December 21, 2010 § 6 Comments
**Please note: I have been intensely aware that my latest blog posts have been extremely…vague…personal…thematically unhappy in general. I’m sorry. I know that it’s not fun to read a person’s blog that is consistently dark and dreary–the more fun blogs are those that can at least elicit a smile or a laugh from the reader. I think, though, that this is indicative of my current head space. I want to go back to the light and happy version of A.Hab., but I need to work through this first. Thanks for understanding and for still reading.**
Last week, I was called a perfectionist (or, rather, she said that she sensed “perfectionist-like tendencies”) by a friend. It wasn’t said in a cruel or judgmental way. Truthfully, she said it in more of a sympathetic, concerned way. I laughed it off initially and just said that yes, in fact I’m a Virgo, and that’s just how we are. But that doesn’t mean that her words didn’t stick and echo many days later. Over these past several days, I’ve been considering in what ways my perfectionism has manifested in my life. These are not in the order of importance. They are just in the order that they sprang to mind.
Academic: I’m working on four projects right now (finishing biography entries for an encyclopedia helmed by one of my professors, writing a dissertation, reading a book and writing its scholarly peer review for a prestigious journal, and lesson-planning a class of texts I’ve never taught before). I have this compulsion to do everything RIGHT. Perfectly right. As in, there is no room for error, no room for improvement, no room for CRITICISM right. The problem there is that I’d rather give up and watch television all day than actually work because the fear of failure is so unbelievably crippling.
Marriage: I want to be the very best wife in the whole world for Robert. Not because I worry about him judging me, but because I judge myself extremely harshly. Has Robert cooked dinner four nights out of this week and I’ve only cooked once? Bad wife. Am I falling behind on my laundry chores? Not dusting regularly? Or vacuuming regularly? Do I ask him to take the puppy out when I just don’t feel like getting up again? Bad wife. Do I forget about his allergies when I make dinner plans? Bad wife. Do I forget to check on how he’s feeling when he’s not well? Bad wife. Do I fall just short of loving him as much as he deserves to be loved? You guessed it. Bad wife.
Career: I know that I should do what I love to do, but what happens when I don’t know what I love? How will people judge me for my indecision? How will they judge me for the choice I ultimately come to? What if I make the wrong choice again and have to change career paths later on? Have I failed because I can’t seem to find myself in love with the career I should be in love with?
But I’m not interested in answering all of those questions right now. Today’s entry is about compulsive overeating.
One of the things that popped into my mind when I was meditating on my perfectionism was my weight.
Most perfectionists are twig-like anorexics, I thought. The phrase you hear over and over again on talk shows is that a perfectionist refused to eat because s/he wanted to exert the only control available: over what is put in the body. I don’t have that problem.
So then I started meditating over it a little bit more. And please know, this is not an attempt to create excuses for myself. Rather, it’s an attempt to explain where the hell I went wrong when I was growing up. I do not come from an obese family. I don’t come from a stick-figure family, either, but it’s not like every member of my family is significantly overweight. (For those who have never seen me, I’m 100 pounds overweight, according to the target BMI for someone my height. Those who have seen me consistently refuse to believe that I have 100 pounds to lose. They’re really sweet friends that I have.) I do not consider 10-15 pounds significantly overweight. 100 pounds? That’s a big ol’ problem. Pun fully intended.
Anyway, so I was trying to figure out how I can be a perfectionist in all other areas of my life…to the point where it’s fairly obvious to those around me…and yet not be a perfectionist with my weight. It didn’t seem to add up. Until I realized something tonight:
If a perfectionist seeks to control everything that goes into her body and her weight, then I am doing a perfect job of gaining weight.
I’ve always been amazing at self-sabotage, but this weight loss thing has always been my specialty in terms of self-sabotage. Sure, I’ll get started on the right foot: gym membership put to good use, personal trainer put to good use, eating habits reworked. I’ll lose weight, start feeling really good about myself and more energetic (maybe even sleep better), and then I’ll decide I’m not doing it well enough…and then it’s a slippery slope back down to where I was before I started attempting to “gain control.”
Turns out I have always had extreme control over myself. It’s just not been put to the best use.
So now, the question is this: now that I’ve figured out my problem, what the hell do I do about it? I mean, I’ve attempted to lose weight ever since I was 16 years old in tenth grade. (Which is ironic because looking back at those pictures, I was adorable. Poor girl had no idea what she looked like. And now? Ugh. It’s a shame, I think.) My point is that I know the ropes quite well. I know how to lose weight. Fewer calories in, more calories out. It matters what kind of sugars you ingest. It matters what kind of calories you ingest. Just because something is labeled as 100 calories does not necessarily make it a good decision. Cardio is the only way to lose belly fat, and strength training is the only way to maintain skin elasticity.
I’ve got all that down pat. I can give amazing advice to those who are seeking health tips. The irony, of course, is that the advice is coming from someone 100 pounds overweight. Such ethos, right? Heh.
