Monday, July 28, 2008

Q&A: How it began

Last week, plagued by boredom over the same old topics, I asked for help from you, my readers. I wanted your questions, and you asked them. Thanks for doing that, by the way. Just so you know- I love comments. Keep them coming, please!

One of the first people to respond asked me how my struggle with binge eating began, and if there's any advice I can offer for people stuck in binge mode.

As I'm sitting here, formulating what to say, the answer becomes longer and more detailed every time I rethink it. This post may get long.

I can't remember the first time I binged, but I couldn't have been more than 10 or 11 years old. Do you remember when you were in grade school, how you'd eat lunch at a ridiculously early hour? Like, 10:45 a.m.? I'd get home from school around 3:30, feeling like I was starving. Sometimes my mom let me have a snack, but not always. She often made me wait for dinner. By the time dinner rolled around, I was so hungry that I'd wolf down my food in a few short minutes, then have seconds. I'd wind up eating more than my parents, and still want more.

When I was old enough to be left home alone, I'd sneak cookies, ice cream, and ham sandwiches into my room after school and savor the fact that I could eat as much as I wanted, and in private. I'd eat and eat, sometimes devouring a half gallon of ice cream in a single afternoon. When my mom would ask what happened to the ice cream she just bought the day before, I'd shrug my shoulders. Mom would then blame Dad for the missing sweets. I felt guilty, but not guilty enough to confess or stop. Or, maybe I felt so guilty that I couldn't stop. It's a coin toss.

I was a pudgy kid- overweight to be sure- but I wasn't what many would call "fat." I was tall for my age and somewhat athletic. I spent a lot of time riding my bike and shooting hoops with the kid next door. I suppose it's that small bit of exercise that kept me from looking like the Michelin Man as I entered adolescence.
I was on the tennis team my first two years of high school. Then, at age 16, I quit the tennis team and started smoking cigarettes. I got a car, which was my ticket to a whole new world of caloric possibility. Taco Bell became a second home. On my way home from school, I'd often hit the drive through and get 2 bean burritos and 2 tacos. Then I'd go home and eat dinner with my parents. In an attempt to hide my visits to fast food joints, I'd avoid bringing the empty paper bags and wrappers into the house to be thrown away. Eventually the trash would pile up in my car. Under the cover of night I'd find a dumpster somewhere and throw it all out.

As the years passed, this kind of behavior would ebb and flow, depending on what was going on in my life. For example, at the beginning of a romantic relationship, the binge eating would stop because I was so euphoric. Then, as the novelty wore off, the binging would increase. Again, I was technically overweight, but still very average-looking. I was about a size 14 until my mid-20s. I'm not sure when exactly I totally lost control. From what I remember, nothing too traumatic happened to me. I quit smoking, which certainly didn't help curb my appetite. I also went through a difficult break-up, but it wasn't life shattering.

At some point, though, there was a flip of a switch, and any amount of food I consumed was never enough. The part of my brain that said "Stop, I'm full," totally stopped working. The volume of food I ate combined with my lack of exercise, was a recipe for disaster. At age 29, I found myself wearing size 26 jeans and weighing 264 lbs.

You know the rest of the story. For those of you who are starting a healthier life, I wish I could tell you that I don't binge anymore. Yeah, I lost the weight, but that girl- the one who cruises the drive-through on her way home, then eats a second dinner- is still very much a part of me. In fact, now that I'm in training for a marathon, my appetite is more voracious than ever. I still think about food all the time. Some days are great, others suck. You know how it is.

If, after reading all this, you still want advice from me... well, I'll have to assume you're a little crazy. The fact is, I need to be getting advice, not giving it. That's why I started seeing a therapist. One of the biggest pearls of wisdom she's given me is this: even when you're in the trance of a deep binge, when you think you've lost all control, you still have a choice. Every time you go back to the kitchen for just one more bite, you're making a decision.

It's advice that's as true as it is difficult to follow. I think there have been only a handful of occasions when I've been able to pull myself out of a binge before it's run its course. I know how hard it is. But, the fact that I've been able to "snap out of it" leads me to believe that I could do it again. Maybe you can too.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Crash landing

Thanks for all your questions. I'm excited to answer them all in upcoming posts.

