How Eating 500 Calories a Day Saved My Life: Part One

Excerpt from journal:

September 25th, 2011-

Last night Chris and I ordered sushi and brought it back to my house. I SO badly miss my Orange Crush Roll, but I can't eat the rice...or anything, really. I ordered the Sashimi Salad with dressing on the side and when we got the food back to my house, I found they had put the dressing ON the salad. "I CAN'T EAT THIS!" I screamed. Chris tried to tell me that the dressing was okay, to which I shouted, "DO YOU WANT ME TO GAIN ALL THIS WEIGHT BACK???" In a way, I wish Chris had said, "yes". But he just stood there, silent. As usual. I could feel the tears coming and out they poured onto the kitchen floor. Is this it for me? Am I going to cry over dressing on a salad for the rest of my life? I ate the salad, but felt guilty. It was too late to go to the gym so I made Chris have sex with me...hoping to burn off the calories in the dressing. But who was I kidding? I'm never able to get my heart rate high enough to do that...I've tried. I don't know what to do. I've kept this weight off for almost three months. I cannot gain that weight back. I won't. I won't...

In April of 2011, I decided I would go on just ONE more diet. But it couldn't be like any of the diets I'd already tried since the age of twelve; it needed to be the next best thing to gastric bypass surgery. And I found it. (I've chosen not to disclose the name of this regimen, for ethical reasons, but as I describe it, you're more than welcome to look it up. No shame. Okay?)

The entire diet was 101 days long and the protocol went like this: Days 1&2 I was to eat EVERYTHING. These were called "Loading" days. I ate and ate and ate and ate...bagels, lox, cream cheese, avocados, peanut butter, SUSHI, and I think even a Big Mac. Anyway, I was sick by the end of those two days. Days 3-40 were known as VLCD; Very Low Calorie Diet, where I ate *exactly* 500 calories a day and drank over a gallon of water. I was required to weigh myself every morning and weigh my food at each meal. I was restricted to a list of about fifteen "acceptable" foods and I was not allowed to exercise, though I had a lot of sex with my then boyfriend, not because I enjoyed it, but because it distracted me from food.

At the end of the 40 days, I would go on "Maintenance", which meant I could go back to eating "normally", but had to follow 3 rules: NO sugar, NO starch, NO second helpings. But by the time I was allowed to eat normally (meaning 1200 calories/day), I couldn't. I was afraid to break 900 calories. It's almost common knowledge that it doesn't matter what diet you go on, everyone gains the weight back (plus more) when the diet is over. I wanted to prove them wrong. So I made it my mission to stay ahead of my own weight loss curve and think about nothing else than to keep the weight off...but started to come back.

Watching myself gain weight at such a rapid rate was devastating, but INCREDIBLY fascinating. It was like a magic trick, an optical illusion I wished I was seeing on someone else's body. I think I've hit rock bottom, I remember saying to myself, as I lay crying on my bed one afternoon, struggling to pull my "size 2" jeans up over my thighs. I need help. So, like any good twenty-something Jewish gal would do...I found a therapist and made an appointment.

cool story, erica! What's your point?

It's a proven fact, in my opinion, that the first thing you lose when you go on a diet is brain matter. I've tried twenty-seven diets in the almost twenty-nine years I've been alive, so you can imagine the marbles I'm missing...probably.

I am NOT suggesting that one tries this diet in favor of having a revelation. PLEASE don't misunderstand me. I've built my entire life and career around never dieting again. But I am saying over these last few years in my personal and professional life, I now see that I needed to try that absurd and dangerous diet. I needed to hit bottom. Ultimately, I needed to starve myself, in order to discover what I was truly hungry for. This can be said about any eating disorder, a sex/drug/rock & roll addiction, issues with infidelity, whatever. Everything has an end date. Everything has a beginning and an end, a high and a low, a top and a bottom. It's up to us to thank those choices for being the (sometimes) gift they were intended to be, so you could become the incredible human being you always knew you are...with or without dressing on the side.


Have you experienced a "bottom"? What was it?



an open letter to twenty-eight


Dearest Twenty-Eight,

In the deep, dark quite of my living room, I hear the clock in the kitchen. It counts down the remaining fifty-eight minutes of being twenty-seven.

I'm hardly ready for you; my phone has 20% life, clothes are unnecessarily scattered everywhere. Dishes are piled in the sink, DVDs of Seinfeld, Girl Interrupted and The L Word, are just...on the floor. Things are not where they're supposed to be, twenty-eight. I'm not married, I don't have children. I'm a writer and I'm not even wearing the right outfit to type this letter; it doesn't scream Carrie Bradshaw at all!

