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When Food Is The Enemy: A Lifelong Struggle With An Eating Disorder

Updated on January 13, 2018
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Recently diagnosed with anxiety and depression, Jennifer Branton is using writing about her struggles highly therapeutic.

Something To Control

I didn't realize it as a child, but I was looking for something to have control over and the simplest was my eating disorder.

Victim to an unhappy childhood filled with chaos from my parents turbulent relationship with each other. I spent most of my time, when I could as far away from them as possible playing outside or with my grandparents. Going home was a punishment and I never really felt safe there, unsure of how my dad's current moods would impact the rest of the family.

There were two moods really: the ignoring everyone and grumbling to himself, which the one that he clung to at the end of his lifetime and the screaming, swearing at you throwing things mood that was most prevalent in my younger days. I felt from the time that I was little something was not right about the situation. My mother, too passive and self centered to care much about anything but her own work and social life never really stood up to my father during his tantrums rather plopping herself down at the dinner table and continuing to slice the ham or whatever we were eating to block out the craziness.

After years of being exposed to this situation night after night, I started to avoid eating all together when I could help it, being grounded to the table until I finished my plate as if my parents couldn't see that it was their out of control behavior that left me nervous and without appetite.

Until I finished my plate, I was not allowed to leave often resorting to dropping food on the floor to feed the family dog, or if they left the room to continue their arguments and insanity elsewhere, scraping my plate into the potted plants.

Only my hiding food in the plants because recognized after the smell of rotted food began to take over the dining room. Sometimes sitting at the table for an hour or more after dinner, I started to devise other strategies including silently taking the screens out of the windows and dumping my plate outside until food started to be found in the gas. For a time too I started to dump my plate into the floor vents as the covers weren't screwed in properly and could be popped using a fork or knife but the smell of decayed food was back, only the couldn't tell where it was coming from.

Furious, I was now under guard when I had a plate and forced to eat every last bite before I was allowed out of the dining room. Without appetite and ignoring whatever arguing or things being slammed around elsewhere in the house, I would gorge myself with dinner but I would feel sick to my stomach the second I finished my plate. Realizing one night that as soon as I ate my food, everyone seemed to lose all interest in me, I ate my food as fast as I could to be dismissed.

The nausea quickly filled my stomach and I retreated to the upstairs bathroom and vomited.

I don't know what began the behavior from there, but every night from the age of about eight on, I would eat dinner as quickly as I could and find a place to vomit immediately after.


I didn't realize from an early age my eating disorder was something to have control over when the rest of my life was in tatters.

Hiding The Truth

Perhaps it was the lack of caring parental units in the picture, but at first I had no troubles hiding what I was doing. It was just whatever meals I was having in the house and I was still, for the most part eating my school lunches unless I didn't like what was in my lunch bag.

If it was summer and I could still go out and play after a meal, I would wait until I got outside and make myself throw up behind the house, forcing a few tiny fingers down my throat like I had heard about on some television show.

I didn't realize what I was doing had anything to do with an eating disorder, I just felt like out of nervousness I couldn't keep the food in. In the winter months though, I had manged to perfect a nearly silent throwing up.

I didn't realize that anyone knew about my behavior. I had hidden it so well, until my grandmother confronted me saying that she had already told my parents I had to go to the hospital if I didn't stop doing this.

I was always a skinny kid, and I wasn't losing any weight so I'm not sure how my grandmother knew. Thinking back it was probably how I was now in the habit of getting up and going to the bathroom during meals- especially if at at someone else's home or if we went out to eat somewhere so my parents couldn't force me to stay at the table.

Oddly, the treat of going to the hospital didn't really seem to bother my parents, maybe they were figuring that it would be something my grandparents would have to deal with and not them.

I don't ever recall having a conversation with them about how serious the situation was.

By the time I was about ten or eleven, I suddenly stopped the behavior out of nowhere without an explanation.

I still wasn't eating normally and had a very small portion at every meal. I refused to eat any sort of meat, fast food, or vegetable. The things I did like like cereal or fruit, I would only eat a few bites and be full for a few hours and then eat something else small like a piece of toast.

As long as I was eating something, no one questioned me.

As long as I was eating something, no one questioned me.

Teenage Vegetarian

In high school I had hardly weighed a hundred pounds, but I was always thin so no one seemed to think much of it. I had decided due to the lack of wanting to eat anything that weighed heavily in my stomach, I was still eating mostly fruit, little things like yogurt, or snacks rather than actual meals.

