What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
It's 11 am and I'm sitting outside by the lake with a mug of coffee. We're upstate renting a trailer on a campsite with 10 of my fiance's closest relatives.
"What can I get you to snack on?" one of Pete's sisters asks her 6-year-old.
"I'm not hungry," he responds without looking up from his toy cars.
They make it look so easy.
I am not hungry either, but I am uncomfortable. In the kitchen sits a box of the most delicious donuts in the world. This is not hyperbole. If there was any justice in this world, this donut shop would be bigger than McDonalds and its owners would be millionares. I am allowed to eat these donuts, but I am trying to wait, to sit with myself. It feels sort of like an all-over itching, not eating these donuts, like the discomfort of nausea when you can't quite throw up. It also feels silly, to feel like clawing your skin off over something as basic as not eating when you're not hungry.
Last time I was here, I ate 6 of these very large donuts in a single sitting. Pete joked that the seventh donut would have made the whole thing shameful. In fact, every vacation I've ever been on has involved a painful combination of bingeing and self-flagellation. I eat too much, I hate myself, and I eat more to comfort myself after the self-inflicted beating. It's not that relaxing.
The best part about my new non-diet plan is that there's no way to screw it up. When I find myself wanting to eat when I am not hungry, I am supposed to ask myself if I can wait until I am. If the answer is no, I go ahead and eat, without beating myself up over it. I accept that I am doing the best I can at that moment. If I could tolerate being any thinner, I would be.
Is food this complicated for everyone? I have an eating disorder, but that is not the same as disordered eating, and I have read that something like 2/3 of women have the latter. I have never known anything but this relentless internal dialogue -- you are disgusting, you are fat, no one can stand to look at you, why why why did you eat that?
I wonder what all that self-loathing is distracting me from -- it must be serving some purpose in my life, to cling to me so doggedly all these years. Maybe it's all that anger I've never been able to express -- the years of pain abuse and neglect being played out on my poor, defenseless body. Since I have been non-dieting, I have had dreams where I am raging, screaming, red-faced, from my diaphragm, in a way I can't remember ever doing in real life. Or I feel near tears the way I so often did when I first quit drinking and rode the manic, hormonal life-is-beatiful-life-is-horrible roller coaster of early sobriety.
Part of breaking out of the binge-diet-binge-purge-diet cycle I've been faithfully following around the track for a decade is banishing the bad body thoughts that pop into my head minute-by-minute like a demonic, impossible to-do list. Did you remember to turn your flat iron off? To lock the front door? And don't forget that your stomach is disgusting.
But the thing about self-loathing is it doesn't burn that many calories. It makes you fatter and more miserable. And yet, so many of us seem to operate as if the opposite is true. If I could just hate myself enough, I'd finally get thin. If we as a society just hate fat enough, it will cease to exist.
So when these thoughts come into my head, when I catch my reflection in a car window and cringe, when I find myself focused on my "double chin" in a photo instead of the adorable baby in my lap, when I do not adhere perfectly to this plan that I've been following for less than a week after a lifetime of letting what I ate on a given day define my self-worth, I try to give myself a break. I try to let the cruel though go and replace it a kind one.
"I love my body. I accept my body" I repeat mentally at night, a fan blowing hair off my forehead in the too-small camp bed I'm stretched across. I don't deserve to be punished for what I put into my mouth; there is no crime in eating. I am a woman, too old to be reprimanded.
Weeks ago, the folks at Unique Vintage sent me this year's plus-size bikini, the one you guys selected. I had planned to wear it this weekend, imagining, in my crash diet mentality, that I would have dropped most of the 20 pounds I've gained since last year's bikini by then. Of course, I haven't. I tried it on before leaving Tuesday afternoon, walked around my living room wondering, "Am I really going to wear a two-piece out in public at this size?"
"Looking good, boo!" my fiance thumbs-upped me obliviously. I laughed and packed it.
I decided not to wear the bikini to the pool -- it just felt weird to show so much skin to play with Pete's little neices and nephews. But this morning, I got up, rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, put on the bikini and traipsed around in our camper in it for awhile, trying to work up the courage to go outside.
I stepped out onto our deck -- the wood under my bare feet joined the wind tickling my bare stomach as a pleasant sensation. I breathed in the pine-y air. I watched the water rock in the distance. It was early; no one was around. The trees were still. I felt serene.
"Honey, come take a picture of me," I whispered, stretching my arms into the slight breeze.
It's almost one now that I'm finished writing this. I think I'll get something to eat.