By Sophie Butcher
It’s 10:34 am on a Tuesday and I’m in the confectionery aisle in Morrisons. I consider what textures I’m looking for; what has the least packaging I’ll need to hide. I squint at the label that tells me how much each bag or bar or box is and how many grams it weighs, doing calculations in my head to figure out how I can get the most for my money.
Trying to look casual, I drop a selection into my basket, which already includes a pint of milk I don’t need and a pasta sauce I don’t want. I’m sure the cashier and other customers aren’t really looking, but I like to pad out my shop with other ‘essentials’ – or ‘normal’ food, that ‘normal’ people might be here to buy.
I head to the checkout – self-scanner, obviously, for maximum stealth and minimum embarrassment – and swipe through each item. The total flashes up. My cheeks flush red and a gulp forms in my throat. This is my third supermarket trip in a week, and after a decade of this kind of routine, the numbers are drastic. Binge eating disorder isn’t cheap.
Of the 1.25 million people in the UK estimated to have an eating disorder, research has found that around 22% of them have binge eating disorder (BED) – that’s the largest percentage for any specified eating disorder, with 8% having anorexia and 19% having bulimia, according to eating disorder charity Beat.
The most prevalent and yet underrepresented eating disorder in mainstream media, BED is a serious mental illness where sufferers consume very large quantities of food without feeling in control when they do so. Different from bulimia in that it doesn’t involve ‘purging’ after the binge, BED isn’t about being ‘greedy’, or a little over-indulgence here and there. Like most eating disorders, it’s not really about the food.
For me, binging and other disordered eating behaviors became a kind of coping mechanism for getting through the day, and pushing down my many, many emotions. I’ve struggled with low self-esteem and extreme sensitivity to distress since I was young, and food became something I thought I could control. It was a friend when I felt like I didn’t have any. It was my way of triggering endorphins. It was – is – a comfort. It’s also had an enormous impact on my finances.
A common behaviour associated with BED is ‘stockpiling’, and creating rituals out of your binges. This usually involves buying inordinate amounts of food in bulk to have ready for when the next urge to binge strikes, and maintaining that stockpile so that you’re never without it. For me, it also looked like ordering excessively large takeaways when I knew I had the house to myself, driving to the supermarket at 11 pm because I needed a very specific food right then, and even always getting three courses at a restaurant when I was already full, to make the most of the opportunity for socially sanctioned excess.
As well as taking a toll on your bank balance, all this eating also impacted my weight and overall health, both mental and physical. My relationships suffered, and I lost countless work hours to the void of binging and depression. The more I binged, the worse I felt. The worse I felt, the more I binged, and the more I spent – and not just on food. As my binging became increasingly severe, I gained weight and would rack up sizable ASOS orders and clothing receipts in a desperate effort to find something in my size or distract myself from food. The less this worked, the worse I felt, the more I binged, the more I spent, the larger my overdraft got, the more I worried about money, and so the cycle goes on and on and on.
As I write this today, I’m probably in the best financial health of my life. I budget (and stick to it), I am much better at talking myself down from impulse purchases, I’m out of my overdraft, and even have some savings. But sadly, there isn’t one specific thing that helped me get to this place.
The only way I could pull myself out of my money troubles was to pull myself out of all the other dark places that exacerbated them – or at least try my best to, every day. I got some (though not enough) therapy. I have continued to make big decisions and change my life when it feels like it doesn’t fit anymore. I have come out as queer and am still on that journey of fully stepping into my identity, which has made my head a much less itchy, more comfortable place to be. I recently got over my fear of seeing a doctor and got a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes that I know my binge eating disorder has played a massive part in inflicting upon me. Though I still carry a thin veil of shame around being the fat girl who ended up diabetic, being properly treated for my condition has helped me to dampen my preoccupation with food, satiate the deep hunger I had for so long, and to just, well, feel better.
My destructive money behaviours were a result of my disordered eating ones, both fuelling each other in a pattern I thought I’d never get out of. I know now that I can’t ‘fix’ either one in isolation – the only way for me to be financially ‘well’ is to look after my wellbeing as a whole human, and times where I find myself going off track with my money almost always reflect a deeper issue within myself. Yes, I wish we’d have been taught about taxes and budgeting, and credit scores in school, but I also wish the link between our fiscal and mental health was made clearer.
Maybe then, we’d all be happier, healthier – and wealthier.
Sophie Butcher is a freelance film, culture and personal essay writer. Originally from the North East and now living in London, she has written for publications including EMPIRE, Huff Post UK, Digital Spy and more. You can read more of her work on her website, or by subscribing to her occasional newsletter ‘Growing Pains‘. Find Sophie on Twitter @sophiefbutcher.