I mentioned in a previous post that I crave the sensation of hunger. When most people get hungry, they eat. When I get hungry, I revel in the pain I feel in my stomach. The nausea, the light-headed dizziness, the numbness and tingling in my hands and feet — all of it so deliciously reminds me that I am in control. That everything around me might be going to shit, but I am alright because I have control over myself, my body, and what I do and do not eat.
Of course, the fact is I am not in control. When I restrict my eating, I am giving in to an addiction.
I first started restricting my food intake when I was 13/14 years old. Right around puberty. I was growing curves, and I didn’t like it. I wanted to control my body and remain as thin as possible. So I limited my calories to under 700 a day and cut out all sugar and fat. My body still changed, but I quickly became addicted to the sense of control I felt over what and when I chose to eat.
When I went to college, my addiction increased. It was easier to eat less when I was away from home. Away from people who expected me to eat. My eating disorder was still secret.
My calorie intake dropped to under 500 a day, and I started working out for at least two hours a day – running and lifting weights. At my lowest I weighed 113 pounds. That’s not much for someone who’s 5’7″.
But I was so proud of myself. So proud of the self control I had. And I craved that hunger. Every morning I woke up with it. I carried it with me all day. Nursed it carefully, feeding it with bits of food like a caged monster – just enough to keep it awake and wanting more.
Live Science published an article some years ago that points out how hunger actually does have addictive properties and can make you happy. Hunger is caused by a hormone (ghrelin). This hormone drives us to find food. It increases our concentration and focus in order to better help us find the food we need.
I can attest to this. After I’ve gone a day or two without eating, I usually feel hyper alert – almost like I’ve had too much caffeine. The Live Science article also points out addictive qualities of the hormone ghrelin, which could be why some anorexics have so much difficulty recovering.
Even when I started drinking, I could not let go of the security of my eating disorder. I ate less so I could drink more. Eventually, my addiction to alcohol and drugs overcame my addiction to hunger, and I gained almost 100 pounds.
Now I’m sober. And the old craving for hunger is back in full force. I crave that control – that high.
I’ve tried scheduling my meals. I’ve tried to eat before I get hungry. I’ve tried meditating and checking in with my body and my emotions. The addiction is so strong, I feel completely powerless against it.
I look at pictures of food online the way some people look at porn. It spikes the hunger. And sometimes I give in and eat donuts and pie and bread. And then I purge. Then there are new addictive feelings to indulge in – shame and guilt.
It’s easier not to eat.
Admitting all of this, telling on my demons, is taking a lot of courage. I don’t know if I will eat today or not. What I will do is encourage anyone who is struggling with an eating disorder to reach out for help.
There are resources here that can help you get started on a journey of recovery. I am on my own journey. I am sharing my struggle here so that others can see the struggle is real. But there is hope. There is always hope. I’m not giving up. And neither should you.
(Featured Image: “Freedom” — Mindi Oaten)