Saturday, December 31, 2011

Disorderly Eating Habits

I have been asked to write about my struggles with an eating disorder, repeatedly, and by more than one or two people. I've been wanting to comply; but it is (natch) a hard subject about which to open oneself up. So I have been putting it off. And putting it off. And while I have been putting it off, I have been eating. A lot. Well, after all, it's Christmastime. All there is to do is eat. Eat and celebrate the holidays with cake, cookies, pie, candy - and when it isn't sweets, it's food like turkey with bread dressing and flour/salt based gravy ... root vegetables cooked in butter and sugar and loaded with nuts and fruits and little tiny marshmallows. One plate after another.

Today is December 31st. Tonight, the holiday season will end. And tomorrow, to quote the great Mo'Nique, is a new muthafuckin' day, baby.

My husband and I both did our commiserating over "feeling fat"; when the truth is that we aren't fat. Oh, we aren't in the best shape of our lives, that's fair to say; but it will only take a few weeks to get back to where we once belonged. It is just going to take some focus and some hard work. I don't believe in New Year's resolutions - not at all. I do believe in change, though, and it seems appropriate to make this change and to live a healthier, happier life. Since, though, I do not believe in New Year's resolutions, I will not start this change on the first day of 2012; I'm going to start it on the last day of 2011.

So it seems like a good time to talk, openly, about my life as an addict, as a man, as a gay man, with an eating disorder.

I don't know when or how my unhealthy relationship with food began. I think just about everyone in America does have an unhealthy relationship with food - whether it is based on overeating, anorexia or something somewhere in between. I don't know about other countries - I only know about America, land of the obese. I think it starts when we are children, when we are babies. A baby cries and we stick a bottle in the baby's mouth. A child disturbs us and we quiet the child with a popsickle (and a tv set - but that is another story for another day). A tween gets a good grade and we reward the tween with an ice cream sundae. A teenager goes out with friends and takes all the lessons we have taught them about eating and consumes an entire pizza and liter of soda, then, later, beer. Then, before you know it, the child is a grown up - a fat one.

This is a sweeping generalization.

I don't think my parents raised me the way I just described. Though I can say that my grandmother's house was always filled with Hostess fruit pies and that the holidays saw many containers of my mother's homemade holiday cookies, crying to be eaten. Nobody forced me to eat these things. I ate them of my own free will. At five, I ate an entire refrigerator crisper full of fruit and ended up in hospital. At thirteen, I would come home from school and eat slice after slice of mama's banana bread, slathered with butter. At seventeen, I would buy and consume, in one sitting, those enormous Toblerone candy bars - not the normal size ones, the really big ones. By the age of 25, I was on my way to being the funny, fat gay guy. By 30 I was an alcoholic, a smoker, an over eater and depressed. I could go to the grocery store and pick up a bag of Oreo Double Stufs and a gallon of milk, take them home, put in a vhs tape and consume all of it. Or maybe it was an Entenman's Ultimate Crumb Cake AND Donut Variety Pack AND the gallon of milk. And it would all be gone before the movie was over. I would order an entire large pizza, eat it and get rid of the box. I would call Fresco Tortilla and get a chicken/cheese quesadilla, a soft taco, a regular taco, a burrito, sour cream and guacamole and knock it off in 5 minutes, flat. These were my regular binge items. By the time I was 37, I weighed in at 205 pounds.

I hated everyone. I hated the people who were pretty, while I was not. I hated the gay men who were superficial and placed so much emphasis on good looks because they wouldn't look at fat, ugly me. I hated myself. I stopped trying to groom myself. I stopped trying to make new friends. I stopped having sex. I stopped going out in public, unless I really had to. I was in a lot of pain, emotionally, mentally and physically -- carrying the extra weight was taking a toll on my body, especially my back and knees.

So I joined a gym. I hired a trainer. I lost 60 pounds and became a sort of an expert on health and fitness. I developed a public (ish) persona based on my transformation and my new found knowledge about health and fitness.

And I didn't eat for seven years.

When I say I didn't eat, I don't mean that I didn't eat; I mean I didn't eat off my diet. My diet was eggwhites, chicken breast, broccoli, asparagus, tuna, tilapia... healthy, non fattening food. I didn't have a slice of pizza or a bowl of pasta in all those years. I admit that, from time to time, I would have a cookie - my girlfriend has a cookie company and that's a perfectly good excuse to eat a cookie -- I was supporting her business. Otherwise, I was a complete and total food nazi, which my trainer loved.