The thing is, Twenty-Eight, I was conceived mid afternoon, on the bedroom floor, after a huge marriage-threatening fight. (I do love drama). And forty-two blissful weeks later, on a Tuesday in 1987, my 7-pound ass was hauled via emergency C-Section into a culture driven by numbers, data, facts, conclusions, deadlines and fear. In many ways, Twenty-Eight, you're a ticking time bomb; not yet thirty, but dangerously close. Most 28's in my culture are expected to have it figured out. We are to be financially stable and independent, settled in our sexuality and secure in who we are. We ought to know our purpose and our passions and the difference between the two, because there is a difference.

Since the human body has its own rhythm--which we audaciously deny on the daily--so much information can be gathered every 365 days in a human's life. On a physiological level, predictions can be made about the condition of the body as we age; metabolism, bone health, reproductive ability, etc. If I die tomorrow, a skilled professional would be able to tell I am around twenty-eight, more or less by the stern end of my fourth rib, the length of my bones and my teeth. That's a beautiful and often helpful thing, but it would be hard to determine how I felt as a human being. Was I happy? Did I feel complete and secure in my purpose? Did I show and receive enough love? Did I pay my own rent? I mean, I was twenty-eight, after all. Interesting how age can only predict, depict and determine so much and yet we allow it to define who we are, by setting so many deadlines. This isn't a bad thing, it's just what is, for today.

Twenty-Eight, getting older hasn't been the hard part for me, growing up is. As a grownup, I've had to make very hard decisions and judgements. I've told the truth when I really didn't want to, and I've lied when it was my only option. I have to constantly be humble and realize things about myself that aren't favorable, but helpful to know. I've walked through shame, grief, fear, heartbreak and hopelessness. It's not all bad though, Twenty-Eight. Concurrently, I've really surprised myself, as a grownup. I've shown myself grace and a willingness to be here in a way I didn't and couldn't as a child. I have friends who seek me out and think of me all the time. I have a loving, smart and very strong family. My Mother has become my favorite person, thank God. I've cried so many tears of joy and I have much to celebrate, each and every day.

Twenty-Eight, I just really want you to know you are NOT a deadline. You are just a point of reference, like a mall directory, and I'm glad you're here. Of all the numbers so far, you feel the most fun, strong, powerful and enlightening already. You don't scare me...but let's be honest, you haven't demanded anything of me today, other than to receive and really taste all the love available to me. I know things only taste as good as the time I take to absorb them, so I promise to stay present for the next 16 hours. Yikes.

So maybe I am ready for you, sweet Twenty-Eight. For you are proof that I've kept air in my lungs, food in my belly and more than enough love in my heart to sustain me thus far. My dishes might be piled high, I might be single and I don't make 60K a year. My clothes may not make it back neatly where they belong anytime soon and the scattered DVD's won't get re-racked today. But that will come with age...right?




The Red Circle Philosophy


If I marked 2014 with an emblem or logo, I’d choose a Big Red Circle.  As a shape, circles represent wholeness, protection, initiation, mobility, all-inclusive unity, everything. Circles characterize revolutions around the sun as we waltz through rhythms of time. With not-so-primitive understanding, we saw our first circles; our Mother’s eyes, the moon, the sun, the dots in the skies as stars, and realized even beauty can be spoken in a circular language. As for Red, Red is high energy. It excites our senses and motivates us to take action. Red is the color of physical movement, and it awakens our life force.

Clearly, I’ve had quite a year.

As the Director of My Gym, a children’s fitness center, I have the incredible pleasure of connecting with over two hundred children and their families. And I mean the WHOLE family; parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, nannies and distant cousins, twice removed. I also know and remember all their names, as if I've known them for years. I witness first steps and hear first words. I smile as parents sing “I'm a Little Teapot” with a sweet hint of nostalgia. I encourage my students to wonder about the world around them. I inquire about favorite sea animals, biggest fears and silliest memories. I hearten imagination, patience and kindness. All of this happens within the Big Red Circle in the middle of the room. From this circle, I am consistently challenged and inspired to see the world through a different lens. Its heart work, but someone has to do it.

