It’s Summer 2018 and I have my first ever therapy appointment.
I’m sitting in a waiting room, posters for beauty treatments all around me. They say they can freeze fat, remove cellulite and make me attractive. On the table in front of me are magazines piled with pictures of women that taunt me. I feel inadequate just looking at their bodies plastered on every page.
“Haaniyah Angus?” a voice asks.
I look upwards and I see her, the hypnotherapist my parents paid for. I head into her office and she introduces herself, telling me of her woes with food. I listen intently, hoping that this can fix me for once. She asks me about my history with food, and as I explain, she takes notes and devours every factoid about my life like a five-course meal. When I finish talking, she only says one thing: “I think you have an eating disorder.”
It’s Summer 2018 and I’ve been diagnosed with Binge Eating Disorder.
The official NHS website defines Binge Eating Disorder as “[a] disorder [that] involves regularly eating large portions of food all at once until you feel uncomfortably full, and then often upset or guilty.”
For a long time, I wonder what my life would be like without B.E.D. Would I be a more stable person? Would I have more friends; would people consider me more attractive? Would that version of me not reside in a constant state of misery that I can barely face day in and day out? To me, the idea of being able to eat without hearing a million and one voices criticise me in my head is exhilarating. To sit there with my plate in front of me and finally feel full. To not have my brain convince me that I am so emotionally broken that eating is the only way to fill the void I have always had inside me.
When you are fat, you aren’t given the chance to deal with disordered eating. If your body doesn’t fit the standard of visual pleasure that is desirable, then you are cast aside as a greedy waste of space. According to society, you’ve chosen to be fat, and you haven’t tried anything to change it. They can’t see that you’ve tried to make yourself vomit to no avail more times than you can remember. They don’t know you’ve bought laxatives to swallow in bulk hoping they will plunge your stomach of the toxins you’ve just consumed.
I suffered from this disorder years before I could even describe what I was going through. This is the backstory I tell my hypnotherapist.
Being bullied at ages 5–7 made me feel lost and empty, so I’d often sit alone in the classroom during Primary School while my classmates are on the playground. When I decide the food my mother makes for me isn’t enough, I rummage around the lunchboxes of my classmates while they play, as healthy children do. Then I find it — the fruit, the snacks, the sandwiches. Each bite fills me with momentary joy before I am caught by a teacher who then tells my parents. I feel embarrassed even though, at the time, I didn’t know what I did was wrong. Mum and Dad tell me that I’m chubby, and there’s no need for me to eat more than I already do; otherwise, I’ll gain weight. I internalise it.
From that point on, I am on diets. You name it and I’ve tried it. I stare at my skinny brothers eating everything they want as I struggle to eat food meant for adults who willingly choose to be healthier. I’m jealous. Why am I being treated differently than them? According to my parents, it’s to make me healthier because I’m not meant to be the size I am at this age, and there’s nothing else they can do. So I diet, I starve, and then I begin to binge.
Sure, kids take things that don’t belong to them, but they don’t realize that it’s wrong and that permission is something we all abide by as a society. And yet, my brain stepped over that knowledge and began a long history of stealing. It started with my brothers’ food, the snacks they kept around the house meant to take with their lunches. I took a pack or two of something they wouldn’t notice, maybe an Oreo or some crisps. I snuck it in my training bra and hid in the bathroom. I ate until I blacked out. When I came to, I was ashamed. The instant guilt I felt made me try to throw it up, but I couldn’t.
My life from then on became ritualistic. I’d eat the tasteless diet food my parents presented me with, but in secret, I’d gorge on the snacks they kept lying around. When they’d quickly caught on, I was berated, claiming they simply wanted to help me. But to a child with an eating disorder, it sounds like cruel and inhumane punishment. In response, I came up with a plan to only purchase food in my school cafeteria. Each morning, I’d sneak into the living room before my father awoke and take some money from his wallet. I’d head into school and eat to my heart’s desires. I’d eat and eat and eat until I am nauseous. I’d vomit repeatedly at school from the constant binging. But I don’t stop.
At that point, my parents were at their wits’ ends, unable to figure out what was wrong with me. One day, I became too careless and took some food from the microwave: a doughnut my mother brought home. She noticed and told my father, who then lost it, ranting at me and telling me how much money they’ve wasted trying to make me slimmer. I cried not understanding why they were so cruel to me. My father opened the fridge door and put all the food on the ground and told me to eat it. I refused and he continued, saying I must eat it if I’m so hungry all the time. I bursted into hot, blistering tears — none of this was my fault.
That’s just one of many incidents I have had during my 22 years of life. I could go into every single one in detail, but picking more than a few scabs off of my emotional wounds would make you as uncomfortable as it would make me. To summarise, between the ages of 13–22, my weight has yo-yoed. I go between working out daily to binging through the weekend. As I describe this to my hypnotherapist, I hope that she can cure my ailment, that I will no longer suffer from a mental health crisis if I can just fix my relationship with food.
She tries. I lean back and listen to her speak words into my ears as synthy music plays in the background. Afterwards, she tells me to listen to the recording of our session daily, and I promise to do it. During a rather quiet car ride home, I wonder why I hadn’t been diagnosed prior. Is it because fat people aren’t considered eligible for eating disorders? Do I not binge enough for it? Am I just seen as lazy rather than mentally ill?
I struggle to tell anyone for fear of admitting I’m broken. It’s one thing to tell people you’re slightly depressed — that’s normal, recently destigmatized — but to say you have a mental health problem that causes you to gain weight? That’s just an excuse to be fat. Yet, they don’t know that I feel guilty every day, that my body is crying for help, wanting me to take care of her even though I can’t. I don’t know how to. I even have daydreams about splitting my body in half, cutting open a flesh suit that reveals the skinnier, healthier and more authentic version of myself. In my dreams, she isn’t full of self-loathing.
And I fear that by even posting this, I will be hounded with the common question of, “Why don’t you just lose weight?” followed by, “It isn’t that hard.”
But, as I’ve mentioned earlier, it is. I often feel like I enter dreamlike states where I cannot control my actions, only to wake up in a pit of bad choices and a guilty conscience that I try to get rid of through starvation and extreme exercise. And admitting that publicly will be the hardest thing I will ever have to do, but I deserve to be given the same sympathy as people with equally life-altering eating disorders.
It’s Summer 2018, and my parents are once again at their wits’ end as I gorge on food, a week after being told I have an Eating Disorder.
I haven’t listened to the tapes. My depression has convinced me that they’re worthless, and there is no fixing the mess I reside in. I’m sprawled on my bed listening to a sad playlist thinking about how easy it would be to die in that very moment. But by some miracle, I sit up and stand in front of my bedroom mirror. Staring at myself would be my usual routine, wondering if I truly exist and/or dissociating, but instead, I make a promise. I’m not sure when I’ll be better — it could be tomorrow or in three years, but it’ll happen. I’m sure it will.