Split the Chicken Wings 60/40 & Have a Panic Attack

“Mon, we’re all getting breakfast sandwiches, you want one?”

“Okay…” I say, thoughtfully, thinking about what exactly a breakfast sandwich meant. It meant a lot of calories and fat as my first meal of the day. It meant blowing my calorie limit out the window. Basically, it meant starving.

“Well, what kind?” he asks.

“I don’t know. What are you getting?”

He kind of just looks at me with a face that says, “What does it matter?”

So, I just tell him sausage, egg, and cheese. Or maybe I said bacon. I don’t remember because the alarms in my head were going off. Just five minutes earlier I had hopped off the scale in his bathroom. It read 100 lbs – the lowest I had been since junior high.

I start to get dressed and tell him to go downstairs; I’ll meet him down there. Then the panic begins. I am starving. I went out last night and couldn’t find anything healthy enough for my standards on the menu. I wound up splurging by eating 6 chicken wings.

But I can’t eat that sandwich. I know I can’t. There will be a lot of cheese, a lot of grease, and a lot of carbs. I can’t do it. I don’t even want to know the calorie count.

I rush downstairs and throw six dollars in his direction and tell him I have to leave. He looks confused and kind of hurt, wondering what he did wrong. He didn’t do anything wrong. I just couldn’t eat it.

As I drive home I realize I am starving and have no food in my house. So I stop at Dunkin’ and get the low-cal breakfast sandwich – turkey sausage and egg whites. Then I drive to my apartment and set it on the counter where it sits for five hours, untouched, until I finally throw it away. By the time I eat at 3pm I am shaky and dizzy.

Flashback a few years and I’m sitting in a restaurant. I want to order the chicken wing wrap but I already know the calorie count. It doesn’t matter anyway. He’ll probably mention it if I don’t first.

After a painful deliberation between a chicken wing wrap and a salad, in which we discuss calorie and fat content so I can make an informed decision, I choose the salad. Then when the waiter comes I quickly change to an order of wings and fries. I eat six chicken wings and leave four for lunch tomorrow.

At lunch the next day I eat all four of them, and then I cry. I’m ruining my body. I’m feeding it unhealthy food. I’m out of control. Little did I know that I was out of control, just in different ways.

It’s eight months ago and I am at a rest stop between Philadelphia and Scranton. I had no chance to eat, yet. My options are a burger from Roy Rogers, greasy pizza from a nameless place, or a pre-made grilled chicken sandwich that has more chemicals in it than I can handle. I spend a half hour at this rest stop, walking and walking, trying to find something that is not automatically ruled out by my strict diet.

I find a granola bar that is 110 calories and leave. My trip is set back a half hour and I’m still starving.

I can’t speak for everyone when I say that featuring FDA-mandated calorie counts on menus nationwide is more harmful than it is good, even though that’s exactly what I believe for myself. I will tell you that the panic is starting to set in. It’ll be a year before this goes into effect, so I have time. It’s just that, I spent the past 6 months teaching my brain not to care about calories, and this feels like a bit of a blow. I can’t lie and say I’m not a little scared.

I did some research to see the affects of calorie counting on eating disorders. It turns out Harvard University opted to remove the calorie counts from their dining halls in 2008 due to the impact it had on students with eating disorders. Other than that, I didn’t spend much time researching. Our disordered-eating-obsessed country has many more articles on how to lose weight in unhealthy ways than articles on eating disorders. It’s just the way it is.

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When Football Fields and Candy Stores Pop Up in Your Living Room

She looks at me with big, blue eyes and tugs at my hand.

“Monica, come closer.”

Then she whispers in my ear the best secret she can come up with to get me to follow her into the next room.

“There’s candy in there.”

So I close my sociology book and take her tiny hand as she leads me into the make-believe candy store that popped up in the living room. She gives me a tour of the place which is comprised mostly of chocolate and banana flavored candy. She asks me if I want some. Of course I do; after all, pretend candy may not taste all that delicious but it doesn’t have any calories.

I sit down in the corner she points to. She tells me I should sit there if I ever want to get my candy. I look around the room and realize that I don’t know how long it has been since I sat on this floor, let alone in this corner. I note how the world looks different from down here.

She continues to run her candy store, telling me that she will also make me a “hamburg” but I’d have to forget about the cheese; she doesn’t have any. An imaginary person named Henry ate it all. She asks me if I would like mustard before she decides that she ran out of that as well.

The counter of her shop is set up right beneath the piano. She’s small enough to fit under there but tall enough now that she could bang her head if I don’t keep reminding her to be careful. She’s not worried about hitting her head; she’s just worried about making my food.

