I walked home, I thought about how I don’t leave my apartment without wearing a piece of jewelry that belonged to each of them. How often I tell stories about them, or reference them. How daily I walk the streets of this city where my mother and grandmother spent so much of their lives and wonder if they have been on the very spot where I'm standing.

Am I walking in their footsteps? I'll never know. But I know they were here.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Otherwise Engaged

E-mail from the nice Cambridge Jew. Subject line: "My news." I immediately think he's landed a fancy new job, but it is this: "I just got engaged!" She's a casting director who knows Colin Firth, apparently.

I was awful to the Cambridge Jew, I couldn't fancy someone any less, I had very little to say to him, and yet the news brought me down. He was a nice, clever guy who only wanted to get married, and I wondered if I'd made a mistake. CJ certainly knew who Evelyn Waugh was (a recent date I had did not), even if he probably only would give me a copy of Scoop if he'd gotten one for free on some media mailing list (God, I abhor cheapness).

Maybe I should be grateful that the option to go pick up that relationship -- to settle for something I know is wrong -- has been removed. But at the moment, in my Beth-centric world, all I can do is think about how and if this reconfigures my thoughts about where I will live. It doesn't, exactly, except it adds to my growing feeling that the London I would return to -- my London -- would look nothing like the London I left. And in fact, that I might not enjoy living there. This makes me unbearably sad, since I am not sure I'm cut out to be a New Yorker, either.

I forwarded the email, which even detailed the proposal, to a few friends. O promptly wrote back that if CJ is engaged, there is hope for all of us. In typical O fashion, he also criticized the proposal location as touristy and said that if he'd been proposed to at the Colombe d'Or in Saint-Paul de Vence, he would tell the person to "eff off." Love the lovely friends.

I suspect the real purpose of the email was in the last couple of lines: a not-very-subtle attempt to see if I had any details about who's attending the Obama fundraiser at Gwyneth Paltrow's house in London tonight. I forgot how desperate celebrity reporting makes you. I don't miss it a bit, and in fact feel great glee if I happen to notice a celebrity these days – mostly because I don't have to do one single thing and can just go about my business, not caring.

I emailed back my congratulations, and joked that I would alert my former employer so that the magazine can be in prime position to cover the wedding. If there is hope for him there should be hope for me indeed, but I don't feel it.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Set Fire to the Rain

So I moved to New York and my life got so tiny and narrow and suffocating I could barely breathe.

And I broke the glass and air rushed in. But still I stood in the same place, not moving. Not doing much of anything except being unhappy but not being sure how to fix it.

It wasn't depression so much as the internal rot of deep dissatisfaction. I wished I could cut it out of myself, like the bruised part of a peach.

Since I landed back in New York in August, I've spent part of every day thinking and ruing and daydreaming and comparing. But in the process, I have learned what I guess everybody else already knows: The only way to have the life you want is to live it.

And so slowly, slowly I am fixing the ratio of things – minutes, hours – I like, and ones I don't. More New Yorkers, more New York things, more novels. A French class. (Je m'appelle Beth. Je suis americaine. It's ridiculous how happy this makes me.) Less time surfing the Internet, and getting annoyed at Facebook and Twitter for making me feel pathetic for all the things I am not doing. Less time daydreaming; more time dream-catching, or at least, building the net.

I eat more, I exercise less. And as of yesterday, I haven't binged in 30 days.

And it's an upward spiral. I feel better and so I behave better – to other people, but mostly, to myself.

I am still overwhelmed and overworked (my own fault) and dealing with messes I let fester (taxes, my apartment). I still wish I knew more people, but I'm working on it. These days I feel like I'm home and there's a light on and it makes me smile. I'm not always in such a rush, so I have time for pleasantries and random chats with strangers. And sometimes it's strange and sometimes it's nothing and sometimes it's someone to meet for coffee in the neighborhood. But it's me me me me. I'm starting to feel like myself again.

I'm back.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Breakin' All the Rules

Today I did something wild and crazy: I ordered something off the menu at dinner that sounded good to me.

It wasn't the dish I'd chosen ahead of time. Nor was it the alternate "healthiest choice" dish. And to make things even wilder, it was a stew-type dish with a side of rice – exactly the sort of dish I will usually avoid because I can't begin to guess portions. And it had coconut milk in it, something that would usually set off "too calorific" bells in my head.

But I ate the whole thing, enjoyed it – and didn't feel the need to binge after, a reaction I sometimes have to being "bad." There is part of me that wants to go pay for it with some extra exercise, but mostly, I am OK. This is all especially novel because I ate out for both lunch and dinner today, breaking a years-old diet rule of mine. And neither meal was at a restaurant I chose, or a type of cuisine I'd consider safe.

Ah, living on the edge, Beth-style.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Who's Done Whining Now?

So I landed back in New York City just over a month ago and thought: How did I get here?

How did I end up, 36 years old (ohmygod, I just thought "almost 40," for the first time) and single and alone in this city I'm not sure I even like?

How did this happen?

I had binged my way from France to NYC – a very atypical binge, in that it started first thing in the morning and carried on all day. I hit new lows: Needing more food, and so urgently I bought chocolate from the in-flight duty free and ate it.

The day before I left I was having a freak out in E's kitchen about something food-related.

She knew what it was really about. "You're going to be OK in New York," she said, hugging me.

I could hear her with every bite I ate. And still I ate more. I'd landed on a Thursday night, and this carried on through Friday and Saturday.

I ate and slept and loathed and feared. It occurred to me that I had nowhere to be for days; that there was absolutely nothing to stop me. I couldn't think how I was going to pass all the hours of all the days until... until what? There was nothing.

