I talked with host Kristin Walker about body dysmorphic disorder, “This is My Brave,” relapse, and embracing sexuality in binge eating disorder recovery.
Give it a listen when you get the chance.
I have kicked around the idea of starting my own podcast for years, mostly at the urging of my audience. Being on this podcast encouraged me to make a commitment to doing so.
I will be making an official announcement soon, but get your headsets ready for The Optimistic Food Addict’s Podcast. The primary focus will be relapse-resistant recovery, which will include everything from discussions about abstinence, journaling, paying your bills, finding joy in movement, body acceptance, and so on. It is a one-stop podcast for thinking critically about your life and taking active steps to build strong recovery.
And the next chapter of Memphis will be out on Tuesday, February 13.
Thank you all for always being so generous with your comments and time.
Reader feedback: Thank you so much for your feedback! I agree that Chapter 2 needs expanding so we understand Memphis better. My original intent with this book was to make it a romance novel, but as it evolved it became a more traditional piece of fiction. Chapter 2 will be revised so that we can understand Memphis better. What motivates her?
by Christina Fisanick, Ph.D.
Spring break started right after mid-terms, and Memphis stayed with her parents as the dorms were closed during that week. She hated staying with them because her dad, who had never been supportive, yelled and screamed at her during the entirety of her waking hours. Thankfully, her friend Lily came over every night after she got off her shift at the call center and picked her up. They would drive around town listening to 80s music and talk about nothing, which was everything. [This section will be expanded to includ more information/backstory about Lily’s family.]
There wasn’t much going on most nights in the quiet river town where Memphis grew up. Sometimes they would find other friends at the local shopping center. A gang of ten or more people would hang out near the grocery store, which was open all night. Memphis both hated and loved spending time there. On warmer than average spring nights, like this one, most people sat out on the hoods of their cards or stood around in a circle and talked. Memphis was dressed for it tonight: blue jeans, long-sleeved t-shirt, and a jean jacket with a hood. She had just sewed a Led Zeppelin patch to the back of her jacket that morning and was dying to show off how cool she was.
Of course, that did not happen. Lily was a natural beauty. Long blond hair, petite, slender body. Green eyes. Just what most men, especially men in their 20s, were looking for. And look for her they did. Ever-popular Lily left with a carload of boys not ten minutes after they got there, which meant that Memphis had no one to talk to but Ed, the 40-something father of four who tried to convince her that he knows Stephen King, and his name is really pronounced Steff-awn, and his friend Noodle, who didn’t really say much at all unless the conversation turned to cars. So, she got back into Lily’s car and sat there bored for a few hours while Lily talked to the guys in the red sports car.
Memphis tried to persuade her friend not to go with them, but she could not talk her out of it. Memphis worried herself to nausea and realized that she had to pee. The nearest place with a public bathroom was the all-night grocery store, but it required a walk of about a half a mile from where Lily’s car was parked. It wasn’t really a safety issue for Memphis, but a long-distance issue. What if Lily came back and Memphis was gone? How would she get back to her parents’ house? She worried about it until she had not choice but to act.
She got out of the car and slowly began walking towards the store. The plaza storefronts were fully lit to prevent robberies, so at least she could see where she was going. About halfway to her destination, five guys in a canary yellow GEO Storm slowly started following her. She immediately wanted to hide. Anywhere. Out of there. She needed to disappear.
She started walking faster. One of the guys in the backseat shouted, “Where are you going, fatty?”
She ignored them and kept facing straight ahead.
“Why don’t you go on a diet?” Another creep from the Storm called out.
She kept walking, the opening to the grocery closer by the step.
“Maybe if you walked that fast all the time, you wouldn’t have such a fat ass!” The same voice called.
She was now in the light of the store windows, and she could barely breathe from her anxiety and exertion.
“I bet if you got screwed once or twice that would straighten you out,” said another voice from somewhere inside the car.
She rushed inside the store and made a run for the bathroom, only to find it locked once she got there. She stood there in both fear and shame under the fluorescent lights wishing so hard that she could disappear. She wanted so badly to simply evaporate. Poof! No more Memphis.
Eventually, a woman and her little boy came out of the women’s room. She rushed inside, pulled down her jeans, and cried. What should have been a fun night out with her friend, turned into a boring, sad nightmare that she wished was over.
After pulling up her pants, she washed her hands and face. She went back out into the store. She wanted to make sure the guys in the Geo Storm weren’t waiting for her outside, so she roamed around the aisles, pausing at one point to pick up a basket to make it look like she was shopping. She stopped by the make-up section and ogled purple eyeshadow that was supposed to be perfect for brown eyes like hers. She stopped in the body wash section to see if they had any of those new body poufs that her roommate and suitemates seemed to have lying around their shared bathroom.
