Hung. Hung Over. Hung Up. Hung Out To Dry



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copyright © 2010 Betsy L. Angert.  Empathy And Education; BeThink or  BeThink.org  

With news of Congressman Anthony Weiner’s indiscretions the word “Hung” has frequently been heard. “Hung Over” too entered our conversations.  Many asked if he was.   “Hung Up” played a powerful role in reflections. “Hung Out to Dry” seems to be the consensus.  Crowds of Congressmen and women, citizens from each political Party, and even those who claim no loyalties, say, The Representative must be renounced. Few wish to admit that Anthony Weiner is but you and me.  

Supreme Court Justices, who served under Chief Jurist Brennan, perhaps, make three.  Any of us might easily say, as the Justices did decades ago; on the subject of obscene or outrageous, “I Know It When I See It.”  We each do. Still, the definitions vary.

While few of us are officially appointed to write “codes” of conduct, as the Supreme Court Justices are, we too avidly watch the actions of another and judge.

“That man is hung. He knows it and shows it.”  Albeit, not to his friends.  He hides.  She is often hung over.  Yet, she says nothing of her excessive drinking to her loved ones.  She hides. I binge. I purge or did for twenty-five years and three months. I devoted sixteen hours a day to this truth.  Food was my folly.  Discuss my doings with others? I too hid.

We are each hung up. Whether others hang us out to dry or not, everyone has hanged him or herself.  We punish ourselves for not being what we think is good enough, smart enough, successful enough, sensational enough, sexy or even sane.  Rather than say we are preoccupied with our own self-perceived inadequacies, we act out.   Some drink or do drugs in abundance.  Countless persons jump from job-to-job or relationship-to-relationship.  For most of the latter, this equates to hopping from bed-to-bed.  Serial marriages are not uncommon.  Multiple sex partners in a lifetime are even more common.  Indeed, these are so prevalent people do not think to gossip about what so many of us, do daily.  Even those intertwined in wedded bliss belie the notion of monogamy and few blink an eye.  

While I indulged in more than my fair share of “intimate” escapades, my chosen weapon for self-destruction was food.  No matter how much I ate, which was usually enough for perhaps, fifty persons in a single day, it did not fill me up. I hoped it would; however, food never satisfied my enormous appetite.  I was forever hungry!  I craved a connection, not to a person, place, or thing.  I wanted to feel connected to me . .  whatever that might have meant.  I was unsure.  I only knew that I did not trust that I could ever be what I imagined everyone else was.

Oddly, or unexpectedly enough, what saved me was what I feared the most. I told a very close friend. While I was nowhere near the end of my self-destructive path, I knew I had to reveal what I truly believed all would reject, my flaws, my foibles, in unadulterated honesty, me.

One day, while home, engaged in a conversation with a chum of near fifteen years, I took the plunge.  “Cher,” I said with much hesitation “I need to tell you something.” Even now, years later, I remember the wave of anxiety that swept over me at the time.  As close as I was to Cher, and by the way I still am, I was sure she would reject me.  Nonetheless, I took a deep breath.  I sat down on the stairs in my home. I needed to.  I did not think my legs would support me if I stood.

I clutched the telephone, looked down, and began to speak.  I do not remember a word I said.  All I recall was how certain I was; Cher would lose all respect for me. She would be critical.  She could never understand.  In truth, nor could I.  Again, I was wrong, thankfully.

All that I assumed Cher would think, say, do, and feel, she never did.

Cher was there for me, with me.  I smile when I think of how much closer we have become.  Before that conversation, Cher had expressed astonishment at the reality of our friendship: She and I were so tight, now more so.

But the depth and details of that story are ones for another day.  In contrast, what I went through, or imagined I would, could not begin to compare with the agony Barry anticipated.  His transgressions, oh my.  Please ponder the tale.

A good friend, a successful man in his early sixties, Barry spent his entire adult life behind bars.  He was imprisoned by his sense of self.  In his pre-teen years, possibly as late as the age of sixteen, he had done a wrong.  Barry molested his younger sister.  

At the time, he was a good Catholic boy.  He attended Catholic schools all his life.  His family was active in their neighborhood Parish.  Barry was not rebellious, or a rabble-rouser.  He did not rant, rage; nor did he reject his teachings.  

Barry grew up in a home where sex was never discussed.  Demonstrative gestures were not placed on view.   His parents were forever proper.  Barry, in pre-puberty and his adolescent years was confused when he felt sexual feelings.  He was certain these were sinful.  Indeed, he believed his very essence was an error. Barry felt as though he was the scourge of the Earth, the devil incarnate.  He wanted so much to understand, to speak with someone, any one, but whom.

Conversations on the subjects of sex nay sexuality were never heard in his home. The church offered no answers.  Certainly, shamed by the sensations, he felt he could not discuss the topic with classmates.  There was no one he trusted to chat with or to.  Hence, Barry acted out.  He acted on what overwhelmed him, raging hormones, inner conflicts, and his confusion. When his younger sister, Rena, was asleep, he entered her room and her body.  Ultimately, the young man felt more miserable, less deserving of the life given to him than he had before he did such a dastardly deed.

The boyish-man, a mere innocent child, thought the girl would tell their parents.  Barry imagined this would open the door to the conversations he craved.  Rena never said a word about what occurred, not to her mother, her father, or her brother.  Barry wondered; did she never know what he did?  The wonder gnawed at him.  Barry could not continue to do as he had done whether Rena was awake or not.  He sealed his soul in silence, as he later learned Rena had.

Indeed, the “girl” did not speak of the events for eons.  The five or more times Barry penetrated her being became his secret.  That is, until Rena was in her late fifties.  Barry’s sister, silent, as he was for all those decades spoke up.

While neither expressed the pain in words before, it was now obvious.  Each experienced their hurts in great depth.  Throughout the course of their lives, the two had dived deeper into all that distracted them.

Barry and Rena excelled in school.   The pair showed, or pretended to show the world and themselves that they were good, or at least good enough.  On the surface the brother and sister soared.  Parents, whose mere disapproval could do more damage, for all those years, never knew.  Nor would anyone else.  

Others opinion of us can cut to the core.  Our opinions of ourselves cut deeper.  Wounds, while not visible, scar a soul.   Rena and Barry surmised they could sear the lesion.  Still, blood was spilled in the form of tears and fears.  Facades were erected in hopes that these would serve to protect fragile hearts.  

The brother and sister built prominent, professional résumés.  In their chosen careers, the siblings achieved great success.  Both married, grew their families, formed fine images.  Yet, neither felt whole.  The two hid . . . from others and themselves.

Food became their friends, more so than mates.  All that mattered was the need to hide.  Silence and secrets sealed their fate.  At home, at work, with family, and the few friends each had, neither was happy.  Rena and Barry were as they are, or would be until the day the dam broke.

When Rena opened up, she instantly blamed Barry for her plight. Likely she had for all those years.  Rena did not know that Barry too placed the onus on himself.  He took full responsibility and does.  

Today, just as I had done earlier, as Anthony Weiner did days ago, Barry works to share what he created, a casket for himself.  More significantly, he has risen from the dead.  Barry opened the door and invited his sister in.  He asked for a conversation. Rena said no.  In actuality, she wrote this in a mail.  Rena wants no contact.  She does not wish to discuss what was or is with anyone.  While she has made some changes in her life… by all appearances, her circumstances remain the same.

However, Barry, while devastated at first, slowly found himself.  Barry said to me, someone he thought of as his one close friend, that he had been haunted by this incident forever.  He recalled and reflected on the similarities of our experiences.  I too hid my self-destructive behavior for a very long time.  Granted, I chose to speak of it before my recklessness became known. Still, once the secret was out in the open I was freed.

Barry remembered how my life changed, or my sense of self did, once Cher knew me at my worse.  He wanted that strength for himself.  Barry began to look at every aspect of his life.  He mused as his favorite musician had; If you are not busy being born, you are busy dying.”  Bobby D and Barry. Indeed.  Barry chose to get busy, to thrive rather than merely survive.

Little by little he sought solace in other than food [What only Barry knew of in the past was also revealed and rejected.  The sort of sex, which might be defined as debauched, was left behind.  Drink to drunkenness was another habit forfeited.]  All was replaced with revelation.  First Barry needed to introduce himself to himself.  The wounded wonder for the being he was had been so severely depressed, Barry had blindly walked through his life.   He was uncertain; who might Barry be.

