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 second part of AJ’s essay:
I’m on a mission to lose the pounds that have produced this highly unwelcome feminine body. Excessive Exercising on an Elliptical (E had become the letter of the month…so Sesame Street), but I was making sure that my daily intake of calories was far less than the ones used to exercise. The Evil Elliptical had a calorie counter that I kept at a constant display. (Watts, who cares? Distance…mildly interesting. Nah, calories expended was where it was at). I wasn’t trying to get fit; I was only trying to shed flab. Another fun obsession was that I would check the calorie labels on foods, do some math (then redo it correctly), and ensure that I didn’t eat more than I would expend in a day.
Unsurprisingly, I became obsessed with calculating calories. I was a label looker and Googler of all foods and their nutrition vs. calorie payout. I collected nutrition label information like baseball stats. I watched predominantly all food shows, which was easy thanks to the Food Network, Travel Channel, and Cooking Channel. Food blogs were also a key escape and a form of foodie voyeurism…come on now, they call it food porn for a reason! And I was a dirty dirty viewer and drooler. I could literally be watching Hungry Girl, Lisa Lillien, while being on my iPad looking at local restaurant dishes on Yelp or looking at one of the many junk food, or cooking, or rating and tasting food blogs on my iPad. Food porn for the win.
Back to reality, I had a small stock of food left in my cabinets, but I managed to finish that off quickly, so I could start with a clean slate. My fridge became pretty much barren except for milk, condiments, and carrots—bonus: it was nice and tidy and just the way I liked it.
At the beginning of this “diet” I still had my wits about me, and I was intent on taking control. I also sought serious punishment: Punishment for my past bad eating behavior; punishment for spending too much money; punishment for being in a woman’s body; punishment for my mind telling me I should be a man. I sought that serious punishment by walking hours a day and ellipticalling (sure, that’s a verb now) away as many calories as I could. Working out had the double bonus of being robotic and zombie-like while also being painful…everything I could want.
I was feeling in control-ish, so I ventured back to the grocery store to buy some non-coffee related items. I went with the directive in mind to buy the “healthiest”—and cheapest—food I could find. “Healthy” meant low-cost, low-calorie, non-processed, non-fat, low-sodium, ready-to-eat foods. What does that equal? Canned vegetables. I had an affinity for cans because of their handy, portion-controlled rations and tidy uniform containers. Admittedly, they were a splurge. Canned foods were more costly than a giant sack of dry rice and beans, but they were so user-friendly and stacked so neatly (labels facing out…labels always facing out; OCD; OCD; OCD!). Frozen veggies were probably cheaper, but they were not portion controlled, and required preparation. Yes, dear reader, defrosting is preparation. No, I wouldn’t heat them on the stove or even microwave them. Yes, I’d merely set them in the fridge the night before like thawing meat, or leave them out on my counter all day so they would defrost to room temp. No, I didn’t want them hot; I actually like room temperature foods. Canned food fit the bill in all categories.
Eating at work was an issue. I figured I couldn’t just eat stuff out of a can for lunch without looking like a super weirdo sociopath. I did have some caloric leeway for lunch because it was the middle of the day, so I’d have plenty of opportunity to burn those calories away after work. I had to eat (dang it) and I was getting progressively hungrier watching coworkers go out and buy yummy food and then smelling it all around me. At first I let my wallet dictate my path and sought out the cheapest food that I could buy for the week—like 5-pound bags of tomatoes that I could store in the fridge at work and eat with mustard throughout the week. I don’t know why I thought that looked “normal.” Somehow eating fresh produce was less embarrassing than eating canned stuff. Apples continued to be consumed for snacks. When tomatoes were unattainable, I pre-cooked kabocha squashes or sweet potatoes (both of which I could buy in bulk) and portioned those out for the week.
My plan was working! Those excess pounds started to melt away. My clothing fit differently, and I felt in control of my body and my life…slightly.
I liked the direction I was going, so I upped the ante and worked out every free moment I could. I wanted to look like Brad Pitt in Fight Club, I just didn’t know how to accomplish that in a healthy way, so I went with my own version. I was aware that a woman my size and age required a basic 1,600 calorie diet to maintain organ operation and all those basic life activities like working, typing, talking, walking, and going to the bathroom. 1,600 seemed like a pretty high number to me so I took my intake down to 1,400 and then 1,200. These numbers still seemed high to me, so I took it down to 1,000. On my 1,000 calories-per-day diet, I spent at least 500 calories walking, another 300 ellipticalling, God knows how many doing pushups.
I never didn’t eat for a day. I knew fasting was a “bad” thing and would eventually kill my metabolism, and I didn’t want to be “unhealthy.” I never considered that I was moving myself into the realm of anorexia because I was always eating something, and anorexics didn’t eat anything, right?
I soon came to the realization that the only path to truly not eating was to not buy food with the intent to not eat it (triple negative word score!). Deeper down the rabbit hole I went. Pretty soon 1,000 calories a day sounded like a lot. I mean, 1,000, that’s a big number! I was still functioning, wasn’t I? So obviously I could function on fewer calories. My figure was responding nicely. I was getting my androgynous body back, but I still had my infernal breasts and tummy pouch. Needed to cut more calories.
By now my caloric intake had decreased to maybe 800 calories at best and I was in the beginning stages of starvation mode. My body began to fight back; I was really hungry! There’s a cure for that. It’s called binge eating. I started binging on “healthy” things like jars of tomato sauce or 32 oz. tubs of Greek yogurt—non-fat, of course. Anytime I got food near me, I would snarf it down like a desperate dog or a top of the line Dyson vacuum cleaner. I tried to play coy, but I was just plain friggin’ hungry. I once demolished a block of uncooked tofu standing in the kitchen, pouring soy sauce over it so that I could pretend it was sushi. Clearly, I was turning to the dark side. Only it wasn’t yet clear to me.
(Continued October 14)