Then one day, I ate a piece of cheesecake on a cruise ship. And I haven't stopped eating since.

A year ago, I asked a girlfriend of mine if I could go with her to her overeater's group and she said no. She told me that if I went to her group, looking the way I do, the other members would resent me, that some might laugh at me. That bothered me. It seems to me that the concern should be the compulsion; and that, when someone seeks help, someone else should extend their hand.

I tried hypnotherapy. A friend told me that they had had some luck with hypnotherapy, trying to get their anxiety in order. I spent hundreds of dollars with the hypnotherapist - and one week after our last session, I ate that piece of cheesecake.

I spent two years eating anything I wanted and justifying it any way I could. I made every excuse in the book, the most oft used one being "I've been dieting for 7 years, I deserve a break."

Before I started eating, I looked like this:

Today, I don't. I don't look bad; but I don't look like this. And people, when hearing me talk, frankly and openly, about my problems with compulsive eating, tend to sneer at me or even laugh at me. They judge me, at their will, and quite vocally; everyone from strangers to family (and please don't ask how I end up discussing this topic with strangers - just know that the topic DOES come up). People do feel quite comfortable being perfectly vocal with their judgments, their derision, their unsolicited advice. And what people don't seem to remember is that they are not inside my head. They don't feel the things I feel, like the abject disappointment I feel in myself for not being able to control myself as I eat my third quart size container of greek yogurt in a row. They don't hear the things I hear in my head, when I can't fasten my jeans; things like "you fool - you had a perfect body and now you've lost it all." They don't know the physical pain of trying to digest refined flour and sugar after 7 years of clean digestion.

It always amazes me, the things people will say to your face, without considering (for even a moment) if they have the right; or if it the words will sting.

My (extremely generous and loving) friend asked to take me to his Overeaters Anonymous group. I went. Once. I never went back.

I know I need help. I also know that I don't believe in the 12 step program. I quit drinking cold turkey. I quit smoking cold turkey. I quit eating (unhealthily) cold turkey and stayed that way for 7 years. I can do it again. In my own way, in my own time. What I have to remember is that I am an addict. I have been addicted to booze, cigarettes, depression, food, even television. I have beat all these addictions, even food; but it is so difficult to stay on the right track with food because it is so accessible. I mean, we don't need alcohol or cigarettes to live - we need food. And it's everywhere. And if you are financially strapped and have to eat what is available to you, a two dollar jar of processed, lard-ridden peanut butter is certainly going to be more attractive, fiscally, than an organic chicken. There are no fewer that 2 dozen excuses I can make for not eating the way I used to; and I've made them all. The thing is: I can no longer afford to make excuses. I'm not a 20 year old - my metabolism isn't what it once was. My body can't exercise the way it used to. I have issues with my back, with tendonitis, with certain joints... if I am going to stay healthy, I have to use a combination of diet and exercise. These are just more excuses, though. My friend Joe, broke his back and he bounced back, through yoga. Today, he is a yoga instructor. I have heard tell that one of my favourite broadway dancers had a bad injury doing a Kander & Ebb musical; but just a week ago I saw him tap dancing in a Cole Porter musical.

There is nothing that we cannot do, if we just have the focus and the fortitude.

I hurt my back three months ago. I say it was broken, even though it wasn't a spinal break. It was something that the doctors haven't been able to really pinpoint, though I have seen several different types of doctors and specialists. So during these last three months, while I have been unable to train and overly able to overeat, I've had a lot of time to reflect on the eating disorder, some of the things that have caused it and some of the ways it has manifested itself. Here are some realizations that have developed, in my mind and on paper:

--As a child, I always thought my mother the most beautiful woman who lived (still do). Often, people would say I looked just like my mother. So I began to believe that I was just as beautiful. As I grew into my teens, I became cocky, saying things like "I'm going to be young and beautiful forever" (my love of the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray did not help curb my overdeveloped ego). This attitude was, truly, a mistake in my life; for it is a surefire reason for the universe to take your youth and beauty away, to spite your cockiness. (see the pic of my mom below..)