The process was and is painstakingly measured.  Each step was evaluated.  Barry stumbled. He fell. Then, as a Phoenix, he rose again.  Today, the more Barry tells the tale the more empowered he feels.  He had never realized the power to punish was his alone.  Only he could hurt himself as he had.  

Just as I discovered when I shared my truth with Cher, Barry exclaims, the people who love and like you for who you are, as you are, are those well-aware of your every flaw, foible, and failure.  Indeed, that is the reason others appreciate you as they do.  You are you; he is he.  I am me.  As silly as it seems, we each are or have been self-destructive at times.

Still, as individuals we are unique.  That is truly special.  Our experiences teach us, and those we touch.  Were any of us to ever admit to ourselves that the strong are vulnerable, were we to value that vulnerability, perchance none of us would engage as we do, in lurid behaviors.

Insecure? Nay few show it aloud.  Yet, each of us is. “Regrettable” actions? Guilty as charged. Congressman Anthony Weiner owned his.  The Representative has availed himself of an opportunity to learn, grow, and glow greater.  He has found, just as Barry and I did, the persons’, who had cared for him most, still do.  Might you?   Might you see yourself in another human, one who was self-destructive and has decided to walk the road to recovery?  Will you?

References. Realities. Resources  . . .

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How Did I Let This Happen?

copyright © 2008 Betsy L. Angert.  BeThink.org

As the calendar pages were torn away, with few left to view before the New Year, she would ask herself, “How did I let this happen?”  She knew.  Yet, she did not wish to speak to what had occurred.  It was easier, more socially acceptable to assume that she just overate.  Thus, she would look at her body and study the bulges.  There were more lumps and bumps than there had been before.  As the months passed, her bulk increased.  She could just as well have watched her frame dwindle to nothingness and asked the same question.  However, were she to be thinner the thought might not have occurred to her.  As many are, she would have been blissful to be skinny.  That definition was not hers to hold.  This woman was fat.  

Embarrassed, disappointed in herself, this daughter of Eve inquired of what, for all of her life, seemed to be the inevitable.  “How could I have let this happen again?”  She dieted in the past.  She did well, often.  During the lean times, the foods once inhaled and the drinks she imbibed were healthier.  Then, sooner, or later, she would return to her old habits.  Fodder for her was fun.  It filled her soul or seemed to for a while.

Frequently, as another year closed and the thoughts of what might be overwhelmed her she would evaluate her expanse.  Once more, the query gnawed at her very being.  “Why; why had she not maintained her healthy weight?”

The answer seemed obvious, at least to others.  She too accepted what most believed to be true.  She ate herself into oblivion.  Food was her addiction of choice.  She reflected on the past.  There it was, her problem.  It was easy to understand why she had developed as she had.

It began in November of another year, long ago.  Then, as now, it twas the season to be jolly.  Yet, for a person such as she, the winter solstice was a time of folly.  Whilst visions of sugarplums dance in the heads of children, as the holidays approach, she dreamt of deep dark chocolate, devils food cake, and a fudge so gooey it would give most a toothache with but a single bite.  Tasty temptations tantalize her, just as they did when she was a tot and a teen.

As an adult, she anticipates a table full of delicacies.  Days prior to the Thanksgiving feast, she begins to delight in reveries of turkey, dressing, potatoes, and pumpkin pie.  Peach cobbler, butter pecan ice cream, and the cashew nougat cookies, baked only in the months of November and December are never far from her mind.  The fantasies flow as she thinks of the foods she yearns for most fervently.  Oh, yes, family was part of the celebration.  Good times for all.  However, she did not savor the people in the same way she did the food.

Indeed, it seemed no matter her age, or the time of the year, this lovely lady thought fondly and frequently of what soon would enter her stomach.

It was during the holidays, decades ago, that she began her excursion, her entrée, into the world of wondrous carte du jour, and then, what occurred when more than enough was ingested.  A festival did not invite her or inspire her to overeat.  Banquet spreads did not, later, bring her to the prink of what would become her preferred habit,  binge and purge.  Daily delights were presented to her for as long as she could recall.  In her childhood home, menus were prepared a month before a meal.  

Mommy cooked, baked, broiled, boiled, and sautéed.  When no specific fodder was needed, ingredients for whatever one wanted were still available.  The pantry was always well-stocked.  She could have her fill, although she never was truly satiated.  No one would ever go hungry in her household.  Certainly, she would not.  Unless she chose to waste away, she could fill her face endlessly.

In her family, every day was a special occasion.  Food was a symbol, a celebration of life.  

If you felt, thought, did, or were alive, you ate.  The relations dined when they were gleeful.  They consumed chow rather than cry.  Sisters, father, and friends who visited chomped on candy, gobbled goodies, and snacked on syrupy noshes.  Hence, the hour when her personal travel first began was not an unusual one.  It was just another moment in a myriad of minutes filled with food.

On that winter day, her Mommy baked beautiful cookies.  The biscuits were large and soft.  The frosty centers were sweeter than the crusts, which were covered in confectioners sugar.  The flat crisp cakes were laid out to cool.  The young women came into the kitchen and saw a solution to what had never been a problem.  She would partake.  The particulars that preoccupied her mind would disappear.  After all, she had learned in childhood, food could cure what did or did not ail her.

Indeed, she was scared.  School was a source of stress.  A graduation date might be near; she wanted no more responsibility.  Relationships had realized a point of no return.  Talk of nuptials was more frequent, although she had no desire to wed.  Financial woes had become very real.  They did not exist in that second.  However, she feared, if she finished her education she would have to search for a job.  No, a vocation.  Those in her life did not expect her to secure a viable prospect.  Nor did they think she could not.  Acquaintances, associates, and close relatives were not concerned.  The pressure came from within her.  

In truth, she was not certain that her educational pursuits, for a supposed “chosen” profession were of interest to her.  The man she loved, while wondrous was not necessarily the person she wished to spend her life with.  No one was or would be.  After twenty-plus years of marriage, her parents divorced when she was young.  She did had no desire to chance that she might do the same.

While most would be excited by the probability of commencement, a career, and a wedding ceremony, she was not.  She was happy, sort of.  Life was good.  It truly was.  Nonetheless, important decisions, milestones, dominated her every thought.  Her very existence was overwhelmed with what might be.  A distraction would be welcome.  She indulged.  

For the next twenty-five years and three months, she swallowed and spit out quantities of food that could have fed hundreds, perhaps thousands of hungry people.  Sixteen hours a day could be consumed with consumption.  

Frenzied, poised, inspired, uninterested, enthusiastic, inert, empathetic, or numb all were reasons to relate to her best friend, food.  Many mused of her condition.  

Those who knew of her habit and persons who only observed that she was selective when she ate in public, supposed she was worried about her weight.  She did think about the pounds, slightly, although not obsessively.  Unlike friends who watched the scale and dieted.  She did neither.  A machine that calculates the body’s mass did not exist in her home.  

Over the course of her lifetime, she saw her shape shrink.  Just as quickly, it grew.  The pounds fell off.  They added up.  She never knew what might occur.  To think of her heaviness would be but an unpleasant burden.  She would rather enjoy herself.  Thus, she ate.

However, each day, as she filled her plates and her stomach, she realized she depleted her soul.  She was never able to avoid the truth.  While she might separate herself from the world, and steal a few moments away from worries, woes, and the world, she was not able to fully hide.  Never could she escape what really hurt her heart, herself.

For far more than one-hundred thousand plus hours of her life, she had to face herself in a manner that was weightier than most ever do.  Alone in a room with a stove and a sink, intentionally closed off from those who might care about her more than she cared for herself, this woman, who might have been labeled with any of many “eating disorders,” learned a lesson that she recalled as she read of Oprah Winfrey’s own recent realization.

Here’s another thing this past year has been trying to teach me: I don’t have a weight problem-I have a self-care problem that manifests through weight.  As my friend Marianne Williamson shared with me, “Your overweight self doesn’t stand before you craving food.  She’s craving love.”  Falling off the wagon isn’t a weight issue; it’s a love issue.

When I stop and ask myself, “What am I really hungry for?” the answer is always “I’m hungry for balance, I’m hungry to do something other than work.”  If you look at your overscheduled routine and realize, like I did, that you’re just going and going and that your work and obligations have become a substitute for life, then you have no one else to blame.  Only you can take the reins back.

