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Food Deprivation Harms

Updated: Sep 13, 2023

There's been something niggling at the back of my mind the last several days and I have been slowly able to put words to it and tonight I was able to paint a picture of what it feels like.

First I noticed that I felt like I had to hoard food which was triggered by trying to give my housemate space to deal with her triggers by staying upstairs while she's home, meaning that if I didn't make sure I had food upstairs when I had a chance I would go hungry. I ate when I wasn't hungry. And I was feeling really unsettled.

Next I noticed that in trying to give my housemate space I was depriving myself of the freedom to cook and prepare food. It made me very angry and I knew something had to change because this food "deprivation" was stressing me out.

Then I was in a therapy session, venting my anger and trying to put words to my feelings and I was gently reminded of how it was at home when I was a child and the vast amount of times that food, even nourishing food and not just dessert, was withheld as punishment.

Having had some time to think on all these things, I see this line of food deprivation snaking through my entire life and in a way it feels like one of these days it's going to win for sure, due to my circumstances.

As a child, from what memories I have, I could not focus on my schoolwork due to the trauma and abuse and lack of safety I was experiencing. Thus, nearly every day resulted in bringing home the unfinished subjects of nearly every class of the day and spending the rest of the day often late into the night, sitting at the table to finish my books. Due to my inability to focus because I was just trying to survive, I was punished by not being allowed to eat supper or at times no dessert as well as physical punishments like spankings.

As a teen, I was suicidal and due to the dysfunction of the home with all the bickering and fighting and meanness I had a hard time eating which meant that I could barely eat a few spoonfuls of food before disappearing to my room till it was time to do chores or other activities. There was no kindness or someone trying to understand. It was each to his own in order to survive.

When we did have good food such as when we had company or went to someone else's house for a meal or even had something for a treat, it would be hoarded and wolfed down and often ended up in overeating. My mom would often dump leftovers together into an unappetizing mix and it was served every day until it was eaten up and at times it went on the table spoiled because it had been reheated so many times.

When it was discovered that I was suicidal I was sent to a "pretty prison" (plain community run institution). There they addressed my "lack of eating" problem and gave me Ensure to help nourish my body while I learned to eat healthier amounts of food. Then I subconsciously learned that food can help calm the emotional pain from all the abuse and trauma I had endured which then helped me swing to the other extreme of overeating. I gained a lot of weight and I finally realized that it wasn't healthy for me to eat so much and be so overweight plus it was affecting my physical health so I tried to eat a little less and lost most of the weight I had put on, gradually. (It didn't help that I was also living at my aunt and uncle's place for a few months and their food was always good and the leftovers were NOT dumped together. )

Then after I left my parent's church I went to another church where fasting was a huge thing and subconsciously viewed as a tool to get God to do what you think you need him to do. In the name of wanting God to open my parent's eyes to their abusive ways and other things, I then fasted so much that my coworkers expressed concern and it helped open my eyes to the fact that I was also subconsciously doing it as a form of punishment. Punishment because I hated my body. Punishment because of the way my former "Christian " employers had abused me to the point of my questioning everything. They did so much damage in my life. Punishment because I felt I deserved it because I no longer lived under my parent's abuses so who was left but me to give me the critical treatment that I deserved. Or so I thought.

Then 2020 rolled around along with the shutdown and I was laid off for 5 or 6 weeks. I had already been living paycheck to paycheck and had cut out all the things I could cut out financially. Grocery shopping happened maybe once a month and even then it was only the things I needed to survive. Rice, canned green beans and gravy or a little bit of some kind of meat was mostly what I ate. It was my lunch at work basically every day. It got old and boring and I rarely had energy to try to cook anything else. Thankfully my landlord allowed me to pay rent when I could. A bit later I was going to a free clinic for counseling and through them I was given 2 food pantry deliveries which was such a huge blessing. My constant and very real fear was that I would end up on the street because I could not find anything cheaper that I could afford.