I couldn't think what to do – couldn't think of anyone I could call for help who could really do anything besides worry about me.

By late Saturday night, I was afraid of myself. I thought I might never stop eating. I thought I might start crying, and I could hear my grandmother's response when I asked her why she never cried: "Because I might never stop." And then I could hear her voice so clearly I did cry.

This is not the life she would have wanted for me.

This is not the life I would have wanted for me.


I woke up Sunday morning and put on a maxi dress – the only one I own – I got for free somewhere. I nearly got rid of it several months ago, because I'm not a maxi dress kind of girl. But it was the only thing I was sure would fit.

I stumbled out into the sunlight. I can't remember if I went to the gym that day; I think I realized it didn't matter – that no amount of gym time and no amount of dieting could erase the amount of weight I'd gained anytime soon. (As you may recall, I binged horrifically in London and Amsterdam – weight that also hadn't come off.)

I promptly bumped into my sister's husband's sister, who lives three blocks away but I have never bumped into in all my time in NYC. She had about 20 minutes before racing off, and as she ticked off all the things she was doing in the next few weeks, the business and bustle of her life made me feel empty.

I knew eating would not fix it, but still I wanted to. I knew I had to start telling people I was back and making plans to see them, but I was fighting my usual tendency to hide and isolate and control until I got some of the weight off. (How could I go out when I didn't have anything to wear? How would I ever have anything to wear if I went out to eat?)

I thought back to Provence, where I'd begun, very carefully and fearfully, to think about just how much weight I was willing to gain – if I was willing to gain – to stop bingeing and stop living by crazy rules I made up years ago that no longer serve me (no two meals out in one day, no two nights in a row of eating out, etc).

Am I willing to accept that I am unlikely ever to be the size I was my last two years in London? I don't know. I'm trying.


I have binged once since that Sunday. After 23 days without a binge, I went on a spectacular rampage that shocked even me with the vast amount of food I could consume in the space of less than an hour. It was the kind of binge that makes my back hurt – I think this is because of just how much I have distended my stomach.

That was 10 days ago. I haven't binged again since.

I am eating more than I used to. I don't go to the gym as often, as long, and I don't work out as hard. I'm not sure I've exercised an entire hour – my old standard workout – since I returned to New York. I haven't lifted weights. I haven't gone to yoga. (The last bit I'd like to do something about, but I just haven't found the willingness yet.)

I don't feel like I want to be out in the world looking and feeling the way I do, but I have forced myself to go anyway. Sometimes this is good; other times it is not. (The binge was after a work-type party, though I think it had more to do with untangling myself from a very, very unhealthy relationship-type-thing I could not quit yet knew I had to. I say "type thing" because it was conducted almost exclusively by copious amounts of email and IM while I travelled and then he did. More of which, later. Maybe.)

I worked every day of this month, including weekends, and almost every night. I procrastinated a lot. Neither of these are good.

Today I finished the last deadline for the last paying assignment I have. (I don't think it will be the last paying work I'll ever have, but as a freelancer, there is always that possibility.)I have two other deadlines now, but they are for things that may or may not lead to paying work – and both require me to think about things I am not sure I can right now. My head is full of things I have put off – most of them unpleasant – to deal with "when I finish the last deadline." It is also full of rage at how impossible it is actually to get paid for work one has done. But that is another story altogether.


Last night I had an assignment to cover Fashion's Night Out, which I'd accepted in a moment of weakness.

I'd expected it would depress me because of the sheer number of tiny, gorgeous, impeccably-maintained New York women all happily shopping in great gaggles.

What I didn't expect was how sad it would make me for the person I was, and for the current life that I have that I don't love, and sometimes don't even like very much.

It was shades of my former life: the celebrities, the parties, the clipboards, the fashion – and the fear that I am too fat, too badly dressed, too conspicuous. I wandered through the events feeling distant, like I wasn't really there.

I didn't want to shop because I've put on weight, and because I can no longer get a high from my little(ish) waist or the size on the tag. Because I don't want to try on clothes and don't really want to think about what fall clothes I have that might fit.

And free cocktails and champagne are nice, but only when out with friends. Ditto for the macarons and other treats.

There were random freebies and limited edition goods that once would have delighted me, but last night made me shrug indifferently. I'll still be the same person, only with a (possibly) cool Alexander McQueen keychain. Big whoop, as my sister and I might have said, aged about 10.

I felt sadder, older and wiser just thinking about all the things I acquired – and went to great lengths to acquire – in the past decade.

I did what I needed to do for work and went home and stayed up until 2 am writing the article. And this morning I got up, planning to try, as best I could, to enjoy the first day I've had without an imminent deadline in months. But I couldn't. I had editors cropping up asking follow up questions, and no message from the only person I wanted to hear from (but knew I should be grateful I have not), and all of those things to do that I have put off "until my last deadline."

But that's life, right? Or at least the current life I've got. The question for tomorrow, and for the days beyond it, is how to have more of the life I want and less of the life I don't.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Peace, Love and Sausages

Normally this would be my idea of hell: Someone else’s house, someone else’s choice of meals, someone else’s two-year-old. For days on end. Where there is a lot of talk of food. Where we often don’t eat dinner until north of 9 pm. In a tiny town. And without a gym. In France, for heaven’s sake.

And all of this following two weeks of fairly solid bingeing.

I’ve been in Provence now for nearly two weeks, and although I’ve been working the whole time (and on some stressful stories), this is the most at peace I have ever been. It’s because nowhere in the world and at no other time in my life have I been so calm about food. Not at any spa; nowhere.

