Motherhood, mental illness and beyond

Posts tagged ‘binge-eating disorder’

The fat and the furious

Trigger warning: self-harm

If you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll know that I’ve had problems with food since childhood.  26 years of bingeing, self-loathing & dieting have led me to the point where I am the heaviest I have ever been and so ashamed of my body that even the school run is a self-conscious gauntlet that I dread. I know that there’s more to life than just physical appearance and that my self-consciousness is probably vastly disproportionate. But what is undeniably true is that my body, already damaged thanks to degenerative disc disease, cannot withstand many more years of abuse.

I’m furious with myself for letting things get this far. For losing control so badly, for ignoring the damage I was doing and for setting such a poor example to my children. They don’t see my bingeing, nor hear my sobs afterwards as I emerge from the fog and realise that I’ve lost control yet again. But I can’t hide this from them forever – I need to stop before they’re old enough to realise what’s going on.

In a way, I’ve been here before. I used to self-harm; I used to cut myself as a way of coping with life. When my daughter was born I decided that I needed to stop because I didn’t want her to ever think that it was normal or ok. It took almost 2 years but I managed it, and haven’t cut myself since March 2011. I’m proud of that. But now I seem to have come full circle and once again I need to fight against my urge to harm myself, although this time it’s with food rather than a blade. I firmly believe that my bingeing is another means of abusing my body in order to retain control, although it’s not a conscious desire the way cutting was.

A little over a year ago a psychiatrist told me that I have binge-eating disorder (he described it as being like bulimia but without the purging, and that’s definitely how it feels to me) but he didn’t consider it a big enough problem to necessitate referring me to anyone. Since my crisis a couple of months ago I’ve been seeking help for my eating problems but without success. My GP said she couldn’t do anything but to ask the psychiatrist I was seeing after admitting to suicidal thoughts. I spoke to the psychiatrist and she said she couldn’t help but to talk to my GP. I reached out to an eating disorders charity but they too told me to speak to my GP, who is still regretfully adamant that there isn’t anything she can do (it seems there are no appropriate services in my area). So I’m on my own.

Well, not completely alone. I have a very supportive husband, family and several friends whom I can be totally honest with. But at the end of the day, this is a battle that I have to fight myself. Against myself. And just as before I have to do it slowly, one day at a time. One hour, one minute at a time if need be. Having got through one day, I tell myself that I can get through the next. And the next. And the next. And I desperately hope that this is a fight that I can win because losing is no longer an option.

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Can I look after my children?

This week is going to be hard; DH is on a course at the jobcentre from nine to five all week. This is a good thing as it will give him a new qualification to put on his CV, but it means that I will be alone with the children for the entire week, bar breakfast and bedtimes.

I can hear my internal critics scoffing. That’s nothing! That’s what a stay-at-home parent does! You used to do it with DD all the time, many parents have far longer periods of sole responsibility and far more children. What’s the big deal? You’re so pathetic… The fact is, I can’t remember the last time I was alone with both children for more than a couple of hours. I’m used to DH being around, he’s my buffer when things get too much. His presence means I get some alone time each day, even if it’s just a trip to the supermarket. That alone time, even just knowing that it’s an option when I’m struggling, helps me to cope. This week I won’t have that.

Time drags slowly for me these days and minutes can feel like hours. An entire day of having to be focused and alert, calm and reasonable may well seem like years. I can already feel the tension in my body, I can feel the anxiety building. Looking ahead to this week is incredibly daunting; it’s like a sheer cliff blocking my path. I’m drowning in what-ifs. What if I lose my temper? What if I can’t cope with them both? What if I have a panic attack? What if I lose control and break down in front of them? What if I’m only an ok mother when DH is around to pick up the slack?

My other big concern is that without DH around this week I will resort to binging as a coping method. Those who read my blog regularly will know that I have been told I have binge eating disorder. A week without DH around makes it ridiculously easy to binge and extremely hard to resist that whispering voice urging me on. Right now I feel fairly strong – I haven’t binged today, I’ve stocked up on mints as a distraction aid and hopefully I won’t forget them when the urge appears. But tomorrow could be very different.

I’ve been honest with a few people about the panic I’m feeling; DH, my parents, sister, a close friend. It sounds so ridiculous when I say it out loud – I’m afraid of being alone with my children all day. But right now I would rather step into a cage full of ravenous tigers than spend so much time alone with my loving, sweet, clever and funny children. What kind of mother thinks like that?

I think I shall be clutching my smartphone even more than usual tomorrow. Twitter is a source of kindness, friendship, distraction and companionship and I think I’m going to need all the help I can get this week.

I am, therefore I eat

Fat. Greedy. Obese. Disgusting. Pathetic. Ugly. Stupid. Weak. These harsh, hurtful words are all hurled at me on a daily basis. Not by family, friends or even strangers in the street but by me. My self-loathing spilleth over. Two of these words are incontrovertible – I am fat and I am obese. There is no proof for the accuracy of the others but I know that they’re true. Well… I have always been convinced that they’re true but lately chinks have begun to appear in the armour of my certainty.

I wrote here about the discovery that I apparently have an eating disorder, specifically binge-eating disorder or BED. At the time I was reluctant to apply the label of having an eating disorder to myself but I was able to admit that my eating is definitely disordered. I think about food all the time, from the moment I wake to the moment I go to sleep. I eat 2-3 meals a day and I graze in between whether I am hungry or not. Sometimes I will invent an excuse to go to the shops just so that I can buy chocolate or biscuits, either to eat in the car before I get home or to hide away and eat in secret where no-one can see. If there isn’t anything sugary or fatty for me to graze on I begin to panic and until I find something acceptable to eat I am unable to focus on anything else. If there is food around I’ll be picking at it.

