Using food as a punishment

When people talk about eating disorders they usually mean bulimia or anorexia. Binge eating is becoming recognised as a disorder but most people, even professionals, see it as nothing more than a lack of self control. But I haven’t yet seen anyone talk about using food as self-punishment. And that interests me because I have a history of doing just that. Am I abnormal, or are there other people out there who do the same?

It began when I was a teenager, after my first diet. When I was 15 my parents paid for me to join Jenny Craig as a 16th birthday present (my first school ball was coming up that year, and all I wanted was to be thin for it). I won’t go into my experiences on that diet except to say that at the end I was eating one chocolate bar a day – nothing else – and while I lied to my folks about it the Jenny Craig ‘counsellor’ I was seeing knew and did nothing. So long as I was losing weight it was OK.

The diet ended badly, despite the fact I lost weight (I still felt ‘huge’ and my life didn’t change… wasn’t losing weight supposed to garner me friends and romance?) It was then that I began to stuff myself. I was working at a supermarket part time after work so I had money, and I used it to buy junk food and binge eat. Only it wasn’t just bingeing; I used to force myself to eat. I ate to the point of wanting to throw up but I refused to allow myself to do that; I just kept piling the food in.

I thought I was a pig. I thought I had no will power. I felt out of control.

Over the years I’ve gotten a little better in that I don’t do it all the time now. Sometimes, when things get bad, I will stuff myself again. And it doesn’t have to be junk food, either – I have binged like this on fruit before. But the characteristics of the behaviour are always the same; I eat to the point of feeling sick and force myself to keep going, I don’t really taste what I’m eating, and there is a ‘frenzy’ to it that doesn’t exist with the “Oh, yum, I could eat a *box* of these!” ‘binge’.

The problem is that as I’ve gotten older I have more access to money and I tend to eat much more in each ‘episode’. Sometimes I worry that our financial difficulties are due to the fact I keep doing this; eating much more than I want or need out of some odd desire to hurt myself. And the worst part of it is that this kind of behaviour isn’t considered a ‘problem’, as such – it comes under the heading of ‘little self-control’.

But it is a problem for me.

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