Today, though, I'd like to discuss the past week of intuitive eating. In one of my earlier posts, I equated the concept of eating whatever you want, whenever you want, to jumping out of an airplane without a parachute. Well, I jumped, and my chute most certainly did NOT open. I crash landed in a town called All You Can Eat, U.S.A., and now I'm trying to find my wagon and hitch a ride home.

According to the book, a person needs a lot more than a week to fully understand the concepts and techniques. In this short time, however, I know this method isn't something I'm ready to practice yet. My goal is to think less about food, and with all the freedom that intuitive eating affords, food became the only thing on my mind. Additionally, I allowed myself to eat so much that I missed workouts on two occasions. One of the missed workouts was a 5 mile run.

So, it's back to the old system for me. I'm going eat on a schedule so I won't get hungry in the first place, and limit my choices to a few things for each meal. There will still be a cheat meal (ideally only one) on the weekend, but I'll no longer eat "whatever sounds good" at any given moment. Peanut butter is back at the top of the list of foods that can no longer reside in our house. Those ice cream drumstick things are a close second.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Any questions?

I'm sitting here trying to decide what to write about today. Should I talk about how difficult my run was last night? The fact that my air conditioning was out for 2 days when it was 90 degrees outside? The fact that I'm trying to avoid a buffet of sweets which exists just a few feet from my desk?

Nope, I don't feel like talking about that stuff right now. So, if there's anything you'd like to know, or if there's a topic you'd like to see covered on Morgan Gets Thin, let me know!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Intuition FAIL

The title of today's post is a shout-out to one of my favorite sites, the FAIL Blog. It has nothing to do with weight loss or fitness, but it makes me laugh. Be warned, it's not always safe for work.

I finished the Intuitive Eating book over the weekend, and now I find myself conflicted and confused on so many levels. I get the basic premise- by depriving ourselves and adopting the "diet mentality," we set ourselves up for binge eating and failure. Because of that, we should reject the diet mentality and allow ourselves to eat whatever we want. In theory, it makes perfect sense. In practice (at least for me), it's like skydiving without a parachute.

Here's the thing- as I was losing my excess weight, I really wasn't depriving myself. Sure, I ate less than the average person, and I often felt slightly hungry. I often craved things but didn't eat them immediately. I'd save it for my weekly cheat meal. Some may call that deprivation; I call it delayed gratification.

The book also assumes that the average person can eat just one cookie. Yeah, right. In what world does a person go to the store, buy some Pepperidge Farm Milanos, and then only eat one? Not in my world, that's for damn sure. Over the weekend, my Intuition told me I wanted Milanos, so I took its advice and bought some. Actually, Angie bought them for me, but that's not the point. I took one out of the container and savored it, then assessed my hunger. "More cookies, please," my Intuition said. Needless to say, the container was empty by the following day.

My Intuition also told me I wanted a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Up until now, peanut butter was on my short list of foods that were banned from our kitchen due to their knack for triggering my binges. According to the book, however, there should be no forbidden foods. Foods don't have inherent values like "good" or "bad," but we assign them values and make them more powerful than they should be. Yeah, that makes sense. So I got some and...well, you probably know where this is going.

For now, I need to find some kind of happy medium or compromise. I'm not trying to belittle myself by saying this, but if there's a box of cookies or a jar of peanut butter in my house, I'm going to eat the whole thing very rapidly. That's just something I know about myself. It's reality. So, I think I need to keep that stuff out of the house. However, if I'm out at Panera and really want a PB&J sandwich, I'll totally order one.

Like anything else, it's a learning process. I'm working on it!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Oops / 14 miler

Yup, I gained 4 pounds this week. I was expecting a gain from all the fast food binges, but 4 pounds?! Oh well. I feel like this intuitive eating thing will lead me down a better road. The weight will normalize where it's meant to be. Maybe I'm not meant to be 150 pounds; perhaps 160 is my natural weight. As I go through the process of making peace with food and my body, the weight will work itself out.

