During the last ten years of three decades of compulsive overeating, this is what a typical social gathering with friends would look like for me:

“Hi! It’s nice to see you,” I said.

“You too, Ronni. How are the kids?” my friend asked.

“They’re fine, thanks,” I answered, then saw from the corner of my eye that the hostess had put the desserts out.

“Hey, I’m sorry, but I just realized I need to give my husband his phone back,” I pouted playfully. “I’ll catch up with you later!”

As she was saying, “Okay, see you later!” I threw my hand up in the air to wave as I turned my back and pretended I was searching for my husband in case my friend was watching me. When I thought enough time for my “searching” was over, I bolted to the dessert table.

There, I would vulture around and take stock of all the food, assessing what looked good, and planned my attack. I didn’t make eye contact with anyone I knew because I had no interest in small talk. 

When I look back on that now, over 12 years recovered, I find that behavior so upsetting.  

While I hung around the desserts, eating them off in a corner somewhere, everyone else was talking. People who I knew as an acquaintance remained in that category, acquaintance.  

I didn’t talk to friends to get to know them better. I didn’t know much about their families, their jobs, their kids, or what was going on in their lives. I called them my friends, but I was not a good friend. I certainly cared about them, but I cared about food more.

I hated what I was doing but felt helpless against the power of food. I had days or weeks when I didn’t compulsively overeat or binge, but the food always won out in the end.

I learned in therapy, at age 40, when I realized that I had an eating disorder, that I turned to food to cope with feelings of feeling unworthy, that I was not enough, and I was not lovable. 

The eating disorder began when I was nine and continued for thirty years. It stemmed from my mother hiding cookies from me and living in a dysfunctional home where there was no warmth, closeness, or love fostered. I learned in therapy, at age 40, when I realized that I had an eating disorder, that I turned to food to cope with feelings of feeling unworthy, that I was not enough, and I was not lovable. I had no sense of self, no self-confidence, and low self-esteem. There was no strong female role model in my life. 

At 19, I walked into what ended up to be an eight-year abusive relationship, merely perpetuating how my parents acted in my childhood home a loud, domineering husband and a meek, yes-dear wife. My mom didn’t withhold her love on purpose; she did the best with what she had. While I do blame the eating disorder on her, I do not use my childhood as an excuse for anything. I sought help, processed the situation, and no longer use food to cope. 

My addiction controlled most of my life. When what I refer to as “my switch” went into the “on” position so frequently, I HAD to eat. My mind and body craved food and it had nothing to do with hunger. Nor did I tell anyone, not even my husband, who I was happily married to for 12 years when I found out this obsession with food I had was actually an eating disorder and a mental illness.

I went to therapy to get to the root of why I desired such large quantities of food so frequently. I went to Overeaters Anonymous meetings to be with other like-minded people. I healed by learning I was not alone, and I gained hope from those who had recovered. I read a lot of great books by others who had suffered and recovered from their eating disorders.

This all-out attack on my eating disorder brought me to the 12 years of recovery I have today. I am grateful.

I healed by learning I was not alone, and I gained hope from those who had recovered.

My world has totally changed. I’m not a captive of food anymore. When I’m at social gatherings, I have authentic conversations. I’m not sequestered off in a corner, calculating my plans to get food, hoarding, and inhaling my food.

My relationships with my friends bring me such joy. We giggle over funny things and bond over personal issues — you know, something that real friends do that you probably take for granted. 

I no longer feel ashamed of the person that I was hiding from them. My friendships have blossomed in ways I didn’t know they could. In the throes of the eating disorder, I didn’t realize my relationships were suffering. But since recovering, friendships feel more profound and more fulfilling. It’s a great feeling not to be hiding in my eating disorder anymore.

It was such a vicious circle. I would see a friend and only exchange pleasantries. I felt awkward and uncomfortable and didn’t know what more to say. Since I never got to know them more in-depth, I had nothing to ask about. And because of my low self-confidence, thinking no one would find me interesting, I found it much easier to eat than continue talking. On and on it went.

My eating disorder recovery has made me a better friend.

I now love being able to catch up with friends at social gatherings, to hear about their lives, and to tell them about mine. The food is an afterthought, which is a miracle to me. My eating disorder recovery has made me a better friend. I am finally present in every conversation I have.

I regret all that time I missed that my eating disorder stole from me. It took a spotlight and aimed it at the food instead of pointing it at the people around me. Who knows how many more laughs, common interests, and sharing I could have had all these years if I had only been more present with people instead of obsessed with food. But today, I finally am.