I did finally find a place which was not a good living arrangement at all but of course I didn't see that at first. I lived in an upstairs and had my freezer and fridge on the first floor. I had no kitchen. The lady downstairs would not leave me alone when I requested and went so far as to ask to adopt me as her daughter without my consent(after I had lived there for almost a year.)The psychological abuse was horrible to me. It was triggering to have my space invaded and my voice worthless. I was like this rug she thought she could trample however she felt like. As though I was a blank sheet of paper for her to draw on however she wanted. Again, I felt deprived of food because I never knew when she would decide to bother me and this I would avoid going downstairs anymore than I absolutely had to. I tried to go no contact theough the landlord but the barely improved the situation. She reminded me a lot of my mom which was bad enough but to be treated like a doormat would at times make me so furiously mad that it was all I could do to not tear into her. It was like all the rage towards all the injustices I had had to endure all my life was directed at her.

Now I've moved to another state with a friend and due to my health being at the point of crashing I'm not able to work a normal job. As I watch my savings dwindle that I had worked so hard to store up towards my dreams, I once again feel survival mode kicking in. Yes, I could probably go to the food pantry but in my experience it isn't the healthiest kind of food and not really what I want to put into my body. I hate even talking about my current situation because it is so shameful to me and like I'm not doing my part and I HATE when people pity me and try to help me out of sympathy or whatever. I WANT to do my part and make responsible choices and be proactive and it is rather, I mean, very hard to not get discouraged when I keep ending up in situations where I just can't seem to get ahead financially. But, on the up side, I've been on quite an intense healing journey with IFS and I can see that I am making progress and healing is happening.

As I was thinking about this long line of food deprivation throughout my life I wondered if there were any studies that showed how food deprivation affects children and later in their adult lives so I did some reading. I know some of the effects it has had on me, for example:

-I tend to wolf down my food most of the time as though it will vanish if I don't

-It has affected my body image and I tend to beat myself up for eating too much

-At times I tend to hear my parent's voices in my head condemning and criticizing me or my body

-I remember the shame and loneliness of having to watch every one else eat supper while I sit at a separate table trying to focus on my unfinished schoolwork and have to feel my stomach rumbling

-As a teen trying to starve myself thin and also not being able to eat due to all the stress and tension at home

-Feeling ashamed to leave leftovers on my plate now because of all the times I was told I had to eat all the food on my plate, even as an adult it was one of the rules at one of the "pretty prisons" I stayed at for several months and feeling so miserable from eating too much, plus nobody was allowed to leave the table till everyone was finished which made me gobble my food even faster because I felt shame in being the last one to finish and having a table of 10 to 15 people waiting till I was done

It would be nice if I could copy some of the things I found in my reading but instead I will share the links since it isn't my work and then if you are interested, feel free to read. I found some of these quite interesting, and some of the things have been all too real in my life. I know that food deprivation as punishment has definitely affected me negatively. It may have been different in some ways if it was due to poverty but it wasn't, because there was plenty of food to reach around...

I also discovered that it is illegal for a school to withhold food from a child for any reason because it is considered neglect and abuse. The effect on a child mentally and physically from being deprived of food for punishment are quite huge and can effect a child into their adult years. One of my sisters and I had such a conversation not long ago of how it effects us today because of what we had to deal with as children.

Children are human.

Children are not adults and yet are so often required to act like adults and punished if they don't.

Children deserve love and nurturing.

Children deserve kindness and respect.

Children learn to treat others by how they are treated by the adults in their lives.

Children who live with dignity and respect will treat others as such but when they live with criticism and abuse they will treat others the same unless they choose to break the cycle.

Children have big emotions and don't automatically learn how to regulate themselves therefore it is the parent's responsibility to help them learn to regulate and handle their emotions in healthy ways. How do you expect a child to learn to regulate themselves by inflicting pain and punishment? For myself, it only shut me down and taught me to stuff all the anger and resentment I felt. It did NOT foster connection and love.

To the litte girl inside of me that had to go without food as punishment:

I'm so sorry. You tried so hard. You wanted to please so much but your efforts were hardly ever acknowledged or accepted as good enough. I'm so sorry for all the punishments you had to endure. You longed with all your heart that someone would just take the time to try to understand why and how you were struggling instead of inflicting punishment. I'm sorry that the teacher spanked you in 7th grade and that you felt so ashamed and yet you had no idea how to do better because you were only trying to survive. I'm sorry for all the spankings you got late at night when it was way past your bedtime and you still hadn't been able to finish your books. I'm so sorry for that moonless starry night when it was time for another punishment and you begged God for help but it seemed like even he turned his back on you. I'm so sorry for all the shame you had to feel when you were separated and punished by having to go without supper because your books weren't done. I'm so sorry for all that pain and abuse and trauma you had to endure. Alone. With no safe place. No one to turn to. No one you could trust. I am so sorry.

