Wednesday, October 21, 2015

And now

I stopped writing this blog because I stopped trying to "unsugar."

What I discovered in my searching for a solution is that I'm not a sugar addict but I have an eating disorder. Eating disorders can be fueled by attempting to eliminate certain foods. Calling a food bad for you or fattening can trigger bingeing on that food later or restricting from foods in a way that can be unhealthy.

I checked myself into an outpatient program at an eating disorder clinic on July 27th. The clinic is an hour away from my house and I went three days a week for four hours a day. I was discharged in late September. The dietitian at the  clinic put everyone on a six-meal-a-day program which scared me. I was sure I would gain weight. She also wanted me to eat seven servings of starches a day (and real starches, like bread). I had to get over almost 40 years of training about good foods and bad foods. I had to, to recover from my eating disorder, neutralize food. I don't have any food allergies, and it turns out I can eat two cookies if I have permission to eat cookies. I can eyeball portions. I love food, so sometimes I take a little more than a portion, but I haven't binged since I started at the clinic.

The thing that happens, though, is when you stop engaging in your eating disorder, you start finding out why you had a disorder in the first place. All the horrible feelings I have of worthlessness have been rising up. I may not be engaging in disordered food behaviors, but my mind is full of self-destructive thoughts, many of which were planted by things said to me in childhood. Maybe some of them weren't intended the way I heard them, but my mind ran with them and made them reality.

During the four hours a day at the clinic, I spent about half that time in group therapy, in which we mostly talked about our trauma history. It was emotionally exhausting. I wasn't sure I was going to be able to return to work in the fall (I'm a teacher), but I did. Work was a good reprieve from the program.

But I had to withdraw from a couple of plays I was in. Even though I was able to maintain other projects and work, I couldn't seem to act. The people who have directed me or taught me acting over the last five years would consider me easy to work with. I became super-sensitive, didn't have enough time to prep, beat myself up internally every rehearsal, and felt too vulnerable being on stage. I know I will get back to acting, but I needed to pull myself out of that experience for awhile.

Now, I'm out of the program, and the voices in my head don't tell me to eat, to binge or restrict. They just tell me I'm hideous in so many ways. I know they aren't true, but there are times they are so loud, I start believe them.

Recovery from an eating disorder is a long haul. I've been trying to recover from my food problem for five years, but the programs I used before now went about it in a way that weren't right for me and my particular issue (I know those programs have helped others tremendously).

I didn't know if I wanted to write this blog, but I know a lot of people reached out to me when I posted about facing the sugar and the food issues. And I know there's a lot of shame around eating disorders, so if you are suffering from one, I want you to know you are not alone.

It's so incredibly weird to not be going from donut shop to Mexican restaurant to grocery store--from binge to binge. To be able to eat half a donut when someone brings me donuts as a birthday gift is something I never thought I would do. When I thought of sugar, I always thought of loads of it.

There are definitely times when I am annoyed or sad, where I want to eat for comfort, and sometimes I go at my dinner that way and make choices that I have characteristically associated with comfort. But for the most part, I am just wading through all the feelings I ate or restricted over.

I may be going back to the clinic part time soon. The irritability and depression I've been experiencing seem to be signs that I'm moving towards re-engaging. And those feelings are not pleasant, but I am still amazed to have even one day that I don't need to eat until I'm stuffed to numbness or need to put myself on an elimination diet.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Stop Trying

I didn't intend to let so many weeks pass without writing a post. I've been struggling, that's true, but when I started this blog, I told myself that I would write through the struggles and tell the truth about how it was going.

Here's the thing: I don't know what the magical formula is. I had a formula that worked, in 2012 for 11 months (that's as long as I could sustain it), and again in 2014 for 7 months. Then when I started this recent journey, I found, with no formula, a kind of relief for awhile, not just from sugar, but from overeating and binge-eating. Things seemed so easy. I don't know where that came from, if it was something granted to me from something unknowable, or if I struck a combination of actions that led me to that relief. I felt that I could live pretty normally with food. I could go out to eat, choose vegetables, and really not think too much about what I was going to eat or how I was going to manage and control what I was eating. That passed and the food got larger. I was doing the old plate-clearing at restaurants. I was snacking often, pretty much adding a fourth or even fifth meal to my days.

