I have always had an unhealthy relationship with food, but it wasn’t damaging. At least, I never saw it in that light.
We all talk about the times we “smashed a whole tub of Ben and Jerrys” or “completed a whole Dominos with sides and cookies”, so in my head I could normalise the times I would eat until it hurts (and the times that I would wait until the hurting stopped and go again…) It was so normal that when my therapist gave me the space to share, I had no idea what to say. We live in a world which comfort eats, so surely if I bring this up in a therapist office, they’d just give me some tips on willpower and recommendations for a lock on my fridge and send me on my way.
Obviously, that didn’t happen. Actually, my first therapy session was probably the first time I felt un-normal and I mean that in a good way. I felt valid in reaching out for help and justified in my BED diagnosis.
It’s not been an easy ride, but today I’d say I was in a good place. Would I say I was recovered? I’d perhaps unconfidently whisper that I was better but I imagine many people would join me in saying that some of the ED thoughts do pop up every now and then… Especially at Christmas.
I don’t know about everyone else, but everywhere I have been over the last few weeks is cluttered with chocolate tins, bowls of nuts and so many mince pies. And they aren’t just there for show, it’s only polite for you to have something, anything, all of it. “Go on, it’s Christmas!”
It’s socially-acceptable ‘binging’ to use that term loosely and it’s this time of year when the world is telling me to relapse, even so far as wrappers which tell me my binge-foods are ‘guilt-free’ (because it’s fun and festive!) and not-forgetting my grandparents who push me to have an extra plate of food because ‘there’s plenty to go around’ followed by a little shame-stare if I have an extra mince pie. Food is the focus for the festive season, and everyone if hyper-focused on what you are or aren’t eating.
‘Tis the season to be jolly… to indulge… to eat to excess and for those struggling with an eating disorder like me, to dive into a deep pit of anxiety, overthinking and total despair. Not forgetting the isolation that all of those emotions bring in tow.
There is a lack of understanding when it comes to Binge Eating Disorder. My family don’t know the ins-and-outs of my issues, not because I haven’t told them or that they don’t care – but because they don’t get it. And I can’t blame them, I didn’t get it either (and I was the one struggling!) I remember my GP telling me to talk to a family member and I laughed. It wasn’t funny, but it was laughable that he thought I could just go home and be like… “Hey mum, I have an eating disorder” because people like me (who buy from the plus-size section) don’t have eating disorders. ‘Eating disorders’ means anorexia to normal folks. The idea that it could relate to me and my relationship with food, my binging, my hoarding, my occasional restricting, my shame, my heartache… is LAUGHABLE!
Turns out that this is my own internal stigma. Thank you world for stigmatising and shaming the overweight and plus size people into thinking we are greedy, lazy and lacking in willpower. And, sorry but if you think I’m being dramatic, google it. Every news article about a personal experience of an eating disorder is about an anorexia or bulimia patient… I scrolled and scrolled and didn’t find a person like me.
Having so much food in the house over Christmas is triggering for me. I find it hard to control the urge when certain foods are at my fingertips. In the past, the urges were too much and I would skip a trip to the local lights switch-on to stay home and binge alone at home.
My eating disorder really thrived during that time, especially since it could hide in plain sight I suppose. I didn’t need to hide my disordered behaviours (as much.) My ‘binge shop’ never felt as shameful, because most families were buying that stuff and spending a little more in shops in December! The post-Christmas shame however, was crippling. The normalisation of disordered eating traits may have made me temporarily less shameful about my BED, but it is/was a condition that affects me every single day of the year, not just a season and when the tinsel and Christmas lights came down, the ED shame come right back up.
Things are different now I’ve been through support and treatment. I used therapy to explore my relationship with food and why I used it as a coping mechanism and developed new ways to cope which weren’t damaging to my body and mind. Christmas is still hard though; I’m not going to lie.
Here is what I’ve learn and how I feel this year:
- This year I have my partner, a person that knows me best and knows my ED (we prefer to use ‘Edward’ if we want to give the ED a telling off.) My boyfriend is my go-to guy for when times feel hard and I need a real-life sounding board for any intrusive thoughts. It’s really helpful to have a person that can listen but also act when I need him… Perhaps steering a difficult conversation when things get awkward.
- I plan ahead where possible. So, this year I asked my boyfriend if we could spend Christmas with my family rather than his – not because I don’t love his family, but because I knew what to expect at home. We also have a jokey codeword in case things get too much or my gran says something inappropriate and I need a pick-me-up.
- I have an app that limits my access to social media to help me with boundaries and limit my exposure to food advertising and opportunities where I might compare myself to women and unrealistic airbrushed or filtered bodies I see online (times when my self-worth/esteem would be down the toilet.)
- BED recovery is complicated, as I suppose all mental health conditions are. I try to work on balance, making sure I’m not restricting my foods which could lead to a binge, whilst also avoiding stressful situations which may also lead to a binge.
I guess I’m sharing my story with the hope that someone hears it, relates to it and either reaches out for support or continues their journey to recovery (or at least a life less burdened by binging.) Yo-yo dieting, whilst in my case was extreme, was something I had seen so many women in my life do, both at home and on-screen. Whilst I can’t say it caused my behaviours, I say with confidence now that it certainly didn’t help my mindset.
I sometimes see that extra biscuit as a ‘reward’ for ‘good behaviour’ (because that way of thinking is just so difficult to ditch.) But it also angers me that diet culture has such a hold on us as a society and I have zero doubt that there is so many other men and women who are struggling like I was but believe it’s THEIR problem, THEIR lack of will power, THEIR lack of control. But it’s not.
And January is set to be just another month of ‘new year, new me’ where the wonderful diet industry makes money off this way of thinking, demonising those of us living in larger bodies, criticising certain food groups and attributing morality to our nutritional choices. Time to sign out of my socials, me thinks.