food and the modern seb, part four: supersize, me?

Prior posts – part one, part two, part three

1990 – At DC’s nightclub.

At age 19 I had my first relationship. It only lasted 11 months but the way it ended effected me for years afterwards.  Shocking to say but I’ve discovered that if you don’t value yourself you end up making some pretty bad relationship choices. I know, right? – bringing the revelations since 2010. 

It turned out that my first boyfriend – this seemingly kind, smart and handsome 27 year old I’d all but moved in with was an escort. He’d met me through friends, fallen for me and decided to get a legitimate job and ‘go straight’ as it were.

Three months in he’d started seeing clients again but kept this, as well as a return to amphetamine abuse hidden from me.

After eleven months he became so worried about me finding out he ended the relationship – waking me up at two in the morning by burning me with a lighter. He then screamed at me to get dressed, pulled me downstairs and threw me out of his house.

He didn’t speak to me again and a month later a friend of his told me about the escort work and drug use. He said my ex had decided that making me hate him was the easiest way to get me away from ‘the situation’ without hurting me. He did this because he loved me.

Now you see why I crossed out ‘smart’ in the preceding paragraph.

I was already heartbroken and blaming myself for the breakup and this news pushed me over the edge. That night I had a complete meltdown and ended up walking the streets, alternating between fits of crying and furiously hitting myself.

I ended up on the front porch of a friend’s house and the poor guy opened his door to find me standing there hyperventilating,with red welts all over my face and arms, unable to speak.  He put me in his bedroom but he couldn’t calm me down and eventually had to call another friend to come and get me.

While this is not the most flattering of incidents (I should delete my online dating profiles now, yeah?) it highlights the mindset of someone who receives abuse to the point where their self esteem is all but destroyed so I believe it’s important to share. Validation from others feels so amazing when you don’t like yourself and it’s so gut wrenchingly painful when it’s taken away.

When you’ve spent your formative years being beaten up and called disgusting names it’s frightening how adept you become at carrying on the tradition as an adult, in your own head.

If so many people acted that way toward me there I knew there had to be a reason, and in my mind that reason was plain and simple. Me.

Teachers used to ask me that all the time. If I was found with the shit kicked out of me in the boys toilets –  “Well, you must have done something to deserve it – what did you do to them?”

Over the next year my hatred of myself became stronger and my bulimia got worse. I was eating and purging several times on most days and it started to show. Already thin, I dropped more weight and felt tired all the time. I wasn’t happy with anything in my life and would cry over the smallest things.

I was never skeletally thin but there was a period where my head looked too large for my body and lack of nutrition was beginning to effect my hair, skin and nails. My obsession with the way I looked and my weight had created so much more for me to find fault with.

Bulimia taking it’s toll – smiling with my friend Justin in 1991 but looking incredibly unwell.

There were times that I would get dressed to go out when I looked in the mirror I’d become furious with how ugly I was and tear apart or cut my clothes – often something I’d bought that day – and throw them across the room in a rage before dissolving into sobs on the floor.

I always felt I looked disgusting. I had a picture in my mind of how I wanted to look and the mirror always showed me a revolting, fat freak.

I met my second partner around this time. He was the first person I’d ever spoken to about my problems with eating and he was an incredible listener.

The relief of not constantly trying to hide my problems went a long way toward me starting to get better.  With his support and a year’s work with a psychologist I was only purging once a month.

The key was to use my obsession with my supposed ugliness. My fear of losing more hair and destroying my teeth eventually won out over the need to vomit the food back up.

Still too thin in 1991 but getting some much needed help.

Talking about my past helped but we weren’t able to get to the root of my self esteem issues and I was still completely addicted to food. Around the same time I stopped working in clubs and money became very tight for a few months.

I had to stop seeing the psych but it didn’t seem like we were making progress at the time so I wasn’t too worried. My concerns were now all financial.

After rent and bills were paid there was usually $30 left over to feed two people for a week – and one of us was a food addict. It was awful. I sold off some of my belongings and he used to go to his parent’s house and take food from their pantry.

After a while our phone was cut off and things got so bad one week we ran out of food, soap, toilet paper and toothpaste. We ended up having to use old newspaper and showered twice a day. I drank litre after litre of water to try and keep my stomach full.

The whole time both of us were too proud (read: stupid) to ask anyone for help.

