Confessions of a Binge Eater February 14, 2006Posted by Winter in body politics.
It was hot, there was a famine raging in Niger and there I was sweating over a display table full of diet books in the upstairs of a book shop. Did I want a bikini bottom, to detox my aura, level my blood sugars or count grams of fat? I had no idea. I never thought I would be that person. The person who looks at the menu and mentally crosses off anything that contains sugar, bread, mushrooms or even looks vaguely appetising.
When I was twenty I would boldly claim that I didn’t limit the things I ate, didn’t calorie count or cut out carbs, like it was some great feminist statement to sit on my arse and glut on cake. I said I didn’t want to be skinny, I wanted to have curves. Unfortunately, this was disguising the real problem. It’s never one cake, it’s two. It’s never one biscuit, it’s four or five, with chocolate. It’s not a glass of wine, it’s a bottle, maybe two. Chocolates? Here’s my box, where is yours? Claiming that no one was going to tell me what to eat and what not to eat was really a cover for the fact I have no impulse control and spend a good portion of my waking life thinking about food. At twenty four I had put two stone onto what used to be an athletic muscular body. I felt fat. Worse than that I got tired, flabby and unable to concentrate. My blood sugars were a mess. I spent most of my time feeling exhausted, bordering on depressed and eating more cake. Many feminists have talked about fat and feminism, many have concentrated on eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia, on the cultural pressure to be skinny. Resisting these pressures is hard and many women have developed erratic relationships with food and with their bodies. I include myself in this group. Binge eat can be part of bulimia, I only ever managed to make my self sick once while I was sober, I didn’t spend hours and hours exercising, frankly at that time I didn’t spend any time exercising. My binge eating, and binge drinking stand alone.
My nurse thinks I may have polycystic ovary disease and carrying lots of weight around can make the symptoms much worse so I decided to diet. I spent a while looking at diet books. There are literally hundreds to choose from, and where does one start? Luckily I had a starting point, PCOS is linked to insulin resistance and so a low GI diet is the best was to go. The idea is that you stick to complex carbs, protein and vegetables to keep your blood sugars level rather than the massive peaks and troughs that lead to exhaustion and an inability to concentrate on, well anything really. A year later I’m a stone lighter, have more energy and can concentrate for much longer. I have found that as my physical strength grows, so does my confidence in myself to go out there and do things.
I can also mentally recount every item from the last three days, and categorise it according to its GI and fat content, not to mention essential vitamins, minerals and proteins. The fact that I can be obsessional about food does not make me a good dieter. If I were able just to stick to a fairly healthy lifestyle and not worry too much about the occasional chocolate cake then life would be easy. But I can’t, it’s still not just one piece, I have to have the whole bloody cake, or two. I slip really can go on for a few days. Bread, pizza, chocolate, cake of any kind. All trigger foods, all eat at your own risk foods that can leave me tired, restless, depressed and completely unable to concentrate.
Where previously I brazenly lacked control, cherishing it like some kind of mantra, I now have given myself an unobtainable goal of absolute control. Low GI, low carb, low fat, low sugar, all the lows, and combined with exercise. Now I want to be about ten stone, nine even, but not a healthy eleven. I want to be skinny, I want people to see the muscles in my arms, I’d like to be healthy, but more than that, I want to look good in tiny swim suits as I whip up and down the pool like a demented mermaid. I can be quite anal in that pursuit. Swimming at a minimum of twice a week, a few circuits and yoga thrown in if I can find the time, a mental list ever morsel to pass my lips over the last three days and intense scrutiny over any item that does not fit the program. Did I really need that second coffee? What’s the GI of semi skimmed milk? How many sugary things have I had in the last month? How many pounds have I lost?
So, while sitting around watching TV and glutting on chocolate cake and ice cream turns out (to my eternal surprise) not to be a feminist statement of my independence, how can this tight control of my food be any healthier? So it’s not empowering to sit there and stuff donuts, even if the donut binging is in the name of sticking it to patriarchy and the beauty myth. In reality looking after my body, feeling strong and having loads of energy so I can get out there and live and make active choices feels pretty feminist to me. The problem with limiting what I eat, what type of food, how much of it, and when, feels pretty empowering. I’m pretty sure it’s not. The problem is that any one will tell you that those kind of feelings of being in control litter the route to fill blown eating disorders. Have I just swapped one obsession for another?