Seconds: When You Eat Your Feelings to Cope

I don’t know when my eating disorder began. Early enough that I can’t remember a time when I had a healthy relationship with food.

I’ve tried to read about overeating. Most studies on eating disorders begin and end with bulimia and anorexia. Anything about overeating only talks about how to portion control, how your body suffers, etc. Articles that are basically long love letters to thinness, or even blatant fat-shaming. I’ve never seen anyone talk about the why of overeating.

I guess my why starts with my parents.

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There was always fighting at home. Shouting matches echoing down the stairs. Accusations and betrayals and scars from long before I was born. There was trauma between my mom and dad. There was a rift but no bridge. And for me, I couldn’t escape it. They’d homeschooled me; not the religious kind of homeschooling but the borderline hippy anti-government kind of homeschooling. But my parents were by no means teachers. They mostly ignored me. Which meant my days were my own, learning nothing except how to tune out the barrage of screaming.

But our family had its calm, happy moments. They were usually brief, stolen in the dusk and night of long, strained days. Dinner brought a kind of peace. Or a truce, at least. We would cook. Like most American families, we watched t.v. while we ate, quietly chewing to the soothing tones of Alex Trebek or Pat Sajak. We also played a lot of board games during meal times. My parents often forgot that they loathed each other under the mental strain of remembering all the details of Parcheesi. They even had fun.

Food was a comfort. Food was safety. Food meant familial love. I’d try and extend dinner with seconds, even thirds, prolonging the meal with dessert or popcorn if I could. Anything to keep my parents smiling. Anything to keep us close. The strategy never worked for long.

Food became a safety blanket. I ate everything and anything. I would eat until I felt sick. I would eat until I was sick and then beg for another bowl of spaghetti, please. My parents never tried to stop me. I don’t know if they were ashamed, if they were scared, or if they were too wrapped up in their own internal struggle to even see the runoff effect it was having. And I wasn’t the only casualty. Friends and family were driven away at the sound of their crumbling marriage. I don’t think they noticed that, either. Or perhaps it was too hard to acknowledge it.

I didn’t see it until much, much later, but my child-self was paving the way to my eventual bulimia. The binge-purge-repeat cycle that would eventually dominate my young adulthood all began with good intentions.

My parents’ bad relationship forged my own trauma. And I couldn’t stop. As I grew, my gut (ha) reaction to anything stressful was to eat. Eating, whether it was doing it, avoiding it, or loathing it, was how I marked the passage of time. I still do. I reward myself with a treat when I’ve accomplished something. I soothe myself with my favorite meal when I’ve had a bad day. And when I feel shame or guilt because I’ve been taught, as we all have, to hate fatness or anything approximating it, I still feel that urge to run to the bathroom and obliterate that shame with a toothbrush down my throat.

And now I wonder: am I still looking for happiness? Maybe there’s still that kid, somewhere inside of me. That kid who thinks she can eat her way to familial bliss. Like my parents, I’ve carried my own trauma into adulthood. And just like them, I suffer for it.

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