I keep trying to isolate what it is; to distill it so I can take it home in a jar, like the lavender honey sold everywhere. Standing in the kitchen hungry at 9 pm, surrounded by food cooking and not having had dinner yet, I pause and think: Why aren’t I panicking? Why don’t I feel the need to have a secret stash of food in my room, so I can nip off and stuff some in my mouth at moments such as this?

Well, it helps that I have spent the week dressed either in pajamas, running clothes, or maxi dresses, aka the daytime nightgown. Not having anywhere much to go = total lack of stress about clothing. Lack of access to any clothes besides those in my suitcase also means I can only get so upset about what does or does not fit, and cannot ruin my day by trying on something too tight. (Well, there are things in my suitcase I’m quite sure don’t fit at the moment after the bingeing, but I’ve either been too cold, sweaty, wet, hungry, tired or busy to start putting on, say, the Courreges I wore to the wedding in London.)

The key thing, though, is that I make few choices about food beyond whether to have more (E or G usually serve me a plate, and one that looks very similar to what they eat) yet never have to worry about whether I will like it, or whether it will be fried or cream sauced to some point that I feel anxious eating it. At the same time, it’s nobody’s idea of diet food: sausage and lentils (it’s been unseasonably cold and rainy), lamb tagine, tuna steaks with caponata, whole wheat pasta with shrimp and eggplant, steak with green beans sautéed in walnut oil. Plus fresh tomatoes and peaches and nectarines and apricots that taste better than almost any I’ve ever had. (Also ice cream. There is a flavor here called café cannelle – coffee and cinnamon – that tastes exactly like spice cake.)

Not once have I tried to estimate the calorie count of what I’m eating. I do have to think when the cheese and bread appear, as they do at almost every meal. Do I need this? (E says cheese is “portion control” in France – people can eat smaller main courses because they know if they’re still hungry the cheese is coming.) I have been eating more cheese than I need, but nothing crazy. And I’m not ever tempted to eat it except when it’s on the table (meaning: I don’t even think about it at other times, including when I open the refrigerator).

I am definitely eating more than I would at home, so only once or twice have I even approached a level of hunger that might ordinarily make me panic. I’ve been thinking a lot about whether I can accept being slightly heavier – in other words, that some of this binge weight may not go – in exchange for more peace about and around food. Here I can live with it, but I imagine back in my own world – New York or London – with places to go and people to see, I may wrestle with my until-now everpresent desire to be thinner.

What else? It helps that there is zero judgment of what I’m eating. I don’t feel self-conscious about needing a snack, or going and getting one (often a peach and a square of dark chocolate, or some coconut yogurt and dark chocolate). That, of course, is E’s special gift (and one above all the cooking done, I know, with me in mind) – a calm that diffuses in the air like perfume.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

It's Just Lunch

I could feel it all morning: I was off. I didn’t have the patience for the slightly affected tones in which E. speaks French, or to stand around contemplating food in the crowded market at Apt.

What is wrong with me? I kept thinking. It’s a lovely sunny Saturday in Provence, you’re with a good friend, and this is one of the first weekend you haven’t worked in months and months.

Then I realized: I was anxious because I didn’t know exactly when we were going to eat (E and G were having friends for lunch, but since E and I were buying the food for lunch and it was about noon and we were nowhere near home, let alone a stove…) I didn’t have any snacks on me, and though we were in a food market, what if I became too hungry to choose properly? And then there were all the other anxieties: How is this freelancing thing going to work? What if I never meet anyone? What if I spend my life rarely properly enjoying anything because I’m too worried about the food? And this huge, looming decision to be made by Aug. 1: Should I keep my flat in NYC for another year? (Lease is up Sept. 30, but landlord says I must decide by Aug. 1.) I won’t deny that the pull of this side of the Atlantic is strong when I am here, but at the same time, the thought of moving seems unbearable. The binge-eating counselor I saw in London (my old one; I made an appointment with him while I was there) says he thinks I need to put down roots somewhere, which I agree with – I can’t bounce back and forth. I need routine. And though he has only once ever made an actual pronouncement (about his hatred of BN2), he busted this out: It is my gut feeling you should move back to London. (And no, he is not that badly in need of clients!)

But back to yesterday.

We got back about 1 pm and the guests hadn’t even arrived yet. Deep breath. I popped out for my diet Coke; still no guests. Then I realized I ought to clean up the room I’m staying in, since guests will need to walk through it to get to the bathroom. When they finally arrived, about 2 pm, I asked E. when we’d be eating -- whether we’d be sitting around the garden with aperitifs for a while. We would be, so I had a second peach (I’d had one earlier, at the market). After the success of French Women Don’t Get Fat it’s impossible not to want to watch how French people eat, so I watched our French guests (G’s friend J and her new-ish boyfriend) attack the saucisson and olives, but I didn’t partake.

J, for the record, is lovely, though not scarily chic. She was wearing a white shoulder-baring dress with a bra with clear bra straps, a look I cannot stand. Somehow it made her likeable, though. Well, until I complimented her on her dress, commented I couldn’t wear a dropped waist, and she responded: “Oh, you could. You have a tummy like me and this hides everything.”

It is embarrassing to admit that sitting in a sun-splashed garden in Provence eating lamb and sausages grilled on an open fire with string beans and heirloom tomatoes I could find life remotely tough, but I did. Though I speak other languages, French is not one of them. I can understand some of it if I concentrate hard, but if I dip out for even a second it takes me a while to pick up the thread again. And so instead of being in the moment, I often was in my own head, worrying about everything above – and of course, whether I might be eating too much and whether I’ll ever get any of this weight off and exactly how large I am.

I felt grateful for sunglasses so no one could tell exactly how engaged I was or wasn’t.

