In the eight months since I left my Saturday post as a newspaper columnist for The Observer in DeWitt, Iowa, I’ve floundered. I’m not a perfect candidate for structured 8-5 work, but I’m TERRIBLE at self-employment. Maybe it’s fear, maybe it’s laziness, maybe it’s brain chemicals, but within six weeks of leaving the paper, I wasn’t writing and I was in trouble.

Who knew writing (or not writing) would foster such pain. My trouble was in the mental department. See, my Saturday gig for the paper was a simple little column about whatever was going on during that week of my life. And I quit, abruptly. Mind you I have no regrets about leaving the paper. New ownership was taking it in an uncomfortable direction. My family was supportive, but I had no game plan. It was a classic case of “I didn’t know what I didn’t know.”

Today's writing partner. Ever my protector, Clyde has not strayed from my side.
Today’s writing partner. Ever my protector, Clyde has not strayed from my side.

When I left the paper in February, I was in the midst of what I preferred to call rigorous “brain training,” forcing disciplining myself to put healthier foods and liquids in my body. Ignorant of the brain’s power, once I stopped writing, much of my rational, healthy thinking stopped as well.

I found myself binging, sometimes on junk food, but usually on rice cakes and crackers, then crouching over a toilet, vomiting. Too real? My apologies. I wish I could clean it up and make it sound better. I can’t. Physically my body had never felt stronger. I was training for a full summer of racing which included two half Ironman events. I was swimming and biking, running, planking and lifting weights. But I couldn’t swim, bike, run or lift enough to keep my mind quiet. And I wasn’t writing.

Without the writing, I wasn’t going inward. I wasn’t listening for that “still, small voice.” Rather, I was keeping everything on the surface, “controllable,” noting every good calorie and bad gram of fat, every good swim and every bad run. And when I’d look at myself, all I saw was failure and obesity. I couldn’t see the strength and the power. I only saw rigid food rules and an inability to work hard enough. No matter how much I ate, it wasn’t enough. No matter how far I ran, it wasn’t enough. No matter how heavy I lifted or how long I held a plank, it was never enough. But the purging? As crazy as it sounds, I’d feel so good after doing it. And yet I also knew the brief reprieve vomiting gave me was a complete and utter delusion.

I started dropping little hints about the darkness to a couple of friends, only in texts, never in person. By March I was scared I’d reached a point where I had to binge and purge. I wanted to be strong and healthy! I didn’t want to be chained to the terrible pattern of overeating and vomiting! And that’s when I found myself telling one of my sisters. It wasn’t planned. I had every intention of keeping it a secret, but I told on myself and got involved with a therapist.

Since March I haven’t made myself sick, but I’ve wanted to. When I shove awful junk food in my mouth, at the time it’s as if I go mindless and am watching myself, knowing I shouldn’t be eating, but unable to stop. And then when I’m done? When the reality of what I just ate sinks in? I want it OUT so badly. Take today, for example! My lunch? I ate a bunch of Halloween candy and a full canister of Pringles. What the hell?!!!!!! I had a great 6 mile run this morning as well as a session with my therapist and yet it’s taking everything in me not to give up and just walk to the bathroom. First world problems . . .

Obviously I’m not better and there’s so many things tangled in this knot! Just this morning I listened to the 26 October 2015 interview of Gloria Steinem by Terry Gross for NPR’s Fresh Air and how Steinem, a self-proclaimed ‘foodaholic’, at age 81 still can’t have certain foods in her house. So will I ever get better? Will I ever be cured? Doubtful. Gross quoted Steinem’s own words to her, “I’m a fat woman who’s not fat at the moment.” In the interview, Steinem admits, “I’m still a sugar junkie. I still find it very difficult. I can’t keep certain kinds of food in the house because they talk to me . . . I cannot keep ice cream or bread or anything too rewarding in the house.”

How depressing. I crave balance almost as much as a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. But if it were just about the Reese’s or the Pringles or the bread, the solution would be simple: don’t eat it. Just like with alcoholism, right? Don’t drink and life gets better, right? Wrong. In 2001 when I quit drinking, my life got worse until I had no fight left, until I was beat up enough to start listening for that “still, small voice,” until I could hear what people were trying to teach me. I suppose my food issue is no different. Fuck.

So I guess that’s it? I’m not making myself vomit, but I’m still binging? If I can frame my food issue in the context of drinking, it’s possible for me to have hope. If I keep working at it, I’ll get better, right? Hopefully. Hopefully I’ll gain a stronger, healthier sense of self. And I guess to some degree that’s already begun. I can’t see my day-to-day growth, but when I look back at where I was in March, you bet your ass I’m in a much better place. And most importantly, I’m writing again.

. . . whew! What a heavy way to restart “Reed All About It,” eh? If prior readers know anything about me, it’s that I’ll always be real. Who knows what future posts will bring, but I will never offer fakery . . . so please come back, and thank you.

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6 thoughts on “Reed All About It returns. . .again

  1. Hi Jen! This is a horrible battle for many reasons. The comfort of food is always in reach! Some people don’t relate, have zero issues with moderation and have a strong will to find comfort alternatives. It would be great to be them, but if the cards are stacked against you, genetic or not, this is a piece of hell. Knowing what joy the athletic lifestyle brings you, me and countless others, it is not an easy road to get this baggage off our backs. We should talk.

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    1. Thank you Julie! I have moments when I think maybe I’ll be able to put this issue aside, but the VAST majority of the time that “out” is always within reach. Ugh….

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  2. Incredible. Raw. Real. Great article Jen. I am sure there are many who can relate to this struggle. But what do I see??? I see a strong and powerful woman. One who has overcome obstacles in the past, and will continue to do so. Stay strong, and I look forward to seeing more writing.

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    1. Thank you for being a part of this process Matt! Without the various members who make up my “team,” I’d be toast. Thank you for not letting that happen!

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