Updated: Jan 2
Shame Around a Lesser-known Compulsive Eating Issue
This is the second part of Monday's blog on my eating disorder. Yep, I said it. MY eating disorder. I want to focus on what it emotionally feels like to have a lesser-known problem with food. Disordered eating is defined as unhealthy eating behaviors and worries about body image. What is missing from this definition is the shame ingredient. Shame is the factor that while it can't be quantified, can be felt. Like many other illnesses shame is a feeling that the more I try to rid myself of it, the more it rears it's ugly shameful face.
Disordered eating can be described as eating one peice of toast for breakfast because I will be going out for a nice meal that evening. Or the piece of toast is all I will eat because I ate so much last night. Doing either of these things in moderation isn't a horrible idea. The person who overate during the holidays and decides to take a step back from sweets is not a disordered eater. It's the person who makes up eating rules regardless of the rules having no logic and causes embarrassment and shame. The notion of depriving your body of a needed breakfast in anticipation of a large meal is dumb. My body has no idea what is happening other than a piece of toast is a shitty breakfast.
Suffering from disordered eating does seem strange considering I don't look like the anorexic girl who goes on Dr. Phil. Nevertheless, my entire day is about the food I want, the food I'm afraid to eat for fear of not stopping and what will my body look like after eating the food.
When I wake up, I won't get out of bed until I can recall something in the refrigerator that I would like enough to shove into my face. It's usually chocolate that gets me out of bed the quickest. Probably a candy bar that I surprisingly saved a bit of from my dinner the previous evening. There is no shame in thinking about food, but there's plenty of it to go around during the day if I get disappointed. I will leave my apartment thinking I look cute, not young cute, but acceptable fifty-something cute. As soon as I see a scantily clad young girl, which in Hawaii is every other second, I begin to feel shame because I don't look similar to her. Why would I, she is more than half my age, and has different genes? Literally, she owns jeans with micro-waists I didn't know existed.
This feeling of not measuring up would happen regardless of what I put on to wear that day and what I weigh. I will have thoughts that tell me I look hideous and those thoughts will somehow lead to thinking I'm not even a good person. It happens that fast. Since I can't easily change the way I look, I seek to control whatever I have around or can easily buy. Food fits both of those parameters, but it's a placebo. There is no control when eating an entire box of fudgicles. I've never done that, I'm just sayin.
My food obsession and the shame that follows is bad enough that if I'm in my car alone I will put paperwork or a towel over my midsection. This is so if I look down while at a traffic light I won't see how close my gut is to the steering wheel. My stomach isn't the only thing that needs its own cover-up my chin is so big it now needs its own seatbelt. All this harshness and anger towards my body is called body dysmorphia. Like never believing my weight is low enough or my size is small enough, body dysmorphia will ensure there isn't one body part that I won't eventually hate. If I had a woman lie down while another woman traced that girl's body with a marker on paper, the resulting image usually looks so small that those with body dysmorphia will not believe it is them. They might ask another girl to draw them or exchange markers. Body dysmorphia has the sufferers not believing what their brain and even their friends are telling them.
I'm obsessed with watching shows on obese individuals hoping to undergo bariatric surgery. They are obese enough that they need help breathing and washing. I watch it so that maybe I will stop eating like I do when I'm faced with the consequences. I feel terrible for these people, but just like the girl who doesn't believe her reflection is really her, I don't believe that could ever happen to me. Regardless of Safeway employees probably thinking I have a seven-year-old who eats the crap I buy on the regular. Eating as I do is similar to admitting that thus far nothing I've experienced in life has been good enough to become a reason to stay healthy. There has never been a person or activity that I enjoy more than eating a baked potato. If someone were to offer me a chance to hang out with Justin Theroux or have some french fries I would need more information to answer honestly. Like, what kind of fries? Shoestring or steak? Flaccid or crispy? Sweet potato or regular? I'm not giving up french fries for a guy who I have no chance of being with.
Few people understand what it is like to obsess over an issue hundreds of times per day. This is honest to goodness thoughts about my body hundreds of times a day. I'm 52 and can't recall any meal I have eaten in the last 20 years where I let myself enjoy it. I'm the girl who refuses to close her eyes when my hairdresser gives me the best head massage I've ever had. There is a part of me that lives to remind myself there will be a price to pay for this pleasure. The shame sometimes is very hard to explain, because I'm talking about a function that babies and most semi-intelligent people can work out. We are supposed to eat to live not live to eat, it shouldn't be complicated. Here is an apple, eat it. Well, I can't. Why? Because I try and mid-way through I decide there is a worm in there or the apple tastes mealy or maybe it's getting brown too fast. When I returned from a stressful mainland trip recently I ate Taco Bell nacho fries and a large rootbeer for three weeks straight. That was a lie, I bought this meal two or three times a day. OK, I lied again, sometimes I would buy several orders of nacho fries once or twice a day for three weeks. There, I hope you feel better about yourself for making me admit that!!
I have more confidence that I could grow wings and fly away than I do that I can alter the way I eat. The ritual of the food is important to me, it's not just the taste. It's knowing that there is a large chance the supermarket will have what I am craving. No one will say no to me and I have the money to complete the task. It's a sure thing, unlike the rest of my life which always feels out of control. Food is the ultimate way to have control over myself. Part of disordered eating is the need to bargain. Let me rephrase that, it's thinking that you can bargain with destiny, which none of us can. It's skipping a day of food because I'm going out to eat twice that week. Where is it written that to have an enjoyable meal means skipping two other meals that could possibly give me enough energy to actually enjoy that nice meal? Nowhere that's where. If I could rid the world's women of feeling awful after every meal I would. The best I can do for us is to hope our real value will be reflected not in what we put in our mouths and where it ends up, but in what is between our ears.