The female who binged and purged for more than a quarter of a century, the one who starved herself in earlier times, and who, as a child accepted obesity as her path, the person whose story is shared in this treatise would say, “How true.”  She might also attest to her own awareness; “Be it a person who is a bulimic, an anorexic, or an individual self-described as “addicted” to food, the cuisine is not a cause for deep distress.  Nor is a thin or fat figure the consequence.”  Groceries are sought when the spirit of a being is sorrowful.

She learned, not sooner, but far later, superficially, anyone can appear to be joyous.  Many even believe they are, that is, except maybe when they are quiet and alone with only themselves.  Still, without a sense of inner serenity, a sanity that cannot be seen, a person will continue to be ravenous.  Oh, how she knew this to be true for herself.

The adage is, “Money does not buy happiness.”  It may also be said, a successful career cannot calm a craving.  Marriage will not alleviate an appetite.  A novelty, a nicety, a gem, or a grand gesture will not fill an emotional emptiness; nor will food.  She discovered for herself, as Oprah might contend, while all these are fine, they cannot replace an authentic fondness felt within.

In her own life, the former overeater, anorexic, and bulimic, the person who no longer stuffs her face, starves, or binges and purges, has faith.  She trusts Miss Winfrey will experience as she finally did; to taste the sweetness of a life in balance, and love in a way that is other than romantic whimsy, is far more sensational than food.

References and reality for many . . .

  • “How Did I Let This Happen Again?” By Oprah Winfrey.  O, The Oprah Magazine. January 2009
  • Bulimia; Science of the Holiday Season and Food

    copyright © 2007 Betsy L. Angert

    The holiday season is the best and worst of times.  It always was.  The food is phenomenal.  The feelings that fill a heart, mind, or is it my stomach can cause enormous misery.  For a person immersed in the rituals of bulimia the latter weeks of the year are better than all others.  Opportunities to indulge are ample during the holy days.  The selection of food fare is far superior.  Scientific research on food reaps ample rewards.  The secretive practice of self-imposed solitary confinement causes much angst, or could, if one were not able to find an escape in food.

    Fortunately, a bulimic can and does take flight.  She or he can sprint to the stores.  There selves are filled with cashew nougat cookies.  Boxes of these white wonders melted in her mouth.  Delicate doughy dinner rolls lined every end display.  These delicious buns were strategically placed in case a customer forgot to grab them when in the bread aisle.  Buns sold for pennies.  Christians, Jews, Gentiles, those who worship Jehovah, Muslims, Agnostics, Atheists, and more must love these doughy delights.  While stuffing was a staple, in the winter, the cost was nominal, and the supply was grand.  She could fill her shopping cart with boxes a plenty.

    In the dairy section, sweet and savory eggnog was available.  This liquid ambrosia did not appear before or after the national celebrations.  She could hardly wait for the New Year.  Grocers would reduce the price on this stock and she would buy all she could.  She would place the excess in the freezer and save these for another day.  As America celebrated, so too did she.  However, her festivity was a bit less conventional.

    She needed no lights, no tinsel, or tree.  A menorah, or a Kinara were not necessary.  An image of the crescent moon, or the five-pointed star, was not important parts of her ceremonial gala.  All she needed was food.  She no longer required family to enjoy.  Food was her kin, her kind of company.

    When Bethany was a child, Thanksgiving Day brought songs of the good cheer.  Merriment filled the house.  Mommy and the little lass would sing all the traditional carols.  Dradle, dradle, dradle, I made it out of clay.  O Tannenbaum, oh Christmas tree, Sleigh bells ring on a silent night.  As December 25th approached, the family dashed through the snow, roasted chestnuts, and pa rum pum pum pumed with the Little Drummer Boy.  Her Daddy said the gaiety made no sense to him.  Yet, he laughed aloud and reveled in the expressions of glee.  Daddy tried not to croon and carol; however, at times he joined in the caroling.

    Times were good.  The late November dinner was usually turkey.  Mashed potatoes and gravy made from scratch graced the table.  Home-baked breads also adorned the setting.  Daddy carved the meat with studied finesse.  Mom dished out the stuffing.  Homemade pies and cookies sat in wait.  There were many choices.  Mommy baked for days on end.  Lemon meringue was for Lisa.  Bethany preferred pecan pie.  Dad did not decide until he was ready for desert.  Would he dive into a traditional pumpkin pie or save that slice for another occasion?

    In her family, food was considered the means to celebrate life.  Mom, Lisa, and Bethany ate when they were happy, dined when they were sad.  Each of the ladies filled lonely days and nights with chow.  Fodder brought thought; it stimulated reflection.  Realizations occurred over a bowl of soup, cereal, salad, or stew.  Daddy was not as dependent on victuals.  However, Bethany’s first father was a glutton, for punishment and pleasure over a plate of steak, veal, lamb, or lobster.  That man customarily consumed as though there was no tomorrow.

    Bethany recalled every New Years Day, Michael sat on the bathroom floor slumped over the toilet bowl.  He puked and purged until he could do no more.  When his stomach was empty, then he would stop, only to await the time when he would fill up again.

    For Michael, bingeing and ridding himself of all he ingested was not habitual.  However, it occurred often enough.  The activity was a vivid memory for Bethany.  Perhaps she learned to adopt bulimic behaviors.  After all, aspects of the conduct were part of her experience.

    For her natural father Michael, life was an adventure.  He thought it fun to be spontaneous.  Bethany was more of a scientist just as her Grandfather had been and as her Dad trained her to be.  The little bit of a girl questioned everything.  Studious as she was she researched the minutia.  There was nothing in her life that did not involve great thought.

    When she first chose to relieve herself of food, it was a calculated decision.  Early one evening, during dinner Bethany ate so much.  After the meal she could barely move.  Consumed with a sense of discomfort she sought relief.  It occurred to her, if she simply flushed out the food, all would be well.  However, she discovered as all scientists do, it is never possible to truly control the environment, or the outcome of any experiment.  Indeed, in an investigation, what seemed a solution to a problem, could, and did control the researcher.

    Physiology and psychological components are more powerful than mere mortals might wish themselves to be.  Addictions may begin with a conscious decision as all actions do.  Nonetheless, there are forces that preclude logic and rational thinking.  The body is more than a reasonable brain.

    Quickly, what was meant to be a moment became a lifestyle.  Hence, Bethany concluded she must learn to cope.  To survive this young being would have to learn the science of intake and surrender.  She measured her moves.  What edibles went down smoothly, and which released themselves from the stomach walls smoothly.

    While cottage cheese is often considered the finest pabulum for those who wish to lose weight, for a bulimic, this provision is a nightmare.  The tiny curds stick to the innards.  The amount of acidic bile needed to breakdown this dairy product is ample.  It seems a single soul cannot produce enough enzymes to eliminate this compound within a reasonable amount of time.  Most cheeses clump once in the digestive system.  

    All through the holidays, cups of cheese spreads fill the grocers delicatessen cases.  Spreads are smooth to the taste, and smoother on the tongue as they slide in and out of the most central orifice.

    Milk will cuddle if it sits on the kitchen counter for too long.  It does the same if left for any length of time in the stomach.  Eggnog, however, glides through the system.  She knows not if the egg, sugar, or other additives make the difference.  Bethany only understands that this is a delight.

    Summer potato salads may be flavorful.  However, a boiled and particularly pulverized tuber does not travel as well as the mashed perennial plant does.  The moist breadcrumbs that we call stuffing are an interesting delicacy.  The ingredients within the mixture matter more than the actual entrée.

    Hard cookies can crumble into bits in the outside world.  They do the same once digested.  Miniscule particles spilled on the floor can be difficult to clean up.  When in the body cavity these small pieces scatter.  The fragments of food do not gather in as a group, and exit as one.  Flat crisp baked goods do not easily escape; yet, the holiday goodies cashew nuggets, goes down and comes up as a silk scarf might.

    Indeed, the holidays are wondrous.  The food is more fun than time with family might be, or so Bethany hoped as another year approached.  Sadly, in truth, during the winter solstice she felt more alone than she ever did.  No matter the trials and tribulations, the gift of a shared experience means more than any other event might.

