Eating Disorders in Literature – Another Look at Borderline Insanity (an FBI thriller by Jeff Miller)

So, a few weeks ago a friend and fellow writer released the second installment of his FBI thrillers about his heroine, Dagny Gray. I wrote a review of the novel on my writer’s blog.

If you don’t want to go there and read my review, that’s OK, I’ll let you know what I think here. I loved the book. I a big fan of Jeff and his writing and I love the Dagny Gray character. Part of the reason I love her is that she feels like a complete person. She’s flawed and driven, and in some ways, broken. And yet, she does what we all do…she gets up every day fights. She fights against the bad guys in her job, and she fights against her own inner demons. Jeff has written a character I can fully identify with on many levels.

But this post is not about Jeff. This post is about my reaction to reading about a major character struggling with an eating disorder.

I was lucky enough to be included as a beta reader for Borderline Insanity and receive an advanced copy. I did not share my feedback with Jeff, in part because I was so deeply affected by Dagny’s struggle. After reading about her deeply emotional difficulty with eating, the guilt, the shame, the stress,  I cried off and on for a couple of days.

I was struck by Jeff’s ability to so clearly articulate those feelings. I really felt like he had intimate knowledge of what that struggle is like. It felt as if he reached inside my head and pulled out my innermost thoughts and fears and put them into words. It affected me deeply to read my own thoughts and feelings on the page.

Dagny suffers from anorexia nervosa. Of course, I have often argued that anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, and morbid obesity are all parts of the same illness. I still feel that way. And after reading this book, I am even more convinced. I’ve often argued that anorexia and bulimia are the acceptable illnesses per our society because most of the patients affected by these diseases are very thin.These illnesses have long been treated medically while the morbidly obese have just been told by doctors to “lose weight” and you’ll be fine. Anorexia, bulimia, they are illnesses. Obesity, a character flaw. It’s only in recent years, say the past 15 or so, that surgery and other medical solutions have been offered to people trying to lose weight. But I digress…

In Borderline Insanity, Dagny is forced into therapy by her boss as a condition of keeping her job. She is not open to being helped at all. Also, a coworker, in an attempt to be helpful, asks her from time to time if she’s logged her calories on her Weight Watcher’s app.

Dagny uses every excuse to avoid facing her problem. She throws herself into her work.There are many instances in the book where she looks at her app only to be reminded that calorie count is zero. More than once, to meet her calories for a day or two, she sits in her car at a drive through, eating a high caloric meal and cries.

Oh I know this feeling. The first time I read this scene, it was like a punch in the gut. The number of times, mostly pre surgery, that I did something very similar is a lot. I could eat an entire frozen pizza and a big bag of chips. The first couple of bites, I was usually OK, but as I continued, bite after bite, the guilty and shame became overwhelming. I would literally eat until I became sick and cry and cry.

Post surgery is a little different. I cannot eat the same volume of food in the same amount of time. I can eat more than I could immediately after the surgery, but that is normal. I can eat most of a small meal. And I’ll repeat it again, because I think it needs to be said. That is normal.

What’s not normal is some of the bad behavior I have fallen back on. While I cannot eat a whole pizza, I still find it hard to stop once I start. Granted, the pizza is much smaller than the pizza I would have eaten pre surgery. And I might make that pizza the only thing I eat all day. But I will finish the entire thing over the course of a day. I might through 70% of the crust in the trash, but I will still eat the whole thing until it’s gone. And by the time I’m done, I feel just as guilty if I had eaten in all within 30 minutes.

I cannot eat a whole big bowl of popcorn, but if I buy a jar of kernels, I will have popcorn for as many meals as I can for as many days in a row as I can until the popcorn is gone.

Of course, the answer to the above problems is simple. I do not buy popcorn or pizza. Not normally. But when I’m in the throes of the crazy thoughts that go through my head, which are usually triggered by some kind of stress or something else that I cannot control, I tell myself the lie.

The lie being, I can buy this and have just one pretzel. Just one slice of pizza. The lie is the first step to giving into the binge. And at first I do have just one. But the truth is, that is not where it ends.

