If I Never Had To Eat Again

TRIGGER WARNING: Eating Disorders

CateIf I never had to eat again, I’m sure that my life would be simpler and without quite so many struggles for my mental health.  Take an addiction of another kind.  I was addicted to alcohol and have the choice of whether or not I will drink now that I am in recovery.  For a drug addict they can (and hopefully will) choose to not touch drugs again.  But when you’re addicted to issues of food and weight, regardless of your means of recovery you have to keep pumping 2,000 odd calories into your body each day.  You see the difficulty is that having had Anorexia and now ED-NOS (Eating Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified), I can’t give up eating food and so the internal battles that exist over weight, food, nutrition, control and self-care continue.

We’re just over a month past Christmas, and even aside from my slight bah-humbug attitude to Christmas, I am glad it’s over simply because so much of the celebration of Christmas centres around food.  It’s impossible to get away from it.  As it is I still have here a biggish box full of chocolates and sweets (candy) given to me for Christmas.  Sigh!  And on that note, would you give an alcoholic a bottle of whiskey for Christmas?  Hopefully not.  But those of us with food-related issues often get inundated with gifts of food.

Recently my doctor told me that I don’t have an addictive personality.  Hmm.  I sat there and thought how little he knows me.  It’s true that I haven’t had spectacularly public scenes of self-destruction due to addiction.  One thing my ex did well was to guard my privacy, although in hindsight, I seriously wonder whether that was such a good thing.  My current doctor is not the doctor who fought with me through those addictions.  At the time it was really only my current doctor and my ex who saw and heard the mental battles (as well as the vocal battles I constantly had with the two of them.  My doctor at the time was a saint!).

Not everyone would agree with me, but I believe that my Anorexia was a type of addiction.  No, I wasn’t addicted to standing on the bathroom scales, and I wasn’t addicted to minimal calorie diet food.  A common belief is that Anorexia is about losing weight but that was just a welcome plus that came from what I was really addicted to, and that was control.

My life was seriously out of control.  I had been diagnosed as depressed at that stage, but I wasn’t responding to any treatment (perhaps because the wrong thing was being treated).  I was seriously depressed and chronically suicidal.  And let’s not forget self harm.  I was in a relationship that I wasn’t exactly convinced on, but I was going ahead with a marriage anyway.  (Yeah, stupid.  I know.)  I had no idea what had become of the successful career girl I had been seen to be.  It didn’t help that while the outward signs of success were there, I didn’t exactly believe I was successful.  I thought I was a total fraud.

Inside was turmoil, and as I felt less and less control, I reached for something I could control… how much food I put in my mouth.  It was something tangible.  I had no understanding of my feelings at the time, but the more food I left on my plate uneaten, the better I felt.  Others might love to have that last piece of carrot cake, but I loved that strength I had to not take the cake.  I had more control than others.  So it felt, anyway.

As I reached for more control I discovered laxatives (a really dumb move).  I searched them out like a drug addict would, literally because of the quantities I was using.  They made me so sick that at one stage I really thought I was going to die from laxative poisoning.  But they gave me more control and while laxatives really aren’t that effective, I took every drop on the scales and smaller clothes as a sign that in spite of my feelings of despair, I was in control.

All that said, don’t believe for a minute that having Anorexia is a good feeling.  It’s not.  There was a constant battle going on in my head every time I was faced with another meal or even a coffee.  The cost of control was that internal battle as well as the battle with those around me who wanted me to eat.

I eventually recovered (that’s the short version), but I admit the battle goes on.  Even nearly ten years on from dropping the Anorexia diagnosis there are still days when the enticement of taking that control again is great.  I am now overweight (although not obese) and that comes and goes as I have gone through stages of over-exercising (another addiction), medication changes and depression.  My weight, my size, my self-beliefs about my own body continue to tempt me toward that control I had.

The difference is that I don’t want to be Anorexic again, and that is enough to fight that battle.  But having to eat on a regular basis doesn’t help.  If I never had to eat again, it would be so much simpler.

But instead on my table is that box of chocolates and sweets given to me for Christmas.  It’s not that I don’t like chocolates and sweets, even food for that matter, but gifts like that are overwhelming and unwelcome.  Perhaps it comes from the privacy my ex defended for me all those years back.  People don’t know how much of a battle it might be.  But then mostly people just don’t think, and certainly don’t understand an eating disorder. That’s not their fault, there is so much to understand.  I was getting such gifts at the time that I was at my dangerously lowest weight.

They thought it would encourage me to eat.  Somehow they thought if someone just put the right food down in front of me, I would start eating again.  But it never was about the food.


