Emotional Eating and BPD
A Londoner, living in the North of England with my husband and two young children. I am a 30-something Freelance Writer and lead a busy, busy life. Oh, and I also have Borderline Personality Disorder.
On Twitter as @sjmyles.
On Jottify: http://jottify.com/writer/smyles/
As a child, I began experiencing what I now know to be compulsive eating, which would manifest as an emotional response.
At meal times, I had a compulsion to eat until I was physically uncomfortable (which sounds unbelievably vulgar to me even now, as I’m writing this), which was compounded by the fact that I had to eat very quickly because I was terrified of being alone (the last one at the table).
In between meals, I experienced such strong compulsions to eat that I felt I had no control over my own appetite. I vividly recall my mind actually being filled only with food (crisps, ice cream, bread, cheese – whatever I was craving at the time) and being able to literally think of nothing else. In early teenage, I would get up through the night and make myself burgers with all the trimmings – even though I had spent the day over-eating. It was exactly the same sensation that I feel when I am compelled to wash my hands – I simply could not function in any way until I had filled that craving.
As a result, by the age of 16, I was wearing size 18-20 clothes, and was steeped in the shame and self-loathing that goes along with over-eating. I was also terrified by all of my various compulsive behaviours – including the eating – because it all felt like it was out of my control.
At age 18, I swung to the other extreme and stopped eating altogether. My weight plummeted and I went from wearing size 18-20 clothes to a size 10 in less than three months. Despite the rapid weight-loss, I was still deeply unhappy with my appearance, and was unable to eat in front of people. By age 19, however, I had settled with a new social group that gave me a sense of acceptance for the first time ever (in fact, fast forward 15 years and one of these friends is now my husband). Gradually, my eating habits levelled out to something resembling an ‘average’, as opposed to extremes of over-eating, or not eating at all.
As with all of my compulsive behaviours, the emotional eating comes and goes with my associated stress levels. When I am experiencing emotional difficulty, I over-eat. I never really specifically addressed this with my psychotherapist during my course of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, because the subject causes me far greater shame than the other behaviours, but it makes sense to me to explain it as a compulsion. It’s an externalisation of emotional distress because, with BPD, I am unable to process those emotions in a healthy, productive way inside. It’s also a destructive behaviour, because it pushes me further down the spiral of low mood and self-hatred (apart from the physical damage that bad diet and extreme eating does). Interestingly, it also seems to feed into periods of dissociation, making me feel like some kind of hideous mutant that is somehow removed from society and everyone in it. It accentuates the hallmark BPD sensation of isolation – being separate and entirely disconnected from the world.
These days, I spot it happening just like the other compulsive behaviours and, just like the others, it’s very difficult to slam on the brakes in a measured way. The extreme reaction is to stop eating altogether, but with some concentrated effort, I reduce that to an awareness of calorie consumption. By focussing on calorie content for a period of time, I feel in control of my appetite, and am reassured to be ‘working within a structure’. This sounds like I am simply substituting one compulsive behaviour with another – which is true – but crucially, one is far less physically and psychologically damaging than the other, and with chronic mental health problems, the trick is to manage the condition to improve quality of life. As ever, it is balance I am striving for.