Binge Eating, and How It Almost Destroyed My Relationship with Me
"Food was predictable. It was reliable. I knew exactly how I was going to feel when I indulged."
My relationship with food has never been ‘healthy’ to say the least. I cannot remember exactly when food went from being a means of sustenance to being a means of coping, but I imagine it was about eight years ago, sometime in the year 2012. I had turned 19 and was grappling with a lot of unexplainable uneasiness and confusion. I was lonely, stuck in a college I thought was substandard, studying a course which I had lost interest in (history), friends with people who were not really on my wavelength and constantly competing (and failing) with those who were. At home, I found myself perpetually trying to evade my family, as they repeatedly questioned my dull and detached demeanour.
I stopped going to college entirely in my third year. My attendance was a mere 28% and my aunt had to pose as my mother, begging the dean to allow me to sit for my final exams.
I had gained an impressive 15 kilos and my formerly ‘petite’ figure no longer fit into the clothes I had once enjoyed wearing.
You see, I had found solace in food. Food was predictable. It was reliable. I knew exactly how I was going to feel when I indulged. So I began to eat to cope with the loneliness, the anger (which was mostly directed at my parents), the shame (of being mediocre), the sadness and above everything, this feeling of being out of control. Of not having any semblance of a structure, of a routine, of an understanding of who I was, what I wanted.
Anxiety, Depression, Food
In retrospect, I did not realise I was depressed. I always knew I was anxious, but I had not realised that my anxiety, having been left untreated for so long, had started manifesting as its best friend – depression.
The thing is, when you are anxious, you still try and pull through. You still try to engage in activities and push yourself/force yourself to do things which fall under the ambit of normalcy.
What is dangerous is when you get tired of constantly having to pushing yourself. Because anxiety can be crushing and it does not let up. So more often than not, you give up and just resign yourself to always feeling unsettled.
And when that happens, you start questioning why you can’t do things as effortlessly as others, why you are always so tired, why you are so angry, why you are just not happy. And your self-esteem plummets. And then, cue the depression.
To ‘cure’, ‘handle’, ‘manage’ my depression I ate more: I ate everything I could. Fast food, chaat, biscuits, chocolates, ice creams, rolls, momos, chips, chocolates, sometimes just plain sugar.
I ate till I could not. I ate till I was numb. I ate because I needed to fill the emptiness inside me. And as I ate, I gained weight. And the more weight I gained, the more my self-esteem fell. The more ashamed I became of going out, of meeting people. I became reclusive, self-conscious, and almost afraid of people. When they looked at me, I saw disgust on their face (even if they were looking through me and not actually at me). I became defensive and when my parents expressed concern over my increasing size and unhealthy eating habits, I accused them of not loving me as I was. Of not being accepting of me. I wanted them to tell me I was okay because I knew I was not. I was uncomfortable in my own skin. I was unhappy that I could no longer fit into the clothes I loved wearing. I was furious at how ugly and large I looked at in pictures.
'I knew I had a problem with food, and I was honest about it'
To handle this immense overwhelming sadness, I ate more. And that in turn led to more self – hatred. I had lost control and gotten trapped in a very vicious cycle. And there was no one there to help me. Not because they did not want to, but because I did not know how to ask or accept help.
Three years later, in 2015, I began therapy. I was a good 75 kilos by then. I had gained 30 kilos. Over the next four years, I would continue to gain weight. This year I hit 100 kilos.
You would think that therapy would have solved my unhealthy obsession with food, but quite the opposite happened.
Therapy (for me) was about two things: 1. Learning to develop coping mechanisms which were not self-harming in nature and 2. Learning how to love myself again, or rather learning that I was deserving of love (from myself and others). Both were extremely intensive processes and took a lot of patience. People say it takes bravery, courage, and insight to go for therapy, but in actuality, it just takes a lot patience because people usually end up in therapy when shit hits the roof.
And in my case, shit had flown through the roof when I landed up on the stereotypical white couch sitting across a kind, curious and somewhat enquiring face. I knew I had a problem with food, and I was honest about it.
I was cognisant of the fact that I wanted to lose weight because I no longer loved myself.
I really believed that if I lost the weight and stopped eating in this maniacal manner, I would be a happier person.
What actually ended up happening, and which I think is why I advocate so strongly for therapy now is that I learnt how to love myself in spite of my bad eating habits and weight. I found facets of myself, which had been buried under years of self-contempt and hatred, and actually managed to embody them again. I stopped allowing myself to be limited and defined by this one flaw in my character.
Yes, I ate. I ate when I got sad, I ate to cope, I ate because it was instantly gratifying, reliable and an easy fix.
Yes, I was overweight and yes, I was unhealthy. But that did not mean I was not a fun, loving, trustworthy, genuinely caring person. It did not mean I did not have anything to give back to the people in my life or that I was of no value. I had assigned no value to myself because of my weight, thinking that if my weight were under control, I would be more accepted. But more accepted by whom? External validation would still be withheld even if I lost weight. There would always be some reason to withhold it. Some fix which was still needed, some gap which I was not being able to fill.
It took four years of therapy to make me realise this: That I was much more than what I had given myself credit for. That what I thought of myself mattered more than what other people thought of me. That I was okay.
When this realisation hit, it was like fog was cleared. My attention was no longer consumed by this mammoth weight issue (pun intended), and I went back to focusing on things that mattered to me like my work, reading, cartooning and watching movies. Instead of eating, I was turning to my books to find answers, to find solutions.
Don’t get me wrong, it still bugs me: the weight. But it bugs for different reasons now. Now the objective of weight loss is not external validation or acceptance, rather to be healthy. And when the objective, the ‘why’ changed, I found my eating habits normalising. Yes, there were still many f**k ups, many binge eating sessions which I regretted immediately. Which I wished I could come back from. But there was also hope. Hope that I would continue trying to do better and be better. Hope that I would recognise the triggers and stop myself from binging before I began.
That I would learn to love eating and genuinely enjoy it, as opposed it having to be something that I felt compelled to do. A lot of this often requires newfound discipline which helped me try new things, things which I would have otherwise just completely refrained from doing. Like waking up in the morning at 5 am and going for a trek with my ‘fit as a fiddle’ friends. Panting, struggling to keep up, falling and getting up only to decide that while the experience has been excruciatingly painful, I must try it again as I have come out of it feeling stronger.
When I sat down to write this piece, I felt slightly proud of how far I had come.
I knew that yesterday during dinner, as a joke, a friend of mine kept taking photos of me. And they were hideous. I mean you could see my double chin in all its glory. And I knew I had felt instant shame and disgust at myself for looking the way I did. I was uncomfortable and without meaning to I made it quite apparent. But then later something strange happened. I came home and looked at those photos again and I saw someone different. I saw someone who had the hint of a smile on her face. Who was enjoying spending time with a friend. Whose double chin was significantly lesser than it had been a month ago. And only because she had started to take care of herself for herself. I saw someone who was trying. And that was more than enough.
(Natasha Srivastava loves writing, reading, cartooning, long walks and British television shows. Is figuring out life one article at a time.)
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