My Story: The Origins Of My Food Addiction- Part 3

By the time I got to middle school, I was not thin. I was however, feeling the effects of bulimia. My throat hurt all the time. My stomach hurt. My teeth were showing signs of damage from stomach acids and I was really self conscience of my breath. When I threw up, it was often accompanied by blood. But I remained fat.

Some how I became “friends” with a boy in my class who would come to be my protector, though looking back, at a cost. Under his wing, the bullying stopped. I began to play sports and enjoy some success and my confidence grew. In 7th grade I made the “A” team in basketball. First string. But I was competing with girls who were better, who had attended camps and clinics. I felt a deep need to look like them.

Somewhere along the line it occurred to me that throwing up after each meal hurt too much. If I just didn’t eat at all, it wouldn’t hurt and the end goal would be the same. An anorexic was born. I plotted and planned. I was sneaky. I found a book in the school library that was about a girl with anorexia and I followed it like a manual. Avoiding meals, feigning illness, shuffling food. Eating a bit and then using my napkin to spit it out. I made it 17 days without so much as a bite. I lost 30 lbs.

My art teacher stopped me after class one day, took my chin in her hand and turned my head side to side.

“Uh hum, Missy. You better be careful. You are getting skinny.”

“Skinny”. I thought, I am doing it.

The next day however, my bubble was burst when my coach sat me down and told me she was moving me to the “B” team. I didn’t seem to have the same stamina I did earlier in the season. I was crushed. I went home to find my dad was making a big batch of kinildri, a dumpling soup where the dumplings are packed with ham, turkey and salami. So much salt. I ate 6 bowls of it.

After 17 days without anything but water, my digestive track revolted. I was struck with severe gastro-intestinal distress. I will spare you the details, but I am sure you can imagine.

Later that week the team had a pizza party in my coaches classroom. Pizza, chips, soda and movies. I sat in the dark, depressed at the turn of events and ate delicious, doughy, Pizza Hut pizza. One slice after another. 16 slices in total.

At 12 or 13 years old, this is the first time I can remember gorging myself like this. 16 slices of pizza is A LOT for anyone, much less a young girl. There may have been candy and other treats there as well. But the pizza is all I can remember. That, and feeling better.

My Story: The Origins Of My Food Addiction- Part 2

By the time I was about 8 years old, I was the subject of relentless teasing for my size at the small Catholic school I attended. I was quiet and stayed in my shell, afraid to draw attention to myself. I was sad and painfully aware of my weight problem. I was the “fat kid”.

At some point my mom mentioned an article she read that reported a “famous gymnast” had died of complications from anorexia nervosa and bulimia. I didn’t know what she was talking about and she explained that tragically, this gymnast had a disease where she thought she was fat and either starved herself or threw up after eating in order to control her weight. I asked how and she said they stick their finger down their throat. Looking back on it, I imagine my mom was talking about Christy Henrich, former US Olympic Gymnast who was only 60 lbs at the time of her death.

I am positive this off the cuff remark from my mom was mentioned in passing and had little bearing on her, I would be shocked if she even recalls the conversation. But it’s funny how some things we stay will stick with our kids. I did not hear “disease”, “tragic” or “death”. I heard, “weight control”. And suddenly something in my little brain snapped and a “blue print” was born.

I don’t even remember what I ate the first time I tried it. But I remember realizing how easy it was to gag myself. It worked! And just like that, new habits were formed. I started throwing up after meals. Sneaking into the bathroom to rid my self of whatever devil treat I had just consumed. This was before the days of smart phones and internet searches. My skill set developed on trial and error.

Within a few months I would regularly binge and purge everyday. I was only about 9 years old. My mom eventually took notice. I complained of stomach aches constantly, (a reasonable excuse for the need to vomit after meals). I would vomit blood and had constant heart burn.

Eventually I went to the doctor and had a barium test. I was diagnosed with stomach ulcers and prescribed Zantac. The Zantac calmed the pain and the “stomach issues” covered the lie. I lived this life through middle school. Still fat, but not so fat that any “childhood obesity” interventions would come. I loved sweets and would eat and eat.

“My, you are getting fat”. My great aunt would say.

“You had better be careful, that’s a moment on the lips, and years on the hips.”

A long road a head was forming.

My Story: The Origin Of My Food Addiction

“Rachel! Come in, honey.”

I look over my shoulder and see my great aunt standing on the front steps of the house on Cooper Avenue calling me to come in. It’s still early and light out. I turn, reluctantly and start making my way back down the street to her house. She’s in her 70’s, I am 5 or 6. I want to play with the neighborhood kids, but she’s worried she can’t keep track of me and beckons me into the house.

I come in and sit down on the floor in front of the couch. She offers me some candy from this blue dish she has that stacks, one bowl on top of the other, each higher one acting like the lid of the one below until the top little one which has a lid ends the stack. Chocolate covered raisins. Yum, my favorite. I grab a handful and settle in. She turns on Nick at Night and we wait for my parents to pick me up.

This scene repeats itself day after day all summer. Before you know it, school is starting and the lack of activity and ample supply of treats has contributed to an already brewing dependency developing in me; food addiction.

I didn’t know it then, I was a kid. But I was developing life long habits for emotional eating and sugar addiction.

Sitting here, watching my own children, I worry about what I am teaching them. I don’t want them to grow up facing the challenges I have faced. I want them to be free of these chains.

I grew up in a family and in a time, when separating food and emotion wasn’t a science people talked about. We celebrated with food, we comforted with food. We did holiday’s and traditions and condolences with food. And just like that, I went from a “healthy” weight kindergartner, to an overweight first grader. In the 30 years that have followed, I have yet to return to a “healthy weight”. But that is about to change…