When the cheese course came out all I wanted to do was binge. I just wanted to let go of everything, from considering just how hungry I am to where I’m going to live. Plus I felt slightly full already, and I have yet to isolate what it is in me that wants to binge the minute I feel full. (I know, WTF?) I had some cheese and bread – probably more than I needed – and then we stack up the plates as we clear the table. I eyed the leftovers: the lamb fat and the bits of cheese. Disgusting as it is, I would eat that; that’s exactly how a binge would start.

We scrape it all onto a plate and J’s boyfriend volunteers to take it in to the kitchen. I feel disappointed, but also relieved, like someone out there is looking out for me. Then suddenly I’m alone in the kitchen with all of it thinking: I could have some. I could. But hastily I scrape it into the trash and go back to the garden.

There is ice cream – a delicious cinnamon and coffee that tastes like spice cake – and chocolate sorbet and fresh apricots and candied fruit, the last of which is specialty of the region. I have some of all of it, thinking all the while about a wise friend’s diktat that when we want to binge, we should think: What is it I’m afraid of? I also thought about something I read a while ago: Eat for how you want to feel right now. And I wondered why, why, why fullness for me is binge-triggering, and yet again, why I can’t just be in the moment.

We went for a little walk around town after lunch; a very slow walk, because that’s how things go with a two-year-old. I was teased for managing to find shoes to buy (espadrilles – J bought some, though I did not). And then we headed to E. and G.’s bit of the village garden.

“Oooh, there’s some ripe tomatoes,” G. said. “What can I use to carry them?”

And so this is how I put my Burberry Prorsum cardigan in service of something worthwhile, turning it into a sack. Given that I am already being teased for being the only woman to turn up to a medieval village in Cereste with two pairs of Christian Louboutins (hey, I came from London), this seemed impossibly hilarious.

G. snapped a picture. I snapped back into the moment.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Letter from Provence

“It’s like Canyon Ranch,” my friend E. joked Wednesday, after telling me lunch – chicken, a chickpea and bulgur salad, and heirloom tomatoes -- would be ready in about 10 minutes.

“Better,” I said. “At Canyon Ranch I still have to make a lot of decisions about what to eat. You know I don’t do well with choice.”

I’m with E. and her husband and their 2-year-old son in a small town in the hills of Provence. It is exactly as idyllic as it sounds. (Well, except for my staying up two nights in a row to meet a deadline.)

I am teasing them that they should run a writers retreat, because I literally roll out of bed and to my computer and at regular intervals during the day am asked things like: “Are you ready for lunch?” and “You eat fish, right?” Then – because I asked her to; because she is that good of a friend and understands – I get served a plate. I try not to think too hard about the calories or what’s in it and try instead to adopt E’s view, which is that it’s all good, wholesome food, so what could be bad about it?

In not quite three days here, I’ve only become truly anxious about food twice: Yesterday, when I was handed the cheese plate after lunch and had to decide how much to have and wondered if I’d had too much. And this morning, when I had oatmeal for breakfast for the first time in nearly a year and was promptly starving about 20 minutes later, I think from lack of protein and fat with it. (I do occasionally open the refrigerator here and stare at the peach jam and think about eating it plain, something I only do when bingeing, but the thinking is more idle than any actual plan.)

The lack of anxiety about food would be notable even in the best of circumstances. But we are far from the best of circumstances: before I arrived here I binged for four days straight; horrible binges that swept through like tornadoes. Vintage binges: sneaking off to supermarkets, eating my way through airports; reckless binges where I nearly miss deadlines and planes just to get more more more. Binges because my clothes don’t fit and I’m afraid of getting dressed and maybe I’ll just eat more and then deal with it.

The four days of bingeing came after a binge at the wedding, and then, five days later, another three-day binge, followed by a few days of eating haphazardly, procrastinating madly, and generally being furious with myself for not getting work done but also not properly enjoying my time in London because I was worried about getting work done.

It is amazing how months of control can be undone literally in days. It makes me think of all the things I didn’t eat in New York; whether I’d be better off now if I’d eaten some of them. I honestly don’t know. A very wise friend says that I need to get to the point where no food-type situation is so vastly different than any other food situation: In other words, that I am not overly frightened, anxious, puzzled, or, yes, delighted to any binge-inducing extent.

Of course, for me food is just the gas doused on the spark. I don’t binge out of hunger; I binge to forget, to shut my mind down, to blot out fear and anxiety, to avoid doing things and handling situations I don’t think I can. It is classic for me to feel trapped by a particular situation and binge essentially to remove myself from it. Or to not want to do something and to binge so as to render myself incapacitated. Wouldn’t it be easier just to say no, or to say what I am feeling in the first place? Ah, hindsight.


I have written before about binging and the fear that I’ll never be able to stop. I felt it this time, too: fear and despair. I tried to remind myself that I’ve felt this way before and that I do eventually stop, but these binges, like these days, like this period in my life, are so unlike any I’ve ever had before that it was hard to trust. And I’ve never been good at trusting anyone, least of all myself, even at the best of times.

In London, I’d just gotten through three days without bingeing. I was eating a bit more than usual: Ben’s Cookies for snacks; bigger dinners, extra chocolate. But definitely not binges. On the Thursday night, I bought a couple of things for breakfast/lunch – disgustingly, I love carbs in their most naked form, and occasionally allow myself things like Scotch pancakes and crumpets. It’s a texture thing: I love the doughy-ness, and I can (and have) just crammed in one right after the other, feeling them expanding in my stomach.

