Bingeing to swallow grief: The frozen chocolate cake

February 24, 2016

Most binge eating patterns develop to stuff feelings and thoughts.  This was certainly true for me:  Grief, fear, anxiety, shame, sadness, anger, confusion, lost-ness, isolation, all got stuffed away as the effects of the food took over my body, mind, and heart.  At least temporarily.


When I think about when bingeing started for me, I remember the freezer in our house after my mother died when I was in eighth grade.  There was an outpouring of generosity for my father and me in the form of gifts of food.  All kinds of meals and desserts came streaming into our house.  For some reason, there was a lot of chocolate cake. Most of these gifts went straight into that big white box.  


No one talked to me about my mother’s death and what her absence would mean for me and my life.  They just brought more and more chocolate cake.  


I would go down to the freezer and examine all the gifts.  My father was in deep grief and worked a lot, and didn’t really pay attention to the contents of the freezer, leaving it to me to select, thaw, and cook dinner from the various options, and keep a constant plate of cookies, sweet breads and other confections on the kitchen counter.  


But the chocolate cake was what called to me, and I kept that for myself.  I liked eating it frozen, for some reason.  I wouldn’t even bring it upstairs, I would just stay in the basement, where we had a TV room, and enjoy the cool texture, the sensations, the carb, sugar and fat hits that came pretty fast, and the distraction it gave me from the grief I didn’t know how to process.


In four months I gained 20 pounds, and my dad’s ire.  My father was all about appearance.  As the youngest daughter and only remaining child at home, the only thing he really said to me after Mom died was, “don’t do anything to embarrass me.”  My weight gain was apparently going against that mandate.  I was a good student, never got in trouble (despite drinking plenty in high school), so the additional weight became his unrelenting focus.  


He would say mean things, believing that would motivate me to lose weight.  I would go to the basement and dig ever deeper into the freezer to find more chocolate cake, and eat it.  I didn’t understand spiting him in this way was only creating an unhealthy, hurtful pattern for myself.  I just sought the brief escape from my feelings, and didn’t notice that it took more and more cake to get the same numbing result.  


I especially took satisfaction from being able to silently conduct my basement binges when he was home and unaware I was engaging in behavior he opposed.  It morphed over into my pleasure at developing my stealth ability to take cookies from the cookie tin in the kitchen while he was in the next room, unaware.  If he had heard or known, there would have been yelling and shaming, so I was quite proud of myself, and my new clandestine, tactical skill; it felt powerful to have something he couldn’t control.  


I don’t remember when the frozen chocolate cake ran out.  It didn’t matter.  I baked my own, along with lots of other goodies; my father, despite his rantings about my weight, loved my baking and encouraged it… interesting, yes?  The patterns had been established, the grief was stuffed, we settled into our battles about my weight, and life went on.  I had begun earning money from babysitting around age 12, had my first job by 15, and quickly spent my earnings on the foods I needed to keep my feelings and fears at bay. 


By the time I got to college, I weighed 190 pounds.  


Bingeing in isolation, and at times with friends in that sanctioned social overeating way that sadly is part of our culture, became my way of life, and over time my weight yo-yo-ed up and down, but mostly up and up.  


My first semester of college I enjoyed my newfound freedom and began smoking (well, I had my first cigarette at 12, and smoked plenty at parties in high school, to be honest; it was easy to buy them, and they were cheap back then).  I easily dropped 40 pounds by Christmas.  Then friends who didn’t smoke pressured me to cut back, so I did, returning to my high school pattern of only smoking at parties, and the bingeing returned and the weight began creeping back up.  



Bingeing to stuff feelings creates a vicious cycle.  The resulting shame and self-loathing post-binge is debilitating.  I was able to stop my habit for periods of time through concerted effort.  I did get counseling for my grief.  It was then I really understood the anger underlying it, the rage I had about losing my mother and what felt like my family, the fear I had about my father’s anger and depression, and how dulling it with overeating was my solution for feeling somehow safe and in control, despite what it ultimately, negatively, created for me.



I can look at chocolate cake, and all my past binge foods of choice, dispassionately now, thankfully.  I was able to come to this place over a long period of time, after learning how to let my feelings come full on, and most importantly, let them pass; being coached on my thoughts and beliefs, and learning I could change them was a life-changing event for me.  It was surprising how quickly they actually left when I didn’t hold onto them, when I learned to acknowledge them and let them go, whereas I used to chew on them literally so as to make them a literal part of me.  It was even more startling to realize I actually liked and loved myself, and could take care of myself in positive ways, and how wonderful life was when this became the norm.


I can look at my younger self, and my father, with great compassion now.  I can even thank chocolate cake when I see it for helping me when I didn’t know how else to get help, when I didn’t know self-compassion even existed and was the antidote for grief, and, well, everything difficult in my life.  


I recently had some frozen chocolate cake for the first time in years, and I could feel my inner younger self that is still very present briefly enjoy it, and tell me she didn’t need it anymore.  The flood of compassion from that feeling and realization has healed me further and beyond measure.   



If you or someone you know struggles with overeating or low self-worth and wants instead to live the healthy life you’ve dreamt of, please visit my website to learn about my coaching. - I’ve dropped more than 130 pounds and want to help others pound by pound to a self and life they love.


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