Last year I wrote a post entitled: “Does this obsession make me look fat?”
There’s been a lot of talk lately about eating disorders in women over fifty. Well, I would guess that while there are some women who are dealing with this issue for the first time, there are an awful lot more of us who have had eating disordered thinking most of our lives and have just hid it really very well or have had it under control. Then, according to what is going on in our lives, the eating disordered thinking may rear up its ugly head right as we think we are at our most confident and powerful: in our fifties, the time of our lives when we are feeling the most kickass, when we don’t care what people think, when we say what we want and live how we want. Imagine our surprise when eating disordered thinking sneaks up and bites us on the ass. What? Me? Wait a minute now! I’m not that teenaged girl any longer. I’m not that mixed up frightened little thing. I’m strong. I’m sexy. I’m ready to take on the world.
What the hell is going on?
The “experts” will tell you and/or your family and friends to watch out for these signs:
‘. . . there are signs to look out for that may indicate someone has an eating disorder. These include: precipitous weight loss or low weight; withdrawing from family, partner and friends; evidence of binge eating or purging; extremely low self-esteem and body esteem; not eating with the family; avoiding events where there is food.” (Taken from HealthDay by Steven Reinberg)
Sure, those things are true for a certain group of women—but not for us! We aren’t like that. We’re out enjoying life. We’re reaching long-hoped for goals. We’re walking with our head up and eyes forward. We are feeling sexual power. We are power. If you looked at us, you’d see a woman who is in pretty good shape–not too thin at all. We may look pretty danged good “for our age” – hell, maybe for any age.
But there is the sneaky hidden eating disordered behavior that no one may ever know.
We’re told that eating disorder in aging women is because “fifty is the new thirty; seventy is the new fifty,” and yes there may be some truth to that, for some women. Not us! We have taken care of ourselves; we feel awesome; we feel sexier than ever; we will be kickass well into very-old-agedom. We are not our grandmothers kind of grandmothers. We strut. We look back over our shoulder and say, “Yeah, you think you can handle this much woman? I dare you to try.”
Though it doesn’t start out that way, it quickly becomes about Control. Think about it: what else is completely under your control? Since the time you become aware that you could tell your mommy, “No! Don’t want it!” you have been able to control what goes into your mouth. And what goes into your mouth, or not, has the side effect of affecting your body size—a double whammy of Control. While the outside world can twirl about you; while people—your boss, your spouse, your parents, your friends, your editor, your colleagues, a stranger on the street—take their pieces of you; well, by golly gee, they can’t force you to eat! They can’t dictate what your body looks like! As your body changes, your power grows. Look at you! Control! Control! It’s both as simplistic and as complicated as all that. Even if you don’t really believe that’s what it’s all about, this is a truth that must be explored.
What you really tell yourself is, “I like myself like this.” And you do. To a point. But the toll must be paid. Tolls always must be paid.
Sure, our aging bodies can frighten us a bit, and it isn’t only about what we look like, but thoughts about our mortality. Our grandparents die; our parents are nearer to death or they do die—we are next in line. Every line or wrinkle is another sign that life is heading towards death. And not just physical death, but what about the death of dreams? Or desires? Or what about the death of health? Or good looks? Or time to do the things we want to do? And there’s nothing you can do about growing older, kiddies. It’s a fact of life, growing old, and then death. And when we arrive at Very Old, will we look like ourselves? A fear is: We don’t want to look like someone we don’t recognize. We don’t mind becoming older, just let us look like US! Don’t let our face and body melt into a stranger’s face/body. We want to be able to look into a mirror and see the person we have always been. To recognize our faces as ours.
I suppose for some, gaining weight would mean we do not look like ourselves.
Oh, it’s heady powerful stuff. As the scales lower, there is that thrill—look what I have done! Look at the control I have! I am powerful! I can plan, plot, quirk my food and my body into whatever I want it to be, just by my own strong free will, by will-power.
Will. Power. WillPower.
For many of us in the fringes, it never reaches the anorexic stage, or the bulimic stage, the binge and purge stage. The “under weight” stage. We find that stuff distasteful. Yuck. They aren’t In Control. We are! We find the sweet spot of Control just at that edge, just at that spot where people would never know the struggle we are going through. We still are within our healthy BMI; we still eat—we don’t avoid food situations, and in fact, may embrace them, for we can eat whatever and how much ever we want, for tomorrow is another day where we’ll just eat less to make up for it. Ha! Fooled up, sumbitches! We don’t binge and purge—gross! That’s for the “crazy ones.” We don’t starve ourselves into emaciation—why, that’s for those obsessive whiners. Give us some credit, whydontcha. We walk that fine line of eating enough while still maintaining our control. We exercise and we eat healthfully, but we also know how to manipulate food just enough. Just enough.
We are many times highly intelligent and highly motivated and goal driven women–and for some of us, people don’t see this in us, so we give them what they want: A perfect sexy body they can objectify. Then while we have their attention, we kick their ass with our smarts and our insights. WHUPOW! Gotcha! Suck on that!
The danger comes when the weight drops lower than you meant for it to. Oh oh. You tell yourself you won’t go any further. You tell yourself you’ll gain back a few pounds. You tell yourself this, but by then the Control Demon has its claws in you and you must tread carefully now. You don’t want to be one of THEM. You put on muscle, eat more protein, find ways to walk that fine line of “healthy but thin.”
