Monday, 23 September 2013

Three Months and Counting

This morning I passed a woman mainlining a Magnolia Bakery red velvet cupcake as she walked down the street, and felt a surge of something.

For once it wasn’t jealousy or resentment or despair – or a craving for one (or four) of my own.

It was gratitude. Seriously. That for today that is not my life, and that it hasn’t been for the past four months (today, I think, is day 117, though I’ve basically stopped counting after 100 days).

That doesn’t mean I’m not going to eat Magnolia Bakery cupcakes again – though weirdly last week, after months of walking by and practically licking the glass, the smell actually nauseated me. But at least for a few minutes, I genuinely couldn’t imagine cramming a cupcake in my mouth, at least not before 11 am. (This isn’t to say I’m not absolutely overcome sometimes with the urge to binge. It is there, to a greater or lesser degree, almost every day, which may be part of why I was so grateful to find myself without it, even for a few minutes.)

The idea that I have gone an entire summer without a binge is unbelievable to me. I think this current binge-free period may in fact be the longest I’ve gone in my adult life without bingeing, restricting and/or exercising for hours. I can’t quite explain it. I’m still sometimes as cranky, depressed, despairing and every other thing I ever was, but occasionally the gratitude bubbles up as if from nowhere and I am, dare I say it, almost overcome. So overcome – or at least, wise enough – that the other day I turned down an extremely well-paid, high-profile assignment… because it involved doing a juice cleanse. I felt a tiny bit of regret (and a dash of despair), but mostly just the sense that no amount of money was worth what a juice cleanse might do to my head.

And the $64,000 question: Weight. I have been weighing myself once a week, in the gym, after breakfast, which I know is not ideal but seems better than having a scale in my apartment. I don’t scale hop any other day but Wednesday (weigh-in day), though I’m nearly always tempted, especially if I have been out for a lot of meals that week (or eaten particularly cleanly).

Right now it’s hovering about 20 pounds lower than where I started a little over four months ago, and about seven pounds above what Weight Watchers would name as the top of my desired weight range. Most of my London clothes still don’t fit, and I’m not delighted to consider that they may not ever, because I am not sure I’m willing to eat less than I do now, and exercising more is not a good idea. (I’m already at six days a week.)

But I know this for sure: However I feel about it, bingeing certainly isn’t going to help.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Moving On Up

Last week, I did something I have never done in my entire life: I moved because I wanted to.

I’ve only ever moved because the school year ended, the lease ended, I was moving cities, I was moving countries, and in one case, because there was a flood. Which is to say, no matter how bad the place I’m in is, I only move when I absolutely have to.

When I first moved to New York, I had less than two days to find a place. When a friend suggested the apartment I was renting might be dark – all the windows faced other buildings -- I shrugged, thinking: That’s what lamps are for. Little did I know how two years of never knowing what the weather was like outside would chip away at my soul.

The apartment was above a restaurant, too, but I’d lived above a restaurant in London. Ha. The one in New York was a bar and restaurant, open until 4 am, and most nights I’d go to sleep (if I could sleep) feeling like my bed was in the middle of a party to which I hadn’t been invited. After months of their insisting they’d never had a problem with previous tenants, I finally won a war with the place – called, ironically, Diablo, or Devil – to remove their speakers from the ceiling after I’d repeatedly email them critiques of their playlists, which I could hear above my own music. “You played a little too much Keane tonight,” I’d write. Or: “Wow, I haven’t heard that Killers song in a while.” Every night at about 2 am I’d ask them to turn it down. They said they would, but the volume never seemed to change until I threatened to call in Environmental Protection Services.

And yet I didn’t move. There was always some other deadline, some other reason. It was too much work. I hate looking at property. I wondered if I should move to Brooklyn. Oh, but where in Brooklyn? Oh, it was all too much work. Bladdy blah blah blah. And so I’d just suffer in silence. And let the record reflect that I am a writer who works at home. So it wasn’t like I was never there.

Every time things with the restaurant got bad enough to involve the landlord, I’d say I was interested in moving into another apartment in the building, and they’d promise to let me know when something became available. And every once in a while I’d see people moving on or out, but no one ever called me.

Until two weeks ago, when – binge-free for nearly two months (and I do think this is relevant) – I spied a broker in the building. I called the landlord.

I almost didn’t go see the apartment. I didn’t even want to have to decide. It just all suddenly seemed like too much work again. But I forced myself to go anyway. I loved the place: Bright, with a cool brick wall and a much better layout that mine. I went up again at 11 pm to see what it was like at night. It was so quiet.

I texted my sister to see if she’d think I were crazy to do this. “Do it!” she texted back immediately. I texted my friend Julie. “Do it! Do it! Do it!” she wrote.