Then, I went on vacation and saw a whole bunch of old friends--some who I hadn't seen for thirty years. It was a beautiful, moving trip--relationships were restored, and I got to catch up on people's lives. I took in years of my friends ups and downs, and shared my own, in a compact period over 11 days. Five days into my trip and exactly two months since I stopped eating sugar, I fell right back into a big heaping pile of it.

It was pretty funny. Someone in the morning was telling me about a new donut shop in San Diego he liked. I tried to go to it that afternoon and it was closed for repairs. So, then, I looked up "Best Donut Shops in San Diego" on my phone, and found one in the neighborhood where I was staying was on that list. So I went there, and they were essentially sold out of donuts. I laughed.

But that's okay. When my friend who was hosting me for dinner that night heard my no-donut story, she sent her partner out to get donuts for dessert. Then, the next day, I had one of those fancy gourmet donuts at the new shop I'd been told about. It was, in fact, extraordinary. For a couple of hours I thought that I could, in fact, enjoy a donut from time to time, that I could be a real gourmet. But then I went to the other neighborhood donut shop and bought four donuts and sat in my car in the parking lot and inhaled them.

Five days later, on my way back home, I binged in the car. And the next day. And the next. And now, it's the end of the third day back all the way down in the food, and I'm asking, what is the magic formula? Should I tried harder on that formula that worked for several months? Should I try a different formula? Should I stop trying? I remember this quote from a spiritual book I read years ago: "When you stop trying, the truth reveals itself to you." It had been suggested to be when it came to food that I needed to stop trying so hard. I will hold it all lightly. I will keep you posted.

I hope you are each having better luck or magic on your journey with food than I have of late.

Friday, May 22, 2015


I can report that I'm still off sugar, but it's starting to call me.

I honestly believe that no food is bad food, and that if we think of something as forbidden, it becomes more tempting. I know many people who eat sugary foods on occasion. Even people who used to have eating disorders. When I stopped eating sugar several weeks ago, though, it was because it felt to me like a substance addiction. It's very hard to sift through all the schools of thought on eating disorders and food compulsions. I'm working very hard to hear what rings true to me, and to see what works for me, and to listen to that voice inside me and use tools from schools of thought that will work for me. Right now, the addiction model doesn't sound right to me when it comes to food issues. Friends who are in recovery from food issues using the addiction model may think I'm in denial, they may see that I'm struggling and wonder why I don't go back to a method that worked for me. But I have to recover in a way that I can sustain. A lot of what I read about recovery from eating disorders is that it is not a straight line and that it is a path that requires a lot of patiences. 

I went back over my notebook from the past several weeks. I usually note how my food was, sometimes reporting it, and then I write ten things I'm grateful for every night. I had about ten days where the food was moderate and normal. Like I mentioned in my last blog, that was a creatively fertile and productive time for me. I started to make some long term commitments to the community I live in. I received a three year contract for my job and I decided to start a nonprofit arts organization in my community. Just two months ago, I had a different plan. I had an escape route. I was planning to do a major job search and relocate to Chicago or New York City within a year. I feel very fed on every level by big cities. But there are some projects that I think I could do where I live now that could be fulfilling and beneficial to the community. I could feel useful. 

But once I made that commitment, I started feeling a bit off-kilter. The food started getting messy, bigger, more out of control. Food, I think, has been a place I go to when I feel trapped. It was solace within the chaos and trauma of my childhood. It was a safe secret place where nobody could get to me. Now, making myself more public, putting myself out in the world in more visible ways, is scary. I feel vulnerable. I'm afraid of failing. And along with all that, I feel that the commitment, something I'm choosing to make, creates confines for me that recall a feeling of being trapped in childhood. 

And yet food doesn't make me feel freer. It feels like another trap. So Im working to find out what makes me feel free, empowered, and safe. I need to feel that I have enough privacy and a relationship with myself that nobody can get to. A self-intimacy, a self-trust. I also need to feel that I can employ a sense of spontaneity, that I can have some kind of freedom within the confines of a connected and committed life. 

I need to constantly talk back to the voices that tell me food is the answer. I need to keep writing this blog, even if only three people read it. I need to find a place inside me that is mine, that I can sink into, and feel calm and excited and full of hope. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015


The last thing I want to do right now is write an Unsugaring blog post, but I promised myself I would be honest about the highs and lows of my relationship with food. The last week has been a roller coaster when it comes to my recovery from my food compulsions. 

