But I never considered this unhealthy relationship as an eating disorder. Eating disorders were anorexia and bulimia. I had seen the after school specials. Later, in women's studies classes, I saw the documentaries--girls and women starving themselves and/or expunging food from their bodies. It was a matter of control, the analysts argued. Under the thumb of overbearing parents, under the shadow of the thin sister, one's own body is the only thing she can control. But anorexia and bulimia are different and there are all sorts of combinations and shades and methods and reasons for such behavior. And sometimes such behavior is not about being acetic; it's an obsessive compulsion. It's not simply about those numbers on the scale. The problems go deeper.
Food is something I can control. In theory. I can decide when to eat, where to eat, and what to eat. But, I can't control myself when it comes to food. I love it too much. And, at times, it substitutes for all sorts of different things including those things I can't control and those things that none of us can control. But mostly, overeating is an unconscious act. And this is yet another problem that plagues the U.S.; we are unconscious in so many things we do. Eating is only one such manifestation. Eating junk is only one thing that is pounded into our heads by media and culture. It's easy to choose not to think too much. The bag is full. pop another one in your mouth.
It's become common knowledge in the last few years that a variety of eating disorders plague the U.S. Statistics about the number of children who think they are fat or who are on diets reflects our culture back to us. For instance, Miss Representation offers the fact: "80% of 10-year-old American girls say they have been on a diet. The number one magic wish for young girls age 11-17 is to be thinner." With the highest rates of obesity and morbid obesity in the world, it is obvious that overeating is becoming more visible as a problem. But this isn't simply about overeating. It's also about health care, poverty, inequality, globalization, education, media, and food security and insecurity. These are complex problems undercut by a billion dollar diet industry, a billion dollar fitness industry, and a load of misinformation and misunderstanding. Where do we begin to sort it all out? And once we do, are our choices that much different?
Recently, I decided that it was time to get perspective on my eating disorder--my compulsive overeating, my binging without purging. When I mentioned the problem to my mother, and said that I was considering seeing a counselor, she confessed that she had talked to a counselor about her issues with bulimia. I was stunned, saddened. I couldn't ask for further details; I didn't know what to say. But it made sense. She was dealing with issues passed down from her parents that were modeled for me so that I was dealing with issues from my parents. And both of us were trapped in a culture that values thinness while also being trapped in a body that prefers soft curves. The issues compounded. And they were weighing me down.
The problems we pass down from generation to generation are weighing on us as a nation. We choose not to question too much what we put in our bodies, just as we choose not to question too much of what we put in our minds. In both cases, our choices are limited, passed down to us by those who have chosen not to witness the corporate take-over of farms, the consolidation of media outlets, the genetic engineering of grains and corn, the surgical and photographic manipulation of bodies and images, the over-fishing of our seas, the mass inundation of technological gadgets, the medicating of our cattle, the medicating of ourselves. These are problems that have compounded and these problems continue to grow. The scales are tipping.
There is no easy fix. I will always struggle with eating only as much as my body needs. Such a relationship with food requires mindfulness, conscious eating, letting go of control, and working out other kinds of problems. It requires breaking old patterns of thinking and unconscious action. This is not the path to healing that our culture models for us. Quick fixes and miracle cures are what we seem to be about. Or we ignore the problem, hoping it will go away. We cover it up with baggy clothes, convince ourselves that we are bloated, swear we'll go to the gym after work. We figure we'll start that diet next week, next month, next year. But we don't often turn to mindfulness, to a conscious relationship with what we take into our bodies or minds out of habit, ignorance, or hopefulness.
When the binging is over, purging is not the only useful method. Before or after the purge, we have to figure out how we got full in the first place.