I’m a lifer. I can barely remember a time where my food and my weight weren’t at the forefront of my mind, my life and my identity. I’m now 58 years old.
Actually, if I go back far enough, probably when I was around age 4, I remember I didn’t want to eat. I was more interested in running around the yard, playing with the dog, chattering with the mailman and anyone else I could find who would talk to me and let me tell stories. At that time, my family tried hard to tempt me to eat.
By age 5 I was on skim milk and considered at risk of being fat.
By age 8 I was obese and made my first trip to a diet Doctor.
By age 10 I was the youngest in my local Weight Watchers.
Back in the 1960s in my small community, there weren’t many fat kids. In fact, in my school, I was pretty much it. This colored my view of why I didn’t fit in. I internalized an assumption that fat was my fatal flaw and that it was my fault I was fat, because I was bad. In my fear, I drew back and failed to connect well with others.
Compulsive eating was unknowingly modeled for me in my family. I watched and learned to stuff down emotions by stuffing forbidden cookies down my pants pockets to eat in secret, because people like us could never eat cookies in the open.
My family didn’t realize this and in their love, locked food away from me, took me to doctors, sent me to fat camp when I begged them, found me diets to go on. Went with me to Weight Watchers, but as our emotional distance grew, so did my waistline.
Portions in our household were large. I don’t think I ever experienced hunger—
at least not for food.
I grew up pretty solitary, lonely, full of imagination, feeling most safe in my room with my books and my cat and my stolen cookies. In public, I was bullied, teased, made fun of, picked on and picked last for everything. I could never understand it. At home I was a disappointment, later a rebellious teenager, and lastly I moved out of my house as soon as I could, hoping to escape my life and fate.
My young adult years were full of trials, but I eventfully put myself through school and graduated university as a teacher. From there I had a career, made a life, left that life, moved to another state, had many different careers successes and failures.
But no matter what happened, I viewed my worth through the lens of weight, and because of my compulsive eating, dieting and binge behavior, my size was never constant. I swung wildly up and down the scale pushing to the end of plus sizes and down to single digits sizes. I never knew what size I would wear from week to week and kept several sizes of clothing in my closet.
The weird thing was, that even during those brief encounters with normal weight, I still felt unloved and unlovable. This feeling always pushed me back into the arms of food. Food made me feel happy and numb. I could often binge my way up many, many pounds without realizing only to wake up 6 months later and wonder, “What the hell happened?”.
Back to a new diet, a food plan, the next book, the next big thing.
And often, I would knuckle through long enough to again take off weight. Sometimes lots of weight. But I never once maintained an entire weight loss.
During the course of my life I had reason to go into therapy several times to get help with other emotional issues. For some reason, I didn’t connect these with my eating problems.
I never quite believed that food wasn’t at the root of my eating trouble. Until I did.
Oddly, the start of this self-awareness was the hidden blessing of a really bad break. Besides being a serial dieter, I also used exercise as a way to cope with my huge consumption. One exercise I discovered I loved, and still do, is bicycling. I had ridden around the Big Island of Hawaii to celebrate turning 50 and at age 51 I was training to ride my first century to be held a few months hence in beautiful Lake Tahoe. I was doing a quick hill run on my bike near my home – a ride I had made many, many times. I have no memory of events, but I was found unconscious in the middle of the road, my bike flipped clear across to the other side. I ended up with a small brain bleed, damage to my shoulder, hips, and my face was split through my mouth. Also symptoms from post concussive syndrome plagued me and turned my thinking to jelly, caused horrific headaches and turned me from a person who could give a talk or presentation at the drop of a hat, into a confused, deer in the headlights who could not speak very clearly and was prone to stuttering for prolonged periods.
This contributed to my decision to leave corporate America early.
Used to living a hectic, full life full of deadlines, meetings, and action at every turn, retirement was a confusing time of loss of self. Who was I? The main constant was my old companion, food. Up and down the scale I went, bingeing, dieting, bingeing, dieting. But no matter what plan, or diet, or book I read, I still felt broken and alone.
I no longer could use my daily activity to cover up painful emotions.
Through a very slow process I discovered that food is not my issue. Food is a tool I used to cope with my other issues. And I learned to wield this tool at a very young age. Now I’m on a journey to understand myself better and to stop pretending all is ok with me. Now I’m on a journey to have an integrated life where I no longer fear or worship food.
One way I’m working this through is with my blog and podcast. It’s called Compulsive Overeating Diary. It is my experiment to see if talking about my thoughts and feelings about compulsive eating would help me. It has and through it, I’ve made many connections with others who, like me, are amazed they are not alone. We call each other brave companions and we are brave in support, in allowing each other to feel how we feel, and in communicating in a time or place or way that is comfortable for each. We don’t have answers. We don’t preach any diet or system. We just listen, tell our points of view and support one another.
At last I’m learning to connect with others.
At last I’m the teller of stories I longed to be.
At last I’m being heard.