There have been times in my life when I seem to have conquered the demon of Binge Eating. I’ve eaten normally and moderately for years at a time. I think I’ve licked it and those dark days are behind me. And then, quietly at first but with increasing vigour, it reawakes, like the Kraken – and that’s an apt metaphor, because it is a monster. A raging, furious, insatiable, driven monster.
I’m an intelligent, self-disciplined woman. I gave up alcohol over a decade ago, and haven’t touched a drop since. I gave up smoking three years ago and moved to an e-cigarette, which I gave up six months ago. At the same time I gave up caffeine. And trust me, no one at the time would have recognised me without a mug of steaming, darkest black coffee in my hand – and now I don’t even drink decaffeinated tea because of the trace of caffeine in it. I can exert tremendous willpower when I have to.
I’m aware at the moment that the monster is back and so I’ve put in place various tools and strategies for when he starts his pursuit again, to deflect and then defeat him. I am prepared.
Only the tools and strategies I’m supposed to turn to when the monster wakes don’t so much as not work as fail to exist. Something happens in my brain and there is simply nothing else but the rage to eat – afterwards I remember my tools and strategies and kick myself for not having turned to them. But the truth is, the monster has so overwhelmed my brain that I don’t even remember I had any tools or strategies.
And so I go out in the rain and dark to my local Spar, and I come home with a big bag of Milky Buttons and 3 big bags of Maltesers. The cinema-sized ones. And I sit and I eat one after the other without pausing.
I don’t feel sick. I don’t feel full. What I do feel like is eating more. I then raid the kitchen and eat anything that will satisfy my urge and I eat it – bread, frozen cherries, cereal, nuts, biscuits. Then I raid my slightly-concerned 18 year old’s stash for anything resembling sugar or wheat. Only when everything that fits the bill has been eaten do I stop. My monster believes in a scorched earth policy.
I don’t sleep well that night because of all the sugar, and the next day I wake and I remember and I groan. I’ve done it again. My belly is distended and unhappy. My whole body feels wretched, toxified, ill. I’ll have to drag myself around all day, with a stinking food hangover, just waiting for that night when I can get back to bed and sleep it off and feel a bit human again the next day. That’s all bad – but what’s worse is the self-loathing. The shame. That I’ve let myself down – and everyone around me – again. I am worthless. I am greedy. I am undisciplined. I have no self-control. I wear my shame visibly in the wobble of my thighs. I know I can’t currently fit into 90% of my wardrobe and I hope I don’t bump into anyone I know outside of immediate family because I don’t want to see their surprised eyebrows when they clock me. When they see that perenially-slim A has got fat.
That thing in your stomach that says “I’m full now, stop eating’ – I don’t have that. I have no idea how I can ingest so much in one sitting. Thousands of calories. And when I get into that place I can do it every night for a week, a month, three months.
All I can do is try to understand this monster, the better to know how to finally defeat it, once and for all.