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Dieting In The Wake Of Anorexia

Dieting In The Wake Of Anorexia

By Mir Kamin

Five years ago I banded together with a group of friends for a fitness challenge. This was new, for me, as I’ve always been naturally slender and only run when chased (and don’t feel terribly enthused about other forms of exercise, either). But… age and early menopause are harsh mistresses, and I found myself not fitting into my favorite clothes and just generally feeling blah. We launched our project at the beginning of 2010, referring to it among ourselves as “10-10-10” (lose 10 pounds in 10 weeks in 2010), and for a while we maintained a group blog to chronicle our journeys. In the end, we’d all achieved varying levels of success in diet, exercise, decluttering, and other sorts of “personal growth and organization” sorts of goals.

It was awesome.

I lost the ten extra pounds I was carrying, developed a regular exercise habit (something I wasn’t sure I’d ever manage), cleaned out my closet, and felt amazing for, I don’t know, about two years.

And then… well, life marches on, and not always in the direction you wish it would. First my daughter was mysteriously ill, and then it was less mysterious but still turn-life-upside-down level difficult, and things got worse, and then better, and then worse, and better, etc. (you get the idea). I stopped exercising. I stopped taking care of myself at all, really, for a long time (rookie mistake of weathering a life crisis, by the way). And because part of what we were coping with here was a teenager with an eating disorder, I stopped watching what I ate. Entirely. I’m not blaming her, you understand—that was 100% my choice, and one I’m not even sure I was aware of, at the time—but as we struggled to reinforce the notion that responding to hunger is healthy and smart and restricting food is bad, I ate whenever and whatever I wanted to. I ate with her and I ate alone. I ate when I was hungry. I ate when I was bored. I ate when I was sad, which was more often than I’d like to admit.

I gained back the ten pounds I’d lost, and swapped out all of the new, cute clothing I’d bought after the fitness challenge for my old, larger clothes. Over time, I gained fifteen more pounds on top of that, and had to go shopping for new pants. I stopped looking in the mirror. I told myself I didn’t care; I had more important things to be worried about.

Am I obese? No. I’m not even overweight, really, because the weight I’ve gained has been kind enough to distribute itself fairly evenly and I was pretty small before. But I feel different, I look different, I don’t like the way my clothes fit, and I feel tired all the time. I don’t feel like me. I have arm waddle, now (women my age and older know exactly what I mean by that, right?), and someone has injected my rump and hips with a generous measure of cottage cheese, I’m pretty sure. Summer is coming and the thought of donning a bathing suit makes me want to cry. My husband compliments me and I deflect with a self-deprecating remark. I find myself making “I’m so fat” comments and I want to smack myself for being shallow and for saying stupid things (especially saying that sort of stupid thing in front of a recovering anorexic; please pass the Mother of the Year trophy over here), and finally it became clear that I had to make a change for my mental health, if not for my physical health.

I started exercising again a few months ago. While there are periods of time where I hate exercising less, I am never a “wow I love to exercise!” person. I’ve cycled through various options and have finally made peace with the fact that riding the elliptical is never going to be something I love, but taking a walk or going for a bike ride with my husband is always a good idea because he’s my favorite. So I rope him into going out with me and I get to spend time with him and my body’s moving. Win!

Exercise alone didn’t move the scale, probably because I’m not exactly running marathons, and also because I kept eating with wild abandon. About a month ago I started dieting. Now: diet is a four-letter word, I know. I don’t want to be doing anything crazy or extreme, and I still want to be modeling good choices and habits; the goal is moderation, health, and a sustainable model of eating. I feel a tremendous pressure to do this “right” so as to avoid sending any unhealthy messages about food. At the same time, staring down the barrel of at least 15 pounds to lose (getting back to where I was five years ago isn’t necessary, but I do need to take off some of this weight) is disheartening and let’s be honest, I would love a “quick fix” if one existed.

In short, I needed to figure out how to make healthier choices and get serious about losing some weight while trying to send the message that there’s no such thing as an “ideal” weight and one needn’t be influenced by one’s body size in terms of happiness, blah blah blah. Geez. Having to be all well-adjusted and evolved with this whole setting a good example thing when I only have two pairs of pants that fit is kind of a drag. (Kidding.) (Not kidding at all.)

So I’ve been eating high protein, low carb, and lots and lots of vegetables. Every weekend I take a “day off” and eat whatever I like, which is still pretty moderate, but will include a dessert or a glass of wine as a treat. I’m making a conscious effort to be very careful about what I say, and to talk about what I’m doing in terms of feeling better rather than looking better. And I’m trying to take a walk or a bike ride every day, and sometimes I’m able to convince one or both kids to come along, because it’s fun.

