The Food Prison
I live in a food prison. Food is the pivot around which every day of my life revolves. I must determine, each day, exactly what I am going to eat and exactly when I am going to eat it. If I do not establish this total control each day, then I could descend into the chaos of compulsive eating. There is no middle path. No grey area. Control or chaos are the only alternatives possible. I have lived with this eating disorder throughout the 80 years of my life and now it is time to write about it.
The Food Prison is an examination of the way compulsive eating has dominated every aspect of my life. However, I am not alone. I know several people who are compulsive eaters. This is my story but it could just as easily be theirs or yours.
I call it an ‘eating disorder’ but the word ‘disorder’ seems inadequate. ‘Disorder’ has the connotation of being only a slight problem that could easily be overcome if only one put one’s mind to it. Compulsive eating is much more than that. It is an uncontrollable addiction. In some ways it is similar to an addiction to drugs or alcohol but there is a very significant way in which it is different. Those addictions can be overcome by total withdrawal. People do, quite successfully, give up drugs, give up alcohol and maintain the rejection of their addictions to these substances for the rest of their lives even though I am sure that constant vigilance is needed in order to avoid temptation. Compulsive eaters cannot reject completely the thing they are addicted to. We have to eat food in order to survive – to give up food entirely would mean death. So what we have to do is somehow more difficult. We have to come to terms with our food addiction. We have to find a way through our chaos into some measure of control.
Anorexia nervosa is recognised now as a disease. And rightly so because this eating disorder actually kills people. If starving yourself is seen as an illness then why is stuffing yourself with food simply seen as a ‘disorder’? In our world overeating is almost seen as obscene. The emphasis now on obesity in Western societies can, perhaps, help to focus attention on compulsive eating. Compulsive eaters, unless they are bulimic and vomit up the excessive food they consume, are frequently regarded as gross, greedy, undisciplined human beings who are simply unwilling to follow the constant advice to ‘eat less and exercise more’. We are not that – we are the forgotten, unacknowledged addicts of our society.
Compulsive eating is a luxury problem. Unlike so many unfortunate people on our planet, we are not the victims of starvation. We have the same physiology as our food gathering ancestors. For them it was necessary to overeat in times of plenty in order to build up fat supplies that would enable them to survive periods of time when food was not available. But in our affluent society there is no famine. We have a huge variety of processed, unhealthy foods at our disposal. Manufacturers of such foods deliberately create products that play upon our physiological tendency to overeat and they bombard us with advertisements that tempt us to buy and compulsively eat their products.
I have wanted to write a book about compulsive eating for many years but failed at every attempt to do so because I knew I could not write a self help book that offered a cure. There is no cure. Compulsive eating is an illness that lasts a lifetime and now I realise that it is this that I should write about. I am not obese. I am not fat. I am not overweight and I have, more or less, maintained my present shape for the last 25 years. Gradually, over the years, I have found ways of controlling my eating but the daily task of taking control and avoiding chaos keeps me locked within my food prison.
The Food Prison – Coming 2018
Coins for the Ferryman and other works by Leone Sperling are available now