Anyway, I had to be up at the crack of dawn for a flight, and I ended up staying up half the night doing all manner of procrastination. Partly it was work I’d been procrastinating about for two weeks, and partly it was that the friend I was going to see in Amsterdam wasn’t quite sure when she’d arrive because she was abroad for work and her flight had been cancelled. I got up on Friday after about an hour and a half’s sleep and just thought: I could murder those. And after a few minutes of wrestling with myself, I did. A package of Scotch pancakes. A package of crumpets. Whatever other snacks I had sitting in my bag. It kicked off a massive binge at the airport, which carried on to another massive binge in Frankfurt Airport. Flight break. Arrival at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport followed by more bingeing.

I can’t ever remember a day like that. I can’t remember ever waking up and bingeing almost from the moment I opened my eyes, and bingeing repeatedly in the same day.

I had hours to kill before I could get into my friend’s, and somehow I managed to stop myself from further bingeing, though that night I drank wine, ate a huge plate of fries with mayonnaise plus a (disappointing) rice pudding (this was more semolina; I wasn’t mad on the texture) with whipped cream.

The next morning I couldn’t find anything to wear. Not only were my jeans crazily tight, but my tops are mostly fitted and my stomach was poking out from all of them. It was pouring rain and far too cold for the maxi dress and cardigan combo I’d been slobbing about in in London. I borrowed a t-shirt from my friend and squeezed into my coat.

It’s hard to be calm when with every move you can feel your jeans, like a distress signal. But I tried – and succeeded – to eat exactly as my friend ate all day. Then it was nearly 6 pm and I was starving and we weren’t meeting for dinner until 8:30 pm.

She suggested a cheese sandwich.

I said I was going to buy some diet Coke and that I’d pick up the cheese.

And even though we were going to eat shortly, and even though I hadn’t exactly plotted for this binge (I can recall other binges where I spent hours or at least minutes waiting for my moment to slip off), and even though I knew I’d feel crummy later and even though even though I went down the street and bought a corn muffin and two small hamentashen. Then I went to the supermarket, literally shaking with fear of what I might eat and how miserable I would feel and what I would possibly be able to wear. I debated a package of apple cakes and various other things. What I really wanted was more muffins, but even I was too embarrassed to go back to the bakery. Then I stopped, thought about how miserable I’d feel all evening if I got too full now, and bought a huge chocolate bar with hazelnuts instead. (The calorie savings were negligible, I’m sure, but a chocolate bar certainly isn’t as filling – and exhausting – as a lot of cake.)

I went back to my friend’s and ate the cheese sandwich with butter she made me. If I could have, I probably would have eaten six. Not out of hunger, but out of avoidance: The last thing I felt like doing was trying to get dressed for a night out, especially when all I had access to was the fairly meager (and far too tight) contents of my suitcase – and my friend is an alum of the luxury fashion business.

I had a very summery navy dress with me I didn’t think I could wear because it was too cold and I couldn’t imagine what sort of tights I’d wear with it. But the friend is British and I forget that almost anything in England can be accessorized with black tights. So I ended up wearing the navy dress, black tights, and nude patent wedge espadrilles, not a combination I’d probably ever have left the house in on my own. But I went out and – even though my face was broken out, and even though I was feeling massive, and even though a million things – ended up going home with the only guy in our group, a rather adorable Brit. (But that’s a whole other story.)

The next morning, Sunday, I had the best of intentions, and it started out OK. I had a bowl of cereal and some yogurt, which was a little messy only because I had no idea how much I was eating and I can eat an awful lot of cereal. After a couple of hours the friend had another bowl of cereal, and so I decided to do the same. It got messier: cereal and milk is the sort of thing I binged on as a child. I served myself a bowl and wasn’t sure if it was too much so I took some bites in the kitchen, added a bit more, took some more bites and finally carried it out. That secret eating is always, always messy – once the idea that I can’t have more is in my head (which it is once I think I need to hide how much I really want to eat), things always go downhill.

My friend went back to sleep for a while and later, wanted feta to put on the salad she planned to make. I volunteered to go out and buy the cheese and – you guessed it – binged. A quick and dirty binge, almost a preventative binge; the I-might-be-hungry-later binge mixed with the I-might-want-to-binge-later-but-almost-certainly-cannot binge, and leavened with the desperation of too-tight jeans, no clothing choices, too many days of bingeing, and the fear and anxiety that I will never be able to stop, that really, yes really this is the time I put all the weight back on, and in about two weeks flat. Nor did it help that I needed a trip to the hairdresser, my face was (and is) still recovering from breaking out in hives, I had a story due the next day I still hadn’t started yet, I was afraid of riding a bike in Amsterdam (which she wanted to do), and even more afraid that my jeans would split while I did so – yes, bingeing is about everything and nothing, isn’t it?

That afternoon we rode bikes, ate apple pie, and then I got stuck down the end of the bar at an impossibly trendy restaurant, feeling both incredibly fat and ugly and also trapped. I was seated next to a particularly boy-crazy friend of my friend’s who only wanted to analyze every man in the room. I spent much of the time ruing that I wasn’t working on my story but that I wasn’t having fun either, and the other bit just wishing I could go off and binge. We had cocktails and bar food and later, more junk.

And on it went. Monday I woke up late (I was and am still sleeping haphazardly) and anxious about getting my bike back to the shop and getting back in time to get to the airport. Also, yes, whether my jeans would fit, whether I’d split them on the bike, and whether I’d split them en route to Provence. I proceeded to binge my way through Schiphol, eat airplane food (which I never do, but I must say Lufthansa served this surprisingly delicious cherry cake), and binge more in Frankfurt, nearly missing my connecting flight to buy a pretzel. I arrived in sunny Marseilles wearing jeans and a big jacket to hide the fact that every time I moved my tummy was poking out. (I actually managed not to freak out that my luggage didn’t arrive – almost the perfect excuse to sit around in pajamas for a day. Wheee!)