Somewhere around junior year of high school school bullying had been an issue again as it had been during various parts of my childhood and I began making myself puke in the bathrooms during school lunch hour. I remember the thought process was to punish myself for all the things I seemed to do wrong. I had to outwardly be doing something to make all these people around me hate me so much. If my own family didn't even like me, why would the kids at school have a different opinion?

I had a job after school so I always had a little spending money so I started to experiment with what I could eat to keep myself going but not put on any weight. Although I still hadn't experienced any weight gain, I was afraid to make any changes to my outward appearance since my grandmother's earlier threat that had never taken place. Since she passed away, I doubted anyone else would have made me go to a hospital, but I wasn't taking any chances either.

Without any basic knowledge on what was a proper caloric intake, I had decided upon about four hundred calories a day since that seemed like a lot considering some research had said something like a fast food hamburger could often be a few hundred.

It was stocking shelves at work that gave me my newest food fixation and on pay day I went down to another store where there was little chance of running into anyone that I knew and filled the shopping cart.


I thought about four hundred calories a day sounded like a big enough number considering that something like a fast food cheeseburger was said to be a few hundred.

The Baby Food Diet

In all honesty, I was lucky that I am actually still alive or haven't done permanent damage to my body thinking back on my relationship with food. In a way, I have as I still do strange things like not eat in front of people until I am totally comfortable with them, or scout out the locations of bathrooms for an old time sake bout of bulimia if something makes me uncomfortable.

By college, I had taken up my baby food diet a few times already and I had convinced myself that it was so healthy I had actually shared my research with some other girls I knew. Although they thought the calories were a little low and some amended the amount they ate, the feedback only seemed to encourage me that I was really onto something genius.

Baby food came in a few forms depending on the stage of the child involved. Obviously as an adult, I was free to pick and choose from all the assortments. I liked the fruit blends and purees as they weren't more than maybe thirty calories a jar so I could polish off two jars of a desert or fruit in the same meal and be somewhat full in under a hundred calories when fools were eating over a thousand in a single sitting of real food. A few of those hard biscuit cookies were another ten calories or so a piece. The baby assortment of apple juice was much lower calories and sugars, and I stayed away from anything that had vegetables and meat in it, although in social situations I was known to have the occasional meat as a pizza topping. Talk about hypocritical, but I would usually end up purging at some point after consumption out of guilt.

Eating baby food in college was simple to toss a few jars in my backpack, and if I peeled off the labels it looked as if I had re-purposed tiny usable containers to spoon out pudding, not feeling out of place on a college student budget.

I remember my stomach was often churning and a lot of feeling light headed, but I never passed out somehow. I was getting enough food in, especially in those social situations where I was forced to eat actual food in polite company.

The friends I had shared the diet with also had no ill effects strangely even though now as an adult I understand just how dangerous the entire experiment was.


Currently Stable

I have had therapy for the stress and anxiety but actually never my eating disorder which seems to come and go throughout my lifetime. Under its own accord, depending on what is going on in my life, it seems to go into remission for periods of time without any reason to why.

Now in what should be the happiest period of my life: married, in my own home, working towards a new career; I still get into a slump where the outside factors are compounding and the only control I can have is what I do and don't put into my body.

There has been a few times in the last year where for whatever reason I have been compelled to make myself throw up in situations of extreme stress. It isn't often, as panic attacks seem to be the newest manifestation of my anxiety, but there are still those moments and it scares me.

I don't think I could ever let myself get back allowing this to become a normal routine and hid from my husband that I went back to eating baby food for a period of time, but I don't know sometimes why it feels like this is the only thing I can have control over.

I'm working on trying to find positive expression for when I feel any symptoms creeping, lately trying to write about the experiences I have had with mental illness. Not everyone will be able to relate and that is actually OK. If there is just one person that is inspired to get treatment after hearing about the hardship that I and countless others out there write about, then it was worth blowing some cobwebs off past events.

I have realized when I got older that the things I experienced with my family were not normal and that for whatever reason, whatever was wrong with my parents, they were not able to get help for the conditions they had and that is what led me to my own hardships. It isn't anyone's fault and I actually don't blame them anymore.

To live the best life I can live with my husband's backing, I need to get seeing my therapist and get a handle on all this. If I feel myself slipping, I need to recognize that and tell someone.

I noticed I have been picky about food again, not to the point of throwing up but refusing to eat various things lately so it may be time to reexamine those thoughts again and stop the behavior before it comes back around.


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