Life After An Eating Disorder: No, You Can't Have A Bite!
"Ooh, that looks good! Can I have a few bites?" These words sparked the one and only time in my marriage I nearly punched my husband out. I wish I were exaggerating but it was in the depths of my eating disorder and I'd spent all day being "good" and counting every calorie and this dish was my reward. I'd portioned it perfectly and already entered the numbers into my (insane) food tracking spreadsheet. I'd been looking forward to eating it all day.
(True story: when you're starving, all you think about is food. I was obsessed with cooking shows, recipe websites, cookbooks and magazines, always planning the gourmet meal I was going to eat when I was finally "good enough.")
And of course I was so so hungry.
Photo by Memories Keepers. (Flickr)
So when he leaned over and casually took a few bites, I went atomic. Realizing that I couldn't articulate all the crazy thoughts in my head without sounding, well, crazy, I burst into tears and stomped into the other room yelling at him that he might as well just eat the whole thing now. As I sobbed in a corner, all I could think was "How could my beloved husband steal food right out of my starving mouth? Couldn't he see how much this food meant to me right now? Especially since he could eat as much of anything in the whole house that he wanted and all I had was this. And now this was two bites less. How was I supposed to calculate the calories now? And if can't count it then I can't eat it." I went to bed hungry. And furious.
I also wish I could say this was the only time I got territorial about my food but this weird instinct has been one of the harder aspects of my disordered eating to kick. It's only been in the last year or so that I haven't felt that hot flush of anger and fear whenever anyone tried to eat my food or offered to split a dish with me at a restaurant. This was especially tricky since kids are notorious food sharers.
One of Jelly Bean's favorite pastimes to this day is running over whenever she sees me chewing and prying open my jaws to get a good look at whatever I'm masticating. If she's interested she'll even try and take some. (A practice I discourage -- I'm not Alicia Silverstone.) I can remember more than one occasion where giving my kids half my granola bar felt like a bigger sacrifice than donating a kidney to them. I was not a good sharer.
So when a reader e-mailed me about her "weird" food issue, my first response was to write her back and say "No, you're not weird! You're not alone in this!" and then to sigh and smile to myself No, you're not weird! You're not alone in this!
She writes, "I have a problem sharing food which I'm pretty sure is down to my [eating disordered] past. I think it's the concept of having a "whole" meal. A combination of the anorexia's wanting to be able to keep track of how much and a touch of OCD. Even though sharing means less food, I still have trouble when a friend or family member asks for "just a bite." I can't afford to talk to anyone about it and usually I either grudgingly give whoever it is the smallest amount possible while still being polite, or say something along the lines of 'it's really spicy.' I feel guilty about it, but my overwhelming desire to have a "whole" meal is too strong. Do you have any thoughts?"
Yes, yes, I do. My first thought is to tell you that this too will pass. Like I said earlier, this was one of the last "voices" to go for me but just the other day I was eating a piece of (excellent) cake at a party and when Jelly Bean climbed up on my lap and demanded to "waste wookie" (taste cookie -- her word for dessert) I let her finish my piece. And then I got up and got myself another one. No angst at all. It can be done and you will get there! So here are my un-expert tips about getting from there to here: