Thursday, July 17, 2014

BODY TALK

If you’ve got a gut, enjoy it. Appreciate all the food that got you there. You may cringe when you look in the mirror or maybe you don’t. Maybe you are perfectly comfortable the imperfection. Bravo! If you long for a better body, one like those buff “avi is me” pics on Twitter, know that the price can be too high for a slimmer you.

I have never before posted a shirtless photo of myself. Not my thing. Wouldn’t even send it privately to a boyfriend. My body and I have a longstanding hate-hate relationship. Still, I included this photo of me from this week because, while I can savagely pick it apart, this is as good as it gets. Maybe if I document it I can stop the madness. Been there, done that, movin’ on. Objectively, I know it’s not bad for forty-nine. I am acutely familiar with the natural belly inflation that occurs at this stage. I’ve fought it off, but it’s nothing to be proud about.

I’ve written about eating disorders before. (If you're so inclined, you might want to read this or this.) I have struggled with food and weight issues for most of my life—at least since I was eleven or twelve. Male or female, there is pressure to look perfect. I knew that in the ‘70s as a kid who sipped Tab while friends guzzled root beer to show off their belching prowess. They had their priorities right.

Women talk about the constant media exaltation of The Body Perfect. While they can’t fully ignore the pressure, they can sit together over skim lattés and talk about it. Men, not so much. Most guys would just laugh it off. What’s your problem, man? Have another beer. This leaves guys who are, for whatever reason, more susceptible to this pressure to internalize their feelings of inadequacy.

I’d be envious of these other guys—if I had any fondness for beer. (I say I don’t like the taste. Subconsciously, I probably formed a strong resistance to the beverage that spawned the term beer belly.) Pizza, ice cream, cheesecake, these would be my indulgences. I talk about them a lot. But it’s rare to catch me ingesting anything beyond nonfat cottage cheese, Melba toast and plain fruits and vegetables. I have maintained a strict diet for decades, typically with the same dull staples.

The only blip was a couple of years when my ex and I were together. I indulged and the relationship went sour. The sex stopped. He became terse, then abusive. Logically, I can say that the ten extra pounds around my waist—and that’s as extreme as it ever got—had nothing to do with the demise of a doomed relationship. But my nagging interior/inferior voice says, “Porking out couldn’t have helped.”

Oh, what a piece of work I am.

Things become most dire when I hit a time in life where things are out of control. I drastically reduce, I deprive and the weight drops. Fortunately, the last severe bout was about twenty years ago when I first moved to Vancouver, was underemployed and questioned whether the spontaneous move had been an act of pure stupidity. Friends intervened and insisted I see a doctor. He turned out to be clueless about eating disorders in men, but somehow my friends shook me up enough to get me to change course. I returned to never-ending dieting and wisely didn’t talk about calories or fat.

Last fall, as feelings of isolation escalated, I became especially critical of my rising gut. Despite the regular workouts and the dieting, the Pillsbury Doughboy always greeted me in the mirror. Next up: Little Buddha. “This is 50,” I told myself. Single, fat, lonely, hopeless.

When my dog Hoover died in April, I went into full deprivation mode. The grief was so intense and the guilt so great that food deprivation constituted both control and punishment. Whenever the grief lapsed, a general apathy stepped in. Why bother? With food or anything.

It took five days before I acknowledge I needed to be admitted to hospital. In the short term, it was the right thing, but I am still dealing with the aftermath. Nobody raves about hospital food. Especially not vegan hospital food. Plain bread, vegetable broth, half a canned pear. It made deprivation even easier. In the psych ward, everything was highly scheduled—all controlled by someone other than myself. Meals at 8, 12 and 5. Snacks at 2 and 8. I’m sure the intent is to help stabilize some people, but for me, it only intensified my desperation to exert control.

My eating does not get too drastic when I can exercise. I am fanatical about it. I over-exercise. I exercise when injured. In the hospital, confined to my ward, there was no jogging, no swimming, no cycling, no weightlifting. There was a Stairmaster that I would ride in my flimsy hospital bottoms and gown, but I worried too much about body odor. We weren’t given soap for the showers; only tiny gel packets that failed to do much of anything.

