As promised in my article “One Man’s Battle With Bulimia: An Article Discussion” here’s my article about my relationship with food, I hope you’ll find it interesting and be inspired to talk about your own eating disorders, as well as seek proper support for it.
I’ve always had a pretty weird relationship with food, I grew up in a poor single-parent family in the 80s and 90s, so food choice was slim. We were lucky though, my grandad would cycle to our house and drop off a supply of vegetables he’d grown in his garden every week.
Unfortunately for me, my mum would boil the flavour out of the vegetables and would always serve them with fish fingers, and I mean always: this would be my dinner, every, single, day. After years and years of this, I started to hate the taste of fish: I’ve rarely eaten fish since because of this. I truly hate seafood. This was a factor in my unhealthy relationship with food.
This wasn’t the only food I’ve fallen out of love with, as I’ve always been a picky eater. Before I started my first year at Primary school I use to love cheese, I would literally walk around with a huge block of cheese and eat it like it was chocolate, a full 400g block.
By the time I started primary school, I’d stopped liking cheese, and I was caught, and punished, at 5 years of age, for trying to sell my cheese sandwiches: because I no longer liked cheese. I didn’t even eat pizza for the first time until I did a cooking class at high school in my early teens: pizza is fantastic. My fluctuating tastes in food has been an ongoing issue in my relationship with food.
When I was at my primary school, due to us being poor, I got free school meals (had free school meals throughout my education), so I was expected to eat said free school meals. The problem was my tastes would change a lot and I was a very picky eater, it got so bad that a dinner lady would sit with me through my dinner breaks to try and make me eat my free school dinners, often resorting to force-feeding me. That certainly didn’t help with my relationship with food.
My mum also used to have similar problems with trying to get me to drink milk, I hated the taste of milk, which she wanted me to drink as I was growing up in order to have strong bones. I’d often be stuck in a standoff with her over getting me to drink a glass of milk. Eventually, she tired of these standoffs and found another way to get milk into my diet. This was achieved by making semolina with milk and allowing me to add a lot of sugar or jam to it.
Being force-fed food at school wasn’t the only time someone had tried to force-feed me either. When I was a Cub (Cub Scout) on a camping trip we were served a standard fry-up breakfast, but at the time I didn’t like bacon (crazy right?) or baked beans, so I was trying to exchange them with the other kids for sausages or fried bread instead, which I did like.
But for some reason, the people chaperoning the trip didn’t like what I was doing and instead decided to force-feed me the bacon and baked beans. God knows why I couldn’t just switch my bacon for sausages or why they wouldn’t just swap the stuff over themselves, I guess they just wanted to fuck with me.
It was more than a decade before I ever ate bacon again, and I’ve never eaten baked beans since that incident: the sight, touch, and smell of them for a long time would trigger a feeling of nausea. I use to hate smelling them when my mum made them for herself or when they’d touch my fingers when I was washing the dishes.
This triggered response even spread, to a lesser extent, to other types of beans, so I wouldn’t eat anything with any beans in it, unless it had been blended into a paste and mixed in. Now I can eat other beans in their non-blended bean state, although I’m still not a fan of their texture in my mouth as I bite into them. So my relationship with food goes beyond just the taste.
Up until this point, I’d only avoided eating because the food available was food I really disliked, but in high school, things started to change. I got into a fight, and then after that one had finished I was jumped by three of his friends (all race-motivated incidents) which left a mark on my psyche, due to it causing some anxiety problems. Because of this, I would often skip getting my free school meals to avoid being caught out on my own again and thus would have to suffer from being hungry.
It wasn’t until my early 20s before I properly started to starve myself intentionally, whereby I would spend the day in bed not eating and only drinking water to reduce the feeling of hunger. This was a period of time when I was highly suicidal, self-harming, and starting to suffer from anxiety disorders with emerging hallucinations that would change my life forever.
I’d do this starvation thing fairly often, especially at the weekend when I would be going out drinking, so on a Friday and Saturday I’d rarely ever eat, all I would do is drink. This practice of not eating if I was going to be going out drinking and clubbing only stopped a couple of years ago (in my mid-30s), and that only happened because I stopped going out, rather than me realising it was a really unhealthy thing to do. But it kept me skinny, because I’d drunk dance my ass off all night, sweating buckets.
During the week, when I wasn’t doing anything, I did, and still do, try to wait as late as possible to have my first meal of the day, not eating until 1400-18.00 most of the time. This has become increasingly difficult since I started developing dizziness problems, foggy thinking, balance problems, muscle weakness, nausea, and mini-blackouts, which appear to be caused by an autonomic disorder I’ve recently been diagnosed with (took 11 years of seeking help to reach this point, as my symptoms got worse and worse until my heart started to beat irregularly, then they started taking me seriously).
Since these problems arose it’s been very difficult to starve myself as I had done in the past, I can’t skip eating for a whole day drinking only water anymore because feeling hungry magnifies all the dizziness and other symptoms, which is an extremely unpleasant experience. And once I’ve had my first meal of the day, I normally then have to eat every four hours in order to keep these symptoms at a manageable level, which has only fuelled my reason to eat my first meal as late as possible on the days I’m doing nothing at home.
However, during the last six years or so I’d unintentionally caused myself to become a comfort eater. I was having a lot of breakdowns caused by people always letting me down on our night out plans at the weekend: this was when I still needed to socialise at least once a week in order to go out and drunk dance my heart out so I could avoid spiralling into a suicidal depression if I didn’t do that.
