Following on from my post about why I overeat, I thought I’d do a post on my overeating history. Maybe it will explain more about why I overeat and the emotions behind it. I’m breaking it into two – the school years and the adult years.
I wasn’t always fat. In fact, as a kid, I think I was on the skinnier side of average. I’m not sure. My mum’s never really been one for photos; I think she’s got some of me as a kid somewhere but they’re buried away and I haven’t seen them in years. My first memories of any ‘issues’ around food were not overeating but undereating. Not because I wanted to undereat but because I was an excruciatingly slow eater. Now I’ve no idea whether there was a reason behind my slow eating or whether it was just one of those things. But we’d sit at the table for a lifetime until, after an hour of it, my mum would snap and yell at me to ‘just bloody leave it’ and I’d have to leave the table without finishing my meal. I don’t recall whether this was every time or just sometimes; whether I was hungry for my whole meal or not. I just remember that this happened and it meant I didn’t really look forward to mealtimes for a fear of being too slow and being told off.
My next memory around food I was in the juniors, so that period between ages 7-11. I took a packed lunch to school for most of this period (though I do have some memories of school dinners there too). I would usually get a sandwich, some crisps, a chocolate biscuit and a piece of fruit as well as a carton of drink. I remember at morning break time I would eat all the ‘good stuff’ which left me with just the sandwich and drink at lunchtime. I’m not sure why I started doing this but it’s my first memory of wanting to eat crisps and chocolate over and above anything else. Lunch times were then tedious as I was just left with a sandwich which I didn’t really want. My mum favoured those jars of fish paste and meat paste as sandwich fillings and I was never keen (was that an ’80s thing or do they still make them…?); the tuna one was ok but the beef one – which I swear I got more often that not – looked, smelled and tasted like cat food (or what I imagine cat food might taste like anyway). And I think this was where it began that I would treasure junky/snacky food over ‘proper’ food.
Let’s jump to secondary school now. The packed lunches were gone and I moved on to school dinners. Any school dinners I’d had at primary school had been free as my mum had been on a low income. But at secondary school we were back to paying again (I assume due to changes in financial situation). So I’d be given £1 each day to spend on my dinner. Now, I’ve no idea how school dinners work now – how much flexibility children have in making choices or how healthy the options are that are on offer – but certainly back then, no-one seemed to care how much you had or how balanced it was. On occasion, I would have a proper, balanced meal but usually the fashion was to have just chips and gravy. That certainly didn’t cost the whole £1, so that left the rest for spending on chocolate and/or crisps at the tuck shop.
I vaguely remember some of the popular girls sometimes chose not to eat lunch. At the tender age of 11, we were becoming aware of an ‘ideal’ body shape or size. So I got into the habit of not having it too. Not that I was in with the popular crowd – on the contrary, I was the one everyone picked on – and not that I lost weight from not eating either. I just suddenly became aware that I should put on this pretence of not eating and save it for later in secret. Many of my secondary school days were defined by the routine of not eating any lunch (sometimes no breakfast either) and then spending all my dinner money on sweets, biscuits and crisps on the way home from school. I got quite the expert on what to buy to get the most food for my money (value brand bourbon biscuits were a favourite as you got loads for about 25p). I remember one week, my mum had no change on the Monday and so had given me a £5 note to cover my dinner money for the whole week. Of course, I had a field day and spent virtually all of it on sweets and snacks on the first day. The problem came on the Wednesday, when my mum asked me to pick something up from the shop on the way back from school and to pay for it out of my remaining dinner money (and she would then reimburse me later). Of course there wasn’t anything left and I had to lie about lending some money to a friend. And that incident – at 11 years old – seems to be stuck in my head. Maybe as the turning point of me being prepared to spend money on large quantities of snack foods and – most important – the lying and secrecy.
The years went on and the weight piled on until I was an adult size 16 at the age of 14. I hated my body and my unpopularity. I remember wearing my school jumper every day – even in the hottest weather and even during PE – to cover my size and the fact the my school shirts always gaped over my huge breasts. My mum was still at work when I got home from school and this few hours alone until she got back would be my binge time. Mindlessly eating in front of the TV to block out the sadness and the loneliness.
I left school at 16 and chose to do my A levels at the local college instead. My teachers tried to convince me to stay at school for sixth form but I couldn’t wait to be out of there. To have another chance to start again. I’d been bullied at school since the age of nine and secondary school hadn’t provided the fresh start I had hoped for (in fact things had got worse). College would be different. A proper fresh start. In terms of the bullying, it was. The right choice, no question. But I stayed a size 16 and my eating habits got no better. No proper food at lunch time and then buying cakes and sweets on the way home to binge on in the comfortable seclusion of my bedroom. By then, I had started keeping my TV time separate and the binges become almost a ritual. Emptying the carrier bag of food out on to my bed and laying it out carefully before me before methodically working my way through it. Doing nothing else so that it had my full attention. Only of course, it never had my full attention – my mind tuned out as I numbly crammed piece after piece of sugary, fatty food into my mouth. Until I felt sick and threw anything that remained away in the bin, disgusted at myself. Until one day, at 17, I felt even more horrified than normal after my binge, and made myself be sick. This new ritual continued for around six months – probably twice a week. Never often enough to be called bulimia and I’ve not returned to purging since.
It was a horrible time. Being 17 – the age that the movies show young girls that they’re supposed to be at their prettiest and most desirable – and feeling hideous. The fat one. Envying my friends their prettiness and slimness and thinking how horrified they would be if they knew how I ate. Although part of me thought that they must already know – how could they not? I surely wouldn’t be so big and ugly if I didn’t eat like that.
I remember my 18th birthday. One of the loneliest nights of my life. Two of my college friends – both tiny size 8s – dragged me out for the night. I really didn’t want to go but felt I couldn’t refuse. It would be a girls’ night they said. Just the three of us. Which it was until the two of them hooked up with some guys. I guess the guys didn’t have a fat friend for me. And so the five of us went back to my friend’s house (she lived in a different town to me and that’s where we were that night) for the night. I lay in the dark in her bedroom, trying to sleep and trying not to cry, as my two friends lay giggling and kissing their men – who had been sneaked in the house somehow. Never have I felt so alone in my life. So unwanted. On what was supposed to be a special night. My 18th birthday. I hoped to goodness adulthood was going to be better than this.