Perception and Reality

lightbulb1I had an epiphany after watching THIN for the second time, this time with my husband.

Needless to say, he was very, very disturbed by the movie. I’ll be honest, part of why I wanted him to see it was to show him, “Yes I am still struggling, but look, I’m not as extreme as these girls.”

But my husband is incredibly bright, and he knows me so well that it’s scary. While he agrees that I’m not as extreme as those girls, he picked up on some of the things the girls did — their behaviors — that mirrored mine.

To name a few … changing clothes 3 million times (guilty since age 7?), staring at myself in the mirror and prodding (totally a weight loss result — the obsession), chewing-and-spitting (my formerly shameful secret; now I just relapse from time to time), picking apart their food (guilty!), obsessing over weight gain, real or imagined (I try not to, but sometimes find myself doing it) ordering specifically (though that’s nothing new really; I’ve been a picky eater for as long as I can recall); ordering “diety.” (I’ve gotten better with this one).

And I wonder if subconsciously, I wanted him to point these things out in the film. Because they’re all things he’s been concerned about for me for years now; things he’s tried to talk me out of and things that, especially in the beginning, I shrugged off (“I’m not obsessing!”.)

All this time, he’s just wanted to make me see I am beautiful as I am, that I don’t need to obsess over my body, that there’s more to life than my outer self.

Putting myself in his shoes, I’m sure it’s hard to be the partner of someone struggling with her weight or an ED. To do it over and over … trying to convince someone how great they are and all the good you see, when all they see is the negatives (like I did at my worst) …

It must be so very taxing, if their partner has such bad body image. Especially when our partner sees us one way and we see ourselves another way.

Adding to this, he grew up in a third-world country and doesn’t fully understand the American obsession with our bodies. In his country, having food on the table –and in your tummy — is a blessing, not a curse or a plague.

And so it was really hard for him to see these girls agonizing over a cupcake or a salad or a slice of pizza. Vomiting a meal they had just bought. Freaking out over every single calorie — calories, which provide sustenance and nutrition … and when people in his country toil in the fields or in a factory all day to simply get a meal at day.

He understands it’s a mental illness for so many women, but the vanity side of it that drives much of society today is hard for him to grasp … and the more he talked, the harder it became for me to defend why we, as a culture, are so obsessed with body image … because there is no sane reason for it.

You can blame the media, you can blame celebrities, peer pressure, but the root of the matter is we need food for survival and food isn’t the enemy. We’ve just made it that way.

And the precarious relationship so many of us have with it is pretty screwed up if you look at it from a holistic standpoint (and of course if you take out the fact that for many it is a serious mental illness).

Yet the women in this movie use it (a sympton of something else) as a weapon … which made me realize that I use it as a source of comfort (a symptom of something else).

The truth is, I couldn’t imagine ever not eating. As my dad teases me, “Lis, you were born hungry.”

But then it hit me: on the outside, I fear I might appear to be someone whose eating is more disordered than it actually is. And that was a pretty scary thought.

I’ve promised you all here before and I’m a woman of my word: I’ve never binged, purged, or starved myself. But I do have other disordered eating behaviors that I’m still dealing with, the most serious being chew-and-spit (which has lessened significantly).

The reality is, I eat plenty of calories on Weight Watchers; I’ve never ever ever eaten under my Target Points (unless sick) and I always eat my Flex Points. I used to eat my Activity Points too, but I can’t anymore. (I don’t lose when I eat them — although I’m not losing now, not eating them either … hm)!

Anyway, my point is, I eat plenty (and it’s not all lettuce leaves with chicken and Diet Coke). But a lot of it is on my own, not in front of others. And I know we shouldn’t care what others think, but I’d hate for anyone to think I’m worse off than I am.

Case in point: If I’ve planned poorly and had a big breakfast and lunch at work, and then had a snack … I’m left with few Points for dinner out (with my husband or friends). So I order a salad because it’s low in Points and fills me up … but I hate how “diet-y” it looks. I’ve tried to change things up — ordering a lean protein and double steamed veggies, etc., but it’s still “diet-y.”

(The trick is good planning, which I am much better at during the weekend).

The difference is, instead of before blogging and therapy –when I’d TALK about what I was ordering or eating or why — I just do it now, tacitly. I think it probably makes me a much better dining companion. (I hope so!)

And I hope this doesn’t sound narcissistic, but I do fear I might give off the perception that I am a perpetual “dieter,” and the reality is, I eat plenty … but it’s often at home, before or after the dining experience out.

Home is comfort to me. My home here, my old apartment in DC, my parents’ home in NJ. Because the food there is stuff I have bought or someone else has bought — that somehow screams “comfort” to me.

