My very earliest memories are of food; stealing food from the bread & cookie drawer in our kitchen on Flower Rd.
At first, it happened mostly on Saturday and Sunday mornings. My brother and I would be watching cartoons in the den. My very unhappily married parents were still asleep, so the house was calm and quiet. But with every nerve in my body I must have known that would change…as soon as they woke up.
So, I’d go back and forth between the den and the kitchen, stealing Wonder Bread and chocolate chip cookies, each time rearranging the food in the packages, hoping to minimize evidence of how much food I had taken.
I was four years old. That’s when my emotional eating began…but we didn’t know it was emotional or compulsive eating way back then. Instead, all the focus was on what I weighed. “What a shame. She has such a pretty face”, I often overheard my mother and grandparents say as they discussed my “weight problem”.
I remember the very public weigh-ins in elementary school, in the nurse’s office. The whole class was lined up against the wall as the nurse called out the weight of each person who took their forced turn on the scale. My teacher would record that awful, shaming number on her clipboard. My weight was always the highest weight in my class.
When I was eight, my mother convinced our pediatrician to give me diet pills. Dexadrine, which was Dextroamphetamine, speed, commonly prescribed as a weight loss aid in the 1960s until the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency classified dextroamphetamine as an addictive substance. (I have many clients who report the same experience with their mothers and pediatricians and diet pills in the 1960s.)
In elementary school, my older brother regularly and very publicly called me “Tubs”. By high school, he had all of his friends calling me “Ray”, after linebacker, Ray Nitschke, on the Green Bay Packers. They thought that was hilarious. To me, a teenager who loathed her body and desperately wanted to fit in, and kept trying and failing to lose weight, it felt cruel. That bullying drove me to more overeating.
Funny, when I look back at my childhood pictures, I’m always surprised that I was not really that large. Not that how fat I really was at that time matters, but I do see it as evidence of how distorted the all consuming focus on my weight really was. (Today, I know that my mother’s anxiety about her own weight, and her own shame and pain over having been a fat child and teenager, drove her obsession with my weight. She feared I would experience the same feelings of shame she felt about her body. She thought she could prevent it by insisting on weight loss. It was so misguided, but not at all uncommon, then or now. Unfortunately, even today, when it comes to chubby children, we still see this weight focus play out with seemingly well-meaning adults, even medical professionals, and pubic health educators.)
Because all the focus was on my weight and what I should and shouldn’t be eating, it was decades before I understand the truth about why I overate; how and why emotional eating became my strategy for all emotional regulation.
My focus on food was all about disconnecting, avoiding, procrastinating, numbing-out, or just taking the edge off something that had me emotionally stirred up. Thinking about food, and what I could get to eat, brought temporary relief from thoughts and feelings I found uncomfortable and sometimes intolerable. I used “food thoughts”, and my focused plans to sneak or get food, as a distraction from other things. Once I got my hands on the food, I could go “unconscious”; eat mindlessly so I could avoid being mindful. My food focus was a distraction from my family, my hyper sensitivity, often, from my life in general. Then, at some point in time, it just became a habit; a way of functioning; coping with everyday life…
Can you relate? If you’re still struggling, are you aware of why you are food-focused or do you still believe it’s all about what you weigh? If open to sharing your experiences with emotional eating, please comment below…
If you’re struggling with emotional eating, please know you are not alone. If you’d like to learn more about ways to overcome compulsive overeating, including the role anxiety and depression may play in emotional and binge eating disorder, please join me for my Free 1 Hr. Phone Seminar. Click here for my next seminar dates. You can also contact me, Emotional-Binge Eating Recovery Coach Ellen Shuman, @ email@example.com, and 513-321-4242.