Michele Roberts advises us to eat like bullocks

People with eating disorders should follow the example of bullocks

The country roads rattle with lorries full of maize. The harvest is several weeks earlier than usual, because of the great summer heat. Monsieur Dupont, my neighbour, stopped for a chat when he drove past, and shook his head: it's a disaster. As the grass in the meadows is parched, he has to bring up extra hay for his cattle. Since, like humans, they like to eat morning, noon and night, this costs a lot.

If you're not a farmer, you can rejoice in the exquisite autumn weather. Mist at sunrise, and then the golden sun breaking through. Blue skies all day, and a cool breeze springing up at dusk. Still warm enough to sit outside for the evening aperitif and contemplate the loaded pear tree, the grape vine heavy with fruit, ripe for picking.

There I was, the other night, waiting for sunset, sitting on the front step with a book and a glass of wine, lost in some Keatsian dream of mellow fruitfulness, when I was roused by the sound of chomping. I looked up. Two bullocks, desperate for some fresh greens, had broken through their electric fence and were munching my hedge. I had to stop them straying past the house and down the lane towards the road, where tractors hurtle by and they would be in danger. I was on my own, so I phoned for help. All the neighbours were out, either doing the milking or the harvesting. Eventually Monsieur Patureau, from down the road, raced up, along with his little daughter. We fastened the bullocks back in, and the Patureaus came in for an aperitif. I cut them a bunch of roses to say thank you and waved them off.

Back to the step to watch the sun go down and the moon rise. More chomping. The bullocks had got out again. This time they were down in the potager, happily working their way through the spinach and lettuces. I managed to get hold of Monsieur Dupont. While I waited for him, I guarded the bullocks - but from a distance, not wanting to alarm them and set them galumphing about.

Monsieur and Madame Dupont eventually arrived. More herding. The ringleader bullock, the villain of the piece, who is apparently always escaping, was taken further up the lane and put in a pen all on his own until morning. The gate was firmly lashed. We walked around the fields testing the electric fence, by the light of my torch, and then we all sat in my kitchen drinking wine and chatting. Next day, the herd was moved back closer to the farm.

The animals know what to do. When they are hungry, they search for food and eat it. When they are full, they stop. Simple. People with eating disorders should follow their example. But, of course, it isn't that easy. When I was an anxious young woman in my early twenties, coping badly with the stresses of life, work, love and sex, I used to overeat and then diet madly. Food was a tranquilliser, building a safe wall of fat against a chaotic and threatening world. Dieting offered manic fantasies of control.

Many years later, having cheerfully come out as greedy, I trace some of the anguish back to infancy, and the rigid feeding schemes forced on our mothers by cruel childcare experts such as Dr Truby King, who forbade feeding babies on demand. Starving, desperate and panicky, I longed for food, but also feared it because it provoked such need and rage. (Sex brought up similarly violent emotions.) I couldn't believe I'd ever stop starving, ever be fed again. And I didn't grow up in a culture that nurtured and nourished young women, which tolerated our desires to offer our own particular gifts.

I worked out, in the end, that in order to eat normally and healthily, it is crucial to be able to believe in the future. You don't have to overeat now, because you can eat again later, when you are hungry again.

In this sense, you are believing in a future in which you will be loved. Love will return, and feed you, and make you fulfilled and happy. Love is the bullocks, and the spinach, and the pears, and the grapes. Love, like the maize harvest, will come round again.