Many of you know that I have struggled with anorexia in the past and many many years of severe bulimia. Many of you have heard of these ‘real’ eating disorders. But I also hear and see so many more people struggling with the condition of binge eating, or of the less discussed disordered eating. Because it is totally possible to maintain a weight within the ‘healthy’ range, or laugh it off as just “loving food too much” sufferers are often able to conceal their issues for years and struggle with the destructive behavior in pain and isolation without ever getting help, or even realizing that there is help.
What links all of these conditions or disorders is that there is almost always a preoccupation with food that can become an obsession. We think about it all day, dream about it at night, plan out our next meal before we’ve started to digest the one we just ate. When I was severely restricting my food I would find myself wandering around the aisles of a supermarket, just staring at the displays of food for literally hours. When I was actively bingeing and purging I would be sitting in class plotting what I was going to buy from each of the different shops on my way home (so the shopkeepers wouldn’t think I was weird for buying enough baked goods to feed the 5000 in all one place).
Even now I would be lying if I said that in moments of high stress it never occurs to me to order in enough takeout for a small army and go to town. I’m not sure it will ever completely leave my consciousness. But I do know that I no longer live in fear of food (Too much? Not enough?). I do know that I’m able to have a real loving and truly intimate relationship with someone other than FOOD. Because it’s hard, almost impossible to properly love and be loved; to be fully present and honest with someone when you’re hiding food wrappers, or sneaking off to the bathroom to throw up, or endure the agonizing results of the box of laxatives you swallowed earlier.
I also know that I couldn’t have rebuilt my relationship with food, and my body; couldn’t have recovered to the extent that I have on my own; without help.
“It’s just food, I should be able to figure it out!” “I’m embarrassed, I’m SO weird about food; people will think I’m a freak.” “I’m fine, I just have a little willpower issue.”
Listen; IT’S NOT ABOUT THAT!
We all have ingrained patterns of behavior; I bet you brush your teeth the same way every morning. With food, as with anything else we have to learn new patterns, new habits. And food affects the body similarly to drugs. That might sound extreme but too much food, or not enough can give us this strange ‘high’, where we feel insulated from our feelings. And that is the part of the pattern that’s hard to break free from. That’s the factor that pulls us back into the destruction time and time again. And that’s the part that needs help and support.
I went to therapy. I went to Out -Patient rehab. I was very sick and pretty desperate by the time I gave in to the concept of getting better and was prepared to do anything. And I also went to Overeaters Anonymous (O.A). I’d like to clear up the common misconception that it’s only for obese, weird people, or for those who “overeat”. There are people of all ages, sexes, and sizes. There are teenagers, high-powered lawyers, glamorous fashionistas, stay-at-home parents; those of us that have issue with food run the gamut of society. It wasn’t until I started going to these (free) meetings that I really realized that how you look, or how successful you are has NOTHING to do with your real relationship with food.
I needed all three support systems to recover as much as I have, but it was the support and understanding of my peers in these meetings that really changed my views on what it was to allow food to make me so secretly unhappy and isolated. I’m not saying they were fun, but they helped me and I needed and wanted help.
If you are struggling in secret please know that there is support out there. If you have a therapist but have resisted talking about it outside of their office then please consider a meeting. Try therapy, try out-patients, try OA; try all three! But please try SOMETHING. Because if I have learnt anything over my decade plus of self-inflicted food/body misery, it is that it doesn’t just stop. It isn’t just a case of “doing better tomorrow”, or that extra hour in the gym. Please don’t carry on suffering in secret, and reading a model’s blog and feeling like it’s YOUR fault because you can’t not binge and eat the way she says she eats.
I had to learn this life that I have. I had to be helped to get to this point. Yes, I’ve worked hard, and I have willpower and I really WANTED to get better. But I still needed help to get here.