As a child I once witnessed my mum pour my grandmother’s alcohol down the kitchen sink of the holiday home we were staying in at the time. Beyond the emotion and frustration associated with that moment, it was the first time I saw the reality of addiction. In that moment I understood the difficulty a person has in abstaining from a vice if the temptation to indulge in right in front of them. Asking my grandmother not to drink was not an option.
My vice is sugar. I don’t think I would call it an addiction. But if I’m binging then the need to eat as much sugary food as possible feels compulsive and uncontrollable. Ironically before developing a binge-eating problem I couldn’t care less about chocolate or cake. My cravings usually consisted of starchy, savoury foods like crisps, potatoes, pasta and takeaways. Now I obsess over cheesecake and peanut butter, two foods I had never even liked never mind craved. Pancakes, muffins, chocolate spread, ice cream, biscuits, sugary cereal – these are some of my favourite binge foods. I have memories of driving from supermarket to supermarket, placing these items in my basket as I tell myself that I’ll just have one or two; just a taste to satisfy my craving. I know that’s a lie and as I pay at the self-serve kiosk I’m already fantasising about what I’ll eat in the car on the way home, a mini-binge before the main event.
The reality of binge eating must seem absolutely bizarre to someone who cannot relate to the madness of compulsive eating. I once tried to disguise a binging episode as a ‘treat night’ to my boyfriend, on one of the only occasions I’ve felt like I binged in the company of someone else. Noticing how quickly I scoffed a share size Cadbury’s Oreo chocolate bar (and that was after the cheesecake, crisps and biscuits I’d already eaten), he made a throwaway comment about how different my treat nights looked compared to when other people allowed themselves a treat. He didn’t mean to make me feel bad. He simply voiced something I already knew; that I did not have a normal relationship with food. The shame I felt by this was compounded by the fact that I had stuffed numerous chocolate chip pancakes in my mouth before even leaving my car, and had more biscuits hidden in there. There was a silver lining to this episode though. It was one of the moments that made me realise I needed professional help to understand what was happening to me and to prevent myself from gaining weight fast. The reality was that I was eating uncontrollably like this multiple times a week. Maybe it took binging in front of someone else for me to face-up to the fact that my behaviour was not normal.
The reality is that I cannot trust myself around certain foods. I can’t have my favourite binge foods in the house because I can’t seem to operate self-control around them. I wish that didn’t have to hide a jar of Nutella in my mum’s house. The ridiculousness of the statement is not lost on me, by the way. It’s a bit hoarder-like, isn’t it? I should just throw the jar away if I won’t eat it. But I can’t seem to. My dietician reassures me that one day I will be able to have a jar of Nutella in my cupboard, and use a bit on a slice of toast now and again, like normal people do. That’s my ultimate goal. I just want to eat like a normal person.
“Normal eating is going to the table hungry and eating until you are satisfied. It is being able to choose food you like and eat it and truly get enough of it -not just stop eating because you think you should. Normal eating is being able to give some thought to your food selection so you get nutritious food, but not being so wary and restrictive that you miss out on enjoyable food. Normal eating is giving yourself permission to eat sometimes because you are happy, sad or bored, or just because it feels good. Normal eating is mostly three meals a day, or four or five, or it can be choosing to munch along the way. It is leaving some cookies on the plate because you know you can have some again tomorrow, or it is eating more now because they taste so wonderful. Normal eating is overeating at times, feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. And it can be undereating at times and wishing you had more. Normal eating is trusting your body to make up for your mistakes in eating. Normal eating takes up some of your time and attention, but keeps its place as only one important area of your life.
In short, normal eating is flexible. It varies in response to your hunger, your schedule, your proximity to food and your feelings.”
Sometimes I have to remind myself that I am in the one in control. There is no special binge eating force that overpowers my brain and limbs as I open the fridge. I am a rational, intelligent human being that makes her own choices. So as I sit here today I know I have that half eaten box of Celebrations chocolates hidden in the back of a kitchen cupboard. But I will choose not to open that box today, just like I chose not to yesterday. This is what progress looks like.