People who meet me are taken aback if I mention that I am – present tense – a compulsive overeater. “But you’re not fat!” they protest. Yeah, and Joe the alcoholic who hasn’t had a drink in twenty years isn’t drunk, but he’s still an alcoholic.
My last eating binge was over thirty-two years ago. (I’m going to pause for a minute and just breathe that in. I forget sometimes the enormity of it.) I hated my life when the food was out of control. The up-and-down weight was a lot of it (it’s embarrassing to see someone at one size in June and be a whole different size in September), but the real agony was the bondage. There was no freedom in having to turn into a drive-thru when part of me didn’t want to but a stronger part did. I was a slave to trying the next diet just because it was Monday (even though I hated diets and knew they didn’t work).
Fast-forwarding to now, I’ve been free for a really long time. I don’t diet or agonize over food. Sometimes I eat too much but I’m not “going off” of something because there’s nothing to go off of. I look healthy and normal. I am healthy, but I’m not normal. I am, as I said, a compulsive overeater.
Isn’t saying that negative and horrible and inviting disaster? No. For me, knowing who I am and what I am is the path to emancipation. It tells me that I need to take certain actions to maintain the gift I’ve been given. They are, basically:
- Having some kind of spiritual life. I’m no saint, but without contact with a Higher Power, I’d still be looking for God in a bag of Doritos.
- Willingness to help other people with the same problem. I can feel bad for the homeless, the terminally ill, or victims of domestic abuse. But other than giving money, I can’t do anything for them because I don’t truly understand their experience. I do understand hiding food, stealing food, bingeing alone, and hating myself afterwards.
- Eating within some gentle, flexible parameters. For me, that’s (pretty much) three meals a day — if you only start to eat three times, you only have to stop three times — and (pretty much) natural foods – vegan, of course, but that’s for the animals. Anything beyond this gets diet-like and crazy-making.
- Making this about freedom, not about weight. Weight has to do with a variety of factors. People come in different shapes and sizes. In our culture, large people are discriminated against, and so are very thin people who are often accused of having anorexia. I can’t be at peace if I’m obsessing over the size of anybody’s body, including my own.
If I gave up on the simple actions listed above, I’d almost certainly binge again. That’s who I am. I could reject my spiritual life and not turn to drugs or gambling; I don’t relate to those. Cookies, however, I get.
Besides, this a syndrome. Binge eating is just the extreme end of it. When I don’t go to the gym for days (or weeks; it happens), I’m not overeating, but I’m in the syndrome. When I want to stay in and watch TV instead of go out to a networking event, I’m in the syndrome. When I’d rather eat alone than with company — even the most nutritious, moderate, and beautifully balanced meal ever prepared — that’s the syndrome.
As an imperfect person, I dance around with it. I recognize it and, thanks to those actions I’m committed to taking, I haven’t binged and I’ve stayed at a good weight for me. But that’s not the point. I’m a compulsive overeater. That fact will remain as long as I live in this body and have this brain. I used to think it was curse. Now I know that it’s a gateway: to understanding myself, depending on a Higher Power, and being of some use in the world.
Victoria Moran is the author of twelve books, director of Main Street Vegan Academy, and host of the Main Street Vegan Podcast. She has been vegan since 1983. Current projects include producing the upcoming documentary, The Compassion Project, a film to interest religious and spiritual people in the vegan lifestyle; a one-woman show about her life and vegan journey, The Making of a Main Street Vegan; and writing A Coach in Your Kitchen: The Complete Main Street Vegan Academy Cookbook and Lifestyle Guide, with co-author JL Fields and contributions from the graduate coaches of Main Street Vegan Academy. This book will be published by BenBella in January 2018.