Eventually, she found herself staring at her nemesis: chocolate chip cookies with buttercream frosting. These delights were sold by twos in the bakery section of the store. As she stood there, one hand holding the red plastic shopping basket, and the other hand fingering the five dollar bill in her pocket, she started to feel lightheaded. Oh, how she wanted that sweet delight. She could taste and smell each heavenly bite. No one made butter cream frosting like the ladies at the bakery.
Before she knew it, she had placed a plastic container filled with two cookie sandwiches in her basket and was walking towards the first open register. She paid, put the basket back in its stack, and walked out into the cart return area. She knew there was a bench just to the left of the doors where store workers took their smoke breaks. She looked around, and seeing no one, she crept into that spot, which was dark at 11 o’clock at night, and sat down on the bench. She took the container out of the bag, nearly ripped off the lid, and picked up her first cookie sandwich.
From the first bite, she could feel her brain singing with pleasure. She closed her eyes and let the fear and anxiety of the last few hours float away. Within minutes she was lost in her eating.
By the time she was finished with the second cookie sandwich, she felt sick and ashamed. She had done it again. She had binged on food that would not only keep her fat, but make her sick. Why? Why did she do that to herself?
She walked back into the store, threw her evidence away, and strolled back down to the place where Lily had parked. Lily just got back with the red car guys as she crossed the parking lot to Lily’s car.
Lily looked a wreck. Her hair, which had been perfectly sculpted for the evening out, was messy and bedraggled. Her clothes were halfway off. And her lipstick was smeared on her face. Memphis was immediately worried about her friend, and she walked faster to her side. The guys were laughing and joking about something, but Lily wasn’t. Memphis asked her if she was okay, and she nodded, “Sure. We had a great time. I am just tired.” Lily smiled wryly.
“Do you want to go then?” Memphis asked.
“Yeah, I guess we better. Want to go get some burgers and fries at Mitchell’s?” she asked, meaning, of course, that she had a lot to tell her friend.
Even though Memphis had just binged, she couldn’t wait to ease her mind with some French fries and gravy. “Yeah, let’s go,” she said, getting in Lily’s car and sneering towards the red car guys, who didn’t even offer to say goodbye to Lily.
Memphis wondered, then, what was worse. Lily riding off with a carload of guys for fun, or her running from a carload who threatened to violate her for being fat? Either way, she was sure that she wasn’t interested in either option.
Days and weeks went by, and Memphis kept studying and going to work at her job as the midnight clerk at the gas station across the street from campus. She hated her job, but it kept her in college, and working midnights three times a week allowed her to get her homework done when business was slow.
She tried to tell herself that she hadn’t had time to go back to Second Cup since the day she met Seth , but she knew she just couldn’t bare seeing him again. Her dreams had been filled with their love making. In fact, she woke up one afternoon before dinner to a crowd of Susan and Eddie’s friends staring at her. Eddie, in his most crude voice, said, “You were playing with yourself in your sleep, Memphis. Right in front of all of us.”
Mortified, Memphis, hit him with her pillow and put her head under her covers to drown out their laughter.
Nonetheless, the sex dreams continued and always ended in the same way, with Seth on top of her and inside her. His blue eyes staring into her brown ones. Her hands on his muscular ass. His hands on either side of her head. He is whispering something. She can see his lips, full and soft, saying something, but they climax together, and his words are lost. Sometimes she goes back to sleep for another 15 minutes just to see if she can get back into the dream again. She wants so badly to hear what he is saying, but as hard as she tries, his words remain soundless shapes.
One afternoon around St. Paddy’s Day her friends suggest a mid-term study trip to Second Cup. Memphis agrees excitedly and then panics over what to wear. Her friends, Nichole and Shannon, are dressed in usual study attire, sweatpants, sweatshirts, and pony tails, but Memphis is bent on looking her best, just in case. She dons black jeans and a white sweater. She carefully applies her make-up with extra emphasis on her eyes. With no make-up, they are shiny brown chestnuts set in her wide face, but with a brush of cinnamon shadow and a dab of coal eyeliner, they become entrancing orbs and clearly her best feature.
Memphis’ face falls as they walk into Second Cup that Sunday afternoon, around the time she met Seth. He is nowhere in sight, but she reminds herself that they will be there for hours, so there is still time.
After two cappuccinos, all three of the girls are uncontrollably giggling about everything and nothing. Memphis starts talking in funny accents, and Nicole playfully hits her with her left unicorn slipper. Memphis topples out of her chair in another fit of laughter, only to look up and find Seth standing over her. She immediately stopped laughing, clambered to her feet, and turned to him, stammering out a “H-Hi Seth.”
Nicole and Shannon stop laughing, too, having heard about this knight in pressed Armani that Memphis met last month. They looked over him approvingly as he grinned at Memphis, “Had a bit of a spill, I see,” he said.
“We were, uh, laughing about something, and I guess I just, uh, got carried away,” Memphis managed to spit out.
“Yeah, I guess so,” he said with a thin smile. He strode up to the counter and ordered his usual amaretto cap with three shots of espresso while Nicole and Shannon pleaded with Memphis to go talk to him. After a few minutes of pestering, she smoothed out her sweater and hiked up her pants. (Every damn pair were tight in her hips and thighs and gapped at her back, revealing her butt crack to the world). She sidled up to Seth, who had just picked up his coffee.
He spoke first, “So, what have you been up to Memphis?”
“Studying and working. The usual. Did you finish your internship?” she was standing just a few inches from him, so close that she could smell what she guessed was his shampoo. Clean and masculine. Oh, how she wanted him.
“I have one more week of my internship, and then I write the big assessment paper,” he replied, sipping his cap.
“How long is it?” she asked, immediately blushing as her mind went right into the gutter and her eyes to his crotch.
Either he didn’t get the double entendre, or he chose to ignore it. “It has to be about 50 pages with endnotes and graphs.”
“Oh, that sounds hard.” Damn it, she chuckled to herself, you did it again.
“I am dreading it for sure,” he said, putting his free hand in his khaki pocket, which opened his coat to further reveal his package and the rest of his attire, a black-gray hombre cashmere sweater. Memphis struggled not to fall to her knees and undo his fly right then and there.
Instead, she made a subtler move. “Well, I am an English major with a ton of writing experience, so if you ever need help while writing, let me know.” And then she walked back towards where Nicole and Shannon sat waiting for an update.
Before she could weave her way through the usual student studiers, she heard Seth call, “But wait, I don’t have your number.”
She turned back, her heart soaring in her chest, and said, “Let me give it to you.” Damn, I am at it again, she thought mirthfully. “Do you have a pen?” He rummaged through his interior coat pocket and retrieved a slim day planner and pen, and opened it to a section titled, “Important Numbers.”
“Okay,” he said, “What is it?” She looked at him there with his pen in his hand poised to right down the next words she said. He looked so intelligent and sophisticated. What could she do, she wondered, to make him want her? “Your number?” he said, interrupting her thoughts, which had turned to plotting and planning.
“Oh, its 555-667-1234,” she said in her sweetest voice. “And I mean it. You can call me if you need help with typing it up or formatting or proofreading. I do it all.” How could he not be getting these obvious and ridiculous come-ons?
“Great,” he said, flipping his mini-day planner closed and sliding it back into his coat pocket. “I will call you if I need any help. Enjoy your night,” he added before picking a path through the clumps of students and walking out the door.
Memphis practically ran back to the table. “He asked for my number!” she squealed, and Nichole and Shannon jumped up and started hugging her. Needless to say, none of them got much work done for the rest of that evening as they talked about all of the dirty things Memphis planned to do to Seth once she got him. Even though it was obvious that he was older than Memphis, the friends approved of him because he had a swagger that they could appreciate. He walked with authority, self-confidence, and some else that none of them could quite understand.
This is my first foray into fiction since I was a senior in college over twenty years ago. Generally, as you know, I write non-fiction, mostly memoir. This journey with Memphis has been fun so far.
One of the tools I have been using to write this novel is Pinterest. I have been pinning photos of women I think look like Memphis, photos of men I think look like Evan, and photos of locations I mention in the book.
Although I am certain that the main character should be called Memphis, I am not so sure of Evan as the name of her love interest. Take a look at some of the images I have selected. Do you think Evan is the best name for the main male character? If not, do you have a suggestion for other names?
Here’s a link to the novel’s Pinterest page, and I have included some images below for those of you who don’t visit Pinterest. Enjoy!
Her eleven-year marriage was over. Memphis was sure of that. As she watched Evan’s clothes burn on the lawn of their once-perfectly manicured home, she knew that there was no way to reconcile, even if she wanted to. Sure, she could have simply boxed up his Alan Edmond shoes and Brooks Brothers ties, but throwing them out their second-story bedroom window was easier and more satisfying for her. And SHE was putting herself first for once.
They had met while standing in line for cappuccinos at the local coffee shop. After she heard him order “a large amaretto cappuccino with three shots of espresso,” she shouted, “Oh my God! Me too! It’s my favorite drink!” He smiled at her and then told the barista to “Make that two, please.”
They sat the table closest to the fire that wintery afternoon, close to Valentine’s Day. The shop was warm and crowded with college kids, like Memphis, studying and goofing off through the last remaining hours of the weekend.
Memphis was immediately enthralled with Evan. His long, sinewy frame was draped in well-fitting, expensive clothing, including his long coat. Was that camel’s hair, she wondered? As he complained about being in his last semester of his MBA, her eyes examined his face, lingering on his blue eyes and full lips. He seemed so confident in himself with his long right leg crossed over his left. She liked the way he talked with his hands, their slender fingers punctuating words and phrases he thought were important. “And then after I finish this final internship report, I will be moved up to management.”
“Oh,” she said, startled back into the present by the pause in his monologue, “will you be the district manager?”
“No,” he said, slightly frowning, “just the Shipping Manager. It will be years before I can move into a DM spot.”
“Do you think you will have to move away from this area to keep moving up?” she asked, more for herself than him.
“Maybe. I just came back from working several years in Philly. They told me I need an MBA in order to advance.”
She thought excitedly, He’s left the area before. He knows there is life out there!
She said, “I have another couple of years before I finish my English degree. Who knows what I will find for work.” She looked down into her cup to the last few sips of her coffee. Her thick black hair was tied back in a soft, red bow this morning, and a few strands escaped and fell into her line of sight when she bent her head down. Evan watched as she tucked the strays behind her ears.
Memphis could tell that he was interested in her, but she also knew that guys usually were interested in her face and her mind and her laugh. They weren’t, however, interested in her body. At 5’5” and 225 pounds, Memphis was a big girl. She had been overweight since she was a few months old, and she had spent most of her life since age nine trying to make her excess flesh disappear. And yet no matter which diet she followed—Richard Simmons’ Deal-a-Meal, Weight Watchers, TOPS, Cabbage Soup, starvation, and on and on—she always ended up fat again. In fact, fatter than before she tried to lose weight.
In any case, most men liked her personality, but she hadn’t had many boyfriends. She was told, “You’re just not my type” or “I am just not into big girls.” The years of rejection had rocked her self-esteem, and she generally found herself saying yes to any man who was interested, even if she was not. She was afraid, then, that once the coffee was gone and the sun went down that this new handsome stranger would walk out of her life for good.
After a few minutes of silence between them, which was filled in by the din of other patrons enjoying rowdy discussions about philosophy and what happened on the last episode of Friends, Evan said, “Well, I should go. I have to be at the warehouse at 6 am tomorrow. We are getting a shipment of plastic pipe in from Baltimore, and I need to be there to inspect it.” But he didn’t make a move to get up from his chair. He just said there looking at Memphis.
“I have to go back to my room and study for a Literary Criticism exam,” she responded and pushed her cup away, afraid she would knock it over by banging her large breasts against it as she pushed her chair back to get up. She stood there now with her finger tips on the table, afraid that if she looked away from him long enough to put on her coat he would be gone. She was grateful that she had worn her favorite black dress this morning—the long one with the poet sleeves and red velvet trim around the bottom and neckline. It hugged her slender waist and fell loosely over her ample hips and butt. The fleshy crease of her breasts was modestly visible, but she found Evan’s gazing flitting to it from time to time during their conversation.
He stood up, too, pulling on his long beige coat and wrapping his Burberry was it? scarf around his neck. He was tall at 6’2”, and his presence now seemed to overwhelm Memphis. She wanted him to put his arms around her. She wanted him to kiss her. She wanted him to invite her back to his place.
Instead of saying so, she turned to put on her black pea coat, collected her backpack, and awkwardly stood next to their table for a moment. “Uh,” Evan said, “it was nice to meet you, Memphis. Maybe I will see you around.” And he walked across the coffee shop, weaving through Dungeons and Dragons players and students sprawled out on bean bags to the door, its bells ringing as he opened it and slipped out into the newly dark evening. Memphis watched him until he turned the corner onto Dogwood Street and was swallowed up by the grayness. She felt sad and empty and angry and like a failure all at once. Another one, she thought.
She slowly walked through the coffee shop herself, picking her way through bodies and coffee cups and backpacks until she found the door. She had just enough time to walk the two blocks to the corner of Main and Washington to catch the 6:15 bus back to campus. It had gotten colder since the sun went down, and she found herself staring at the sidewalk, looking for icy spots. Her black dress flats weren’t exactly meant for walking through slush and snow. The 6:15 was late, and she could feel her body vibrating in the cold air. She pulled her gloves from her coat pockets and put them on, stamping her feet now and then to keep her body moving as she waited at the bus stop.
By the time the bus arrived, she was both cold and miserable. She took a seat at the front so she wouldn’t have to run into other passengers on what always felt like a long walk to the back. They always looked at her with disdain and annoyance as she sucked in her gut and tried hard not to bump into their arms and knees. As the bus rumbled on through the mostly empty streets, she realized that she should be reliving a wonderful afternoon spent with the sexiest man she had ever met and instead was throwing an epic pity party instead her head. But damn, she thought, would she never be the one? Would no one ever pick her, not for who she could be if she lost weight, but for who she was now?
Soon, her thoughts turned to the food waiting for her back in her dorm room: chocolate chip and macadamia nut cookies she and her friends baked last night while watching American Gothic in the community room, chips and salsa left over from Mexican night on Friday, and a Snickers bar that she kept just for this kind of emergency. Pretty soon she could not hear her voice going on about her failures. Instead, her mind was filled with the smell and tastes of forbidden foods. Junk foods. Foods everyone knew made you fat, but in that moment, Memphis didn’t care about fat, she cared about eating and feel better, just for a little while.
She got off at her stop in front of the main gates of the university. She tightened her coat around her neck and chin to stave off the frigid winds that always seemed to blow on the hilltop. Her mid-size university looked over Watkins, a city of about 30,000 people in the northern panhandle of West Virginia. On most winter nights, Memphis didn’t mind the walk from the bus stop to her room, but tonight she felt so miserable that she just wanted to be in her bunk surrounded by food and homework.
She hustled past the library, one of the only buildings open at 7 pm on a Sunday night, and felt her stomach lurch as she saw a gang of boys standing on the front steps of Main Hall smoking and spitting in the freezing night. She knew they were going to say something to her. She knew without looking up that they were going to make a fat joke. She tried to pretend like she was too cold and in a hurry to notice them, but she could feel their eyes on her. She thought she had escaped their harsh words when just as she turned the corner to go down the steps to her dorm building, one of them mooed.
She kept going, ignoring the laughter that followed. She was easy target, you see. Alone after dark. A fat girl, obviously friendless, should be verbally assaulted, she believed they thought. Each step she took brought on more insults, including oinking and the ever-popular “boom-ba-ba, boom-ba-ba.” She could feel the tears coming, and she tried to gulp them back, not wanting to give them the satisfaction of making her cry. She hustled into the front door of her dorm and rushed back to her room, hoping that her roommate Susan wouldn’t be there with her greasy-haired boyfriend Eddie. She just couldn’t handle either of them right now. She just couldn’t handle more than soft pajamas and a good binge fest.
She sighed with relief upon finding their room dark and empty all but the string of Christmas lights Eddie had rigged up around the room for Susan. She left the overhead lights off and changed in the dim glow. She assembled her food, got her lit crit book, and crawled into the bottom bunk. She flipped on the camp light she had hanging from the bottom of Susan’s bunk and took her first bite: macadamia nut cookie. She was warm, she was safe, no one could hurt her. As she moved on to another cookie and another, she slowly felt better. By the time she had eaten all of the junk food she had assembled, she took the empty cookie plate, tortilla chips bag, salsa jar, and Snickers wrapper to the garbage chute down the hall to destroy the evidence.
She got back to the room, crawled back into bed, and let the remorse wash over her. She tried to read for the exam tomorrow, but Cleanth Brook’s words were drowned out by the demons in her head that were part her and part something else. It is no wonder Evan doesn’t want you. He will never want you. Fat pig. Why did you eat so much? Why did you eat at all? You don’t deserve to eat. Tomorrow, we fast.
She cried herself to sleep, drugged out on sugar and carbs, and didn’t even hear it when Susan came in. Her last thoughts before passing out were I just want to die. I am not worth it.
Despite the success of The Optimistic Food Addict: Recovering from Binge Eating Disorder, I feel like there remains a vast audience of people who still do not understand the complexities of living with food addiction. This audience includes family, friends, medical professionals, and yes, even food addicts, who may not have come to terms with the way the disease manifests itself in their own lives.
