76. How Much Does a Secret Weigh?

76. How Much Does a Secret Weigh?

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Shaping the New You

How Much Does a
Secret Weigh?

Life itself is the proper binge.
 ~Julia Child

Rising off my knees and flushing the toilet, I rinsed my mouth over and over again. Bitter acid stung my throat and tears burned my cheeks. As if it weren’t enough to be consumed by self-loathing, I wondered if the thin walls of my apartment would betray me. Did my roommates hear the retching, the toilet, and the water? Having started in college, I was already well-practiced at making myself throw up; I now had eight years under my belt—enough practice that I would sometimes spontaneously regurgitate if I’d eaten too much, but in this tiny apartment it was getting harder and harder to conceal my disgusting secret.

“Aaah!” I screamed into my pillow to muffle the sound. “This is insane; I am twenty-six years old and at the mercy of a stupid box of cookies.” I bolted from the bed and raced into the kitchen. Seizing the three-pound half-eaten box of chocolate wafers, as if it were some living demonic force, I crushed and twisted it, my knuckles turning red, then white, with a fury that belied the happy-go-lucky person everyone else saw. After it was all over, I took the wreckage to the garbage chute and listened as it plunged 15 floors and landed with a thud. This is my life’s metaphor, I thought. I’ve hit bottom.

I’ve always believed there are no coincidences, so when I saw the ad for the “Thin Within” workshop starting in two days I knew it was speaking to me.

When I arrived, I faced a room full of people obviously much heavier than I. People who wore their weight on the outside; mine was hiding within.

“What are you doing here?” the large woman sitting next to me said. “I’d love to be your size. What are you—about a 4?”

The moderator asked people to stand and state their goals for the workshop.

“Seventy pounds,” called a man with double crutches. “The weight’s killing my knees.” “Fifteen pounds,” said another woman. “I want to lose my baby weight—my baby’s graduating from college in June.”

I rose from my seat and stood quietly. Gripping the chair in front of me, I choked on the words, but let the tears run.

“I want to stop throwing up.”

I had never said those words—to myself or to anyone else. Now before a crowd of strangers I let go of the ugly festering secret that weighed me down more than anything. The room broke into applause and the large woman sitting next to me squeezed my hand.

Every Monday for six consecutive weeks I returned to the group eager to take the next step. There were no diets, no calorie counting, and no lectures on nutrition. I knew all that stuff anyway; ironically I was a nutrition major in college. Instead we promised for the first week simply to sit down when we ate and not do anything else—no TV, no reading, no standing at the counter, just sit and eat.

The next week we rated our hunger on a scale from 1-10 with 10 being very full. We assessed our hunger before we actually ate anything and committed to eating to a 5 or 6 and then stopping. We could still eat anything we wanted, we just had to sit down and eat until we were sated not stuffed. I was resetting my appestat (that internal regulator of appetite control) that I had badly damaged with bingeing and purging. We kept diaries of what we ate and when and then we wrote letters to ourselves and others about forgiveness, love and acceptance.

I found out it wasn’t weight that I was losing, but hate. How much does a secret weigh? I had grown a protective layer of fat that insulated me from dealing with my feelings; each week as I shed that protective layer I gained something else—self-acceptance.

Twenty-four years have passed since I made the promise to stop throwing up. Now at 50, I am more healthy and fit than I was in my 20s; but still I binge and purge. It’s no longer the food though, but the negative self-talk and destructive criticisms that ran constantly in my head like Muzak. As for binges, those I allow—frequent and copious binges on kindness, compassion and compliments.

~Tsgoyna Tanzman

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