Swallow What? I can’t. I have an eating disorder.
Food is the centre of our universe. We need it to survive, simple as that. In fact, it is one of the most basic needs of the human body; the fuel to move, breathe and live. So why can’t I eat like I need to to survive?
Ever since I can remember, I have struggled with disordered eating, and intense anxiety around food and eating in front of other people. Not eating at first became my control method, and what I believed to be acting out at the world. Turns out it wasn’t really me saying “F you world I can do what I want”, so much as just the first step into self destruction and an ongoing battle with food. The world wasn’t listening. I wasn’t affecting the world. I was just affecting me, and starting a pattern of dangerous behaviour.
Now here is an oxymoron for you: I LOVE FOOD. And i mean it. Honestly. I am not a fussy eater. When I am in a comfortable scenario whereby I feel safe around food, I can eat for England. In fact, I can eat for England, France and Spain! I love meat, dairy, vegetables, fruit, chocolate, crisps. I enjoy good and tasty flavours. I love curry and Indian spices, Chinese food, English traditional dishes and Italian flavours. I am also very handy in the kitchen and make up dishes myself. Therefore, I would love nothing more than to indulge in my favourite foods whenever and wherever I want to. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
Back when I was in primary school, at the age of 8, my eating disorders started. I would create such a fuss at lunchtime at the thought of sharing a lunch hall with 300 other children, that the teacher began to let me eat my packed lunch in the classroom with just one of my chosen friends. I would cry and make myself sick until I got what I wanted: eating in privacy, or sometimes not eating at all. Of course, the teachers would try and force me to eat, trying to promote healthy eating in order for my brain to get the fuel it needed for the afternoon of learning ahead. At most, I could stomach half a sandwich! Hardly the nutritious meal I needed! At home however, I would gorge on chocolate, crisps and snacks before I ate my dinner and then had pre-bedtime snacks too.
This pattern of eating behaviours continued, and then worsened into my secondary school life. The bonus of growing up however, seemed to be that there were no teachers to force me to eat! I would go the whole day without eating a single thing, running on empty until I came home at 4pm. I would again gorge myself all evening, shovelling anything I could into my mouth – whole packets of biscuits, 4 packets of crisps, fruit…all before dinner! It was around the age of 13 until around a year and a half ago that I grew to be bulimic. I realised that gorging myself left me feeling sluggish and sick, and I needed a way around this. I was also a teenager in an environment where putting on weight was not acceptable, and even though I was slender and petite and always had been, I did not want to put on any weight at all through my binging. I would make myself sick every evening, up to 3 times an evening.
Bulimia really is horrible. It makes you exhausted, your body hurts, your stomach burns, there is a horrible taste in your mouth. I tried to be as secretive as possible, but it really is hard to be sick quietly. It’s really hard to be sick full stop really. It’s never something I enjoyed, but it became something I needed. It became a part of my daily routine. I liked food and I needed to eat, but I felt more in control if my body was empty. I still do. The voice in my head told me I was more equipped to deal with life if my body was empty, and then if I came across an anxious situation, at least I wouldn’t have to deal with anxiety making me sick, as it often did, as there was nothing to bring up.
Across my time, my eating disorders made me feel: exhausted, lethargic, anxious, annoyed at myself, suffering with fatigue, stomach aches, problems with my bowels, embarrassed, secretive, like a failure, tired, weak, shameful, irritable….I need not go on. It was no way to live.
How surprised I am that my family didn’t notice. Or maybe they did, and just did not know how to deal with it. Let’s face it, they didn’t deal well with my depression and anxiety anyway, so to through in bulimia would perhaps have been a step too far. I was crying out for someone to help me, I wanted someone to pick me up from the toilet floor and wipe my tears away and offer me the help I needed, but they never did. I felt lost, alone and in a world that was never going to get better. Why couldn’t I be like my normal friends? My eating disorders made me want to harm myself, and definitely was one of the factors that pushed me to doing so. I was disgusted in myself, in the way that my life had turned out. Why was I like this?!
I do not remember what made me stop making myself sick. I honestly don’t. But I can truly say that I feel better for not doing it. It truly was exhausting. It was draining. But it was routine, and the voice in my head would not let me go to sleep without having done it. Sometimes now I feel that I should do it, but I fight the feeling, remembering how much I hated it. Remembering how I could not eat some of my favourite foods for weeks after making myself sick and remembering the taste of it on the way up. (Particularly bad were Haribo gummy bears and spaghetti…not together of course!)
I still struggle with an eating disorder. There are some similarities in my thoughts towards food now, although I have definitely come a long way from where I used to be.
Now, I eat more regularly. I still do not feel I can eat breakfast, as this is too early to predict whether I will have anxiety in my day. Again, I feel safer and more in control with an empty body. For some unknown reason my mind seems to function better. I then evaluate my situation at lunchtime as to whether I feel that I can have something to eat, never a full meal though, just snacks. This is again because I want to feel empty, but now I am using my brain all day at work I do notice the difference of needing some energy from food. I then usually eat a large dinner, and still tend to binge now and then before and after dinner. But all in all, I eat healthily, and much more healthy than I used to. The difficulty is, I am not often hungry at meal times. My body is so so used to not eating regularly that sometimes the thought of eating is just not really appealing to me, not due to anxiety, but simply because I do not feel hungry. And should I force myself?!
I do struggle with the opinions of others when they see that I do not eat in the same patterns as they do, and often receive comments on the fact that I “never eat” or am asked why I don’t eat. What do you say to that? I really don’t want to disclose my personal issues surrounding food with people who aren’t asking for caring reasons, they are asking because I’m not fitting their idea of a social norm. I have received negative and almost bullying comments about my eating patterns, but I do not take this to heart. These come from people who don’t know the struggle of battling inner demons, and forget that everyone is suffering and fighting in their own personal battle, and more often than not, they simply just do not understand. They’ve never had problems like this, lucky them!
One sticking point for me is eating out in restaurants. I seem to have a big issue with eating around other people, and not being in control of my surroundings.
I am really trying to push myself and try and try to change my behaviours, for example last Friday at work I managed to eat half a pasty at lunchtime whilst at work. Now for me, that is a massive achievement! And if you don’t know what a pasty is, is it a Cornish delicacy that is truly delicious and really warrants a trip here just to try one! Trust me they’re not as good anywhere else in the world!
I know that I am capable of changing how I feel about food on my own, I do not want the help of therapists on this one. I have already come so far but have a long way to go. I am no longer bulimic, and that is a great achievement for someone who used to make myself sick 2-3 times a day. This is something I WILL tackle, as I really do love food, and as cliche as it is, our bodies are our cars to carry us through life and they do need regular fuelling. Mission eat more: in progress.
My eating aims are:
- To be able to eat whenever and wherever I want
- To remember that whatever I have eaten I am still in control
- To respect my body
- To look after my body
- To feel comfortable in my own skin
- To make my body the way I want it to be
- To eat healthily
- To drink more water
- To exercise
- To realise that my patterns have been dangerous to my health and well-being and I have been lucky not to become seriously ill
- To prove to myself that I can cope and really get over this
- To remember how far I have come and that I can do this
- To be able to speak honestly about my experiences and not be ashamed of it
- To not expect anyone else to save me