I've had numerous bad habits throughout my life to date, alcohol and cigarettes to name but two, but there was always one I was so ashamed of I could never admit to it; it was the one that underpinned the rest. If you raise your hand as an alcoholic people label you as 'sick' and provided you are getting help they generally stand by your side. When I gave up cigarettes before I got pregnant nobody blinked – people smoke, it's legal, that's okay. But food? Well, that's a weakness. Everyone has to eat, you can't just give it up – I clearly needed more self-control. The trouble was, I didn't have it.
I couldn't be ill – I wasn't anorexic and I only very occasionally purged – I just ate and ate and ate. Then I wouldn't eat for a while and would do everything I could to go on a serious 'health kick'. Until something, or nothing, happened and the shame would rise about how I was physically broken and the cycle would begin again.
I had an obsession with how I looked, my weight, my dress size, and how this compared to others.
But it was never about being thin.
It was the one thing in my life within my control. Something I could cling on to. A way to cope.
Even at my most slim, working as an outdoor instructor, with a healthy body shape, I would binge eat. I even knew my size was okay, but had to become slimmer, to exercise that control. I would sit at the communal dinner table, eating minimal food, to return to my bed and dig out the snacks from under my pillow.
I would cry as I ate. What was wrong with me? Why couldn't I stop?
There is no loneliness like it – being so out of control, so broken, so alone, and then plastering the smile back on your face to greet the world. No one must know, everyone will turn their back on you, it must remain a secret.
That was when I phoned the Beat helpline.
I wouldn't give my name, my age, my location. I was terrified of anyone finding out about what I saw as a weakness. Yet the lady I spoke to was so supportive; she told me about binge eating disorder and, my gosh, did I relate.
By the end of the phone call I had told this lady more about me than I had ever told anyone else in my life.
Recovery is a long process and what I have learned is that there is no one way of doing it that fits everyone. I have had many failed attempts to cut out certain foods, something I find helpful, while others find it lethal. I have good days and bad days but, with the support of a group of people I have met through Beat, I have far more control over my eating than I ever did when I was obsessed with it.
Church is a big part of my life. My Bible says, 'I can do all things through Him who gives me strength' (Philippians 4:13). For me He gave me the strength to call the Beat helpline and attend the support groups. I spent time at Overeaters Anonymous who supported me in using my faith, rather than denying it. I found that people would accept me for me, size, faith, failures – my secret was out and I felt lifted.
Slowly but surely, with support from all angles, I can look in the mirror and be content with who I am. I don't need to control the way I look to handle life. Would I like to lose a few pounds? Yes. But not at the sacrifice of my physical or mental health. How freeing to realise weight control isn't my priority any more.
I noticed a piece of text on display at church recently:
'You're blessed when you're content with just who you are – no more, no less. That is the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought.'
Tonight I went for a jog and then ate a healthy dinner.
I didn't go upstairs afterwards as I don't have any food hidden away.
Today I have solid self esteem. I know I am not broken, I do not hide and I am not lonely.
'A proud owner of everything that can't be bought'.