One of the things I’d like to work on is being more comfortable ordering at restaurants. I still plan to eat healthy — I don’t think I’ll ever be truly comfortable ordering a cheeseburger and fries out — especially not when I can make a healthy 96% lean cheeseburger and sweet potato fries with EVOO at home — but I can try to be more cognizant of my surroundings and my company.

So I put this into practice this past weekend when going out to eat with friends and my husband. I enjoyed dinner out (no salad!) at a new fave Mediterranean restaurant, and I’d eaten plenty, including a little dessert.

Afterwards when we went out for drinks, I’ll admit, there was a part of me wanting just a simple, predictable Diet Coke.

(I say “predictable” because when I go out with two of my girlfriends, if they get there first, they always have a Diet Coke waiting for me, they know me so well (love you, E&S!))

But this time, we were at a chic martini lounge downtown and I didn’t want a Diet Coke. I’m not pregnant, I’m not on antibiotics … darn it, I can have a drink when out!

And am proud to say I had a glass of wine (a nice Riesling).

Now, this might not sound like a big deal to some people (ok, probably most people), but I’ve pretty much cut alcohol from my diet (literal sense of the word) since I began WW simply because I prefer to eat my Points/spend my Points on food. But Saturday night, I wanted to just let go, feel normal, enjoy a drink.

And I did.

Here’s the thing: I don’t want to give off the impression to the outside world that I am worse off than I am. I might have issues in my head sometimes, but I’m physically ok.

Deep down, I know we shouldn’t have a preoccupation with what others think about us, but I’d be lying if I said I don’t care; I do.

And so Saturday night was the perfect opportunity for me to just “be,” to enjoy. I wasn’t anxious about being out to eat, and I wasn’t anxious about drinking a glass of wine.

I felt young, chic, pretty …and, dare I say it, normal?! Dear readers, that is the kind of reality I’d like to have!!

One day at a time.

How about you? Do you worry about what others think? What perception do you think you give off? Has anyone ever “called you out” for your ED?


12 thoughts on “Perception and Reality

  1. This is such a hard issue. I sometimes wonder how I’m going to act around my future husband/boyfriend. Will my ED behaviors linger? Will I need to hide them? Sharing this part of our lives with others (even those who love us dearly) is hard, because disorded eating habits become so private I believe.

    I’m coming to think that I might assume that people notice my eating more than they really do. Like I doubt my friends notice THAT much when I take a snack with us shopping, or order my dressing on the side. I think my ED convinces me that EVERYONE is watching and waiting for me to slip up or something. Up until now, no one but my parents (out of concern) has called me out on behaviors.

  2. wow! what a great post.

    1. after being anorexic, then bulimic (for 2 years), i discovered chewing & spitting on my own, and i thought i was a genius for coming up with it, but later i learned that sooo many people were struggling with this disordered eating. so, i know exactly what you’ve been through / you’re going through.

    2. how ED affects your husband and your relationship is so interesting to me. i am single and i can never imagine being married or in a serious relationship until i can get ED out of my life!

    thank you for writing about this. you are very brave and i would love to read more.

  3. Interesting perspective on your husband’s thoughts after growing up in a 3rd world country. I would think ED’s would be something difficult for him to grasp. You’d think someone in his position would often get frustrated with disordered eating after growing up in a place where food was scarce. However, he sounds very supportive and loving. Sounds like you got yourself a good man.

    PS – Glad you enjoyed your glass of wine. Much better than a Diet Coke, no?

  4. Hi Jenngirl…it is so hard. You’re right — so much of it is private … I don’t starve or purge in private; I tend to eat in private. It’s the opposite end of the spectrum, but I still recognize it as a problem.

    The other side of the coin is, most people DON’T watch or care what others eat, but when you’re spending a lot of time with someone (family, SO, friends) they do tend to notice behaviors. Like when I first joined WW, I remember people noticing I wasn’t eating, say, the bun on something (too many pts to me), or that I — who LOVE dessert — stopped at three forkfuls. Not necessarily bad, but some people were more observant than others. I can totally see how an ED would make one think everyone’s watching, everyone’s obsessed. Def. hard to tangle with.

    Hi Nightingals. LOL, I saw someone do it once with pizza and it gave me the idea years ago, I never acted on it though til two years ago. Yea, it’s been quite hard for him. He’s been a great support for me, but it is hard for him to conceptualize things. Especially because he fell in love with me heavy …. and he was very concerned when I got “bony” (for me I was, I wasn’t actually “bony”). The bottom line is, he loves me regardless.

