My Story with Food
By Tarika Lovegarden
My struggle with food began as a child. I ate at every opportunity. Candy was my favorite, but bread, cereal and cookies were just as satisfying. I grew up at an international boarding school in England. Taking care of myself and eating healthy was out of the question, at least in my mind. I didn’t have any good role models, and not much healthy food available.
My grandmother showered me with love by sending packages from her home in Florida. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Snickers bars, candy corn at Halloween; each delivery was a delicious bounty of sweets, sweets, and more sweets! With no supervision I could eat an entire bag of candy in one sitting. Fulfilling my cravings comforted and satisfied me, regardless of how sick to my stomach I eventually became.
Throughout my childhood I turned to food for security and comfort. I used food to connect to others and it helped me to make new friends. I’d gather my friends at school and organize trips to eat cake at the local tearooms.
In Devon, we’d eat large scones with huge dollops of clotted cream (something in between whipped cream and butter) and fresh strawberry jam. I could only eat half of the basket before feeling sick. I’d be in pain for hours afterward. It felt like an indigestible rock had hit my stomach. With each unhealthy mouthful I gained more and more weight. I was becoming fat and unhappy with my shape and size.
Boys would tease me about my voluptuous figure, which made me feel even more ugly and ashamed. At puberty I was fed up with feeling fat. I stopped eating and became anorexic. I compared myself to other girls and envied all the skinny ones. I remember hating one girl in particular for her beauty and power over men. I desperately wanted to be just as attractive.
I started to ignore feelings of hunger and feared food. Food became my enemy. I couldn’t bear to be around others when they were eating. I was convinced that everything I ate would make me fat.
I was determined to lose weight and became strict with myself. I would only allow myself a cup of tea for breakfast. If I got hungry I would snack on cough drops, chewable vitamin C, and water until lunch. Lunch was usually a small piece of papaya or an apple. Dinner was an apple with another cup of tea. When I was really hungry I would allow myself a piece of whole wheat bread with a banana but in those instances I’d feel guilty and angry with myself for overeating.
Feeling terrified of food was affecting my social life. I would structure my day to avoid eating, which made things worse. I began to realize there must be something wrong with me. I still felt too fat, incredibly ashamed of my body, and I didn’t feel any more beautiful or attractive. I was starving, I felt isolated and alone. I found no pleasure or comfort in eating at all.
I was ashamed to eat in front of others. No matter how much weight I lost I felt fat. I had the idea in my head that when people looked at me they saw me as a pig if I ate anything at all. I thought that because I was fat, I didn’t deserve to eat. I felt unworthy and I didn’t deserve to be loved. I was convinced no one would ever love me.
Every time I looked in the mirror I hated and judged myself. All I saw was FAT! My hips and thighs looked enormous to me. I had always had a nicely shaped, curvy body, but I was becoming too skinny, with ribs and hipbones protruding, and yet all I saw was FAT!
I was convinced there was something wrong with me. I thought I would always be too fat. I was obsessed with my desire to become beautiful yet a deep feeling of unworthiness and shame controlled me. No matter how thin I became I felt ugly and unattractive. I continued to punish myself by not eating. I didn’t even feel hungry anymore. Somehow I was becoming addicted to the feeling of hunger and starvation.
After several years, I got fed up with hunger and starvation being the norm and decided to go back to eating. I was almost twenty and desperate to feel nurtured again.
I starting slowly, at first I’d only allow myself whole fruits and vegetables. After a couple more years of controlled eating, I swung to the other side and started to pig out on cake and desserts. I worked at a restaurant as a dessert chef at the time and would eat two or three desserts everyday. It took quite a while for me to gain weight because of how skinny and starved I had become. The day finally came when I suddenly realized I had become fat again. It seemed to have happened overnight.
I was back on the rollercoaster; once again I began to fear food. I reverted back to my old ways, thinking that I could control my weight by starving myself. This time, however, I was not as successful. Oh, I did manage to maintain a fat free vegetarian diet for a while but my body’s natural need for fat and protein gave me uncontrollable cravings. This time I started binging on large quantities of healthy, fat-free foods.
