Life After Mia (and Ana, too) Entry #4 “Zero Metabolism”

fullsizerender“You have zero metabolism.” That is what Dr. S told me when he agreed to take me on. He was an MD and world-renowned. That meant a lot to me then. I was 19 and had been bulimic for years. I’d lied my way through eating disorder support groups and PsyD shrinks, but I’d read Dr. S’s book and I was impressed, so I believed him when he said: “This is going to be miserable for you.”

I’m pretty sure zero metabolism isn’t an actual medical term, but Dr. S was smart to play up the seriousness of my situation. When my blood tests came in he sighed heavily and clasped his chin. “You got lucky, kid,” he said. My cholesterol was really high and I remember something about calcium in my blood, which apparently was bad, but the worst thing was what I’d done to my metabolism. When I was still very thin and dancing, my weight would swing as much as twelve pounds from eating almost nothing and not throwing it up. The day I quit dancing, I ate dinner –  one meal – and I gained eight pounds. I was better off at 19 because I’d adjusted to a heavier weight (around 120lbs up from a low of 98lbs) and was purging less, but still, I was terrified of gaining more. At that moment in his office, I longed for my fantasy farm.

My farm fantasy was a constant during those years. Here’s how it goes: Someone, anyone really, discovers my disgusting secret, removes me from my life, and sends me to a farm. I was fourteen when I started dreaming about this farm without mirrors or scales. I would wear baggy work clothes like overalls, and all day, every day, I would farm. That was my great teenage fantasy – forced manual labor. I would relinquish my black tights and work in the fields. I would eat what was served and not puke. I would gain weight – even in the fantasy, I wasn’t a fool – but after enough time, maybe a year or two, my metabolism would heal and my body would start using the food I ate instead of storing it. At the end of my time on the farm, I could be released back into the world and eat like a regular person. That was my dream.

I’m not a doctor, I was a patient, but I still think there was some logic to that fantasy. And ultimately, that’s kind of what happened to me. Also, on that same first day in Dr. S’s office, he banned diet soda, which was a staple of my diet (I drank at least five cans a day.) Again, I’m not a doctor or a scientist, but I do believe giving up diet soda helped. And, as I’ve mentioned, Dr. S allowed me to run – within reason, but still, it kept me moving and forced me outside – so I didn’t immediately blow up as we’d both expected and my face thinned when those weird glands went away.

But I was still far from healed. During the remaining three years of college, my weight fluctuated up (when I ate too much) and down (when I dieted) as much as thirty pounds. It was traumatic. I was recovering, but I still kind of longed for that farm. It wasn’t until I graduated that I found it.

My first real job was on a movie set. I was an assistant camera person, which involves 12-18 hours (really!) a day of hard labor, especially back then when they still shot with 1000′ rolls of 35mm film. (It’s heavy!) I’d arrive on set and eat off the catering truck – eggs usually, because otherwise I’d be too hungry too soon and what was important to me then was being good at my job. I ate the company meal for lunch and stopped at craft service for handfuls of candy throughout the day. I was too busy and too exhausted to care about calories. Yes, I gained weight, but not too much. The physical work kept it in check. Eventually I stopped dipping into that candy, but other than that, I ate a lot as a second AC. I certainly couldn’t diet. After about a year, I found myself at a new lower weight – pretty much the weight I am now, even after two kids.

I wanted to be a filmmaker – and earn a living – I didn’t think then that working on movies was my farm. But looking back, I realize that after those years, I could – and did – eat like a regular person. Sometimes now I wish I hadn’t spent almost a decade doing that job, that I’d gone to graduate school or chosen an executive ladder to climb instead, but maybe I unconsciously fulfilled my greatest wish. I didn’t stay on that road, but as far as eating is concerned it was the reset my body needed to heal.

If you or a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorder Association toll free and confidentially at 1-800-931-2237 or go to nationaleatingdisorders.org/find-help-support  for help.

Filed under mia ana eating disoder recovery metabolism

Life After Mia (and Ana, too) Entry #3 Sports Vs. Exercise

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In a lot of ways, sports saved my life. It’s a little controversial, because a lot of folks with EDs are not allowed to exercise. Over-exercising is its own ED. But I couldn’t stop moving. I was lucky that I was able to transition from exercise to sports.

I’d been a ballet dancer used to hours of training and honestly, a lot of endorphins, too. Plus bulimia involves some serious endorphin hits – the secrecy, the food itself, the moment of victory after you’ve purged (before the horrible crash). It’s short lived, but addicting. Much more like drugs than the sustained high I get from sports.