© Cate Reddell and A Canvas Of The Minds 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cate Reddell and A Canvas Of The Minds with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


21 thoughts on “If I Never Had To Eat Again

  1. “And on that note, would you give an alcoholic a bottle of whiskey for Christmas? Hopefully not.”

    I think this makes such an extremely vivid point, Cate. Just like you say, I think most people would not give any kind of alcohol to an alcoholic in recovery — nor would they give someone who was in recovery from prescription drug abuse some extra oxycodone they had lying around.

    But even if they did, the alcoholic and the narcotic addict could still make the choice not to take a drink or to destroy the pills. You are also in recovery — perpetually — and you are making a choice, too, but it’s a lot more tricky than the other two scenarios (and that isn’t to say those are easy). Your relationship with food is inverted, so really not eating becomes, in its own way your, “drug of choice”. Which is not to say I think you should eat the chocolates. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. . .

    As someone who has only ever watched close friends struggle with eating disorder, I still find it very frustrating how the prevailing belief is that it’s all about appearance. I don’t know if there has ever been any kind of concrete study conducted, nor even how there could be, but I would be willing to bet that for those who battle with eating disorders, it is a pretty small minimum for whom it is entirely about losing weight. I think (and the literature backs me up to some extent here) more often than not, it is exactly what you said it was for you: lack of control. That’s a major reason teenage and adolescent girls fall victim. Yes, wanting to be pretty and thin factors in, but ultimately they are living lives run by their parents, their teachers, their peers — everyone but themselves — while simultaneously trying to navigate a lot of massive, grown-up sized challenges they are not yet read to cope with. Barbie is very rarely the demonized culprit she has become when talking about the reasons women and girls develop eating disorders. What you put into your body is, quite simply, the very last frontier that no one else can touch.

    • I suspect that for every person who struggles with an eating disorder that the reasons behind it are slightly different. I wouldn’t be as bold as to say everyone’s struggle is like mind was, although I’m sure there are similarities. Mine started as a diet, which went terribly wrong. Interestingly it was a diet with a well known Weight Loss Company, and while I know all the signs were there, it wasn’t something they picked up on. That said, I’m not blaming them, I just think it’s sad that they weren’t aware of how their methods could go so wrong. The other thing is that from a very young age I had a distorted idea of body image, and again that spiralled out of control. The lasting frustration though is that the public tend to believe it’s all about calories and numbers on the scale. They were both numbers, that I could keep knocking off in an effort to get that control. And at the time, I loved that sense of control. It just got me into a hell of a lot of trouble and nearly took my life.

  2. I understand the struggle you’re facing although mine is on the side of battling obesity. I tend to indulge in emotional binging. Add to that my usually depressed disposition and my love for food – the sensations I gather from eating culinary delights – and boom, overweight again. I’m trying to control it now along with a bit of “exercise” – more like stretching. Good luck to us 😀

    • Good luck to us, indeed. Somehow I have always managed to stay away from bingeing. I think it is a really hard battle to get your head around. To understand what is going on emotionally. Well done for getting control. That’s a huge victory and from my experience the more you succeed the more you will work to succeed. Good luck with it. 🙂

  3. Great post, Cate. Ah yes, the Ana-monster. You nailed it exactly: it’s not about food, it’s about control. Sometimes it comes down to that: the only thing in one’s life that seems controllable is what one puts in one’s mouth (and swallows). I’m now 46 years in recovery with Anorexia and believe me, the struggle goes on. And yes, aren’t the Holidays anxiety-producing! OMG.

    Funny thing about the chocolate. It’s now touted as being a “Super-food,” full of antioxidants and good things for your bod, all that. I keep buying myself bars of luscious extra-dark organic slavery-free chocolate….they’re all still sitting on my shelf….and eventually I end up either throwing them out because they’ve turned into concrete with age, or I give them to someone else who will actually eat them.

    And even though I eat basically nothing, I’m still a tad overweight due to the arthritis keeping me from exercising, and having the metabolism of a tortoise. The anxiety of it! Let’s see, what else can I not eat and still have the energy to get up, sit down, and move from place to place? I don’t think this addiction ever goes away. Like any other addiction, one struggles in recovery with it, more or less, for life. I bless you that you will find the balance of control in the appropriate places, and either eat those chocolates or give them away, but don’t let them sit there and scold you. You’re doing the best you can, and that’s all we can do, isn’t it?

    • Hi Laura, You’re so right, that food we get can sit there and scold. There are times when I can buy food (like the chocolate) but it just sits and stares at me. Other times it is food I am given (people love giving me food) and it eventually ends in the bin. I’ve finally learnt that to do that is okay.