I would try to comfort myself by eating whole packets of plain rice cakes and big bowls of oil-free air-popped popcorn. I found myself sneaking into my room at night, hiding and devouring packets of rice cakes–the plain ones weren’t very satisfying, so I kept eating. I was developing a compulsive eating disorder. I became addicted to eating, trying to soothe my pain with each bite. No matter how many packets of rice cakes and popcorn I shoveled in, I felt empty inside, needy and still incredibly unworthy.
I was out of balance, fat and undernourished. This was the most painful time of my life with food. Nothing worked anymore. I couldn’t successfully starve myself and lose weight, and I was miserable with my shape and size. I was steadily gaining weight. I was overwhelmed with deep feelings of agony and despair. I had nowhere to turn.
I was caught in a vicious cycle of starvation and binging. I was always on some kind of restrictive diet or cleanse, until I couldn’t take it anymore, and then I’d binge until I felt sick to my stomach. I still felt horribly ashamed of myself around food.
At times I would sneak out at night, once everyone was asleep, and drive to Safeway to buy food having starved myself all day. I’d park on the side of the road, sit in my car, and frantically gorge myself until I felt sick. I gulped down lumps of guilt and shame with large mouthfuls of food, attempting to soothe my pain. I would eat whole packets of ice cream bars, family size bags of Doritos, or a package of chocolate chip cookies. I’d buy something sweet and something salty to try and satisfy my cravings.
The next day I would punish myself for binging and not eat again all day. Sometimes I would take laxatives to try and get rid of all the junk food I had stuffed myself with. Or I’d start a cleanse but end up failing because I was hungry and I only knew extremes. Either I’d be gorging myself with fattening sugary foods, or I’d be sipping water and herbal teas. There was not much in between.
These nightly binges combined with starving myself during the day were steadily making me gain even more weight. I was becoming fatter, even though it felt like I was starving myself. I hated myself and felt so ashamed of my binging that I’d become blind to how much I was really eating. I’d mostly binge on healthy foods, apart from the occasional trips to Safeway, so it was hard for me to understand why I was gaining so much weight. I thought I was actually being good therefore I should be losing weight. It was agonizing to feel like I was doing everything right yet here I was getting fatter. I was sinking into a deep hole of despair and hopelessness.
After struggling like this for several more years, bouncing back and forth between anorexia and compulsive overeating, I realized I needed to heal myself or there would be dire consequences.
I was fed up of suffering. I was determined to find balance, love, and a healthier way of caring for myself. For almost 10 years I denied the part of me that enjoyed food and the process of eating that comes with it. I assumed the answer to my prayers was starvation, until I realized that only made things worse, causing me to binge and gain weight.
The hardest thing that I have done in my life was to admit my flaws and heal the part of me that had issues with food. I became very honest, loving, and accepting of my body. I discovered that I could accept my curves, my roundness, and my beauty. I slowly began to accept the parts of myself that I’d hated and been judged for my entire life.
I started to eat food for health, rather than as an attempt to soothe my pain or to lose weight. I got help from various healers and started to learn about nutrition. I cleared my emotions around food and found new ways of dealing with my needs.
For the first time in my life I feel beautiful. I am happy with my body the way it is. I’ve found a weight where I feel comfortable and beautiful and feel relaxed around eating. At times, I may get a little derailed by either eating too much or too little, particularly when I’m premenstrual. But as soon as I notice a fluctuation in my weight that takes me out of my comfort zone, I simply adjust a little and find balance again. I don’t beat myself up, judge, or hate myself anymore. Now I can forgive myself, and easily get back on track with healthy eating. I feel balanced, healthy, and I truly love and care for my body.
If you have struggled with food, need help in finding a balanced rhythm of eating, and would like to reach your ideal weight, I would be delighted to help you! Together we can create a plan that will transform your issues around food and help you find and maintain a weight where you feel comfortable and beautiful. Trust me, I have walked in your footsteps and I’m here to help you.