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Sometimes, eating is a pain in the ass.

I love food, ok? I spent three years in school and spent every penny I had, and a lot of ones I didn’t, opening and running a restaurant. Food is one of the most important things in my life. But eating? Eating is, all too often, a chore.

Growing up, I was fat, and my parents were convinced that this was a Bad Thing and that I would die at 50 if I didn’t lose weight right now. So everything I ate was watched carefully by them, and everything that wasn’t low-fat, low-sodium and low-sugar enough for them was Bad, and I was Bad for eating it — even if they ate it themselves. I wasn’t supposed to eat too much or too often. And, of course, as I got older, it became so ingrained that they didn’t even have to say anything, because their voices were in my head, saying it already.

But it turns out that the kind of food restriction I was imposing on myself was probably actually making me fatter. I have low blood sugar — I was actually having problems with passing out before lunch in junior high — and going long periods between meals and snacks caused me a lot of problems. Long periods like the seven hours between breakfast and lunch in high school, say, since I ate at 6am and lunch wasn’t until nearly 1pm, or the one between lunch and dinner at 7 or 8pm. Knowing only that I felt like crap and was really hungry, I reached for the fastest calories available to me: sugar. It was easy, it was quick to eat, and it hit my blood fast. Nobody had ever told me that protein was a better choice for hypoglycemics, only that sugar would make me feel better faster, and keep me from passing out. Exercising regularly — an hour on the treadmill at 4mph five times a week, sometimes plus strength training three times a week — as per my parents’ requirements didn’t help with blood sugar problems.

I learned to ignore my own hunger and hypoglycemia, denying my body sustenance. Eventually, I couldn’t even tell when I was hungry most of the time. I’d eat once or twice a day, and not even very much then. Between the bland food my mother made — honestly, I took up cooking in self-defense, but it took me years to learn to use spices properly — and my own hypoglycemic unawareness, eating became a mechanical thing, like putting gas in a car, that I did only to keep myself moving. It became something that took me away from whatever else I was doing, usually something more interesting. Which meant I did it only as much as I absolutely had to.

Now, there’s this interesting pattern some people have. There are a number of hypotheses that attempt to explain it, but none of them are particularly well-supported at this point. Still, for some of us, it’s pretty consistent. I’ve gone through a number of cycles of it. And the pattern looks like this: I eat less, and less frequently, and I put on weight, and feel like crap. I eat more frequently, still small portions but more overall, and I feel a lot better, and I lose a little weight, maybe ten percent of my total body weight before I started eating optimally (a term I prefer over words like “well” or “right,” because it’s more accurate: I get the best results for my life this way) again. My weight stays there as long as I keep managing to eat optimally most of the time. Then I get really depressed, or my life gets really stressful, and I stop eating as often as I should. I go back to feeling like crap, and my weight slowly creeps back up, often to a higher point than it was at before.

Now this is interesting, because my hypoglycemia was diagnosed around the time I was first labeled “obese” by doctors, in my early teens. And my weight slowly crept up and up all through my teens, when I ate not enough, not frequently enough. It got a little better in my first year in college, when I didn’t have my parents looking over my shoulder all the time, and I could eat what I liked, when I liked, and I lost a little weight. Then I got really depressed, dropped out for the first time, and started eating not enough and not often enough again, and my weight got higher and higher. When I started meds, got a bit of a handle on my bipolar, and started eating again, I lost weight. Again and again, the cycle repeated. At my heaviest, I weighed 250. Then I read some studies, and actually realized that that was my pattern. I ate five times a day, protein every time. I paid attention to my body, learned to eat intuitively, to listen to what actually sounded good instead of what was just easy. I spent a lot of time on my food issues with my counselor. I felt better, and my weight scaled back to 225. I started culinary school, and tasted every dish. I got excited about food again.

I remember the day my hunger pangs started up again. I was going along with my day, and suddenly my stomach hurt. It took me forever to figure out what it was. But then my timer went off, and it was time to eat, so I did . . . and magically, my stomach felt better. Oh, right, that’s how most people tell they’re really hungry. It was a revelation. Suddenly I was aware of just how unaware of my own body I had been.

Life went on, and eventually I couldn’t keep up with my food schedule anymore — you’d be amazed at how hard it can be to eat regularly while cooking in a restaurant. I was working hard, with a lot of physical demands, and not eating enough. Not so good. Then I opened my own restaurant, and could eat when I liked, not have to wait for someone else to give me my break. On a busy night, I might go six hours without having time to eat, but most of the time I could eat regularly.

Then the restaurant closed, and I got really depressed.

It’s been almost a year since then. Some days it’s better, and some days it’s worse. Today is a bad day. I had half a small mocha and half a breakfast sandwich six and a half hours ago. I’m starving now, but there’s nothing I can think of to eat that doesn’t sound disgusting and like work, not just to make, but to eat. I know I need to eat something soon. My hands are shaking, and I feel like crying, but I can’t bring myself to put food in my mouth. The entire idea sounds awful.

Soon, I’ll pick up my fiancee from work, and we’ll go have dinner. But before I can face traffic, I need to improve my blood sugar. There’s almost nothing in the house, but going to get something means driving, and I just don’t know how to fix it right now.

I don’t know how to end this post, either.

I don’t think I have an eating disorder — and three counselors and a doctor agree with me — but I definitely have disordered eating, and so many things can trigger those patterns again. One day I’ll eat just fine, but the next something will bring up all the bad feelings about eating again, or I’ll get wrapped up in a project and not notice how much time has gone by, and then I’m hypoglycemic and nauseated before I even think to eat (ahem, that was today). It’s not an eating disorder, but it’s still hard sometimes.

I don’t mind being fat, not anymore. (After all, Fat Carries Flavor!) I feel pretty good about my body, most of the time, and when I eat optimally, my body feels good. I look freaking awesome in a corset, or even just something low-cut. But this whole eating problem sucks.