Cookie Dough in the Dark
So how does an eating disorder start? Does it start in your teenage years when you are searching for answers, or trying to control something? Does it start as a form of punishment? Maybe you don’t even know you have an eating disorder until you look back. Perhaps you can pinpoint the exact time that your eating disorder started. Food, punishment, control, enjoyment, nourishment, what is it for you?
The issue with eating and having a disorder is that you can’t stop eating. Tempted 3-6 times per day, and even if your disorder is to starve yourself you still ultimately need the nourishment unlike drugs and alcohol.
Do we consciously decide to start an eating disorder or do we decide to punish ourselves and our weapon of choice is food?
My journey with food and living a healthier life may be something you identify with and some of you might think it is downright crazy and can’t relate at all. All the steps I have taken are and continue to be my journey. When I was younger, I certainly wished for a magic pill that I could pop in my mouth, but somewhere along the way, I realized the pill is just taking life day-by-day and exploring who I am and where I need to go. All of us have a journey to fulfill; there isn’t a finish line. It’s a growing, an experience that we should open ourselves up to, not criticize ourselves for. I wish, is a waste of time, it’s a waste of my thoughts. Through each experience I have grown stronger and now accept my challenges with excitement rather than dread. The growth dies when we don’t learn from our mistakes or cease to push ourselves forward. It doesn’t mean you have to suddenly start to exercise, change your eating habits and deal with your emotional issues all at once, it means that you are ready to take the first step of many.
My Teenage Years
My earliest memory of trying to lose weight was taking fiber pills so that I would stop eating excessively. But as I recall I don’t think I ate any less, I just obsessed about my weight even more. I didn’t have one ounce of knowledge about how to lose weight effectively. Throw in being approximately 13 years old, with my hormones fluctuating and all the teenage questions I had with no answers. Where do I turn when my parents were lost in their own world of a bad marriage?
In hindsight, I can say that my eating was just an escape from what was happening in my head. I may have been pudgy and soft but I have never been fat. Perhaps it was the weight of the world. Whatever the reasoning of a 13 year old, I mentally felt fat but didn’t make the connection. Is it a learned behaviour to obsess about our bodies or a coping mechanism to escape reality?
When I was 16, my parents separated resulting in my Mum moving to England, which is where all of her family were. My sister and I were sent to private school for a year of transition so we could all sort out our place in the world. This is where I think the notion of numbing myself with food really took off but on a subconscious level. While at Private School, I submerged myself in my studies and dealt with my new life. It was painful to say the least, being so far away from my mother, a father who was dealing with making his own new life, my sister coping in her own way and to top it all off, I had been removed from all of my friends. So what? I’m not the first teenager that’s been sent off to school and been a child of divorce. So, get over it. Well, you can tell yourself that on one level, but deep down I couldn’t deal with the pain rationally and for me, it reared its ugly head in the form of eating, or shall I say bingeing and punishment.
I remember, on numerous occasions, either eating an entire pie and tub of ice cream or eating a whole tray of cookies– oblivious of everyone watching me. It was only years later that my sister and I would talk about this. It was a faint memory for me, because for anyone who is a binger, you become transported to somewhere else. Or, it might be something that you just don’t want to remember or admit to!
Due to the fact that I was an honour student, I had earned the right to study in my room instead of with all the others in the main hall while at Private School. In retrospect, it would have been better to be in the hall! Because when I had finished my studies, I could do what I wanted which usually meant baking cookies. I would proceed to bake the cookies, which were very soothing, but then I would eat all of them. I would play the game that it doesn’t count if its cookie dough, it doesn’t count if you’re standing up, or if it’s not on a plate. It only counts when the cookies are on a plate and you are sitting down. And if you did eat them but still weren’t fully conscious to taste them, you could get some more. And then suddenly, where the f^&%& did all the cookies go? Did someone eat them when I wasn’t watching…but no one was in the room? Shit, I actually ate all of them. How can you eat a batch of cookies and not even taste them? And then, do you know what I would do? Throw them up! What a complete waste of my time. I don’t even remember how I got into this habit. But, I did. I would go to the bathroom and proceed to stick my finger down my throat. Gagging. Cursing at myself for being such an idiot. Finally, a stream of cookie would flail into the toilet. Flush. I’d look at myself in the mirror. Red, watery eyes and I would say the most demeaning things to this person. But, the saddest part is, I would either go and bake another batch and eat some more and do it again or it would happen the next night. There are times when it was hard to throw up in the toilet, so I would stand in the shower with hot water falling on my back, bending over and sticking my finger down my throat. Chewed food leaving my body and collecting at the drain, collecting like the feelings of complete and utter helplessness which were swelling inside of me. I wanted the demons out of me. I wanted peace. Funny enough, even when you throw them up, they still remain. Feelings, unfortunately, cannot be projectiled into a toilet or down the shower drain. What a shame.
