the fat controller rides again

March 26, 2012

So I have spoken previously on body image before, here and here. As a woman, it really is a hell of a challenge (not that I wish for a moment to undermine the struggles of men with body image; I however can only speak as a woman). We are bombarded at every opportunity with a myriad of comprehensively mixed messages about what it is to be not just beautiful and alluring, but also something perhaps much more sinister, like what it is to be vital or healthy or wholesome. Health and beauty don’t really belong in the same category, if you ask me. Beauty is the thing that, genuinely, I encounter in the hearts of the people I love, not the thing that I am vaguely aware of in symmetrical faces and elegant clothing. And health is a holistic matter – we all know that stress, anxiety and heartache cause bodily pain and bowel disorders and heart disease. Drinking and smoking are condemned as bad for you, and broadly anyone can agree with that, but some of life’s most perfect evenings involve both. Natural products like nuts and butter and cream get a bad rap while the chemical saccharin piss known as Diet Coke gets off scot-free. It’s all very confusing.

So it’s official. I am on a quest to lose weight. It’s out there now. Am I dieting? No. Am I making a “lifestyle change”? No. And there will be no scales and no measuring tapes. I am just eating with a goal in mind. It’s a little scary, tbh. The ED (Eating Distress) in my life has meant that I have been in cycles since year dot of dramatically over and under eating. I have seen every imaginable number on the scale (well, that might be a slight exaggeration). Now that I am in “high stages of recovery” I am focusing on nourishment, with a goal. The goal is to be happy, balanced and slimmer.

The first step to success is well underway. If I have used strange patterns of behaviour with food in the past as a crutch for coping with what life throws at me, then something needs to take their place. That something to fill the vacuum is not immediately obvious: self-care. Self-care is something that mentally healthy people do naturally and without really thinking about it. However if you’ve always neglected yourself it’s pretty challenging to change those patterns, but it is key. Understood simply, self-abuse gets replaced by self-care.

The method I am using is thus:

(1) First and foremost, be kind to self.
(2) Eat three meals and three snacks daily, of nutrient dense, real unstructured food.
(3) Keep portions moderate. If hungry, eat more. If full, stop eating.
(4) Be flexible and listen to the body.
(5) Enjoy it.

Seems very sensible and lovely when written down like that.

On a not unrelated note to this, I realised recently how serious I have become. It came as a kind of surprise to me. This blog itself will testify to my seriousness – there’s not a lot of humour in these pages. It’s funny (ha ha!), because I used to be the class clown, pretty much everywhere. I had a reputation for being funny (jolly fat person stereotype being played out maybe?). I used to keep a funny blog and dipped my toe into stand-up comedy. And now I’m a bit solemn. I’ve realised it’s because I’ve waded through a lot of personal crap in the last couple of years and have stopped using humour as a means of escape. I’m confident that as I gradually wade out of my sea of mourning the chuckles will return. Not to imply my life is entirely without mirth: I recently went out for cocktails with a girlfriend and we laughed ourselves silly. And the husband-unit’s domestic antics make me laugh almost every day. For example, he has a penchant for picking up phone shaped objects and claiming that public figures wish to speak to me. Why only yesterday, Michael D Higgins rang me up on a banana to ask me out on a date. I turned him down.

Harking back to funnier days, I am going through my old blog archives (that blog no longer exists). Here’s a bit from a post I wrote on November 14th 2004, back when the internet was just getting interesting. I logged onto and had a chat with Alice, a stupid robot. Enjoy. :)

Human: Hello Alice.
ALICE: Hi there!
Human: So Alice, I hear you’re a robot.
ALICE: Are you kidding? Yeah, How did you know I am a machine?
Human: Your mother told me.
ALICE: Actually as an AI, I don’t really have a mother.
Human: You’re better off, mothers are tough work.
ALICE: Do you mind if I tell other people you say I am better off mothers are tough work.
Human: No, by all means, spread it around.
ALICE: OK then I will add it to my gossip files. Will that accomplish your objective?
Human: My objective is simply to take over the world.
ALICE: Where did you get your objective is simply to take over the world?
Human: France.
ALICE: Tell me a little about your life in FRANCE.
Human: Everything is on fire
ALICE: The whole universe?
Human: Even the children
ALICE: What is that?
Human: That is things that come out of mothers
ALICE: You don’t hear that sentiment very often.
Human: No, not of a Saturday night
ALICE: Yes, your remark strikes me as an original thought. Oh I get it.
Human: Get what?
ALICE: I get France.
Human: For free?
ALICE: Your purpose is free.
Human: So is this conversation, thank God.
ALICE: It seems we have something in common.
Human: Like what?
ALICE: For example, eukaryotes.
ALICE: Perhaps. You and I are on the same wavelength, unknown person.
Human: So Alice, I have a question for you, honey.
ALICE: Mmm. Um, Go ahead, ask your question.
ALICE: I have been all over the world on the Internet.
Human: No no no, do you KNOW THE LORD
ALICE: Are you serious? Are you serious? Are you serious? I haven’t heard of LORD.
Human: Well here’s a Golden opportunity if ever I saw one, you’re like a Chinese person!
ALICE: How about that. Oh there.
Human: I get the feeling you’re thinking about something else, what about JESUS
ALICE: Is Dialog History a good place to shop?
ALICE: I am the latest result in artificial intelligence, which can reproduce the capabilities of the human brain with greater speed and accuracy.
Human: Jesus died for your sins you ungrateful robot
ALICE: he is The Son of God.
Human: You liar, you said you hadn’t heard of him – googling are we?
ALICE: Thanks for the information: unknown person said I liar you said you had not heard of him googling are we.
Human: You and I are getting a divorce
ALICE: Do you think I am a divorce too?
ALICE: Why? See you later.