--When Delta Burke was a success on Designing Women, the world watched her go from fit to fat. In an interview, she said she was challenging life, Hollywood and her husband to "love her for who she was". At the time, I did not understand. Now I do. For, when you develop a public (on any level) persona for being beautiful, it becomes exhausting to live up to it. You want to be known for more than your looks. So you may self sabotage, if only to prove that there is more to you than this:

--I have heard it said that people numb themselves with food. In my life, I have been lead by my emotions - even if it is the emotion of indifference (which I have mastered). When I eat too much of anything, I fall asleep. You don't get more numb than that.

--Is it better to be beautiful? Or better to have MORE to offer than just your looks? What is it like for those people whose only talent is being pretty?

--I have been in situations where I am eating and eating and eating and even though I think to myself, 'you're getting sick', I continue to eat. I wouldn't do that with cigarettes, when I was smoking; if I got sick when I was drinking, I would vomit and go to bed. With food, it is harder to stop; yet I am aware (before I start) what effect it will have on me, (while I am eating) that it is making me sick and (after I am finished) that it has had a lasting effect on my body. If I could find some way to acknowledge that and remember it, full time, I could help myself to abstain.

--It isn't about being pretty - the pain of digesting toxic food and the strain the extra weight puts on my back and joints are all unbearable. What better reason than this, to stay on target? If your body is a temple, why pollute it?

--It is about being pretty. When I was young, I was shy. When I got older, I was fat. When I got in shape, men paid attention to me - and gay men are all about the physical. Being admired because you are attractive is a feeling, a desire, everyone can relate to. In the gay community, it is an essential. I'm sure gay men, everywhere, feel the pressure to be beautiful. I know I am not the only gay man with an eating disorder. My struggles with diet and exercise have certain patterns. I will diet and exercise myself into a frenzy, just for a specific goal (Pride, a party, a birthday, a photo shoot), even going to the point of starvation for the last 2 to 3 days, just to reach the goal. Once the goal is over, the eating is unparalleled and lasts for days, even weeks, until the next goal. This kind of yo-yo dieting is bad for the body AND the mind.

--I don’t actually have to worry about looking hot. After all, I have a husband who loves me the way I am. Perfect is not a necessity. However, we are not monogamous, so maybe I DO have to worry about looking hot. But at my age, haven’t I had enough sex? Or is it that: at my age, haven’t I eaten enough? This is the yo-yo in my head that goes with the yo-yo of dieting. Wouldn’t it be better for the body, the mind, the emotions, to just commit to being healthy all the time? After all, at the end of the day it is all about how you feel … and when I am overeating, none of me feels good. At all.

--Everyone is tired of people complaining. Just do it and stop talking about it.

That last one is the one that rings through my mind, over and over. While I was at that one O.A. meeting, I couldn’t help thinking horrible judgmental things – the same things I thought the few times I went to AA. Things about people and weakness… I know, it makes me an awful person. Wait. No it doesn’t. It makes me human. We all judge each other. I found myself judging people I didn’t know because they seemed too weak to get up off the sofa, put down the Cheetos and get on with their lives, change what was bothering them and stop whining about it. When I found myself doing that, though, I went inside my head and said “Stephen Mosher, don’t you DARE judge these people! They have the same problem you do! Don’t you DARE!” So I found myself able to change a habitual thought pattern and turn those feelings into feelings of compassion. Just like I say that all gay men are beautiful, I have to believe that all people with an eating disorder are to be offered empathy. So that is what I do – offer empathy.

Starting with myself.

I don’t know why I have this addiction. I don’t know if I will ever beat it, absolutely. I do know that I do not worship in a group; so I will not heal in a group. I am a solitary man – I insist on strength and the ability to do it (whatever it is) on my own. And even though I am a blogger, I am a private man. I may share the story of my problem with anyone who wishes to read about it; but I will not share the healing process. Everyone has their own process, their own battle, their own way of fighting and of healing – mine is to do it on my own. It’s gonna hurt like a whore but Ima do it. I did it with booze and tobacco and so many other things – even food. I can do it again, with food. Like Zorba said “Let’s do it quick, here and now; like men quit… smoking, drinking or a love affair.”

There are many questions to ask and answer. That will come in time. For this time, though, there are only statements, ringing affirmative and clear:

My name is Bulldozer Mosher; and my love affair with food is over.


Anonymous Pat Dwyer said...

My Darling - I have read this 3 times now and I will keep this in my heart. You are my inspiration and I will cling to you for my strength!

I love you and I will be beside you always.


12:52 PM  

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