“Are you cold?” said E., looking concerned. I almost always am, so it was a fair question.

“No,” I said. “I’ve just eaten so much I need to hide.”
I didn’t want to lie, but I hated telling the truth. The past bunch of times I’ve been with E. have all happened to be when I am post-binge fragile. And she is so considerate I want to hug her and beg to stay here for days, and at the same time so blissfully unaware of all the mental ways I contort myself around food that I want to protect her from it. I don’t want her to know, because I love that these things never ever occur to her. And at the same time the fact that these things never occur to her makes me feel a little crazy.

An example: E. cleaned out the refrigerator before I arrived. Even before she knew I’d been bingeing, she wanted me to open it and only see lovely, healthy things to eat: peaches and nectarines (white and yellow), figs, heirloom tomatoes, yogurt, fish, cheese. But one of the first times I opened the refrigerator what leaped out at me was a half-used jar of Bonne Maman peach jam. It’s her mother-in-law’s, she later told me; E. herself doesn’t think it’s great and started rhapsodizing about some homemade peach jam she wants to open. But to me it was a binge food: If there is nothing else to binge on I have been known to binge on, yes, jam – good or bad. Eating jam for me is like when I start picking at the sugar cubes in a restaurant: It means there will be a binge, and it is going to get ugly.

* * *
I last binged Monday afternoon. It’s now late afternoon Friday. I don’t know how or why, but I just got up on Tuesday and put one foot in front of the other. I told E. on Monday night not to let me go to the shops on my own, and I knew just by saying it aloud that I wouldn’t even try. On Tuesday I worked out for the first time since Thursday: a half hour run in the hills that was so unbelievably difficult because I just felt so heavy; my stomach so hugely distended. Wednesday was a little bit easier: I managed 45 minutes. I was pressed for time yesterday and just did 40. I’m managing not to give myself a hard time for the fact that I’m not doing my usual 60, even though my instinct would be that I must must must because of all the bingeing and the fact that I’m not controlling my food the way I normally would.

I’ve had buffalo mozzarella and heirloom tomatoes and tuna steak and couscous and green beans and coconut yogurt and peaches and nectarines and figs and strawberries and apricots and a bit of bread. I’ve also had all manner of French cheese and dark chocolate and some seriously delicious Turron ice cream. Occasionally I panic about the portions and whether I’ve eaten too much and the amount of oil and how much more this probably is than what I usually eat. Sometimes I panic slightly because I think I’m hungry and didn’t I eat more than enough for X meal? And then I have a peach or a nectarine and a square of dark chocolate and go back to my work, and my friend, and my life.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

Two weeks ago, I walked out of my office in New York for the last time. As usual, I was there much later than my co-workers, and only a couple of people bothered to come by and say goodbye.

Less than 48 hours later, I was on a plane to London. If it’s any indication of where my head was (and is), consider:

--I accidentally put the wrong personal email address for myself on my final work out-of-office message (and my company, which was not very helpful about so many things over the brief period I worked for them, refused to allow me to change it)

--See photo above. Those are two mismatched sneakers I brought with me to London. (I consider myself lucky that I at least have one for each foot.)

I’d like to write something graceful, lyrical and thoughtful about my time in this job and my escape. But unfortunately, I don’t think my writing is graceful, lyrical and thoughtful at the best of times, and certainly not now, after two months of almost no sleep. (If you think I’m exaggerating, I’m not. For the month before I gave notice I was waking up just about every hour or not sleeping at all, and during the last month I fared almost as poorly.)

Here is all I can say: The last eight months feel like a bad dream from which I haven’t yet fully woken up. The funny thing is that it already feels like a terribly long time ago – not a way that’s good or bad, necessarily, just a very long time ago. It’s very strange.

I think the whole experience is going to take me a while to work through. I wish it were just a rotten spot, a bruised bit of peach I could carve away with a knife, but it’s made me question everything I know and want and thought I knew and wanted. I feel terribly old, not just because I haven’t had time to do anything about the gray in my hair, but because there are vines of sadness around my eyes that weren’t there before. And my face bears the scars of hives: I started breaking out from the stress and anxiety about two months ago, and the flare-ups continue, probably not helped by my efforts to hide it with makeup.

Yes, I’m a very pretty, happy girl these days.

Er, not so much.

Before you wonder if I’m about to have a Heath Ledger moment, as a dear friend of mine put it delicately, I am not. (I nearly did the weekend of the triplets’ birthday, but that is another story altogether.)

I was going to end with a cheerful list of goals, but honestly, I haven’t got any at the moment other than not to binge (something I have not been successful with thus far on this trip) and – if I am going to procrastinate – at least to use it to do something I enjoy instead of sitting around freaking out about what I’m not doing.

I hope to be more lucid – and more upbeat – in the future, but for the moment, I’m just checking in to say: Whew, I’m glad that’s over, and thanks for sticking by me.

Thursday, 9 June 2011


Today’s lesson: Arguing myself into lunchtime yoga (no matter how hot it is, how little I feel like going, or how busy I am) is never a bad idea.

PS Thanks for the messages. I’m hanging in there and hiding out at Bon Appetit magazine as often as I can. They have freshly baked stone fruit pies and better yet, they have knives. And they know how to use them.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

The World Turns on a Dime

I've only had three proper jobs in my entire adult life. The first I had for six years. The second I had for five. The third I will have had for just under eight months when I walk out the door June 28.

