Disclaimer: TW for fat shaming. Also, the title of the post is not what I believe but a reference to a previous body image post where I mention that this is something I had been told frequently by people.
Whenever people talk about eating disorders, they are usually thinking of the extreme ones like Anorexia and Bulimia. Those are serious conditions that last a long time, and I encourage people to read up on them: especially the posts written by people who have suffered with them.
But limiting the discussion of eating disorders to just those two conditions is damaging in many ways to people who struggle with eating disorders that don’t fall into those categories.
I am thinking in this case of my own situation. I’ve talked about before about my struggles with weight and body image issues. What I never really explored is how my relationship to food is an eating disorder of its own. I don’t think it is one I could talk to a doctor about. Not because they wouldn’t believe me, but rather because it would be classified as not serious enough to worry about, or more likely as a lack of self-control.
I anxiety eat. This is especially the case whenever my anxiety is triggered by weight related issues. This can occur when someone, including myself, fat shames me, makes a negative comment about my body, etc.
It started back in high school with an obsession with forbidden food. My household was diet obsessed. Everyone in my family was concerned with weight gain and so food was watched, discussed, and analyzed obsessively. Discussions of what someone was eating, how much they were eating, when they were eating, were common and often negative. Added to that were self-depreciating comments, discussions of other people’s weight (like actors and performers), and fad diet books aplenty. My family was the very definition of fat shaming culture.
Food became something seductive, tempting, and evil; it became taboo. Especially unhealthy food. McDonalds, Coca-Cola, chocolate, chips, candy, and ice cream, all of it became a method of rebellion against the diet obsession of my everyday life. It’s not that the food was ever particularly good, the food we ate at home and eventually the food I started making for myself, was infinitely better tasting and better for you. There were two aspects of joy in the eating of the unhealthy food: The inherent anger and rebellion of “fine, you think I’m a pig, then fine I’m a pig” and the other was the affirmation of my own humanity even if I did indulge in food that was unhealthy for me or would result in weight gain.
Of course the down side was that the food really was unhealthy and so I would gain weight. The weight gain would in turn make me feel like a failure, as though I was unattractive, as though I was worthless. I would become depressed, and in searching for relief from that depression I would look for the release of unhealthy food.
It was a vicious circle. Eventually the response of seeking relief in the dubious pleasure of junk food became the ingrained response to anxiety of any kind, not just that triggered by body stress. Pulling an all-nighter, being stressed about exams, money, work, any of those could trigger a need for indulging myself with food. Same with depression, which often manifests itself in me as anxiety; it too would trigger this uncontrollable need for food that I knew to be unhealthy.
Throughout my elementary and high school years, we were swarmed with public service messages about the dangers of anorexia and bulimia. That I did not progress to full blown bulimia is not in thanks to those PSAs but rather credited to my lack of a gag reflex. I cannot count the times when I would sit in the bathroom, lost in a miasma of body loathing, where I would surreptitiously try to shove a finger down my throat; luckily to no result. I could have probably found other ways to trigger vomiting in myself, but something always prevented me. The irony of my later Crohn’s flare did not escape me.
I soon noticed the pattern that immediately before visiting my family I would go on a binge, and would continue it throughout the visit home. I would sneak food, either when out with friends, or at home. I would pilfer the freezer for vile old frozen chocolate, just because the desire for it would be so strong as to verge on addiction.
Then when I was away from the stress, the overwhelming cravings would disappear. Not to say that I would never indulge in a chocolate or fast food from time to time, but that uncontrollable desire to eat would be gone. Most of the time I would need to remind myself to eat. My cravings at that time were more frequently for healthy home cooked meals. I would snack on vegetable. A late night snack would be a lightly salted tomato, sometimes with some cheese.
When I left for university, I entered an atmosphere where junk and fast food were the norm. No one would look at me askance for having a burger or chocolate from time to time. In fact, occasional late night trips to McDonald’s became looked forward to outings. Miraculously, despite the atmosphere of binge eating, I began to lose weight. I didn’t crave the food in the same way, and instead became more interested in cooking for myself and exploring my culinary abilities. In fact, I was often times the source of healthier food options to many a dorm student.
When I started working for a woman who could trigger my anxieties like no one else since my mother, it started me down a long spiral towards a lack of control when it comes to food. The fact that I was suffering, unbeknownst to me, through a period of depression as well, only made the situation more dire. Add to that being put on prednisone from time to time, and the result was a drastic increase in weight gain. With it came the self-loathing. With the self-loathing came the sensitivity to comments as I had never experienced before.
Although I know without a doubt that my partner finds me attractive, I would take innocent comments from him badly. Although I would ask him to help me control my intake of unhealthy food, any attempt to do so would trigger a memory of the same type of comments coming from weight obsessed family.
I am getting treatment for my depression now, and soon, I will be starting to see a counselor/psychologist regularly to help deal with the emotional scars of the past. I hope that when that time comes, I will be able to lay to rest the anxieties that have been propelling me into this state. At the very least, I hope I will be able to control them and start back down to the pathway to healthier food habits. In the meantime, I work on controlling my anxieties and channeling my craving for unhealthiness in less destructive directions.