Most of the stories I’m about to share have never told. I have carried them with me, for the most part blocking them from my memory. For this very reason, I’ve found it hard to write about my experience with bulimia. My life is different now, and to some extent I’ve tried to forget, and deny, the things I did in the past that I’ve been ashamed of. I’ve allowed myself to go back there just enough to relate to others, but have still kept my distance.
Yesterday I started to purposefully open up about my story in the first Real, Raw & Related google hangout. Afterwards I realized there was so much more to say. So today I’m sharing more. This is partly for my benefit… to process and release the shame. You may read this and think, eh, what’s the big deal, or you may read this and think, wow, that is me too. Either way, if your story is similar to mine, I hope by reading this you know you’re not alone.
Deep breath… here goes….
-When I went to the UK to study abroad, I brought a couple of boxes of Power Bars with me. They were my staple meal at the time (Power Bar and banana for lunch and/or breakfast). They were chocolate flavored, and possibly peanut butter flavor… representations of food I definitely would not have let myself eat the real versions of. But Power Bars were ‘healthy’, and so I’d trick myself into thinking they tasted good so I could get my fix of chocolate, even though the reality was, they tasted like cardboard not chocolate. I ate at least half of each box the first night I got to my new dorm room. I remember the room was tiny, felt cold and isolated. This was me trying to find comfort in uncertainty.
-A few years later I was visiting my sister in Liverpool when she was studying abroad. We went to Woolworths where they had pick-n-mix chocolates and I bought a bagful to bring back for my office-mates. I ate the whole bag that night. Didn’t even make it into my suitcase. I had to buy new chocolates at the airport to bring back. I remember having an argument that night over the phone with my boyfriend at the time. This was me wishing I was living a different life.
-I’ve planned binges. I’d plan what I was going to buy on the way home from work. I’d eat a normal dinner (‘normal’ being plain boring ‘healthy’ foods with no flavour or fat) and then in secret eat all of the foods I just bought. Usually foods from the health food store that didn’t actually taste nice, and were substitutes for the real deal…. like ‘healthy’ chocolate chip cookies with carob instead of chocolate and who knows what else. Because they were never satisfying, I’d then end up binging on other food in the house, like bread, cereal etc. Equally as unsatisfying. Sometimes I’d binge on ice cream. I think this was toward the later years once I started letting myself have these kinds of foods. I never really binged on the super sweet stuff though like donuts or packaged cookies or cakes etc. I’d opt for a muffin vs cake. I didn’t start eating real sweets like chocolate or cake until later on when I wasn’t binging anymore (except for the Woolworth’s chocolate incident above). This was me trying to look a certain way, controlling my body with unsustainable dietary restrictions.
-At Christmas or Thanksgiving, I would be super anxious… all the food! I would try to eat ‘normally’ but it never felt normal because I was always thinking about food. Obsessing about it. Wanting more of it but not feeling like I could have it. So I would try to imitate others, but would be worried about the calorie or fat content and so never really enjoyed what I was tasting. At dessert time I’d have maybe 3 cookies, 1 piece of pie, but then later in the evening when no one was looking, I’d sneak cookies off the table one at a time, hoping no one saw me have more. I thought having one at a time was OK, even if I’d end up having 6 or so in total; not as grotesque as robotically eating 6 cookies all at ones. I really wanted to eat the whole tray though, and was never satisfied. Sometimes when we got home from grandma’s, I’d pretend to go to bed, and then sneak downstairs to the basement where the extra cookies were kept and I’d binge on them some more in secret. Who knows how many. Enough to satisfy the craving but not enough so that it wouldn’t be noticed they were missing. This was me not feeling like I could be 100% me with my family.
-There was a lot of sneaking. Pretending to go to bed, then sneaking into the kitchen. If I was caught I’d have to pretend I was getting water or something. I was never caught vomiting. I was able to keep that a secret. But one time the toilet wouldn’t flush. I didn’t know what to do. I had to use the plunger and hope that the next day bits of food wouldn’t be floating in the toilet. This was me trying to maintain a façade of perfection.
-One time I did binge on ice cream. It was the middle of the day and the ice cream wasn’t even mine. It had been sitting in the freezer for months without being touched so I figured whoever’s it was wouldn’t notice. I was meant to go for a run afterwards and so I ate the tub of ice cream, made myself sick so I wouldn’t feel heavy or full going for a run, and then went for a run with my coach as if everything was fine. By the end of the run I was physically, mentally, emotionally exhausted. This was me wearing myself out from all the confusion and chaos.
-Running complicated things. I’d hate having anything in my stomach before a run. I wanted to feel light and empty. This meant planning when I ate around my runs. At least 4 hours before seemed to work. If I ate more than what was ‘allowed’ before a run, my run was automatically ruined. I had a lot of digestive issues and so planning my food, running, access to bathrooms was paramount. It took up a lot of head space. And I needed to be in control. If anything deviated from the plan when travelling for a race, it would mess up my head and I be worried about timings of eating/bathroom more than mentally preparing for the race. This was me getting in my own way… not believing that I had what it took to be a top athlete, and so using food as a marker to tell me if I’d have a good run or not.
-Sometimes I’d run to punish myself. On Sundays we were meant to run 9 or 10 miles. Sometimes I dreaded this, especially if I was going alone, and so I’d end up eating to postpone my run (had to keep the 4 hour window). Then I’d end up binging. I couldn’t purge because it was mid-day and people were around. So I’d wait until the latest possible time to go for a run… twilight or sometimes even the dark. Then I’d run super hard to try to burn off all the calories I just ate. Usually my stomach hurt from all the food I’d eaten. I kept running. Running reset the clock. Afterwards it was like it had erased everything I had done earlier in the day with food. It was a chance to start over and ‘get it right’. This was me wanting out, trying to escape, trying to undo the past.
There is more to tell. This is what I have for today.
If you’re reading this and it hits home at all, then myself and a group of other women are here for you. You can join us in a safe and private community, Love Food, Love Life, where you can share your own story, release your own shame, or just know that you’re not alone.