This season, an episode of Addicted to Food showed the participants engaged in group therapy, to get in touch with their inner child and get to the bottom of how their childhoods correlate to their food addictions. There are some horror stories – verbally and physically abusive parents, alcoholics, suicidal parents, feeling like a mistake. The show and Shades of Hope seems to be going for the message that people with the “disease” of food addiction have dark, horrible childhoods.
I’m not quite sure where this leaves me. I had a happy childhood. I had a good mother. Really! I was never pressured, abused, or exposed to stressful or bad situations. Honestly, one of the more difficult aspects of trying to pinpoint where my disordered thinking about food comes from is that I didn’t have an unhappy childhood. That’s such an easy answer for many — compulsive eating and lack of care for one’s body as a reaction to extreme emotional stress.
Things I have come up with that might account for my issues:
- media saturation of unrealistic body standards/bombardment of food p*rn/adverts
- control issues manifesting themselves in eating habits
- observing disordered eating habits in my family (primarily food guilt & binge eating)
- lack of comfort with my maturing body at a young age (puberty onset at age eight)
Am I the only one? Those reading this blog who also struggle with food, eating and weight — did you have happy childhoods? Can you pinpoint your problems to something specific in childhood?
Re: my body. I believe unwanted sexual attention may have lead to my keeping myself fat (subconsciously). I wasn’t abused or assaulted, but from an early age faced sexual attention from men that made me incredibly uncomfortable. From the time I hit puberty when I was 8, along with hormonal weight gain came breasts, hips and a growth spurt. I looked much older than I was — at about age nine, men at a birthday party of a classmate remarked that they thought I was 13. As in — they were hitting on me because they thought I was 13. (incidentally, this same friend was sexually abused by her mother’s boyfriend — her family environment was a bad one, and after that, my mom didn’t let me go to her house or parties – or maybe I stopped wanting to go. I can’t remember.)
It’s theoretical and abstract — it’s a maybe. It also was hardly a defining thing in my childhood — just something that, in hindsight, may have contributed. Of course, by time I was like YAY BODY, my behavior patterns were pretty locked in, and reversing my weight became and uphill and lifelong battle.
Something more concrete that I know to be true — I’m a control freak. I think I always was — as a child, it manifested as being a bossy pants, not working well in groups/teams, and being perfectionist about my school work. It also meant that I didn’t do anything that I wasn’t sure I’d be good at — my fear of failure and need to stay in control meant I didn’t try sports or activities that were new to me. A common thread of those with eating disorders is that desperate need for control. Anorexics are well known for using food (and not eating it) as a way to exercise control over the one thing they have complete autonomy over — their body. For me, with overeating and my overweight body, it is the same thing but with a twist — I was so carefully in control of all things in my life, that eating was the one opportunity I had to let go completely. Of course, it was ultimately self-destructive.
Oddly, it’s been through getting older and growing more mellow that I’ve been able to reverse things, or start to: let go of control over things like schedules and outings and work and regain control over eating. I find following a program and having control over food mentally and emotionally fulfilling. That said, I’m highly aware of the dangerous reverse: being so rigid and in control of food that it’s an obsessive focal point (and a gateway to disordered under-eating).
Everyone has a different reason for food and weight issues. I just don’t think I can root mine in a bad childhood. It’s a process to try and figure out where I may have picked up some of my disordered thinking. This is just a start.