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I’m a Compulsive Binge Eater no Matter What I Weigh

Mostly too much, but every once in a while, like now…

gril with not one but two ice cream cones
Photo by Dylan Lu on Unsplash

I don’t like to admit it, but I have issues with food. No matter how much I do or don’t weigh, they seem to be the same issues.

I was a pudgy baby, which was considered adorable at the time. A great cheek pinching, thigh squeezing opportunity for dotting aunts and cigar-puffing uncles.

I wore “chubby” sized clothes, which was a thing then. I don’t remember being teased for my weight as I was for my precocious breasts. But were they made heavier by excess flesh?

Actually, I believe what happened was, they stood out after losing 15 pounds over the summer between 5th and 6th grade.

My grandmother lived with us at the time, and she put me on a diet. Not my parents, my grandmother. So it was Metrical for breakfast and lunch. A thermos full of the shake and three Metrical cookies.

Then I ate a regular dinner with the family. I don’t remember if I was allowed dessert. My mom always made and served great desserts, but I honestly don’t remember.

That didn’t last long because I loved to eat.

I am a sugar addict, as well as a compulsive overeater. I continued to gain weight all through junior high and high school. I lost some weight again the summer before college, mainly because I was working hard at a job and often crashed without eating dinner.

In my late 20’s I took up jogging. When I noticed I was losing weight, I went on a very low-calorie diet. The more weight I lost, the stricter I got.

Before it ended, I was eating less than 1000 calories a day and going on three to five-mile runs. I got all the way down to 102 pounds, a weight I’d last been in the fourth grade, and I was heavy then at that weight.

Those behaviors are on the anorexic side of the compulsive eating scale. The fact that I was hyper-controlling what and how I ate made it no less compulsive, probably more so.

Because I would binge.

Yes. I would take in my 1000 calories all in one go, then “punish” myself by going for an extra-long run and not eat anything else the rest of the day.

When I say binge, I mean spoon after spoon of peanut butter right from the jar. The kind with all kinds of added sugar and preservatives. Not the health food store’s natural kind.

Or three bowls of ice cream with a box of cookies chaser.

I did not stay thin for more than about a year. Predictably I gained more than ever afterward. My top weight was about 160 in a small-boned 5’ frame. Most of it was in my hips and thighs. I could wear a size 12 blouse with my size 16–18 pants.

I lost weight again in my late 30s from Salsa dancing 4–5 nights a week, learning how to dance and qualify as a sex and love addict.

I put that weight back on once I got in recovery — a worthwhile trade. And have yo-yo’d up and down, gaining and losing the same 15–20 pounds over the next 25 years.

Enter the Coronavirus.

Now we’re all going through stuff. We cope with stressors in different ways. Many of us use or abuse our substances of choice. I’ll bet more folks are drinking and drugging right now. The booze section of my Trader Joe’s has been as naked as the toilet paper section.

I dare say some folks in recovery are struggling with relapse right now. Some are losing that battle. Yes, meetings are available online, thank God. But it’s not the same as being able to join hands and recite the Serenity Prayer or the one we say at Overeaters Anonymous that starts:

I put my hand in yours, and together we can do what we could never do alone…

So I’ve been seeing stories here on Medium and elsewhere about folks eating and binging their way through lockdown. Understandably so. It’s boring and scary at the same time. That’s a mind-fucking combination.

And I fully expected to be one of these folks.

In fact, I was flabbergasted that my response was different. My appetite shut down. Especially on days I overdosed on bad news.

When Trump announced he was going to reopen the economy by Easter, I had a major meltdown. My whole being was possessed by unshakeable anxiety, fear, and stress.

Appetite loss usually happens to me while grieving. After a break-up or the death of someone close.

But not always. Sometimes when faced with trauma, I stuff my face. After a break-in by a would-be rapist, I spent the night at the home of friends. After everyone went to bed, I ate all the ice cream in their freezer. That’s my usual m.o.

But for whatever reason, this time, my appetite shrunk.

I didn’t fight it. I ate one real meal a day several days during that first month. I had some protein shakes and nuts or cheese sticks. But not a lot.

I believe some of this behavior was from going into survival mode. I was thinking along the lines of maybe supplies will be cut off, and I won’t be able to get stuff. So I have to make what I have on hand last the duration — however long that is.

The other side of that is, I wasn’t going to the usual pot lucks and after church brunch buffets. Or restaurants, which are easy to pig-out at. You know how you can get full on that tasty French bread, but still eat all your entree and a dessert as well? That’s not an option at the moment.

So in that first month, I lost ten pounds. My so-called goal weight was 117. Now I weighed 115. It was hard believing the scale.

And given my history, I didn’t know whether to celebrate or be concerned.

I like how this feels. It’s fun to look in the mirror, finally. However, there’s no one to show. Zoom calls are waist up affairs unless you’re showing off your boxers below your suit and tie. A bad case of all dressed up and nowhere to go…

I can see the third diamond!

There used to be this thing about standing with your bare legs together, and you should be able to see three diamond-shaped spaces between your legs. One by your ankles, one right below your knees and the third at the top of your thighs. I had never seen that space at the top of my thighs, ever! Till now!

I wrote a piece about how, thanks to Corona, I lost ten pounds, but will she help me keep it off? That was the humorous side of this story.

The serious side of the story is complicated. Should I celebrate or be worried about triggering the anorexic side of my compulsion? Because I believe it’s one dis-ease with a continuum of forms it can take.

Especially since I have perfected the art of binging at any weight.

I am just starting to write about my eating on this platform because I am not really in recovery. It’s so much easier to write about my success stories in sex and love addiction recovery or Al-Anon.

I had an eye-opening aha yesterday when I was discussing this with friends. Ones with weight issues were not particularly interested in hearing a person they consider slim already talk about losing ten pounds.

After stewing in my juices overnight about that, it hit me. For me, how much I weigh is only part of my dysfunction. The rest is what I do and don’t do with food.

I wasn’t bragging. I was trying to explain how my sickness teeter tottered the other way, just this once. For about a minute.

I didn’t deal with the feeling of being misunderstood well at all. In fact, I ate a lot last night. When I got on the scale this morning, it said 120. I think the little white machine is out to get me.

Going forward, I am committed to remembering food is fuel, not a recreational drug. It helps when I record what I eat, so I’ve got a log and a check-in buddy to share with. Even more help’s just twelve steps away.

Marilyn Flower writes political humor and satire to delight socially and spiritually conscious folks. She’s a regular columnist for the prison newsletter, Freedom Anywhere, where she writes about faith and prayer. Five of her short plays have been produced in San Francisco. Clowning and improvisation strengthen her resolve during these crazy times.

I’m a Compulsive Binge Eater no Matter What I Weigh was originally published in ILLUMINATION on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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