Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Numbers

Current Mood: Living Recovery in an Eating Disordered World

"You're big. I'm small" Liv chirps from her car seat. "That's right," I say encouragingly. Then she comes out with this, "Why don't you be small and I get big."

I had to laugh because even though she has no idea about anything, her statement was pretty meaningful. Think about it. Don't we ladies spend our entire childhoods trying to be bigger than we are? And then when we finally get big, we focus a lot of our energies on trying to be small. I've spent a good portion of my 32 years on a diet, planning a diet, starving, exercising too much, or immersed in a binge/purge cycle. I'd like to believe that my experience is singular, but I know that it is not. We take to a diet like a holy calling. And it all boils down to The Numbers.

I spent a rather disturbing afternoon in the year 2000 walking 7 long and lonely miles on a graveled track. I had not eaten in 5 days and I had not had anything to drink in 12 hours. I didn't know at the time why I was driven to do this...and I still don't know. If I had a Delorian and a flux capacitator, I'd go back in time and slap the shit out of myself. Old me was scary crazy. New me is normal crazy. I diet and I exercise, but I don't take things too far the way I used to do. But I'm still sad about the state of things, about the way that my mind is a ceasing calculator of numbers.

120 calories in 2 tablespoons of dressing
3.5 miles ran
45 minutes spent walking
110 pounds of weight
6 oz water
20 almonds

Some people listen to music when they run. I look at The Numbers. I watch intently as they creep on their intense journey zero. I can't be distracted away from The Numbers. They are my guide. And while I have no intentions of walking 7 miles on an empty stomach ever, ever again, I can't help but see parallels in old me and new me. When does this focus on The Numbers end? When will I stop needing to quantify every bit of every experience? Sometimes when I really decide to examine myself, I realize that the more I change, the more I stay the same. I just find new rituals with which to torment myself.

It doesn't mean that what I do is inherently harmful. There is nothing wrong with being conscious of our bodies, of our accomplishments, of our intake. But I just don't understand when that conscientousness stops being helpful and starts being pathological. This is hard to decipher in such a culture as this that we live in. Everywhere I look there is something or someone telling me I'm not good enough, that I have to try harder, that I have to eat less, that this will give me cancer, that this will lower my cholesterol, that I am not doing what I'm supposed to do. Why can't I just fucking live? Living is too much work. I guess I have a horrible work ethic.

What do we lose when we focus so much on The Numbers? Do we sacrifice quality in our lives? Do we discount joy? I don't know if it's possible to be happy and not be allowed to eat ice cream. But there are moments when I'm eating that and really feeling the love for cold, creamy goodness and I can't help but feel empty. Like something is missing...and then that something hits me like a shovel to the back of the head: Guilt. The Numbers kicking me in my fucking skull. How many miles do I have to run to burn off this indulgence? How many crunches do I have to do to make up for this "moment on the lips", so it doesn't end up "a lifetime on the hips?"

I look everywhere for sanity. I can't seem to find it. I learned during the therapeutic treatment of my anorexia what put the "disorder" in my eating. I just never learned what was normal. I can't help but feel this country is in the throes of a raging eating disorder. It's really hard to live recovery in such an environment. It's like being an alcoholic and forced to live in a bar 24 hours a day.

I heard that in some elementary schools they send home BMI reports to parents of the kids now. If they ever send one home to me I will tear it to shreds and then put the shreds in the kitty litter box and let my cat shit all over them. If a child is having a weight problem, pay attention to it by all means. But why determine BMIs of children who do not appear to be unhealthy or overweight? What is the fucking point of that? We are sending a message to these children that The Number is very important. And we marvel over the fact that about 80% of 7 year old girls are dissatisfied with their physical appearance. These children are inheriting our national disease. And it makes me sick to my stomach.

Obesity in children is on the uprise. Why? Is it because we weren't paying enough attention to The Numbers? I personally believe it's on the uprise because we are. I remember when I was little, playing outside was a gift. We'd play freeze tag and kick ball and dodge ball and jump rope and it was FUN. Now we mandate physical activity like a fucking spelling test. Kids start looking at softball like a punishment. The more we focus on The Number of calories they're burning vs. The Number of calories they're eating, the more they stop listening to their internal cues about hunger and satiety, about pleasure and punishment. Kids, for the most part, have an innate sense of when they're hungry and when they're full. Don't fuck with that. It's perfect just the way it is. Anyone with a toddler can attest to the fact that they are bundles of limitless energy. Maybe most kids would maintain that energy if we weren't saddling them with tons of homework after school or allowing them to sit in front of a computer for hours on end instead of sending them to play outside. I'm not saying I have the answers...I'm just thinking out loud because I'm worried.

Will Liv escape the curse of The Numbers? I'm going to do everything in my power to facilitate that. Right after I get back from running off this pizza I just ate. And thusly I join the Hypocrite of the Month Club. Member Number 1.

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