AJ, my non-binary progeny, has had what you might call “difficulties” coming to terms with being a boy trapped in a girl’s body and has written about that on this blog. (“Toy Retreat,” October 8, 2021; “Dinner With Mom and Dad,” December 20, 2021; “Clothes Make the Man-Child,” January 14, 2022; and “Non-Binary Tennis,” August 31, 2022.) Today AJ continues to guest blog about perhaps the most difficult part of that journey–his struggle with body image, food, and the lapse in mental and physical health that made it clear that some critical life decisions were necessary. Here is the third part of AJ’s essay:
Binging became a way of life, but the binging benders became menacing. Here was my M.O.: after eating, say, a 500g tub of raisins (which equals about 1.1 lbs. of those purple suckers) I’d have to punish myself by exercising excessively and skipping meals for the next three days. I’d skip meals, and when I did eat, I would only allow myself fruits or veggies—nothing more, only hopefully less—and I’d force myself to jump on the elliptical and burn off as many calories as I ingested…or, better yet, more. I started to subsist on a cycle of binges. Even I knew it wasn’t really what you’d call, ahem, healthy.
So, I figured out a new way to binge. This was known as “social engagements with parent(s) or friend(s).” I would concoct opportunities to go out with friends pretending to be all human and social-like. In the guise of broadening my palette and under the pretext of being adventurous and enjoying the foodie revolution, I allowed myself the ingestion of extra calories. Obsessing over restaurant menus became a food porn fun fixation. Once a plan was made and a date set, I would eagerly look at the restaurant’s menu online to calculate the caloric and nutritional makeup of dishes I might realistically consume. Then I would obsess over pictures of each and every dish. I wouldn’t just look at the menu once, no no no, but many times and on an increasingly frequent and frenzied scale as the time of the outing approached. I looked at the pictures of my projected dish and checked its nutritional facts for the nth time. I also perused what dishes my friends might order and got off on that, because I would probably be granted a taste of their food (everyone knows to this day to give me their leftovers).
There were strict dining rules I instituted for myself. Rule 1: never order a restaurant’s “special” because it wasn’t in the original plan, and I hadn’t been able to research its calorie count. Rule 2: never eat meat at restaurants because you never knew where the restaurant got its meat or how much butter they cooked it in—too much fat of unknown provenance. Thus, Rule 3: never eat anything fried. Rule 4: never eat pasta or pizza, or pretty much anything Italian-American or Asian noodle-y. Pasta and noodles were pure evil with no nutritional redemption. Rule 5: eat small plates and portions. Rule 6: eat only a vegetable dish or salad or a low-fat seafood dish, bivalve or crustacean preferred (!). Rule 6.5: dressings were always “on the side” (thanks, Lisa Lillien). Rule 7: eschew the bread basket and dessert menu (sob). Rule 8: drink only red wine or hard liquor; beer was too caloric and white wine had no redeeming value. Rule 9: have fun (LOL). Rule 10: remember that tomorrow you will pay for this.
I was lucid enough to realize that I was barely subsisting on my home rationing of fruits and vegetables, but this binging pattern came as something of a surprise. Why, I wondered, did I need to binge? My answer was an all-American one: I wasn’t getting enough protein, of course! Restaurants became my sole protein source, and because I was afraid of restaurant meat, I started eating seafood in all its frightening forms: bivalves and crustaceans (a.k.a. sea bugs and slugs), and regular old run-of-the-mill terrifying fish (fish have faces only their mothers could love). I ensured that none of my fish was ever cooked in butter, never ever fried, and I naturally eschewed the fatty fish skin (what a waste of nutrients). And fish, well, I could exercise him away. A leafy green salad, and I was all set. Dressing on the side, please.
It appeared to me that I was sculpting a more masculine physique, but looking back, it was only the physique of a skinny little boy or, more aptly, an anorexic pre-pubescent waif of a girl. In thinning myself out, I did decrease my womanly fat pockets, but I still saw them…big and bold. They were still there because that was how I was built. I hadn’t accomplished exercising/exorcising the girl away. She still mocked me in my inner thighs and womb bump (in latin, wombum bumpum).
Shockingly, I wasn’t able to accomplish nearly as much exercise as I previously could. All forms of my calisthenics were looking more like little twitches of movement. I was vaguely aware that I was no longer building muscle, but I didn’t think I was losing any. I was boyifying myself, you see, and that was what was important.
The problem was that I was still friggin’ hungry! Eating a real-ish meal once or even twice a week at a restaurant wasn’t cutting it. Food. Food. Food. Food, glorious food! I needed it. Virtual food wasn’t enough. I needed to see it. I needed to be around it. Mostly, I needed to EAT it, but my mission wouldn’t allow that. So—new strategy—I became a grocery store voyeur.
(continued October 17)