I’ve spent a significant amount of time for the last four or five days researching Overeaters Anonymous on the internet. And at 7:30 this evening, I’m going to go to a meeting.
My last attempt at being on a diet was another ridiculous failure. Again. And I have a problem with food. A problem that’s getting worse.
At least two nights a week, and sometimes four or five nights, I binge so badly in the evenings that I can’t stand up. I go to bed doubled over, my tummy too full to stand upright. It’s difficult to turn the lights off and on those nights I can’t even think about brushing my teeth.
I don’t even like food that much.
I have developed a range of habits that stop me from paying attention to what I eat. I eat at least one meal a day while walking, usually the chicken fillet roll with coleslaw and cheese that I have for “breakfast”. Sometimes I have all my meals for a day while walking. Or even if I’m not walking, I’m standing, lurking on Nassau Street, between the Spar where I’ve bought my lunch (usually a chicken fillet roll with mayonnaise and taco sauce and cheese) and the Arts Building where my office is.
If I eat sitting down, I make sure that I have a distraction. At home, I generally eat with the TV on and my laptop in front of me. If I eat in a fast food place, I’m looking at Twitter or Facebook on my phone. One time a few weeks ago, I was in Subway and my phone battery had run out. I found it genuinely distressing to have to sit down and eat without electronic distraction.
And of course, then there’s food and people. I obsessively try to keep my eating secret. Spar on Nassau Street gave me a 10% discount card for being a regular deli customer. I can’t bring myself to use it, because that would be admitting to the person at the till that I regularly eat at their deli. Which I do. But I somehow think that the staff mightn’t notice.
Sometimes I eat half my lunch on the street and then bring the other half into college, so my classmates won’t realise how much I’m eating for lunch.
And I freak out at the idea of spending too long with another person, because it means they’ll know what I’m eating. A friend visited on Sunday. We had Thai take-out and ice cream. I was full when she left. But the stress of eating with someone meant that the second she was gone, I put a pizza in the oven. And while the pizza was cooking, I ate an entire pack of chocolate digestives. I wasn’t hungry when I started, and I felt very, very sick by the time I’d finished.
I spent all that night listening to the Overeaters Anonymous radio show online.
I’ve got weirder and weirder about eating in front of people. I started living alone in Poland in 2004. Since then, I have spent very little time living with anyone. And a big part of the reason for this is food. In 2006, I came back to Ireland. I spent three months sharing a house with seven people. I started out eating in the kitchen, often microwave food, but I got very embarrassed around food and developed the habit of taking one or two packets of biscuits and a two-litre carton of milk to bed with me and having that instead of dinner. Then I moved into a flat by myself for about three years.
Since then, I spent one month sharing a house in Belfast and another sharing a house in Cambridge. And my standout memories of those places are the food. I started out in both places by buying food and trying to be normal. By the second week in both houses, I had thrown away much of the food without eating it, and was only having breakfast in the house. And in the last two weeks, other than a few snacks in the bedroom I didn’t eat in the house at all.
When I moved into my friend’s house in the first year of my PhD, I survived by going on an extreme diet. I was eating beans or lentils for every meal and so I contained my food issues around her relatively well.
And then I moved into Hall, where I was sharing with thirteen boys. And I can still tell you every single thing I ate in that kitchen. In the first week, I had two diet shakes. And towards the end of the year I had one Easter egg and one mandarin orange. In a year.
Last summer, living in a postgrad flat, I tried to be normal and at least have breakfast in the kitchen. I managed to do it about seven times in the whole summer, and only once while people were there. In the whole summer, my kitchen-phobia meant that I never spoke to one of my flatmates, I only spoke to another one once and I spoke to the other two twice each. On my last day in the flat, I left without saying goodbye to any of them, because I was so embarrassed at having spent four months avoiding the kitchen, the only communal room in the flat.
So, I have an unhealthy relationship with food. A sick relationship.
Doctors tell me I should have weight reduction surgery or take diet pills. The consultant psychiatrist that I saw in October when I almost dropped out of college told me to stop trying to lose weight and tried to get me on anti-depressants again.
None of them have answers.
I don’t know what answers Overeaters Anonymous will have. I know that I don’t believe I can be moderate with a lot of foods. I think “abstaining” might be the only way. I can’t abstain in the way an alcoholic does when they join AA, but I can abstain from some behaviours or from some foods. I do get a sneaky ecstatic feeling at the idea of never eating a biscuit or a slice of bread again. It seems very liberating.
And having spent years trying to escape the influence of the religious group I was brought up in, I’m very wary of joining a similar group. And it does sound freakishly similar in many ways.
But I’m at the end of my tether, so I’m going to try this out.