When I was 17, I joined the gym for the first time in my life. To be honest, the main reason I did join up was that my mother was a member. I felt like it was just ridiculous for my Mum to be going to the gym and not me! So I decided to join up as well. Back then, gyms hadn’t figured out about locking you into a 12-month contract and I was able to just ‘trial’ 3 months.
I think I had a program written for me by one of the trainers, and I guess they showed me how to use the cardio equipment. I certainly wasn’t obsessive about it, but I do remember going quite frequently after school; my high school being just a short walk down the same road. It was just something I did now and then, and I guess I was eating much the same as any typical 17-year old girl.
Aside from the occasional but massive chocolate binges, that is.
I had been raised on a super-healthy diet, or at least what my Mum thought was super-healthy at the time. We went through various nutritional phases as a family, the key theme being low on sugars and treats. There were a few extremes – the Pritikin diet, which I think we all only survived for about 2-3 months, was a memorable example. High whole-grains and ‘healthy carbs’ but basically zero sugar (fine, good) and zero fat (yikes!).
I was (and am :)) the eldest child of 4 – girl, boy, girl, boy – with my youngest brother being born when I was 9 1/2 years old. I know that I saw myself and my family as being unusual in the way we eat. I was the kid with wholegrain salad sandwiches when no-one was eating or had even heard of them whole grains, and when all my friends had fairy bread. I never had juice boxes, just water. And snacks were fresh fruit and Mum’s homemade apple-bran cake (a treat!) I believe the recipe normally called for sugar, but during the Pritikin phase there was one stand-out occasion when it came out of the oven looking like a sunken field after an especially heavy UFO had been and gone.
After school snacks would be dried fruit and nuts, and maybe dark chocolate or carob (ugh); just a little. Which makes me laugh now as I would consider that (not so much the dried fruit) a perfect snack now! Funny how things often come full circle …
Of course our overall diet was fairly carb-dominant, which is what good nutrition was all about back then. I certainly wasn’t raised on steak for breaky! But it was never processed crap either. Mum had a keen interest in nutrition and based the way she fed her family on what she knew to be right at the time. So we had porridge or weetbix for breaky, a typical ‘healthy’ lunch as mentioned above, and only once a term were we allowed to get a ‘lunch order’ from the school canteen. I usually ordered a hot dog with sauce, and a choc-jam donut.
It’s only in writing this, actually, that I remember that. Little did I know that choc-jam donuts by the 4-pack or even 8-pack would later become one of my favourite binge foods.
Back then, however, those sort of foods were rare. We even had to surrender our ‘lolly bags’ after attending parties (they were saved for Christmas, although I don’t suppose we ever ate a whole year’s worth at Christmas … or maybe we did!)
Store-bought peanut butter was one of my favourite things to have as a treat. Mum used to make her own peanut butter, which I found bland and pointless compared to the salty-sweet goodness I’d tried at friend’s houses. One of my friends used to let me eat it by the tablespoonful when we were at her house. I remember eating it really fast in her kitchen, trying to get as much in as possible before my Mum came into the room and caught me. I was probably about 7 or 8 at the time.
Mind you, it wasn’t all homemade bran cake and carob-y treats instead of the junk food kids seem to naturally crave. We did have a bit of a softie in Dad. Mum would give in to the occasional family breaky at McDonalds (I think we even used to go there for Mothers Day breaky; an idea which I find semi-appalling now. Sorry Mum!), and after our annual family holiday to Bright Dad would always announce driving back that the car could ‘smell’ something it wanted and he’d turn toward Ferntree Gully Maccas saying that he had no control over where we were going … it was the best 🙂
We were often buffet-lunch attendees on a Sunday after church, alternating between Sizzler (cheese bread!) and Pizza Hut; where my next-closest sibling would always try to beat his own record at how many slices he could down before needing to throw up and being able to go back for more. After all, why go to a buffet if you weren’t going to take full advantage?
I suppose that buffet lunches were where I was first introduced to the concept of gorging yourself silly, and even the idea of making yourself throw up so that you could then fit more in. It seemed to be the done thing amongst the kids at least; certainly when I was in my early teens. I remember a massive lunch there with about 40 people and my cousin telling me the week before that it was important I didn’t eat anything in the morning, that way I’d be able to fit more in. It didn’t occur to us that we received regular and fairly balanced meals at home anytime we liked. After all – these were treat foods. And so we had to get them in while we could.
I remember my brother and my cousin going off to the bathroom after the first hour or so. When I had to go pee a little later there were chunks of watermelon in the sink. I don’t recall that this had any profound impact on my thought patterns about food, and certainly there was no concept for any of us that we had to look a certain way. The binging was just about the fun of being at an all-you-can-eat and wanting to be able to fit more dessert in! Of course I did recognise that it was odd behaviour, but I guess I thought it made sense just for that occasional purpose.
And I certainly wouldn’t have thought that years later it would be everyday behaviour for me.
I was naturally lean and lanky growing up, even though I truly wasn’t into sports by any means. Actually, and this may surprise you? – I was the academic one. The school nerd or square. I had close friends, but we were definitely not in the cool group. We weren’t absolute outcasts either, but we did keep to ourselves and we mostly excelled in the classroom.
This is an 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.