    Ironically, despite my weight gain and my sometimes unhappiness about my shape, right now, I think –though he’s never come out and said it because he thinks I’m beautiful as I am at any weight and doesn’t want me freaking about my weight anyway– I think this is like the perfect shape for me in his eyes … right where I am. I’m a little softer than at my thinnest (so I’m not “bony”), but otherwise have my healthy curves. When I look at it that way — it makes me feel good about myself. And I know if I gain weight (pregnancy, etc) he’ll still think I am hot.

    Thank you, I don’t know if I am brave or crazy … but maybe a post on our significant others is a good one to think about!

  5. Thanks, Heather … yea, it’s very interesting. He’s so seldom wasteful about anything, and the Naval Academy “upbringing” if you will has made him super-disciplined about so much in life (not in an annoying way, either) so it’s really tough for him to know that I struggle with these things on a small scale, but that some struggle with it on a much larger scale. Fortunately, he’s been incredibly supportive. I did get a fab catch! 🙂 think he was “sent” to me for a reason, ya know? 🙂 And YES, it was sooo good. 🙂 Definitely making a concerted effort to enjoy it now, while I can!!

  6. I worry about the perceptions I give off every day. When I’m with those most likely to notice or say something, I try and eat as “normally” as possible… and simply “deal with it” later.

    Friends of mine definitely saw that something was “not quite right” in the past and called me out on it. In fact, it was their constant concern and regular comments that led to my own realization that indeed, things weren’t “quite right” with my eating (and other) behaviors.

  7. Hi Less Than Three. Sometimes it takes someone else bringing it to our attention for it to become real. My thinnest summer (2005) my sister voiced serious concern … and then I remember a friend sharing with me about a friend of hers who had taken dieting to the extremes and how she feared I’d go down that path. At the time I assured her I wouldn’t but sure enough, I got “high” off losing and didn’t want to stop. My body leveled off plenty above what a scary/alarming goal would have been anyway but I’m not going to lie — I wanted to keep losing, my body just resisted it.

  8. I can totally relate to this, all through high school I would not eat lunch and sit in the halls with my friends who ate junk food. I just don’t like eating around people, I feel like I am being judged and have to eat super healthy and in small portions.

    I got better about that and do eat in front of people, but I still do have some issues with it. If I go out I do try to eat really healthy and I feel like the people waiting on me or whatever are judging me, even though I’m sure they are so busy they just don’t care. I’ll order veggie burgers or pizza but ask for it without any of the added stuff.

    I still don’t like eating out by myself and I rarely do it unless I am really hungry. I’ve had friends make comments about what I order but oddly enough one of my friends who has gained a lot of weight in the past few years always makes comments about how I finish all I order, even though it’s usually less food, and she’ll go out of her way not to finish her meal even though I’m sure she could. I think a lot of females have eating issues, some obviously worse than others so it makes hanging out and eating just a weird experience.

  9. Hi Jill, that’s what’s so funny is that most people aren’t looking or judging … except people like ourselves, ya know? And while I do agree most women are “weird” about food, I really think some just go with it and live and others, like me, think about something to death. Glad you’re getting better in terms of eating in front of others.

    Yea, one time a friend made a comment about me finishing my whole piece of lasagna when we were out to eat (right after I’d hit goal) and though she probably meant nothing by it, it bothered me a lot because I knew it was within my boundaires of the day and darn it, I wanted to eat it, and didn’t want anyone noticing if I did/didn’t finish, esp. since at the time I hadn’t made a big deal out of it either way.

    Women are just weird with food, plain and simple, I fear. This is something the book Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters talks a lot about.

  10. I used to care a lot about what other people thought. There were definitely ‘frenemies’ in the office where I used to work, who contributed to my paranoia–they would openly mock my lunches and make a big deal out of the fact I never ate the office birthday cakes or donuts. And of course, if I said anything, I was defensive or in denial.

    My SO has contributed significantly to my newfound disinterest in other people’s opinions. When I first screwed up the courage to tell him I tracked what I ate in a food journal, he asked to see it. He looked over it and said he thought I was a healthy eater who took good care of myself, and I should have confidence in my choices. I realized he was right. I maintain a healthy weight for my size and I eat what I enjoy eating. And I feel good about myself. It’s been very empowering for me to work on disengaging in the dynamic of worrying about what others think. But it’s definitely hard, and I won’t say I don’t still feel paranoid sometimes that other people notice when I order a salad with chicken, dressing on the side 🙂

  11. Hi Rachel and thanks for writing. It sounds like your SO has been a great source of support and enlightenment. I love this line: ” And I feel good about myself. It’s been very empowering for me to work on disengaging in the dynamic of worrying about what others think. ” — Awesome, awesome!!

    And sometimes, you’d be surprised that loved ones are happily surprised when we DON’T order the predictable salad, too 😉 Whether they say it or not, they notice. One day at a time.

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