Talk about a time-waster – prepare the cookies, eat them and then throw up – why bother?? Bulimia. Self-punishment is what I know I was practicing, now, but not back then. I was just trying not to gain any weight.
For some strange reason, I learned that the acid from the bile rots your teeth and can rot the lining of your throat and apparently that was enough to make me stop. So I did. There may have been a few times after this, say 6-month period, that I would indulge in this behaviour but it was very few and far between. And has definitely not had a place in my life in the last 20 plus years. I knew I had to learn to deal with what I put in my mouth and not jeopardize my health.
But now if I wasn’t going to discard the extra food from my body, how was I to stay thin and not get fat. How would I deal with my loneliness, how would I deal with my unexplained feelings? What was I going to do to punish myself? So, I started chewing gum. I would chew about 70 packs of Hubba Bubba (do you remember that?) a week and I would tape the wrappers on the wall to remind myself of what I was doing. Can’t get fat chewing gum. I also probably starved myself; and I think I only ate grapefruits for about a week. I did a lot of silly things that were useless. I also started to work out. Eat food – work it off cycle….and this continued for many years!
Eckhart Tolle, writes in his book The Power of Now “The sufferers of bulimia will often make themselves vomit so they can continue eating. Their mind is hungry, not their body. This eating disorder would become healed if the sufferers, instead of being identified with their mind, could get in touch with their body and so feel the true needs of the body rather than the pseudo-needs of the egoic mind.” Well, I wish I’d known that it my teenage years! However, when I read it in my 30’s it made so much sense that I wanted to cry. Oh, how I wish I’d had the insight then, but that’s part of growing up and traveling on the journey.
So, in my own 16/17 year old brain, I decided to deal with the weight that I was putting on and to just accept it as best as I could.
I may not have liked it but I wasn’t ready to move on so I was present in the moment and tried to enjoy it. I shoved whatever I could in my mouth. Why? Emptiness. Loneliness. Severely lacking proper nutrition training. Whatever it was, I didn’t care and I wasn’t ready to face it. I was bloated, I felt like shit, I had horrible yeast infections, and I hated everything about me. I had a very lonely year at school. My weight is irrelevant because it’s how I felt and the fact that I wasn’t in good health that mattered. And it was the weight of my mind and the lack of happiness that weighed the most.
This pattern of compulsive eating and self-sabotage carried on for a few years. I know that after leaving private school I did lose some weight, but I was still eating compulsively. And oh! Could I pack it back! Was I proud of eating so much? No! What was I getting out of eating excessively? I was getting a pass. I was avoiding the moment. Numbing the pain. Bury the pain. Problem is, it doesn’t go away. It just gets deeper. Eventually I would have to deal with it. But what exactly was the pain? What had I buried so deep?
This is an excerpt from my book (not yet published). I get asked all the time about eating disorders and felt that I needed to start sharing my experience. As a Personal Trainer for the last 20 years, I have hundreds and hundreds of stories that I could share with you and I will over time. The biggest one I can tell you is to go after your health and stop obsessing about your weight. I hear all the time, “When I weigh 8lbs lighter, I will be happy”. My answer – “No, you won’t – you will be 8lbs lighter, you always have the choice to be happy or not at any weight”. Each and every day you have the choice as to what you do and how you feel – some days easier than not, but ultimately, it’s your choice.