Tired of Thinking About Eating

I’m going on about eating again.  I’ve been thinking a lot about it recently, because my weight is back up and although I am trying to be alright about this (I’ve started dance classes, which is a nice reminder that my body does fun things) it is just past the point where anything I own is comfortable to wear.  So I’m reminded daily.

Anyway, so I posted this plea for help to some friends earlier – forgive the cut and paste dump, but I am taking you on an emotional journey here.  Or, a journey, anyway. Emotion optional.

What I find about diets is this. Either I vow to make general changes, like only small amounts of refined grains or added sugars, lots of whole vegetables and meat and legumes, which sounds great. But the problem with that approach is it is too vague and unquantifiable and I can’t record anything and there aren’t enough rules and therefore it doesn’t matter if I just eat a family packet of crisps tonight because How Do I Know That I’m Doing It Right?

The alternative is anything that does have rules. I’ve calorie counted, done whole30, done 5:2. I drop weight very fast, partly because I get into the whole rule structure and start competing with myself about how much better I can do.  If a calorie plan says I should eat 1500 calories, well then I’ll eat 900!  And then in a totally shocking plot twist I stop dieting and go back to crazy bingeing eating.

Diet is one of those questions that elicits All The Opinions, so that’s what I got.  Some of them responded by recommending versions of those all-encompassing lifestyle diets where you get an entire meal plan and exercise regime laid out for you.  Others suggested I take a tried-and-true like Weight Watchers and adapt it for my own needs.  Others still said, look at the underlying causes of why you might overeat.  Think about your food and be mindful about the pleasure and make sure it hits the right spot.

food mice

None of them appealed, because no matter what the approach was, they all had one thing in common: they required me to spend more time thinking about food.

Friends, I am tired of thinking about food.  Belle’s website resonates with so many of us because she encapsulates this so well about alcohol.  I’ve had a few relapse thoughts recently, just idle ‘I wonder if I could…’ thoughts, not helped by the holiday season and the swathes of people who keep asking me if I’m sure I don’t drink at ALL, and really, STILL sober huh?  But what I remember every time is how boring and tedious and  time consuming it was, thinking about drinking.  And if I went back to any drinking at all, that would happen.  Maybe I’d stick to one glass on a Saturday night.  It’s unlikely, but one hears stories suggesting that it’s possible.  But I’d only do so by exerting fierce self control all the time.  I’d think about that one glass all week.  I’d wonder, on a Thursday, whether it would be alright to have that glass on Friday instead this week because it’s been a hard week.  And maybe I’d go back to drinking a bottle of wine a day and maybe I wouldn’t, but I know without the tiniest hint of a rumour that there might be a doubt in there somewhere that I would be back to thinking about drinking.

Not thinking about drinking has freed me up to think about so many other things.  In the past twelve months I’ve taught myself to sew, and to knit, and I’m teaching myself carpentry at the moment, and that’s just the non-business side of my life.  It is ridiculous, with so many amazing things to occupy our brains and our hearts, that we shoved them aside to think about whether we’ve had two drinks tonight and is a third reasonable, on a Monday?

food sleepy

So, no.  It’s not worth the brain space, not something that mundane.  And that’s how I feel about food at the moment.  I want to eat when I’m hungry.  I want to enjoy food for its own sake.  I do not want to spend any more time thinking about it than I do.  I don’t want to count points or calories or grams, I don’t want to meal prep or read ingredient lists to see if something contains a verboten substance.  And I definitely do not want to sit with a single cookie and savour it, because seriously, I am an adult woman with better things to spend my time doing than romancing a baked good.

food cupcake.jpeg

And that’s why, my friends, having no rules at all and just “embracing healthy eating” feels so hard!  Because it means that I have to make a decision about everything I eat, every single time.  Is this dried fruit what I really want; is it going to satisfy my craving; is there a better substitution I can make?  Fucking exhausting.  Mindful eating, even worse.  Rules?  Just as bad, or worse, or better, who even knows?

I feel like I should end this post with a fanfare – tarantara! – and an announcement of the solution.  I don’t have a solution, though.  I’m just tired of thinking about eating.


I pull out my hair. I’m trying to stop.

I pull out my hair.  I have trichotillomania.  I don’t think I’ve ever written about that here, although I once wrote about it for Substance.  A lot of alcoholics do have a hair pulling disorder, or a skin picking disorder (dermotillomania, if you’re a fan of long words) – or rather, it’s the other way around.  A quarter of the people who pull out hair or pick at their skin also have a substance problem.  A quarter.  It’s enough to drive you to drink.

