Illustration by Isabel Cardenas
Editor’s note: This is the final story in a four-part series portraying one woman’s personal experience of depression, with a bit of advice thrown in.
By Liza Porter
The Fat Voice is back. I hadn’t heard it in years, until the other day when I heard it say: “Don’t eat that. You’re too fat.”
That voice is part of my depression.
I’ll bet I’ve gained and lost several hundred pounds during my life. And that’s probably a low estimate.
Ever since I was a child, I’ve used food to help me deal with my depression. Binging on sweets made me feel better, for a while.
Dieting and starving, especially over a period of days or weeks or months, also felt good. There’s a high that comes with denying yourself sustenance. Just ask the yogis in India.
So, food has been a mood changer for me.
Even now, pushing 54, I’m known to “use” sugar and caffeine to get me through bad days.
When I was younger, I obsessed on my body and everything that went into my mouth.
I’d start on a diet, usually on a Monday, and stick with it for a week or so, if that long. I’d lose maybe five pounds and then “cheat” on my diet because I was always so—grrrr—hungry. Pretty soon, I’d start binging again.
Craving food and denying myself became an addiction.
Sometimes I’d binge and vomit every night when I got home from work or school. That became its own sort of addiction.
I even used to exercise compulsively. For a while in my early 20s, I swam so hard every day that standing up from a sitting position was painful.
When I deprived myself of food or exercised too much, I thought the world was a better place. I was on top of everything. I’d set a goal. I was following through, my stomach felt flatter, my insides were hollowed out. I could feel the weight stripping off my “fat” body.
The problem was, I wasn’t even fat! During most of the time I spent on diets, on the compulsive binging and vomiting, I didn’t even need to lose weight. My view of myself in the mirror was warped. The bathroom scale ran my life.
The National Institute of Mental Health’s guide for eating disorders says one in five women struggle with an eating disorder or disordered eating.
That’s 20 percent of women who are right now obsessing about food, about their body weight, about their looks.
With me, it was a full-time addiction. If I multiply all the years I spent dieting and binging—well, I don’t want to! It’s too much of a waste to think about.
We are supposed to eat to fuel our bodies so we can do what we need to do in the world. Eating is supposed be a pleasure, not some shameful, secret activity.
We are not meant to worry about every little thing that goes into our mouths. Or go exercise for two hours because we ate a donut.
And yet 70 million people worldwide have eating disorders. Thirty-five percent of “normal dieters” (whatever that is) progress to pathological dieting.
The American Journal of Psychiatry reported that a young woman with anorexia is 12 times more likely to die than other women her age without the disease.
Time Magazine stated that 80 percent of all children have been on a diet by the time they have reached the fourth grade.
These are some horrible statistics. That last one makes me want to scream! Children ages 8 and 9 dieting!
Anorexia is a killer disease. I am lucky to be alive.
And none of this obsessing over food and body ever helped my depression. Feeling better lasted for a few hours, if that.
I hereby refuse to listen to the Fat Voice. I’m disgusted with it. Sure, all the compulsion and obsession probably got me through some tough times I might otherwise have used for something worse (like drugs or dangerous decisions) to get through.
And maybe I’ll forgive the part of me that wasted all that time, some day. Be a little gentler with that young girl inside me.
But today I’m pissed about it.
This is what I say to counteract the Fat Voice: I’m OK the way I am. A little overweight. Trying to eat healthily. Exercising regularly, sometimes. Trying to accept myself the way I am.
If you have problems with food, please ask for help. Anorexia is a serious illness. And your eating disorder might be masking chronic depression.
You are not alone.
See below for some places that can help with eating disorders:
- SAMHC Behavioral Health Services, 622-6000, 2502 N. Dodge Blvd., Tucson, AZ 85716-2675, www.samhc.com.
- Overeaters Anonymous, www.oa.org.
- Mirasol Eating Disorder Treatment Center for Women, (888)520-1700, www.mirasol.net.