Somewhere between the grain-bed soggy salad sandwich lunches of primary school, and the chocolate/biscuit/donut/pizza/chip binging of my early twenties, I basically stopped eating.
It happened gradually, and it wasn’t until I woke up one morning at the age of 17 and realised I literally couldn’t get out of bed that I was fully aware of what I was doing.
But before I almost stopped eating? I ate very well indeed. Perhaps too well.
At the age of 14 and 3 months, my family and I moved to Germany. My father had been relocated for work; the company he worked for (as Managing Director of an engineering firm) was opening a German branch and Dad happened to be both up for the position and in command of decent German language skills. We’re not German; I think he had decided to learn partly as a bonus to his work but perhaps also just out of interest.
My reaction to the upheaval? I was NOT interested in moving overseas. Are you kidding me? The history and grandeur of Europe was something I was both unaware of and uninterested in becoming aware of.
I was just starting to enjoy some independence and freedom, from unsupervised outings with my friend’s to the delights and terrors of stamping my mark on the world as another teenage girl desperately trying to fit in and be cool.
Unlike some of my high-school peers I didn’t have any issues with puberty ‘chub’, but just because I was naturally long and lanky didn’t mean I had managed to graduate into the cool crowd.
I do remember that I cared about this less than when I was at primary school, but it was still a factor. I enjoyed making new friends and continuing some of my primary school friendships, I excelled at most of my subjects and felt confident about what the future held for me. I had a lot of fun at high school, both in and out of class, and I think perhaps I even had a little more freedom in terms of mixing my normal healthy school lunches with occasional treats either from Home Ec classes or begged or borrowed from friends or the school canteen.
My pocket money had been elevated to a more impressive status of ‘allowance’, and I was learning to budget for everything from my own school books and uniform (Mum added money for these sort of things to my allowance rather than just pay herself), to gifts for friends and regular tithing. And, of course, I always made sure there was some leftover for chocolate. I managed to make a name for myself as a choco-holic from a young age, to the point where in later years my friends would give me gifts such as 2 kilos of my favourite liquorice bullets, or a massive vase layered with different coloured M&Ms. (THAT may still be the most excitement-inducing gift I ever received!)
For now though, the attempts to starve myself thin and the excessive indulgences of my later teens were still years away.
I had much more important things to focus on, like being able to afford some fashionable clothes and whether or not my school socks should be worn low around the ankles or scrunched all the way to the knees. And, of course, being witty enough to hold my own with the smart-aleck boys at school and try and generate some interest without having to actually (or really wanting to) follow through on anything.
The move overseas was right at the beginning of my Year 9 school year, and it was quite a brutal uprooting. I had my ‘group’, I knew what was and was not hot in Aussie teen-fashion, and I felt like I was just starting to grow out of the shy, awkward, hand-me-down style persona of my childhood years. So basically I was annoyed about having to leave and enter a new and uncertain world; one where I knew none of the rules. And where, worst of all, I would have to enter the German school year by going backwards – starting at half-way through their Year 8.
But after a fancy ‘all-you-can-eat’ send-off by my friends at Sizzler, and a bucketload of thoughtful gifts, I was on my way. We all were. And yes, I guess there was just an ounce of excitement at what might lie ahead but mainly there was that dreaded fear of once again having to figure out how to fit in.
In retrospect, the 2 years we spent in Germany ended up being amongst the most impacting years of my life. In many wonderful ways as well as many confusing ways. They were years in which I tried alcohol for the first time (elderberry wine at age 14 in a German pub with a couple of older American boys and one German female friend!), years when I had my first kiss and developed an obsessive crush that would last into my early twenties, years when I was thrown wildly out of my comfort zone by for the first time ever NOT being top of the class but instead struggling to keep up with a language I at first didn’t want to know about and in the end came to love. Heck even in English class I fell behind as the Germans obsesses about rules of grammar I’d never even heard of! And then looked at me in horror when I couldn’t perform sample sentence structures on command.
In Germany I watched people parade around unashamedly naked at suburban pools, I bought beer from service stations and drank with my teachers while on school camp in Holland. I cut off all my hair and started wearing hugely oversized American football team puffer-jackets, and I travelled miles on the train to find cheap Levi jeans. I came back to Australia with my family at age 15 for 3 weeks and felt wildly sophisticated in my baggy maroon crepe pants and crisp white shirt while all my Aussie friends looked at me like I was an alien. I learned to ice skate, and I watched fairly graphic make-out sessions take place at church youth group events and camps. I wagged school with my friends and I learnt French and a little Spanish. I fell in love with fountain pens, and remain so to this day. (Nobody writes with a ball-point in Germany; not even kids. Quelle die!)
I had my first job and I became even more obsessive about books while doing work experience at the City Library. I came home with armfuls of old fashion magazines and dreamed about being beautiful and a model. In Germany I became very much of the person who I still am today, and in some ways I miss that time more than I ever missed Australia; even thought it’s now been 16 years since we lived there. In Germany I found true independence and started learning to make my way in the world.
And in Germany I got fat. Or at least good’n’chunky.
I ate canned ravioli for lunch, coupled with oven-warmed bread rolls and butter. I bought warmed ‘Bretzeln’ from the school vendor at the 10am breaky or while out on weekends. I went to ‘Fests’ with friends and ate gingerbread, cinnamony-sugary-almonds, and more beer. I don’t think I’d heard of what a ‘carb’ really was but I definitely knew how to enjoy one. My friends and I would eat french fries smeared in mayonnaise at the school pool in summer, and we’d always buy McDonalds and then Movenpick ice-cream while out and about in the city. At home I’d make batch after batch of chocolate-chip cookies and sneak a few up to my room at night. Sometimes I’d come downstairs for 2 more in the middle of the night. And then 2 more. And maybe another 2. I’d finally fall asleep with a sugar-satiated tummy and chocolate crumbs still on my lips.
I thought nothing of it at the time but now I wonder when that need to consume all of a junk food or baked treat began. It’s something I still battle to move past today; that little voice telling me to just keep going if I occasionally relax and eat something like a piece of cake, or some non-dark chocolate.
This is the second excerpt from a journalling piece I’ve started to write on overcoming binge eating. I realise that this may come as a shock to you as I do present a very confident and ‘must-have-always-been-healthy’ exterior to those who don’t know me closely, and even to some who do. I’ve been thinking about publishing this for a long time, as I speak to so many women who struggle with, or have struggled with an eating disorder and/or an often-painful emotional relationship with food.
I think in the end, it’s a story worth telling – without having gone through all of this I would not be the driven and eager student of nutrition that I now am, and I don’t believe I would have the ability that I do have to connect with women so closely about the emotions and mindset of being truly healthy from the inside out.
This was quite painful (and teary) for me to write, but also quite liberating. I will publish more of the story when I’m ready.
Life is Now. Press Play.
PS: I must add a huge thank-you for the support and feedback I received after publishing part one of this story. It’s so great for me to know that reading the truth about my story is something you enjoy and perhaps can even relate to. Not many people truly are what they appear to be on the surface, are they?