But I am still off sugar, thank goodness. 

I had this stretch, maybe four days, when I felt pretty neutral around food. I ate moderately, I mostly ate three meals a day with nothing in between. I was able to go out to eat and not fret over what to order. I ordered whatever sounded good to me--including a sausage and cheese omelet at one meal--and I had this abundant space in my head to dream big dreams and plan new projects. I also had tons of energy and was very joyous. 

Then, on the 10th, on my one month mark off sugar and without bingeing, I got on the scale. I'd gotten on the scale several times over the last month, but I wanted an accurate count of how much weight I'd lost. The first 4.5 pounds had come off in two days. I'd started at 164.3 and had hovered at 160.6 for a few weeks, but between the 1st and the 10th, I lost another four pounds. I felt thrilled. Which of course led to me calculating how long it would take me, at that rate, to get back down to a size 4. I have a closet full and drawers full of size 2, 4, and 6 clothes, all purchased during a brief spell when I worked super hard for the weight to come off and I worked out compulsively. It's summer and I'd like to wear those summer dresses again. 

The calculating led me back to the food. I haven't been binging, but I've been eating more than three times a day, and bigger and bigger portions. Tonight, I ended the day with a large buttered bowl of popcorn, in front of episodes of "Girls." 

I do think the scale is a trigger, even though I know it can be used by some people as a tool. But I honestly think that the normalcy around food I experienced for that short stretch of days freaked me out as well. I started taking up a lot of space in the world, initiating new bold projects. There's a voice inside me that says, How dare you. During my voice lesson, in which I sing, badly, Italian arias, my voice became bolder and brighter, and I could hear a real singer in there, someone unafraid and powerful. 

I'm afraid to take hold of my own power. Real normalcy around food--not obsessing or worrying or calculating or plotting--would be such an enormous change for me. Even when my eating was moderate in the past, it was because I was in a rigorous program which involved weighing and measuring every morsel I put into my mouth, as well as engaging as several other support tools on a daily basis. My whole day was set up around supporting not bingeing. 

I actually had days where I slept in, got up and went out to breakfast with a friend, had appointments, came home and made a quick and simple lunch, did some work, made phone calls, and ate a healthy dinner (by choice, and because the fridge was full of vegetables that needed to be eaten, not because I was trying to reduce my food intake). I do want that life, that simplicity, that lack of obsession. But even if something isn't serving me, even if it's threatening to destroy me (I've been depressed for the last few days, since I've been leaning on the food more), the familiarity is hard to give up. 

But every night I write in my journal, I am willing to change. I embrace change. 

So here it goes again tonight, a night in which I'm spiraling as part of a two day darkness and depression. Even if it sounds new age-y or silly, I'm looking at the new me in the face and saying, Let's do this. Let's let the food go, let's let the suffering go. Let's let the baggage go. 

I hope everyone else on this journey is doing well, is on an upswing and is not giving up when you fall. 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Turnip Cake?

It's been four weeks off sugar. Tomorrow will be four weeks binge-free. It's starting to feel a little more normal. My food seemed more contained this week. I'm finding snacks are a slippery slope for me. For instance, I pack a snack to eat later in the day and eat it in the car on the way to work. So I'm trying to just eat three meals a day with nothing in between. I didn't do that yesterday. For some reason, I could sleep on Tuesday night and I had to be up early for my last day teaching for the semester (I have a 7:30 AM class and promised to bring my students doughnuts to celebrate the end of the year). When I'm tired, I find I go to food for comfort, thinking it will give me energy. I didn't eat a lot, but I ate a lot of small meals very close together. I ate at 6:15 AM, 10 AM, 11:15 AM, 2 PM, and 4:30 PM. There's no way I was hungry at 11:15 AM after eating a pint of strawberries at 10 AM. In the afternoon, the students of my afternoon class brought pizzas. I hadn't planned on eating that. I've noticed yeasted doughs are rough on my stomach, I get terrible pains. But, hey, it had been ten days since the last terrible pain, and I thought, maybe I am cured. I also had a meeting after work, and I didn't know how long it would last or if I would last food-less through the meeting. I suffered for those pizza slices today. Practically incapacitated when my friend came over to help me plant a garden. She was digging up invasive Bermuda grass from the planter boxes, and I was lying on the ground in the happy baby yoga pose. The pain got better, but it bothered me all day.