After I quit ballet, I decided to go to college, which had until that point, not been my plan. I transferred out of professional school (only had to attend a few days a week) and returned to my regular high school. (”You look quite a bit plumper,” my French teacher said. (It’s no wonder that to this day I hate French)). For exercise, I went to the gym and ran around Prospect Park. No one knew I had an eating disorder – they just assumed that without 3 three ballet classes a day, I’d gained weight. I looked “healthy,” so no one stopped me from working out. But exercise still felt like a punishment, like I was doing it to fix something about myself that was bad. I was.

Then I went to college where there were co-ed bathrooms and roommates – I couldn’t purge. I felt healed. I joined an ED support group and pretended my sickness was in the past. But I also joined the varsity swim team. I had always been a good swimmer and a friend in my freshman English class encouraged me to go to tryouts. (I’m pretty certain it’s a no-cut sport, but still). I willingly put on the not-at-all-flattering racing suit, goggles, and cap and strutted out in front of a room full of accomplished swimmers, half of them men – juniors and seniors even. And I joined the team. Practice was every day from 4-6pm. Meets were on Saturdays mostly, but some Wednesdays, too.

I started in the slowest lane, but I loved the workouts. There’s lots of counting, which I wasn’t ready to give up. 1X500 free, 4X200 breast, 4X200 back, 4X200 fly. It was all on the dry-erase board so it was easy to follow along. And much healthier than my old calorie lists. My muscles rapidly grew – I’m a mesomorph, which was a detriment to my ballet career – big quads don’t look good in pink tights. But I wasn’t bothered when after only a few weeks of swim practice, the arms of my t-shirts were tight. I moved up to a faster lane. I remember distinctly thinking while I was underwater at practice, that my body was kind of awesome – so strong and capable, how it was amazing it could learn those strokes. That was a total about-face from when I was a dancer and hated every inch of that same body, even when I excelled. In the pool, I was a powerful mammal instead of a china doll – I loved that.

I gained ten pounds and I wasn’t derailed or devastated. I’d never seen as much food as they serve in the college cafeteria and I was always starving after practice. The whole team walked down from the pool to dinner together and sat together and ate together – that alone was an accomplishment – eating in public, eating with friends. While I was at school and on that team, I never once puked. (Back home for breaks, was a different story).

Meets were terrifying. Truly. I hated them. But the feeling afterwards was pure adrenaline: I’d done it. I’d climbed up onto those blocks and launched myself into the water. I started the 100 free relay, (Terrifying!) and I regularly placed 3rd in the 500 free.(20 lengths!)  Even when Coach put me in the 200 fly for the 1 point – 1 point for 8 lengths of butterfly! – and I came in dead last with all my teammates cheering for me to finish, I was proud of myself. Proud that I got up early on Saturday and boarded the bus and stood shivering in the most unflattering uniform, proud that I was a hardworking, determined, amphibious girl.

That summer, I finally got up the nerve to ask for the help I knew I needed. I never purged again.

The next year I ran cross-country. Running was definitely more ED than swimming and I did lose weight, but I wasn’t purging and that was my main goal. Also, running in nature gave me a tremendous positive high. It was beautiful around my campus – that moved me. Ultimately running on a team was a bit of a trigger – the weight loss and the counting were too much. So I tried to run only with friends, to make it more social and fun, to keep myself in check without giving up darting through the woods or cresting a hill at sunset under a purple red sky.

After college, outdoor sports became a major part of my life. Windsufing and skiing (and later snowboarding) kept me sane. I loved being on a mountain, especially when snow was falling – it was so quiet and peaceful – like I’d floated into Narnia. I loved being on the ocean, too, cutting through mast-high swells, and riding waves. In nature, there are no mirrors or scales. There are sharks and rocks, but it turns out I’m strong, I can manage it. I used to be afraid of a cookie, but I could tackle the Pacific. When it gets scary, my brain hyper-focuses. Teetering on a cliff, there’s no time to count. Stuck on a reef in a five wave set – the only goal is to survive. There’s no time to over-think – that’s a tremendous relief. Eating disorders offer momentary breaks, but the price is self-loathing and shame (and a horrible electrolyte imbalance). After a session on a mountain, I’m left with an incredible feeling of accomplishment and wonder: How is it that I can ride snow? Never: how will I get down to 95 pounds? 