So why haven’t I admitted that I have an eating disorder? Because I honestly believe that I am just greedy. I’m deeply ashamed of myself for this and for my lack of self-control but to label it an eating disorder seems an overreaction. Even considering the possibility makes me feel like a fraud, as though by comparing myself to people who really do have eating disorders I’m belittling their struggles. It feels like attention-seeking.

And yet… Friends who are far more knowledgeable and experienced in this area than I am are adamant that I have an eating disorder. A psychiatrist said that it was BED. The NHS website has a section on binge-eating which says:

In diagnosing binge eating, your GP will ask you about your eating habits and look for three or more of the following signs:
1) you eat much faster than normal during a binge
2) you eat until you feel uncomfortably full
3) you eat a large amount of food when you are not hungry
4) you eat alone or secretly due to being embarrassed about the amount of food you are consuming
5) you have feelings of guilt, shame or disgust after binge eating

Three or more? Well I tick all five boxes. So why am I still so reluctant to acknowledge this?

I’d like to say that it’s due to a lifetime of internalising society’s disdain for the supposed weakness and greed of the overweight and obese. I’d like to say that years of seeing people mocked and targeted purely because of their size and presumed inability to eat healthily has had a profound effect on me and left me able to only blame myself for my problems with food. And there may be some truth in that. But in reality I had issues with food long before I became aware of these things.

I wasn’t an overweight child but I was convinced that I was. I remember crying in the playground because I didn’t want to be fat any more. I remember binging from the age of 7 or so and guiltily hiding the evidence. I remember almost flooding a childminder’s bathroom once when I panicked and tried to flush a handful of chocolate bar wrappers down the toilet. I remember my first year at secondary school, when I would barely eat Monday to Thursday but on Friday spend my entire week’s lunch money on a mountain of food. After one of the staff told my mum about that I began taking packed lunches and supplementing them with food from the canteen when I wanted to binge – a much more subtle approach, I felt.

I have no idea what caused my problems with food (I had a happy childhood, I was well-fed, looked after and loved) but I doubt that the emergence of these issues at around the same time that I began to self-harm is a coincidence. Whatever the reason, I have been doing this for about 25 years and it is time to face up to this, to allow myself to admit that this problem may be greater than I have believed for the last quarter of a century. I need to be kinder to myself and recognise that perhaps I am not as weak as I think, that maybe the root of my obsession with food is related to my mental health rather than a character flaw.

My name is Sam and I have an eating disorder.

Food glorious food…?

This post follows on from My big fat problem.

I have had issues with food for almost as long as I can remember. When I was a young child my mum kept a large tupperware box of chocolate biscuits (Club, Viscount, that kind of thing) on top of one of the kitchen cupboards. I used to wait until I was the only person downstairs then drag a chair into the kitchen, clamber up and get down the box. I would rummage through to find my favourites; sometimes one or two, sometimes half a dozen. It was a fairly big box so I knew I was unlikely to be discovered. At the first opportunity I would sneak my pilfered biscuits upstairs and hide them under my bed. Then after bedtime, when I should have been sleeping, I would sneak them out again and scoff them; I can vividly recall the glee, delight and guilty pleasure I felt. Then I would hide the wrappers in my shoes, and bury them at the bottom of the kitchen bin at the first opportunity.

I don’t know how old I was when I began doing this. I suspect it began around the same time as my self-harming so I would have been about 7. It makes sense to me that these behaviours probably began together as I have long suspected that my binge-eating is merely another manifestation of my urge to self-harm. Certainly the urge to binge and the urge to cut are both triggered by strongly negative emotions such as anger, despair, grief, unhappiness, frustration etc. Since I finally managed to stop cutting in early 2011 my binging has become more and more of a problem.

I’ve mentioned before that the psychiatrist I saw a while ago told me I was a compulsive binge-eater. After talking with some very kind and knowledgeable Twitter friends recently I found myself googling binge-eating today and was directed to this page on the NHS Choices website. It’s extremely informative and eerily familiar – every aspect of binge-eating that it describes applies to me. Eating excessively quickly, eating large amounts when not hungry, eating alone or secretly, feeling out of control, experiencing feelings of shame, guilt and disgust after a binge… This is what I do. This is me.

Despite having been given a good (and kind and helpful) talking-to by my knowledgeable friends on Twitter (you know who you are!) I still don’t feel that I have an eating disorder. Eating disorders are serious illnesses, while I just have no willpower. No self-control. I am greedy. I don’t have an eating disorder. Except… These experienced, knowledgeable, lovely people say that I do. The NHS website says that I do. The psychiatrist said that I do.

So. I may not be ready to admit that I have an eating disorder but I know that my eating is disordered. The difference just be semantics but for now that’s as much as I’m comfortable with. I’m waiting for a referral to a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist for my anxiety and I will definitely be mentioning my problems with food.

In the meantime I am not going to follow any faddy diets, no Atkins or Slimming World or 5:2 or anything like that. Partly because I can’t afford to but mostly because I know that they will not help me stop binging. I need to focus on my binging, not my diet as a whole. I need to arrest the impulse to binge before I act on it and I need to get into the habit of examining why I want to binge each time.

I’m not going to set myself any big scary weight-loss targets, even though that is a major part of why I need to get my eating under control – I am 5 stone overweight and that’s affecting my health as well as my happiness. For now though my only goal involving scales is to weigh less each week than I did before, even if it’s just a few ounces less.

I expect I shall blog about this again in the future but for now this is it. I know what I need to do. I know why I need to do it. I think I know how to begin doing it. So here I go…

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