I love the tastes, textures, and smells of food. I love making it. I love feeding other people. I love teaching people how to cook. But food is hard. I struggle with food. My relationship with food is fraught at best.
I have suffered from disordered eating since I was about 15. This isn’t something that I tend to talk about a lot, but I am fairly certain I would have been anorexic in high school if I didn’t get diagnosed with IBS at the age of 16.
For those of you who aren’t aware, disordered eating is having abnormal eating behaviors that are not quite strong enough to warrant an eating disorder diagnosis (like anorexia). There are a lot of different symptoms that can present as disordered eating, and I don’t have all (or even most) of them. The behaviors that I in particular show are: chronically restraining my eating, having a hard time physically eating, obsessively counting calories, and regularly ignoring when I’m hungry. I also occasionally binge and hide the evidence afterward. Even though it’s not as bad as an eating disorder, disordered eating can and does impact my life in a lot of negative ways.
How did this all start? Like a lot of us, my self-image problems began when I hit puberty. Turns out that I was fated to inherit the curviness of my family line. People started commenting on my weight and how if I wasn’t careful I would end up being fat. I was 12. A 12-year-old does not know how to handle that. A lot of adults don’t.
A few years later, I started to restrict the food I ate. It was easy. I could put it in the guise of eating healthy because I had IBS or skip meals because I “forgot”. The one wonderful thing about IBS is that you can’t forget to eat. If you do, a lot of pain happens. More than is worth skipping the meal.
So I didn’t stop eating. Instead, I found that food was something I could control. I did not feel like I had control over much in high school, especially late high school. I couldn’t shake depression, I felt abandoned, and I was suicidal. I took comfort in the fact that at least I had power over what went in my body. I ate about 1,000 calories a day for years. In case you were wondering, this is bad. If you do this for more than a few weeks, you body thinks it’s starving. It is not out of the realm of possibility that I permanently damaged my metabolism by doing this. Not that it mattered from my perspective. I still gained weight.
Oh, yes, the weight. For the record, I’ve never been beyond what you might dub chubby. I’ve never wanted to lose more than 20 lb. But the thing about wanting to lose weight is that usually you’ll eat less and exercise more. That didn’t work for me for a long time. Want to know why? Because when you eat even less than just above a starvation diet, you start to get fainting spells. You can’t exercise because your body doesn’t have enough energy to repair itself from injury. Oh, and you have no energy. At all.
For about 5 years, I convinced myself that I simply couldn’t lose weight. I gave up on having a good body image or feeling pretty or comfortable with how I looked. This may not seem like a big deal, but I care about how I present myself to the world. To give up on that was depressing and sad.
About 6 months ago, I decided to try again. This time around I made sure I ate enough each day and took the exercise in increments to ensure no injuries. It worked; I am losing weight and getting rid of fat. But here’s the kicker: I still have a hard time eating. Sometimes I have to force myself to swallow. I feel sick when I smell food. I feel my body get hungry and I won’t eat until I have no other option. I am terrified that this exercise habit will get out of control and will just end up one more symptom.
I don’t want food to control my life. It shouldn’t be something I obsess over. But it does, and I do. I can’t seem to help it. I am starting to get better but I have such a long way to go. It seems like I will be this way forever.