Dagny had to force herself to eat and I struggle to not overeat, but the emotions, the sense of worthlessness, guilt, and shame, are the same. Seeing her struggle on the page, my own thoughts open for the whole world to see, really opened my eyes to the fact that I cannot do this alone. That is why I sought the help of a therapist and nutritionist. It hasn’t been easy, but I just take it one day at a time.

I am going to wrap this post up with a quote from Jeff’s book, which he borrowed from the bible. I’m not normally an overly religious person, but I think this quote aptly summed up the way I feel a lot of the time.

“When Rebekah was pregnant with Isaac’s twins, the babies jostled within her. She asked the Lord why this was happening and he said, ‘Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples within you will be separated. One people will be stronger than the other, the older will serve the younger.'”

I often feel as if I am at war with two parts of myself. The self that I try to portray every day, the strong, confident woman who knows her place in the world versus the insecure, self conscious, out of control crazy person who hides from her problems by binge eating.

I took steps a couple of years ago to try to reign in the latter, but sometimes I feel as if the former is losing ground. Seeking help through therapy is my way of trying to bring those two parts of myself back together.

I love that Jeff wrote a book where the main character has an eating disorder. I have never read a book outside of self-help or teen books that addressed eating disorders and the psychological effects. I think Jeff did a great job.

I hope he makes it big, really big. Like JK Rowling big. The world would be a better place for it.

Life 4 Years Post-op & Living with Binge Eating Disorder

So, this is the blog post I’ve been kind of regretting. I haven’t kept up on this blog, in large part due to some of the stuff I’ve been going through since my last post, and it has been difficult for me to write about.

Some of it was difficult because of my self-imposed restriction of talking about work on social media. I still do not wish to discuss my job, but I am going to discuss a few of the general situations that added a tremendous amount of stress to my life. And there are two different issues I will write about here in reference to my previous job.

I enjoy a certain amount of intensity in my job. I like a challenge, and I have a ridiculous competitive streak in me. I work at a fairly high level, (not in position, but ability).  I have a good ability in my profession to see the big picture, and I understand how to breakdown the different parts of an operation. I willingly take on a lot of work, often more than I should.

In my last job, I was one of two people who did my job. I worked for a good company, but one that did not understand the nature of how to run my kind of office. It’s not their fault. They absorbed my office when they bought the company I worked for. Their business was something else completely.

What caused me stress was they wanted my office to be more profitable, but they did not know how to make that happen. And they did not understand that bringing in more work did not make the office more profitable, it only increased the work and stress level. As a result, I was working 10-14 hours a day and seemed to make no progress at all and no one understood why I couldn’t get more done. And no one listened to my suggestions on how to improve the office.

Finally, I realized that the situation was completely untenable and I left that job. I did have a very frank discussion with them before I left, but I do not know if it ever made any difference, and I never looked back to find out what happened.

The other situation in that job that affected me negatively was one of my staff. She was a friend of mine and I have actually written about her in this blog before. She was one of the people who was an inspiration for me having the gastric by-pass surgery.

I lost contact with her over the years, but then I sought her out to work with me at this job. I did not realize that even though she had the surgery and had lost weight, she never really dealt with some of the emotional stressors that lead her to be obese in the  first place. She says she did, but it became clear to me that she did not.

She actually went the other direction with her eating problems. Because she never regained her hunger after the surgery, she would go days without eating. And when she did eat, she ate all the wrong things. For example, she would try to get all of her calories for the day in one meal by eating cheeseburgers and fries from Burger King. And those calories would have to last her a few days until she ate again. She still saw herself as fat. She still even wore some of her fat clothes that just hung off of her because she was so thin. And she did a lot of stress eating.

Being in a closed office with her, I fell back on some of my own bad behaviors, stress eating, binge eating, etc.

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not blaming her. It is my fault I fell off the wagon. I knew better than to engage in those behaviors, but I did it anyway. Mostly because I’ve never dealt with why I gained the weight to begin with. I had many cheesy poof breakdowns.

