Tropical Depression: Quirky Essays on Anxiety, Food, Shame
& Life After 50 on a Tiny Island
4 min read
Food for Thought & Therapy
I've wanted to write about disordered eating for some time now. I put it off because it's not easy to talk about. However, when the news was filled with stories about how Instagram is ruining young girls' lives, I thought maybe it was good timing to discuss it. Can I just say "duh" to everyone out there who didn't think an app specifically designed to be attention getting wouldn't at some point be bad for young girls?
Growing up my mom never felt well so I tried hard to be helpful around the house. One of my responsibilities was to take care of the food shopping for the week. I didn't mind and was usually happy to help. As a reward (I think) when we returned home from shopping, my mom would let me tear into whatever I felt like eating before the food was put away. This wasn't novelty food, instead, it was items like thinly sliced cheese from the supermarket's deli counter. I would open the peanut butter not to eat it, but to carve my initials on the top. This of course could only be done when the peanut butter was still in its virgin state.
I was using food to comfort myself in almost a ritualistic way by age 14. At the time I watched General Hospital and The Edge of Night from 3 to 4:30 pm after school. I wouldn't just sit and watch Luke and Laura, I would start eating as if we were all together at their wedding. I would make myself onion dip and consume an entire pint of sour cream. With either potato chips or celery and a coke to wash it all down, I was literally in my own private idaho. I could never understand why no one noticed we never had any sour cream but purchased it weekly. My home wasn't the only place I would commit this carnage. I would actually go to a friend's house and make dip and eat all my friend's chips. It's amazing to me that my friend's mom's never asked what the hell was wrong with me? Who goes to a friend's house and instead of a small snack makes themselves a buffet? At that age, no one could convince me that the skinny body I saw in the mirror wouldn't be mine for eternity. While my eating habits could make a healthy person uncomfortable, I didn't have an eating disorder. Instead, I just ate a shit-ton of whatever I liked.
I graduated high school perfectly healthy-looking and then in college gained the freshman 20. I believe it's commonly called the freshman 15, but I'm an overachiever. Because this weight gain happened to everyone I knew, I didn't waste time feeling bad over it. I went to a technical school for fashion and with the freshman weight aside, everyone there was runway ready at all times. These girls were so spectacular looking that at times it didn't seem like I was a peer of theirs. They were so pretty that my guy friends from high school would come by and sit in my dorm lobby to pick up girls. My college friends were obsessed with exercising and at that time there wasn't a term for it. Now it's called anorexia athletica, which I agree sounds strange. When I would bring up the idea to friends that maybe we were going too far with the exercise the response I received was classic. I was told my college paled in comparison to the exploits at other schools. The University of Amherst in Massachusetts was having continued plumbing problems because of the amount of acid-filled vomit coursing through them on account of purging girls. I believed this.
Soon I would enter the real world of ten-hour days and skipped lunches. I loved working in fashion and don't recall ever worrying about my size. I never compared myself to other women and whether I received a compliment from anyone on how I looked was the least of my cares. I moved to Hawaii in 2001 after the Attacks on the World Trade Center. I made this move without having ever stepped into Hawaii, without any friends, no place to live or work. It took a full year to find a safe residence and become gainfully employed. I had almost no money at this time and was purchasing so little to eat that it was sometimes hard to get food down because it didn't feel natural.
Those were tough years because I never knew how much money I had for food. I was likely doing something terrible to my body by starving it several days a week. I only noticed that I had a sick relationship with food maybe 15 years ago. Since that time I have self-diagnosed myself as a disordered eater. This is defined as not eating healthy and worrying about body image obsessively. The best way I can describe it would be if I was anorexic, I would binge and then purge by vomiting. What I'm doing is binging and still worrying about my body but way too lazy to make myself throw up.
Disordered eating for me can be to avoid eating all day because I'm going out to dinner that evening. Maybe I had a bad or a good day and I want to celebrate. There are also times when I'm lonely and feel like self-medicating. I convince myself while shoving chocolate cookies down my gullet, that this isn't crack. I could be shooting up meth or hanging out with the wrong crowd. Instead, I'm just having an enormous snack that won't harm anyone other than myself. These circumstances become my excuses to go wilding at the supermarket and buy whatever I want. In the end, I spend a ton of money and the food is gone within hours replaced by a serious stomach ache and awful shame.