And so I did it. In less than a week. It was terrifying and stressful and painful, the last because in packing there is much confronting of dashed hopes and the wreckage of the past. Clothes that no longer fit, projects I didn’t finish, memories of how it felt to move to New York in the first place, when my grandmother was still alive and the magazine world I was going to work in seemed glittering and glamorous.

I woke up a week ago on the first morning in my new apartment and immediately had to text two friends.

“Waking up with sunlight is, like, the best thing ever,” I wrote.

It’s so bright I have to get curtains because I can’t see my computer screen.

I can’t believe I did this, but I’m so glad I did.

Seventy-three days without a binge. 

Monday, 8 July 2013

Going Bananas

Early this evening – and ironically, after sitting around thinking how nice it has been not to be recovering from a binge – I nearly did.

I’ve been hungry and tired today, and the soupy heat hasn’t helped. I sat in the air conditioning in the foyer of the gym (just because it was convenient, and I didn’t feel like dealing with Starbucks) idly checking messages, reading my newspaper, and then a book.

It was nearly time for dinner when I opened my bag and realized there was a banana in it.

A banana. I mean, who cares about a banana? To quote Oprah, nobody ever got fat eating a banana.

I had it unpeeled and was about to take a bite. I usually have fruit in the evening, I reasoned, so maybe I could just count this as that. But because of hunger I was having dinner earlier than usual, which meant I’d likely want my fruit snack later even more than usual.

I could feel the thoughts threatening to engulf me: The exhaustion of thinking about everything. The fear of being unceasingly hungry. The end of a long weekend where I have wasted a lot of time, and the onset of a week I’m not sure I have the energy to face, for no particular reason other than my weariness with everything at the moment.

Suddenly I knew it wouldn’t be just a banana I ate. And that if I ate it all night the thoughts would claw at me. Maybe I could have just this, or just that, or…

Or no. I was about to shove a banana in my mouth on my way to dinner. I mean, WTF?

I threw out the banana.

Two hours after dinner, I had two plums -- and no regrets. 

Day 40. 

Friday, 5 July 2013

Independence Day

Today is 37 days since my last binge.

I can’t yet – and if I am honest, probably never will – say I’ve found total freedom from bingeing, but let’s just say that the trial separation has been pretty nice (though not at all easy).

And as I think I mentioned, Weight Watchers and I are dating. And so far I’m down 11.4 pounds.

I know this is Weight Loss 101, which apparently too much frosting or similar this year has obliterated from my brain, but I’m finding it very helpful to plan out the night before exactly what I’m going to eat and – here’s the key – stick to it. Every single time I want to change the plan (except for things like accepting a last-minute invitation to dinner), I ask myself why. Usually it is because I have work I want to avoid, I’ve just seen something that looks good (I can always have it tomorrow, is what I tell myself), or any number of not-really-legit reasons.

I know it makes me sound completely crazy, but having no need to obsess about what I’m having for lunch as soon as I’ve finished breakfast leaves me a lot of free time and headspace.

Which obviously I immediately use to solve world peace, write the great American novel, calculate how long it will be until lunch.

Monday, 24 June 2013

I'll Leave the Cupcake

3 little monkeys + 1 sunburned aunt

I spent Friday night piping homemade frosting onto homemade cupcakes and making peanut butter and jam sandwiches in the shape of monkeys.

It was surprisingly fiddly, not surprisingly messy, and absurdly satisfying. It was for my (three) nephews’ third birthday party, and my sister needed help. I was happy to do it, happy I could do it, and happy none of it ended up in my mouth – not that night, and not the next day at the party.

It’s not that I intend to deny myself frosting forever. But I knew starting to eat it the night before would get messy, because I wouldn’t just take a taste, and I’d arrive at the party the next morning already feeling a little sick. At the party itself I was so busy chatting, chasing, and corralling that I never really got around to them.

It was a novel feeling, getting back home and for once not worrying about who had seen how many cupcakes (and heaven knows what else) I’d eaten, and what might be being said about me by my family.

It may be almost as good as cupcakes themselves.

Twenty-six days without a binge.

Monday, 10 June 2013

I Saw the Sign

For at least a few months now, from time to time my therapist has suggested Weight Watchers. Not necessarily for losing weight, but as a way to learn that no foods are forbidden, and that anything can be fitted into a healthy eating plan.

I listened, but inwardly I dismissed it. I haven’t done Weight Watchers for years, but I didn’t want to measure anything and track anything. I didn’t want to deal with my tendency to overestimate grossly the points of what I eat in restaurants. I didn’t want to start obsessing about the best ways to use my points, and spend ages calculating options. I didn’t want to switch to foods that are less whole, less filling, and sometimes more chemical (nonfat cheese, nonfat yogurt) because the point system encouraged them, or to discover that foods I like to eat (and were, in some cases, nutritionist approved) have an absurdly high number of points. And most of all, I didn’t want to weigh myself, which I knew would be required to start.

