Confessions of a Closet Eater
Food was the glue that kept me together. Sure, I was heavy, but I NEEDED my food to keep me afloat. Eventually, though, it cased me to sink…into despair and self-loathing.
Born into a looking-good family, I early on turned to food to deal with my feelings, or, more accurately, to not deal with them. As I grew, I grew. I simply refused to accompany my mother to the “Chubby” department for girls’ clothing. Going there would confirm what I firmly closed my eyes to—that I was plump. Pleasingly plump? Not in my eyes, nor the eyes of my family. There was nothing pleasing about it.
For over two decades I used food the way the alcoholic uses booze: it was my fix, it took away my pain, it numbed me out. Needing to avoid criticism, though, I became adept at sneak eating and no one guessed how much I consumed. I sneakily raided the cupboards above the kitchen cabinets—stocked with the junk food I craved. Once I had my driver’s license, I’d go to the mall and buy my favorite sweet – white chocolate – hide it in my purse and surreptitiously cram a piece at a time in my mouth so no one (all those strangers I happened to pass, as if they were at all interested!) would notice.
As a teacher, I’d confiscated my students’ candy and eat it later myself. As a young married woman with a traveling salesman husband, I’d go to the bakery and tell the clerk I wanted this, this, and this for my husband. He, of course, was out of town and never knew nor saw what I brought into the house and devoured. I hated to waste food (much better to go to my waist, or belly!) and would consume whatever my children left on their plates. Was I hungry? What difference did that make? It was there….so I ate it.
Always on a diet or knowing I should be, I’d purchase the least expensive cookies for my kids, convincing myself that if they didn’t taste good I wouldn’t be tempted. Ha! One of my low points occurred with the cookie jar: I took out three cookies to have with my coffee. They were gone, so I took out three more. Inhaled those, took out three more. Again and again and again. Finally, I grabbed my hand and yelled “Stop!” But I couldn’t, and continued to cram in one after another.
“The deception of others is nearly always rooted in the deception of self.” Boy, did I try to fool myself. I convinced myself that if I had milk with my baked goods, then it was a healthy treat. I’d pour myself a glass of milk and take out a few Oreo cookies. I’d eat the cookies and drink the milk. Oh my, there is still milk in the glass, I will need to have a few cookies in order to drink it. (Plain milk was never palatable for me, I always needed something with it). Ate the cookies, drank the milk. Oh, I need more milk because there are still a few cookies out. Poured more milk, ate the cookies with the milk. Uh oh, milk in the glass, I will need to get more cookies. This continued ad nauseam until I either ran out of milk or ran out of Oreos. Burp. Belch.
Yes, lots of burping and belching and stomach distress. I’d eat so much that my stomach ached, chew a few Pepto Bismals, and curl up in a fetal position. Once the pain subsided, I’d get up and chow down some more.
I was miserable. I ate when I was bored. I ate when I was angry. I ate when I was scared. I ate when I wanted to celebrate. I ate whenever I could. I didn’t know that I suffered from binge eating disorder. I didn’t know that I was using food to alter my mood. I didn’t know that I was using food just like all addicts use their dope.
The Mayo Clinic lists the following symptoms of binge eating disorder, and I experienced each one of them:
Eating large amounts of food
Eating even when you’re full
Eating rapidly during binge episodes
Feeling that your eating behavior is out of control
Eating a lot even though you’re not hungry
Frequent dieting, possibly without weight loss
Frequently eating alone
Feeling depressed, disgusted or upset about your eating
How many apply to you?
Perhaps you do not have binge eating disorder but still use food to deal your feelings. Though not all obese individuals are compulsive overeaters, experts believe that about 75 percent of overeating is emotional eating—using food to deal with feelings. Although everyone turns to food for comfort on occasion, such as hot soup or hot chocolate on a cold winter’s night, or something sweet to chew on after a fight with your honey, the compulsive overeater turns to food as the primary means of coping with everyday stress, anxiety, and other difficult feelings. We have an emotional hunger. Some of us eat because of an inner emptiness, and some of us become addicted to sugar and refined carbohydrates as a result.
What to do about it? I wrote Stop Eating Your Heart Out to share the tools and techniques that have worked for my clients and me. I will be posting hints along with some of the tools. So….stay tuned!