I'm a binge eater and by nature, I wait for choices to be forced upon me. I don't take stands. I still can't believe I walked in on Tuesday morning and quit.

I'm too tired and shell shocked to say much, other than that it was ugly. Serious Conde Nastiness. "I am hiding at Bon Appetit," I joked to a friend. "They have freshly baked stone fruit pies, and better yet, knives. And they know how to use them."

At one point one of the editors was so – for lack of a better word – mean to me I nearly pointed out that I only owe them two weeks' notice and I'm giving them four. They want a ridiculous amount of work out of me before I leave, and because I'm a people-pleaser, I'll probably give it to them.

People keep asking me if I feel relieved. I don't; I feel numb. I'm not sure if that's exhaustion, or post two huge binges (one a week ago yesterday; one yesterday), or what. I'm starting to wonder if I'm crazy.

And yet. And yet.

Last weekend I went with my neighbour to a tiny music venue down in the Bowery. Her friend was playing, but she wanted moral support in case her ex-boyfriend turned up. (He didn't.) I wasn't crazy about her friend's music, but I loved the woman he was sharing the stage with, and bought one of her albums.

I never listen to music in the office – much of what I do requires fairly ridiculous amounts of concentration (which is all the more ridiculous when you consider the subject matter). But on Tuesday after I quit I sat at my desk copyfitting and listening to the album, like the promise of a better life.

Monday, 30 May 2011


When people ask me almost anything these days – whether I miss London, how I like New York, how I plan to pay my bills, where and when and if I'll move – I have little patience for it. The most honest answer I can give to anything is this: I don't even know who I am any more.

I've always felt I never had a strong internal compass; a mental north that keeps me focused and on the right track. Remember that scene in Runaway Bride where Richard Gere finds out that Julia Roberts always ordered her eggs the way the man she was with did? Sometimes I feel like that's me (except obviously without the perpetual boyfriend, never mind the killer legs and megawatt smile). So think about what six months in near-total darkness – which is what this New York experiment has been, in so many ways – would do to one's sense of direction. It's suddenly hot and bright in New York, and I'm slowly emerging, disoriented and blinking furiously.

I'm not making excuses for the semi-outrageous behaviour I'm about tell you about; only saying at this point I'm not even sure I can say it's most un-Beth-like, because what the hell _is_ Beth-like anymore? Thursday afternoon, feeling (for once) like a properly dressed employee of a major media company in a killer three-year-old black dress from one of my favorite London boutiques ("that dress is hot," said my boss, a woman not given to friendly compliments) + Jimmy Choo slingbacks (from my days of sample sale-ing) + vintage Celine belt (another old London purchase), I had a huge meeting. It went so well I feel guilty that tomorrow I'm about to write "This job sux" in red lipstick on the wall (YouTube footage forthcoming).

At just after 4 pm, I walked out of the office and headed to the garden bar of the Hudson Hotel, where I proceeded to spend the rest of the afternoon drinking and then snogging quite possibly the most dashing, smashing, bright, witty -- and totally unavailable -- man I have ever met in my life. I had hoped to save myself from the inevitable post-date low and binge, and so went on to have dinner and more drinks with a PR woman (something I never do). I can't exactly remember how I got home, and whether I actually walked in my heels. I know there was a binge involved. I'm missing a flip flop.

I woke up Friday feeling so wretched I couldn't get out of bed. So I didn't. I didn't even call. It was a half day at work, I sit in the corner where no one notices me, and I figured I have worked more than enough hours for them. Plus, um, what are they going to do? Fire me? I'm quitting on Tuesday morning, anyway. (OK, there is part of me that's a little scared they'll fire me. Eeek.)

I usually like to sweat out excess, but the thought of the gym was unbearable. Eventually I dragged myself out to run a few errands, do a tiny bit of work at the Starbucks, and finally to meet friends for a late showing of the rather situation-appropriate Hangover 2. (I'd have skipped the film had I not already paid for it.) I couldn't wait to go home and wake up feeling normal, whatever that is.

Saturday night I did the sort of thing that once upon a time I did so frequently it wasn't notable, which is to say I took a random person up on a spur-of-the-moment invitation. When I first moved in, I met one of my neighbors, and have only seen her about one other time since. When we bumped into each other Friday (on our front stoop, where I also nearly walked smack into Matthew Broderick), I asked if she were around this weekend. She suggested drinks. So we embarked on a tour of neighbourhood spots we'd both been wanting to try. I felt post-binge frumpy and slightly grumpy next to my tall, glamorous California blonde neighbour, and briefly wondered (uncharitably) if she were the sort of person who liked to go out with women who never drew attention away from her.

At one spot – the sort of place that serves its cocktails in Mason jars and champagne in 1920s glasses – she insisted the bartender was flirting with me.
"He's a bartender," I said. "He has to."

"That was beyond bartender flirting," she said. "I think you should go back there."

Honestly, where do people get this stuff from, and where was I when male behaviour was being explained to the rest of the class? Daydreaming, probably.


At one point a couple of weeks ago, our fitness director complimented me on the shape and definition of my calves. Is this the fitness equivalent of Anna Wintour complimenting me on my outfit? Discuss.


I told a guy I'd lost 100 pounds. He assumed I'd been anorexic. I cannot begin to figure out how I should interpret this, and I'm not sure I should try.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Assignment: Eat the Cupcake

(No) thanks to the job plus the endless winter, it’s been a bloody miserable six months. And when I finally picked up my head and looked over the next cubicle at 2 in the morning, I realized my world had gotten very, very small.