I watch her as she runs around, laughing and being silly. She stops to tell me secrets now and then about the football field that she decided is somewhere behind the couch. I try so hard to see it, but all I see is a green wall. She’s sure it’s there, though. “Monica, see the football field?”

So I try to see it. I play her game and think about how wonderful it is to build your own beautiful candy store right next to the football field on a rainy Sunday night when the rest of the world is dreading work the next day. I’m envious.

Her tiny blonde ponytail is bouncing up and down and she looks at me and giggles. While she starts making me an imaginary bucket of buttery popcorn, my heart aches a little. I want her to stay this way forever, as selfish as that may be.

I don’t want this perfect little girl to grow up and experience the bad – because right now her world is filled with candy and cake and happiness.

I never want her to look at a candy bar and wonder if it will go straight to her thighs. I don’t want her to feel like she needs to sleep with a guy to make herself feel worth it. Lord knows I never want her to experience drugs, or even alcohol, because right now, the world is good enough for her just the way it is.

I stop thinking so much about the real world for a minute and fall into her creative world filled with endless candy and “hamburgs” and football fields. We giggle and laugh and when she does lightly bump her head on the piano, she runs to me with a serious look on her face and I hug her and she smiles. I love this little girl, we all do. She pulls me out of the real world and into her exclusive, make-believe world. It’s all I need to keep my heart at least a little bit young.

The most overused yet ignored phrase: “Be Yourself”

I’ve been burdened for a long time by my need to have other people like me and approve of my choices. I would say out of all the things that contributed to my anxiety, depression, and eating problems, this is the number one reason to blame.

I’m not sure when it happened, but sometime between now and when I was a fourteen-year-old girl, I felt the only way for me to survive was to be who others wanted me to be. I mean, all the time.

So when I dated someone on the football team, I changed my style to fill that role. When I dated the health and exercise addict, I became obsessed with these things, too. When I had a crush on a guy who liked to party, I suddenly liked to party (too much), too.

The problem with this – aside from how obviously sick it really is – is that it created an anxiety within myself. I don’t like to exercise every day. I actually prefer to exercise a few times a week, otherwise I wind up getting burned out. I don’t actually like football that much, nor have I ever. I certainly like to go out and have fun, but quiet nights watching movies revive my soul and give me a chance to hang out with myself.

It needs to be said that I did not necessarily take on these roles because someone was forcing me to, but rather, I thought that was the best way to get others to like me. Because I didn’t necessarily love myself, it felt easier to blend in with others’ expectations to fill that hole.

This need to live up to other people’s expectations doesn’t just extend to the guys I’ve dated in my life – they also extend to my parents, my friends… everyone. Letting down my parents has been my biggest fear, so I’ve always tried to go above and beyond to do things their way. Or, at least, pretend to do things their way.

However, once you start to “grow up” (really, Monica is growing up and it’s terrifying) and become an adult, you realize that you have different views of the world than your parents may have. This is neither good nor bad; it’s just the way it is. But if you get caught up in living by the standards of others, you may find that you never will grow into the person you are meant to be.

As 2014 quickly passes us by, I realize that it’s been my hardest and best year yet. I’ve learned so much and gained so much insight this year. For the first time in so long I feel human and I feel okay. I feel like myself. I live life by my own standards.

One of the most important lessons I’ve come to learn this year would be that I’m not perfect nor will I ever be. It sounds so cliché, but it’s true. The thing is, for the longest time, I didn’t even know I was trying to be perfect. What’s even more peculiar is I was trying to be perfect for people who didn’t even expect me to be perfect.

When I fall short by my own standards, I’m so hard on myself it makes me sick. If I fall flat on my face in front of a guy I’m interested in, or if I say something I shouldn’t have, I beat myself up for so long. It’s exhausting.

There’s a freedom in realizing that you don’t have to be someone else’s idea of what you should be. “Be yourself” is perhaps the most overused yet ignored phrase in our language today. Everyone wants you to be yourself until you actually be yourself. Then you are weird.

I’m weird and I freaking love it. No, really, I’m not kidding. Not even a little bit. I write this blog because I own my brokenness and recognize that without it, I wouldn’t be who I am today. Without the mistakes in my past I wouldn’t have gotten to the wonderful, exciting, beautiful place I am at right now.

No, I’m not perfect. I make mistakes and then I make them again. Sometimes I hurt people without even knowing it. Sometimes I get angry with myself. Sometimes I think that I should be somewhere else than where I am.

But most of the time I realize I’m exactly where I need to be in life. I’m exactly who I need to be – a person with emotions and enthusiasm and a need to over-share. If I continued to live up to the expectations of other people, I would live my entire life in chains; it’s nice to finally feel free.

–M