Once I decided I’d had enough of this situation with my flaky “friends” I chose to do something to combat this socialising need that was causing me nothing but pain. So I decided instead of going out to spend £80-100 in a night while I starved myself for most of the week in order to afford it by keeping my food bill as low as possible (this also included me starving myself completely on the day I planned to go out and get my drunk dancing on).
I would instead stay at home and reward myself with nice food, like a curry from the takeaway, chocolate, and a big bottle of soft drink, rather than planning to go out. Thus, mitigating my overwhelming need to go out and get drunk in order to function for the week ahead through the use of tasty rewarding things.
However, before I knew it, I had created a comfort eating behaviour that still remains a problem for me.
Once my heart problems started which lead to my autonomic disorder diagnosis, I had to leave my two volunteer jobs, meaning I had nothing but free time and an inability to do even the smallest amounts of exercise, resulting in me doubling down on my comfort eating, meaning I now fluctuate between starving and binge eating. Some days I’ll only eat once during the day, but I’ll eat enough calories for two days in that one “meal” and as a result of all this, I’ve actually put on weight for the first time since I was 16, a staggering three stones in as many years.
On top of that, my depression means I have little to no motivation to cook properly, so it’s always quick and unhealthy food. I also have this weird thing where I can suddenly go off certain foods, stopping me from physically being able to swallow them. But that’s not the worse thing that happens, the worst thing that can happen to me at the moment is when I feel hungry all my symptoms associated with my autonomic disorder get worse (that’s normally my the cue to eat when my symptoms suddenly get worse than my body is hungry, as eating reduces the severity).
In rare instances I’ll feel so ill I’ll feel like I’m going to pass out, I’ll start to burn up, and struggle to do anything, leaving me with an extreme need to eat something fast as these feelings kickstart an anxiety response as well. I normally have to get something from a nearby fast food place or shop in order to recover as quickly as possible.
My main problem at the moment is I don’t do enough to burn the calories I consume, and I don’t know how best to overcome that when my depression demotivates me, my physical health problem makes it extremely unpleasant and difficult to do even basic exercise, I rarely like the food which would be healthy for me, I’m on benefits so money is tight, and I have a problem with comfort eating: I’m basically just a couch potato now.
The worse part is, whenever I brought up my eating issues with a psychiatrist or a therapist, it was brushed off. I’ve not had the best experience with getting help from my mental health trust, I even had to start a complaint about my trust that dragged on for three years in order to try and get the treatment I desperately needed, but I’ll save that experience for another time.
So there it is, that’s the breakdown of my weird relationship with food, I hope it makes sense to you guys reading it because it obviously makes sense to me because it’s my situation. If you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comment section below and I’ll do my best to answer them.
Although I’m still suffering from my eating problems, and probably always will, I am currently in a better patch with my eating with eating healthier and I hope it’ll last: depression allowing. I know it makes me a bit of a hypocrite for suggesting you seek help if you are, or believe you might be, suffering from an eating disorder, but trust me when I say this, the earlier you get the support you need for your eating disorder the better it’ll be for your health.
As always, leave your feedback in the comments section below. Also, feel free to share your experiences with eating and eating disorders in the comments section below as well. If you want to stay up-to-date with my blog, then sign up for my newsletter below. Alternatively, get push notifications for new articles by clicking the red bell icon in the bottom right corner.
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Unwanted Life readers.
Relationship With Food: Support
16 thoughts on “Did Poor Mental Health Cause My Unhealthy Relationship With Food?”
This is a really insightful post about the complicated link between mental health and food. Thank you for sharing, I’m sure your journey will help others
I hope so
Ooh, this was painful to read. There’s a discussion being had with regards mental health and our relationship with food. You’ve certainly been able to identify the when and where in your life that had an effect. Here’s hoping your on your way to beating this!
I’m finally on a waiting list at an eating disorders clinic, so hopefully progress will be made around this
I do believe that mental health gives us unhealthy eating habits. Even I also like to munch of junk food every time I’m feeling stress. I even eat more than usual and of course…… gain weight. Ahaha.
And in doing so, we often feel worse and eat more as a result
This was very informative and also very sad to read, mostly about what you have been through when you were in school! Thank you for sharing your experience, I am sure it will help a lot of people and truly hope you get all the support you need!
Thank you. I’m currently on an 8 month waiting list for an eating disorder assessment
I grew up poor and eating the same thing every day too. My meal was processed cheese, mustard, and white bread sandwiches though, and I still won’t eat anything similar to this day. It’s unhealthy and just gross.
Oh wow, having that sandwich day in day out would be bleak
It’s unfortunate how food can be a trigger in mental health. Especially when we are young, habits are being formed. I’m very sorry to hear your experience but I’m also very thankful for your vulnerability and honesty. There are many unfortunately who endure difficult experiences similar to this and I’m glad you were determined and able to find help and support. Thank you for sharing.
Thanks for commenting
Devastated to hear of your struggles, but heartened to know you have sat down and written about the ways childhood experiences and life choices have changed who you are to this day. So many people, because of their life choices, can barely afford Mcdonald’s and too many of their kids end up in the same cycles. Love that you explore links between mental health and how food can make us feel good.
Thanks for sharing!
Trauma can really mess people up that can cause not only them, but their family as well, to be trapped in a spiral of despair
The relationship with food gets even more challenging when there are other physical health problems & social challenges. I admire you for being so honest about your struggles – hopefully this will help others & shine more light on this difficult topic. As someone who has struggled with an eating disorder & physical gastrointestinal diseases, I know how hard it can be to balance physical & mental health. I’m here for you if you ever need someone to talk to.
Thank you and thank you for sharing your experience ?