Where it all begins, nobody knows.

Leave a comment

Yet I do know.

Sort of.

How my issues with food and body started, that is.

I was 3 or 4, standing in the kitchen after a lazy summer’s dinner on our screened-in porch. My sister was still a baby, my dad the breadwinner, and my mom a happy and (so I’d like to think) fulfilled stay-at-home mother, catering to the needs and attention spans of the ever-jolly Hannah, age 2, and myself, soft-spoken and introverted.

I stood then in the kitchen, bare feet planted on the linoleum floor that never quite shone, watching as mom and dad went through the motions of putting away the remainder of the meal. Potatoes, fresh corn, steamed broccoli, chicken– it was a typical weekday meal, a medley of wholesome flavors and textures heightened with a shake of the garlic salt my parents couldn’t do without.

Hands at my side, wearing my summer uniform of cotton T-shirt and shorts, I experienced suddenly a feeling more painful than any I had felt before. The feeling was not a physical pain, not the stabbing hurt of a skinned knee or a stubbed toe, but rather something deeper. It was, I imagine, in a way akin to a newborn crying out for nourishment or for warmth; an integral need presenting without warning.

I felt this hurt as it spread from finger to finger, from limb to limb. It coursed powerfully through me as I stood there, paralyzed by its resolve.

In that moment, I understood what I had hitherto not known– that I, Sarah, was an ugly, awful being. “Fat” had yet to be incorporated into my vocabulary, but I felt at once too much. Experiencing in that moment the sensation of my flesh and body, I felt profoundly too “too”– too big, too wide, too expansive.

I was at the time of normal size, having grown from a narrow 5-lb. baby to a round toddler, all cheeks and thighs, and subsequently into a gangly child with long, tapering fingers and toes. This revelation of being “too much” held little basis, it would seem, in reality. I was tall, yes, for my age, but neither my height nor weight would have met with anything more than a “normal” rating from my pediatrician.

Still, I experienced in that moment that painful “too”-ness, and desired suddenly to be small and helpless, once again at the mercy of my mother and father for all manners of care.

I remember looking then to my sister, absorbed in her play, and wishing to be like her. Two years, one month and eleven days younger than me, little Hannah was still dependent on my parents for most things. While mom and dad might still have prepared meals and outfits for me, Hannah remained the baby of the family, living in the perpetual land of “not knowing better.” I, I realized, did “know better,” and would from then on be counted on to apply maturity and learned wisdom to daily tasks. I had crossed the threshold from toddler to child, and there would be no turning back. I was a little adult now, for better or for worse, and I hated this.

I wanted to be small, and I wanted to be held. To be nurtured, to be reassured that I deserved, even as I reached the age of 4, of 5, of 6, to be loved as I had been at age 2, at 1, at six months.

This feeling did not last forever, its “too”-ness evaporating after a few minutes, and I soon forgot about it.

But the feeling returned the following year, again without warning, and the year after that. Uncomfortable and just as painful as that first time on a summer’s evening, the feeling would then disappear from whence it came, leaving me to wonder when it would strike again.

The beginning, perhaps, of my self-criticism? My self-loathing?

That’s the theory so far, folks.

As always, to be continued.

Advertisements

And now for some Grub…

Leave a comment

I’ve always been a reader, so it makes sense in retrospect that when I was first diagnosed with an eating disorder and put on medical leave, I spent much of my newfound free time reading everything I could about my “condition.”

While I had always been interested in the etiology of eating disorders, having sensed I suppose my own vulnerability to them, I had at age 18 finally earned my place within the stories and academic inquiries into what it was that would induce a person to develop such behaviors and rituals.

I was, despite my frequent protest that I was simply experiencing a “quarter-life crisis,” an anorexic, leaning on starvation in times of crisis. Starvation afforded me an otherworldly calm that nothing before had, and I was proud of my ability to control tightly my stress by abstaining from food.

So I chose books from the local library that promised to shed light on us “fasting girls,” that might explain what I suspected to be the case– that starving was no different than heroin or alcohol abuse, offering me respite from negative thoughts and emotions.