If you've been following my blog for the past year, it should come as no surprise to you I'd die to speak at a TED conference. TED is a non-profit global set of conferences, welcoming people from all walks of life to give short, powerful talks. TED operates under the slogan: "Ideas Worth Spreading", and it’s no surprise TED’s logo is indeed a Big Red Circle. Ironically, if all I need is a Big Red Circle, something powerful to say and a willing audience, it appears I've in fact given about 1,152 TED talks this year. (I wish you could have been in my head during the 15 minutes it took me to calculate that.)

Cool story, Erica. What's your point?

For 2015, I challenge you to find YOUR Big Red Circle; that place where you are forever changed and enlightened. Find the spot of genuine intimacy and memory-making where you feel most comforted, tested, inspired and needed. In so many ways, I have found my circle and I wholeheartedly invite you to find yours. And to me, THAT is anIdea Worth Spreading”.




the hot trainer guy...and THIS girl

I realized my issues with food ran much deeper than I thought, while studying at the Institute for the Psychology of Eating. I began to understand my saddening relationship with food and my body is an intense reflection of my relationships with men, how I feel about my sexuality and my lack of acknowledgement for the sexual abuse I've experienced. All of these issues are still true and real for me, although now that I've removed the chronic dieting, the binge eating and the toxic exercise beliefs from my current reality, I am ready to heal in ways I never knew was necessary. I took a four-month hiatus from working out, shortly after I left the Personal Training business. I was burnt out. I had been lifting weights for so long, never having achieved what I deemed to be a lean, cut, built, thin body. Not to mention, I couldn't ever get through a workout with my trainer --who was also my friend-- without vocally bashing my body, becoming distracted by my "lumpy" stomach and complaining how things jiggled while doing jump squats.

So, I was willing to endure even MORE feelings of lumpiness, flabbiness, weakness and not being able to feel my triceps muscles when I flex, in favor of coming to some kind of resolution, as far as what activity or movement my body was truly calling for. After thoughtful and consuming review of my entire exercise history; from becoming a Kickboxing Instructor, lifting weights in the all-women's gym where I was a trainer, doing hot yoga, dance, trampoline classes etc. I realized all these activities were done primarily in the company of women. Perhaps my issue was not in the activities I chose to do, but the fact I was unconsciously protecting myself from men by doing them. When I was finally ready to rejoin the world of exercise, I decided to try a little solution-oriented experiment...

Now, because I've convinced myself I'm too fat, not conventionally pretty, not smooth or flirt-worthy around guys in general, it became clear that the only solution, moving forward, was to work with the hottest male trainer I could find-- and in Los Angeles, they sprout up everywhere, like...kale and quinoa salads. I joined a swanky, chichi gym athletic club and scouted out the most attractive, conventionally "hot" trainer in the building. I eventually spotted a blonde-haired, blue-eyed all-American man with sparkly white teeth and a full sleeve of tattoos. Hired.

During my consultation, where a typical, vulnerable client is asked to reveal all complaints about his/her body, talk about their food, which is usually shame-based and succumb to being weighed measured and pinched in favor of getting a body fat reading, I said NO THANK YOU to all that nonsense. I told him I am not interested in losing weight (which made his beautiful jawline drop) and that I'm only interested in getting my workout mojo back and of course, conquering my fear and shame around men and growing my confidence as a grown, beautiful sexual being. (I didn't tell him that last bit. Duh!)

For me, just so you know, working out is NOT as pretty as it apparently is on Instagram. I don't wear makeup, my hair is always a mess and matted to my face, my sweat not only drips from my eyebrows, onto to my lashes and then off the tip of my nose, it often pools in my butt crack and onto my pants, as you can read here, AND let's be real; a fart, a grunt and/or a queef is just a box jump and a sit-up away. The moment will come, I'm sure, but it's worth the risk, because I don't spend half the session verbalizing my discomfort in my body, or how my stomach is jiggling. I'm not constantly trying to convince him, no, really, I have a lot of muscle. You just can't see it.

As an Eating Psychology Counselor, who specializes in Body Image, I am aware I deliberately chose my trainer based on his looks and when I was a Trainer, I couldn't stand people judging me based on mine, as I didn't fit the lean, cut, shredded mold of trainers on TV. But here's the deal; I did not hire the hot trainer thinking I'd look hotter. I hired the hot trainer hoping I'd finally FEEL hotter. He's the type of guy I'd typically shy away from in social situations because I'd spend so much time deciding for him that my friends are way hotter and I am not worth looking at twice. I wouldn't have the same zest for this experiment, had I not been a trainer myself.

