There’s something monumentally embarrassing about eating until you physically cannot stand up. About spending your entire monthly budget on one night’s binge. About cancelling plans with friends so that you can pack three large pizzas down your neck (followed by five double chocolate brownies and two sharing bags of Doritos). It’s embarrassing to make yourself sick in a desperate bid to undo the consequences from the oblivion, and it’s even more so to do this three or five times daily. But it’s most embarrassing to confess this on this internet. Hi!
This embarrassment is exactly why the process of destructive eating is such a secret ritual. I remember broaching the subject with an ex partner. In an attempt to ease myself into uncharted waters, I described my binging and purging as something “that I used to do”, to which he warmly replied, “well that’s disgusting, isn’t it?” That opinion is unfortunately a very common and toxic one. Another misconception is the assumption that people with eating disorders dislike food. We don’t. We fucking love it, love the bones of it. Love the greasy, Kentucky-fried bones of it.
For every happy memory I have ever clung on to, I can tell you what I ate on that occasion. All the joy in childhood was experienced with a Billy Bear ham sandwich in hand and the remnants of an ice cream on my chin. Food was considered a reward for me from a very young age. I remember being at brownie camp and receiving a near standing ovation from the grown-ups for polishing off four rounds of buttery mash. I remember after each dental check-up, me and my brothers would get a now extinct Cadbury Snowflake chocolate bar. I remember finishing swimming on a Tuesday with a McDonalds happy meal, which I always ate chips first. I still do that.
I love everything about food. I love the complexity of flavours you can get from a tiny amount of ingredients. I love the expressions of colour. I love shoving far too much of it in my mouth all in one go. I love the way it feels as it travels down my throat and how it thuds and fills my stomach. I love the way it can warm you or cool you down, both physically and emotionally. It is precisely for all of this intense love that I developed, and entertained for many years, the most turbulent of all my relationships.
At 16, I went on my first diet after an overweight man told me that my legs had gotten bigger. I was completely uneducated and began eating the same three boring meals a day in portions half of what they should’ve been to sustain a growing woman. Slowly my porridge simmered down to two bananas, then one. My sandwich became a couple of crackers, initially with butter, later without. Throughout this time, as the weight melted from my plump thighs, my attachment to food grew more intense and I would fantasise about those forbidden foods that I wasn’t allowed to eat. I’d spend nights on Tumblr searching for mac and cheese porn, followed by pictures of skinny blonde women to remind myself of my warped goals. I’d then ritualistically go and burn off those calories I’d been imagining and eventually crumple into a heap on my bed.
My extreme restriction backfired after time, and I began to indulge in the opposite end of the spectrum of indulgence. I would eat enough food to choke a donkey multiple times a day and then would vomit it all back up for fear of reversing all of the hard work I’d dedicated my late teens to. I did this for four years in complete secrecy from my family and dwindling friendships, until one day I sat on my bathroom floor post-event, gripping onto my heart which was heaving and racing and struggling. It roared against my chest like a newly captured, rabid dog. I thought I was going to have a heart attack. I never made myself sick again.
Although this was a positive step in the right direction for my health, the explosive, uncontrollable eating habits I’d etched into my subconscious meant that I quickly packed on the weight. I’ve never been enormous, but I became a lot bigger than I should’ve been. Most crucially, I was completely and utterly unhappy. I looked fine by medical standards, but I was still struggling just as much as I had before, if not more now. It’s one thing to have an eating disorder, but to feel like you’re failing at it? Well, that’s just an almighty stab in the dick.
In more recent times I’ve allowed myself to enjoy food and to enjoy it openly and visibly. It seeps through my pores and it drips from my Instagram. I am no longer ashamed to say that food is the first thing I think about in the morning and the last thing at night. I’m learning to balance my infatuation with exercise and through allowing myself leniency. I’m currently the happiest and, I’d say, the healthiest I’ve been in a long, long time.
When you are consumed by disordered eating, it can seem impossible to even begin to think about helping the people around you, as often times you aren’t even able to help yourself. I believe that I am now in a position where I can try to help those similar to myself, who may be able to spot flickers of their own reflection in my all too common story. It is for this reason, that I decided to set up NOT PLANT BASED. I wasted too many years feeling crippled by embarrassment, fear and self-loathing, and it’s become exhausting to watch others, particularly women, continue to do the same.
The time has come to eliminate the embarrassment, or at least to take away its power. I continue to embarrass myself on a daily basis, whether that be by walking through Euston with my dress tucked into my pants or by spending whole days at work unaware that I had a huge smear of ink across my chin, but I won’t allow myself to be embarrassed with issues concerning my health anymore because it’s simply far too important. As for everything else? I am now able to console my clumsy woes with a shrug and a chocolate bar, rather than by sticking any fingers down my throat.