Thursday, 10 February 2011

My Fitness Story... - The Black Cloak

Today's post is anonymous at the author's request, for reasons they explain in the post. When I first received this post, it made me cry because it is utterly heartbreaking that someone has suffered alone for so long, and so uplifting that they found the strength of mind to overcome this alone. I won't say anymore, I will just hand you over to today's guest poster.

Starting to write this post is one of the hardest things I have ever done. I've known for some time that I needed to write it, but my own blog didn't seem like the right place. So when Kate asked for people to write about their experience of eating disorders,  I took her up on the opportunity to get this out there finally. But writing this, just getting to the point of writing, has taken me several days. In reality, it has taken years, if not decades. Writing this post is going to make me face lots of things about myself that are long buried, and if I'm truthful, that I really don't like about myself. I have asked for this to remain anonymous because the person I'm about to write about is no longer me and I don't want people to judge me for someone I no longer am. Perhaps that is a message of hope to carry you through the me I'm going to tell you about.

I am a binge-eater. There, I said it. OK, so I am not anymore, but part of me feels like that, given the right/wrong circumstances, it could happen again. I've never been diagnosed with an eating disorder but deep down, I know that is the label that would be placed on it if only I were to admit to someone. Because I haven't. Like all addicts, I've been clever. I've never been caught out. No-one in my real life knows my shame. I have lived this alone.

When did it start? Possibly, childhood. I can remember taking food secretly from the fridge from a youngish age. Back then, it was low grade - just taking food and eating more than I should. But the seeds were sown. I grew in size, I was teased at school. It wasn't pretty. Instead, I kept my head down and got on with school work.

It really started when I moved away from home in my late teens. I didn't want to be overweight anymore so I started to learn a bit more about weight loss and dieting. I stopped eating. Brilliant. I didn't stop totally but the amount I ate was horrendously small. I found things I could "eat" that were very low in calories but could stop me feeling hungry. Lunch could often be a cup-a-soup. Or it might have been dinner. On top of the eating regime - for it was a regime, it was that tough - I took up regular running.

It worked. I lost about 2-3 stone and eventually reached the lowest weight I've ever been as an adult. It was however too low. With the benefit of hindsight, I'd say it was more than a stone lower than my minimum healthy weight, even though it was considered at the bottom of the healthy range on all those weight charts. I wanted to be the best and to me, the way to do that was to be the lightest the charts said I should be. I remember getting comments from family and friends - looking back now, I can tell they were worried but at the time, I dismissed them as being overly protective.

I can't remember now when things started to change but after being so strict for so long, something had to give. And it did. One day, I felt an urge to eat something. So I did. And something else, and something else and something else. Before I knew it, I couldn't stop. Even now, I can't explain how or why I did it. Something within me was driving me until it was too late. I'd eaten too much and I felt sick. I wasn't, however, bulimic - I felt sick but I couldn't make myself sick. I felt rubbish for the rest of the day and took myself off to bed, claiming I had an upset stomach. I did, but not in the way that people thought.

I got into this cycle of eating fairly normally or carefully, then bingeing about once a week. Nothing could stop me when it happened. I will admit to you now, I did things I was not proud of. I stole food from others sometimes, when I was in shared housing. I stress now, that person that did those things was me, but was not me. When I binged, I needed to eat; nothing could stop me. When it was over, I didn't feel better - I felt worse. I felt sick, sometimes for hours, sometimes up to a day. Sometimes, I wanted to make myself sick just so I could feel better but something stopped me from doing so. Perhaps, looking back, that was a good thing. The guilt afterwards too was awful. It enveloped my heart like a black cloak. But boy, I was sneaky. No-one ever actually caught me taking food that wasn't mine. To my knowledge, no-one knew what I did. My housemates might have suspected, I really don't know - but if they did, they never told me or confronted me. I was deceitful, I lied, I stole. I sound like an addict. I was. I had to have my regular fix. Sometimes, even when doing it, I wanted to stop but I just couldn't.

With regular bingeing, and a less strict diet and exercise regime, my weight began to increase. I know now that the crash dieting I did would not have been good for my health and that returning to normal eating would have seen me put weight back on at a faster rate than I lost it. I was not happy with my size again. It was a spiral - I was unhappy with my size, which made me feel bad, so I'd binge - almost like a form of self-harm, and I'd feel worse, my size would get bigger... and so on.

The bingeing carried into my twenties which was a turbulent time in my life. I made bad choices in terms of relationships - which were possibly linked to the underlying reasons for my bingeing in the lack of self-esteem and positive body image - and was unhappy more than I was happy. The unhappy times always coincided with more regular binges. I remember thinking after many a binge whether I would ever stop, whether the binges would punctuate my life until I died. And still, none of my partners ever knew I binged or caught me bingeing. A couple of them knew I was totally and utterly obsessed with my weight. I would weigh myself every day and it was a disaster to me if I'd put on a pound or two. This alone could trigger more binges, which made me feel worse. The cycle was apparently endless. In the end, I got rid of my scales and only weighed myself in shops every now and then. This helped to reduce the frequency of binges but it didn't stop them completely.

So what happened? To be honest, I don't know. There was no light bulb moment, no need to stop suddenly. They just did. That's not to say I don't ever overeat but the overwhelming need to eat and eat and eat until I was ill faded gradually - the binges became less and less frequent and I would think about it less. If I did think about it, I could almost guarantee that thinking about it would mean I would binge within days, so I stopped thinking about it. It was buried in the back of my mind for a very long time. Until one day, I thought about it - and the binge never materialised. I'm married now and I've never told my husband about it. It didn't seem relevant, and I am ashamed of that person that I was. I feel that if I tell him, he would see me in a different light and may not love me anymore.

Since stopping bingeing, my weight has gone up and gone down. I have had children which has caused some of that. I know I have a pretty healthy attitude to food - one of the things that I am grateful for is that I have always eaten lots of veg and fruit and prefer wholemeal options to white, so the basis of my diet is not bad anyway. I've managed to lose weight through sensible eating. I know that I can't restrict myself too much. In fact, I'm scared to do that because I don't ever want to go back to the way I was before. It does scare me that I never got treatment for the bingeing now. It worries me that it might come back if I had some major crisis in my life. When I think about it, I feel the presence of that black cloak. It amazes me that I can think about it and not go off and binge. I hope with every ounce of my body that it doesn't push me into bingeing ever again.

Thank you so much for being so brave in sharing your story. My heart truly goes out to you for all the suffering you've been through and the fact that you managed to keep it a secret for so long. 

If you have any comments for today's guest poster, please do so as I know she will value your support. It takes a lot of courage to write posts like this. Please use the comments to share your own experiences of binge-eating, if you have any. 

If you'd like to tell your fitness story, please get in touch with me, either on Twitter or via the email address on the About Me page. 
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