We sometimes could only afford to have one meal in a day and I wasn’t coping mentally. I couldn’t concentrate, I couldn’t sleep properly and I felt physically uncomfortable  constantly – a feeling of dread and panic filled the pit of my stomach and didn’t budge.

Taking away my ability to binge eat didn’t cure me of the disease, it made the need stronger than ever. It’s very similar to being in ‘fight or flight’ mode, but there’s nowhere you can run and nothing to fight. I thought about killing myself most days.

When I found full time work in a cafe later that year we were allowed staff meals. The owners charged us $4.00 for anything on the menu and I ate myself sick every shift on the large portions as well as the leftovers from patron’s plates. I’d cut away the part they’d been eating from and gorge on the rest.

My body, deprived of caloric intake for months began to store fat and my weight ballooned.

These photos were taken five months apart. By this time I’d stopped purging and was putting weight back on, there’s about 10kg difference here.


I remember the service station near us opening up for 24 hour trading and night after night standing at the counter at 3am in a daze, holding packets of crisps, chocolate bars and a tub of ice cream. I hadn’t wanted to walk there but I had.

I could hear my own voice in my head screaming at me ‘SOMEONE FUCKING HELP ME. I DON’T WANT THIS. I DON’T WANT TO DO THIS’ as I smiled at the attendant and handed over money I’d earmarked for our electricity bill. I did this night after night as part of my routine. As soon as I’d eaten it all I’d promise myself I’d stop. But I couldn’t.

The deli at the end of my street knew my order as soon as I’d walked in. I worked nights at the cafe, so woke up at 11.30am and went straight there for a large chips, choc milk, a bag of Burger Rings and a large fried rice. This was breakfast every day.

At 2:30pm I’d leave the house and start the half hour walk to work. I’d buy another ice cream or packet of chips from the deli (no doubt they retired early based on how much I spent with them) and eat as I made my way up the hill. I’d stop at the next deli and do the same, finishing the ‘snack’ just before I walked in.

On my first break I’d try and find an orphaned slice of cake (the last slice in every display was seldom bought because it ended up looking dry and a bit sorry for itself) and then at dinner I’d have two large toasted foccaccias loaded with cured meats, sun dried tomatoes and cheese with a giant milkshake.

By this time I’d been promoted to shift supervisor and the owner allowed us to have anything we wanted as long as it was recorded – I can only think that he assumed my partner was coming in to eat with me because he never questioned the amount of food I wrote down and it was a lot.

After my shift there would be another half hour walk home, then a trip to the service station to complete the day’s ritual before beginning it all again the next day.

On my days off I would go into the city and go to two separate food halls, gorging on huge combination plates of Chinese and Thai food.

Once my weight hit around 100kg/220lb (I was 78kg/171lb at my thinnest) I stayed at that weight for  a couple of years, the amount of walking I did daily thankfully stopped further gain and kept my health in check.

My cholesterol and blood pressure were normal and I didn’t get short of breath walking long distances. Physically I was overweight but doing okay. Mentally I was slipping into a deep depression and  agoraphobia really started to take hold.

I stopped wanting to go outside except for work or to get food and I’d hide if someone knocked on the door.

My partner had long given up on trying to talk to me about my eating – it only lead to arguments and I’d storm out of the house because it was just too confronting.

Eventually the toll of watching me channel my depression and self hatred into slowly destroying myself with food got too much for him and after four years he finally left.

At this point, people reading this will either know exactly what I mean or will be thinking there’s no such thing as a food addiction. I can completely understand this viewpoint, after all – surely we’re in control of what we put into our bodies? It’s a conscious thing. I wonder why some of us lack this control – be it psychological or a physiological disposition to an eating disorder. Unfortunately I have yet to find the answer myself.

Another question that comes up a lot- If you feel hungry all the time, why not just eat more but choose healthier foods?  I met a man a few years ago with a terrible binge eating disorder that managed to force himself onto binging on fruit and vegetables.  It didn’t help. He was still destroying his body. Sure he was thin, but he had an eating disorder. The food a person binges on is only a tiny component of the disease.

The feeling – for me at least – of trying not to binge on particular foods is like trying to hold your breath until you pass out.  Your body will fight and fight and fight and you have to exhale. Doing that brings immediate relief to all the pressure. An eating disorder does this but the fight is in your head.

Next: food and the modern seb, part five: exercise to exorcise.