Beyond that, binge eaters are marginalized in our society. Most people, including medical professionals, think that our disease is simply a moral failing or a lack of self control. In reality, it is a serious mental health disorder that needs treatment before it eventually kills us.
Given that I have two main skills, writing and public speaking, I am constantly trying to think of ways to educate the public about food addiction and binge eating disorder. My biggest goal, though, is to help people suffering from this wretched illness find support and hope.
To that end, I have added fiction as my next endeavor. I have started a novel in which the main character is a woman who struggles with Binge Eating Disorder. By bringing her alive on the page, I hope to take some of the stigma away from BED and those who suffer from it. I also hope to paint a portrait of an overweight woman who manages–most of the time–to be confident in her life, including in her appearance. We will see Memphis, the main character, battle her demons with weight, appearance, relationships, and, of course, her eating disorder.
I would like, if that is okay with all of you, to share the novel with you as it evolves. Your input is important to me, and I want to portray this character and her life richly and as far away from a stereotype as possible.
It has been a long while since I have written to you all. I have been spending all of my spare time writing articles and doing public speaking about food addiction and Binge Eating Disorder. I have spoken at conferences and vigils and really anywhere that people might want and need to hear about these mental illnesses.
On Tuesday, November 14, 2017, I preformed a monologue on the stage at the historical Capital Theater in downtown Wheeling, West Virginia as part of the cast of “This is My Brave,” an international program that raises awareness about mental illness. I chose to write and speak about my wins and losses with food addiction. I hope you will watch and share.
I am not sure where this blog is heading from here. I am considering collection all of the entries into an e-book and releasing and audio version of The Optimistic Food Addict. In any case, you will hear from me again sometime next month. Until then, enjoy! ~Christina
Being diagnosed with lipedema was overwhelming, as you probably guessed if you read my blog post about it. Now that I have had a chance to do more research on treatment options, I am even more overwhelmed. I am also hopeful, and, well, as is typical for me, optimistic.
The only known cure for lipedema is a special kind of liposuction that blasts water under the skin to break up the tough lippy fat. It has been used across Europe for decades, but it has only recently become available in the United States. For the most part, it is not covered by health insurance. In addition, it can have a poor outcome, including making the condition worse.
Before I can even attempt lippy liposuction, though, I have to reduce as much of my none lippy fat as possible. Luckily for me, I had started the recommended eating plan, the ketogenic diet, on June 1 as a means to strengthen my recovery from Food Addiction and Binge Eating Disorder. The addition of more fat and the reduction of carbohydrates made me feel better after about a month, but the best change from going keto was appetite suppression, which led to the elimination of obsessive thoughts and behaviors with food.
In addition, my absolute favorite activity of all time–swimming–is the number one recommended exercise for lipedema. It provides more compression than compression garments, it reduces stress on the body, builds muscle, and builds cardiovascular fitness. It is also great for eating disorder recovery because it is relaxing, energizing, and helps me appreciate my body.
There are other ways the treatment path for lipedema and eating disorders is compatible, but there is one that concerns me. In order to determine if my treatment plan is working, it is necessary that I take photos and measurements of my body, especially those areas impacted by lipedema. Doing so is contrary to my eating disorder recovery plan. Before and after photos can be incredibly triggering for people with eating disorders as well as monitoring body size.
Here I am, then, at this crossroads. Is my recovery strong enough to handle the first step I need to take to treat lipedema?
A wise woman asked me at a reading one afternoon about the conflict between taking drugs to combat other mental health issues (depression, anxiety, and so on) that often accompany eating disorders. Specifically she wondered about drugs that cause weight gain and how that impacts people with Binge Eating Disorder. I had no real answer for her. I empathized. How do you choose? Do you have to?
Here I am facing this dilemma, but I know that I have to do what it necessary to halt the progression of lipedema. After all, I am sure that my BED will intensify should I end up with mobility issues.
The treatment plan for lipedema, like so many other chronic illnesses, varies from person to person, but there are some common elements. In addition to following a ketogenic diet and swimming, I also need to walking at least five miles per day, take a variety of supplements, wear compression garments, do manual lymphatic drainage, and on and on and on.
I am choosing to start with measuring my effected areas, taking Mucinex, drinking 110 oz of water per day (check!), following a ketogenic way of eating (check!), swimming regularly (check!), and eating three Brazil nuts per day (for selenium).
I will explain more about how each of these tools function in my next post. I will also post photos showing you what lipedema looks like.
There are a number of studies that show a connection between lipedema and eating disorders. I hope to summarize some of them here in a future post.
Stay tuned. As always, I remain optimistic.