I feel like I need to go back to the mention of doughnuts. My students asked, where will you get doughnuts at 6:30 in the morning? I thought, seriously? They don't know that doughnut shops open by 6 and some are 24 hour? In fact, the doughnut shop was hopping at 6:30 AM. I bought enough for each student to have two--they had suggested two dozen for fourteen students. I had some absences and some non-doughnut eaters, so there were several doughnuts left at the end of class. I pushed them on my students--"Bring them to a friend!" Still, there were 8 left. Yes, I'm very aware of how many doughnuts remain in a box. A student from the next class came in and I offered her a doughnut. She said yes. Then, I asked if I should leave the rest for the class. She said, sure, there's only four of us. I said, perfect--there's 8 doughnuts left. I am not a woman who can fathom people would want just one doughnut. I was a little tempted, because I was so tired, so it was pretty amazing I resisted. Buying sweets for others: another slippery slope. But it's so core to who I am.

My favorite job ever was working as a baker and barista at a small coffee shop in Marfa, TX (at that time, pop. 2424). I absolutely loved giving people sugar and coffee; it made everyone so happy. That is, until some people complained about how, since I'd started baking again, their weight was coming back on. I took that as the best compliment. So what do I do with this part of me that loves delighting people with sweets? How do I remain Sweetie the Baker as I change my own relationship with sugar? I will continue to reflect on that over the weeks. For now, I'm just super grateful that I'm not stopping at gas stations, grocery stores, taco shops, and Costco food courts between appointments in my day, that I can get to appointments on time and enjoy the produce in the box of vegetables I pick up weekly from a community farm. This week, we got turnips, and they included a recipe for turnip cake. I may make it with stevia. It doesn't have flour in it. I'm curious. Or I may roast them and eat them with salt. 

Thanks for reading and for posting about your own journeys. 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

This Jagged Journey

I have been off sugar for three weeks. And I haven't binged in that time, either, but the food feels messy. I'm battling my ideas of perfection or I switching out one comfort food for another. It's still amazing that I'm off sugar. This weekend, I produced an event called the 24 Hour Plays in which six short plays are written, rehearsed, and performed during a 24 hour period. We start at 9 PM on Friday night and finish at 9 PM on Saturday night. As the producer, I am the one who stays awake through the whole thing. I like it, it's an endurance test, and the project is always an inspiring demonstration of creativity, collaboration, and loving support. I was tired, someone brought warm bagels in the morning. Also, five or six dozen doughnuts showed up in the morning. I hadn't slept for 24 hours by that point, by 8 AM, and doughnuts are my go-to comfort food. But they didn't call to me, by some amazing stroke of luck. I had really healthy food packed. Yeasted baked goods tend to give me a stomachache, but I did not resist the bagels and cream cheese. I ate three over the course of the day. 

I'm trying to let go of issues of perfection, but I'm looking in the mirror at these thirty extra pounds. I had lost forty pounds between June 2014 and January 2015, and then I gained thirty of them back between February 1 and March 30. I'm trying super hard to not worry about the weight--it's been steady the last few weeks, but I am just so vain. My boyfriend posted a photo of us on Facebook, all aglow and happy on a hike at Vernal Falls in Yosemite, and I had a meltdown saying I looked "horrid." 

I'm sure I look fine. 

I did, however, in the post-project exhaustion of this week, find myself going to my number two comfort food again and again: nachos. The first thing I ate so much of I had to vomit (not self-induced vomiting), was chips. I really have no business eating chips. But I'm having this feeling, I gave up sugar, do I really have to give up anything else? I guess I have to give up anything that causes me suffering. But the suffering has got to be pretty great, I think. Am I suffering over the nachos (a too-full belly, weight creeping up, a feeling I'm being controlled by a compulsion to ingest a substance rather than making a choice about what I eat) or does the suffering come from the ideas of perfection (a weight on the light end of the height-weight charts, wanting to prove, like my dad said it would prove to theater directors, that I have "discipline," or wanting to please all the people who have shared their nearly religious beliefs about certain food guidelines). Who am I trying to please? I guess that's a question for me to muse over. It's not that part of my life shouldn't be devoted to being of service to others, but what I eat and my food guidelines and the shape of my body should not be dictated by a chart, or someone else's ideas. I need to start trusting my own expert opinion about food and my body--what it likes, what it doesn't like, what weight feels right to me (and whether I'm willing to do what it takes to get to the weight that feels right for me). 