I was working, and I was worrying about my diet: what I would eat, and when I’d exercise. And that was literally the extent of it. If you think I’m exaggerating, let me admit that I picked my way through weeks like a superstitious child avoiding cracks in the sidewalk, literally planning what I would and wouldn’t do based on eating exactly what I wanted (=eating exactly what was “safe”). I got up at the crack of dawn for workouts, often grueling ones. I rarely had the time to go out for dinner, but if I did I’d only go for sushi, and occasionally I schemed to make it so.

New York is a foodie paradise, and here I was eating the same 12 things while reading about restaurants I was so curious about yet, frankly (and I say this without hyperbole), was scared of. I’d pass places in my neighborhood and figuratively press my face to the glass, envying the apparent ease with which patrons ordered food and lingered over it, laughing and chatting.

There were occasional breaks in the my routine (a brunch here and there, non-sushi, obviously), and – in the last month – weekly (if not more) binges; binges that were so spectacular that they undid pretty much all the weight loss I’d achieved in the previous few months of closing myself off from the world.

This, I’ve been realizing over the past month, is not a life I want. At my sister’s in April I was utterly disgusted with myself and the complete indulgence, luxury, and frankly, dullardness (OK, not a word) it is to be so utterly obsessed. (With triplets, one obviously cannot live the life I do.) Plus, being thinner does not make one happier. Proof positive: I was my thinnest ever when I was dating BN2 and that’s because food was almost the only thing I had control over (for the record, I suspect the control issue was why I was so diet-obsessed these past couple of months).

After the last binge — 10 days ago — I started to think that perhaps I needed to start eating regularly the things I’ve been bingeing on with wildest abandon: muffins, and cake with frosting. I thought about setting myself the task of eating a Magnolia cupcake a week until it becomes just another food. (In the interest of full disclosure, when I’m bingeing I get their gigantic slice of cake; no almost-reasonably-sized cupcake.) Then I started worrying about what would happen if I didn’t really want that; if really I’d rather have a muffin of some sort. And on from there in utter boring-ness I won’t replicate.

Whenever bad things happen to me, I wonder why. Not “why me” in the tragic, hand-wringing way, but why – what is the lesson I will extract from this? In several years, what will I look back and think: Well, but I did X or learned Y from this experience? For a while, it seemed that maybe New York was going to be where I finally got a handle on the bingeing — remember those 100 binge-free days? I don’t know that it won’t be the place, but I’m hoping instead it may be the place that food and I shake hands and make peace, a rather different idea than just being binge-free.

I’m exhausted and shell-shocked at the moment, so there isn’t any plan for this just yet. But slowly, slowly, I’m – if not climbing out of the box – at least seeing a few cracks of light. In the past 10 days, I’ve only eaten my “safe” dinner once. I ate extra food this weekend. I let myself off the workout hook. I went for drinks not once, not twice, but three times (once at a bar with John Mayer, believe it or not – he’s much skankier in person, and heavier, than I imagined). That’s about three times more than in the previous four months.

On Saturday, I went to a spin class at a new studio and the instructor said: “It’s Saturday. Time to leave the week behind and reach for something new.” And that day I read something I’ve been thinking about since: Eat for how you want to feel right now.

On Sunday night, I realized I hadn’t been counting binge-free days. Somehow, that seems like progress.

Friday, 6 May 2011

A Signal and a Sign

After working Monday and Tuesday until midnight and Wednesday until 9 pm, editing and copyfitting on layouts I only received Friday at 6 pm, I arrived at work this morning to find a question from the top editor about almost every other word on my pages.

Her complaints, among other things, were that the book reviews sounded too much like book reviews. She asked such detailed questions about exercises you'd think our readers were learning to be personal trainers – or that she was. She wanted to know why I mentioned beach volleyball in a caption on sun hats. She didn't understand half of the music apps descriptions and wondered why we were running this story in July in the first place. (Um, she approved the lineup as my section's contribution to our July summer music issue -- that is the peg.)

I am not exaggerating for any effect, comic or otherwise.

Tears of anger and frustration welled up in my eyes. I spent a few minutes breathing quietly. I looked at the file again to see if I'd misjudged; if maybe it really wasn't that bad.

It was. It was worse.

I ran to the bathroom and properly burst into tears. I sent a few text messages, then marched myself back to my desk and began slowly working. I tried to concentrate on one little bit at a time and not get overwhelmed with how much had to be done. I tried not to think about the fact that it had already gone through one level of editing and I'd had to make changes and make those changes fit. I tried not to yell and scream that there's only so much useful information one can pack into a five-word caption about a summer hat, for heaven's sake.

I tried not to think that I'd get to repeat this whole process again on the next round of proofs, when the same people would ask different questions, some of it based on information they'd insisted I should delete this time around. I tried not to think about the approximately 27 other things I also needed to be doing so as not to get further behind.

I tried not to let tears well up in my eyes. I failed miserably at that.

I marched out, somewhat defiantly, to a vinyasa yoga class at lunchtime. I couldn't stop crying. I didn't want to go back there. I thought about the fact that even if I walked back in to quit I'd still have to finish this part of the job, and the trouble with this type of job is that you can't half do it or it just gets sent back to you to redo. (In my defense, the editor between me and the top editor – who is widely acknowledged to be the smartest person at the magazine – made only a few changes to my section before shipping it upstairs. And I can't decide what it means that the top editor herself, not prone to gratuitous compliments, thought my section was great. Oh, except for about 10 million little details.)

I struggled to quiet my mind during yoga – to focus on each instruction and bit of advice the teacher gave. I couldn't.

But I did find a small bit of peace. For weeks I have been terrified of making the decision to leave. I've questioned myself and second-guessed myself endlessly.

No more. I am leaving.