Almost all of us are concerned with weight, image, exercise and a healthy diet. One way or another it’s instilled in us from the off – either from family, or peers, or media, or usually, a mixture of all three. Most of us naturally all strive to be thinner, healthier, and more active. However, for some people, myself included, the fight to have a normal relationship with food is a constant battle; an often dark and lonely battle too. It was only last year that I admitted to myself that I am in fact an emotional/binge eater. I had toyed with this notion in my head a few times previous, but I’d never said it out loud or even written it down. I still struggle to say it or see it, but there’s no escaping the truth: I AM A BINGE EATER. This is my story…
I was first put on a diet at the tender age of five. I was too young to fully grasp the notion of healthy eating and dieting, so to me, the only lesson I learned was: other people can eat/do what they like, but you can’t. I was looked after childminders throughout school (until my mid-teens), and each childminder was under strict instruction not to let me eat any ‘bad’ foods. I remember once at the one childminder’s house, when I was about 6, that there was a packet of crisps on the sofa next to me. They were open, and there was no-one else in the room. I wasn’t hungry, I didn’t need them, and I didn’t even like the flavour, but I had this overwhelming, uncontrollable urge to eat them. It wasn’t a case of rebelling from the rules of the diet, it was simply that there was food in my presence and I HAD to eat it. I intended to just have a few – enough to satisfy the urge, but not so many that anyone would notice I’d had some. But once I started eating I couldn’t stop. I kept going back for more and before I knew it the packet was empty. I panicked knowing that if I got caught I would get in so much trouble, but I thought I could just walk away and then there’d be no concrete evidence that it was me. Even then I knew it was pretty obvious that it was me, but I had to justify my behaviour, I had to make sure it stayed secret and that it was okay. Unfortunately my brother caught me stuffing the last handful into my mouth and immediately told on me. I can’t remember what was said to me, but I can still feel the shame I felt as strongly as if it happened today.
Similarly when I was nine and at another childminder’s, she would always let us (me, my brother, and her three kids) have a Penguin bar afterschool. All the others were satisfied with one, but I couldn’t cope with just a taste, I needed more. Although it sometimes displayed itself as hunger (I would get intense hunger pangs and salivate), it was always an unknown yet overpowering NEED that drove me to overeating each and every time. So when no-one was looking, I’d go back and snaffle a load more biscuits. Again, it must have been obvious it was me, but I convinced myself that it was okay and that no-one would notice. I got away with it for ages, but eventually I did get caught. She was nice about it and said I should have just asked if I wanted more, but how could I possibly ask? How could I admit to needing so much more than everybody else? This shameful side of me had to be kept secret at all costs.
At home we used to have a cupboard full of junk food that was kept under lock & key (to deter my brother who wasn’t allowed them because of his ADHD), and once I was old enough to stay at home after school I used to come home and raid this cupboard. I couldn’t focus or settle on anything else until I’d had my fill of goodies. Again, my mum must have noticed how quickly they dwindled, but my dad also used to raid it quite frequently so I’d always pin it on him if questioned. In my late teens, when I had my own money to spend, I used to get stuff from the shop after school too, but I couldn’t get much because living in a small village my parents would have been told what I was buying if it was in excess or ‘bad’. At school I started buying more treats from the school canteen, and in sixth form we had a vending machine which I used to delve into regularly throughout the day. I’d learn to secrete treats in my pockets, pretend I was buying for other people, and eat them whilst no-one was around, to create the illusion of eating the same amount as everyone else.
So as the years went by I got sneakier and more secretive about it. I always knew I was overeating, but I didn’t understand why, so it was better to just shut it out and pretend it wasn’t really happening. Eventually I realised that I was doing it for comfort, but not in the way most people comfort eat, it wasn’t just a moment of niceness, it was that food had become the ONLY comfort in my life. No matter what emotion I felt, food was there, I could rely upon it and control it, and if I ate enough it would always make things feel okay again. It was also like a security blanket – having something in or against my mouth always made me feel safer. I didn’t want to be overweight and it made me deeply unhappy that I was, yet I didn’t know how to break that cycle.
So I just about understand the psychological/emotional aspects of overeating and binge eating, but what I don’t yet fully understand is all the other stuff that goes with it, the seemingly more physiological aspects which I don’t know how to control. I feel like there’s something more to it than just my emotions, almost like an innate need and drive. Apparently as I baby I used to guzzle my bottle as if it was the last bottle I was ever going to have; once I was introduced to dessert I apparently never wanted to eat my main course; and even my first word was ‘more’!
I’ve tried many various diets over the years, and although I have managed to lose weight (sometimes up to about 3stone), I never manage to diet for more than a few months, and I never manage to keep it off. This is because when I don’t eat what I like and I don’t binge, I’m miserable and fall apart, for several reasons. Cravings for food never wane or disappear, if I know there’s food available I HAVE to have it and can’t ignore it, even if I don’t want/need it, and smelling food ignites unbearable hunger pangs and salivation. As far back as I remember I get moody if I don’t eat; when I diet, I’m subdued; and when I’m struggling emotionally I get severely suicidal. It’s for this last reason in particular that food has so often won out – it seems the lesser of two evils to have a pizza and some cake, than to give in to the suicidal urges. And now that I have CFS/ME too, it means anytime I eat less than you’re meant to, I get extremely weak and then I become more ill and get viruses and stuff because my body’s feeling under strain and rundown. I also can’t do vast amount of exercises because I’m simply unable to do so, and does more harm than good whenever I try.
So whenever I diet, even just when I follow an average, sensible healthy diet, I’m in constant mental and physical torture. I manage to last about three months before I crack. And I always, without fail, crack at some point. It just becomes too much. It doesn’t seem worth it for the sake of being thinner and healthier. But then if I don’t diet, I put on 1-2lbs a day simply from being intolerant to several foods (again, takes too much energy to eradicate these from my diet on a permanent basis), and before I know it I’m another stone or two heavier, have regained the weight I lost, and put on more too, which is extremely disheartening and frustrating.
I feel like I have so many things going against me when it comes to food and weight. Whether dieting or not it all feels like far too much. I feel trapped; trapped in this nightmare that nobody even knows about. Everyone sees me and judges me for being fat, and can’t understand why I don’t just ‘do something about it’, but they have no idea about the relentless inner turmoil I’m in; no idea how hard I fight on a daily basis to not give in to the emotions and the urges to eat; no idea how sad and broken I feel because I have such an unhealthy relationship with food; and no idea how lonely I feel because of it all.