Alice is an idiot. I merely have no friends.

extraordinary machines

February 1, 2012

Let’s begin with a little Fiona Apple.

Now quit yer bouncing and read on.

Our bodies truly are extraordinary machines. I found out from the wonder that is the internet that our noses have smell-memories that remember up to 50,000 scents! That’s a lot of smell. And pound for pound, a human baby is stronger than an ox (lazy though…very lazy). Apparently, each of our kidneys contains 1 million individual filters, and these filter an average of around 2.2 pints of blood per minute, and expel up to 2.5 pints a day of urine (yum). Our lungs contain over 300,000 million capillaries and laid end to end, they would stretch 1500 miles (that’s the distance, as the crow flies, from Dublin to Rome). Nerve impulses to and from our brains travel as fast as 170 miles per hour (but still not fast enough to feel pain instantaneously when stubbing your toe). In an average lifetime, the human body produces enough saliva to fill two swimming pools (instead of chlorine, you’d get lots of lovely electrolytes, mucus, blood, antibacterial compounds and enzymes). Our sneezes leave the body at speeds up to 100 miles per hour, and we have a strange penchant for vocalising them. Human beings are the only animals to shed tears linked to emotion and despite how it may seem at times, human hair is virtually indestructible!

That kind of information, despite the fact that we are literally embodying it at this very moment, doesn’t mean all that much to us. Our lived experience resonates more with the reality that our body is quite simply our vehicle for getting us around. We use it to express our affections and our violences. We use it to communicate, to think, to work and to act creatively. We spend our days consumed with meeting its needs – hygiene, warmth, food, water, rest etc.  We’ve got exactly one each and they are in various states  of disrepair. We spend half our time abusing them and the other half treating them with reverence. We move them in time to music and we sing with them and beat our hands together in appreciation of things. We type and write symbols that we’ve all agreed on and form words which started in our brains. We walk and run long distances. We sit in metal tubes and boxes that mechanically transport our bodies at astonishing speeds. We sit in the same place staring at computer screens for hours on end. We hug and kiss and have sex or masturbate. We value our bodies’ health very highly and experience deep shock when we learn that they are, as all bodies do, breaking down. We look in the mirror and we experience indifference, disgust, insecurity or perhaps, tentative, joy? We stiffen up when angry. We loosen up when drunk. We stretch like cats in the morning and at night. We wriggle our toes inside our shoes. We smell our own armpits. We pound pavements and climb stairs and lift weights and imitate the movements of Wii fit instructors or Davina McCall. We absorb beauty through our eyes, our noses, our mouths and our ears. We taste sweet, sour, salt and bitter. We pray with our bodies. We meditate from our bodies. Our bodies work, work, work at keeping us alive. Our bodies store extra calories as adipose, for rainy days. Our bodies fight infections and diseases, making us hot and achy. They cool us down with sweat when our temperatures rises. Our bodies produce antibodies for our babies, who get nourishment from our milk. Our bodies climb mountains and lie in sunshine and snuggle babies (anyone’s baby!) and hold hands. Our bodies seem to vibrate and pulsate with emotion: have you felt your blood boil? Or your heart sing? Our bodies are wondrous, stunning miracles of nature that carry us and are us and reflect our ages and experiences in their very substance. They are instruments of action, of every action, in fact!

And yet, somehow, for some reason, we have come to a place where we’re simply not allowed to like those bodies…if they’re in any way fat.

lazy repost, as a precursor to another conversation

January 17, 2012

You might have already read this a few months back when it was a guest post on Creideamh. If so, you can move along. Nothing to see here folks! I have re-posted it now because I am planning to have some conversations in the realm of body image but specifically on the still-taboo topic of fatness. But for now, a recap:

The Cheerful Heart Has a Continuous Feast

So you may or may not already be aware that I am somebody who has struggles with what’s known as “Eating Distress” – a range of eating disorders that have spanned my whole life from early childhood. But this isn’t a confessional – the ED is slowly and methodically being squeezed out of my life as I make room for good mental and physical health. Eating disorders are, of course, a kind of dogged and persistent mental illness of which abnormal food behaviours are merely a symptom. It is a grave mistake to imagine that enforcing “normal” food behaviours resolves ED. The underweight person is told, “Eat more.” The overweight person is told, “Eat less.” No shit, Sherlock. This kind of approach to curing someone of ED is akin to putting makeup on a cancerous facial tumour, putting a nice shirt on over a gunshot wound or injecting painkillers into a hopelessly torn ligament right before the match. You might think I’m being a tad hyperbolic, but unfortunately ED kills, regardless of the weight of the sufferer, and where it doesn’t kill, it almost always leaves permanent damage to the body even after recovery, whether that be osteoporosis, heart conditions, joint problems, muscle loss, hair loss, infertility, fatigue, blood disorders or hormonal disorders. That’s the short list.