    Science and food could not, did not, and would never suffice for what she sacrificed.  Those the little bit of a being was closest to were a greater source of solace than what she, a bulimic labeled nourishment.  Nature, in the form of ingested plant or animal products, does not nurture a starved soul.  A satiated stomach could not compare to a heart filled with joy.

    Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, a Joyous Kwanzaa, a regal Ramadan, none would be as long as Bethany remained bulimic.  If only emotions, epidemiology, and the effects of these could be as easily understood as the study of food.

    Obesity: Friendship Fills a Heart, Mind, Body, and Soul

    Please view How Obesity Spreads Through Social Networks

    copyright © 2007 Betsy L. Angert

    I awoke to the question; Are Your Friends Making You Fat?  Apparently, according to a longitudinal study involving 12,000 people, if your best friend is obese you are more likely to gain weight.  Researchers say obesity is growing as an epidemic would.  The results did not surprise me; the reaction to such a speculation did.  People postured; “I make my own choices.”  “My friends and family do not influence my decision to take good care of myself.”  The research is flawed.  The findings are faulty.  It is not possible.  Friends cannot make friends fat.

    Yet, according to this well-respected study, Obesity Spreads In Social Circles As Trends Do.  All around us we see overweight people.  There are more hefty individuals than there were in years past.  The chubby, chunky, and corpulent fill the streets.  These persons find it difficult to sit comfortably in a chair.  On airlines, the flabby stuff themselves into small seats.  These individuals are stigmatized and suffer physically.  There are many health risks when one’s weight is high.

    As the researchers’ note, obesity is virtually epidemic.  Scientists wanted to know why this is and what might be done.  They explored.

    The study, involving more than 12,000 people tracked over 32 years, found that social networks play a surprisingly powerful role in determining an individual’s chances of gaining weight, transmitting an increased risk of becoming obese from wives to husbands, from brothers to brothers and from friends to friends.

    The researchers found that when one spouse became obese, the other was 37 percent more likely to do so in the next two to four years, compared with other couples.  If a man became obese, his brother’s risk rose by 40 percent.

    The risk climbed even more sharply among friends — between 57 and 171 percent, depending on whether they considered each other mutual friends.  Moreover, friends affected friends’ risk even when they lived far apart, and the influence cascaded through three degrees of separation before petering out, the researchers found.

    Several state, the theory is thoughtless.  It is obvious, ‘Birds of a feather flock together.’  Even the esteemed doubt the veracity of the study.

    Some researchers, however, questioned whether the study had fully accounted for other factors.

    “People pick friends because they are similar in the way they eat or the way they move,” said Barry M. Popkin, who studies obesity at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.  “It’s a nice piece of work but still stops short of being able to deal with causality.”

    I understand this statement.  Look around you.  It seems the rotund rally round the obese.  The plump find pleasure in spending time with others that will understand their plight.  Often we see a heavy miss or missus with a portly mister. 

    Some say the truer cause of obesity is in the genes.  Many a chubby child has a corpulent parent, or two.  However, recent trends, a population growing large by leaps and bounds may disprove that theory

    Any physician, dietician, or athlete might tell you there are other matters to consider.  We must take cause and effect into account.  Each of these experts has evidence.  They can demonstrate numbers make a difference.  Calories count.  Exercise is important.  If you want to lose weight, get off the couch.

    Certainly, friends cannot make us eat what we choose not to.  Most individuals think themselves freethinking, independent, separate from all others.  Numerous persons interviewed on the topic declared, ‘Friends and family cannot and do not influence my food intake, or much else.’

    Considering one ‘close’ association, I could make that argument.  I was never a victim to peer pressure.  I was, am, can be very independent.  I revel in my autonomy.  Acknowledging that I do care about every aspect of life, what others think, say, or do has an emotional effect on me.  However, I do not recall a time that I let the desires of another affect my decisions.  I did not, and do not, follow the crowd.  Dawn’s eating did not direct mine.

    Dawn and I have been friends since Middle School.  We attended the same High School.  We hung out together.  Up until little more than a year ago, we lived only fifteen miles apart.  At times, our weight was similar, on other occasions it was not.

    I recall during our freshman and sophomore years in secondary school, Dawn and I spent hours doing whatever it was we did.  We lunched; did dinner, and yes, of course, there was snack-time.

    I often felt as though my friend was encouraging me to eat.  ‘Here, have this.’  ”Try that.’  It is delicious.  I recall contemplating, did Dawn want me to be fat?  If I gained weight, would she think it fine for her to add a few pounds?  It seemed to me, she wanted to be the thin one.  If I lost weight, I sensed that she thought she too would have to reduce the tonnage.  I cannot be certain; nonetheless, I experienced a subterranean competition. 

    Since childhood, I shied away from competition.  Rivalries feel antagonistic to me then and now.  Perhaps that is why I never fully related to Dawn.  There was an air, an aura that I found disturbing.  When we were young, some thought we looked alike.  Each of us said aloud, we do not see it.  Possibly, she too knew we were not close.  We have known each other for decades, and no matter the miles between us, remain [barely] in touch.  However, our weight gains and losses do not support the findings.  Therefore, one might think that I would consider this study lacking; yet, I do not. 

    Appearances are deceiving.  Often companionship is an illusion.  People may seem close and still independent; However, I experience if an individual authentically admires their chum, they are influenced by that person, In my estimation, truth be told, Dawn and I are not good friends.

    For me, observations corroborate the conclusion of this study.  I think the results of this report are valid.  Ample investigation reveals that the influence of friends reaches far beyond the superficial.  Individuals do not merely imitate those they spend time with.  Nor do people choose to engage with others that do as they do.

    I believe this comprehensive report considers the cause and effect of obesity beyond calories and exercise.  We all wonder why do the pounds not peel away when we diet and deliberately do our calisthenics.  Many muse; why do I often slip back into old habits, or how might I adopt new, more productive, patterns of behavior. 

    Some seek social environments that promote weight loss.  For a few, this works.  However, consciously or not, for most, a little help from their friends does more than assistance from strangers might.  Those we are fond of ignite a fire that fills the heart, mind, body, and soul.  Miles do not lessen the effect of a strong association.

    This research compares and contrasts the power of our connections.  For centuries Social Scientist have acknowledged, people learn from those they most admire.  Friends speak a language that cannot be replicated.  Reciprocal reverence helps us to realize what we would never dare imagine on our own.

    As emotional resources, friendships furnish children with the security to strike out into new territory, meet new people, and tackle new problems.  Friends set the emotional stage for exploring one’s surroundings, not unlike the manner in which caretakers serve as secure bases for the young child.

    I recall the influence of a true friend, two, three, four, or more had on me.  My experiences replicate and validate the portion of the study that addresses the benefits of letting another human into your life.  As the experts explain, much of this examination relates to weight gain, for currently, worldwide, and particularly in the United States, people are expanding their girth.  However, not everyone engages in unhealthy practices.  Numerous individuals lose weight with thanks to their friends.  Others not feeling the need to transform their appearance chose healthier habits, just as those closest to them do. 

    The same effect seemed to occur for weight loss, the investigators say.  But since most people were gaining, not losing, over the 32 years, the result was, on average, that people grew fatter.

    Dr. Nicholas A. Christakis, a physician and professor of medical sociology at Harvard Medical School and a principal investigator in the new study, said one explanation was that friends affected each others’ perception of fatness.  When a close friend becomes obese, obesity may not look so bad.
    “You change your idea of what is an acceptable body type by looking at the people around you,” Dr. Christakis said.

    Those we admire often look good to us; we see the beauty within.  As we share, we have an opportunity to experience the wisdom that makes them as special as they are to us.  In my own life, those physically near and far have the most amazing, beneficial effect on my decisions and me.  Proximity, in an emotional sense enhances and enlightens my life.  My bodily health is improved as is my psyche, all with a little help from my friends.

    I met the person I often title my closest and deepest friend when we worked together.  Danae does not enjoy disruptions.  For her, chatting while at the office is a distraction.  She is focused.  I understand this.  I too prefer being productive.  Stopping to converse, for me, takes me away from the task I wish to complete.

    While we worked, Danae and I walked and talked.  We each apologized in advance for the possible lack of eye contact.  We were only willing to split our attention slightly; however, not completely.  Over time, we grew very close; however, I left that job.  I lived almost thirty miles away and took a position close to home.  Danae does not like to drive; nor do I.  For years, Danae and I rarely, if ever saw each other.  Nonetheless, we spoke on the telephone for hours at a time, almost daily.  We discussed everything, and then some.

