Warning: This post may be triggering for those with Eating Disorders.
What do I mean by triggering? Triggering is a term used in the Eating Disorder (ED) treatment community to indicate something that causes a person to think of or engage in an ED behavior. For me, commercials can be incredibly triggering. If I see one for say pizza, I’m more likely than not to think of pizza until I can eat some. I’m told this is common for those without ED but for me it’s more than just the desire to eat one piece, it’s the desire to eat two entire pizzas.
One of the things they (they meaning the ED treatment community) recommend that someone with an ED do is to tell people about their particular ED behaviors. The theory being that by making them less of a secret they will lessen. Another theory behind this is that if you can pinpoint why a behavior works for you, or where it started, it’ll be easier to eliminate said behavior. Since my ED is Binge Eating Disorder (BED), my behaviors are pretty simple. I eat a lot in a short period of time. I don’t make myself throw up, exercise excessively, or starve to compensate. Hence my circus-lady physique. So I thought I’d devote this post to a listing/discussion of my particular binge foods. Here goes, in no particular order:
White bread/flour tortillas: I can eat 12 flour tortillas or one whole loaf of bread in one sitting. Especially if the bread is fresh baked, not the kind you find in the sandwich bread aisle. There is something about the way the bread/tortilla feels in the mouth; it’s sweet without being sugary. The texture is light and it feels almost like a hug. And, like most of my binge food, white bread is “forbidden” (I’m a Type 2 Diabetic). Tortillas are a new thing for me. I started using them when the whole “low-carb” craze started up. I bought regular tortillas thinking them a low-carb substitute for bread and realized that they did the same thing for me as white bread. I know that white bread in particular is a binge food for me because when I was growing up white bread was a food that I was “allowed” to have. You see, my mother had Type 1 Diabetes and was told not to eat white bread. So, anytime we had white bread in the house I could eat as much of it as I wanted. If we had wheat, I had to ask permission to eat it. Then, sometime in my teens, one of our food pantry boxes included a (white) bread mix and I discovered that I liked to bake, and eat, freshly baked bread. I guess it almost feels as if I’m hugging myself with this “illicit” food.
Ice-cream: Especially the fully-fat kind with fun names two guys from Vermont make. The creamy, fatty, sweet, goodness freezes all my emotions. I’m often told that I seem mellow after binging on ice-cream. Depending on the flavor and additions to the ice-cream I can eat up to a gallon at a time. Or, if it’s an ice-cream based item (like ice-cream sandwiches or pops), a package of 10-12. Ice-cream was a treat in my childhood, generally eaten at my grandparent’s house; they lived two blocks away from a walk up ice-cream place and we would often walk there after a meal in the summer. In many ways, I think ice-cream for me is a way for me to comfort the child within who just wants to scream for someone to love her. Why? Because when I was a child at this particular grandparent’s house, that’s how I felt. I just wanted someone to love me, but these particular grandparents were not the demonstrative type and I didn’t realize that they loved me until I was almost an adult.
Chocolate: I probably don’t need to say much about this type of food. It falls under the “forbidden” food category but tastes so good. I can eat entire packages of those individually wrapped kinds that people buy for Halloween (not the “jumbo” packages that cost $8-10, but the medium sized ones that cost $4-6). When I was a kid, one of the things that we often got in our food pantry boxes was chocolate chips. We would keep them in the fridge and I would often grab handfuls of them at a time when I got home from school. We never had enough food at any one time to allow for a typical after school snack, so this was my version. If I don’t have chocolate available at all times I get very anxious. Even if I don’t eat any that day, just the availability of it makes me feel better. I suppose this is due to my growing up on welfare and with food scarcity, but I’m pretty sure there’s more to this than I’m aware of.
Fried Foods: Especially fried chicken and onion rings. I can eat a 10 piece bucket of fried chicken or a 12 piece box of chicken strips. Fried chicken/onion rings were something that I only got to eat when out with my grandparents. As you may have figured out, growing up I spent a lot of time with my grandparents and they had much more money than my parents. My grandmother, who was a working mother long before it was considered normal, was often too tired to cook after work so we’d go out to eat. Fried food feels luxurious. As if I’m telling myself that I’m not poor because I can afford to eat it.
