Mika Brzezinski, co-host of Morning Joe, released a book this week, Obsessed: America’s Food Addiction and My Own.  It made me want to tell a personal story.

Like most Americans, my relationship with food is complicated.  I once told a friend that if I won the Nobel Prize, my first thought would be about my weight.  He was shocked.  If you are a woman and don’t understand that feeling, I am jealous.

When I was a child, my abusive father used to call me fat.  He would “jokingly” poke at my stomach and call it “jellyroll.”  My two ways of dealing with the troubles in my personal life (you can read about some of that here) were books and food.  I ate a lot.  When I look back at the few pictures I have from then, I don’t see a morbidly obese child but that’s what I saw in the mirror and my self esteem was in the toilet.  I may have gotten a little chubby but nothing like what I thought.

In junior high school, a girl in my class spread a rumor that I was pregnant.  I was 14.  One morning on the bus she said, “We’ll know when you start gaining weight.”  One response I had was good — I played tennis for HOURS a day after school, it was a great stress release.  I also stopped eating.  One of my roles was to make sure we had the right food in the house and I just stopped. My father worked at night and he would get us dinner at a deli each night and most days that’s all I ate.  Unless I was at my grandmother’s house, I just didn’t bother.

Then I learned about bulimia.  Have all you want and lose weight!  That’s awesome.  I can write you a manual about what to eat or not eat if you are planning to puke later.  For instance, chocolate ice cream tastes the same coming up as going down but pizza is a killer.  This is NOT a “pro-ana” site so please don’t think I am telling people to gorge themselves on anything.

The year I turned 14 was a big one for me.  I discovered two things; beer and boys.  That just made the desire to be thin more intense.  My stomach was flat but it never felt flat enough.  A few years later, the crowd I “ran with” was much more interested in being thin than being healthy (if you read the piece above you’ll see we were also more interested in drugs and alcohol).  We congratulated each other for not eating or for purging if we did.

This attitude towards food, that eating was more of a reward than a life sustaining thing lasted until less than ten years ago.

There were two exceptions; Everest and Kilimanjaro.  When I trekked to the former’s base camp, I was in terrible shape (from campaigning).  One day we were climbing a hill and had to stop every five minutes.  After lunch, everything changed.  Breaking news! Food is fuel!On Kili, I had a similar experience.  Every day when we stopped I become colder than I have ever been in my life for about fifteen minutes.  I think it was when my body went from burning carbs to fat but that may be crazy talk.

In 2004, my life changed.  I had major stomach surgery.  It was not gastric bypass, it was a Billroth II (partial gastrectomy).  In English, that means the bottom third of my stomach was removed.  That completely changed my relationship with food because eating isn’t pleasurable anymore.  It also put me on a path where eating is not always necessary.  In 2004, I found I could literally go weeks without eating anything.  It’s true.  I spent most of that year in the hospital “NPO” — it stands for the Latin “nil per os” or in English, “nothing by mouth.”

Ever since then eating has been a challenge. Even if I enjoy while I am doing it, it hurts later.  That’s a problem I have now.  A few years ago, I took a really stressful job and found the way to deal with it was to do the opposite of what I did as a child. Rather than run to food,  I ran away.  The result has been weight loss.

The irony is that I look lighter than I am (the same person who told me not to lose weight, took my weight and didn’t tell me, per my request, but put it on the prescription she gave me — was that really necessary?).  I have to use a belt with pants that used to be too small for me to wear.  A medial professional told me on Thursday that my weight is “perfect.”  She said, “Don’t lose any more weight.”

The upside is that I have a new wardrobe.  The downside is pretty much everything else.  My physical health is terrible.  I am much better person when I weigh more.  I have seen sides of myself this year that I never knew existed.  I am not blaming my behavior on my weight loss, my actions are my fault and I take responsibility but the obsession with looking a certain way has done nothing good for me.

We live in a strange time.  We spend less of our income on food than ever before, yet the quality is lower than it has ever been.  Do we need endless pizza for $5?  No.  That’s not remotely good for us.  And don’t get me wrong, I love Egg McMufffins.  LOVE THEM.  We are addicted to food that is bad for us.

At the same time, we practically worship thin people.  Look at any woman’s magazine.  Girls are taught that’s what you should look like. Fat people are discriminated at work. I have noticed that all I have received about my weight loss is praise (ironically from some of the same people who want me to eat more can’t help but tell me how great I look, I still think I could lose 20 lbs but I think my brain is set on that you need to lose 20 lbs mindset, am working on changing that but it’s a process).

How are things today for me?  I bike almost every day.  This week I am going to add weights and yes, I still exercise during Morning Joe, which I do watch every day.  I am working on eating five or six small meals a day.  I don’t always succeed but I am working on it and I do eat every day (that’s a big deal for me).  Again, this is a process.  I am even eating meat (per doctors’ orders), though I suck at cooking it.

This is a hard thing for me to talk about but Ms. Brzezinski’s book and the discussion it has raised is important.  Thank you for starting it.

Last note:  Dear guys, this is not about you.  I have a lot of guy friends and my boyfriends have all told me the same thing, “Guys don’t want super thin women, you don’t have to lose weight.”  This isn’t about what you or anyone else sees when they look at me, it’s about what I see.  It’s called body dysmorphic disorder.  I have never been officially diagnosed with it but when I am wearing clothes that didn’t come close to fitting me before and I see a whale, there’s a disconnect.  I am working on it.  It’s still a process.

