Why is being fat treated as a cross between terrible shame and utter tragedy? Something that—for a woman—is treated as somewhere in between sustaining a sizable facial scar and sleeping with the Nazis? Why will women happy boast-moan about spending too much…drinking too much…and working too hard…but never, ever about eating too much? Why is unhappy eating the most pointlessly secret—it’s not like you can hide a six-KitKats-a-day habit for very long—of miseries?
There’s a pecking order of unhappiness. The heroin addicts look down on the coke addicts. The coke addicts look down on the alcoholics. And everyone thinks the people with eating disorders—fat or thin—are scum. Of all the overwhelming compulsions you can be ruined by, all of them have some potential for some perverted, self-destructive fascination—except eating.
Overeating, or comfort eating, is the cheap, meek option for self-satisfaction, and self-obliteration. You get all the temporary release of drinking, fucking, or taking drugs, but without—and I think this is the important bit—ever being left in a state where you can’t remain responsible and cogent. In a nutshell, then by choosing food as your drug—sugar highs, or the deep soporific calm of carbs, the Valium of the working classes—you can still make the packed lunches, do the school run, look after the baby, pop in on your mum, and then stay up all night with an ill five-year-old—something that is not an option if you’re caning off a gigantic bag of skunk or regularly climbing into the cupboard under the stairs and knocking back quarts of Scotch.
Overeating is the addiction of choice of carers, and that’s why it’s come to be regarded as the lowest-ranking of all the addictions. It’s a way of fucking yourself up while still remaining fully functional, because you have to. Fat people aren’t indulging in the “luxury” of their addiction making them useless, chaotic, or a burden. Instead, they are slowly self-destructing in a way that doesn’t inconvenience anyone. And that’s why it’s so often a woman’s addiction of choice. All the quietly eating mums. All the KitKats in office drawers. All the unhappy moments, late at night, caught only in the fridge light.
I sometimes wonder if the only way we’ll ever get around to properly considering overeating is if it does come to take on the same perverse rock ‘n’ roll cool of other addictions. Perhaps it’s time for women to finally stop being secretive about their vices and start treating them like all other addicts treat their habits instead. Coming into the office looking rattled, sighing, “Man, I was on the shepherd’s pie last night like you wouldn’t believe. I had, like MASH in my EYEBROWS by 10 p.m. I was on a total mince rush!”