    I recall sharing that my skin was dry.  Every ointment and lotion I tried did little to relieve the itch.  I was scratching myself until I broke the skin.  I stopped using conventional soap.  I switched to Cetaphil® recommended by dermatologist for babies.  While this helped greatly, I never forgot the words Danae uttered as I searched for a solution.  She said, “It is not what you put on your body; it is what you put in it.”  Danae went on to explain much about diet, not in terms of losing weight, but in respect to good health.

    I never forgot this statement.  Slowly I began to consider what I put into my mouth.  I studied the effects each food had on my health.  The transition was measured; however, deliberate.

    My friend Heather was also a huge influence on my eating.  Heather is a nurse.  Health is her main concern.  Studying the body, chemistry, and physiology are her hobbies as well as her profession.  Heather observed my poor eating habits and said so.  Most of the calories I consumed were in the form of fluids.  Heather spoke of the nutritional value of fruits and how juices cannot compare.  I read much and realized she was right.  I already understood the damage soda does.  I lived it.

    You may recall, dear reader, for decades I struggled with bulimia. The idea of putting solid food into my stomach and keeping it down was both a psychological problem and a physical peril.  My body was no longer accustomed to digesting fodder.

    Nevertheless, my conversations with Heather helped.  Again, I progressed at a snails pace.  Still, I did not forget all that Heather taught me.  Ultimately, with much effort I was able to eat normally.  To this day, I chomp on whole foods.  I swallow my meals.  The only fluid I consume, excluding a great soup, is water.

    Friends or those we are fond of can truly influence our food choices.  I know of mother and son that are not biologically connected.  Circumstances help to create a unique and friendly bond.  They spend much time together.  They snack, eat supper, and raid the refrigerator together.  Each is obese, and each has health problems.  Nonetheless, emotionally they support the other.

    Often, one human does provide reason, a rational for the actions of another.  Interestingly enough, though the adage is “Monkey See; monkey do,” indeed, it man is the species that emulates the behavior of others.  People wish to please their compatriots.  In an experiment conducted by Yale University, graduate student, Derek Lyons scientists discovered, as Victoria Horner and Andrew Whiten, two psychologists at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland did.  Three to four year old children imitate the behavior of their ‘teachers’ even if better options are obvious.  Chimpanzees will only do as taught if they are unable to see other, superior opportunities.

    Mr. Lyons sees his results as evidence that humans are hard-wired to learn by imitation, even when that is clearly not the best way to learn.

    While researchers in the chimpanzee studies conclude imitation may be glorious, emulating another may also at times be hurtful.  Other experiments tell us that at any age we engage in behaviors in order to accommodate or please others.  Scientists in this novel study realize, we are likely to do as those we love do, even if they live far from us, or if they have habits that hurt their health.

    Christakis and James H. Fowler of the University of California at San Diego took advantage of detailed records collected between 1971 and 2003 on 12,067 adults who participated in the well-known Framingham Heart Study. The researchers were able to construct intricate maps of the social connections among the participants, identifying spouses, siblings, neighbors, and both casual and close friends.

    Sophisticated statistical analyses revealed distinct groupings of thin and heavy individuals, and found that siblings and spouses had less influence than friends, supporting the idea that the study’s findings were not the result of people eating the same food, engaging in the same activities or sharing genes.

    And though environmental factors such as living in neighborhoods with lots of fast-food restaurants and no good grocery stores or sidewalks probably play a role, the researchers found no effect among neighbors unless they were friends, and being friends had an effect, regardless of whether they lived nearby. That ruled out common surroundings as explanations for the findings, the team said.

    Fowler, speculating that friends could influence one another just by getting together once or twice a year, said, “We were stunned to find that people who were hundreds of miles away had just as much impact on a person’s weight status as friends who are next door.  This is not due to people eating or exercising together.”

    The researchers also found that one person’s weight gain increased another’s risk only if the second person considered the first to be a friend.  If not, there was no effect. If each considered the other a friend, the effect was magnified.

    “This shows that this is a social process that goes on here,” Christakis said.  “If it was because you had two people exposed to the same fast-food joint or there was something in the air, then the direction of the friendship should be irrelevant. The fact that it is relevant helps us to exclude spurious or confounding effects.”

    That was reinforced by the fact that people of the same sex influenced one another the most.  In same-sex friendships, an individual was 71 percent more likely to become obese if a friend did.  But friends and siblings of opposite sexes had no increased risk.

    “People are more likely to copy the actions of people they resemble,” Christakis said.  “What we think is going on here is emulation.”

    Imitation, emulation, whatever we wish to call it, doing as those we love do may not be wise.  It could be wonderful.  Perhaps, if we are aware of the human tendency to mirror our mentors we will learn to choose wisely.  We may wish to assess not only what our gurus gravitate to, but also what we make available.  If we know that fast food is not healthy, might we consider not placing it in the path of one person, or his pal.  If we are aware of our unhealthy habits and discuss these with those that care astounding change occurs, at least it did for the person I consider my soul mate.

    I often find this tale hard to accept.  However, I have heard it repeated often enough, perhaps I must believe it to be true.  As I stated, I was anorexic, then bulimic for many years.  Although I thought surely everyone knew, indeed, only a very few say they did.  The person I call the yin to my yang, the one that I relate to in a manner I cannot describe definitely was aware of what I was doing. 

    Regrettably or perhaps fortuitously, she interrupted my deed one day.  I was “caught in the act.”  Yet, I trusted, she would not judge.  Summer understood my pain, as I did hers.  During a bad bout, Summer considered bingeing and purging.  I am unsure how I knew this with certainty, for deciding to regurgitate food is not something either of us felt a need to discuss.  Nonetheless, I had a feeling.

    As with most of my friends in Southern California, we lived very far apart.  We met while working together years earlier.  One night, I telephoned.  Summer did not answer.  I had a feeling, I know not why.  I left a message on her answering machine.  The voice-activated recorder accepted my lengthy monologue.  I believe I went on and on for near forty-five minutes. 

    I shared all the trauma I lived as a bulimic.  I pleaded, asking Summer not to begin.  I stated that, while I did not understand the physiology, neurology; nevertheless, I knew that this affliction was far more than a psychological choice.  Once the path was taken, turning back was not possible.  As Robert Frost offered, “The only way out is through.”

    Later I learned, Summer was seriously contemplating the possibility.  She was definitely disheartened and thought inhaling and exhaling food would numb the feelings.  My speech took her by surprise.  For whatever reason, perhaps because our friendship is as meaningful as it is, she was able to hear my words.  Summer internalized the sentiment.  She trusted my affection was authentic, as was my fear.  Before she traveled too far, Summer decided to save herself.

    I personally believe I did little; yet, in her mind I did much.  If nothing else, Summer and I can give credence to this report.  Friends are a phenomenal influence.  We need not blame them for what we do.  Let us embrace them.  I do not think it dreadful that another can influence my choices.  I consider the possibility glorious.  Friends are forever; with thanks to them we are wiser.  I can only speak for myself; nonetheless, may I say, I am grateful that those I love have the power to teach me.

    The Thin, Fat, Fit, and Friendship . . .

  • The Spread of Obesity in a Large Social Network over 32 Years, By Nicholas A. Christakis, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., and James H. Fowler, Ph.D.
  • Are Your Friends Making You Fat?  By Allison Aubrey.  National Public Radio. July 26, 2007
  • Obesity Spreads In Social Circles As Trends Do, Study Indicates, By Rob Stein.  Washington Post. Thursday, July 26, 2007; Page A01
  • pdf Obesity Spreads In Social Circles As Trends Do, Study Indicates, By Rob Stein.  Washington Post. Thursday, July 26, 2007; Page A01
  • Barry M. Popkin. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
  • Dr. Nicholas A. Christakis., Harvard Medical School.
  • James H. Fowler.  University of California at San Diego.
  • Find Yourself Packing It On? Blame Friends, By Gina Kolata.  The New York Times. July 26, 2007
  • pdf Find Yourself Packing It On? Blame Friends, By Gina Kolata.  The New York Times. July 26, 2007
  • Children Learn by Monkey See, Monkey Do.  Chimps Don’t. By Carl Zimmer. The New York Times. December 13, 2005
  • pdf Children Learn by Monkey See, Monkey Do. Chimps Don’t. By Carl Zimmer. The New York Times. December 13, 2005
  • Bulimia. Anorexia. By Betsy L. Angert. BeThink.org
  • Bulimia. “Control,” Not the Means Nor the Mission [Chapter Seven]


    Carousel of Romance? Top Revolving Carousel Musical Globe

    Copyright © 2007 Betsy L. Angert

    She heard it said every time the topic was brought up.  The words flow from their mouths as the food did from hers.  Terminology spills into the sink of the uninformed and ignorant just as her fare did almost immediately after she swallowed it.  Resembling her refusal to digest what she ate, they reject what is offered to them.  Bulimics do not do as they do so that they might feel in control.  While marinating in a myriad of feelings and flavors, a binger that purges is not exerting his or her desire to control.  She cannot.  She knows this all too well. 

