Before you start reading, note that these stories might be triggering if your relationship to food is a vulnerable place for you.
I’ve thought about why I want to share these stores. What purpose do they serve?
Is it just a cathartic experience for me to ‘come clean’? Yes, that is part of it. I believe in the power of sharing stories where we currently, or have, carried shame. It’s part of the healing process. You don’t have to ‘go public’ for the world to see. One person counts. Even your private journal counts.
So is this just for me then? No. I also have experienced healing by reading other’s stories about things that I similarly struggle with. It’s a relief to know you’re not the only one. So part of why I’m sharing is for the person who’s been in a similar place, you might not feel so crazy and alone anymore.
I’ve wondered though, where is the line? Because I know from experience, that when I was looking for ways to manage my food and weight, researching options came into play. The saying ‘Knowledge is Power’ can work against you too. I’ll share more about that at some point. For now know that I am not sharing this to give you ideas. If you choose to read on, I hope that you will read other posts in the #bu29days series and find some good reasons not to engage in similar behaviours.
But I think the biggest reason I am sharing is to give hope. Hope that regardless of what dark places you are in or have been to, it is possible to find the light.
These stories I have carried shame about. Writing them has brought me back to uncomfortable places.
This is how bad it got.
The summer after graduating college, I secured an entry into that year’s NYC Marathon through my company. A couple other friends got in also and so I knew I’d have training buddies, and I thought why not? I’m probably in the best shape I’ll ever be in and training for the marathon will keep me on the straight and narrow with food.
Except it didn’t. If anything it added more pressure to perform.
Especially since I somehow got selected to represent Staten Island in the 5 borough challenge the marathon sponsors were holding. Basically, one person from each of the NYC boroughs was chosen to represent their home borough, and then on race day, there was a ‘race within the race’ between the 5 of us. We had our own start and everything.
As well as keeping track of our progress during the marathon, the TV channel did a special on each of us and wove our story throughout the air time. We were interviewed before hand, filmed running in our favourite part of town, got a free pair of kicks and lots of other sports gear. It was pretty cool to be honest. But with this leap in visibility, I was extra worried about what my body looked like.
It caught up to me the night before the crew was going to film me running through my favourite woods on Staten Island. I stayed at my parents house, so I’d be there in the morning when the crew arrived. No surprise here: I binged and purged that night.
Can you imagine? The night before being filmed for national television, and there I am throwing up. This you should know. Throwing up is NOT SEXY and IT DOESN’T WORK.
Your eyes get bloodshot, your face and throat swollen. And you don’t end up getting rid of all the food, so you’re still absorbing extra calories, and your stomach looks and feels bloated. Plus it zaps all your energy so the next day you’re lethargic. At least I always was.
That is NOT a good look for the camera.
But it happened and I was mortified.
How could I ‘ruin’ this opportunity. Not so much ruin since the filming went ahead as planned and probably nobody noticed a thing. But more like, how could I stain this moment? Bring a negative vibe into such a positive thing? The idea of, ‘you had a perfect opportunity’ and I made it not perfect… I wasted it. I beat myself up for that.
I ended up binging a lot at work, hoping that it was in secret, but I have no idea if it was. I worked in the HR department and we were always having training classes and meetings that were catered. There were always trays of bagels, muffins, sandwiches, brownies, and cookies lying around.
I remember walking back and forth from my cubicle to the kitchen to bring food back to my desk to eat. I’d pretend I was going to the bathroom and then on the way back would take an item back with me, hoping that none of the colleagues I had to pass by would notice.
It was a real life walk of shame.
I’d do this repeatedly. Maybe twice an hour? I’d try to focus on work, but knowing that the goods were sitting there only 50 ft away was too much of a temptation.
One time I remember having a brown paper bag full of bagels. I think I had brought them into work from Staten Island for some reason, to show off how huge and doughy they were. (They really are the best.)
I remember sneak eating at least two of them at once, although there is a good possibility it was more. There was a dozen in a bag, literally hidden under my desk, and I would be staring at my screen, pretending to be intent on whatever I was working on and my hand would go into the bag, break off a piece, and bring it to my mouth. Over and over. And if I heard someone coming, I’d start typing, or rummage through a drawer. Anything to look busy.
I started working for a department that kept a stash of chocolate in one of the filing cabinet drawers. I’d go to get a file, either because I really needed one or because it was a good excuse to come back with a handful of Hershey’s chocolate bars. Either way, I’d come back with a handful of food.
The shameful part of all of this is how hard I was trying to hide. And not in the dark, but in broad daylight. I was trying to hide my binging, pretend that my actions were normal, and hope that people around me wouldn’t catch on.
‘This is my first time to the kitchen.’ (Even though it was my 5th.)
‘I’m just looking for another file.’ (Even though really the only reason I was at the filing cabinet was was for the snack drawer.)
I was so afraid I’d get caught out. Everyone thought of me as the marathon runner and hardworking employee. I did my best to keep up that facade even though if anyone had looked close, they would’ve seen a pile up of chocolate wrappers buried in my garbage can.
