Every morsel of food passing my lips is feeding something. This is a universal truth. I am not special.
We all have physical hunger and we all need to feed it. The body needs nourishment in order to function. Feed it badly, it will treat you badly. Feed it well and you’re on the road to good health. If you’ve nourished your body regularly over the years, you experience appropriate hunger cues. Haven’t eaten? Your belly will grumble. Overeaten? You’ll feel uncomfortable – and stop eating.
If you have disordered eating you’ve probably learned to ignore these cues. Perhaps you restrict so frequently your belly no longer bothers to grumble and mental fog descends like a heavenly blessing. For bingers, discomfort is delayed until you’re ready to vomit. If you purge, you’re going through bingeing and restriction – simultaneously. Before you know it, your body has no clue how to send out hunger signals or regulate metabolism. You’re either always hungry or never hungry and you become expert at storing fat – your body never knows what’s happening next. Physical hunger becomes an intellectual concept and no longer a reliable method of gauging when or if to eat.
Happy. Sad. Stressed. Excited. Afraid. Hopeful.
Name an emotion and chances are, I eat it. Emotional eating is pretty normal – almost everyone I know has comforted sorrow with their own version of a tub of ice cream. The difference – in my humble opinion – between healthy and disordered eating, is the emotional severity, how regularly you find yourself scraping the bottom of the ice cream barrel, and the degree of emotional numbing.
My emotional hunger is constant. I have certainly experienced the dark depths and zany zeniths of emotional extremes, but I also feed everyday emotions. I don’t know what my emotions are because they’re constantly being fed. A normal emotional appetite may feed extremes, but the unhealthy appetite feeds continuously. And I mean continuously. Every. Single. Day. The regularity with which I find myself wondering why I’m eating, is staggering. Food is numbing. Especially mindless eating which is a frequent guest in the land of disordered eating. There are loads of ways to numb ourselves out of existence, but drug addict, alcoholic, or nymphomaniac aren’t my chosen methods of escaping reality. I eat emotions. All of them.
Oh this is a biggie. I see it all the time – especially in myself.
In the 21st century we’re all exhausted. The world we live in never turns off. We wake up tired and go to bed tired. Life is filled with endless lists of things to be done – our lists all vary, but they’re long and never finished. Work, appointments, socialising, volunteering, exercising, cooking, caring, entertaining, working, working, working. We’re physically and mentally exhausted, then we crave carbs. High sugar, high GI, carbs. That 3pm slump craves a Kit-Kat more often than a carrot. Why? Because instinctively our bodies know the rush will propel us through the next few hours, and intellectually we’re too exhausted to delve into the rationale and consider the consequences. Sure the carbs will hype us up – right before we crash again.
I suspect – although I can’t be sure – that eating out of habit is far more prevalent for those with disordered eating. For me personally, the moment I walk through the door at home, I hang up my bag and keys, head to the kitchen, open the fridge. This is tied in with emotional eating, in that it is mindless and senseless. Perhaps there is procrastination involved. Or avoidance of emotions or situations I don’t want to acknowledge or accept. But staring into the fridge is a mindless habit. It is also a sad fact of life, that to develop a bad habit takes very little effort, and replacing it with a healthier habit requires energy, strength, and eternal vigilance. I have replaced dreadful habits in the past – but it was no easy feat. Certainly not an overnight fix.
Humans like to socialise and congregate in groups – big or small – and the consumption of food and beverages is one of our most common social activities.
Let’s meet for coffee! Are you free for a meal on Friday night? Dinner and a movie soon?
Social eating is awesome. It can also be problematic. When you have disordered eating, the voice of idiocy whispers constantly in your ear. Suddenly you have to try everything on the menu. Or make sure you don’t choose the same food as your friends. You need your “money’s worth” at the buffet. Maybe you can’t say no or leave anything on your plate. Or you have to leave a bit of everything. You eat dessert just because. You need to match the speed of everyone else’s eating – which might be far faster, or slower, than normal. You might have to time when and how to get to the bathroom to purge. Or work out how to get through the meal without everyone noticing you hardly ate. Or you eat everything in record time and order four courses.
The social event becomes a source of constant shame, guilt, remorse and self-loathing. And once it’s over? You head home and wash all that guilt down with another bucket of ice cream.
And the point of all this? No idea. I’ve just been noticing how other people behave around food and realised I’m not alone in feeding fatigue and eating emotions. I’m just more consistent and extreme.
My psychologist described my eating disorder as very severe. I was a little shocked by that to be honest… But I do know I’ve lost all sense of when and how to feed my body. I understand intellectually of course – I know how to nourish my physical being – but I don’t know how to nourish my emotional being.
Perhaps a good starting point for now is to question exactly what I’m feeding – every single time the spoon moves from bowl to mouth.