Then there was doubles tennis, playing hard for someone other than myself – my partners. It isn’t exercise – it’s a game. I ran and lunged and hit a ball to score a point, which is totally different than running and lunging to get rid of some flab. Also, the few great partners I’ve had, remain dear friends. I wish I’d played a team sport as a child. It might have helped.

Of course, I can’t ski or snowboard that many days a year. (And as a mom, windsurfing in the Pacific is too dangerous – they need me not to drown) Instead I find a hike or even a nice walk. I don’t listen to music – I listen to nature – I unplug. I live in Southern California, so even a stroll down my block offers relief: the sunshine, the hummingbirds, the flowers everywhere. It helps. If I’m in New York, I head for the park. If there’s a beach or a mountain, I find it. I need to keep moving, but it’s drastically different to play games for pleasure than to punish myself with excessive exercise. I don’t want to Just Do it. That sounds like chore. I’m healthier when the goal is to have fun or to unwind or even to to win (or try anyway) a game, instead of trying to get fit or lose weight.

Memo: (written a day later) 

Entry #3 doesn’t feel entirely honest now that a day has past. It’s all true, but so is the fact that I still exercise a lot. And I don’t always zen out. I try. And often achieve it, but once or twice a week, you can catch me in an exercise class. (Or using a yoga app or Pop Physique DVD in my house.) And I always find a way to fit in those hikes. I stopped playing tennis because it took too much time and then, once I’d stopped, I realized how much it hurt my body, which I have overused. I cut back on running because I can’t run responsibly. Right away I want to add miles and shorten my time. I start looking at my watch. Finally, my knees and my back took a stand and shut running down for good. There’s an app that counts the runs you ski in a day, your total vertical, your top speed. It’s really cool. But I started trying to outdo myself and worst of all, I stopped taking in the view. So I deleted it from my phone. Needless to say, I could never have a Fitbit.

Yes, sports changed the paradigm – I learned to embrace my strengths instead of battle my flaws – and that was huge. But I still have to be careful not to over-exercise and that is different. That’s leftover from my ED. I have to find a balance because there is still something in me that needs to move. When I go on vacation there’s almost always a sporty activity involved. I’ll go kayaking or paddle boarding – I’ll find something. I never go to a gym, but I do take the stairs. I wanted to clarify – I don’t not care about staying fit. I care. I’m no longer compulsive about it, but it takes work. And I don’t think I’ll ever sit still.

If you or a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorder Association toll free and confidentially at 1-800-931-2237 or go to nationaleatingdisorders.org/find-help-support  for help.

Life After Mia (and Ana, too) Entry #2 Calorie Menu

NYC Begins Enforcement Of Calorie Count Postings At Chain Restaurants

1000 calories a day.

That was my first diet. I was twelve. My mother had a book (my Bible!) that listed the calories of every food. It was a fat paperback, dog-eared and coffee stained, a staple on our kitchen table like salt. If someone handed me that book today, covered with my ballpoint pen markings and fingerprints, I’d cry. Then I’d throw it at the wall.

800 calories a day.
That was my second diet. Because 1000 was too much.

500 calories a day.
That was the diet my ballet teacher suggested when I was fourteen and 100 pounds. I can still see the red needle on my bathroom scale refusing to drop down into double-digits, mocking me and my hunger and my calorie counting.

This is what my class notes looked like in all of my 9th grade subjects:
Coffee: 0
Gum: 5
Jello Pudding Pop: 90
Coffee: 0
Gum: 5
Bagel: 250
Butter: 50
Celery: 15
Jello Pudding Pop: 90
Coffee: 0
Gum: 5

Often on these lists, I’d draw a squiiggly line. That was my code for binge/purge. Hundreds of calories added and subtracted at the same time – too many to count. It shocks me now that in the midst of my madness, I marked it down, that I hinted at a secret I ardently covered with lies.

I had another calorie counting book. The title was something like: 100 Calories of Every Food. I just searched it on Amazon and the one I had isn’t there. But there’s a new one – The 100 Calorie Diet. When I saw it, I gagged. My book broke down every food into 100 calorie portions: ¼ McDonald’s Shake=100.  As if I could stop at ¼.

Now there are foods on supermarket shelves that brag: 100 calories! Sold in the lunch-snack aisle –  for kids – popcorn and cookies. Sometimes my kids toss them in the cart. If I point it out, will I create an issue where there wasn’t one?  When it comes to passing on my eating disorder, I’m terrified I’m doing everything wrong.