If you want to learn more about my journey, including what it was like to find recovery from Binge Eating Disorder, please check out my book below.
I was at the pool last night swimming laps and loving every stroke. The water was warm and the pool was nearly empty. The sun sparkled on the water and reminded me of the ocean. After an hour and 20 minutes, I climbed out and reclined luxuriously on a deck chair taking in the beautiful evening.
I had been observing my food intake a little more than usual, so I felt lighter and more energetic. It was a good feeling to be working towards better health after the time-consuming (and exhausting) year I had had at work. I had no idea, though, if my eating was changing my body shape. I figured I would take a picture in the dressing room on the way out. If my body was healing, it would show. If not, I would have to adjust my meals.
I snapped a picture in the mirror in my swimsuit to compare to one I had taken just a month before. I looked at the picture and could see changes already, but when I put it side-by-side with the older shot, my heart fell. My hips and thighs appeared somehow larger than before I started eating a little less carbohydrates and a little more fat!
I sat down on a bench, my swimsuit still damp, and immediately reached out to my online support group. I posted both pictures in the hopes that someone could tell me what I might be doing wrong (and right!) so that I could adjust my eating plan accordingly.
While most people claimed enthusiastically that I had lost weight, while many other people said that they were sure that I have lipedema. I have never heard of lipedema before, and so I dismissed it until more than 25 women with the condition urged me to learn more.
I immediately set out to research the condition, and it was apparent that I had nearly all of the most common symptoms, which I will discuss below. I messaged an endocrinologist that I know. He asked me to forward him the pictures, and within an hour he said, “I am 95% sure you have lipedema. No, I am sure you do. Type 2. Stage 2.”
I cried, and I cried.
Lipidema, I had read, is a chronic, progressive condition that causes abnormal fat stores to build up in different parts of the body, most commonly the legs. The fat stores cannot be reduced through dieting because of the way they bind to the fibers in the body. As the disease progresses, the fat deposits hamper mobility. Many women (men rarely suffer from lipedema) end up with major mobility issues as the condition worsens, including becoming wheelchair bound. (I have learned that I am especially at risk for future mobility issues because I am incredibly flexible.)
Currently, there is no real treatment for lipedema. A special type of liposuction is the most promising treatment method at present, but the surgery is around $20,000 and is not covered by insurance. In addition, few doctors in the United States perform the procedure or even understand the disease. Compression stockings, pumps, and massages temporarily reduce pain and swelling, but the tissue returns to its former size within hours.
As I continued to read about the condition, my heart began to hurt. I was crying convulsively. At that point it was not about the grim prognosis. Instead, it was about the way my body will one day look. My legs are not my most flattering feature at present. (If you do a search for stage 2 lipedema, you will understand.) Who knows what they will look like in another decade?
But those tears (and the one I feel welling inside me now) are not about vanity, even though I am sure it seems that way. You see, after battling Binge Eating Disorder and body dysmorphic disorder for 33 years, this summer is the first time I have actually felt happy in my own skin. All summer long I have been wearing skirts and dresses, which I haven’t done in many years. I have been playing with make up and nail polish. I have been swimming laps and taking walks. I found a lovely lavender oil that I use on my skin every night. I had finally started loving the skin I am in, and now, just three months later, I feel that all that I have come to love about me will be ruined by this horrible disease that causes pain and bruising at touch, fatigue, and immune issues, just to name a few.
I am usually an incredibly optimistic person (hence the blog name), but this diagnosis feels bigger and more cruel than anything I have dealt with in many years. I would like to say that I will fight the good fight. I would like to say that I am ready to do battle. But both of those would be a lie. I am tired. Tired of going head to head with my own body. Tired of challenging Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome to a duel. Tired of wrestling with an eating disorder. Tired of fending off mental health challenges.
Last night, I considered suicide. I considered it long enough to draft a goodbye script for a digital story. But just as my thoughts were about to climb a cliff of no return, my son woke up and called my name. I went to him, drying my eyes, trying to construct a fake smile. I snuggled up next to him on his bed, and he put his arms around me, murmuring, “Soft Mama,” and I cried harder.
If you want to learn more about my journey, including what it was like to find recovery from Binge Eating Disorder, please check out my book below.
When I first began my recovery journey in 2013, I uncovered mental issues that had been hidden to me and others all my life. I learned that I had anger issues and depression. Prior to beginning recovery, I knew I suffered from PTSD and anxiety disorder, but the anger and depression surprised me. As an adult, I have seen myself as the jolly fat person, always happy and optimistic, even when the chips were down…even way, way down. But when I stopped using drugs (food), these other mental conditions surfaced, and it made me wonder what else bingeing was masking.
