I am taking part in a step study group for Overeater’s Anonymous (OA) and our first assignment was to write an inventory of our disordered eating. I am reprinting it here because I think many of us survivors coped with abuse through disordered eating and we all developed a skewed relationship with our bodies. Maybe you will recognize something in my story; maybe it will be helpful to reframe something that has nagged you as well.
I am first generation Peruvian-American, raised in the US South. My father was a compulsive overeater and my mother a compulsive food restrictor. I believe their disordered eating were chief ways they dealt with the stress of immigration and life in the US. Growing up, there was a lot of pressure to adopt western female beauty ideals and thinness was key among the many sexist standards. How ironic it was for my father to scrutinize and criticize my and my sister’s bodies when he was out of control with his own relationship to his body and health. He became morbidly obese and developed adult onset diabetes and became insulin dependent due to his unhealthy lifestyle.
I remember my first binge eating episode to have occurred when I was approximately in first grade. It was upon returning to USA after some time in Peru, (S. America) when I was a child. Terrible things happened there and I was traumatized and acted out with a compulsive eating binge the first night home. I binged on white bread and deviled ham. Even after I saw the bread was moldy from having been unused for the time we were away, I still ate it voraciously.
I grew up being constantly fed yummy things in order to accompany my dad who wanted to eat those things compulsively but would use us kids as an excuse to do so. He also gave us “goodies” as an act of affection. My mother had classic anorexic behaviors of being the delicious chef but rarely eating much of what she prepared. Multiple servings were the standard at meals and snacks and grazing constant. Nighttime was a chief family bonding time with food in front of the TV. To this day, night time is the hardest time for me to abstain from eating, especially in front of the tv.
I was active and somewhat athletic and had an average physique until adolescence. A history of sexual abuse and traumatic pregnancies at age 14 and 15 left me overly sexual and I began to restrict my eating after a traumatic late stage abortion at 14. I became anorexic for about a year; I looked great but was hugely anorexic in my thinking and habits. But I got a lot of societal approval for my looks during this time. I was precociously sexual and did not handle the onslaught of male sexual attention that my new body and style solicited. So I began to binge again and binged after any sexual encounter. This has remained a trigger for me and I get incredible food compulsions after dates and “new” sexual encounters even now. Later, I learned to eat compulsively in general (not necessarily a full blown binge) and used that as an ongoing poor coping mechanism. (This I see in hindsight.)This is when I really began to gain weight.
I steadily gained weight throughout the next couple decades. Along with the numbers on the scale, grew my own body hatred. I was in a battle with my body. Along with the alienation from my body, I was becoming more and more alienated from men in general and at 23 made a decision to come out as lesbian so that I would never put myself in a vulnerable position with men again. It was an intellectual strategy. I stayed ‘women-only’ for the next 16 years. I packed on the pounds and the most intense unhealthy eating phase in my life parallels the most alienated from my body period of my life. For many years, I was not sexual, did not exercise and over-ate as the norm.
At 38, I came back to intimacy with men and began forays in restricting my food again, although it was under the guise of ‘diets”. It was not until my 40’s that I befriended my wounded femininity and returned to gentle exercising and sports. However, the thread running through the many years of my adulthood has been a base of compulsive overeating and that is my main addictive behavior. While I am healthier in my exercise and food these days, I am still a far cry from the healthy equilibrium I desire. I still struggle with compulsive overeating and occasional binging, just less so.
In my late forties I developed an intestinal disease/illness that resulted in major weight loss. The more slender body was wonderful; but as before, I did not handle well the attention it got me. And I began to eat unhealthily again. I came to OA on the precipice of seeing myself gain all the weight back again and am mortified to be losing at this epic battle yet again.
I want to stop the yo-yo-ing and want to live comfortably in a healthy, average sized body. Today, I aim to eat six healthy meals/snacks a day and try to avoid gluten.