Bin-eating, Stealing and EDs

stop-binge-eatingEating disorders are mental illnesses.  They change the way you think: which is one reason why they’re so difficult to treat.   And they make you do things you wouldn’t dream of doing otherwise.

One of these things is stealing. Another is eating out of bins. Not the sanitised, recycling of sealed products within their sell-by.  A primitive tearing and ripping of foods that aren’t fit for consumption. Which is disgusting – but that’s what addiction does.

It is not a lifestyle choice.  It is not something you can pick up and then drop.  You think you’re holding it; totally in charge. But it’s holding you; and instead of making you superhuman, it makes you something less.

So.  What makes someone want to steal (especially food?) And what could reduce them rifling through the rubbish?

A friend of mine who was struggling with anorexia, admitted to shoplifting food.  ‘I saw it’ she said. ‘And it seemed like I needed it more than other people.  And their rules didn’t apply to me. So I took it.’

As she was leaving the shop, the security guard put his hand on her shoulder.  ‘I saw what you did’ he said.  ‘I know you’ve got the food in your bag.’

He paused.  ‘Are you anorexic?’

She nodded.

‘I’ll let you off – this once.  My daughter had it and she stole too.  But you need to get help’.

It’s not just anorexics who steal food (and other things too).  Those with bulima also struggle with impulse control – and, along with alcohol abuse or promiscuity, theft can be a problem.

There’s 2 desires competing in the ED person: on the one hand you’re starving, but on the other, you don’t feel like you deserve food. The chemistry of starvation means you start developing odd rituals and start thinking in obsessive ways.  One of these is to feel like you need to hoard things or can’t afford to spend money.  But you’re hungry and feel like your need for food is bigger than other people’s. So, you end up stealing food or eating from bins, because you’re not paying for it which also makes it feel less real and less ‘sinful’ (in the same way as if you nick your boyfriend’s chips, it doesn’t count). Plus it’s a basic physical need – you spend the day depriving yourself and then you see what other people eat (even in their bins) and it overwhelms you and you just take it.

Because you’re eating from a bin, or didn’t pay for the food,you can sort of pretend like it’s not real and it doesn’t count and you haven’t really eaten it. And if you struggle with binge-eating, it makes a huge hole in your budget – so you look for another way out.

It’s not normal and it’s not ok.  But like many disordered behaviours, there’s a logic underneath.  Understanding this can help others get out.


4 thoughts on “Bin-eating, Stealing and EDs

  1. Hmmm interesting Emma! Lightbulb moment!
    It’s funny how my disorder started was because I felt like I could not afford food, so I never bought it unless it was really cheap. I didn’t deserve to buy proper food for myself. I still am abit like that. I don’t buy clothes, dining out or anything for myself, unless I really need it. I get upset when receiving birthday/christmas gifts etc too, I feel guilty for some reason.

  2. Thanks Emma, I haven’t stolen food for a long time but I never told anyone about it or heard mention of it so i’s reassuring to hear I’m not a freak. I have been struggling again recently with old habits and rituals though. This is a good reminder that they don’t lead anywhere good xx

  3. Hey Emma

    Thanks for this article. I have felt a lot of guilt about taking other people’s food and stealing from time to time. It is good to see that I am not the only one who suffers from it, but that I need to get help

  4. Thanks for posting this. My mum has always woken up in the small hours of the morning and goes for walks. It was years before I realised she was taking a daily tour of our neighbourhood’s bins. It has always frustrated me and it’s a very difficult thing to bring up – I worry that she’ll seriously poison herself. Worse, she tries to force it on us too – she’s given me food which was clearly salvaged more times than I can count and it feels as if she’s trying to punish me for something, and I have no idea what. It’s very difficult to understand from an outside point of view, but this helps.

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