My Food History – Chapter 1
There had always been something comforting, soothing, reassuring, and even invigorating about putting things in my mouth. For years, I found the panacea I sought on my hand, namely my thumb. By years I do not mean thumb sucking was something I out-grew by early childhood. Nor did the advent of those late teen years see me put a notorious habit to rest. I was an adult who sucked his thumb. As I aged, the habit became less and less public. This was, however more due to fear and shame than me outgrowing a babyish habit.
Over the years, the frequency of my thumb sucking also came down – but that is not because I became a more contented human being who found emotional satisfaction apart from what went into my mouth. Age brought me the freedom to explore the menu of panaceas on offer and found me finding quite a number of substitute thumbs.
In my most familiar of environments, there was a degree of control placed over food. Choices about what, when, and how much were limited beyond what I considered acceptable. I was one of those children at school with little trade-worthy in my lunch box.
With the Grandparents
I enjoyed holiday time and weekends spent with grandparents. My grandparents expected me to eat what was served though the content of plates and bowls was undoubtedly influenced by a grandparents prerogative to indulge their grandchildren. There were usually lollies and baking offered throughout the course of the day though permissive access to these were not unlimited. These grandparents often shopped in bulk, baked, and enjoyed many puddings and so there were always pantries full of ingredients. Often, between the many meals, while grandparents gardened, I snuck, stole, and stuffed myself with a range of baking ingredients.
I remember being given a small amount of money each Friday to buy lunch at school. I also remember collaborating with my brother to use that money to buy lollies. Fridays ought to have been treats at my parent’s expense. Instead, they were an opportunity to scrounge from trade-worthy lunchboxes and their possessors. Money, both found and earned, would often be exchanged for lollies at local shops.
If they lasted long enough, I would hide lollies bought with money stolen from mum’s purse.
The man at the dairy would give treats to neighborhood kids on their birthday. I had more than one birthday some years.
The carpet under my bed was ruined by tipped tins of condensed milk stolen from the kitchen and left to harden and consume. The deep fryer was well used between after school and after work. Food bought to last a week lasted a few days amidst confrontational conversations about the cost, their rate of consumption, and the warning that their supply would not be replenished. Midnight munchies made matters worse.
Freedom For Food Obsession
Economic prospects led to simultaneous savings schemes and spending sprees – daily trips to the supermarket. It was six years between my first pay and the goal that had preceded it’s anticipated reception. The intervening years saw my spending dictated by addition to food more than any other ambition. I remember making midnight pilgrimages to all night vendors to ogle overpriced food and swipe the plastic nonetheless. I learned the art of quietly opening and closing doors to conceal my compulsive eating behaviors.
Escaping the shackles of residing with my mother, I achieved a level of domestic independence and with it, shook off the fear of being apprehended and interrogated in my flight between the security of my house and the supplier of addictive indulgences. I was also afforded the freedom of being able to stockpile food during daytime pilgrimages to the supermarket. Stockpile? Yeah right. If by stockpile I mean enough food for one 24-hours worth of binging. Serving suggestions made me my own family as I consumed packets at a time worth of certain sometimes food on a daily basis.
Things Done in Secret
One of the sure signs of my addiction has been a contrast between the public and the private. Publically, I was always well-behaved. What I mean by that is that though my stockpiling (see above) was an unavoidable public activity, the consumption of that which was purchased was a very secret affair. In other public settings, I demonstrated what would be normal eating behaviors – declining excess even when insisted upon by those desiring more meat on my bones. My binging was a secret, private, isolated and isolating affair.
The older I got, the more my domestic independence grew, until eventually, I became the king of my own castle where I set the rules and the agenda. Getting married offered me a new avenue of excuses. I was able to associate being single with nutritional carelessness, but now that I was married, there were mutual duties of care – someone to cook for, someone to cook for me. At the time I got married, I was grossly underweight probably through an ironic case of malnutrition. Meals for a married man were far more nutritious but did not make redundant the perceived need for in-between snacking. I was eating better at meal times, between which I made room for snacking. While I upheld the private/public dichotomy, the private realm of my indulging was expanded into an entire house. I would have to ask my wife for her perspective on my eating at that time.
Loose-Change Level Financing
I recall days of increased financial restraints. During these days I recall constant monitoring of bank balances and careful calculating of what could be purchased with loose-change level financing. Overdrafts and credit cards were often utilised to facilitated my compulsive eating behaviors.
As I matured into a socially participating adult, the distinction between the private and the public became more and more pronounced to the point where I would decline eating as others did (i.e borderline gluttons) to eat healthily and yet en route to my fortress of solitude would amass supplies that more than overcompensated my public politeness. Public pride only fueled private pity where the banquet was fit for a fast-food king of flour and sugar.
Part of my compulsive food behaviors was manifest in the absence of good planning around food. If abstinence looks anything like the 3-0-1 formula common to many in recovery, the total absence of any structure around food characterised the grip of compulsive eating. Wake and off to work without food, breakfast or lunch. Excessive over consumption found me soon after home time, either en route as I entered my aforementioned fortress. Compensation was the excuse offered, and perhaps subconsciously, was secretly designed to afford me the opportunity to indulge my compulsion.
How many times I heard her say “I’m going to stop buying them…” as a response to my having eaten most of what was intended for children’s lunchboxes for the week, repeating the trend of my own going-to-school periods. Stealing food to satisfy my compulsions resumed, this time I was stealing from my children, justifying the fact by reminding them that it was my earning capacity that brought the food in the first place. I was depriving my children at the callous expense of my disease, justifying myself to minimise any sense of their victimisation.
Underweight and malnourished, I became a groom. A decade in and I was still malnourished, but by this time, overweight. Often I had excused the excess by saying I had just gone a bit far in the right direction. At base, though there was significant outward change, the inner sense of dis-ease perpetuated a dangerous state of affairs either side of the scale.
Limited self-awareness and occasional review of behavior lead me to believe in an addictive personality – and so I identified with Russell Brand as I heard him read his own take on recovery. His audiobook of the same name (“Recovery”) was a general treatise on addiction. I found myself wondering if I was an addict and if an addict, an addict to what? I started to explore the concept of the 12 steps broadly speaking. One website I stumbled upon cataloged the various 12 step fellowships in operation in my part of the world. There were the ones I knew about but then, Overeaters Anonymous. There was such a thing? Did overeating fit the same category of malady as alcoholism? Really? Surely that was one of those excuses I had heard fat people use as I grew up. I thought it no harm to check it out.
My name is Brendon
As my own history, and that of countless other compulsive overeaters attest, there is a real sense of isolation associated with our version of addiction and addictive behavior. Thankfully there are many workarounds to the problem of isolation including the provision of virtual meetings to which I was directed, curious. I “listened” as people shared their experience as compulsive overeaters, in varying stages of recovery. By the end of the hour I had indicated my desire to share and had made the first admission: I am a compulsive overeater.