For thirty years of my life, I was a compulsive overeater. I’m almost 52, which means that for over half of my life, I was tortured by an obsession with scarfing down food. Over.Half.My.Life.
But how does an eating disorder start? There are many different reasons that people abuse food. It often begins with trauma or some negative repetitive thoughts or behavior, resulting in a desire for control. The reason for my compulsive overeating eating and bingeing: my parents. Mainly, my mother.
And as I reflect on 12 years of eating disorder recovery, I’ve realized that the most important thing I learned is how important it is to acknowledge and process what happened in my childhood, and move forward.
How my binge eating disorder began
My mother hid sweets from me when I was about eight or nine years old and never talked to me about it. That led to me going to the market around the corner, buying large amounts of junk food, eating it all, then hiding the packaging. Over three decades, that grew into eating massive amounts of food, sneaking it, eating it out of the garbage, eating off of people’s “dirty” plates in the sink, saying I threw food out when in fact I ate it, and other things I’m not proud of.
I was completely out of tune with my hunger and satiety. I had an unexplained compulsion to stuff my face, even when my stomach was in pain, and I knew I should stop.
When I was close to 40, I learned I had an eating disorder and not just a “sweet tooth,” as I had often referred to my desire for eating. I went to therapy and learned that my mother’s hiding of food and lack of warmth led young Ronni to think she was unworthy, not good enough, and undeserving.
Also, neither she nor my father ever taught me to dream big, told me I was beautiful, capable, or amazing. There was no guidance and no heart-to-heart talks. We rarely did anything as a family. There was no closeness fostered in our house. Unknowingly, food became my source of unconditional love.
Learning to let go of the past
However—and this is a big however—I know that my parents didn’t do any of this maliciously or on purpose. They were doing the best they could with the tools they had. All the parenting stuff that is out there now was not around back then. They just weren’t wired to be warm and fuzzy. They weren’t wired to be affectionate, emotionally available, or to teach me how to be a good person. I can be upset about that, and I can feel sorry for myself, but I can’t blame them.
While my three-decade eating disorder stemmed from them, it is entirely up to ME to recognize the big picture, process that part of my life, and move forward in my eating disorder recovery. While I could very easily have thought, “they caused so many problems for me, I’m never talking to them again!” I chose not to take that approach because it wouldn’t be fair.
How I’m moving forward in my eating disorder recovery—and my parenting
I realized in therapy that at 40, I didn’t need to keep stuffing my face over events that happened decades ago. I needed to recognize my power and value and hold on to it. I would not let my past dictate my current life or future.
I made a conscious decision when I got married at 29 years old that when we had children, I would parent them differently. I wanted my children to know that they were loved, supported, appreciated, and that I was there for them.
I love my two children fiercely and do not hide that from them. My parents weren’t capable of showing me that. But what I’ve realized is that it was their problem, not mine. It’s up to me to stop the pattern and start a new one. I want to think I have done so.
I’m so grateful and proud of my 12 years of eating disorder recovery. I’ve learned so much, and I try to pay it forward as often as I can.