As someone who suffers from both Binge Eating Disorder (BED) and Food Addiction (FA), I have a long history of using food for reasons other than nutrition. I ate to feel less lonely, to stop from to stay awake, to work longer, to stop crying, to procrastinate, to avoid, but mostly, to hide. Just like my excess weight, food made me feel hidden from hurts. Hidden from the world. Hidden from myself.
And then, the food was gone. I took all the addictive substances away on May 25, 2013. In one night I decided I had to stop. I had to stop now. On that night, I found myself sitting on the floor in my living room watching The Notebook and bingeing on homemade buttercream frosting. In the middle of the third bowl, tears streaming down my cheeks, I knew I had to stop. The frosting no longer tasted good. It was cloying and disgusting, but I could. not. stop. I got in the shower that night and begged the universe for help. I woke up the next morning and become abstinent of all sugars, flours, and processed foods.
As I began to string days of continuous abstinence together, I felt stronger and more clear headed than I had in years, but I also noticed that it took nothing significant for me to become absolutely outraged. I remember one afternoon when my husband told me he had to leave for work earlier than expected that I broke the handle off of the pantry room door in a fit of rage. My behavior scared me. I felt out of control and dangerous.
My therapist assured me that this phase would pass and that as the chemicals from processed foods left my body, my emotions would balance out. She was right. It took about nine months, but the anger faded as I dealt with the root causes, and my emotions evened out. I felt happy, but not euphoric. I felt content, wise, at peace.
And then at the 18 month mark, I relapsed after having my PTSD triggered. I turned to food to ease my fear. I turned to food to hide from the monsters that I just knew were out to get me. And the old, sick me returned. I was extremely anxious and depressed. I would sit on the couch for hours doing nothing but eating and reading. It took every effort I had to get my son off to school and myself of to work. I stopped exercising. I stopped cleaning my house. I stopped showering. I become a shell of myself. Food was all there was. Food was my best friend and my worst enemy.
My behavior became more erratic. In order to escape this hell that I put myself in, I started spending money. I bought craft supplies and equipment. I bought books and movies that I never watched. I attempted to start multiple online businesses. I was out of control and ended up spending $36,000 that I did not have, a mistake I will be paying for for the next five years.
And then the severe depression came on like a chilling darkness, so black and suffocating that I thought I might not find light again. I was exhausted all the time and could barely function. I used food to stay awake. I used food to continue working long after I was too exhausted to think coherently.
During this time I started to wonder if I might have Bipolar Disorder. I seemed to fit the profile well, but I had never been officially diagnosed. I asked my therapist about it, but she seemed to think that I was simply an addict in relapse suffering from depression.
I tried during those months of blackness to regain my abstinence. I would do great for a few days, and then those foods would call to me so loudly that I would find my hand in the cookie jar once again. Nothing stuck. My weight was rising so rapidly that I had just a few pairs of pants and shirts that fit. Work was stressful and overwhelming. My marriage had deteriorated. My life had become unmanageable.
And then something happened that brought me out of the fog. I woke up from that fog to discover that I hurt all over. My body and my mind felt like I had been in a terrible accident, and I was just beginning the rehab process. I knew I had to find a path back to abstinence, begin meditating again, and put more work into taking care of my needs. I found strength in reducing carbohydrates from my daily intake, but that didn’t seem like enough, so I cranked up the healthy fats and reduced carbs a little more. Within a few weeks, I was feel so much better.
Unfortunately, that is when I realized the extent of the damage I had done to all areas of my life. I had trashed my body, my brain, my wallet, and my relationships to important people in my life. I slowly started the process of reclaiming the peace I had lost, which meant decluttering my home, managing my bills, healing shattered relationships, and caring for my body.
From all of this, it has become painfully obvious that I indeed have more mental disorders than have been diagnosed, but they have been hidden by my drug of choice: food. In a sense, I wonder who could blame me? I started binge eating (as far as I can remember) around age 11, which for me was the onset of puberty. Science has shown for decades that many mental disorders emerge during this volatile time.
Looking back, there is no doubt that I suffered depression as an adolescent. Whether I had Bipolar Disorder then or not remains to be seen, but as the years have gone by, patterns have emerged that point to that diagnosis. Soon, I will see a psychiatrist to get more answers and hopefully come to an even more meaningful understand of what the food has been hiding all these years. I took my first compulsive bite somewhere around 32 years ago. I long for the day when I take my last.