When I was about 8, I began to put on weight. I went from being a child whose rib bones were always visible to a porky year 5 kid with a tyre around his belly. We attribute it now, in a rather funny way, to the hazelnut and chocolate cluster cereal we used to buy. Portion control seemingly went out of the window, as my parents willingly encouraged me to fill a large bowl to the brim and top it off with blue-lid milk, and as I begged for more of this addictive sweet treat. A harmless start to the day, you might think. Every child loves choccy.
However, the reality of that weight gain has become, and remains, a painful struggle with which I begin and end every day. Still, at the ripe old age of 21, my body is a bitter reminder of my inability to control my food intake. Throughout my teenage years, I now brag, I ate 7 ‘meals’ a day – 4 of which were bizarre binges. It was only in private that my lack of self-control could be exhibited; the cantine workers merely smiled when I came over, calling me a “hungry growing lad”. My binges would be concentrated, exclusively, on sweet and fatty treats. Blueberry muffins, soreen malt loaf with lashings of butter and chocolate bars were my three principal vices, from which separation increasingly felt impossible until the age of 18.
Slowly, as the years went on, food became one of the only things I could think about. I became an adept cook. I also became rather darkly obsessed with Man vs Food, a show which taught me that mass-eating could be seen as a positive challenge. Maybe America would be my new haven. In the short term, however, there was but one thing on my mind: how would I get my next fix?
I cannot say I was unhappy as a child. I had the best days of my life at school. Still, I was addicted to food – and every addiction tells a story. Many people have told me it was because I was (until the age of 16) closeted.
It is debatable what the exact cause of my sadness was; I personally think it had a lot more to do with the extreme and intense isolation I felt during puberty, those years when your sex drive goes a bit wild. Early attempts to watch gay pornography told me that sex was for people whose bodies were not my own; the fact I knew no gay people at all only seemed to confirm this myth, as if I was closed off from the (what I later learnt to be at times banal, and at others thoroughly unpleasant) world of sex.
I have written this article in a past tense which belies all truth about my eating disorder; I still suffer it daily. When I was 18, I decided to “put a stop to it”. I went on a crash diet of my own design (you can almost certainly still find disgusting pictures of lentils and carrots on my Twitter feed under the hashtag “#jonnysdiet”) and did succeed in losing about 2 stone, which, for the most part I have kept off. This helped my confidence a lot. To look at me, you certainly would not think I had an eating problem: it is important to remember that eating disorders are largely invisible disabilities. For me, compulsive overeating can be debilitating and lead to bouts of serious anxiety. However, for many it remains a somewhat funny joke. When talking about eating disorders, compulsive overeaters are largely a silent and ignored community. In fact, if I asked you to name a celebrity who suffers eith compulsive overeating, you would almost certainly only be able to name Victoria Wood, who has emotionally talked about her own struggles with food addiction. It is just that: addiction. Other sufferers I know have embarked on the Overeaters’ Anonymous coursem, a twelve step programme which takes its inspiration from AA. I have learnt to deal with my own; through enforced periods of very healthy eating, I am allowed to exercise some control and the effect of the binges on my body is reduced. I have also turned away from sweet and sugary foods to dairy fats and protein sources in an attempt to reduce the impact on my body.
This disorder with which I suffer not only wreaks havoc on my body but lingers in the pernicious voice I hear in my head when I try on new clothing and look in the mirror: “this outfit is not for you”, it tells me.
Why don’t I just give it up? Get help? Food is not something you can simply cut out. Three times a day I have to battle my addiction. Not to battle would be to lose or to starve. Neither option appeals. The effects of food leave me deeply unhappy at times, desperate to be beautiful in a body I will never believe to be so, no matter how much you tell me it is. Yet, food remains my crutch and at times my obsession; is it any wonder that if you, dear reader, search this website, you will find me editing a page of my own. That page happens to be entitled “Food and Drink”.