As a result, I gained about 40 pounds.

I have been away from that job and situation for a year now. Somehow, I thought leaving that behind me, I would miraculously go back to what I was doing before I fell back on my bad behaviors, but I did not. And I’m very angry at myself for having regained any weight at all. And for a while, I was feeling very frustrated and lost.

I would not say that I’m 100% over that feeling. I still feel kind of lost. I’m still angry at myself for failing to control my my binge eating. And I still beat myself up for falling off the wagon.

What has changed apart from my job?

Well, I’m working with a nutritionist and an eating disorder psychologist. I realized that I had a problem that I could not deal with on my own and I reached out to find someone who could help me navigate through the crazy part of my brain that deals with stress, loss of control, difficulty by overeating.

For instance, I had to write, and re-write the above paragraph probably 5 times. Part of my therapy is getting me to think differently. To stop putting everything in such negative terms.

So, I got the negativity out. I am not going to write over and over again using negative terms. That’s not going to change anything. That does not meant that I’ll never write about another bad feeling or frustration, but I’m going to try to find another way to express them.

For example, instead of saying, “I didn’t lose any weight this week! I suck! This is never going to work!”  I may something like, “I did not lose any weight this week. Not really the result I wanted, but these are the steps I’m going to take to keep the big picture in mind and keep moving forward.”

I’m also focusing on all that I have accomplished and creating new goals. I’ve achieved much of what I set out to do, and that has not changed. I can walk anywhere I want. My breathing is greatly improved. And my health is greatly improved. So now what?

I have written down some  new goals that I want as part of my new, healthier lifestyle.

So, what is the future of this blog going to look like? I have put a lot of thought into this.

  • I am still going to write about my weight loss journey.
  • I will write about my new goals.
  • I might write about some of the things I’m talking over with my psychologist.
  • I will write about some of the things in the real world that effect me emotionally or activate my eating disorder and how I deal with that.

My next post, that should come out in the next couple of days, is going to be about a book a friend of mine wrote. His main character is a FBI agent struggling with anorexia. Reading about her dealing with, or not dealing with, her eating disorder struck a chord with me, and I want to write about that.

One of the first things my psychologist asked me was what did I want to get from my therapy.

I immediately answered, “I want to feel good about my body.”

It occurred to me in that moment that I never have. That no matter what I weighed, I always felt ashamed of how I looked.

So, I guess to answer my own question, I want this blog to be about how I go from feeling ashamed of my body, weight gain, the number on the scale, who I am, how I look, to someone who is comfortable with her body and who she is no matter her weight.

A small task, to be sure…

 

Cauliflower Pizza Crust

So, today I am going to talk about a dish I’ve made before. I posted the picture on Facebook and Twitter, and several people asked me for the recipe. I figured this is a great way to kill two birds with one stone…resurrect my blog, and share a recipe!

On a side note, I have had a crazy, stressful year or so. And this year is probably going to be equally as busy, just hopefully less stressful. More not that later, but for now, allow me to share a fun recipe!

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Colleen’s Cauliflower Crust Pizza with Spinach, Kale, & Ricotta Cheese

I bought some riced cauliflower from Trader Joe’s. I was thinking I could make my famous cauliflower soup, or mashed cauliflower, but then I had a craving for pizza. Fortunately, I had just the right ingredients to make this happen. I googled several recipes for cauliflower pizza crust. This is not an original Colleen recipe, but these are the basics found in just about all of them.

1 head of cauliflower, (or in my case, one bag of Trader Joe’s riced cauliflower)

1 egg

1 cup Mozzarella cheese

1/8 cup grated parmesan cheese

I cooked the cauliflower in water. Then drained and squeezed as much of the water out of it that I could. Then I mixed together all of the ingredients above. I placed some parchment on a baking sheet and spread the mixture out onto the sheet. Spread it out and pat it down so it is thin. Then I baked the crust at 425 for about 15 minutes, until it was golden brown.

I let it cool for about 10 minutes before adding toppings.

1/2 cup or so of some kind of sauce, I used Trader Joe’s garlic pasta sauce.