To the teen inside of me who couldn't eat food because of all the drama:

I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry you had to see your parents upset. I'm so sorry that you had to watch your little siblings get hit and told to shut up when they cried. I'm sorry for all the times you had to hear your parents say shut up or I'll give you something to cry about. I'm so sorry that you had to observe your dad's selfishness over food. I'm sorry for all the drama and arguing you had to listen to and observe at mealtimes. It's no wonder that you couldn't hardly eat anything. I'm sorry for the hatred you felt toward yourself. I'm sorry you kept hearing your dad's body shaming words when he saw your 5th grade school picture. I'm sorry that nobody taught you what it looks like to take care of yourself in a healthy way. I'm so sorry for the well-meaning friends who showed concern only to turn their backs on you. I'm so sorry for all the pain you had to endure.

To the part of me that's worried now:

I understand why you are so worried. You have been deprived of so much. You've tried so hard to learn healthy ways of relating and taking care of yourself. You've tried so hard to heal and create a better life for yourself. You've tried so hard and I'm so proud of you. I know it seems like you keep ending up in bad situations and you just can't seem to make much headway to a better life. I know that your body doesn't have the energy you wish it did so that you could work a job. I'm proud of you for trying to be proactive and giving yourself space so that your body can rest instead of pushing on and ending up with a chronic illness. I'm proud of you for trying to listen to your body even though it has been trying to tell you for the last several years that it's worn out. Together we will try to make the best of the situation and try to make the best of whatever happens.

If you have been one to consider it ok to deprive a child of food as punishment I hope you will take the time to read some of the studies that show the harm it can do and I hope it will help you consider other forms of punishment to avoid the harm of being denied food. Sometimes having an adult who tries to listen to understand the child's view will do much more good than a punishment. What I wished most for as a child was an adult who would love me and care enough to try to understand. I survived but not without a lot of damage that I now am trying to heal. One day I hope my story will help someone in some way, whether it's a parent trying to reach their child or another survivor who feels understood or even just to help an individual understand the damage that can happen to a child through food deprivation and other forms of punishment without connection and regulation.

On a side note, some of you may have noticed that some of my blog posts are now under a paid subscription. I used up a good chunk of my savings the other day to update my website because it was suggested that it would be a good idea for me to have a donate tab in case anyone wants to donate towards the expense of my website and blog so that I can continue blogging and working towards my dreams. In an effort to find ways to create more income streams to support me while I try to rest and take care of my body as well as heal. It was not an easy decision to decide the price for the blog subscription but I am valuable and my story is valuable and the time I put into it is valuable. (It often takes me several hours or more to write one post. And even more time if I paint a picture to go with what I want to write about.) Most of the feedback I get is from others who have been blessed and helped on their journey. I want to continue sharing content that will help and encourage others but some of it is so sensitive and I've been so vulnerable in sharing that it just feels better to have some of those parts behind a paywall and not open to the general public. It feels like I will be bribing people for money if I share links to my blog posts that are behind a paywall so please know that I hate asking for money and this has been a hard decision to make. But I also want to make sure that I feel safe in what I am sharing and to who I am sharing it with. So if you are willing to pay for the subscription, just know that it will be greatly appreciated!

As always, thanks for taking the time to read my writings...

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Sep 06, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

I am so, so sorry that you have endured such unconscionable treatment by others, who SHOULD have been caring for you, nurturing you, etc. And then, as an adult, harmful treatment by others done to you in the Name of God. So very wrong! "As though I was a blank sheet of paper for her to draw on however she wanted." Wow. That is profound! Such an accurate way of expressing how you were treated. "I am valuable and my story is valuable and the time I put into it is valuable." YES!! You are a brilliant writer and gifted artist. And I hope that this blog grows like wildfire. So many can learn and feel connected with t…

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