So here’s something that isn’t talked about, but something I deal with and have, every day of my life. It is something most people don’t consider almost ever.
We all hear about eating disorders. Anorexia, bulimia, but we never hear about other eating disorders, mostly because we either don’t realize how they came about, or they seem easily fixable and not deadly, but I’m here to tell you, they exist.
I grew up being food deprived. Not in a “chained to my bed and refused food” kind of way. More in a “everything in the fridge and cabinets belongs to your father and you aren’t allowed to eat any of it unless they say so” kind of way.
I got the three meals, but there was a caveat: my father always got first servings and my mom usually made just enough to make sure he got the majority of it all, leaving us with the dregs that were left. My mom only made enough food to feed about 3 people in a 4 person household, with one person who took enough for 1.5-2 people. She said if she didn’t allow him to serve first, he’d get mad at her, and if she made more, he’d just take more. So she’d tell us to take as much as we wanted, and she’d eat less.
(Now…I will interject here, my mother is a narcissists, so she will do what gets her the most approval, in this case, making her husband happy so she could feel good, and being a martyr to her kids so they’d look up to her as a loving, self sacrificing mother. Both positions were shitty for various reasons, but I’m not going to talk about my mom here, just going to talk about the food aspect.)
Snacks in my house weren’t for anyone but my dad. If you had any, you got the equivalent of 4 cookies or a handful of chips. Eventually, those weren’t allowed either as we grew older. My mom’s answer was, “Just eat cereal. He hates cereal.” I can’t tell you how much I hate cereal, even then.
Over the years, this turned into an eating disorder. I would constantly hear from my friends, “You eat like a bird!” And it was true. I did. I still do.
The odd effect of this type of eating disorder is, you don’t become thin. In fact, you can’t lose weight at all because your body is starving and will pack everything it gets away as fat and then, it becomes a thing that happens. The positive, I suppose, is that you don’t really gain weight either. I never stray far from the 205 lbs I’ve been for the last 20 years, no matter what I do or don’t do.
But, that also means you’re fat, regardless. So you get ridiculed for being fat. That was my dad’s favorite pasttime. Telling me how fat I was every time he had to look at me. Well, you know why I’m fat? No…you don’t because you aren’t restricted from food. But, it was my fault for being fat, even though I had no control over what I was allowed to eat.
Why didn’t I sneak snacks and food? Because then I’d have two parents angry that I “stole” from them, and be denied even more food. And if you really want to know, yes, they did count every cookie in the package, and knew how many chips were in the bag when they decided they were done, if they hadn’t finished the bag. After a few attempts and getting in trouble, you just didn’t try again.
Another weird conditioning thing that took place was that growing up, from 3 pm – 6 pm was a “no food zone”. You weren’t allowed to eat anything because you would “spoil your dinner”. That ended up being something I became aware of at 13 when I went to Minnesota and found out, at their dinner time, I was so not hungry, I just couldn’t eat the dinner made until three hours later. Another oddity, actually having to do with another trip to Minnesota was that, my stomach was so small, I couldn’t eat a lot. The family I stayed with insisted it was rude if I didn’t take seconds of a meal. We never had seconds at my house. There was rarely enough left over to have seconds. So I had made my plate as I usually did, expecting it to be the only meal. Then I was pushed into taking another full meal of second servings. The first time was just torture. I had eaten the equivalent of two meals on a stomach that couldn’t possibly handle that much food. I didn’t sleep well from the pain. The next night, I decreased what I put on my plate so that I’d have room for their seconds, and even then, they said I wasn’t eating enough. That food experience was so awful, it actually caused me trauma, to the point, I don’t eat till full. I eat till satisfied, which is what one should do, but the reasons behind it are not healthy.
Fast forward to adult years, you’d think that I would have become an overeater, but that didn’t happen because by then, the concept that snacks, food and such were not a luxury I was allowed to have had made its indelible impact on my life. It doesn’t occur to me to overeat and, by actually doing so makes me physically ill. I can only eat till I’m comfortable, which usually means, there’s a ton of leftovers. Also, an odd side-effect, I can walk down a snack aisle in the grocery store and none of it looks remotely appealing. If I do buy snacks, they often just sit in the house and don’t get eaten because I find I don’t actually want them. So no…junk food and snacks are not a problem. (Case in point, I’ve got a half pint of Talenti in the freezer that’s been there since July because I haven’t wanted it and eventually will throw it out.) Overeating meals don’t happen either because of that event in Minnesota.
So what happens? You undereat. Like horribly undereat. I can go a whole day eating only a bagel or a couple hard boiled eggs, or a handful of something and not realize till I’m getting ready to go to sleep that was all I ingested. And that can happen for days on end into weeks. People will say, “Oh! I wish I had that problem!” but they really don’t. Undereating leads to heart issues, diabetes, loss of hair, nerve damage, vitamin deficiencies, depression, lethargy, brain fog, and a host of other health issues. And you will be fat because your body is now used to hoarding every bit of food you take in, uncertain when you will eat again. And I’ve been like this since literally forever.
Today, at 52, I still carry this disorder, though I honestly try to overcome it. I really try to eat at least twice a day. I make sure that when I do eat, it is as healthy as possible because I’m fully aware that my eating disorder is unhealthy. I don’t take vitamin supplements because I have learned they are not worth the money, and they usually have magnesium stearate, which I’m allergic to. So I try to make sure what I put in me has the most nutritional value I can put in it.
But it isn’t easy, and I so very often slip back to eating one meal a day, or oftentimes times, just a bagel and maybe 4 pieces of chocolate. (Yes…always in 4s, even still) I do that more often than eating one meal a day. For every day I eat two meals a day, 5 have gone by where I haven’t. It’s a lifelong habit I can’t break.
I have seen nutritionalists who end up saying, “Other than eating more…you seem to have everything you need!” They can’t help me because I don’t overeat, and I do pay attention to what I put in my body.
It’s been a lifelong struggle. One I still struggle from, no matter how I try. All because of how my parents used food. Your relationship with food matters, even the one you don’t have.
I have made a decision to admit openly this disorder and work on changing it as best I can. Since taking B12, my appetite has increased, and I have worked to make sure I get two “meals” a day. Work helps, eating on my first break and at lunch. I’ve been able to keep that pattern since Jan when I decided it was past time to take care of myself. I have since started a third meal, but not consistently, as I try to make sure I get the most during the day.
So when you see someone struggling with food and you feel you should make some remark, make sure it is one of compassion. You don’t know where they are at in their mind and life regarding food, and you may assume the wrong thing, say the wrong thing and set them back. Be kind. You don’t know their struggles.
(Written elsewhere on 12/30/22 and edited)