In other news, I ran 14 miles this morning. That's the farthest I've ever gone. The course was mostly on hilly country roads. The hills were intense. My hips, butt, legs, knees, and feet are on fire. I'm in a lot of pain, but I'm also elated and exhilarated for my accomplishment. I'm pretty damn proud of myself, I must say. The people I run with are amazing, and they kept me going when I wanted to stop.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Screw the plan!

Last night at the library, I picked up a book called Intuitive Eating, which discusses the ways in which so many of us are imprisoned by our attitudes towards food and our bodies. This is a topic I'm no stranger to. For over a year now, I've scrutinized almost every bite I've taken. Everything has been about being "on my plan." This scenario served its purpose, in that I lost my excess weight.

Losing weight has been an amazing, crazy, whirlwind experience. As the pounds came off, many of my problems also melted away. I got more energy, a new wardrobe, and self confidence. I can run and do push-ups.
I look people in the eyes now.

I developed a whole new set of problems, too. I have a gripping, intense fear of gaining the weight back, which leads me to feel guilty when I eat something unhealthy.
I've assigned so much value to food that I derive little enjoyment from eating, yet I think about food 24/7. Cookies, bad. Vegetables, good. I feel guilty for eating one cookie, so I eat four more. Even though I've lost 100 pounds, I still look in the mirror and see the things that are considered undesirable, rather than the awesome improvements.

I'm ready to have a positive opinion of my body for the first time in my life. I ready to think about something other than food for a change! I know a book won't have all the answers, but it's a start. As I was reading the first few chapters last night, many of the passages seemed as though they were written just for me.

So, I'm throwing "the plan" out the window. No more counting calories, no more cheat meals, no more guilt. I'll still log everything I eat so I can make sure I'm getting the basic nutrients I need for my training, but I'll leave the calories out of it. If I really want something unhealthy, I'll eat it without guilt. It's time to change.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Sequels suck

I've fallen off the wagon so much this week that the wagon seems to no longer exist. There is the idea of the wagon, but its physical manifestation is nowhere to be found. It's so far gone in the distance that I can hardly see it.

Today I feel sick and disgusted with the way things are going. My pants are getting tighter. The size 10 jeans that I fit into for a fleeting and glorious two weeks now bring only two words to mind: muffin and top. I need to turn this around right now. Right this minute. This is not because I want to see a certain number on the scale, or a particular clothing size. It's because I feel terrible.

Last night I had a dream- a nightmare, really- that I was attending a family gathering. Everyone kept staring at me with a look of pity in their eyes. I'd see them whispering, then they'd abruptly stop when I'd get within earshot. Was my zipper down? Did I have bird shit on my forehead? Why were they looking at me like that?! I frantically searched for a mirror, and when I found one, I saw my former, fat self looking back at me. Every pound I'd worked so hard to get rid of was back- strapped to my belly in three massive rolls. My fingers looked like sausages, and the jawline that I'd once admired was obscured once again.

In horror movies, when you think the monster (or serial killer, or whatever) is finally dead, it always has to open its eyes for that one final scare. In my dream, Fat Morgan was the monster, and she was trying to kill me once again, because the damn bitch just won't seem to die.

Die, fat Morgan, die!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Thinking in the grey

Two different people brought treats to work yesterday. Both of these individuals are very skilled bakers. One brought cookies, and the other made brownies. I did everything in my power to abstain. I concentrated so hard on avoiding the treats that I wound up stressing about it. By the time I got home, I just wanted to stuff myself. And I did.

However, there's a silver lining to this cloud. In the past, if I "messed up" at some point during the day, I'd think the whole day was screwed and it would be pointless to exercise. This time, I knew I had 4 miles to run. It wasn't just about burning the calories; it was more about getting the mileage in for my marathon training. So, I made myself get on the treadmill. I had such acid reflux from the crap I'd eaten earlier that I wanted to quit after 5 minutes, but I stuck it out and finished all 4 miles of the workout.

I know I didn't burn off the extra 1300 calories I ate after dinner last night, but I did feel very proud of myself for not succumbing to all-or-nothing thinking.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Hospital Hill, revisited

When my alarm went off at 4:45 this morning, I wasn't exactly thrilled to get out of bed, but I also wasn't grumpy about it. After all, I only had to run 8 miles. No big deal when compared to what I've done recently, or what I'll be doing in the future.

