Friday, March 16, 2012

Clothing, priorities, ACT, and identifying the animal brain

I did some shopping yesterday for bras and walking shoes. I also bought a couple of tops. It’s always a painful experience. I’ve got tons of mental baggage in the clothing/appearance department and I’ve also got several undeniable cosmetic challenges—horrible skin and hair (hirsutism) problems being the tip of the iceberg. It makes me feel monstrous.

I have other challenges that are more run of the mill—finding stuff that is simultaneously age appropriate, modest, and aesthetically pleasing to me can be difficult. I require plus size pants that are petite length; I require wide shoes and will not torture myself with really high heels or with body shapers like Spanx; I don’t show cleavage and in fact cover as much skin as possible, yet I don’t want to dress like my grandmother, either. Most clothing, undergarments, and shoes do not work for me on one level or another, but hell, I know I’m not the only woman that feels this way.

Even though I don’t enjoy shopping, I’m trying to move beyond the sports bras, sloppy hoodies, and baggy jeans that I’ve been wearing the last few years. I’m trying to build a small workable wardrobe and wear jewelry again, something I used to love doing. When my fingers got too big for my wedding and engagement rings, I stopped wearing ALL jewelry. On some level, I think I didn’t feel like I deserved to wear jewelry anymore. I was so ashamed of myself. My rings still don’t fit and I’m still unhappy about that, but I think it’s time for me to move forward as best as I can.

I was planning to do a multi-part series on clothing, cosmetics, and beauty: all the challenges I face, my thoughts on the plus-size fashion industry, my thoughts on materialism, vanity, social class, and identity, where I’m actually shopping now, and so forth. Last night I wrote an outline for these posts.

Then I realized what a big distraction it all was. I can only devote so much of my time and energy to this issue and I’d be better off spending my time a.) actually shopping and finding what I need, even though that’s less fun than writing, and b.) working at normalizing my eating so I can lose weight, because the smaller I become, the easier it is to dress myself. As I go down the scale I have more options, things fit better, my feet are less swollen, “real” bras (meaning bras that are not sports bras) are less painful to find and wear, the inner thigh areas of my pants are less likely to disintegrate, I don’t have to pile on as many layers in an attempt to mask fat rolls, and I could go on.

It comes down to priorities, again and again. There’s a million things we could all potentially do, but which of them are the most important? Is taking pictures of my outfits for this blog the best use of my time? I don’t think so. What’s the endgame there, anyway? Do I want people to stroke my ego and tell me what great taste I have? Do I need people to pat me on the head? With much of what people do on their weight loss blogs, I’m not sure what the point is, what the underlying motivation is and whether it’s truly healthy…but I can definitely get sucked into doing what other people are doing in a mindless way if I’m not careful.

There is so much power in clarity, in knowing what's important to YOU. My thirtieth birthday is this summer and I’m getting clearer about what I’d like to accomplish by that milestone. My two objectives—my two true priorities—are earning money as a writer by age 30 and being further along in my eating disorder recovery and general mental health progress by age 30. That’s it.

The writing I hope to earn money from has nothing to do with this blog, so I won’t go into that now.

As far as general mental health goes, I will be continuing with meditation whilst bringing psychodynamic psychotherapy treatment to a close around my birthday. I’ve been with my current therapist for almost four years now and while it has been helpful, I do not think I can accomplish much more with her or through the psychodynamic model.

If I resume therapy in the future, which is entirely possible because depression tends to recur, I want to seek out someone that specializes in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). I’m ordering some books on ACT that will allow me to get started on my own now; when practiced without the guidance of a therapist, ACT is called Acceptance and Commitment Training. I’m really excited to learn more. ACT and Buddhism share many concepts and techniques, but because ACT is entirely secular, I think it might be easier for me to work with long-term.

ACT is also very much in line with the Brain Over Binge approach—so much so, I’m going to e-mail the author about it. She doesn’t mention it in her book, but I think she’d find it highly relevant.

General mental health and eating disorder recovery go hand in hand, but what should the next stage in my eating disorder recovery be? Well, I feel like a broken record: I want to feel confident that the binging is behind me. I want to know that I don’t fall for the antics of my animal brain anymore.

My classic binges are gone and what remains are behavioral episodes that could be considered overeating, but perhaps could also be considered a new, milder form of binging. No matter what you call it, the animal brain is getting its way in these episodes and I don’t want to reinforce such patterns. So I’m drawing an (admittedly arbitrary) line to gain some clarity, some certainty that the lower brain isn’t running the show: on an average day with no special social events, any urge to eat more than one sweet in a sane portion size will be viewed as neurological junk emanating from my lower brain. As both Kathryn Hansen has said on her blog and a helpful commenter has said on mine just the other day, it’s good to decide the portion size in advance, before you start eating. That way, if you eat more than you set out to, you know your animal brain has won that round. It’s important to face that reality when it happens.

Yesterday, I had a rich almond croissant for breakfast. In the afternoon, I had a candy bar. And at night, I had two little boxes of Nerds candy. With the new "line" in place, any urge to eat sweets after that croissant would have been viewed as silly mental chatter to be ignored. It was a regular Thursday, after all.

However, when I travel to visit my family for Easter in a couple weeks, I might have more than one dessert on a given day. Normal eaters do this sometimes during travel and during the holidays. I know many different people will be having us over for lunch and dinner and will be offering us baked goods and holiday candy. I just have to decide how much is reasonable before I start eating, and stick to that. It’s the mindless and compulsive shoveling of food that is the problem.

Note that I’m not making hard and fast rules, exactly. This is slightly different. I’m trying to establish definitions more than anything else: what behaviors do I define as normal and healthy and acceptable and coming from my higher brain, and what behaviors do I define as stemming from my lower brain’s tricks and antics? If I cave to the urges emanating from my animal brain, I need to figure out why it happened and how I can prevent it from happening again. This is not on-the-wagon-off-the-wagon stuff. I’m sick of crafting programs and systems with rules that are practically made to be broken. They make ME feel broken when I inevitably screw up, and it's too discouraging. I like to think that I'm not broken, but I am undergoing a re-wiring or re-programming of sorts so that I can function better.


  1. Hi,

    This is a long and interesting post. I will probably re-read it and try to comment more fully, but I do have one question (and excuse me if the answer lies buried in a previous post of yours): have you been diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)? I believe symptoms include hirsutism and difficulty losing weight.

  2. I know, it's WAY too long! I can't believe someone made it all the way through!

    I definitely have several symptoms (weight, hair, acne) and my doctors have debated it (internist, gyno, endocrinologist) but I've never been diagnosed as such formally. The thing is that my periods and ovaries are normal. I just had blood drawn for my annual physical and I will know more on Monday, but every year so far my hormones have been normal too and so I'm told the hair is genetic and/or my follicles are incredibly sensitive to androgens, even normal levels of them. After electrolysis and laser hair removal had no effect, the electrologist hypothesized the same thing about super sensitive follicles. My mom and sisters have excess hair too, but NOTHING like mine, and mine is getting steadily worse. So I don't know anymore. :(

  3. I hear you regarding clothing shopping. I went yesterday and found some nice things but it can be difficult.

  4. Glad you found nice things! I went back to the same store yesterday and had a better experience, and walked away with some stuff I felt good about. Hoping this gets easier!