I'm now able to enjoy a workout, claim my strength and let my intelligent humor, sharp wit, and charm shine 6:30 in the morning. Talent. I feel so much closer to finding my fearless, authentic and confident self in the presence of men and as it turns out, the hot trainer guy and I have a great time together. He makes me laugh and I, of course, make him laugh harder...but it's not a competition ;-)





(This is not my trainer.)




a name for her hunger


"Storytellers speak in the language of myth and metaphor. They tell us a truth that is not literal, but symbolic. When we listen to stories with our outer ear, they can seem absurd and untrue, but when listen to a story with our inner ear, they convey an inner truth that can be understood on a very personal level and absorbed..." -Anita Johnston

This week I have written a story in the language of metaphor. I ask you to listen to it only with your inner ear, in hopes it resonates with your own story.

One cool and damp morning a little girl awoke to find the biggest, softest, most complex-looking animal sleeping right next to her. She was startled, of course, but she quickly realized its harmlessness. In fact, its giant body was its most comforting feature. She ran her hot pink polished nails through its thick, shiny fur and traced her hand over the intricate and unique peaks and valleys of its face. Her big brown eyes were alive with curiosity, as she tried with all her might to roll the animal onto its side to see if it was a boy or a girl. But this great, big animal would not budge. She let out a frustrated groan and to her surprise, the animal groaned back. When she took a breath, it too cycled air. When she smiled, the animal mirrored and so on. Lacking the knowledge of its gender, she decided to name this animal, Life.

She felt excited, giddy, as all little girls do when they've met a new friend. She could not keep this a secret. She threw on her favorite purple knitted sweater, her grandmother made for her last winter, rushed into her village and cried, I've found the biggest animal I've ever seen!  It's name is Life. I'm going to keep it and you're welcome to come over and visit us anytime! The village people --not to be confused with the music group-- laughed, as one big headed, short sighted man said, Well, just don't let it grow too big, it may very well swallow you whole! An equally arrogant woman chimed in; you'd better starve that animal to make it smaller or else it might kill you. They told her she'd soon lose control of Life.

Confused, rejected yet resilient, the little girl rushed home, to the safety of her new companion. There, in the 'castle' she'd made of sheets and blankets in the middle of her room, began a friendship, a support system and a deep fondness for this wild animal. When Life seemed hungry, the little girl fed it, when Life had difficulty falling asleep, she sang lullabies. And on super chilly days, she made soup and layered homemade blankets on the animal. She took care of her Life the best way she knew how. Naps, imaginative play, reassuring hugs, delicious meals and belly laughs described their typical day. Everything was lighter. It was like a film had been removed and she could see her friends more clearly. She felt more graceful and accepting of her family. She was easier with her love and in turn, her family was easier with theirs. The bigger the animal grew, the fuller the little girl's heart became.

Then one day, something changed. A parasite of sorts crept in and burrowed itself in the carefully knitted web of solace and joy, that had become the little girl's truth. Everything looked different, especially the animal. This dear friend, confidant, nurturer now looked and felt like an enemy, something not to be trusted. She realized in that moment the villagers could be right; this animal is certain to control me. This animal could kill me. She decided in an instant Life wouldkill her. She began to grow inward, isolating herself from her loyal friends, her loving family and especially her monstrous companion. Her world was small and windowless, no room for light, no space for learning. All she wanted was for the animal to go away but as it turned out, Life had grown too big and her body would surely break if she tried to move it. So she decided to starve it. She stopped feeding the animal, only to find its growth had nothing to do with food. She stopped signing lullabies and discovered it fell asleep faster without her song. She took the warm blankets off the animal and learned nakedness was it's truest, most comfortable form.

Despite her efforts, there was nothing to do, except continue loving Life. So on they continued, filling their days with belly laughs, delicious meals, reassuring hugs and imaginative play. Despite everything else that everyone had said, the little girl knew in her heart that her friend, this animal she'd grown so fond and trusting of, is no monster at all. It's just Life.

*When my life was governed by the notion that smaller is better --smaller portions, a smaller body etc-- my life was smaller. The more I tried to tame my hunger and restrict my food, the more uneasy I was with my love. But when I was willing to be vulnerable in front of a larger plate of food and unafraid to accept my body exactly the way it is, I was able to provide myself a heftier helping of life, as well. I now actively acknowledge that as a human on the earth, I will always have an appetite. I will always be hungry for big, colorful and delicious meals, long, firm, meaningful reassuring hugs, imaginative play and great, big, loud, obnoxious belly laughs* 

What are YOU hungry for?