So, aside from how to lose weight…what on Earth do I do about the perfection issue? Because I have a really bad feeling that if I can’t tackle that beast, then I’ll never tackle my weight.
I want you to know about a book I’m reading. I know you get book suggestions all the time from people, but this comes very sincerely and I think it has good potential to actually help. It’s called “The Rules of Normal Eating” by Karen Koenig.
I had an epiphany a while ago. The problem is not a lack of knowledge about nutrition or proper exercise strategy… far from it. The problem is the emotional, compulsive side of this. The eating disorder side of this. I am trying to deal with my feelings so that I can start getting healthy (instead of the other way around— trying to lose weight so that I feel better).
Anyway, I mention it because it’s the only book that has gotten anywhere near helping me with this eating disorder (compulsive eating and emotional eating). I haven’t finished it but am nearing the end (a first). I usually just skip ahead in most books.
I’ve kept quiet on this book because I haven’t really wanted to discuss it, since I’m dealing with a lot of emotions (for once). But reading this entry struck a strong chord with me and I felt compelled to tell you about it.
I’m also reading other books along with it but “The Rules of Normal Eating” has packed the most punch so far. It’s a small, unassuming book that is not impressive-looking, to be honest. If you end up checking it out, I hope it helps =) If you go with a different approach, I hope that helps =)
Thanks for the recommendation, sisturr. I saw that book on the end table this weekend, and I was really curious about it. Do you think I could borrow it after you finish it? Like I said in my post, I think I’ve finally identified my problem as a quest for some form of perfection–if I’m going to succeed, it better be perfectly; if I’m going to fail, it better be perfectly. I’ve never really felt like I fit the “emotional eater” description–I’ll overeat when I’m bored, when I’m happy, when I’m sad, when I’m feeling absolutely nothing at all. I’m always keenly aware of what’s going in my mouth, but I rarely feel like I’m out of control and eating because of some external force. I think I’m realizing that I’m a bit of a weirdo. 😉
I’m so glad that what Koenig has to offer in her book is helping you. It’s always beneficial anytime we can gain a little perspective from someone. 🙂
Yeah, that’s fine =)
For emotional eating, it can be any emotion, including boredom (just to clarify what I meant, because I do the same thing). I don’t generally eat mindlessly. I know what I’m doing when I’m doing it, and have, at times, intended myself harm by binging (or just eating what I “shouldn’t”) in the past.
You’re not weird at all. Eating inappropriately can be a coping mechanism as well as an addiction. For me, it’s both. But it’s more a coping mechanism for me, which I didn’t realize before. I just thought I was a carb addict. I’ve realized it’s much deeper than that.
I’m also reading “Crave: Why You Binge Eat and How to Stop” by Cynthia Bulik (which I plan on finishing after Normal Eating) and a self-esteem book.
Disordered eating really is very complex and no two people are the same. That’s why it’s so difficult to deal with. It’s not as simple as dropping the pounds, as we both know well!
I struggled with the perfectionist issue as it pertained to weight. Growing up I was a dancer, and a LOT of emphasis was put on my figure. From my mom, to dance coaches, to the general male population I felt a serious need to be absolutely in control of my weight. After baby (and more than a few pounds), I have noticed that I am moving in the opposite direction. Now considered “chubby”, I actively hurt my weightloss efforts with the same gusto I used to help keep myself thin. I have talked with friends about this a lot and the best advice I received was this: If you are actively hurting or punishing yourself then there is something wrong. For me, I’ve realized that I felt like a mediocre mom and homemaker, and I suddenly didn’t feel important enough to take care of. Do you think maybe some of your feelings of “Bad Wife” or the pressure to find a career are translating into your weightloss efforts?
P.S. You are not a Bad Wife. You obviously haven’t met me yet 🙂
Oh my gosh, probably! I think I’m an expert at self-sabotage on many levels, and one of them happens to manifest as being overweight. I guess if perfectionism is about being in control, and I can consistently lose a little and gain a lot, then I’m actually more in control than I ever imagined. I think for me it’s about gaining personal responsibility. I’ve never felt like I was the victim of food, that it was this powerful, antagonizing force that had me by the short and curlies. If anything, I’m the one who’s been abusing my relationship with food. So, I guess now that I’ve had this epiphany the question is what on Earth do I do about it, you know? I told my husband last night that I don’t think I’ll be changing my perfectionist tendencies any time soon…they’re pretty deeply engrained. It’ll take a long time and a great deal of effort. But surely there’s something to do in the short-term. Maybe that book my sister recommended (“The Rules of Normal Eating”) could hold some answers.
And thanks for your kind words–is it possible that all wives (and potentially a lot of mothers?) have an inferiority complex about their wiving/mothering skills? It’s a thought.
[…] brings me to number three. I talked to my parents today about the things I have been fairly vague about in my blog…I wanted to tell them first. Folks, as a couple of you have already guessed, I am unhappy in […]