Sunday, February 20, 2011

Loss and Food

So.  I've been gone for over a month.

And a lot of things have happened.

One:  the boyfriend and I moved to a gorgeous loft overlooking the Oconee River, and while my cat is licking himself bald in the attempt to deal with the stress of moving, we are delighted.  We've been eyeing these for ages, and it's so wonderful to find one we could afford.  We've even got a trail that winds its way along the river, and I've gone running for the past few days.  It's too beautiful not to!

Two, and on a much more solemn and sad note, one of the nine members of our Graduate Acting Ensemble, Lynwoodt Benard Jenkins, had a heart attack in his office on January 24th and died.  I think to say "it was horrible" is putting it lightly, but it hasn't been a good time for any of us.  We were all in shows with him (he was my father in Eurydice, in the picture below), we had most of our classes together, and it's a huge loss.

Lynwoodt Benard Jenkins: The Father in Eurydice, directed by Heidi Cline
Photo by John Kundert-Gibbs, 2009

I want to talk a little about the effects loss can have on a dietary lifestyle.  I'm still struggling with this a bit, but I needed to put it down in black and white (well, black and grey) so that I can take a good long look at what's going on, and hopefully get better about this.  I won't go into much of the emotions surrounding this, not because they don't exist, but because I just cannot share them, and they still need to stay private for me.

After we found out that Lynwoodt was gone, and witness statements, etc. were filled out and the detectives no longer needed us, we were eventually released from our huddled state of shock and tears to go home.  The boyfriend took me back immediately, and I spent the rest of the afternoon between sobbing fits on the couch, watching reruns of Frasier and eating two bags of my boyfriend's Doritos.

The morning after, when I realized what I had done to myself (and yes, eating that much garbage when you're not used to it feels absolutely awful later), I freaked.  I utterly and totally freaked.  I've never been obsessive about weight, but I keep myself strictly at a size 2-4.  I was horrified of slipping into what I'd heard so much of:  people experience grief/loss/depression, turn to food, and the next thing you know, they're on Heavy and weigh 400 pounds.  For me, that is not okay.  It partly has to do with my choice of career, but also with who I am.  It is not okay for me to weigh over 135.  It is just not okay.

So I made the conscious decision not to eat when I wasn't hungry.  And for about eight to nine days after Lynwoodt died, I was not hungry.  I lost a pound a day.  (No, that is not cool; that is scary.)

I sort of ate; I didn't go completely cold turkey.  Not really, though.  I'd juice a grapefruit, have a branch of grapes, make myself some tea, have some Campbell's Healthy Harvest soup--the vegetable kind--and then eventually that dwindled down to me adding some extra water to the soup, throwing in some cumin, cayenne, and some herbs, and then eating the broth and leaving the vegetables.

I need to emphasize that this was not a losing-weight fad with a good excuse; this was an honest reaction to something horrific.  I slept so much; our couch probably has a serious dent in it from all the hours I spent sleeping on it.  And eventually I stepped on the scale, saw that I was at 121, and was distortedly proud of that weight loss.

Fresh from the scale, I headed to do something I hadn't done in years, and that was to go browse some livejournal anorexia communities, because clearly I hadn't done enough harm to myself.  I joined two.

About a day later, when I started thinking that I couldn't have grapes because of the sugar content, I realized what I'd done, and what I was in serious danger of slipping into, and had the sudden urge to just slap myself as hard as I could.  I nearly did.

I talked to some wonderful people, went to Trader Joe's that night, and came home with armfuls of fruit, vegetables, a few multigrain crackers, and a wedge of cheese.  I was not hungry, and I was nearly sick several times, but I made myself eat things:  small salads, a few crackers, a bunch of grapes, baked sweet potato chips, and a lot of guacamole.  It helped.

A few days later, I was eating again, and I think I'm eating normally.  I'm a bit below my normal weight, but not scarily so.  And I picked up running a few days ago:  just 15-20 minutes a day, but it's teaching me to be grateful for the wonderful things my body can do, rather than curse it for having a body fat percentage.

The thing is that sometimes you cannot listen to your body; you have got to listen to your mind.  If I had gone on thinking that just because my body wasn't sending me hunger signals, I wasn't rapidly starving myself, I'd have found myself in a whole lot of trouble.

The other thing is that it's so easy to channel your emotions into either food or the lack thereof.  It has got to be a separate thing, otherwise we're never going to work through our feelings; we're just going to bottle them into repressed unhappiness.

Emotional eating always means something else is going on, always.  Stop for a moment.  Figure out what's going on, or try to.  Then take a deep breath and step away from the food you were about to mindlessly dig in to, because it will not help your problems go away, and try to work on your real problems, not suffocate them with food.

It's hard.  Of course it is.  We're so terribly used to using food as a comfort.  But pressing the mute button won't stop your mind from feeling your struggles.