For example, I know that yeasted breads give me stomachaches, but I had trouble getting off of them this week after the bagels. I finally did, by choosing nachos over sandwiches. So, I'm finding my way. It's not a straight line, but it's my line. I've never been one to follow a straight path or anyone else's path, so why do I feel compelled when it comes to food. 

I hope you are all finding peace with your own Unsugaring journeys, your own food and weight paths. Thank you for reading. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Instead of Sugar

Nearly two weeks off sugar. Again, if I don't rouse myself in the middle of the night tonight and make a batch of chocolate chip cookies, which would likely be all consumed in one breath, it will be a solid two weeks. And no binges. When my partner and I stopped to pick some dinner up for him tonight, I was struck by the fact that my compulsion around and obsession with sugar is simply gone. For now. I'd like to think that by suffering enough over the compulsion and by getting really honest about it, that maybe it was just time, that enough was enough and I let it loose,  or it let loose, lifting into the blue skies and out of sight, maybe landing in a place something like heaven. 

But it's hard to believe that something I lived with for a lifetime, at least 45 years, could just disappear. I suppose it could. Other things have disappeared that seemed so core to my identity. People. Other habits. 

When I was nineteen, I started identifying as a poet. I studied poetry in college, hosted open mike reading series in the vibrant Berkeley poetry scene in the early nineties, went to graduate school for poetry and continued to understand my world and experiences and feelings by shaping them into small, carefully wrought, poems. But at some point, even though poetry is a foundational part of my experience, I fell out of love with it. The purpose it served was taken over by other things--other creative work, spiritual practices that calmed my mind the way poetry had, deepening connections with other human beings (the poetry had always been a call for connection: hear me! see me! understand me!). So, perhaps, sugar, that substance I loved above all substances starting when I was four years old, has perhaps run its course. 

My first memory of sugar and how I had an unnatural fondness for it goes back to when I was four years old. I was trick-or-treating with some neighborhood kids. They were older. I had a blue princess costume. At the beginning of the night, it was already dark, and we knocked on a door. It was opened by a women who seemed as old as my great-grandmother, practically ancient in my mind. She presented us with a bowl of butterscotch candies. The hard ones, twisted up in those little yellow squares of cellophane. She invited us to take as much as we wanted. My tiny hand stretched as big as it could, fingers spreading wide and I dipped into the bowl, clutching a heaping handful. My friends laughed at me. 

It could very well be that as soon as my love for something was called wrong, I felt compelled to hide it, and in that secret place, the obsession was born. I don't know where a delight for sugar starts and a desperate need for it ends. But all this said, I am absolutely floored by the fact that, at least for today, and for these past two weeks, I haven't had a desire for sugar. It's not that it doesn't sometimes look shiny and pretty. But those momentary sparks have quickly dissolved. I'm not battling, trying not to eat sugar. That is amazing. I don't take it for granted. I will ride this reprieve as long as I can. I will learn to find other things to fill the need that sugar did. A boost when I'm fatigued? A nap. A comfort when I'm hurt or angry? Talking or writing about it, calling a friend who will listen. A way to numb out? Facebook or television. For baking projects? I just bought a new, beautiful vegan cookbook that I can make use of to learn a whole new culinary skill-set from. I'm sure there's more jobs sugar had, but these are a start. 

The ten pounds I gained during my last week bingeing is just about gone. But there's still the other thirty pounds I gained when I went back into the food. For now, my goal is to find a middle ground. To stay still, to not worry about the weight, to try to maintain for awhile. I know if I start taking away too much, that it could lead to more bingeing. I make vegetables the center of my diet--the fridge is stocked with the newest produce from my CSA farm box. I also supplemented the box contents with a trip to Costco today, feeling proud rolling my cart of vegetables and fruit alongside the other shoppers' carts. 

There is plenty to eat. And I am focusing on eating just enough.