So. That sucks.  Oh, and also it’s basically incurable, or so the science says.  There’s precious little research into it at all (try http://www.trich.org if you recognise yourself in this post, for what there is) for a start.  And the research that does exist – well, I’m not a scientist, but I’m pretty confident that I’m summarising it correctly when I say nobody knows what the hell the condition actually is (Science: “it’s a body focused repetitive behaviour!”  Well, thank you, that’s very helpful) – a compulsion?  An addiction?  Is it chemical, genetic, learned-behavioural?  And they CERTAINLY don’t know how to treat it.  I researched this in depth last year, and I talked to a long-time trich sufferer who was really enthusiastic about a new cognitive approach she’d been taught.  It was – get ready for this, because this is groundbreaking stuff – it was to do something else with her hands when she wanted to pull.  “Simply pull your hand back down to your side!” chirruped her counsellor, who apparently had a degree and everything.

unhelpful advice

Unsurprisingly, it has a very low success rate.  Even in long term studies where patients get a combination of CBT and medication, the success rate is maybe 15%.  We’re defining success, here, as a temporary reduction in symptoms.  Temporary.  Reduction.  Don’t spend all those eyelashes at once, kids.

ANYWAY.  All of that sucks.  And after spending my teens, and my twenties, basically hating myself for it, I decided that the only rational response was to accept this thing about myself.  So I carry eyeliner pencils wherever I go and draw in the lines where my hair isn’t.  It’s a way to live.

Recently, I was on an upswing, meaning that my eyelashes had grown in enough that there were no major bald spots, although these upswings never last long, so the eyelashes are always short.  Usually, when this happens, I enjoy it for a few days but I’m always just waiting for it to crash down and I’ll go back to looking like a freak.  I pluck a hair here, a hair there.  I make rules with myself about how many is okay – shades of moderating alcohol.  And then there’s always a night when I pull them all, in an orgy of self loathing, and the cycle starts again.

self destruct

This time, I decided not to.  I decided to see if I could, in fact, just do something else with my hands.  And so I’m on a bit of a journey, my friends.  This is what this post is supposed to be about, although I did get a wee bit distracted up there with all the statistics, sorry about that.

What’s it like, actively trying to resist trich?  It is like white knuckling ALL the time.  On the worst days, I walk down the street, or drive the kids to school, watching for traffic and listening to their stories and wondering what to cook for dinner, and at least half of my brain is thinking about plucking.  I know which lash.  I can feel it on my eyelid.  It’s wrong, it’s out of place.  It’s sticking out, longer than all the others, and if I just pluck that one, the wrong one, it’ll be easier to resist.


This is ridiculous.  It’s compulsive thinking, and there’s nothing rational about it.  Which doesn’t make it even slightly easier.  Most of the time I just feel like, why am I bothering to try this hard, when all it takes is one slip and I’m back to square one.  I’m just delaying the inevitable.

But I used to think like that when I was drinking and trying to moderate, too.  And I kept not drinking, and one day I didn’t miss it any more.  So maybe…?


So I’m still trying, and I’m winning for now.  My eyelashes are longer and thicker than they’ve been in more years than I can remember.  And it feels like it might be getting easier?  I don’t know.  I don’t have a lot of hope, because, see those first few paragraphs above.  The statistics are against me.

But for the first time since I was fourteen and my mother still thought therapy could fix me, I do feel some hope.

And leaves you wanting more

It’s a chilly evening,  but the lounge room is warm and clean.  The children are in bed, Lovely Husband is out at a class and I have the night to myself.  In front of me is a huge bowl of lentil soup, my favourite food in the world.

The first bite is heavenly.  Hot, spicy, creamy and thick, laced with lime and yoghurt for tang. I am perfectly satisfied, and in the very next second I feel a spike of anxiety. Eventually this bowl of soup, enormous though it is, will be gone and the pleasure will be over.  Even reminding myself that there is more soup in the pot doesn’t help, because there is no way I’ll be able to eat more.  Once this bowl of soup is done, it is done, and I am mourning its loss even as I contemplate a second spoonful.


You are, at this point, either nodding in recognition or thinking that I am entirely insane, and both are completely legitimate responses!  I laugh when I catch myself doing it now.  I used, of course, to do it with alcohol; my anxiety that there wouldn’t be enough pleasure in a bottle would almost outweigh the desire to drink it at all, which is both ludicrous and also explains part of why it is so much more peaceful not to drink it at all. I’d be watching a film, which would be coming up to the most emotional moment, but if my glass was almost empty I’d pause the narrative – and lose the tense build up – to make sure it was full again.  I couldn’t possibly lose myself in the moment if I didn’t also have that glass by my hand.

I haven’t lost any of that anxiety.  I still feel as if somehow, somewhere, I’ll hit upon a magical combination of fulfilling leisure and sensory pleasure that somehow satiates me completely and propels me into a new world.   And when I do find something that gets close – right now it’s Pretty Little Liars and knitting – I do it again and again, every evening.

Sleeves being knitted and worn at the same time

I cannot do this, in case you’re wondering

Sometimes I think that learning how to just be is the hardest thing of all.