Some of you may not be terribly sympathetic to the person I am about to write about. If not, then turn the page.
I saw her today in the town standing staring at the window of a boutique designed for size six women with money to burn. They most certainly did not cater for people like her. They don’t make clothes for the morbidly obese. I walked over to her and tapped he on the shoulder. She turned and seemed genuinely delighted to see me. On the surface she hadn’t changed a bit. We decided to go for a coffee and a chat.
My friend Marjorie attracts a lot of attention. She is what some might call ‘generously proportioned. Others would call her morbidly obese and lots more besides. To those who don’t know Marjorie she is greedy, self-indulgent, lazy and lacking in willpower. I see none of these things. All I can focus upon is her bright, white smile.
Marjorie is bright, vivacious, holds down a highly stressful job and has a large circle of friends. So what exactly is wrong with her? She has Binge Eating Disorder. I first encountered Marjorie at a meeting of organising called ‘Overeaters Anonymous. I, a former anorectic, had metamorphosed into a slightly overweight bulimic and I was desperate to rid myself of those extra pounds. Marjorie was already there when I arrived, every inch the stereotypical fat woman, the star of the show, entertaining everyone. ‘I know its a stereotype – all fat people are jolly, the life and soul of the party. My entertaining people is like a camouflage It distracts others from my physical appearance. And I’m appeasing them I’m doing it so they won’t turn on me.’
Compared to some Marjorie is fortunate in that she has an inner strength that enable her to deal with the taunts hurled at her from passers by. What her tormentors couldn’t possibly know is that Marjorie suffers from binge eating disorder. It is the least recognised eating disorder and yet more people suffer from it than either anorexia or bulimia. Some doctors dispute its very existence.. Marjory’s old GP was one of them. ‘Human nature is what it is. We’re self-indulgent. Accept that either succumb to your weaknesses or do your utmost to suppress them.’
Binge eating disorder is neglected by the medical profession and often mocked by the media. It is the invisible eating disorder. In the public mind it is often confused with bulimia. Although the two disorders share some traits they are very different illnesses. Bulimia is characterised not by the binge eating itself but by the steps taken by the sufferers to ‘purge’ their body of the food that have just consumed using laxatives, vomiting, fasting and they use these measure consistently.
Marjorie tells me that she can’t remember a time when she hasn’t used food as a source of comfort. ‘Food is my best friend. It never lets me down. I live alone and often after a bad day at work it’s the only thing there waiting for me.
‘I was obsessed with food. It became the centre of my life. I used to dream about and go downstairs in the middle of the night when I was sure everyone else was in bed and binge. I’d raid my parents’ fridge. I’d eat everything I could get my hands on . Then I’d stuff the food into my mouth and eat until my stomach was distended and I was feeling nauseated.
‘I was so secretive. Everyone around me wondered why I was gaining so much weight. Although I was bingeing I rarely ate in front of my family. My mother took me aside to ask if I might be pregnant. And even when they did find out they found it impossible to accept that my actions were the result of an illness.’
Marjorie was hoping that when she moved away to go to university the change of environment would give her the chance to start again. ‘It actually got worse because there was nobody looking over my shoulder saying, ‘You can’t eat that.’ She claims that the urge to binge was so intense that she stole food from other students’ cupboards. She even admits having resorted to shoplifting.
‘Once agauin food became my life,’ she tells me ‘I lived to eat. Food is both my friend and my enemy and I’ve faced the that it may well destroy me. I ate to suppress every negative emotion I experience. It’s got to the point at which I cannot tellb if I’m hungry or not. I have lost touch with my own body, with my own feelifngs. After a binge I feel this intense self-loathing which only serves to perpetuate the cycle.. I am overwhelmed by shame.’
Marjorie describes how she plans for a binge: ‘If I’m having a bad time at work I’ll think about it all day, planning the menu in my head. The I’ll drive home, stopping off at supermarkets on the way to buy basketfuls of food. I’ll eat in the car as I am driving. The bags will be piles up on the passenger seat. I’ll grab food at random and swallow without chewing. All the forbidden foods: ice cream, chocolate, cakes, cerial. It is initially pleasurable but that pleasure fades when my stomach starts expanding. Then I become agitated. Sometimes I’ll return to finish leftovers in the middle of the night.’ This loss of control occurs at least three times a week.
Despite fulfilling all the diagnostic criteria for Binge Eating Disorder Marjorie receives little help from her doctor or her local health authority. She sees a private counsellor who specialises in cognitive behavioural therapy which is based on the premise that behaviour can determine emotion. The counsellor has helped Marjorie identify several key events in her life that put her at risk of developing Binge Eating Disorder. Her childhood seemed idyllic until her parents’ business collapsed and they went bankrupt. A new and less appealing life lay ahead. Marjorie was taken out of her small private school and thrust into the chaotic envirnment of the local comprehensive.She endured years of bullying as a result of her middle class background.
In spite of all she has been through Marjorie has retained the generosity of spirit. She is as concerned about my progress as she is about her own. She is optimistic about the future. ‘I know it’s going to be a long, hard road but I’ll get there.’ She makes a fist and bangs the table, ‘I’ll get there.’
A Helpful Linky.