I began with the early works on the subject– German psychoanalyst Hilde Bruch’s “The Golden Cage”, Steven Levenkron (notable, in addition to his scholarly work, for his work with client Karen Carpenter), then moving on to Joan Jacob Brumberg’s “Fasting Girls.” From there I sampled Geneen Roth’s collection on overcoming overeating and other eating disordered behaviors, seeing myself in the Geneen she described at my age; a person wholly consumed by her body and her hunger.

Perhaps I should have pushed further with this material, pushed myself to write my own version, because I emerged from this exercise in literary immersion not terribly changed than when I had begun. To be sure, I now understood just how pervasive these issues were, and that I was by no means alone in my struggle. But I took a great deal of (unhealthy) pleasure in these books. They fed the connection I did not yet wish to sever with my eating disorder, allowing me to fantasize about restrictive measures that might have been, had I not been stopped by family and the college health center.

I compared myself to the girls and women described by Bruch, Levenkron, Brumberg and so on, holding myself always to the dimensions that these women had reached prior to treatment. I had earned in my flirtation with anorexia the coveted size zero jeans, but many of these girls had met thresholds I never got a chance to pursue– double digits, lanugo*, hospital feeding tubes. I was a straight-A student, relentless in my pursuit of most things, yet the success I might have had as an anorexic had been stymied by college officials and policies. I had been prevented effectively, I later articulated to my nutritionist, from becoming the “best anorexic I could be.”

Learning by way of osmosis everything I could on the subject of anorexia, I was able au moins to eliminate some of the shame I felt regarding my behavior. I was still entirely unsure how to respond to classmates when asked where I had spent my first semester of college, but I had the makings of a vocabulary to describe what I had experienced in that time. A gain not simply in weight, but in self-awareness.

To be continued…

* lanugo= “the fine white hair that grows on anorexics when they have no body fat left to keep themselves warm” (eatingdisorderexpert.co.uk)

Mais alors…!

Leave a comment

Examiner piece on Vermont’s physical education standards available here.

Also, an interested article in U.S. Today here about American public schools and recess in the winter months. In other words, at what frigid temperature do schools pull kids indoors? I’m personally grateful I didn’t grow up in International Falls, Minnesota, where recess would have continued as per usual as long as temperatures didn’t dip below -20. Schools in Fairbanks, Alaska seem to have found a compromise, pushing kids inside in cold weather to walk laps in the halls. A nightmare for hallway aides, I’m sure, but at least the kids are moving.

Further reading

Leave a comment

If you’d like to read more nutrition-related articles I’ve written (this site pays $25.00 a pop!), check out Livestrong.com, where you can type my name into the search field and find work I’ve written. Livestrong is the website of the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

I know I haven’t published much in the way of Grubiness in a while, sorry ūüė¶ It’s sometimes hard to come up something personal, but I will try to get a draft going.

Best,

Sarah

A narrow place: Revised

Leave a comment

A narrow place

* mizraim: the Hebrew word for the land of Egypt. In the Passover story, the term is used to describe the constraints and boundaries of the enslavement of the Jewish people.

 

Cold, shivering bones at 18, a narrow splinter of a person

I wondered how far I could take this campaign against my flesh.

 

I made friends on the basis of this skeleton,

friends who wanted for me this existence

this always, enduring mizraim*; a narrow place.

 

Shunning riches of sweet and savory,

I fell into and against the narrow,

clawing at the walls, the boundaries of the place.

 

Now:

‚ÄúThis is nourishment,‚ÄĚ I am told;

to meet hunger with open hands, a heaping portion

of self-love and accept myself, broken,

full and hurting in all the wrong places.

 

Then:

Fist to palm, palm to hand outstretched; this I grant myself, reluctantly

finding in the depths a seed, I am pulled from the narrow, and draw myself from its folds.

 

This place has become too slender, and I am at once saturated with its reality,

so trading, helping for helping, what has been for what will be: a continued push outward and upward.

On Doing Without

Leave a comment

Another something to share– I was recently asked by Smith alum Caitlin Scafati ’05, whom Active Minds brought to campus last spring to share her photographic exhibit (as seen on the Today Show!) of women in recovery from eating disorders, to write something for a project she is working on with psychologist and financial advisor Kathleen Burns Kingsbury. The project is entitled “Women, Weight and Wealth” and, according to Kingsbury’s website, aims to explore the often-troubled relationship between women, their bodies and their finances.