I also sautéed together

2-3 cups chopped spinach and kale

1/2 onion

1-2 cloves garlic

salt and pepper

I mixed in a bowl:

1 cup ricotta cheese

1 egg

Then I added the mixture and dropped spoonfuls all over the pizza. I added my cheese and a bit more of the spinach cheese mixture.

I baked the whole thing in the 425 degree oven for about 15-20 minutes.

It probably could have used a bit more sauce, but I thought it was good.

The pizza is about 8 inches in diameter. For me, it was about 4 servings with a small salad on the side.

I found it to be better the next day. When it first comes out of the oven, I think it has a strong cauliflower taste. That dissipates overnight. The cauliflower taste does not bother me, but it did take me by surprise the first time I tried this recipe. It is still very delicious, just don’t expect it to taste like traditional pizza crust.

Enjoy!

 

 

Looking Back

Two years ago today, I weighed 298 pounds and was in the hospital. I had my gastric by-pass surgery October 24, 2012. It’s amazing how my life has changed! I’m not quite at my goal weight yet, but I know I will never weigh 300 pounds again!

BEFORE AFTER

I feel so much better and my life, which was once so lonely, is very full. I am happy with the new direction my life has taken. I know a lot of people look down on bariatric surgeries. I know I did for a long time. Many people think this is the easy way out. For me, where I was in my life, it felt like the only choice. I have no regrets. I am not looking back!

Edna Mode

Here is a brief list of the many positive changes

  • I can walk without pain.
  • Breathing is easier.
  • I can walk and breathe at the same time!
  • I feel very self-aware.
  • I am no longer invisible.
  • I am no longer invisible to men. (!!)
  • I feel more confident.
  • My blood pressure is normal without medication.
  • My blood sugar is normal.
  • My triglycerides are normal.
  • My heart rate is normal.
  • I don’t have to shop at plus-sized stores any more!
  • My grocery bills have gone way down.
  • My overall health is right on target!
  • I have a whole new wardrobe!
  • I got rid of all of my fat girl clothes.
  • I can use a small suitcase as my clothes do not take up so much room.
  • I am very active.
  • Because of my improved health, I can go to all kinds of fairs and festivals!
  • For the first time in a long time, I really see a future for myself.
  • I look cute in clothes!
  • There is room between me and the steering wheel of my car.
  • I can fit comfortably in most airline seats (as comfortable as one can get in those).
  • I can run a little bit.
  • I re-discovered just how awesome my friends and family are!

Sometimes this journey is still hard. I will always have challenges, and I will always fight this fight. But for the first time in my life, I feel like I am winning!

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Thrown Off Course

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I was thrown off course with my exercise plan last week. I had not been feeling great the week before that and my exercise slowed down. I was tired a lot and started having trouble taking deep breaths.

I woke up on Monday, Oct 6 with what I thought was a horrible cold. I was very sick and eventually went to urgent care. Turns out, I had a very mild form of pneumonia. Let me tell you, if that was mild, I do not ever want to get full-blown pneumonia. I missed work most of last week.

I have also had trouble getting motivated getting back to the gym. I have gotten my diet back on track and I’ve been doing pretty good.

I also have received many requests for my spinach pie recipe. I am making it again tomorrow for a thing I’m going to at my friend’s art studio. The last time I made it, I took many pictures of the process. I am going to update my recipe with some good pictures.

I know I need to get back to the gym. I think tomorrow is out as I have the full day chock full of activities already, so Sunday, definitely. That said, I am going to be doing a lot of walking on Saturday, so there will be some exercise. But I am also going to start tonight doing some things at home. Planking, sit-ups, etc. Things I have difficulty doing at the gym in some of the exercise classes that I take. I feel much better doing those at home anyway.

Anyway, I am feeling kind of blah after my bout with pneumonia. It was kind of strange to have difficulty breathing after over a year of being able to breathe without any problems at all. Plus I’ve been resting, staying in, trying to make sure I’m fully recovered from the pneumonia so that I do not have a relapse. I feel like a big fat cow. I know I’m not, but I just feel so bloated and fat. That’s not really helping me feel motivated. I know it should, but it does not.

