Eating to harm myself

    The last time I wrote in this column (page 20, 25 November 2004) I
    was going through an anorexic phase. I was eating a low calorie
    diet and exercising compulsively. This pattern gave way to
    uncontrolled binge eating.

    It started with an extra two or three bowls of cereal in the
    morning. Then no food was off limits and I ate chocolate, biscuits
    and crisps continually. The escalation of my bingeing and the
    suicidal feelings it caused resulted in a hospital admission that
    lasted five weeks. My life had become chaotic. I would not wash and
    my flat was untidy. I started cutting myself, moving from my arms
    to my legs. I was eating even more to give myself the courage to
    cut and to soothe myself once it was over.

    Hospital is the worst environment to be in when bingeing. Food I
    usually denied myself was readily available. I’d consume large
    quantities of food – up to 1,000 calories at once – in a short
    space of time. Satiation and appetite did not come into it. I was
    swallowing my feelings of unhappiness and despair. I wanted my
    stomach to hurt and be bloated; it was another form of
    self-punishment. Unlike those with bulimia I did not make myself
    sick.

    My weight gain was rapid, up to half a stone each week. Sometimes I
    did not care that I was piling on weight. It seemed like more of a
    challenge to lose it afterwards. I overdosed on antipsychotic
    tablets while on the ward to communicate how desperate I was over
    my bingeing.

    The staff on the ward did not do enough to help me with my
    bingeing; I had no one-to-one sessions with anyone. Staff were only
    concerned I was eating meals like other patients – in fact I was
    asking for seconds but no one said anything. The care plan I had
    made with staff stated I should not go in the kitchen. But all they
    did was to tell me that I was not keeping to it. They did not
    understand I felt compelled to eat.

    My bingeing is linked with my cutting. I cut more when I do not
    binge. But when I am bingeing I feel like harming myself out of
    guilt. Bingeing gives a similar feeling of release to cutting. It
    blocks out the emotional pain for a few moments. Tasting something
    distracts me from my own issues though frequently I eat so quickly
    I do not taste it. Sometimes it does not matter what the food is, I
    just need to cram in as much as possible as though I am about to
    starve. After a day of bingeing I think I’ll eat nothing tomorrow
    but find myself in the same cycle the next day.

    What I need from health and social care staff is someone to talk to
    about the urges to binge. Having been discharged from hospital I am
    now bingeing on healthier foods such as fruit. I am also being
    referred to a dietician. I have stopped cutting so that I only have
    my eating problems to deal with.

    Alex Williams is a mental health service user and a
    volunteer

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