I weighed in (down 1 lb. from last week!), ate a banana, and put on my Hospital Hill sweat-wicking t-shirt. I chose that particular shirt because today's route started and ended in the same area as the Hospital Hill run. Eerily, the temperature and humidity were about the same as they were that day, too.

When I got to the meet-up area, I noticed every bench in the park was occupied by a homeless person. When the coach of our group got out his bullhorn at 6:00 a.m. and started talking about the route, the folks on the benches stirred, angrily looking around for the source of the noise.

I started running with the 12 minute mile pace group. At one point, we saw a group of runners ahead, and all of them were standing around another runner. Something was wrong, and as we approached, I noticed there was a LOT of blood on the sidewalk. The poor guy had stepped on a nail or some glass, and was bleeding profusely. Someone was already on the phone with 911, and there were plenty of people staying with him, so our pace group continued on.

It's become clear that the 12 minute pace group is not fast enough for me, which makes me sad because I really like the people in the group. Still, I don't want to sell myself short and train too slowly. If I can finish faster without burning myself out, I definitely want to do that. Today, I ran ahead and caught up with the 11:40 group, then later I caught the 11:20 group. Next week, I may try to stay with them the whole time.

By the time it was all over, my face was the color of a tomato and I was dripping sweat. I felt great, though. This coming week, my mileage will be increasing. Bring it on, I say!

Friday, July 11, 2008


For some unknown reason, I haven't had any caffeine this week. When I get to the office in the morning, it's typical for me to grab a cup of the swill that they keep on tap here and chug it down at my desk before I start dealing with customers. It gives me a nice little buzz and helps me get my "guard" up, or my defenses, or whatever it is that keeps me from crying when I talk to mean people.

On Monday, though, I didn't get any coffee. There was never a moment when I said to myself "I think I'll quit caffeine." It just sort of happened. Yeah, I'm a little tired, and I've gotten a headache or two, but there have been some good side effects as well. For one thing, I've been sleeping better. The big thing I've noticed is that my desire to binge at night has subsided a bit. It's still there sometimes, like Wednesday when I ate 3 bowls of cereal before bed, but overall it's been better this week. Is that because of the lack of caffeine? Maybe, maybe not.

This morning, a cup of coffee sounds really good, but I think I'll ride the caffeine-free wave a while longer and see where it takes me.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Memory lanes and new possibilities

I took the afternoon off work today so I could go see a career counselor at the local community college I attended many years ago. As I drove by the various buildings I'd once occupied as a student, the memories came flooding back. I finally found a parking space and walked toward the student center. When I walked across the circle drive in front of the building, I realized that very spot had been the starting line of my very first 5K race, which made me smile.

I was 20 minutes early, so I wandered around the campus and reminisced a bit. Oh, there's the microbiology lab room where I spilled a vial of e. Coli all over my hands! And there's the classroom where I tried very hard to understand physics, and failed miserably. I was sitting at that cafeteria table when I learned a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I aced a Western civilization final in that chair.

Lots of memories. It felt good to be there. After a while, I went to the career center and met with a counselor. I wasn't there long- maybe 20 minutes. Upon leaving, I wasn't any more confident about my future than I was before I arrived, but at least now I know where to start. My next project is to research a Master's degree in dietetics and nutrition.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

UltraMarathon Man

I wrote a little bit about Dean Karnazes in another post about ultra-endurance. In 2006, he ran 50 marathons in 50 states, in 50 consecutive days. Apparently, a documentary was made about it, and it's coming to a theater near you. Click here for the movie's web site and show times. There's a showing in the Kansas City area on Thursday, July 31st. I'll be there!

Here's the preview, if you're interested. Be sure to watch until the end.

Only 8 miles

Before I say anything else, I'd like to apologize for the melodramatic and depressed nature of some of my recent posts. If you couldn't already tell, I've been struggling lately, and sometimes I feel like this blog is the best place to vent and organize my thoughts. However, I want to be an inspiration to those of you who also struggle with weight loss and weight maintenance. Despite my recent bummer posts, losing weight is a wonderful, life-enhancing, and healthy thing you can do for yourself. Please don't let my occasional negativity bring you down or deter you from your goals. I'm so incredibly happy I lost the amount of weight I did; so happy, in fact, that I sometimes freak out and worry it's all going to come back.

