Several posts in my Instagram feed last week brought to my attention that it was Eating Disorder Awareness Week. One in particular from an amateur runner I follow briefly documented her experience with binge eating.
I sat up as I read it. Binge eating is a form of disordered eating? Well. Shit.
I’ve never been diagnosed with an eating disorder but I do have a diagnosis of anxiety. One of the many manifestations of this condition for me is obsessive behavior about food. That was my drug of choice for years before I found alcohol.
Before diet cycles dominated much of my thinking in high school, I found relief from the what felt like chaos in my head in the fridge. A slice of Colby cheese, then another. The act of consumption was comforting, reckless in my structured world. My mom packed me nutritious lunches before such a thing was trendy, and supper (that was our word) cooked by my dad regularly featured lean proteins and vegetables and skim milk–this is all very radical in low-rent Ohio in the 90s. This structure, and my penchant for following the rules, meant that I could keep my shit together and not overeat for most of the day. It was after supper that the fridge would call me. I had been good all day in a body that was growing at a rate that felt out of control and with a brain that wouldn’t stop humming. Cheese helped, even just briefly. Refraining from a slice often felt impossible.
What is safe to call the legitimate binge eating began later in high school when I started dieting (what’s up, Weight Watchers). I’d tally my points, analyze the listed calories on the bottles of salad dressing, willingly consume fat-free cheese, skip lunch, see results–a couple of pounds per week. Nothing abnormal. Then I’d slip up. By “slip up,” I mean have a meal out with my family at a Mexican restaurant and was overwhelmed at the idea of tallying up the points, and what that high number would really mean–that I fucked up yet again, the frequent refrain of the chaos’s chorus. So I’d stuff myself up for the rest of the night in the theme of “Fuck it!” What I ate wasn’t garbage–most likely lowfat yogurt and pretzels and slices of more fucking cheese–but it turned into something greater than food. I don’t know if I was punishing myself for feeling like I slipped up or for giving myself a break from the regular obsessing. Per usual, the next morning I’d wake up doubled over in stomach pain and feeling like a moron. I did this routine to the point where I lost and gained around 20 pounds several times.
Soon I found alcohol and transferred my obsessive focus from one substance to another.
I’d do so well all day by being a good, charming girl. It was a lot of work. The breaking point came by evening time. I was exhausted, yet anxious. Another day gone by, acting a part, and I still felt lost. I wouldn’t intend to drink, but most days I would. Not every day, not always to excess, but often enough and with enough alcohol to forget about how much flailing I’d done that day for just a moment.
Of course I was on my way to a drinking problem, I see now with the benefit of hindsight. But 11-year-old me, 17-year-old me, 26-year-old me, 30-year-old me only knew then that something felt off about me, almost always, but she could never figure out why. A nightly glass (j.k., bottle) of wine took the edge off, and before that, this edge I felt pressed into every day was softened, just slightly, with nightly, stealthy binge eating cheese at the open door of a fridge. Consuming something quelled the chaos in my head, even for just a few moments, even though I knew it would eventually make me feel like shit.
Seeing the gal’s story about binge eating this week on Instagram forced me to think about and document the parallel track that binge eating and drinking took in my life.
I should say something pithy, like I’m now consuming the joys of living as a sober, mindful, vegan-ish person who doesn’t eat cheese. That’s all bullshit. I’m still figuring myself out. I’m still mustering the courage to explore behaviors that I felt and feel are shameful. But one big difference between me today and me at 11, 17, 26 and 30 is that I know the chaos in my head isn’t something that has to be quelled. That it’s a part of me, for better or for worse, and that while I can’t shut the chaos all up for good, I can explore it.