“She worries, as I do, about getting fat.”
That’s a line from Michael Ian Black’s book on marriage and family. “She,” as you might have guessed, is his wife.
“She worries, as I do, about getting fat.”
Reading that, I felt something unexpected. I felt jealous.
How he said it—so matter-of-factly, so unselfconsciously—that’s what I wanted: to express this concern confident that it was normal.
But when I worry about getting fat, it’s more complicated.
Was It Really That Bad?
It’s been nearly 15 years since I had food issues. I still struggle with the term eating disorder. That sounds too official. I never saw a doctor or a therapist, was never hospitalized or diagnosed.
What did happen is a diet turned into compulsive calorie counting turned into restrictive eating turned into making myself sick when I thought I’d had too much. “Too much” was never a lot: a scoop of ice cream at a friend’s graduation party, a bite more than a cup of pasta.
The constant measuring and monitoring left room for little else. Whatever this thing was, it had taken over. I knew it was wrong, but wasn’t sure if I had to stop. Was it really that bad?
My junior prom pictures come back. My parents say I look too skinny. I stretch before cross-country practice. My teammate says I look too skinny. One of my mom’s friends hugs me goodbye after a dinner party, squeezes my arms, says I look too skinny. I’m 89 pounds at 5′ 2″.
Yeah, I realized, it had to stop.
Gradually, on my own, I began eating more and keeping it down.
Since I didn’t have professional help or a diagnosis, years later I still question the severity of my problem. Was it really that bad? Maybe I was just young and dumb, making bad decisions for myself. Maybe I just wanted attention. Or, maybe it’s time for me to stop asking that question.
What matters more is that there was an issue, and now I need to make sure there isn’t a new one.
Taking a Beat
In a recent interview, Black was asked why he would write a book focused on him in his worst moments (e.g., When his pregnant wife asks for his help painting the baby’s room, he replies that he thinks the walls look fine as they are, and if she wants to change the color, she can do it herself). His answer was that he was taking a beat.
When he acts, the image he has of himself playing a character never matches the guy on screen. Knowing that, he decided to “take a beat” and look back on his real life, to get a more accurate picture. He then saw, clearly, how he was an ass, and how that related to his fear of being a father.
Will this knowledge make him a better husband? I think so. At least, I’ve never known clarity to make a situation worse. So I’m taking a beat, too.
One Step Closer
Post-eating disorder/disordered eating/whatever the right term is, I avoided dieting like the plague. I didn’t trust myself to watch what I ate without becoming a creepy stalker, compulsive.
Instead, during my late teens and early 20s, I maintained a comfortable weight by working out for 30 to 45 minutes, three or four times a week. Nothing extreme. Then I ate whatever I wanted, three meals a day, plus snacks. The foods I’m drawn to are pretty healthy—any vegetarian Indian dish, almonds, fried eggs, kale chips—with fattier options, like fish n’ chips and donuts, in moderation.
I still follow that routine today (with the exception of longer runs when I’m training), but now I’m 30. My metabolism is slowing, and maintaining isn’t quite so easy anymore. I’ve gained a little weight.
Happily, I feel no strong desire to shed these extra few pounds. I wouldn’t mind losing them, but if I don’t, no sweat. A bigger deal is what they represent: a reminder that my husband, Ryan, and I are going to grow old together, and our bodies and even our faces are going to change. The envy that I felt for Black’s openness about this change makes me think I ought to have a better plan for handling that.
My instinct is to hide concerns about my body going forward because of issues I’ve had in the past. But that can’t be healthy. Everyone wants to be thin and attractive. That’s a fact. Of course, this want shouldn’t become an obsession, but pretending to not think about it all seems equally damaging. The hiding implies that I’m doing something wrong, and if I already feel like I’m messing up, that just brings me one step closer to actually making a bad move.
I need to say things like “I worry about getting fat” out loud. I need to be prepared for family and friends to wonder if I’m if in trouble again and to encourage me to stop thinking about it. They’ll do this because they love me, and I’ll have to understand. More than anything, I need to believe, at this point, that I’m ready.
Was it really that bad?
Will it be again?
Time to move on.
Rasika writes about being married and how that makes you act weird. Oh, wait, maybe that’s just her. Follow her on Twitter @rwelankiwar.
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