    In the same way an athlete understands, muscles have memory she recognizes a little practice goes a long way.  The first time might have been a choice.  The second was a consideration, followed quickly by an almost unexpected upheaval.  After that, there was no need for a prompt.  The cycle was complete.  She was on a carousel cemented in concrete.  She could not get off this ride.  Oh, how she tried.

    For her physiology, neurology, and biology were forces to be reckoned with.  Psychology played a part, particularly on that first day.  There were so many feelings she wanted to avoid.  That evening she stuffed her face, inhaled her meal.  Surely, food would relieve the pain. 

    Her stomach was bloated.  She felt sick.  Fingers were not necessary.  She just threw up.  After, she felt better, temporarily.  In those moments, she was not thinking ‘this would be gratifying or great.’  She only wanted the ache to end.  It did.  The throbbing in her head, her heart, and her body went away for an instant. 

    She could not and did not control the hurt coming on; certainly, she was not controlling its egress.  In actuality, the anguish only increased.  Her life became a series, a sequel of events, repeated over and over again.

    She awakes and thinks of food as she goes about the day.  Thankfully, since transitioning from anorexia to bulimia the thoughts are not as overwhelming.  Puking allows her to eat, and eat, and eat again and again.  Indeed, she has become an eating apparatus.  She consumes and is consumed. 

    Each day she must make time for her doings.  She purchases her provisions.  She buys enough to feed a few, perhaps, throngs of people.  Preparing the fare will be full-filling for as she cooks she chomps on those condiments that need no roasting, toasting, baking, boiling, or frying.  She controls nothing more than the temperature of the comestibles.

    However, much must be done before she can fully engage.  She has to drive or walk hauling her heavy load, pabulum for the voracious.  As she strolls or struggles to maneuver the curves on the road, she begins her antics.  Bananas are best for this part of the process.  Should there be an accident she will be less worried if only fruit sits in her stomach.  The long yellow crop exits the system easily.  Some foods do; others do not.

    Knowing what will settle in the belly too deeply to be retrieved and what is pliable enough to take leave on command is important.  A scientist such as she is never able to fully control the chaos that is life.  There is much to consider and manage.  She learned long ago, nothing is truly manageable.  Control is but a myth and she has no illusions.

    In those early days, she choose to chew nuts while in transit.  Cashews are beyond delicious.  Brazil nuts are not bad.  Peanuts are good-a plenty.  Nevertheless, she learned.  Too many of these, if the travel is long, or if the unexpected occurs, will not sit well.  She might worry.  Bulk gnaws at her.  What if she cannot relieve herself in time?  Besides, teeth crumble under the pressure.  This delicacy is too hard on the enamel.  After a fracture, a fissure, and the final falling out of dentine she forfeited the practice.

    Once home was in sight, the excitement increases.  Still there was much to do before she might genuinely begin.  The groceries needed to brought in.  Imagine taking bag after bag into the house, then the kitchen.  She is a clean person and prefers to avoid chaos at all costs.  The items must be put away.  Some went directly into the stomach.  Others filled cabinets. 

    The cupboards were never bare.  She back-stocked.  The idea of withdrawal, not having what she craved haunted her, even when not at home and not indulging or ingesting.  This young woman would never suffer; it was contrary to her every belief.  Yet, in truth she knew.  She was agonizing.  Nothing was in her control, not her thoughts, her actions, her feelings, and certainly, not her life.

    After all was ready for her attention, there was more to be done before she could focus.  She needed to dress in her throw-up clothes.  She had a full wardrobe just for this purpose.  As a fabric lost its resiliency, it was placed in an honored bin, a treasure trove.  Shirts, sweatshirts, shorts, tee shirts, and pantaloons graced her body before the ceremony began.  She cleaned these fibers each evening.  She is a traditional soul and cherishes rituals.

    Next, though she revels in sunshine and light, she needed to seal herself off from intruders.  She did not wish to be discovered.  Doors and windows were locked and sealed.  Drapes and shutters were closed.  Blankets, sheets, cardboard, and planks of wood were used to bar peekers from seeing beyond the shade.  She wanted no one to view what was within. 

    Heaven knows what others might think if they knew what was going on inside the house, in her mind, heart, body, or soul.  There are gaps between the wall and the window frame you know.  She must eliminate these, close herself off.  Try to control the uncontrollable, the unruly, herself, her life, her feelings, most importantly her hurt.

    That did not happen.  With each passing day, she was more distressed.  The agony deepened.  The doings had more power over her than she had over them.

    The only consolation was, bingeing and purging were far easier than not eating.  When she was an anorexic, she had less control or so it seemed.  Starving a body starves a mind.  Without nutrients or nourishment, growth and learning were less possible.  She loves learning.  She always has.

    The lesson she now  comprehends to her core is bulimia has nothing to do with a need to control or be in control.  There is in reality no such possibility.  Probabilities are chance.  Any scientist will tell you we can only control for what we can predict.  We can never fully understand the chaos of the universe.  She certainly did not grasp hers.  All that she was sure of was she was out of control.

    She recognizes that she has no power.  She tries to flee from her feelings.  That is her deepest desire.  Weight is not the issue.  It is a derivative, a diversion.  She longs to take flight.  At last, she is organized.  The great escape can begin!

    I Am An Anorexic, Bulimic, A Person!

    copyright © 2008 Betsy L. Angert

    Once you label me, you negate me.

    ~ Soren Kierkegaard [Danish Philosopher]

    An article in the New York Times grabbed my attention instantly.  It appeared in the health section.  The title, “One Spoonful at a Time.”  This writing was heartfelt.  Author, Harriet Brown tells a gripping tale.  It took me to memories of my own struggle with anorexia and bulimia and how these affected my family.  In this exposé, the dilemma of how to treat the condition was thoroughly discussed.  I wish to share my response to this situation and story.  My personal experience of this is vast.  I hope my thoughts, realizations, and rejoinders on this topic will be helpful to those grappling with similar issues.  I trust that the effects of anorexia and bulimia are trials and tribulations for all those afflicted by these.

    The subject of weight alone is a sensitive probing.  An individual need not starve, binge, or purge in wrestling with weight.  On the same day another New York Times essay loomed large entitled “Big People on Campus.”  This commentary contemplated the plight of being “fat.”  I was once that too.  Many may muse in this moment, all anorexics believe they are chubby, and while that may or may not be true, I actually was at times in my life.  My weight rarely was stable; nor was I when reflecting upon it.  However, my weight was never the issue; it was a distraction, a symptom of what was within.  

    As I read the articles mentioned above, when I turned on the television and saw a report on the increasing male bulimic and anorexic population, and as I listened to a discussion focusing on the media, and the message of being thin, I wondered.  Why are Americans obsessed with their weight and avoiding the truer concern?

    Americans spend billions of dollars on books, diet programs, professional weight trainers, and behavioral experts that might deliver them from “evil” otherwise known as “eating disorders.”  Some recount, “I eat too much,” others muse, “I eat too little.”  There are those that think they do not make healthy choices, those that believe themselves fine; their family worries about their physical condition.

    I lived in a plump body; a buff body, a slender body, and one that was sickly thin.  As a child I over ate.  It was what most members of my family did.  As an adolescent, I dieted.  That is what teenagers do.  However, weight was not the trepidation it appeared to be.  My problems with body image were not pressing; nor did my peers influence me.  It was my life at home, in my heart.  Much was disquieting.  My parents were together; yet, they were not.  My natural father was rarely home and when he was, it was not fun for me.  My sisters were close in age and seemed to have a connection with me; however, it felt incomplete.  For me, school began at an early age.  I love learning and welcomed the opportunity; still, there were demands, those I placed on myself.  Life progressed and it seemed perfect.

