The Monsters in My Fridge

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Eating used to be simple. I think that past tense is something most people could agree with.

I remember a time when I wasn’t constantly planning my meals out in my head or worrying about how much exercise I would have to do to counter an irresistible free treat offered to me by a well-meaning friend.

I remember a time when my body would tell me, via loud, annoying gurgles, that it was time to fuel it and then tell me when it was satiated, and I would heed those cues easily.

I remember a time when I didn’t feel self-conscious about my body and what assumptions people would make about me based on my size. But that was all years ago, and the memories of food as a physiological necessity and not as an enemy seem like a dream.

Now, what I remember most clearly is the exact moment that my binge-eating disorder started. 

I was at my physician’s office for what would turn out to be my last routine physical before I left home for college. The scale, which by that point in my life had become nothing more than a bearer of bad tidings, had just registered my weight at a number I had begun to think was impossible for me to reach.

After charting this new number on a line graph of my weight, my doctor turned to me and said, “You need to eat more.” Apparently, I had lost an alarming amount of weight in the short period since my last appointment.

Her words lodged themselves firmly inside my brain. She was giving me permission to give in to the cravings I had been ignoring for months, as I struggled to reshape my body into an image I considered perfect.

At the beginning of that school year, I had decided that I no longer wanted to be the biggest person in my group of friends (unbeknownst to me, some of the friends I was comparing myself to were anorexic, a reflection of the horrific levels of low self-image that adolescent girls have these days).

By the time I got to that particular doctor’s appointment, I had been through a round of the Special K challenge; was engaging in vigorous exercise daily; had stopped eating many of my favorite foods; was only having one serving of food at dinner, even if my body was begging me for more fuel; and had stopped having my period, something I was very happy about.

And even though I still saw myself as being too fat, seeing that number on the scale and hearing my physician’s command to eat flipped some sort of switch within me.

That night at dinner, in a crowded restaurant and in front of my family and a few of my friends, I had my first binge. No one commented on my excess intake, and to me, this served as emphasis that I should listen to the doctor’s orders. I needed to eat more.

It’s been around six years since then, and I’m still trying to become friends with my food. College was a nightmare eating-wise, with the all-you-can-eat dining facilities giving me the excuse to eat my feelings and fears, with no worries of judgment (I was just getting my money’s worth, right?).

Support has also been hard to find. Mostly because I still believe it is merely a problem of self-control (I’m training to be a health care professional, and yet I can’t buy into the knowledge that bulimia is an actual disease).

But also, because it’s hard to explain precisely how a binge takes away all ill feelings for its duration or the high that happens when you “negate” that binge by resisting food for the next few days afterward.

Life’s better now that I have tried new things and found ways to distract myself from using food as a crutch.

I get the most frustrated by the vast amount of often contradictory information on nutrition and exercise floating around. Six small meals a day or three normal ones? Three reps of eight, using a weight I can barely lift, or 100 pulses with a five-pounder that will still leave my muscles burning? Is meat good or bad?.

It’s hard to prescribe yourself a healthy lifestyle when no one agrees on what exactly that is.

I still struggle with finding balance and not feeling the need to eat the whole package of crackers if I’ve already broken my meal plans by having five. But I don’t berate myself as often as I used to if I’m feeling a certain way.  I try to acknowledge the feeling and accept it, rather than using food as an escape.

There are still bad days, of course, but they are far less frequent than the good ones. And I’m sure that’s all that anyone else, with an eating disorder or not, could say anyway.