Confession: I am a compulsive eater and a chronic dieter.
I resisted these labels for a long, long time. But lately, I am finding that having words and language to describe my experience does not define me as I feared it would, but instead gives me substance to express what I feel so that I can transform it.
What do I mean by compulsive eater? I used to think that this was a person who couldn’t control themselves around food. My definition was fear-based and full of judgement. But I have learned that what it means is that I do not eat in response to my body’s needs. For some periods of my life, this meant that when I was physically hungry, I ignored this hunger and starved myself. At other times, I ate food when I was not, in fact, hungry. The signals became confused and difficult to unravel. Sometimes, I ate by plans and prescribed diets (as a naturopath, I am an expert in that!). I fasted and cleansed and told myself to stay the course and have the willpower. I ignored all my hungers. Other times, I indulged, snuck extra cookies when no one was looking, volunteered to bring the cake and put it back in the fridge so I could steal an extra sliver or a dollop of extra icing when no one was looking. Or combine all the pizza into one box and stuff down a fourth and fifth slice in the kitchen, hoping by combining them no one would notice. Shame was always the result – and either a night hung over a toilet purging to purify myself or a day of water fasting was punishment for my behaviour.
There were moments, even months, where I managed to have enough routine and a stranglehold of control on my surroundings that it seemed like I was ok. But any rocking of the boat, any loss of the illusion of control, any pound gained, and I was swept away. In my 20s, I was rake thin and always denying myself. In my 30s, I stayed hidden, shamed that I had not yet figured out what was wrong with me and adding nearly 50 pounds to my frame.
2 years ago, I could no longer hold it together, and my life completely fell apart. I lost my health, lost my partner, lost close family relationships, and lost my house. I could not look myself in the eyes. There was sadness and so much shame. If it were not for my kids, I am not sure I would have chosen to keep fighting.
The journey from rock bottom to here has a street fight. I had to make decisions that I hurt so badly I thought it would kill me. I have experienced more emotional and physical pain than I thought one person could live through. I had to burn down everything I had spent years pretending to be and accept the truth about who I was.
You see all this time, I thought that food and my body were the problems. But what I learned was that at any size, I was still living as if I were shame wrapped in skin.
As I am unlearning what I have been taught about who I should be, how I should act and feel, what I should look like and what I should eat, I have realized that I am not shame wrapped in skin. No. I was fire. Fire that burned so hot and so bright that the world needed to use shame to keep me in line. It was afraid my fire would burn their fragile ways and they could not have that. So the pain of burning on the inside and the same of being too much and not enough at the same time ate at me from the inside out. It showed up as perfectionism, arrogance, neediness. Denying my physical hunger was an antidote to denying my true desire – to be myself and to know that that was enough. And when that was too much, like an elastic band, I would recoil—anger and rage hiding shame and denial.
Bet you never knew, though. I was good at pretending.
Two years ago, I could no longer pretend. I had been to counselling before but I didn’t know what else to do. This time, I found someone who could see through my bullshit. She said to me “until you accept your past trauma, you will never learn to live wholly. It is part of who you are and you have spent your entire life denying your pain. You have spent your entire life pretending things were fine. What if they aren’t fine? And so instead of spending all this time pretending, you could just start living with what is?”
So this is me, not fine. But for maybe the first time in my life, actually living.
I am learning actually to inhabit my body. I am learning how it shifts and changes, what it wants and doesn’t want, what foods make it feel good and not good and what emotions, when they come up, rock me and how I still always reach to either deny the hunger or stuff myself full so that it can’t reach me. I am learning to feel them instead.
I do not have a fancy photo for you, of me on a beach somewhere, having conquered my weight and my food journey. Because I am still in it, and that is what makes me so good at helping others on their journey.
I am no longer striving to be cured. I am no longer interested in being fine. What I am focused on is the fire. Now, this is what I want now for me – and for you – To spend every day of the rest of my life deciding who I am today and then just living that.