    I had goals, visions, and dreams.  In my late teens, I wanted to lose my virginity.  That seemed the natural progression, at least in my neighborhood, or among my peers.  Oddly enough, a young man began paying attention to me.  This may not seem unusual; yet, it was.  Those that are closely familiar with my ways and thoughts recognize that this was quite striking.  

    I was never “boy crazy.”  I had no thoughts of marriage or even being in a relationship.  I was and still am extremely comfortable with my own company.  Perhaps, I am a little too independent.  While I have always had very close friends, I was not one to seek physical intimacy.  I did not need company or companionship.  It could be imposing.  I needed time to be me.  Nevertheless, this gentleman delighted in my presence.  

    Yes, we did “connect;” we did the deed; still he wanted more!  Imagine that!  Eric wanted a real relationship, with all the bells and whistles.  I later learned Eric wanted to marry me.  Years, before realizing that his intention was to wed, I freaked.  When confronted with the fact that he wanted us to spend all our time together I panicked.

    Eric was and is an extraordinary man.  Physically, he is quite the “looker,” not my type.  I love brains; brawn does little to warm the cockles of my heart.  He is kind, tender, and evenly tempered.  Eric is infinitely considerate, and amazingly enough, he does love to learn.

    Women fell for him, flocked to him, and fought for his attention, all but me.  Initially, I just saw him as a vehicle for losing my virginity.  I never expected he would fill my mind.  I did not plan to take time and be with him beyond the bed.  I never imagined he would enter my heart.  Yet, he did and that scared me.  I put on weight, lots, and lots of pounds.  I did this as I do most things.  I am exceptionally thorough.  If I am to do a job, I will do it incredibly well.  I grew fat!  Perchance, obese might be a better word.  Eric said nothing.  He still wanted to be with me.

    Now, what was I to do?  All this weight, I wore poundage that poured over the edges of my clothing.  I was uncomfortable in my body.  I needed, no wanted to loose all this excess mass.  I began dieting.  I did it well depending on your standard, and not well, if health is a main concern.  At first, I only wanted to lose what I had gained.  I did this.  Then as the pressures of life grew, my apprehension for food and what would follow were I to eat it grew.

    Years passed, as did my obsession with weight and food.  After a time, apprehension for my impending graduation from college consumed me.  The more I thought about this the more I struggled.  Careers, professions, being more a part of the “real” world, more responsible for my self, it all seemed a sacrifice.  What was I to do or be now?  

    While attending the University, I never hesitated.  I chose my majors and pursued each discipline with zeal.  My course of study never changed.  However, I never expected to graduate.  That was not part of my plan.  I had no desire to leave the sanctuary of school.  I first enrolled in classes at the age of two.  Academia was the world I knew.  What next?

    Next, or soon, I would become a statistic.  Not unlike the “Kitty” in the tale her author mother, Harriet Brown tells.  I was anorexic.  Ultimately, that lifestyle was too difficult.  Starving my self was such a struggle.  I chose bulimia instead.  I “thought” that would be an easier avenue to pursue.  It was not.  I had no control over my life, my weight, my worries, my ways.  A person such as myself that prefers infinite tranquility, found herself in a world of chaos, chaos I created!

    For decades my family deliberated, what would they do?  What could they do?  Some pondered what had they done.  Who was at fault and would the circumstances ever change?  There was much guilt, theirs, mine, and ours!

    I share this revealing story with reason.  Harriet Brown, the parents, the professionals in her tale all do as people customarily do.  They look for facts, quick fixes, simple solutions, thirty-second spots, immediate gratification, and spontaneous change.  I acknowledge the year or more this family invested in re-parenting and feeding their child; one spoonful at a time was overwhelming.  Yet, in the end, wonderment still fills the void of not knowing.

    Ms. Brown discusses in depth the niche, a role, the pondering, the play, the place, and the label each person holds.  Yet, for me, she misses the nuances.  The world within will determine whether Kitty again chooses an addiction with food or the lack of it.  I believe and experience that our compulsions cannot be broadcast through numbers.  I understand the fascination with facts, the need to look for answers.  Nevertheless . . .

    Programs may not be profound no matter what they cost or what their supposed success.

    we asked Kitty’s pediatrician where her other anorexic patients went for treatment.  “When they’re this sick, they go away,” she said, referring to inpatient eating-disorder clinics, where people often stay for two or three months.  The nearest was an hour away and cost $1,000 a day, most of which would not be covered by our HMO.  

    There is ample reason for alarm.

    Anorexia is one of the deadliest psychiatric diseases; it’s estimated that up to 15 percent of anorexics die, from suicide or complications related to starvation.  About a third may make some improvement but are still dominated by their obsession with food.  Many become depressed or anxious, and some develop substance-abuse problems, like alcoholism.  Almost half never marry.  It is thought that if anorexia is not treated early on, during adolescence, it tends to take an average of five to seven years for the person to recover – if it happens at all.

    There are behavioral modification plans and they tout great success.

    Among the few studies done on anorexia treatment, I came across one from 1997, a follow-up to an earlier study on adolescents that assessed a method developed in England and was still relatively unknown in the United States: family- based treatment, often called the Maudsley approach. This treatment was created by a team of therapists led by Christopher Dare and Ivan Eisler at the Maudsley Hospital in London, in the mid-1980s, as an alternative to hospitalization.  In a hospital setting, nurses sit with anorexic patients at meals, encouraging and calming them; they create a culture in which patients have to eat.  The Maudsley approach urges families to essentially take on the nurses’ role.  Parents become primary caretakers, working with a Maudsley therapist.  Their job: Finding ways to insist that their children eat.

    The two studies showed that 90 percent of the adolescents recovered or made significant gains; five years later, 90 percent had fully recovered.  (Two other studies confirmed these results.)  In the world of eating disorders, I was coming to understand, this was a phenomenally high success rate.

    Yet, I think it is essential to consider what works for one person may be the kiss of death for another.  I personally, would have rebelled and reacted more overtly had my parents spent their every waking hour with me, as the Brown’s did.  

    I would not have felt loved, quite the contrary.  I would have felt as though they did not trust me.  I grew up in a family whose primary principle was “No one has the right to tell you what you “should,” think, say, do, feel, or be!”  Granted coupled with this was the belief, “Do whatever makes you happy, as long as it does not hurt anyone” and of course, my reactions were hurting everyone; nonetheless, they were mine to choose.  In my mind and in the family I was raised in, it was accepted, in order to learn we must error.  It is part of our evolution.  To force another to be, as we believe is best gives them no room to grow and discover for themselves.

    Harriet Brown acknowledges that

    The idea that parents should be intimately involved in the re-feeding of their children can be quite controversial, a departure from the conventional notion that the dynamic between parent and child causes or contributes to the anorexia.  Many therapists advocate a “parentectomy,” insisting that parents stay out of the treatment to preserve the child’s privacy and autonomy.  They say that a child must “choose” to eat in order to truly recover.

    However, she chose to believe as Maudsley advocates “no one else knows the child as well or has the same investment in the child’s well-being.  She states, “That felt right to us.”

    As I read Ms. Brown’s re-counting, I was continually struck by the specifics of the feeding process and the lack of luminosity.  There was so little of Kitty’s feelings expressed.  While I trust that her parents spoke to her of her fears, apprehensions, and worries, the details of these discussions were not shared with the reader.

    As I reflected on Kitty’s approaching entrance into high school, my own memories flooded my mind.  I knew while living through anorexia and bulimia, it was never about the weight.  It was the wait, the anticipation of the unexpected, unknown, unidentified, and unfamiliar.  It was the strange, the strain, the mysterious, and the mystifying musings that strangled my soul!

    I do understand the dynamic; the habit becomes the pattern etched into the brain and physical memory.  I comprehend the ever-present question, which comes first the chicken or the egg.  I recognize the theories

    Over the last few years, most eating-disorders researchers have begun to think that there is no single cause of anorexia, that maybe it’s more like a recipe, where several ingredients – genetics, personality type, hormones, stressful life events – come together in just the wrong way.

