Content Warning: binge-eating disorder, anorexia, substance abuse, addiction, eating disorders
My grandma has been heavy her whole life. This is largely due to her emotional eating, a habit my mom says she developed while going through difficulties in her marriage. My mom inherited this eating habit as a result of her control issues, something she didn’t acknowledge until entering therapy in her late forties. Her family was also poor and unable to afford healthy food, which meant she spent the majority of her childhood as an obese kiddo, until she extreme-dieted one summer and traded binge-eating for an obsession with exercise. Before she lost the weight, though, my mom was heavily criticized for it. And I think she internalized the fatphobia that society constantly pushed on her over time.
Knowing this, it makes sense that, when raising us, she was very critical of our weight. I remember one time, when I went to the doctor and came home with a sheet saying I was slightly over the average BMI for my age, I asked my mom in tears if this meant I was fat, and she said with hesitation, “not yet, but you need to start eating better.” The most frustrating part of this response was: it’s not like I was eating poorly, but rather was unable to healthily handle my anxiety and, instead, was binge-eating–a healthy alternative to potato chips. Her response only worsened my eating habits.
She also put a lot of emphasis on diet and exercise. We were always in sports, whether it was soccer–which I spent picking flowers–softball–which I spent running from the ball each time it came my way–gymnastics, swimming, and, finally, running when I was in high school, which was the sport I lasted with the longest. We were only allowed to have certain foods in our house, aka the food of an almond mom: my mom frowned upon Teddy Grahams, Pop Tarts, fruit roll-ups, or really anything my peers ate. We rarely got fast food, as she thought restricting our diet would make us eat right from a young age.
Unfortunately, all it did was make me go absolutely b****** crazy on junk food once I was out of her sight. I remember I would buy cinnamon pretzels from the cafeteria and hope she wouldn’t see the charge on my lunch balance because she would never get upset at the money spent, but what it was spent on. Once I got to middle and high school, I started to worry about my weight a lot more and would poke and prod myself in the mirror. Never was I ever skinny enough, which is funny because I look back at pictures and think about how skinny that girl is. It blows my mind to think that at the time, I was calling myself fat like it was a wretched trait that defined my entire existence.
I started eating less, getting prouder of myself each time I could cut down more calories in my diet, and then getting upset with myself when I couldn’t. Most of the time, though, I would binge as soon as I got home from school, cleaning out our cabinets without thinking about what I was putting in my mouth–just scooping handful after handful of whatever I could find. Once I reached my freshman year of high school, I started to restrict my calories, counting them obsessively. There was one trip I went with my band where I spent the entire trip not eating, so sickly satisfied with that pain in my stomach. Once I got home, though, I binged completely, cleaning out our kitchen.
There were a couple of months in my junior year of high school when I downloaded an app called My Fitness Pal that told me how many calories were in each food or serving that I was eating each day. Because my binging was off the rails, it was supposed to help me keep track of what I was eating in a healthier way. Unfortunately, what ended up happening is the app telling me that, in order to lose weight, I needed to be consuming no more than 1500 calories a day. Soon, each day became a competition of how little I could eat and get away with it. Every day, I cut out one thing, and another, and another, until I was really only eating an apple for the entire day. During this time, I did not participate in class nearly as much—very unusual behavior for my talkative self—and constantly had my head down on my desk. I was tired all the time, but I did not care because it meant I was losing weight. After a while, I went back to binging, one day finding the strength to laugh in class again. I remember my psychology teacher noticing this, saying he had not heard that laugh in a long time. It was not until he said it that I realized how depressed I had been.
I continued binge-eating all the way until my sophomore year of college. At this point, I had been seeing a great therapist for around two years, and she said that my binge-eating was the cause of my anxiety and that exercising might help me. I started playing Just Dance as all other forms of exercise seemed like a chore or something I had to do in order to lose weight. But Just Dance did not feel like that, it felt like I was having fun and simultaneously happened to be getting my anxiety under control. It was around this time that I met my ex-boyfriend, who, from the very moment I met him, smoked weed almost every single day. I soon abandoned my healthy habits with exercise to fit his schedule and blindly let him normalize my smoking, which quickly became a habit. Before I knew it, my addiction to food had turned into an addiction to weed.
While this was happening, I still wanted to have a better relationship with food, so I started eating better. I made a list of all the nutrients I needed to be consuming each day for me to lose weight, specifically designing meals and foods that contained them. It also helped that I didn’t feel the need to inhale an entire pack of Oreos because, instead, I would suck on my dab pen. Over time, I did return to Just Dance, and it was once I started doing that I dropped weight really quickly. But at that point, it was not even about the weight, but rather the confidence derived from that time spent dancing. I felt like I was empowering myself and having a lot of fun doing it. Exercising has now become a huge part of my life, and as a newly sober person, it is something I have to do each day in order to keep myself from binge-eating. I now understand that my binge-eating problem was less about the food and more about my anxiety, and exercise has really helped with that.