I have so much to say about this, I’m going to have to break it up into a few posts, but here goes…
Part 1: How did I get here?
I was 5 years old when my mother first introduced me to the concept of “diet” with calorie counting. I didn’t really think much about it at the time… I actually thought it would be fun. I mean, my mother had gotten a fancy book with charts and graphs and numbers and crisp white pages for filling stuff in. She got it just for me (I have 3 brothers, so getting something just for me was not an every day kind of thing) and it was something we were going to do together (my mother was not the most affectionate of mothers, so that was no small thing either).
I didn’t notice the difference at the time, but looking back now, I recognize this as the time I started to doubt my worth. When I look at pictures from before that time, I see a carefree, spirited, hopeful, inspired, beautiful little girl who had no idea she wasn’t ABSOLUTELY PERFECT. A sweet, trusting little soul who didn’t know her mother’s love was conditional. With the right amount of love and encouragement, that little girl would have turned into a real stunner. Confident and free.
Alas, that’s not the life that was meant for me. Instead, food became the enemy. “Bad” was outlawed and eating in general, even “good” food, was frowned upon (except when it came to finishing whatever was put on your plate at family dinner), so I started eating in secret. I snuck food to my room, raided my mom’s secret baking stash of chocolate chips and semi sweet baking chocolate, and spent pretty much every penny of allowance and later money I earned babysitting or doing other jobs on candy. I had this oversized coat and I would load the giant pockets with candy on my way to school in the morning and sneak it into my mouth throughout the school day.
Of course all of this sneaking around came with a big ole dose of shame and as my weight increased, so did the torment in school… and at home. I knew that my weight was the problem, but I had become obsessed with the forbidden food and the comfort it gave me. Or maybe the it was the act of rebellion that comforted me. I don’t know. In any event, I couldn’t give it up at that point. There has been some research about dieting demands from parents causing eating disorders, but it took another 20 years before I knew to call it that.
I took some test for hypoglycemia at age 11 and was consequently taken off sugar. At age 12 my parents took me out of school for 6 weeks to send me to fat camp on some island in the North Sea. My mother told all her friends the hilarious story about how devastated I was when I couldn’t find a big enough dress for confirmation at 13. My grandfather told me at age 14 that I probably only thought about dieting whenever I wasn’t eating. At 15 I was sneaking Herbalife, because I was so embarrassed, particularly about the amount of money I had spent on this sham. At 16 one of my friends became bulimic and I tried desperately to be like her, but vomiting wasn’t in the stars for me either.
That is also the year I decided to leave home. I couldn’t take the shame of the failure I perceived in myself, and the anger… so much anger (of course there was more to it than just my weight problem, maybe more about that later) and started a new life 4000 miles away as a live in nanny. But you can’t run away from emptiness in your soul and fullness in your body anymore than you can run from your heart or an arm.
The next 10 years after that are a blur of dozens of diets and thousands of dollars spent on LA Weightloss, WeightWatchers, Jenny Craig, Phentermine, Meridia, Michael Thurmond’s 6 week body makeover, personal trainers, Slim Fast, Juice Fast, Alli, supplements, an exercise bike, treadmill, elliptical, two attempts to get my insurance to pay for a gastric bypass… the list goes on. I must have lost and gained 1000 pounds that decade, but in the end, my public dieter was no match for my private binger.
Coming up next: Part 2, The Stigma and why I felt the only way to deal with this struggle was alone. So alone, in fact, that I didn’t even tell my HUSBAND, who adores me and supports me unconditionally, that I was entering a program for eating disorders until the night of my first group, when I had to explain where I was going to be for the next 3 hours.