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)

Advertisements

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:

“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.

 

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.

Lost and found: Enfin du prose!

Leave a comment

A bit of prose, inspired by something found. Warning: this is a pretty angry piece.

Digging through our spare bedroom, through the boxes of assorted crap that has built up over the years, I come across my agenda from my first year at Smith. It is beat-up, folded on its edges, and still it is familiar.

It is this thick book of dates and times that carried me through my first semester, from the first day of classes (“10:30-11:50: First-year seminar; 1-2:20: Introductory Macroeconomics”) to mid-October, when an appointment at Health Services results in involuntary medical leave, a factor, apparently, of an eating disorder they classify as anorexia nervosa.

I know the name, of course, have read endless tomes of personal struggle with the disorder, but never did I think the term would apply to me, at least in a clinical sense. No matter, the pink “reminder: you have an appointment” slip stares back at me from the day marked Friday, October 6th. It is held to the page with a single strip of Scotch tape, and I remember, suddenly, placing it there, asking the receptionist sweetly if I could snag a piece of tape to hold the note in place.

From Friday, October 6th we have Fall Break, a four-day reprieve from school and girls and dining hall-induced loneliness that I have looked forward to for quite some time. I spend the four days meeting questions about my weight and body with anger and discomfort; what am I to say? To acknowledge my receding flesh as a function of a concerted effort to lose weight would be humiliating, so I squirm and nod and shake my head, offering as little as possible in the way of a response. “Mom,” I say, with some urgency in my voice, “I’m going home, I’m tired.” This in reaction to a family friend, who questions point-blank whether I’ve a) lost weight (well, duh), and b) if such weight loss was healthy (well, fuck you).

Then I am back to Smith, to classes and to appointments with the school physician, a stooped, awful man who questions my capacity to stay in school with my so-called “eating disorder.” My days are parsed out, in my memory and in this neglected assignment book, into “presentation for psychology,” “study for French,” and activities for the various extracurricular activities I’ve taken on.

On October 15th, my grandmother, une Smithie ancienne of the Class of ’49, comes to visit, and we eat dinner at the local natural foods restaurant. The minimalist menu meets my orthorexic values, and those of my grandmother as well. We order twin portions of salmon and brown rice, a simple meal we could easily have crafted for ourselves at home, and for far less money. The early-evening light and hippier-than-thou staff does not make up the difference.

The salmon comes with a side salad, and I order, knuckles gripping the chair for support, the ginger-lime dressing. It is at the behest of the campus nutritionist that I eat my greens not bare but with this viscous dressing, a dribble of calories I would sooner do without. My grandmother, herself a master of restaurant substitutions and requests to “hold the fat,” asks instead for oil and vinegar, and on the side, s’il vous plait.

This query makes me furious. My grandmother is fully aware of the implications of my form and function, a fraction of the body I once inhabited, and yet she cannot still the disfunction of the rules and regulations that govern her eating. I watch her parse the round of rice into two, and remove, carefully, the basement layer of fat that rings the fish.

I explode. “How am I supposed to feed myself and commit to gaining weight when you can’t fucking be normal about food?”

I hate myself for the dressing, for not choosing vinegar and oil (on the side) as she did.

She is sheepish, contorts her shoulders into a shrug, and shares that she doesn’t want to “burst out” of her pants.

I hate, and let, for better or for worse, this hatred permeate the visit, offering reticent-at-best hugs and terse responses to her questions and comments. I stew this fury with barks and other outbursts, and decide, after careful contemplation, that I have gone about this gaining all wrong. It is too uneven, too haphazard, and I am profoundly uncomfortable with the pounds acquired.

I must re-commit, re-begin, by losing first the few I have collected and then, in perpetual re-mode, re-eat my self into an acceptable weight category.

Re-do, re-try, re-assemble: this is my life.

To be continued.

New site

Leave a comment

Hello there, dear readership! I hope you’ve all been having a relaxing few days.

I’ve started writing for another site, Factoidz.com, which promises to pay slightly more than the Examiner (yay!). I’ve published two articles on the site, one on the role of diet and depression in predicting heart attacks, and the other of a “psychological” theme, on the mediating role of self-criticism in the relationship between childhood abuse and bodily dissatisfaction and depression in Binge Eating Disorder.

Links to the articles here and here.

The personal statment

2 Comments

Très busy this week, so I’m just going to share something I’ve already written. Below is a draft of my personal statement for graduate school. Note: this draft has been deemed “too personal” by two profs. I’ve shown it to, so it’ll be hacked to pieces and rewritten before I send it off anywhere. Enjoy, though. I kind of like it.