Cait put my piece up on the project’s Facebook page (“Women, Weight & Wealth”), where you can read it on the discussion board and see other articles and information she and Kingsbury have posted. Otherwise, here’s the text version:

On Doing Without

Like many women who have struggled with eating disorders and disordered
eating, I can easily point to the period of time in which my struggles
began.

I was 16, about to embark on a year-long exchange program in Western Europe,
where I was to live with a host family and attend the local high school. The
goal was to assimilate as much as possible, to adapt to the foreign customs
and culture that would surround me.

Cognizant of my female body as an entity that needed to be contained and
monitored, I assured myself with great conviction that adopting new ways of
eating and living would not prove impediments to maintaining my current
weight. I would not, I promised myself, gain an ounce while abroad, no
matter how much buttered bread and fatty sausages was pushed upon me.

At orientation camp weeks later in what would become my home for the next
year, I relied on a narrow and ill-informed understanding of proper
nutrition when selecting food from the buffet. Butter and margarine were
out, I had decided, but chocolate was not. Poultry and fish was to be
consumed in moderation, but pork and beef were off-limits.

And so, with only the slightest understanding of what was happening, I
became implicated in what would become a long-term struggle between myself
and my hunger. My desire for sweets, for savory– this became my enemy.

As I met anxieties about “fitting in” with a restrictive approach to eating,
I similarly and unconsciously applied such restrictions to my spending
habits, finding it increasingly hard to dispense money on non-essentials.

While frugality is by no means a negative quality, my thrift became
progressively handicapping, and by the time my family joined me at the end
of the year for a week-long vacation, I found myself a veritable scrooge.
Shelling out several Euros for entrance to the Van Gogh Museum felt too
much; trips to buy essentials at the grocery store resulted in tears. I
couldn’t understand why my mother insisted on buying two varieties of bread
when one would do just fine, and felt myself growing more and more anxious
as I imagined funds wasted.

Returning to the U.S. for my senior year of high school, money became less
of a tense affair, and food as well. By the time my eating disorder emerged
with a vengeance the following year, however, I found myself once again
battling a desire to scrimp and save at all costs. Rich pasta dinners with
friends at a local restaurant were off-limits calorically, but I similarly
eschewed any opportunity that involved an “unnecessary” purchase. Though I
had plenty of money in my bank account, spending dollars felt as impossible
a task as “spending” calories on a latte or piece of bread.

My disordered eating habits have yet to be entirely resolved, but I have
continually found that my attitude towards food is correlated with that
towards money. As I deprive myself of flour and sugar, I similarly deprive
myself of the ease with which to spend a lazy Saturday with friends, sipping
coffee and sharing exquisite pastries.

As I mend my relationship with food, however, I find myself easing up on
restrictions about what purchases are and are not appropriate. Buying a
beautiful book for a friend’s birthday is okay, as is the occasional
cappuccino at my favorite coffee shop.

There is, after all, a time for all things– sweets and trips to the museum
alike.

How ’bout some poetry?

Leave a comment

I haven’t written any poetry in a long time, but I’m trying to work something up to enter the Montpelier-based “Poetry Alive” competition. It needs to be trimmed, but here’s draft one. Comments as always appreciated!


A narrow place


Descent:

Cold, shivering bones at 18

a narrow splinter of a person

I wondered how far I could take this campaign against my flesh

 

I

made friends on the basis of this skeleton

friends who wanted for me this existence

this always, enduring mizraim*; a narrow place.

 

Shunning riches of sweet and savory,

I fell into and against the narrow

clawing at the walls

the boundaries

of the place.

 

Redemption:

This is nourishment, I am told

to meet hunger with open hands, a

heaping portion

of self-love and accept myself, broken,

full and hurting in all the wrong places

 

I am, always

and forever

too much.

 

Ascent:

Fist to palm, palm to hand

outstretched

this I grant myself, reluctantly.

 

Finding in the depths a seed

I am pulled from the narrow,

and extricate myself from its folds

 

This place has become too slender

and I am saturated with its reality, so trading, helping for helping,

what has been for what will be:

a continued push outward and upward.

* mizraim: the Hebrew word for the land of Egypt. In the Passover story, the term is used to describe the constraints and boundaries of the enslavement of the Jewish people.

Older Entries