Don’t think about bears

Flickr - Furryscaly - Not a Hypnotoad

Flickr – Furryscaly – Not a Hypnotoad (Photo credit: Wikipedia)  This has no connection to my post but WordPress thinks it is.

Note:  I showed my scans and the report to someone.  I do not have a tumor or cyst.  I still need a CT to rule out some scary options but the things that were causing my panic attack yesterday are off the table.


I dare you to try it.  For the next five minutes, don’t think about bears.

Hard to do isn’t it?  The minute someone tells you not to think of something, that’s all you want to think about.  At least that’s how it works with me.

If you think it’s hard to not think about bears, try that exercise with brain tumors.  That’s been my challenge since yesterday.  Last week I had an MRI (with and without contrast) and MRA (same) done on my brain.  The initial report was that the MRI was normal but the MRA too unclear so more testing needs to be done.  Then I got a call from my neurologist.  She said in her message that it was “critically important” that she speak with me.  When we talked she said she saw something on the MRA that “probably isn’t a tumor” but more testing needs to be done.  I am getting a CT angiogram next week.

Someone told me, “Just don’t think about it.”

Yeah, that’s going to work.

With my medical diagnoses, as in life, the third time really is a charm

Magnetic Resonance Imaging / Résonance magnétique

Magnetic Resonance Imaging / Résonance magnétique (Photo credit:

When Goldilocks tried that first porridge it was too hot, the second was too cold and the first was just right.  The same can almost be said about my experience talking to neurologists over the course of the last few weeks.

When this all started about a month ago I went to my primary care doctor who sent me to neuro doc number 1.  There are two schools of thought in medicine; paternal where the physician dictates a course of action to a patient who dutifully follows it and fraternal where the physician and patient work together.  Given my huge problem with authority figures (wonder where I got that?) the former just pisses me off.  Neuro doc number 1, was absolutely firmly in the paternal camp.  She told me, “You have had two seizures therefore you have epilepsy.  You will get bracelet, you will wear it.  You will fill this prescription and take it.  You will refrain from driving, biking, swimming, taking baths, climbing trees (seriously, what am I? 10?) or ladders.  Avoid stairs and escalators if you can.  Sleep with a mat next to the bed.  Go directly to epilepsy jail.  Do not pass Go!  Do not collect $200.”  Ok, she didn’t say the last part but you get the gist.  Not only did she talk to me like an errant child but she scared the crap out of me.  I am already scared, I don’t need more fear from my health care provider.

Neuro doc #2 didn’t really see me officially but is someone I know.  He didn’t mean to scare me as much as he did, he just wanted to make sure I went ahead with certain tests that I had been blowing off (but the MRI and MRA are scheduled for next week and I have a host of other tests over the next few weeks.  Yes, I am moonlighting as a guinea pig).  He told me that I had to get the MRI & MRA to rule out certain things one of which scared me so much I am not even going to tell you what it was but I am pretty sure I don’t have it.

Meanwhile, I have been reflecting on my symptoms. Communicating is very important to me and it has been a challenge a lot this year.  Sometimes, I cannot find the right word, a problem I never have, other times I can’t speak at all.  I had thought this was laryngitis — and some was — but when I have that I can whisper, when I have this I cannot.  (Good news on that front, can’t talk for whatever reason?  There’s an app for that!  I have Speak it!  on my iPad now.)  Then I stared having seizures and then headaches and now some strange visual thing that only impacts my left eye.  None of this is good or normal.  Time for another doctor.

Enter Dr. Rhanni Herzfeld.  I told her my history and what’s going on now.  I explained, as best I could, my long health history and told her about all the concussions.  She said there just isn’t enough information to properly diagnose me with epilepsy or anything else.  She said she wants to run the battery of tests that are now all scheduled before doing that.  She is really kind and took all sorts of time to talk with me.  She didn’t lecture me on all the things I shouldn’t do or make me feel like a freak of nature.

I may be back at square one but compared to where I was earlier in the week, square one is not a bad place to be.  I have found porridge that is just right.

You are beautiful, Susie Salmon

Cover of "The Lovely Bones"

Cover of The Lovely Bones

Yeah, I still have insomnia and sometimes when I can’t sleep I watch the movieThe Lovely Bones.”  I am watching it right now.

It’s funny.  I loved the movie but hated the book and the reason for both feelings are almost identical.  I will explain.

I hated Alice Sebold‘s book because I related so much to the father.  I know, I know, my father is a dick who beat me mercilessly but I still loved him desperately.  The father in the book works tirelessly to get the murderer of his child.  He never succeeds but he never stops trying.  That upset me terribly.

I loved Peter Jackson’s movie for similar reasons. Take a look at Saoirse Una Ronan in this film.  Take a look at photos of me when I was that age.  We could be the same person.  And I find I relate to her (the character, not the person) in ways that make my heart hurt.

I dunno, maybe it’s a combination of an actress looking like me, some residual love I have for my abusive father and my intense fear of serial killers but this movie has it all.

So, you are still beautiful, Susie Salmon.