I’ve lost five pounds so far. It’s a good start at a sustainable pace. I’m starting to feel better. I’m not making a big deal about it, and I’m constantly reminding myself that the number on the scale I achieved five years ago may not be practical now, and that’s perfectly okay. I just want to feel healthy and whole. Neglecting myself for years caught up with me and it was easy to look in the mirror and go, “Ugh, so fat,” rather than look inside of myself and say, “Wow, I am really stressed out and not addressing that in a productive way.”

The bottom line is that I set a poor example for a long time. It was inadvertent but that doesn’t make it okay. As much of a minefield as it feels like to rectify both the example and my health, now, I think it’s going to be good for both of us.

About the Author

Mir Kamin

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now ...

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now her life looks very different than it did back then: Those little kids turned into anything-but-regular teenagers, she is remarried, and somehow she’s become one of those people who talks to her dogs in a high-pitched baby voice. Along the way she’s continued chronicling the everyday at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, plus she’s bringing you daily bargain therapy at Want Not. The good news is that Mir grew up and became a writer and she still really likes hanging out with her kids; the bad news is that her hair is a lot grayer than it used to be.

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  • […] I’m over at Alpha Mom exposing the thing I’ve been trying to pretend didn’t exist (la la la la! can’t hear you!!), because the truth is that I have gained a lot of weight and […]

  • Flea

    March 31, 2015 at 12:24 pm

    Mir, thank you. Thank you. Our own family is a mess and in recovery. And I’ve let myself go, riding the wake of destruction in sorrow and food and novels. I needed your words today. Thank you.

  • Chuck

    March 31, 2015 at 12:40 pm

    I have found that a Meetup group that does group walks has been good for me.  I found one nearby that works with my schedule and now I go walking with them three times a week.  Knowing people are there and I have it on my calendar seems to motivate me more.  I haven’t really weighed myself but my belt is several notches tighter than it was before I started the walking, and I achieved this without any formal diet changes.  Good luck on your journey!  

  • Laura

    March 31, 2015 at 1:41 pm

    You go girl! I agree that the mental aspect of it is more important…I feel downright proud of myself when I am exercising and doing well in that department, and so should you! Showing up is over half the battle.

  • Korinthia

    March 31, 2015 at 4:51 pm

    It’s really hard, and people have to figure out what works for them. Sounds like you’re on a good track, and a lot of it is just being aware and monitoring your choices. For me, I cut out foods that I don’t have a natural off switch for. I don’t eat sugar or dairy or wheat because those are all things I would just keep eating. And I make myself swim every day with the mindset that it is not optional. Good luck! I hope you find you feel like yourself again soon.

  • Dana

    April 1, 2015 at 11:36 am

    I remember that group blog. I really enjoyed reading it and thought it was great!  I too am trying to make changes and think this time of year as the weather improves is a great time to begin again.  Whoever came up with new year’s resolutions starting January 1st in the dead of winter was not very helpful!

  • Emily

    April 1, 2015 at 11:43 am

    Funny for me to read this today, much the same thing as happened to me for different but still stressful reasons and I am not happy about it

    . I resolved a couple of weeks ago that April 1st is going to be my “new year” of treating my body well. I really like your thought of “Wow, I am really stressed out and not addressing that in a productive way.”

    I am definitely going to use that one with myself. Thank you.

  • Alice

    April 2, 2015 at 11:50 pm

    I’m glad that this is working well for you! It’s hard enough do deal with body image, diet, exercise and health as an individual – doing it while wanting to avoid the landmines that come with parenting a kid in recovery from an eating disorder would be exponentially harder. I have a hard time imagining it, so am that much more impressed with your ability to live it.

    I do have one piece of unsolicited advice, if you want it – I’d highly recommend getting a few more pants/skirts/dresses that fit you well now. I know it’s painful from a frugality standpoint, but I’m a really firm believer in the idea that changes are more sustainable when you’re taking care of your current body in all areas. For me, at least, that includes cute clothes. (And it definitely involves having the flexibility to avoid doing laundry super-often.)

    Good luck! And as someone in Florida, I hope that the icky sticky weather holds off for a while longer up where you are so that the walks stay nice for as long as possible.

  • vanessa

    April 13, 2015 at 8:37 pm

    I can’t even read the whole piece because dieting talk of any kind is really triggering for me, but I would encourage anyone who thinks dieting is a good idea to research the hell out of Ellyn Satter, eating competence, and the fact that dieting doesnt work long term for the vast, vast VAST majority of people.