As the months passed and still I was unable to string together more than a couple of days without bingeing, and none of the foods my nutritionist was telling me to eat sounded appealing, I became more desperate. But still I wasn’t willing.

Then a friend in London told me she was doing Weight Watchers for what turned out to be the same reason I was considering it: So she could get a handle on portion sizes and fitting in foods (as she pointed out, chocolate, for example, does not have little devil horns next to its point total).

I wanted just to do it, but I couldn’t face finding out that I’d gone above a number on the scale (200) I swore, after 2006, I never would again. And I was sure I had. By this point last week I had managed to string together maybe six or seven days without bingeing – more than I had managed in a while. I was eating healthy foods but in huge portions; portions I knew were way too large but I almost didn’t care – that’s how relieved I was not to be bingeing.

And then a friend I’ve started doing Barry’s Bootcamp with on Wednesday mornings got engaged, and mentioned she wanted to lose weight. I told her I’d do it with her, and suggested we look at Weight Watchers. Then I saw a blog friend doing it, too.

Something snapped.

At just after 3 in the afternoon – despite the amount I’d already eaten and drunk that day – I went to the gym and steeled myself to get on the scale, reminding myself that just because I didn’t technically know the number didn’t mean I didn’t know it in some sense.

It was 195 pounds, or one pound less than what I weighed at the nutritionist in November. I got on both scales there just to double check, and the numbers were similar. Then I signed up for Weight Watchers.
That night I reminded myself that still I weigh less than I did for most of high school. Today is Day 5 of WW, but more importantly, day 12 without a binge.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Walking on Eggshells

“What do you want to eat?” the nutritionist asked me, and I began to panic before I even considered.

I try not to consider what I really want to eat. Ever. Because considering means choices and rules and fears and often a binge, because I want it all right now and I can’t have it.

Being asked what I want to eat is, for me, like being first in line at the buffet: I have no idea how to handle it, and I want to see what someone else does first. (When confronted with a restaurant menu, I try to choose the first healthiest option that leaps out at me and close the menu pronto. Woe to the person who asks me: “Oh, but wouldn’t you rather have X?”)

But yesterday I returned to the nutritionist after having been away for nearly a month. Two weeks in Africa, where I was so unbelievably fine you’d have thought I was normal. A plateful of food, three times a day, end of story. (And a total of nearly 60 days without a binge.) And then, upon returning to the US, two weeks of bingeing unlike any I’ve seen in years, if ever.

Usually I like getting back to my routines, but back at home, none of the foods I typically eat tasted good. Plus, there wasn’t much routine: Less than 48 hours after I landed in New York, I went to Chicago for a wedding. I didn’t feel very well, which bizarrely can be a binge trigger. And I did: At the rehearsal dinner, at the wedding, at the brunch on the Sunday. I got so ill (cold/flu) on the Sunday night I feared I wouldn’t make it home and lay around desperately feverish and stuffed up on the Monday. Tuesday I was again ill, but I binged anyway. Wednesday OK, Thursday a ball (where the week’s four days of bingeing meant the dress I wanted to wear didn’t fit), where I binged again.

Friday OK, Saturday overate (but didn’t binge), Sunday a bachelorette party that included a trip to an artisanal chocolate shop in Brooklyn. (Do you even need me to tell you what happened?) Monday to Thursday I was OK – eating more than I needed, but not bingeing. Friday I went on a (terrible) date (more of which, another time) and binged afterward. Saturday’s eating not stellar; Sunday a binge.

I had wanted to avoid the nutritionist until I could scrape more than a few non-binge days together. That might have worked if I didn’t have a wedding this weekend and then a trip to Los Angeles, among other things. Suddenly I realized that if I didn’t go in and see her this week, I could be in binge free-fall until I got back from LA.

I didn’t want to eat the things she’s told me to eat. And yet I wanted her to tell me what to eat. I wanted a whole new eating plan, so I could feel hopeful, the way I always used to at the start of any diet.

And so I went to see her, hiding out in my Sweaty Betty tracksuit because I’m afraid to put any of my jeans on.

“Now is not the time to get creative,” she said. I knew it. And in a lot of ways, I knew she was right.

“But I just can’t face eating some of these things anymore,” I said. “Maybe I could just have one more lunch option?”

“What do you want to eat?” she said gently.

My brain went blank and fuzzy, live a TV screen when there’s no signal. Then something surfaced.

“Um, eggs?”

I told her I kept remembering a lunch of steamed eggs with spinach with delicious bread (with a lot of olive oil) I had in March at Buvette, a French restaurant near me.

“Eggs are good. Filling. How do you want to eat them?”

I had a vision of a sandwich involving mashed hardboiled eggs. She suggested I add avocado and arugula.

Last night I shopped for the ingredients, and I felt the frisson of excitement: Something new. Something that just might fix me.

I knew it wouldn’t, but it tasted good anyway.