Confessions of an emotional eater
I couldn’t take my eyes off her.
Last week, I saw myself at Coles. Well, in the carpark outside to be exact.
I was loading groceries into my boot when I saw her. A woman, a mother, thirty-something years old, sitting behind the wheel of her blue Honda Civic silently eating what looked like a Snickers. And it was the look on her face — not of enjoyment or pleasure but numbness – that caught me. Caught my breath for just a moment. Because I used to do that — secret eat — nearly every single day.
I am what you would call an emotional eater. For the last 30 years, stuffing food into my cake-hole has pretty much been my coping mechanism for everything.
My best friend will be in town this weekend! WOO! I’ll celebrate by eating two of my daughter’s TIny Teddy packets! I have to finish those edits by 10am tomorrow? Pass the leftover lasagne. Ava’s starting her first day at kindy and doesn’t know a soul. Excuse my while I stand at the fridge and eat a cheesestick, last night’s fried rice, and six spoonfulls of Nutella. Okay, seven.
If I’m scared, bored, depressed, nervous … yep. I eat. I’m a non-descriminatory eater.
For years, you could take a look through the hidden zipped compartments of my handbag and without fail see the glimmering pink of a Turkish Delight wrapper. Under my car seat? It wouldn’t take CSI to find a rogue fry as evidence of my I’m-just-going-to-tune-the-world-out-and-eat-these-hot-chips moments.
Not surprisingly my weight has fluctuated by three dress sizes over the past fifteen years.
I’ve tried to go all Oprah on myself and figure out why I behave the way I do. Was I just, er, greedy? Possibly. Food obsessed? Entirely possible. ( You know those poeple who casually remark, “I totally forgot to have breakfast this morning.” Yeah. I’m not one of them. I have never ‘forgotten’ to eat. Put it this way, I haven’t been hungry since 1984, the year I did the 40 Hour Famine).
What I have always known is that food is my drug of choice. Potato chips are my heroin. Where others reach instinctively for the glass of wine, a cigarette, or take their credit card for a whirl around Witchery, I’ll soothe my soul with a spoon and a jar of peanutbutter. Which is why this passage from Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman, struck a chord with me:
People overeat for exactly the same reason they drink, smoke, have serial one-night stands or take drugs. I must be clear that I am not talking about the kind of overeating that’s just plain, cheerful greed—the kind of Rabelaisian, Falstaffian figures who treat the world as a series of sensory delights and take full joy in their wine, bread and meat. Those who walk away from a table—replete—shouting, “That was splendid!” before sitting in front of a fire, drinking port and eating truffles, don’t have neuroses about food. They aren’t “fat,” they are simply…lavish.
No—I’m talking about those for whom the whole idea of food isn’t one of pleasure, but one of compulsion. For whom thoughts of food, and the effects of food, are the constant, dreary background static to normal thought. Those who walk into the kitchen in a state bordering on panic and breathlessly eat slice after slice of bread and butter—not even tasting it—until the panic can be drowned in an almost meditative routine of chewing and swallowing, spooning and swallowing.
In this trancelike state, you can find a welcome, temporary relief from thinking for 10, 20 minutes at a time, until finally a new set of sensations—physical discomfort and immense regret—make you stop, in the same way you finally pass out on whiskey or dope. Overeating, or comfort eating, is the cheap, meek option for self-satisfaction, and self-obliteration.
In a nutshell, then, by choosing food as your drug—sugar highs, or the deep, soporific calm of carbs—you can still make the packed lunches, do the school run, look after the baby, stop in on your parents and then stay up all night with an ill 5-year-old—something that is not an option if you’re regularly climbing into the cupboard under the stairs and knocking back quarts of scotch.
Overeating is the addiction of choice of “carers,” and that’s why it’s come to be regarded as the lowest-ranking of all the addictions. It’s a way of screwing yourself up while still remaining fully functional, because you have to. Fat people aren’t indulging in the “luxury” of their addiction, making them useless, chaotic or a burden. Instead, they are slowly self-destructing in a way that doesn’t inconvenience anyone. And that is why it’s so often a woman’s addiction of choice.
Moran’s words (combined with visits to a nutritionist and me reading I Quit Sugar and Sweet Poison over and over) were enough to inspire me to finally get a handle on my eating habits. Plus, you know, it’s hard to secret eat with a three-year-old in the house. They are TOTAL snitches. Ava is not averse to greeting her kindy teacher with “Mummy ate all the Freddo Frogs” while I’m in the background making the universal STOP TALKING sign behind the kindy teacher’s back. It’s like living with Cindy Brady (who was such a dob-artist she wouldn’t be out of place on Homeland).
But more seriously I started to realise that Ava is soaking it all up. Watching her mother comfort eat her way through life. She’s learning from me that you navigate your days – the joys and the anguish and even the boring bits – with a jar of peanut butter in your hand.
There are many legacies I hope to leave my daughter. But I’ve finally decided eating Kitkats in the car won’t be one of them.
*This post first appeared on Mamamia.com.au
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Over the past 25 years Rebecca Sparrow has earned a living as a travel writer, a television publicist, a marketing executive, a magazine editor, a TV scriptwriter, a radio producer, a newspaper columnist and as an author.