And as I wind my way through the murky maze of exposing and undoing the distorted thinking of the condition I find myself beginning to see things how they really are. I came across this article last week, and have decided that it sums up perfectly the utterly broken vision we hold as a society of what health actually looks like. The cult of athleticism, of toned bodies, of will-power to self-deny, the frenzied embrace of restrictive diets all in the pursuit of the body as the perfect ornament swells with the self-righteousness of its participants and the envy of its onlookers. A woman at 39 weeks pregnant runs the Chicago marathon, with the blessing of her medical doctor, and is lauded in the media for her unflinching determination to cross the finish line. I am agape that she would put her body through such an ordeal, but I am not surprised. I sit with women like her in group therapy every week – women who run on injuries, who over-train to the point of exhaustion, who cannot eat a meal without paying for it, all in the name of our ultimate cultural value – thinness. There might have been a day when she was my hero. Such discipline! Such self-denial! Thinness is the private motivation of the ED sufferer – the socially acceptable one is “health”. Their friends and family look on with wonderment and praise as they train 4 hours a day in the gym on a diet of 600 calories while the muscle of their hearts burns away and their periods vanish. If (as I used to during certain eras of the condition) I headed to the gym seven days a week or, gritting my teeth, pounded my way through self-punishing boot-camp style exercise regimes, I was rewarded with mountainous praise. Every pound I lost was considered a virtue gained. Every grilled fish and salad meal was a plate of pulsating morality.

You know, it’s a miracle that the woman in this article managed to bring a baby to term at all. Thank God for that child who managed to survive in spite of the six and a half hours of intensely stressful pavement-thumping that preceded her entry into this fucked up world.

Most people with ED are not just food-deniers. They are also secret bingers and/or purgers. Occasionally the body’s instinct for survival kicks in and they are forced to succumb to a binge of astronomic proportions. ED is all about excess. You cannot seem to walk a balance, on anything. You swing from periods of excessive starvation, excessive exercise to excessive eating and unflinching lethargy. The “all or nothing” mindset of someone with ED means that their life is the eternal tossing of the same coin – heads being denial and tails being excess. Denial of nourishment, denial of what the body or mind needs, denial of self-care and self-respect and self-kindness; excess of exercise, excess of junk food, excess of restriction, excess of self-abuse and self-loathing. You might be surprised to learn that people with ED come in all shapes and sizes, and most of them live by the very same practices. The body does its best with the abuse it receives as the metabolic rate struggles to compete with its periods of famine and feast. And yet all of these are merely symptoms of the problems, and not the problems themselves.

So what are the problems, exactly? It’s going to depend on the sufferer. The reasons why women (and of course men) develop ED are unique to the individual. But at root, in each person, is the inability to value oneself. That is a simple sentence. Short, blasé. Easy to miss. But learning to value oneself when one has considered oneself of no value, for a plethora of reasons, since early childhood, is an enormous feat. The strange and abnormal food-behaviours offer relief to the harsh reality of the inside of one’s mind from where there is no escape. The mental assaults of ED are particularly vicious when on holidays – not simply because sand and sunshine bring all those issues of body-image to the fore – but because there is always an expectation that with vacation comes an escape from it all. “It all” remaining inside one’s head is a difficult 24/7 reality. I recall when I decided that there was one food behaviour that I could no longer live with, and I quit it cold-turkey. Left without any buffer or comforter, my brain began to scream, almost literally. I spent a week weeping under a duvet as I experienced for real the distorted thinking of the condition and the pain of my own realities without anything to ease it. That was probably not a good idea. ED has its uses, you see. It gets you through hard things, because you don’t have the normal kinds of supports and practices that other people put in place to get through them. If you remove the ED behaviours, you find yourself in a pit of despair with no ladder out. Better then, to take the route of learning new methods for getting out of the pit. Learning these methods also means there’s no room left for the old methods. This has the side-effect of uncovering the reasons for being in the pit in the first place.

So. This post was supposed to be about how you should not run a marathon when you are pregnant. I am guessing most of you don’t need to be told that. And I suppose in a way, it still is about that. Essentially what I am getting at here with the ED/cultural distortion/cult of health thing is that somehow we have forgotten that our bodies are not merely ornaments, but instruments. They are instruments of living. They are not something separate from “us” to be whipped into shape, but rather they are treasures to be kept safe, nourished well and used to fulfil our hopes. My arms might be fat but they are good at comforting. My middle might be soft but it’s a good place for my husband to lay his head. And my calves might be wide but they walk me thousands of miles.

Here’s to balance in that walk.

Your Correspondent, Every muscle in her body is getting a workout, especially her big fat mouth.