Enough about that. Moving on...

When I checked my training schedule for this week, I noticed that I'll be running substantially less than in the weeks before. I guess every 4 weeks, they throw in a "recovery week," in which you back off your mileage to let your body bounce back from all the wear-and-tear. When I was explaining it to someone at work, I actually heard these words come out of my mouth: "I only have to run 8 miles this Saturday." Um, excuse me? Only 8 miles? My inner couch potato wanted to punch my inner athlete for saying something so ludicrous, but then thought the better of it and continued eating cupcakes and watching reruns of The Golden Girls.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

I don't get it

When I was growing up, bedtime was an ordeal in our household. Every night, I'd put up a fight when it was time to separate from the world and be alone in my room. I wasn't afraid of the dark, and I wasn't scared of the Boogeyman. I just didn't want to be alone because it terrified me.

I almost didn't weigh myself on Saturday morning. Why? I guess I should confess I fell off the wagon multiple times last week. I got all my scheduled workouts in, but I ate more unhealthy food than I did during an average week when I was "fat Morgan." On Friday, I was so depressed that I spent most of the day in bed, which is something I haven't done in years. I tried to keep my thoughts neutral, so I pondered the spider webs in the corners of the room, and noticed the repetitive clicking of the ceiling fan. Every time I let my mind wander to food, or my slip-ups during the preceding days, I'd completely lose it. I was so scared.

I'm not sure what I'm so afraid of. Obviously, the idea of gaining weight freaks me out beyond belief. But why, exactly? Maybe I'm afraid of being judged by strangers and acquaintances. Or, perhaps I don't want to disappoint my parents, especially since it took so long to feel like they approved of me. Maybe I think that if I regain the weight, no one will love me and I'll be alone.

If my best friend were saying all this to me right now, I'd tell her she was being absolutely ridiculous, and she'd be loved whether she weighed 160 lbs. or 264 lbs. So why am I having such a hard time saying those very things to myself?

After much debate, I decided to go ahead and weigh myself. After all, there was no sense in ignoring the problem. I took a deep breath and prepared myself for a gain of at least 3 pounds, maybe more.

I'd lost a pound. I stepped on the scale a second, third, and fourth time, just to be sure. Still the same.

Currently, weight maintenance is a total enigma to me. I don't get it at all. I don't understand my body. I suppose part of this journey is getting to know myself again. I'm trying.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

You will suffer intensely

mas·och·ism - gratification gained from pain, deprivation, degradation, etc., inflicted or imposed on oneself, either as a result of one's own actions or the actions of others, esp. the tendency to seek this form of gratification.

Last night, the coach of my running group held a clinic for marathoner wannabes like myself. I arrived at the meeting place (a running store) early, a habit that I both pride myself on, and am annoyed by all at the same time. I milled around the store and looked at various GUs and shoes. I bumped into some ladies from my group and we chatted a bit.

When it was time for the meeting to start, the coach asked us all to say our names, the race we were training for, and any specific questions we had. One guy wanted to know what we would mentally and physically experience during the race. When it came time for the coach to answer this question, he said "You will suffer intensely." Rather than becoming afraid or apprehensive, I became giddy with excitement and anticipation. I can't wait for October 18th.

The idea of intense suffering, followed by glorious, raw emotion, is very appealing to me. I picture myself hitting mile 24, and the systems in my body start rebelling one by one. My stomach cramps up and my leg muscles start to numb. I hobble along like some zombie from a George Romero film. The simple distance to the next tree seems like miles. Eventually, I see the finish line in the distance and I'm instantly reanimated. I run, as gracefully as a first-time marathoner can, through the finish area, my arms raised in triumph, tears streaming down my face.

That's how I imagine it will be. That's how I hope it will be. I even hope for a little intense suffering. I'm not a masochist, or at least I don't think I am. I just think the light at the end of the tunnel will be even brighter if the tunnel is full of pain and feelings of insanity.

Yeah, maybe I'm a masochist.