The biggest hurdle in my recovery was learning to not see only calories in food. To just eat. It took me over a decade and I still slip up. Once I said out loud when I was served poached eggs at a luncheon: “I love a poached egg – so easy to calculate.” (80!) Only one friend heard me, thank God. “What?” she asked. “Oh nothing,” I said, shooing the old me away.

When I see calories on a menu, it ruins the meal. I’ve already decided to enjoy myself, to eat with pleasure, which I really can do. Cooking for other people was essential in my recovery because I wanted the food to taste good. Preparing a meal is a gift; enjoying it together is, too. When I go out or to a party, I eat what I’m served. If there’s dessert, I eat it. It’s joyous. I’m so thankful I’m free.

I read that calories are on menus now to curb obesity, but that it turns out a lot of American’s believe a high-calorie meal is better, that’s it’s more for their money, so it’s not working the way the FDA had hoped. And it’s not just fast food either. I’ve seen calories on menus at upscale restaurants. I get that there are good intentions behind it, but for us recovering counters – and the budding ones, too – I wish they’d stop. Counting calories can be deadly math.

If you or a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorder Association toll free and confidentially at 1-800-931-2237 or go to nationaleatingdisorders.org/find-help-support  for help. 

#eating disoder recovery#mia#ana#calories#calorie counting

 

 

Life After Mia (and Ana, Too) Entry #1

It used to be such a big secret – I didn’t speak about it for so many years. But once I started talking, I couldn’t stop. I must have a sign on my head, a Mia tattoo, an Ana stamp, because now women and girls and even men find me and open up, too. It’s like we were in a war together, but fought in different battles and need to share. It feels good to remember, like picking a scab. Me too, Me too, Me too.  We have so much to say, we could talk Mia and Ana for hours. “I’m so lucky I recovered when I did,” I always admit at some point because it’s true. By recovered I mean, I quit the bad behaviors. And I was still young enough for my body to heal. Today it was the instructor at Pop Physique. We sat on the floor after class. She’s much younger than I am and only a few years past her worst lows. “You’ll be okay,” I reassured her. (Our common bond came up last week when I mentioned that my daughter had quit dancing. I can tell from her feet and legs and the way she holds her arms that she was a dancer, too. (That’s a whole other secret society)) She was worried about being a mother – what if she has a girl, like I do? Will she pass it on? “It’s hard,” I said. “You can’t diet in front of them ever. You have to eat what they eat. You have to like, eat the bun. And you can’t have a scale or ever say, ‘Do I look fat in these jeans?’And you can’t tell them not to have another cookie, even though they shouldn’t have another cookie. It’s hard.”

When you’re in it, of course, there are those few partners you team up with – driving each other, exchanging tricks like drug addicts. They were not my allies – they were the enemy – and we were twice as lethal combined. I had one in particular – she was the evilest freinemy I’ve ever had. She taught me things I wish I’d never known. We were dancers together, but she was better. A year older. On scholarship before I was. “You’ll never be a dancer,” she would say mid-binge. They told her to lose weight, but then she lost so much, she grew fur. And her bones broke. (mine did, too) So they sent her back to Minnesota. I was relieved, but I wasn’t free. Not for awhile. She wrote me years later to apologize for those cruel insults she’d used to keep me tethered. But it was too late, I’d already quit.

I can spot winter girls in the throws if it: the chipmunk cheeks, the orange palms, the way they turn sideways and disappear. Sometimes it’s just the way she chews, or how she picks at her food, or it’s the way she walks, burning extra calories, counting steps. I’m too scared to talk to them. I want to. I want to say: I see you. I want to say: you have to stop now, or you will die. But I don’t. I can’t really, who am I to get involved? I imagine myself slipping her a card with a hotline on it or a really good doctor’s number. Sometimes mothers ask me about their daughters and I share and warn and commiserate. It’s been years, but I can talk Mia and Ana for hours.

Writing Beautiful Girl so many years later was like digging up a time capsule. There are details in the book – which is fiction, but includes a lot of my truths – that I’d never spoken. And then there they were, on the page, staring back at me. Now they are published, available for anyone to read. It takes place in the months after I’d sought help. It’s the beginning of my life after Mia. My doctor told me when I was in treatment that I must get something out of the eating disorder, something really powerful, or I would be able to stop. I wasn’t even skinny at that point, so what was it? It was gross and I hated it, so why? Mia was like having a whole secret life – a bad one – but still, it was mine and it was an excuse to not participate, it was a constant out. If my head was full of binging and counting – there wasn’t room left to think. I didn’t have to feel the real pain of life because I had a giant monster chasing me. Always.

