Disordered Eating: My Relationship With Food
TW/CW: Talk about eating disorders, disordered eating, restricting food, self-harm
I have always had a difficult relationship with food. Many people don’t even think much about what they put into their mouths, or how much. I personally never had this carefree approach to eating. I never learnt the right perspective as a child, then went on to use overeating as a coping strategy, overdid weightloss and developed an eating disorder. And now what and how much I can eat is restricted by medical conditions, and also personal moral choices.
Food when I was a child: Restricting and Overeating
I was a chubby child. I didn’t eat more than my siblings did, I didn’t move less. It was genetic, many members of my family are a bit on the chubby side. But my parents weren’t having that. So already as a child, my weight became an issue and was commented on. I was told that I would never find a man, being fat. My meal portions were constantly commented on, and my food intake got restricted. I feel like that at least my mother meant well as she wanted me to be healthy, but the approach was very wrong. I got shamed for my body already at a young age, and I was observed while eating. And it wasn’t only that. One of the punishments that my mum used to implement when I had been naughty, was that I was denied food. Sometimes for a whole day.
Nowadays I have a very weird anxiety: I can’t eat in front of others. I am scared of being shamed and judged. Not so much for that I am eating, but what I eat, how much I eat. And I am quite sure that this particular anxiety comes from how my eating was treated when I was a young child.
But hey, if something is forbidden, it becomes even more exciting, especially when you are child. So I started stealing sweets, chocolate, chips, ice cream, and eat those things in huge amounts in secret. First at home, and then later even at the local supermarket. I remember being 9 years old and literally stuffing a 3 L box of icecream under my jacket and walking out of the supermarket, and then eating it all, with my hands. It was pretty messed up. Eating became a coping strategy for me. I was too young to yet turn to alcohol and drugs (that came later). And I had a lot to cope from, with daily physical, sexual and emotional abuse at home, and bullying at school.
Teenage Years: Food and Self-Harm and Coping
That weird relationship with food continued to exist even during my teenage and young adult years. But I added another sort of spice to it: I had periods where I denied myself food, as a way to self-harm. That started when I was about 16 years old. I didn’t eat anything for days, sometimes I ate nothing more than a sandwich in almost a week. I liked how it made me feel weak, dizzy, incompetent. It was very unhealthy. And it made me lose weight. Which people of course commented on and complimented me on. But those periods ended, and I went back to using eating a lot of bad food as a coping strategy instead.
My weight got influenced by some medical conditions already at that point, namely PCOS. I started having a harder time to lose weight, even when I starved myself. I still continued to use eating as a coping strategy. In my late 20s, I got told that I was pre-diabetic. That gave me a proper health-scare. So I changed my lifestyle. Only, I kind of went to using extreme measures. I started calorie-counting, I exercised excessively. And the weight dropped. I got the blood sugar down, so I reached that goal.
But that wasn’t enough. Now I wanted to be skinny. I lost 60 kg in less than two years and kept that weight off for another year or so. But I ate way too little (around 1000 calories a day) and exercised a least an hour six days a week. I denied myself food. I never ate out, I didn’t eat sweets or junkfood. When I got admitted to a psychiatric unit at a hospital for the first time for a suicide attempt. I got observed by medical staff for three weeks. And according to them I had an eating disorder. Well, it makes sense. I was starving myself, and I excessively exercised. But I was finally skinny, and I thought I was healthy!
With my mental health declining, and lots of different psychiatric medications, I gained a lot of weight again. I went back to using food as a coping strategy and ate copious amounts of bad food sometimes. Other times I starved myself as a form of self-harm. And yet other times, depression and anxiety made it almost impossible for me to eat. I forgot to eat, I lost my appetite and had to be on meal replacement drinks for sometimes weeks on end.
During that time, I also got diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, a thyroid condition. Together with the PCOS, losing weight became now an impossibility. But that didn’t stop me from eating disorderly: eating excessive amounts of junkfood and sweets for comfort and to cope, starving myself to self-harm and barely eating when in depression.
Diabetes and Restricted Eating
In December 2018 I got diagnosed with diabetes. The PCOS definitely contributed to that, but so did my disorderly eating. I am not on any medication for the diabetes (yet) because the few times I tried to take some, I had to deal with terrible side-effects. Instead, I need to control my diabetes with healthy eating.
This has created a new issue for me: I can use restricting food as a way to self-harm, and not only that, I feel myself sliding back into the eating disorder kind of approach I had back then when I actually got diagnosed with an eating disorder. I need to watch very carefully what I eat. I try to not count carbs but I sometimes have to, to make sure that I am eating as low carb as possible. All this is really hard, because I need to eat small portions every two hours. So I can’t use the staving method for self-harm, and I can’t comfort eat for coping.
There have been instances when I couldn’t be bothered to follow this regime because I wasn’t doing well enough to prepare meals and such. I didn’t eat often enough in depression, I didn’t bother to always check the carbs when I didn’t cook for myself. So my blood glucose levels were all over the place. At the moment, it is going well though. Food is no longer something to enjoy for me, it has become a routine, something that I constantly need to control. I can’t follow my appetite or even if I am hungry or not. Food is now a tool for me to control my diabetes. That is it. And that of course awakens the self-harm demons in me.
As if my relationship with food wasn’t messed up enough, I also have quite a few intolerances due to my IBS. If I am not careful. I can get really bad symptoms for weeks, if I eat certain things in excess: nuts, avocado, dairy products and certain sweeteners. I have also been a vegetarian for many years now (almost vegan, really), by choice. The pool of food that I can safely eat is very limited: no carbs, no sugar, only small amounts of nuts and dairy products, and no meat products at all.
Food has been an issue for me ever since I was a kid. I never learnt how to take a healthy approach to eating, or food. And with my health issues now, I will never be able to have the relaxed connection to food that most people have. Being limited in what you can eat is very frustrating, and even more so when you often have the urge to comfort eat.