My job started to get demanding and higher profile as I’d have to correspond with senior management and get their approval on expat packages. I felt way out of my depth. International tax law, immigration law, calculating tax gross-ups, and proposing budgets for rental apartments in neighborhoods so posh, I’d never be caught dead in. This was the furthest thing from what I had studied in school.
There was a steep learning curve and not enough hours in the day so I started working nights and weekends on a regular basis. I’d go for a run in Central Park around 6pm and then put in another three hours from 7-10pm, go home, go to bed, get up the next day and do it again. In those 7-10pm hours, sometimes I’d be fine with food; pick up a sandwich from the deli and stop there. Sometimes I’d make a good dent in the chocolate cabinet and then guiltily replenish it the next day.
I remember distinctly when I’d have to send an email to the President of the company, I’d sit on it for hours, wordsmithing it over and over, to get it ‘just right’. I don’t know exactly what I was afraid of. Being told off? That he’d snicker at my recommendations? That the heavens would open up, and from his Executive Office on the 8th floor he’d boom down to the lowly earthling on the 6th floor: ‘I knew you were a fraud!’
Talk about vulnerability. And to numb that feeling, I’d be eating as I was staring at the email, reading it for the bazillionth time before pressing ‘Send’. Chocolate, pretzels, bagels, muffins, whatever.
I started premeditated binging. These would usually happen on days or nights where I was binging at work. I’d stop at the store on the way home, and buy a load of food fully knowing where this was headed.
The crazier thing here is that, I would never let myself buy the really ‘bad’ stuff. Say I wanted a large, moist, soft, chocolate chip cookie. I couldn’t buy it. So I’d buy these healthy cookies that tasted like ass. They’d come 5 in a pack. And I’d eat all of them.
I never wrapped my head around the concept of giving myself what I really wanted and then stopping there. Instead, I kept depriving myself of what I really wanted, and then ended up consuming more. It was the ‘healthy’ label that gave me permission to have a larger quantity, but the larger quantity never satisfied the initial craving. (To hear more about the importance of listening to your desires, tune into this Youtube video. You’ll hear how I am still recovering from this mentality.)
And then, since the craving was still there, I’d start searching for some more food to satisfy it. My roommate tended to have more of the ‘fatty’ food on hand, so, let’s not beat around the bush here: I’d steal hers.
Ice cream, cookies, chocolate, whatever she had lying around. She often would forget she’d bought stuff and it would be in the apartment for weeks and months. I figured she wouldn’t notice that it had gone missing.
Me? I kept a mental inventory of every food item in the apartment.
And then once I cleaned house, I’d throw it all back up.
What a waste. Sometimes I might as well have taken out a $20 bill and flushed it down the toilet because that is the only purpose the food served. It never made it into a cupboard.
There are more shameful experiences. I’ve wrote a blog post about them last year, which you can read about here if you are really that curious.
I started off by saying that one of the reasons why I decided to share all of this was to have the darkness give way to the light.
So to jump ahead and bring hope, here is a snapshot of where I am today.
I now have no idea what is in my cupboards (ok i do a little because I went food shopping yesterday and so it’s still fresh in my mind.) But on any given day, I am not aware of what is in the snack bowl until I feel like having a snack. Then I go and check. It’s a beautiful thing not to have your thoughts revolve around what is sitting on your kitchen shelf.
I eat chocolate on a regular basis. The real kind. I eat until I am satisfied, and in plain sight. The amount varies on any given day. Sometimes I have chocolate in the middle of the day. It doesn’t make me want to run or exercise or anything to burn it off.
I will sit and write for hours, and unless I am hungry, I won’t eat. I’ve written some vulnerable emails, sent pieces of writing to 3rd parties for publishing, (also vulnerable), and that process does not drive me to eat. It still feels uncomfortable, but I feel it. I don’t try to numb it.
Leading up to my wedding, a day with high visibility and attention on my looks, I didn’t run or exercise more than usual other than a 6 week yoga class that I took because I wanted to relieve some stress. The night before our wedding, I had a three course meal, including dessert. For breakfast on our wedding day I had a waffle, because that is what was served at the bed and breakfast I was staying at. I went for a walk with my sister to get fresh air and move my body. I have no idea how many calories I consumed or burned. I wasn’t trying to control how I looked anymore.
My last purge was in August of 2006. I haven’t had the desire to do that since.
Something to think about: How can you be grateful for dark days and the light ones? How would talking about some of the dark days with someone help you? What hope do you have for yourself? How is your light even brighter because of where you’ve come from?
Your story matters. As part of ‘Bulimia Uncovered: 29 days to being your Quintessential Self’ we want to hear from you. How can you relate to what you’ve just read? Leave a comment below and share your related stories and pictures however you do best. If using social media use hashtag #bu29days and tag me so we can follow. We’re also inviting stories to feature on The True You Project. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like yours shared there.
Feb Food Fun giveaway! Want more tools to overcome judgement and shame, and be your quintessential self? Join the True You Project community and you’ll receive Your True You Journey, an 8 week self-coaching e-guide that will give you the tools to navigate through the mud and peel back the layers covering up your True You.
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