My novel, The Exclusives, is a psychological thriller set in an all girls’ boarding school. I boarded, and when I was at school, anorexia was rife. The teachers tried to combat this by using a card system when students went in and out of the dining room for meal-times.
We’d pick up a piece of paper with our name on it when we went through to get our food. We’d then show it to the teacher on duty and place it back into a pigeon hole after we’d finished eating. That way, the housemistresses could monitor who hadn’t been for their lunch or supper.
Obviously, it didn’t work. If there was an eating problem, the food would either go in the bin, a napkin, or down the loo. Or you’d get a friend to take your card through, slipped neatly behind theirs when the teacher wasn’t looking.
But there was definitely another eating disorder that wasn’t so obvious: Binging. With, or without the bulimia.
During school term-times, we weren’t allowed out much. We got a quick trip to the market in town on Saturday morning. We’d return, laden with plastic-bags full of honeycomb, rice-crispie cakes, marshmallows, pick n’ mix from Woolworths, cheap crisps, Pringles, the works.
Some people would be able to hold back and save their food for the week but for me and a lot of my friends, we’d sit and gorge for a few hours, finish the entire lot and then sneak out for more. Out of boredom, unhappiness, whatever it was, for some reason, this gave us unprecedented joy.
And I’m sure this is what kick-started my need for sugar. I now associate it with deflection from the crappy bits of school, and link it to the supposed ‘fun bits’ of my teen years. Not to mention the usual issues around control and the rest of it.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. I figure, if I can work out my triggers before next week, I’ll be able to address them and help myself not fall off the wagon. Here’s what I think so far:
1. Tiredness. For me, sugar is a great perk me up. For about one minute. And for some reason, I’m tired a lot of the time and I was tired a lot of the time at school. I know this is a chicken and egg scenario when it comes to eating the white stuff, but next week every time I feel knackered I’m going to drink a glass of water. It’s been a real shame that during the IQS programme, at least one of us in my household has been ill, including my two kids. This means I haven’t yet had the full benefit of feeling energetic and great because most nights, we’ve been up all hours. This is the one I’m most worried about when IQS finishes, because I’m awful, horrific, nasty, mean, fractious, grumpy – just tragic – when I’m tired and I’m going to have to find a way to deal with that without the quick perk of sugar.
2. The ‘treat’. I use sugar as a reward for doing things. Things that don’t need rewarding. Like, making a cup of tea. Or going to the loo. I’ve got to start reframing this. Thinking about how buying junk laden with sugar, is the equivalent of paying money to make my body ill. Lovely, self-destructive logic to that. I’m not sure it if it will work as I normally just end up arguing myself out of it. “Oh, but just the one time won’t matter.” This one might be a lot of trial and error but I’d better find something.
3. I use it to cheer myself up. This includes everything. So if someone has irritated me, something has upset me. Basically, a lot of the time. I’m going to try a lot more mindfulness here, and try not to believe that outside forces can change my mood.
So water, reframing and mindfulness. Those are my solutions. Sounds easy but I know it’s going to be anything but. IQS has given me the clarity to see all of these things, though, so that’s a start.
There was macaroni pasta on the IQS meal plan this week which did not go down well at all for me. It triggered an all-out sugar craving, which didn’t go away until I ate more raw chocolate than I could shake a stick at. Then I ended up feeling really sick. So again, the cycle started. I don’t want to be replacing the raw chocolate with maltesers, crisps and the likes. I think it best if I try and stay off the white, processed carbs completely when I’ve finished the programme.
In terms of how I’m feeling, as mentioned above, the energy boost from no sugar hasn’t really been there because I’ve been totalling a few hours sleep a night. My skin definitely looks brighter, though.
Weight loss: The week before last I asked my mother if she thought I’d lost weight. Her reply was: ‘Well, Emily (my sister) told me you had.”
When my mother next saw me, though, she did comment that I looked ‘better’ and ‘like I’d lost a bit of weight.” So that was a bonus. Thanks Mum.