My parents, bless their leftist souls, never kept any soda in the house. Likewise for potato chips, frozen French fries and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. You see, both Mom and Dad had caught the burgeoning health food bug of the seventies, and had vowed never to let a sugary Twinkie infiltrate our wholesome diet.

This plan worked wonderfully for a while, until my younger sister and I discovered the saccharine goodness of bubble gum, and of my great-grandmother’s buttery sugar cookies. Not to mention how delicious a slice of greasy pizza fresh from the neighborhood franchise could be.

Regardless, the missionary zeal with which Mom and Dad pressed broccoli and soy upon us did leave a lasting impression, and we clamored unselfconsciously for tofu triangles and thick slices of homemade whole-wheat bread.

My grandmother, an avid subscriber to Nutrition Action and Tufts’ Health and Nutrition Letter, was also an active player in the familial efforts to keep my sister and I as healthy as possible. It was she who had swapped lean chicken breast for fatty cuts of beef when my grandfather had triple-bypass surgery, silencing his complaints with growing portions of kale and arugula. And it was she who designed an 8 1/2 x 11 grid intended for adornment with a glossy sticker whenever my sister and I ate a serving of grains (6-11), dairy (2-3) and so on.

Grandma’s sticker chart too had a limited run, as Sesame Street reruns and children’s books eventually proved more interesting than the momentary elation of earning a Bugs Bunny sticker. Still, the seed had been planted, and my sister and I grew up with an understanding that attaining good nutrition and health was within our power.

Fast-forward eight years. I am a naïve and ambitious 16, months away from embarking on a yearlong study abroad program in the Netherlands. Skimming through the welcome manual for soon-to-be exchange students, I am drawn to one bit of information in particular. I should not be alarmed, the guide reads, if I am to gain 5-10 pounds throughout my year abroad. Such an insignificant and temporary gain is to be expected, the manual continues, as I try new foods and new ways of living.

Single-minded and cognizant as a woman of a body that needs to be contained and monitored, I decide with the utmost certainty that this will never happen. I will not, I promise myself, gain any weight while abroad, no matter how much buttered bread and fatty sausage is shoved upon me.

At orientation camp months later in what would become my home for the next 11 months, I relied on a narrow and selective understanding of nutrition when selecting food from the buffet. Butter and margarine were out, I had decided, but chocolate was not. Cheese was to be used in moderation, but I was free to indulge in all the vegetables and fruits I desired.

Although I was at the time of normal weight, an irrational fear of succeeding control of my weight and body followed me throughout that year, and would unfortunately for years to come. It would take alternating bouts of compulsive overeating and anorexia to find my way back to the sticker chart my grandmother had lovingly created for me, and to understand that the power to alter my eating habits for “the better” could easily go too far.

Despite the pain I experienced as I struggled with various incarnations of disordered eating and eating disorders, it is perhaps in part to their credit that I developed so great an appreciation for the power of food to help or to alternately harm. My own experience as a patient of a nutrition counselor also afforded me a glimpse into what exactly a career in clinical nutrition could look like.

My interests within the field of nutrition are varied, but it is only in the past year or so that I have decided to meld a lifelong passion for writing with nutrition itself. I began a website this past June entitled “Grub first” that discusses my speculations as to what “good nutrition” is, as well as more personal thoughts on the often-conflicted relationship between women and hunger.

I also began this past summer writing for Examiner.com, a site that hires freelance writers to write on a variety of subjects, from construction to health and fitness. As an “Examiner,” I have written on the subject of ever-compelling fad diets, nutritional philosophies like ayurveda and macrobiotics, as well as pieces examining public health approaches countries like Finland have used to reverse high obesity and heart disease mortality rates.

My writing for “Grub first” and for the Examiner is also informed by earlier work I have done for my college newspaper. As a Staff Writer, Assistant Features Editor and later Features Editor, I have frequently covered issues of health and nutrition simply because they are the topics that interest me most.

As for my professional aspirations, I have no doubt that I will use my writing skills to communicate on the subject of nutrition. I have dreams of working for a publication like Eating Well or Nutrition Action, both of which I am a longtime reader, but also of working for a company like Whole Foods within their communications team. With an understanding of clinical nutrition thanks to my R.D. credentials, I will serve as an invaluable asset to WF or a similar organization.

Tufts’ Nutrition Communications degree is the only one in the country to offer such a specific focus, and will provide me with what I believe is the best preparation for a career of making the often incomprehensible (what is vitamin B12? Why do we need it in our diet?) comprehensible.

As my grandmother taught me so many years ago, the gift of good health is one that is often within our individual control, and it is my goal to share that gift with others.

Older Entries