    What I think is in error is the prospect presented by

    Maudsley practitioners say that focusing on the cause is secondary, ultimately, because once the physiological process of starvation kicks in, the disease takes on a life of its own, unfolding with predictable symptoms, intensity and long-term consequences. Anorexics become almost uniformly depressed, withdrawn, enraged, anxious, irritable or suicidal, and their thinking about food and eating is distorted, in part because the brain runs on glucose, and when it has been deprived over a long period of time, when it’s starved, it goes haywire.  It’s important to get the patient’s weight up, fast, because the less time spent in starvation, the better the outcome.  Adult anorexics who have been chronically ill for years have much poorer prognoses than teenagers.

    In my own life and search for a cure, I found professionals that believed as these do.  I contend, the obsessions of medical professional almost killed me.  Killing with the kindness of tough-love, prescribed by parents or physicians has the potential of doing a person in.  It certainly would have taken a toll on me.

    Thankfully, I located others, those that treat with love, just as my parents did and do.  I discovered “experts” that acknowledge they are not.  They understood the notion that a person that has never experienced an illness cannot fully understand it.  Thus, they turned to me.  My parents and physicians reflected on who they knew me to be as a person.  They thought me wise.

    I was trusted to resolve the situation for myself.  I was given only potassium and talk therapy to keep me alive.  Those in my life trusted my intelligence, my reflective nature, and my ability to be introspective.  The professionals, my parents, and my peers believed in me when I did not.  This was confusing, though extremely meaningful to me.

    Those close to me knew of the tens of hours I devoted daily to eating, isolation, and purging.  They hoped, based on their history and knowledge of me that I was not simply doing binging and purging, but that I was also thinking.  I was working through my concerns and circumstances.  Indeed, I was.  When I finally, she says with great exasperation, found myself, discovered what Harriet Brown might refer to as my demons, I met them with delight.  I no longer; nor did my family or friends need to contemplate the possible impending doom.  I would not, will not return to those trying days of old anorexic or bulimic beckoning.

    Four months after the “change of life” [no, not menopause] giving up my ways, I was thrown into a situation that truly tested my will.  I was in a serious accident.  Unexpectedly, my life went topsy-turvy.  I was badly injured and unable to walk.  The prognosis was grim.  It would be half a year before I could again return to a standing position.  I had perfected the bulimia process through many a situation, and in the past, I would have found a way to again engage.  I had the will and there was always a way.  However, on this occasion I did not return or resort to my decades old pattern.  I did not consider the option.

    Ms. Brown, I share this with you for you are questioning, anxious, what might the future bring.  I myself think behavior modification programs such as the Maudsley plan may be nice.  Their success rate may seem comforting; however, I caution, it is my experience that unless or until the cause is addressed, the emotional effects are evaluated the likelihood that there is true resolution is “slim.”  Many experts say anorexia and bulimia are chronic conditions.  Years after my coming of age, I still do not experience sweaty palms.  I do not white knuckle my way through stressful situations.  I think the emotional, intellectual work is essential.  Kitty may have done the work that you did not speak of.  I know not.  Nonetheless, I worry.  I think “cures” and certainty come with more than one spoonful at a time.

    Please weigh your options.  Read the references.  Reflect who you are, more than your mass.

    Dear reader, you may wish to peruse Chapters One through Six, of my life as an anorexic, bulimic, a person.  Please do.

    A reader asked that I share this information.  

    The National Eating Disorders Association’s “Every BODY Is Beautiful” Online Fundraising Auction currently running through Wednesday, December 6th!  There are some unique holiday shopping (jewelry, handbags, clothing, celebrity-autographed collectibles – featuring customized jeans from The Sopranos’ Jamie-Lynn Sigler and singer Sarah Evans – and much more) while at the same time contributing to an amazing, life-saving cause!

    You may wish to read of the artist in an LAWeekly essay, The Art of Spooning, By Caroline Ryder, or of the fundraiser at SpoonFed Art on MySpace.com.

    When Will I Be Right? Is It Ever Okay To Be Me?

    This is Chapter Seven in a series.


    copyright © 2006 Betsy L. Angert

    They observe how little she eats and then they say, “She eats like a bird.”  She wonders, ??Do they know how much birds eat?’  Might I inform them that birds will eat their own body weight daily?  Would it matter to them?  Why should I bother to discuss truth, for they are certain they know exactly what truth is.  They think they know me; yet, they do not even know themselves.  Criticizing me is their entertainment.  I can show contempt towards myself well enough.  I do not need their help.

    They watch my weight and say that they are worried.  They are awaiting my passage.  They believe I want to die and think I am working towards this vision.  I am not; I never was.

    They express their concern through ample condemnations.  First, I was too fat.  Now, I am too thin.  When I was eating more “normally,” I ate too much, or not enough.  I have never been able to do anything correctly, or at least I cannot live up to their standards.

    They accuse me of being a “perfectionist.”  They assure me there is no need for precision.  I am exactly right just as I am.  Oh, am I?  I can do no wrong, nor can I do right.

    They surmise that my current mission is to control my circumstances.  They tell me that I have concluded my body, my food intake, and my weight are all that I can control, truly.  Therefore, they believe I do as I do in order to feel powerful.  For them, food is my freedom.  My decision to eat or not allows me to feel independent.  Jeeeez, do they not see how dependent I am on my meals?  To have them or not, that is the question!  At least that is my quandary.  Theirs is only to get me to be as they are, do as they do.

    That was then.  Ironically, now that I have left anorexia and bulimia behind, now that I have worked through all the battles with food, they still want me to be as they are, do as they do.  I suspect they think I want them to be me.  I do not, nor have I ever had a desire to change them.  I merely want to be me.

    They believe that I want them to eat as I do.  If my diet is that of a vegetarian or a vegan, that is my choice, it has nothing to do with them.  I say, let them eat cake.  Enjoy!  I need not eat the same!

    My progression was a challenge.  I studied food and feelings intensely.  I looked at the dilemma and pondered my path deeply.  I progressed.  I have no desire to transform others, be others, to think as others.  It took me a long time to give myself permission to be me!  I still struggle with this distress.  The “eating disorder,” does not haunt me.  It is only the decision to be as I am that causes me grief.  I know that my life is best when I am “me,” doing as I do.  However, the vilification from self and others can cause me great doubt and difficulty.

    I now eat large quantities of food.  I relish my meals.  I still eat no meat and have not since I was sixteen.  While originally, this choice had little to do with humanitarian concerns, overtime, that changed.  Now, the idea of eating animals pains me.

    In my quest towards better health, my research helped my to realize that chemicals can confuse the body.  These substances cause sensations that are not genuine.  The drugs used in food can drive feelings of hunger and satiation.  I want no more of that.  Thus, I no longer eat processed foods.  Sugar, flour, corn syrup, and honey are just not “my things.”

    I never craved starches.  These literally leave my mouth feeling dry and stale.  Pasta and rice for me are filling, though not gratifying.  For years now, I have eaten only fruits and vegetables.  I love these.  The flavors, the zest, the tang as they touch my tongue, wow; it is all so wonderful.  I never imagined food could be so good, delicious.  I savor each bite.  Still, the criticisms continue to come.

    I am questioned.  Why must I eat such so much?  A plate and one half of vegetables are considered gorging from those that digest so little.  They eat bread, pasta, and half a plate of meat.  A glass of soda or wine may accompany their meal.  After a short time, they are full.  I totally understand.  These foods are filling.

    I consume my plate or two of spinach and broccoli and quench my thirst only with water, and I am told I am eating proportions that are uncalled for and unhealthy.  Again, as in years past, I am asked of dying.  I am told stories of this relative or that, who died with undigested food in their stomach.  Yes, I am the fool, for I do not recognize that vegetables are equal in volume to sugars, starches, breads, and animal protein.  God or what ever powers that be, please save me! [I guess, save me from myself, according to them.]

    Please peruse Chapters One through Six, if you choose.

  • The Beginning. Bulimia and Becoming [Chapter One]
  • Bulimia. A Bit Becomes a Binge [Chapter Two]
  • Binges Build A Being, Separate From Self  [Chapter Three]
  • Hiding the Food. Hiding The Feelings, Hiding Me [Chapter Four]
  • The Satiated Stomach. The Study Of Food [Chapter Five]
  • Bulimia. Wait! It is Not My Weight [Chapter Six]