Maybe when we recovered Mias and Anas connect with confessions and stories and me toos, we’re really just confirming that the monster was there and that it was real. It chased us. But we got away. We got away.

#beautiful girl#eating disoder recovery#mia#ana

When a Dancer Quits

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I know it’s best that my daughter quits ballet. Anyone who’s read my book, Beautiful Girl, knows I know it’s best. When she was born, I swore she would never even see a picture of ballet. She would hit a ball. She would run fast. She would swim. But by age two she asked: “Mommy, when will I go to ballet?” “Let’s hit tennis balls,” I said. Then: “Mommy, when will I be on a stage?” I took her to a small toddler class in a neighbor’s backyard garage, hoping to get it out of her system. “No Mommy,” she said, “Real ballet, with a mirror and a barre.” At one of those gym birthday parties where toddlers roll around in grimy ball-pits and hurl themselves off mats and ledges like what’s now actually named parkour, she rode a zip line across the room. Her feet were perfectly pointed. She was three. “If the Russians saw this, they would take her away,” I said.

Anyway, she begged and I caved and then before we both knew it, we were in deep. For me, after turning my back on the art I adored for so many years, something was rekindled. I love the music. I loved the movement. I love ballet. Even though I know it almost killed me, before it went dark – even when it was dark, but not too dark, I had so much passion. I wanted to to be hungry and poor and in pain. If it meant being on a stage, I wanted to live in a one room apartment and sew pointe shoes and smoke cigarettes, if it meant I could dance.  My daughter loved it, too, for many years, especially the big Nutcracker performance. She has long legs with hyper-extended knees and beautiful arched feet. She had a great presence on stage.  She’s delightful to watch.  I remember thinking that if she got to dance the part of Masha (or Clara or Maria, depending on the production), then that was enough. That would be with her her whole life. The Christmas before last, she got that honor and filled the stage. She has that forever.

I even started taking classes again, after a million years, and worked back to a level that at least showed a glimmer of how I’d once danced. I loved it because I didn’t care if I looked stupid or old – I was amazed that I didn’t. I still dream of a split-second time-machine that would show me how I really looked when I was too thin, because so many years later, I was mostly surprised that when I looked in the mirror, I looked okay, good even. It was weird, but also a tremendous relief. Until it wasn’t. I was glad to be back, but then there were days I didn’t want to go – because of what I’d eaten the day before. That’s the truth. (And my back hurt from forcing my leg up too high in arabesque)

My daughter started asking to skip class at least once a week last year and I knew. Ballet is not for girls that want to skip. It’s not for girls who won’t go if their friends aren’t there. Homework never gets in the way. It’s too hard if you don’t want it so bad that nothing gets in the way. It’s too hard and too competitive and too expensive. She never came home and stretched – she didn’t want it that bad. She competed in YAGP and placed – which sounds creepy and is kind of, but I was very impressed she could go out on that stage all alone and dance for five judges and smile. That took balls.

But now she’s 13. She quit before anyone could tell her to lose even 1 pound. The girls around her were starving themselves. Her best friend was getting weighed before class; 2 other’s dropped 20lbs in a month – and so my daughter wanted out. Which is a great great thing. I’m happy for her. She loves herself the way she is and doesn’t want to miss out on life and would rather be a YouTube star than a ballet dancer. She’d rather be a doctor than a ballet dancer. She’d rather be a regular 13-year-old girl who snowboards. She’d rather be a 13-year-old girl and can have a cookie without feeling bad or guilty or fat.

When I quit, I was much further along. Almost 17, on scholarship, attending a part-time professional high school. I couldn’t go on. My eating disorder was crushing me. I had fractures and mono – I was a mess. I told my pediatrician I was having a heart attack. He said, “Is there something bothering you?” And I said: “I can’t go back to ballet.” Whenever anyone asked why I quit (never ever using that shameful word!) I said: “I wanted to eat dinner.” That wasn’t the whole story, but it was a big part of it. I should be thrilled my daughter has walked away happy and relatively unharmed. And I am. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that there’s a part of me that loved to watch her dance, that there’s a part of me that will miss sewing her shoes, which was a ritual I’d once loved. I won’t get to take her to the ballet – quitting requires total abstinence.  But it’s not about me, it’s about her and she wants to eat dinner, too.

#beautiful girl