Growing up in my family, we all fought over food, but when I think back now, I don’t remember any of them eating stale baking. I loved stale baking because I knew I’d get to eat it all – no one else wanted it. Back then quantity was everything, I wanted more, more, more.
Alongside this preoccupation with food was a preoccupation with myself. I was a shy, scared, secretive child. I may not have been saying much, but I had a lot of thinking.
Coming into the teenage years I became very conscious of my body. I was fussy about my looks, the clothes I wore and what people thought of me. I had an insatiable need to be liked.
Around the second year of high school I wanted to lose weight. My goal was to become anorexic. Karen Carpenter was my hero. I started not eating breakfast, doing an aerobics class instead of eating lunch, and in the evening I would eat only enough of the evening meal so as not to be noticed by my family. I counted calories and developed strict rules
around what I could and couldn’t eat.
Eventually I lost so much weight that my family noticed and started to watch my eating. This made me angry, so I got sneaky. I started secretly taking laxatives and over exercising.
When I ate outside my rules, I hated myself and thought I was so weak. I loathed what I thought were my fat thighs. I liked it when my hip bones stuck out and I could get my hand between my stomach and the waistband of my skirt. But I was never thin enough. I would be on the scales constantly hoping to see the line go down. I would hit myself and call myself names for being so fat and ugly. If I thought I was fat I wouldn’t let myself leave the house but if I felt thin, I wanted to dress up and go out so everyone could see how good I looked.
I lost contact with my school friends and didn’t make any new friends. I had no hobbies and was only interested in losing weight and watching tv. I had boyfriends off and on but more to reassure myself that I was attractive than because I was interested in them. Truthfully, I wasn’t interested in anyone. My sister let me hang around with her and her friends. I didn’t like her friends, but I didn’t want to be a loser with no friends. I judged everyone. Success for me was being skinny, beautiful and having lots of money.
When I couldn’t keep up the starving, I started vomiting. I was also smoking cigarettes and drinking strong black coffee in an effort to put off eating as long as possible. Once I started eating, I’d eat more that I planned so I’d vomit and exercise. Then I started using alcohol and drugs to put off eating as well. I lost my job and went on the unemployment benefit. Every day was the same, if I had money I’d eat and vomit all day long and if I had no money I’d starve and feel sorry for myself.
One day I went to the doctor and told the truth about what I had been doing with food. That doctor suggested I go to a twelve-step fellowship for people with food problems. I went along and learnt about food addiction. I hated it at first. I was scared they would make me eat boring food and I’d put on weight. In time I came to realise that I was powerless over food, whether I was eating it or not. I needed help.
Members of the twelve-step fellowship helped me. They passed on to me the programme of recovery that had helped them. They showed me, through their sharing, that my problem with food, weight and body image were linked to my secrets, judgements and criticism. To be free, I needed to let go of my old ideas. I needed to give up my right to decide what I would eat, when and how much. I needed to give up my preoccupation with self, to start looking outward and trust that I would be looked after.
These things were hard for me to do but seeing other people changing made a big impact on me. It showed me it was possible and from there I developed the willingness to try.
I still need to let go of my old ideas, trust others and look outward. I do it one day at a time, some days better than others. I’m not immune to life’s ups and downs, but what I have now is a programme for living in the Twelve Steps of Addictive Eaters Anonymous. They help me deal with life, through the fellowship of Addictive Eaters Anonymous. I am learning to lighten up a bit; to enjoy other people’s idiosyncrasies. I’m learning no one person has all the answers, but by helping each other we find a power greater than ourselves. Life is abundant and I enjoy it very much. It is a miracle.