Cathleen Meredith, 34, discovered at 21 years old that her relationship with food was not normal, unhealthy, and addictive.The news not only shocked her, but redefined what eating disorders look like beyond bulimia and anorexia. Since then she has struggled with her compulsive eating, but has finally come to a place of managing it; tackling her addiction with optimism and daily support which has brought her to a new place of self love. For National Eating Disorders Week, we chatted with her Meredith about her journey to overcome compulsive overeating.
How did your eating disorder begin?
I don’t think there was ever a time when I didn’t have an eating disorder, but there was a distinct line when I knew what it was. I was around 20 or 21 years old when I realized it. Before, like in high school and college, I fundamentally thought that was how everyone approached food. Everyone thought about food all day long, is obsessed with it, and eats until their stomach hurts. I thought that’s what you do with food.
I have an addiction and eat compulsively. There was never a time in my life where there wasn’t food so there was always an opportunity to engage with food. Because of this I didn’t understand the problem with how I approached food.
When I went to the doctor at 21 he was like you may have an overeating, compulsive disorder. I’m like no I don’t I’m just fat, but when he asked me very specific questions it clicked that it’s not normal. I discovered Overeaters Anonymous (OA) and it was awesome. I still struggle with it a lot, but at 21 is when I realized I had the problem.
What is the struggle like for you?
Again, it’s been my whole life, but the awareness of it was a little sad. It was like breaking up with someone. I had this ongoing relationship with food and to know that it can’t continue is sad. There’s part of my diet where I’m eating clean and lately I’ve been doing pretty good with food. I went to a restaurant today and the guy next to me had a soda and I’m trying not to drink soda at all. I just looked over at him like ugh, (sarcastically) I wish he would f-cking die, but I ordered a water. It was equivalent to seeing your ex having dinner with someone.
When I’m not in this constant relationship with food I feel lonely, sad, weird, and better, if that makes any sense. I feel better, but better ebbs and flows with sadness. When I’m compulsively overeating its reverse. The moment I feel happy that I’m eating an entire bucket of fried chicken feels fabulous and a little later in my alone time going past the buzz of eating that type of food I feel like sh-t- tired, suffer from constant headaches, a little sick, dehydrated, and can’t walk down the street without having to catch my breath. I know the difference in my body.
When I’m eating healthy I have mad psychotic withdrawls, but my body feels awesome. Nothing really stops the cravings. When I concentrate on it like now it sounds depressing, but I try not to fixate on it so much. I dance between not fixating on it so it’s not running my life. It’s just a chicken wing, you’re alright go do something else and stop thinking about food.
What other ways do you counteract thinking about food?
What’s in my toolbox is a lot of support from my friends, church family, God, and things that I do. I have self support. I do meditation, listen to my good morning playlist, and try to work out, and these things set off my day because I’m focused on my routine. I have a personal trainer and I do a lot of support work. I’ve been making a lot of progress more so than I have in a long time. I have friends as support too. It’s not easy but I’m well supported and loved, it helps a lot. I don’t think I could do this on my own.
I haven’t told that many people, just my best friend, my mom, and one of my sisters out of three. I wrote a blog post recently, and that was the first time I’ve really spoken about it openly. My personality — I like to put on the front that everything is okay, great, and awesome. The flipside to that is I really do believe it’s awesome and will be okay. I’ve been incredibly private the majority of my life, but everyone who I’ve had a conversation with about it with has been supportive.
After I put it on my blog for the world to see, I’ve gotten feedback that’s unreal; so many emails and messages. It’s tremendous how many people are going through it and not talking about it. It’s miraculous to be able to open the door to this conversation.
What was your perspective on eating disorders before you knew you had one?
In high school they talked a lot about bulimia and anorexia, but I never even heard of compulsive overeating. It was more about not eating enough instead of too much. I ran into a couple of girls in high school who had that problem, but I never thought I had a problem because I liked to eat.
I have an incredibly loving family that’s also plus size so I never felt there was anything wrong with me. My family thought I was awesome. I was popular in high school, and didn’t get ridiculed for my weight. There was no self-hate either. All eating disorders to me were synonymous with hating yourself and feeling like something was wrong, that’s why you threw up everything you ate or just didn’t eat. I didn’t feel that way and I didn’t know I was overweight or unhealthy. I didn’t associate what I did with self-hate.
What happened when you told your mom?
My mom said she was a compulsive eater. I brought up that I was going to try this overeaters anonymous meeting to figure things out because I was living with my parents still and my mom casually told me she’ been to those meetings a long time ago and lost 80 lbs. She said it very matter of factly.
How was Overeaters Anonymous helpful?
When I first joined I was 300 lbs and I think that’s what scared me. It kind of freaked me out and I lost 60 lbs, then I lost even more weight when I moved to the Caribbean because I didn’t have access to terrible foods. My weight has fluctuated back and forth. In New York you have to walk and move a lot, that helps, but you also have Seamless and have your food come to you.
Between OA, God, and support programs, I’m in a place to make more progress than I have. I’ve gone between relapsed and clean eating in the last 10 years. I still haven’t repaired a lot of the damage I’ve done to my body. OA has been a great support, sponsor, and helped me keep the conversation going about the addiction which helps. I can confidently say I have all the tools at my disposal to succeed at weight loss and getting my eating disorder under control. In the past few years I didn’t have the kind of clarity that I’ve had lately about who I am and what I want, including how I feel about my body.
Any advice for Black girls dealing with compulsive overeating, especially those who don’t have the support to overcome it?
There’s a wonderful tool online to check and see if you have an eating disorder because you might not have one and you’re just depressed right now. Go on OA.org, take the test and if you have an eating disorder just know you’re not alone.
I have personally felt alone, but I realized this week that there are people all over the world who are dealing with this along with body image issues and self-hate. Walking around in a relationship with a person you don’t even like is crazy because you’re the only person you have to hang out with all day. Get to the point where you can tolerate yourself then that tolerance can grow to love.
You can start loving yourself whether you’re where you want to be or not. Even though you have an eating disorder, you’re not dead and that’s freaking miraculous. If you’re afraid to reach out in person, get support online and talk to people. You have to be proactive when you’re ready, and take those steps because it doesn’t magically go away. The only way to get through the bad times is to acknowledge you have a problem and make a choice to do something about it. It’s not going to go away and your body is going to wake up one day and turn against you because you’ve been messing over it for years.