No one monitored my intake. The food trays went largely untouched. I hoarded soda crackers, instant decaf coffee packets and apples from snack time. When I felt dizzy, I’d slowly chew a Saltine or lie down and try (unsuccessfully) to sleep.

I lost twelve pounds in the first six days. They didn’t bother to weigh me after that. More troubling was where the loss occurred. In the mirror, my body was unrecognizable. After all those years of building muscle mass, all was gone.

 
Biceps gone. Pecs gone. Quads gone. Welcome to a new kind of hideous.

The transformation only made me care even less about living.

In the three months since being released, I’ve increased the intensity of my workouts. I’ve lost a few more pounds but I’ve regained strength. I don’t have near the bulk from before, especially in the chest. My tight t-shirts are now roomy. Still, my body gets noticed. Gay guys are openly complimentary. It’s foreign territory.

But I am an example of how unrealistic body images are in our society. Yes, I am forty-nine and I appear fit. But my food intake continues to be tightly controlled even more so than before I entered hospital. No more breakfasts. I’ve cut lunches in half, dinners by a third. I look healthy. It’s an utter deception.


6 comments:

Rick Modien said...

RG, I don't know what to say (I'm sure I said all I need to ever say in my comment on your previous post).

If I say your body looks bloody perfect, I don't want you to think you should keep doing what you are, that you obviously consider unhealthy. But you have a beautiful body. It is stunningly beautiful, for any age. And I'm not just saying that.

On the one hand, it's a shame you're doing what you are to have such a beautiful body. On the other, you're probably healthier than I am (in some respects, anyway), and I think I take good care of myself.

It's just a body, RG. The question is, regardless of your body, do you like yourself?

And here's another question: If you were with a long-term life partner, do you think you could relax a little, and be more comfortable with a body that isn't perfect?

Rural Gay said...

Hi Rick,
I don't think this issue will go away anytime soon. I'm no expert but I assume it is something like having an addictive personality. Managing rather than extinguishing may be the way. Exercise has always been the positive counterbalance to the food concerns, but things have gotten out of whack on all fronts. I assume I can work through this phase as I have in the past.

I continue to feel frustrated that I seem to have to go through this alone. Eating disorders are still not recognized enough in men and I know I can't be the only one, given all the images thrust in our faces every day. I also don't think medical professionals read the signs in men or make appropriate referrals.

Not sure about the significance of a long-term partner. That remains too much of a hypothetical as I mess with the current reality. Nonetheless, I'd like to believe that line about loving you just the way you are, but I thinks that's too much of a Hallmark-ism. It would remain my issue, not his.

Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful comment!

Rick Modien said...

RG, if this hasn't come across over the years I've followed your blog, I tend to want to fix everything, to help everyone no matter the challenge.

Of course, in this case, I can't do that. Only you can. I sincerely hope you're able to. I hope you're able to come to some place of peace with your eating disorder and body perception.

All I see when I read your words and look at pictures of you is an incredible human being, who has everything going for him, and who doesn't deserve to go through what he is. Who deserves to take the pressure off, to accept himself, and to really start living.

Maybe the person who ends up loving you, the way you should be loved, will help you to see just how perfect you really are.

Rural Gay said...

Such kind words, Rick. Tears in my eyes...

oskyldig said...

While this may ring the same way as other people do, there is nothing wrong with the way that you look. While you might have suffered in the past, and may always have habits that are difficult to break, not liking personal happiness to looks is an important step to make.

Looks are never forever, and one only needs to accept that to make a step towards happier life. :)

Rural Gay said...

Hi oskyldig. Thanks for the comment. I am so aware that looks should not be a barometer for happiness. Unfortunately, some of us have been too influenced by the media and by offhand comments over the years that we should have long forgotten. I, for one, am far too sensitive.

The aging process, quite frankly, scares me. I am not confident that I will handle it well. Awareness of a problem is a first step. It mortified me when I went to the pool this week and the kid at the pay counter asked me how old I was. I glanced at the posted admission rates. Less for under 17 and over 65. "Did you think I was a senior?" I gasped. He held a blank face, realizing there was no way to smooth things over.

Like I said, I can be overly sensitive...