      I also struggle with the exercise thing because of my physical health. I’ve also been a compulsive exerciser and I admit the best way for me to not go there is to not start the exercise in the first place. It’s a difficult battle, not helped by a doctor who forgets what battles I’ve had and keeps telling me to exercise. But I won’t get started on that. Maybe that’s why my body now fights back. 😉

      The Ana-monster is a cruel one. So deceitful and manipulative. And perhaps if people saw that monster on our backs then there would be more comprehension of the life long battle. I think that because most people assume the disorder is about calories and weight, they just assume that everything is fine once those things are back in the normal range. But who really knows the battles we face? Only those who battle it too.

  4. I understand that eating disorders are because of issues beyond weight and appearance related to what the scales say. I wouldn’t like to claim that there is conclusive evidence but all I have ever read points to that.

    My eating used to revolve around bingeing, so it was the opposite of control: I had none. I used to hate food because of the paradox that you mention, in that we need to eat so cannot avoid our addiction in the same way as some who smokes or drinks or snorts coke.

    However, in my late teens/ early twenties, when I left home and had the freedom to choose my own diet (within the bounds of cost and availability, of course) I discovered that if I pleased myself on the taste front, I had proper, healthy control, whereby I could recognise I didn’t need to eat anymore for a few hours. I stopped bingeing, started to enjoy eating and felt liberated from the strictures of compulsion.

    Obviously, I don’t know what could be the key for you, but there will be one. Good luck!

    • That’s great that you have been able to do that, and it makes total sense to me. I’ve never struggled with bingeing and can only imagine the difficulty of battling that lack of control. That said, I do believe that an eating disorder is different for each person, and I guess that contributes to a general lack of understanding from others. I am so glad to read that you have started to enjoy eating. That is such a victory and must be a welcome relief. Well done. 🙂

      • Thanks! I am in my forties now and the bingeing of the past seems a long long time ago. Other mental health issues have prevailed, though these too might be on their way out – but the central point is that whatever the outward symptom of an addiction or other mental health issue, each of us is unique and when treatment tries to put us in boxes as a means of understanding it creates an automatic barrier to any real understanding!! No wonder so many people suffer on and on….

  5. Great post Cate! I had never thought about having an addiction to foods and the problems entailed in having to continue to eat. I do think almost everyone spends a good part of their life thinking that they are a fraud. True self confidence for most of us is hard to come by. And, I believe that much of our self confidence actually comes from cues we receive from others. The support we have from family, friends and associates is really important. We seldom ask, “How did I do/”, but we desperately hope for a positive answer. Thanks for making me think!

    • Thanks for your comment, John. I think that you’re not alone there in never having thought about the issue. I think most people haven’t because eating just comes naturally. In my opinion it’s not an addiction to food, and food actually plays a small role in the whole experience. It comes down to why we do it, and what we get from it. For me, from starving myself (and compulsively exercising) I got a sense of control. Recovery has been about realising that sense of control was actually tricking me. That’s why I liken it to other addictions.

  6. Sigh. Our brains are really scumbags. It is unreal how much bullshit we have to put up with. I am only now starting to understand addiction. I had been mistaken all my life…. which reminds me I am suppose to write a post about something you said before but I don’t quite remember what. Scumbag brain.

    I also wish I never had to eat again but for completely different reasons. So, if you find the answer, please let me know! 🙂

    • You’re so right. Brains are scumbags… in many, many ways. I remember you saying you had a post to write but I can’t remember any details. I hope you remember eventually because now I am curious.

      • hahahaha oh boy. I have no idea. I think we will never know now…. Oh, wait… I can go through all you more recent posts until I find my comment. Unless I made that comment on FB. Then it will never happen 😛

  7. I agree it would be so easy if we just didn’t have to eat. It is a struggle. I have never been anorexic but I certainly understand daily struggles with food and that most don’t understand what that’s like. Congrats on winning your fight with anorexia. Sending positive energy your way. 🙂

  8. “But it was never about the food.” Such a potent understatement.

    I totally get that it’s a lifelong struggle. I see the machinations a dear friend goes through years after ‘recovery’. I therefore also get the mental and emotional aspects that can motivate it.. I never realized the ‘control’ aspect of it, though. Thank you for elucidating that very important point.

    • Thanks Jennifer. It’s certainly something that is hard to watch a friend go through. One way to make you feel very helpless. You’ll probably appreciate the words of this song. http://youtu.be/Rx1tPIEXNAA It’s Ashley Jordan’s ‘Fading Away’. She went through the same experience of watching. Have a listen.

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