Photo: wiktionary:de:Benutzer:acf; 2005
Poet in Residence
Bodies and Voices
BY MAGAZINE COLUMNIST CARYN MIRRIAM-GOLDBERG
“I didn’t know you had issues with food,” my friend Kris says to me when we go to New York City together, a joy ride of a trip when we’re determined to travel with total instinct, walking down one street because it seems interesting, taking whichever train shows up first to Brooklyn and letting that determine whether we go to Brighton Beach or Coney Island, eating Russian food for lunch or a Nathan’s hot dog.
For now, we’ve just arrived, and we’re walking easily down Third Avenue from our hotel on 25th Street—one in which each funky room was turned over to an artist who was given full charge and a few cans of paint.
“I just don’t talk about it too much because it’s so boring.” This is true on several counts: I do have issues floating through my mind like soft swarms of gnats throughout the day. They don’t bite or land, but they’re sure annoying. And it’s also true that my issues are boring to me and very likely to others because they’re the kind of circular obsessions that get me nowhere.
Who wants to hear the inner thoughts of a woman who worries that if she eats the eclair she will be bad, and then whips herself with a long strand of red licorice for thinking in such stupid, black-and-white ways about food, and then exasperatingly glares at herself thinking, “Jeez, what is wrong with me that I can’t stop beating myself about beating myself about food?”
Crossing the line
There’s the issue of food, and then there’s the reality of food which, at times, seem so far apart that I wish I could just not eat. Not to say that I’m anorexic or have ever been. While I’m very disciplined in some ways, I’ve never possessed the discipline to forgo food, and I would only last as an anorexic long for about an hour beyond most lunchtimes.
This isn’t to say I couldn’t be a bulimic. Throwing up is a talent I honed for this very purpose in my late teens and early twenties. Starting out occasionally vomiting my way through a kill-me-now-and-get-it-over-with migraine, which plagued me until my 40s as much as George W. plagued those of my political persuasion, I easily crossed the line.
Of course, it helped that the line itself was made of rationalization. “I have a terrible nauseas migraine, and if I can just throw up, I can celebrate the fresh air of life again and escape my dungeon of pain” easily morphed into “If I keep this down, I’ll get a migraine. I can feel it.”
From there, it was a short trip to the half gallon of ice cream and then the subsequent trip to the bathroom. I even got good at just the right tickle of my right pointer finger in the back of my throat, how many times I had to make myself vomit to get all the food out (three in most cases), and how to splash cold water on my face to recover quick, return to the party, have another teaspoon, no, a tablespoon of ice cream and giggle with others as I downed some ginger ale.
Of course I didn’t tell anyone. That was until I fell in love with Ken, the first and only man I’ve loved enough and who loved me enough that I simply couldn’t keep secret that my frequent sojourns to the john weren’t all because of having a bladder the size of a kumquat.
“Sometimes when I throw up to keep from having a migraine, it’s more because of overeating,” I said one day. I don’t remember where we were, if it was night or day, only that he said, “Stop doing that. Stop immediately.” And I did. It wasn’t like I was addicted to bulimia. It was more of a hobby that I had mixed feelings about to begin with, and so, I gave it up on a dime.
Programs and promises
This didn’t, as anyone could guess, dissolve my food issues. I would overeat, binge eat at times (always at night, always with what I would now identity as a trigger food, which meant it was dessert-like or heavily salted, even better if fried and heavy salted).
At the same time, I tried to tackle, learn about, dissect, dismantle and deconstruct the “issue” I had with food. As with many of us, I did Weight Watchers (several times), various excursions of low-fat and later, low-carb diets, Overeaters Anonymous, and a ton of dieting books focused on psychological approaching, such as stopping eating when, on a scale of 1 (I’m starving) to 10 (I’m going to kill someone if I don’t get some bread now), you hit 5 or 6 (Am I still hungry or just deluding myself?). I’ve also recorded what I’ve eaten each day for months at a time, thinking that would make me more conscious.
It’s not that these approaches were without value. I did learn a great deal about the inner workings of my old habits, the architecture of my yearnings. But at the same time, changing my eating habits was never simple. Trying to get thin from within, feed the hungry heart and find god and beauty through the dinner plate never quite took for me.
Pocketful of pills
Adding to this was something else: how my body reacted as a trembling canary in the mineshaft of reckless eating. It was no surprise to me that certain foods made me feel ill. Chocolate or heavy dessert after dinner led to almost sure migraines the next day, the shaky feeling until the day after, and a compromised immune system. Everything bad for me led to a mysterious sinus ailment that both flared up and made me susceptible to every virus in a half-mile radius over half the time from my early post-cancer days for the next seven years.
By “bad for me,” I knew how dairy and wheat, not to mention sugar, aggravated my illness. It was an experiment I had run hundreds of times, always landing at the same result, one that involved buying family pack sizes of decongestant, a bevy of anti-histimines and assorted painkillers.
I continued to carry a drugstore in my purse in exchange for living the life I wanted at the pace I wanted until something changed. I had tried everything on the menu so many times at the Little Supper Club of Horror, and I was ready to check out another locale, surely not as pricey and with a much better view. Luckily, such a place existed and opened its backdoor to me.
Yet eventually it did, and like many changes in my life, it came in through the bedroom window, backdoor, down from the old attic and up from the basement in need of repair, all in the house of my body for which a full-frontal, main entrance approach never quite worked. And that change needed to happen out of love, not fear. “What if everything you ate was intentional?” one therapist asked me. “What if you always ate out of love and never out of fear?”
Learning to eat out of love is something yoga both supported and, at times, led the way, and not just because after working so hard to stop trembling and sweating too much in downward dog I didn’t want to throw away all the benefits with chocolate pudding.
No, it was more the case that some studies are now backing: the more I became in touch with my body through yoga, the more I didn’t want to harm myself with food, the more I wanted to feed myself with what was a gift and not a curse, and the more I became ready to bring some discipline to what I heaped onto my plate of life just as I was finding the benefits of yoga as a discipline for my body.
I shall sing myself
My body led me to make changes, to forgo the late night toast with butter, and then a piece of chocolate hidden in the back of the freezer followed by a tablespoon of peanut butter and another piece of chocolate. It just wasn’t singing its siren song at full volume all the time anymore. Instead, my body was singing for yoga, even just a simple lifting of my arms late at night to stretch my spine, or balancing on one leg while waiting for the ladies’ room in a restaurant.
It took me many years to clear away the noise to listen to this body, and continually, I find the best way to hear all of me in clarity and harmony is through yoga.
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.