I Am Jennifer, a Compulsive Overeater
I want to tell my whole story as honestly as I can, and even as I begin to type this I feel anxiety building and a vulnerability that I can honestly say makes the thought of running down the beach naked sound like a breeze. What I am about to tell you I have never told anyone. That’s right, no one. I thought if I kept it to myself it would just disappear into history. In a way it has become ancient history, but history has a way of repeating itself and since I am not looking to go back, only forward, I am going to peel back the layers and expose myself to the world. I am going to free myself from the shame I have been shackled for most of my life.
Food is my drug of choice and I abused food for a solid 30 years. If I had been an alcoholic, or a drug addict, my friends and family would have intervened and I am sure I would have been in and out of rehab several times over the course of my life. I disliked myself so much, hated myself truthfully, that I had no regard for my body. If I was angry, I ate. If I was sad, I ate. If I was jealous, I ate. If I was tired, happy, joyful, any emotion you can think of…I ate. If I had a successful day at work, I ate. If someone complimented me, I ate. If someone told me I looked like I had lost weight, or was pretty, I ate even more. If I had a bad day at work, I definitely ate.
You may not have known me back then, though certainly some of you did, but you know me, you know someone like me. You may even be me.
You saw me eat because I ate with you. I ate what you ate, and not too much. I never pretended not to eat, or that I wasn’t eating, but I didn’t overindulge. Always eating the right amount, never enough to draw anyones attention. What you didn’t see was what I ate when you weren’t looking. What I ate when you stepped into the restroom, or what I shoveled into my mouth when you went to a call in the next room.
What you couldn’t have known was that I ate two dinners worth of calories when I cooked that meal before you even arrived at my house. Or the leftovers you sent me home with, they were gone before I got home. I know I didn’t even have a fork. True story.
I had a cupcake at that party. I actually had 5. I would take one with me when I went to the restroom, I flushed the cupcake wrappers so no one would see them in the trashcan. I know you told me they were gross, I still ate them. I also ate two brownies. Yes, in the bathroom. I don’t even like sweets, but I ate all of it. I couldn’t tell you who was at that party, or who I spoke to, because I was so fixated on eating.
I lied when I said I didn’t know how that french fry got on the floor of my passenger seat. I knew exactly how it got there. I ordered it at 10pm when I went thru the drive-thru. I ordered three cheeseburgers, two fries and a vanilla shake, and a giant diet-coke (Ha!). I ate all of it. And then I threw everything out in a trashcan in the parking lot. That one fry got by me. It was dark, and late, and I was supposed to just be running to the store since we were out of coffee. I did this all the time.
That time I said I wasn’t coming out because I didn’t feel good. That wasn’t a lie. I didn’t feel good. I felt horrible because I went thru the Taco Bell drive-thru and ordered enough food to feed 3 people. I ate all of it. In my car. Right there in the parking lot, in a not so great part of town. Then I drove home instead of into the City to meet you.
When you asked us who ate the cranberry bread your Mom made, I lied. I ate it. I ate all of it. I think I looked right at you and told you I didn’t like cranberry bread so of course it couldn’t have been me, it had to be one of our other roommates. That was not a lie. I don’t like cranberry bread, but I still ate it. All of it.
When you asked me where the leftovers went I lied. I told you they spilled on the floor and I had to throw them out. The truth is after our fight that night I literally found myself head first in the fridge eating whatever I could find. I had no memory of deciding I was going to eat, or even opening the fridge. But there I was, just me, all alone in the dark eating.
When you asked where the leftover pizza got put, I lied. I told you there wasn’t any left. Only crust. So I guess I told a partial truth because I ate the toppings off the last three pieces. There was crust left, but I put it in the garbage disposal.
Extra chips when you turned your back. A handful of candy from the bowl you kept in your front hallway, every time I walked by it. Scooping the dip instead of dipping the chip. M&M’s from the hotel mini-bar. Food off your pretty appetizer plate, rearranging it to look untouched. The chicken nuggets my then 2 year old didn’t eat. The cold macaroni & cheese the babysitter left in the pan on the stove. Food off your shelf when we were roommates, often eating your food made it even easier for me to deny it had happened. If I didn’t make it, if I didn’t buy it, then maybe I hadn’t eaten it? But I did. All of it. All the time.
When I ate I felt full. And I don’t mean full like “I’m not hungry anymore” full. I felt emotionally full. I felt a high, a comfort, a euphoria that I can not explain. For a brief moment in time I felt like everything was ok. Everything was going to be ok. I escaped the pain I felt so deeply. Each food-coma brought with it a total escape from being me. Or maybe it was that I didn’t feel. For a period of time I didn’t feel bad about myself. I didn’t feel like a loser. I didn’t feel ugly. I didn’t feel like a failure. I didn’t feel scared. I didn’t feel alone.
And then, faster than you could possibly imagine, I felt awful. I had no control, no will power. I was disgusting. I wanted to puke. How the heck do people make themselves throw-up? I wanted to throw-up. And the cycle would begin again. “I am never eating again. I am gross. I am fat. I am disgusting. Tomorrow I am going to start over. I will start a diet. I will lose weight. I will show everyone I am amazing, and not this fat, gross, disgusting girl.”
A few hours after that I didn’t feel as bad. And a few hours after that I felt like me. It was going to be ok. I had been too hard on myself. I was ok. I’m not that big. I don’t look that bad. Until I wasn’t ok. And then I would find myself standing in the pantry inhaling foods that I had strategically hidden so you wouldn’t know we had them, or eating cold lasagne right out of the tupperware with the refrigerator door still open.
You know me. You might even be me. I know you. You might eat too much. You might never eat. You might throw up. You might smoke. You might drink too much. You might pop pills. You might have a lot of sex. You might shop excessively. You might exercise excessively. You might redecorate your house over and over again. You might work excessively. Anything to avoid having to feel pain, inadequacy, loneliness, less than, or just having to feel at all.
Even as far as I have come, as much as I have healed the pain that set me on this journey, I had to stop twice while typing this, just to catch my breath. To wipe my tears. Just to acknowledge the pain that I spent so many years stuffing down. It still hurts, it still takes my breath away. It breaks my heart that I didn’t know how to love me.
This is where my journey to healthy officially began. When I was able to own the years of abuse, the pain, self-loathing, and a profound sadness that I had buried under layers of fat. When those feelings were able to surface, when I was able to feel without medicating, only then was there a glimmer of hope that perhaps the cycle could be broken. Even harder was realizing how much more pain and suffering was self-inflicted, piled on year after year by me.
But how did I get to that place? Stay with me as I tell this story…my story.
good food. good life.
Originally published at happybodyfoods.com on August 30, 2016.