Fast Food: There was a time when I lived exclusively on fast food. After work or after a social activity, I’d swing through a drive through and order 4-6 sandwiches and a large fry. Growing up, fast food was like fried chicken, only something I got when people who weren’t on welfare were buying. My parents never took me to a fast food place, but my grandparents, or the parents of friends, would. Then, when I had a good paying job, I’d take myself. Almost like I was trying to prove to myself that I wasn’t my parents, I could afford to pay someone else to cook. And becoming my parents is for me, like for a lot of people, something I’m trying to prevent.
Pasta: I can eat an entire box of mac and cheese or half a box of pasta with canned spaghetti sauce. As a kid, pasta based dishes weren’t something I ate often. And if I did, it was at someone else’s house, a friend’s or my grandparents. But it wasn’t often enough to make it something special. So why is it a binge food? Because it’s one of the first foods I binged on when cooking for myself. Pasta is my go to “cooking for myself” meal. It’s relatively cheap and easy to make. I hate to cook so easy is the only way to go. At this point, I don’t cook pasta unless I have to (I have it in the house for when I’ve run out of money to purchase other foods), mostly because it makes me feel poor. You see, the minute I got a job that paid enough to allow me to eat out most of the time, I did. This caused me to associate cooking as being an “I’m out of money” activity. And being out of money reminded me of being on welfare as a kid.
Pizza/Italian Food: I mean the kind that someone makes for you, not the frozen kind you throw in the oven or that you make yourself. Because I hate to cook and because my parents are terrible cooks, I didn’t really grow up eating a lot of Italian food or pizza. I’d get an occasional frozen pizza when I was over at my grandparents, but this type of food wasn’t a big thing for me until I became a teenager. Then pizza was a go to food for hanging out with my friends. Now pizza and Italian foods, because of their high carb contents, are considered “forbidden.” I don’t binge on them a lot, but when I do I’ll eat 1-1 ½ large pizzas or enough lasagna, whatever parmigiana, or something linguine to serve two people. The thick, warm, textures of these foods feel as if I’ve spent a day laughing.
Chips/crackers/cookies: Anything with a dry, crispy, texture tends to be a rare binge item. I prefer my binges to be with softer foods. This might be because my father was fond of popcorn and would make some nearly every night so it didn’t seem as special as chocolate or ice-cream. Or it might be because I don’t have many anger issues (there is a theory that people who prefer to binge on crunchy things have anger issues). Whatever the case may be, I can still binge on these things. I’ll usually eat a whole package/bag of them (the kind meant for 4 people to eat, not 1 person). Crunchy foods take more effort to eat, so I usually only gravitate toward them if I’m running low on money and they are on sale. Or if I’m craving salt (which I think is a hormonal thing for me).
You’ll notice that none of my binge foods are fruits or vegetables. Not surprising, since the point of a binge is to feed my head/feelings and not my body. And, growing up, fruits and veggies were held aside for my mother. My brother and I were constantly told that my mother had to have this or that food because of her diabetes and we could have some after she did. Often there wasn’t enough left over to make much of a difference. I was even yelled at once for eating a banana. It wasn’t the last one in the house, but I had eaten it without asking first. My father’s point being that I may have taken a food that my mother had planned on eating. And we may not have had the funds to replace it.
Does this mean that all of my binge issues are related to growing up on welfare and with a Type 1 Diabetic? I don’t think so. I think it has more to do with how love was expressed in my family. My grandmother, the family member I had the most contact with outside of my parents and brother, expressed her love with food. She constantly was giving us food and telling us to “clean up” whatever leftovers were around so she wouldn’t have to package it up. Because my parents had so little money, and food was so important in the management of Type 1 Diabetes, food a central thing in our lives. How we got it, how much of it was there, how it was distributed, was more important than just about anything else. My parents still hugged me, told me they loved me, and so forth. They didn’t yell at me about anything other than food. And they were never abusive. But somehow food, everything about food, got caught up in our relationships.
Then, when I became an adult, food became a central part of how I related to myself. The question now is do I have the courage to take care of myself in a healthy way? In a way that nourishes my body without starving my feelings? Because ultimately my binges are about preventing feelings. I don’t want to feel them so I push them away with the food.
What my ED tries to tell me is that a binge will make the feelings go away. And it’s right, temporarily. But they always come back, often worse then before. And no food, no matter how it makes me feel, is ever going to permanently prevent a feeling. No matter how much I try.
But I just can’t stop trying.