By Rhea Kumar:
“Just ten minutes left,” the examiner drawled, with a sadistic gleam in his eye. My hand hurt as I struggled to scrawl as many words as I could to get through the three remaining questions. For some strange reason, my pen seemed to be frozen. Before I knew it, the answer sheet had disappeared from view. As I groped with my hands and screamed a desperate “Wait!” everything around me faded away.
I woke up, trembling and drenched in sweat. It was that terrible nightmare again. I thought of the numerous deadlines I had to meet, the tests I had to study for, the projects I needed to submit. I thought of the piece for my guitar concert, which I still hadn’t perfected. I thought of the quarrel with Sania today. How dare she join the rest of the crowd in ribbing me about my weight? Wasn’t she supposed to be my friend and stand up for me? The truth was that I had no real friends at all. Plenty of hangers-on who would take advantage of my generosity and spend time with me looking for a treat, but they were never around when I needed them. I have been working so hard to control my weight but nothing seems to work. I feel I am fighting a losing battle and its affecting my confidence as a person. There are days when I have to force myself to get out of bed and get ready for school, knowing I’ll hear the same jibes, sniggers and smothered giggles as I walk down the corridor. Why can’t people mind their own business?
I tried to go back to sleep but failed miserably. And then the hunger pangs started. Food always helps me forget my problems, at least temporarily. Just a little midnight snack, what harm can it do? As I walked out of bed, images of the needle on the weighing machine danced in front of my face, veering dangerously close to the 80 kg mark. My pace unconsciously quickened, as if to beat the guilt before it overpowered me. I reached for the fridge, pulled out two slices of bread, a piece of goat cheese, some mayonnaise and bacon, and fixed myself a sandwich. As I gobbled it up, I could feel all my worries seep away magically. Nothing seemed to matter anymore, the taunts, the laughter, the fights, everything seemed so insignificant. Why was I fretting about such silly things? Soon, sleep overpowered me and I collapsed on the bed, happy and satiated.
The same night, I made two more trips to the refrigerator, gorging on a slab of chocolate and a large piece of apple pie. Each time I woke up feeling anxious and troubled but went to sleep feeling happy and content after my delicious snack.
These night time eating episodes have been happening since the last year and a half. They happen at least twice a week, sometimes as often as five times a week. I wake up from sleep feeling troubled and anxious about some event or incident and then find it impossible to go back to sleep without stuffing myself with a high-carb snack. In the morning, I wake up feeling guilty and ashamed of myself for being so weak-willed. Each day I resolve to follow a more controlled and regular pattern of eating like most other people but it just doesn’t work for me. The sight of food in the morning nauseates me. I leave home without eating breakfast and eat very little during the day. It’s only after dinner that my appetite seems to get active. My sleep is often disturbed and restless and I find myself eating several times in the night to get back to sleep. Sometimes I try and fight this urge to eat in the middle of the night but the desire is just too strong. I find myself rationalizing my behavior : it’s not like I’m overeating, it’s just that I have a different eating pattern. And a lot of people eat late at night, so I’m really not alone. My cousin Arushi tells me she and her friend binge all night in the hostel before their exams.
Of course, that interfering and know-it-all neighbour of ours, Archana Aunty (AA for short) will not rest easy till she convinces my family that I suffer from something called ‘Night Eating Disorder’. She thinks her degree in Psychology qualifies her to provide a free diagnosis for my peculiar behavior and suggest a line of treatment. In one of my emotional moments, I made the mistake of confiding in my brother who of course went and announced it to one and all in a bid to embarrass me. Just a few days back, AA told my mother my younger brother suffers from a mild form of ADHD, and all because he and his friends went and vandalized her garden by playing football in it. Serves him right for being so callous and insensitive! Can’t he keep a confidence?
In any case, AA has managed to convince my mother that I have a problem. Now, I’m given a daily lecture about how slim and beautiful I was and how I’m on the way to being obese and how it’s already too late etc etc. “There are too many distractions and too much pressure for youngsters nowadays. They just can’t cope and then fall prey to all these psychological problems…in my time, children were actually happy”, my mother mutters and heaves a long sigh, much to my irritation.
Dear reader, do you think I have a problem? Do you think my life is out of control? Well, I really don’t think so. Alcohol, cigarettes, drugs and self-harm: these are some of the ways people combat stress. These people have a problem, a problem that, if not solved, can have serious consequences. But food? Food is a basic necessity. In fact, it is the lack of food that leads to disorders such as anorexia. What my mom and AA do not understand is that eating at night is a very harmless way of combating stress, something a lot of youngsters practice. I do understand that I am a bit overweight, but I would rather be fat and content than end up in rehabilitation centers for anorexia or drugs.
Yet to tell you the truth, food doesn’t always give me the satisfaction I want. Sometimes, it feels more like a compulsion to eat rather than actual hunger. And while these midnight snacks make me drowsy and help me to go back to sleep, I always wake up with a lingering feeling of guilt. Food has become my sleeping pill, and I’m not sure whether that’s normal. Could that crazy AA be right then? Could I really be suffering from Night Eating Disorder?
Oh God! I look at the clock and realize that its already 7:30 am. The bus arrives in ten minutes; how am I ever going to get ready and reach the bus stop in time? I’ve wasted too much time brooding about this. I scramble to change my clothes and rush out of the house, leaving my breakfast on the table and my mother shouting after me, much like any other day. I can always make that up at night, can’t I?