Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Starving Away Failure, Washing Off Laziness: My Fear of Becoming My "True Self"

As I sit here munching away at my dark chocolate covered espresso beans, reading the latest updates of the various blogs I follow, I begin to get that all too familiar feeling of crawling in my skin...I want it off, NOW...and by that I mean any excess fat on my body.

Unlike feeling dirty, there is no immediate fix for suddenly feeling fat out of the blue.  I can't just go wash it off to purge the feeling of panic,  nor can I perform rituals, that though time consuming, can, at least for a short while, banish the feeling of disgust.  I suppose there are methods that some people use - laxatives, diuretics, vomiting - that have fairly quick results, and thus I can see the appeal of them, but even when I was wrapped up in my eating disorder and at my worst, I never used these compulsive methods to make myself feel better, to get rid of that feeling of disgust.  My perfectionistic tendencies and eating disorder-related OCD told me that using those methods was cheating, that it was the easy way out.  The problem, my distorted thinking told me, was that I was inherently prone to laziness - to not exercising enough and not limiting what I ate as well as other people, especially skinny people.

My disordered thinking told me that the way to remedy this was not to cheat (which would only be more proof of my inherent laziness), but to fix myself by exercising more and eating less.  To me, the shape of my body was proof of my failure in these areas, and the solution was to force myself to workout "enough" and restrict "enough."  I wanted to prove to myself that I could regulate my diet and workout just as well as everyone else, even if it never felt like enough.  I felt like I forever needed to battle "my true nature" if I didn't want to devolve into the fat and slovenly human being I feared I was by default.

I see a lot of parallels between these thought patterns and my current fear of devolving into a dirty, filthy, unkempt human being if I don't force myself to carry out elaborate cleaning rituals.  I am afraid to discover that the "real me" is someone who seems intolerably lazy and gross, and thus I guard against becoming such a person by performing excessive compulsive washing.  I am afraid to stop because, though I recognize that my behavior is maladaptive and extreme, such precautions seem to protect me from a state I feel as though I could not tolerate (just as the person with harm obsessions might avoid certain situations and thinking certain thoughts to prevent himself from becoming the murderer he fears he might really be, or just as someone with fears about his "true" sexual preferences - either heterosexual or homosexual - will avoid situations and encounters that make him feel that he may "really" be the preference that he does not want to believe he is).

But I digress. Today as I looked in the mirror a little too long, analyzing a little too closely, I suddenly felt that need to escape my body instantaneously, to make my "fat" disappear.  I am not overweight.  In fact I am probably at the ideal weight for my height.  But looking in the mirror, certain parts of my body seemed to grow out of proportion.  Normally I am pretty okay with my weight these days.  But today I was planning to go ice skating, an activity, which for me, has almost always been inextricably intertwined with my body image, and usually in a negative way.  By looking at my body through my former "figure skater point of view," suddenly the figure which I am usually reasonably comfortable with was no longer good enough.

Competitive figure skaters (a group I once belonged to) are an interesting breed.  There are those who are naturally skinny, those who are not (though there seem to be fewer and fewer people in this category the higher up you go), and then there are those like me who, though we may be considered average or even thin within the general population, are a bit on the bigger side in the thinner-than-average world of figure skaters.  I didn't look like a pre-pubescent girl (because I wasn't one) and thus, I felt fat.  I remember a fellow skater once bemoaning the fact that she had hit 90 pounds, which made me, at my slender 105 pounds, feel like quite the heifer at that time.  I look back now and realize that 105 pounds was nothing and 90 pounds probably would have landed me in the hospital, but when looking at my body through that mindset in which basically achieving the figure of a little girl was the goal, I felt revoltingly bulky.

Getting dressed to go skate just for some fun and exercise this afternoon seemed to bring back the warped sense of body image I carried with me for much of my time in the sport.  I began looking at my body, my figure, through that old distorted lens.  Though I am more mindful now of how, depending on my mood and what activities I will be engaging in, my perception of body image can change, that feeling of crawling in my own skin can still overwhelm me with anxiety and a desperate desire to do something about it NOW.  But because I am more aware of the fact that how I perceive my reflection in the mirror doesn't always have as much to do with physical reality as it does my emotional state, I can sit with the discomfort without provoking my anxiety further.  Instead of berating myself for being a "failure," I can accept the discomfort and recognize that beating myself up or trying to do something drastic about it would only make the feeling worse.

As with any obsession, doing something to eliminate the anxiety as soon as possible, a compulsion, may seem like the way out, but in the end it only fuels the distorted thinking even more.  Getting angry at myself and swearing to adhere to a new diet plan may seem like the sensible solution in the moment, but in reality it only heightens my anxiety and sets me up to feel even more uncomfortable in the long run.  Doing such things reinforces the idea that I do need to change the way I look if I want to  feel okay, when really, if I sit with the discomfort long enough, it will subside on its own. 


  1. I am always amazed by the power of context and memory of place and clothing and activities to evoke old anxieties. I'm glad that you are challenging the belief that you do need to change the way you look to feel ok--that is an insidious one, and takes courage to face.

  2. It certainly is! Even after I got better and could once again eat things like a normal person, it was hard not to beat myself up for gaining back the weight. I'm still learning to maintain my weight in normal, healthy ways, and there are definitely still those days where I want to see if I can get myself back into those old habits...but I know that it goes nowhere good!

  3. Thank you so much for commenting on my blog, and inviting me to yours. This was a really fascinating post. I will be following you :)

  4. HI - just reading your blog - have been looking into this as my son-in-law has become recently quite agitated about different things - he has also been eating ++++ more chocolate, coffee and caffinated soft drinks and sugary things lately - have you noticed that these things affect you. just been on livestrong.com about foods not to eat if you have ocd or panic attacks ideas? thanks



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