But on the bright side, it is Friday! Hopefully, after a weekend of getting back into exercise, I will feel much better next week.

Colleen’s Fleet Street Spinach Pie

pie

So, my friend Joanna who is in my writer’s group had a wonderful little party last night. The New York Philharmonic performed Sweeney Todd and she was the assistant producer. PBS filmed the production and it was broadcast on Friday night. Joannaaaaaaaaaa had a private screening for all her friends where she served “meat” pies and held a pie making contest.

I made spinach pie. I had never done that before. I was not really sure how to make a spinach pie. I had a three goals in mind when I started. One, I wanted a vegetable and spinach is my favorite. I was a little afraid that with meat pies and fruit pies, I would not have anything that was very bariatric friendly. Two, being bariatric friendly, I didn’t want to eat too much crust. And three, I wanted to win.

So, I perused a few spinach pie recipes and then just winged it. It was absolutely delicious. Even people who claim not to like spinach liked it. And I won!

I won a little plastic 1st place medal, a decanter of whiskey which I cannot drink, and the best part of all! I won a one month light membership to Canvas, which is an alternative co-work space for artistic types who do not have an office.

I was so thrilled because I really only expected to win the bragging rights for making the best pie, which really would have been enough for me. (Don’t tell Joanna, though!)

People have been asking me for the recipe. While I’m a good cook, I’m really bad at putting together recipes. I’m the worst kind of cook. I don’t measure and I just mix everything together until it “looks right”. So, here is the recipe for my award-winning Fleet Street Spinach Pie! Good luck!

Commuting Confusion

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A little over a year ago, I wrote a blog post about my daily commute into the city.  I was so excited that I was able to do the commute without pain or difficulty. It is so liberating to be able to walk and stand without a problem.

Since I wrote this post, my commute into the city has changed, quite drastically.

Let’s start with this cool new train line called the Silver Line. The Silver Line is eventually going to make it’s way out to Dulles airport, which is not far from Sterling, Ashburn, and other far away lands in the exurbs of DC. But for now, the Silver Line only goes out to Reston. The addition of this train completely screwed up my morning commute.

I live and work on the Blue Line, which shares tracks with this new line for part of the trip. Now, the Blue Line trains already have a pretty raw deal. It shares tracks with the Yellow Line and the Orange Line in different areas. Where it shares tracks with the Yellow trains, you could see 3-5 Yellows before an over crowded Blue train shows up. The same is true where it shares tracks with the Orange Line trains.

Now that the Silver Line trains have been added, they reduced the Blue Line service. One now shows up every 12 minutes during rush hour, because that’s what the over crowded Blue Line trains need, less trains.

Fortunately, there is a bus that travels directly from in front of my apartment building and now drops me off 4 blocks from the office. To make up for the loss of train service, the genies at WMATA re-routed this bus. During the summer, I was walking 1.3 miles from where this bus dropped me off. Now, I only have to walk 4 blocks. It’s cheaper than the metro and closer to my office. What could possibly go wrong.

Let me tell you…

The bus drivers do not know the new route.

Today’s driver, missed her turn onto 18th Avenue from Constitution. She then did a u-turn on Constitution, which I didn’t even know was possible during rush hour, let alone on a bus. I was a little bit terrified. Then, she turned right onto Virginia Avenue and not 18th. This is generally not a problem because in 25 feet you can then just turn right onto 18th from Virginia. She didn’t do that. She continued on Virginia Avenue for a few blocks.

I don’t know where she went after that because I got off the bus. Perhaps she just gave up and drove back to Virginia to start again. I walked from 20th and C to 20th and M. That’s about a mile. It’s not a bad walk, and I do not mind doing it, but for the love of all that’s holy, can we please get some bus drivers that know how to drive in DC?

I really do not want to have to move just to get a better commute into the city. And I really do not want to drive! I only live six miles from the office. Surely, it does not have to be this difficult to get to work every day! Maybe I should just walk.