It's not easy for me to write about this, but I believe it will help me move forward. As always, your comments are welcomed and appreciated. Please be kind.
I am not anorectic, and I am not bulimic - though I have been pretty close to the B word. There have been times – not just once or twice, but several times – that I have strongly considered purging after a massive binge. I have been so close that I have been bent over the loo, fingers in throat, gagging – but ultimately unable to vomit. What stopped me? I guess I thought "as long as I don't vomit, I don't have an eating disorder". Because I don't want to have an eating disorder, I mean; who the hell does? But the truth of the matter is, whether I puke or not, I cannot remember a time in my life that I have had a normal relationship with food. I am a compulsive overeater. Emotional eater. Binge eater. Food addict. Call it what you like, this monster within has as many names as it has ugly heads. I'm hoping that, like most trolls, this one too will explode when exposed to light.
Let's pause for a minute. Yes; this means that right from early childhood I've been pretty messed up about food. I'm 32 now, so that makes it quite a few years. The photo above is me as a young child, happy and blissfully unaware about what the future would hold. Oh, I long to be that carefree again!
So when did it all begin? It's hard to pinpoint an exact moment, but I have a pretty good idea about what triggered it. I was a chubby child, and once I reached school age I was badly bullied for it. It lasted throughout my primary- and secondary school years; at least nine years altogether. And it wasn't just my peers; let's just say there are teachers who should feel rather guilty if they read this too. I won't even begin to go into what exactly that kind of experience can do to a child. I was a complete Billy-no-mates with self esteem so low that even I myself trampled on it – and so I turned to food and books. They were my friends: They never let me down. I could always rely on them for comfort and a brief escape from the outside world. If I didn't have my nose in a book, I had it in the fridge. Or the kitchen cupboards. Two things came from this: I got great grades. And I got fat. And then I was bullied some more.
I remember coming home from school, crying and feeling totally worthless. If I was home alone, I'd raid the cupboards for something, anything, to stuff in my mouth. Bisquits, raisins, sugar straight from the pack... I'd do this mindlessly, not even registering the taste of what I was eating. Anything to numb the bad feelings.
As the years have gone by, I have continued my secret eating. I guess I got pretty good at hiding it after a while. I guess I still am pretty good at hiding it. At 16 I left school, started college, made friends. But still... I ate. I moved abroad, started uni, made even more friends. But still... I ate. Still these feelings of being worthless. Still the need for food to quieten the inner troll telling me I was not good enough and never would be.
It has gotten better. I don't walk around every day feeling worthless, but there are days where I do, even to this date. And my erratic eating has continued. Sometimes better, sometimes worse - but always there somehow, niggling. Even during good periods it's like a shadow I can just see out of the corner of my eye.
"Ooooh, go on! You know you want me. We've been such good friends for years, you can't just forget about me now. Go on, just one piece of that choccy... oooh, and just one more. Oh, you may as well just finish what you've started now, you fat pig."
Most of the time I actually eat quite healthily. I'm not stupid; I know which foods are good for me and which aren't. I cook my own food from scratch, I have a great knowledge of food's nutritional value, which foods contain which vitamins and minerals and what health benefits these have. My problem is, I just can't help myself. It's as if I am on auto pilot, coming to my senses only after the whole tub of ice cream is gone. Then: guilt. Of course.
Like most emotional overeaters, I struggle with feelings of guilt, shame and disgust, and beat myself up for my lack of self-control. I hide food and eat it in secret, so that other's won't see. I also have a rather skewed body image. The numbers tell me I am about 20 kg overweight. The mirror tells me I am at least 50 kg overweight. I have done a pretty good job of convincing myself that I am unattractive and unlovable.
But these days I have a great life. I have fantastic friends, a great job. People tell me I am good at what I do. So why do I still end up overeating? I should be happy and content, right? Right now I guess it boils down to a combination of old habits... and the fact that 14-year old insecure me is still very much alive under the surface and, despite my attempts at locking her in her room, occasionally comes out to say "hi". Heard this story of the teacher who taught her class about the effects of bullying by using a sheet of paper and asking her students to trample on it? It's so true; those creases will never completely go away. The scars are there, they have certainly faded, but they will never quite disappear.
And now I am taking what is a massive leap forward for me. Admitting to myself that I have an eating disorder is huge. Admitting it to the world is even bigger. Yet, I feel the time is right – I am at a point in my life where I feel secure enough to begin thinking about letting go of my safety line. When I say begin, I mean just that. It's gonna take a while, this. But for now, it simply means I am allowing myself to become aware of when I am overeating and what triggered it. I am taking the time to reflect, either before, during or after. I am beginning to break the spell of the autopilot eating, giving myself the opportunity to take charge and make conscious decisions about what and how much to eat and when to stop.
It feels scary. But mostly, it feels good.