It isn’t always about what we look like—for really, there isn’t a true concept of “what we look like,” for when we look into the mirror, we do not see what everyone else sees–no one really does, it’s just for us, the body dysmorphia is more acute. And, honestly, one day we may feel quite good about ourselves, fit and thin and wonderful, and the very next day we may feel willy nilly bound; oh my god oh my god am I gaining weight(losing control/losing will.power)?
If someone would hear us say, “Oh my god! I’ve gained two pounds,” they may roll their eyes and say, “Get over yourself! Two pounds! Get real!” But what they may not understand is that it is not the two pounds itself that is the problem—it’s the fear of careening out of control. Two pounds leads to three and then four and then six and then ten and where does it stop? If we are not vigilant, two pounds becomes more and more and more, and what if we can’t stop it? What if we gain and gain and gain and gain and gain . . . No! Must.Gain.Control. We do not like the out of control feeling and it must be Stopped.
Because we are better than that. We are too powerful to let something have control of us!
People who do not struggle with eating disordered thinking would see that two pound gain as a shrug in their lives. People with eating disordered thinking sees that two pounds as weakness. Are you weak! No! Get back on the program! NOW! Do not relax! Vigilance! You are stronger than this! You can beat this! And when the two pounds releases out into the air and off your body, it’s almost sexual, an orgasmic thrill. Oh yes, yes, yes, yes, oh god yes.
There are many thrills to the eating disordered life. That’s why it’s so powerful. We may start out only trying to lose a few needed pounds. Perhaps we’ve been going through our lives and step on the scales one day and go, “Oh oh. You have let yourself go. You idiot!” We really mean it when we tell ourselves we will lose those extra pounds and be happy with that. People notice, and we feel better, yes. Good. Done. But . . . wait. Hold up. The little voice cajoles, “Lose a couple extra, just in case. That way, you’ll have a cushion! You can relax some. Doesn’t that sound wonderful?” Hey, that does sound great! So you lose a couple more pounds. The compliments rise, and you feel even better.
There comes the thrill of seeing the scales bow to your power, to your will. You are kicking the ass of those scales. You are In Control. Yeah! WILL.POWER!
You lose a couple more, maybe even accidentally. You think, why not? Your clothes are fitting looser. You feel lighter. Your body is buoyant! Your body can do things it couldn’t do before–move in ways it couldn’t, bend in ways it couldn’t, exercise in ways it couldn’t, have sex in ways it couldn’t; it is pleasing, pleasurable, giddy, heady.
When you lie down at night, your stomach is flat and you can feel your hip bones—and this becomes one of your litmus tests. If you lie down and can’t feel that slight concave belly and those hip bones, then You Are Out Of Control! Oh oh. You begin to like the way you can feel some of your bones under your skin, not hidden by layers of fat, no, but right there, so beautiful, the body is so very beautiful. Your body is beautiful. The curves and knobs and sharp planes and muscles that you manipulate with your hand. Your partner slides his hand along your body and you hum and shimmer–he can feel it, too. You still have enough body fat to be curvy and soft, but you’ve lost enough that as you explore your body, as he does, you/he feel all the new nuances of it. Your ribs, your hipbones, your collar bones, the tiny waist, the lean muscle. Your cheekbones ride higher and you think maybe it makes you look more knowing; there, those cheekbones below your big dark eyes full of deep dark secrets.
When you work out, your body is light and airy-air-borne. It flies over the treadmill, as if your bones are hollow, yet they are hard as a boulder, unbreakable. You are unbreakable! You feel strong, competent, powerful. People begin complimenting you more and more. Men stare appreciatively, and even younger men wink at you, tell you that you look hot.
You feel a sexual thrill you have never felt before–they are under your control now, helpless–who’s the little bee-otch now, huh? I am in control; you are in my control.
Your clothes skim your body, rubbing against your skin, nothing spilling over, no binding. You could almost float, so light you are!
And meanwhile, (practically) no one is the wiser. No one knows your obsessive thoughts about food and weight. No one knows the fear and anxiety. No one knows your need for control. No one knows that sometimes you go to bed hungry because you “lost control” and ate too much earlier that day or the day before. No one knows how you don’t know if you ate enough that day and because you do not want to become One Of Them, one of The Crazies, you force yourself to eat more the next day.
No one knows that hunger, your growling belly, is so fucking scary, for it means two things: you need to eat, your need to eat.
No one knows that every time you step on the scales you tell yourself not to be happy if you’ve lost weight and not to be sad if you’ve gained weight. Then, if you’ve gained weight, you try to calm the out of control feelings. If you’ve lost weight, you try to calm the tiny little thrill that shimmers up your spine.
In my post I linked to above, I listed how my weight began to drop, and my feelings about it at the time. And now? . . . No, I did not gain back to 120; no I did not stay at 116. Yes, I am stable where I am now, and I must be, because I will not be one of Them.
I am Will.Power. Stand back. Get out of my way.
Don’t get too close now . . . . that’s right.
Control. Power. Isn’t it ironic? Because, really . . . yes. That’s right. You got it. We are so good at justification. We are so smart. We are so stupidly smart.