I wasn’t an overweight child, but from as young as 5 years I can recall comparing myself unfavourably with two painfully thin twins in my dance class and thinking that was what I was supposed to look like. I’m not sure how I got the idea that I should be very thin. My mum was often on a diet and always wanted to be thinner, so maybe that shaped my thinking that thin was good. I remember at high school being mortified that every year I put on more weight. I now realise I was growing so of course I weighed more, but my actually thinness or fatness actually remained very similar from year to year. I thought my tummy was never flat enough and my legs were too big. I was very self-conscious, not just about my weight. I felt very ill at ease in the world, never quite sure how to act or how to be. I didn’t know it, but all my sore tummies at night was anxiety. I hated the dark and at 12 was suffering from insomnia. Mum took me to doctors and naturopaths to try and get to the bottom of the constant sore tummies that would come on at night. No one suggested anxiety was the cause. I took many vitamins and supplements to fix the problem. They didn’t work. I still hated sleeping in my own room and would sleep on the floor in my parents bedroom or in the spare bed in my brother’s room. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. After I started high school the anxiety abated a bit, but I suffered many more rounds of anxiety and depression and suicidal thinking into my 30s.
I first began crash dieting/extreme dieting in my teenage years, eating only fruit and vegetables for a week to lose weight quickly. I was thin going to Tahiti as an exchange student but, six weeks later, came home with more weight on than usual. I often would eat virtually nothing but maybe oranges or carrots during the day then come home and binge after school, one sandwich after another after another and another. I just couldn’t seem to get full. Then, I’d be full of self-hate and shame and guilt. I knew then something wasn’t quite right with my eating but didn’t realise how bad it was going to have to get before I would realise I was addicted to food.
It was during my teenage years I first dabbled in bingeing then trying to vomit the food up. I wasn’t very good at it and it hurt so I didn’t latch on to this weight control method and quickly dropped it for the time being. It was while I was at university taking a PE course as part of my teaching degree that classmates did a seminar about anorexia and bulimia that I first heard that anorexics and bulimics think they need to be thin to be loved. That described my thinking so accurately. I was stunned at just how accurately it described my thinking and how curious that I wasn’t anorexic or bulimic. I wasn’t painfully thin or bingeing and throwing up my food. I just binged and starved and obsessed over my weight and desperately wanted to be thinner and yet wanted to eat all the time, with the basic belief that if I was just thin enough, life would be awesome. I’d know how to talk to people, I’d be happier, I’d be full of confidence, people would like me, I’d be financially successful. The right thinness promised so much freedom, or so I thought. So, I completed my degree, found and married an amazing man and began working in my chosen field of teaching, at the same time trying to chase the dream of being thin enough to be happier and free.
Eight years or so of marriage and my husband was ready to do some more study and we moved to Auckland for two years and I became pregnant, hoping to welcome our first child into the world. When 10 weeks later I suffered a miscarriage, my whole world spun on its axis. If I thought I was unhappy and dissatisfied before, now I knew true suffering and pain and I was ill equipped to process it. So, I applied the remedy I truly believed with my whole heart could solve life’s problems, I just need to get thin enough.
I hit the gym with a passion, four hours a day in two sessions, one in the morning, one in the afternoon/evening, hard cardio and lots of heavy weights. At the same time, I found I was able to reduce my food intake significantly. I became high on the power of denying myself food when I was clearly hungry. It made me feel powerful and in control. Within six months 10 kilos dropped off my small frame and my doctor mentioned that losing lots of weight would not help my fertility. She was right. After six months I was ready to try to fall pregnant again. Unfortunately, at about the same time I developed amenorea and my periods disappeared. I wasn’t hospital thin so it didn’t occur to me that I was suffering from anorexia. We returned to our home city, broken and suffering. I fought with my husband constantly, finding ways to blame him for my immense unhappiness. I was miserable, so was he!
I was thinner than I’d ever been, which was supposed to fix life’s problems, and yet I was more miserable than I’d ever been. During my four years of infertility, due to my addiction to food, I developed bulimia to counteract the effects of the bingeing that was back. I was better at it this time. I learnt what foods were easier to bring up. I became unable to work full-time and gave up my teaching position because my anger was out of control. I got a part-time nannying job and my bingeing and vomiting and exercising got worse. I was desperately trying to stay tiny thin and was unwilling to admit that it was ruining my fertility, but the need to eat was growing and I was in a battle, desperately obsessed with being thin and yet needing to eat all the time. I didn’t cook meals for my husband for two years. I virtually lived at the gym when I wasn’t at work. I would get very cranky and abusive if anything got in the way of going to the gym. Sometimes I would go three times a day. Even the gym staff were worried. My bingeing and vomiting and obsessing about food was getting worse. sometimes filling up and emptying out three times a day by bingeing on the food at work. I was consumed with the need to cover up how much food I was eating from their pantry. I baked with the kids so I could eat. I vomited in the garden, in the toilet, in the bucket behind the servery so they didn’t see while I was supposed to be working. I stole food from my friends’ pantries when they would have given it to me. I wanted to eat the unwanted lunches thrown by the path while I was out walking. I went on bakery crawls, four on the way home from work, I binged on chocolate, 7 bars in a day, ate food from the freezer and rubbish bin.
One day I’d had enough of living the way I was and wanted a way out. I needed help. I searched on the net and found a support group like AA for alcoholics that could help me with the food and weight. I read the 15 questions and could tick most of them. I had a little bit of hope grow in me that maybe this 12 step fellowship for food could help me as it had helped others. I didn’t put the food down straight away. I had to discover and become willing to give up a lot of old ideas before I was ready to live in recovery.
My marriage has been brought back from certain failure if I hadn’t entered a 12 step programme. I have been able to have two children in recovery and today I am a normal weight, without being obsessed with being thin and wanting to eat all the time and exercise. I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I’ve discovered thinness and fatness wasn’t the problem. I had a thinking and living problem that has been helped by living this 12 step recovery programme. Not every day feels amazing, but I’ve got a way to do life that works far better than my old life used to. It’s worked well for today so I think I’ll do it again tomorrow and one day at a time I get to live in recovery from the obsession and compulsion to overeat, undereat, exercise and be miserable.