When I was a binger, I always approached the Christmas period with trepidation. During the rest of the year, I binged on food, and alcohol, and drugs. I hated it, and I hated myself for doing it. The only solace was a brief moment every so often, a small glimmer of hope that, somehow, this might be the day, or possibly the week, when everything changed. Of course, it almost always wasn't. But Christmas is the worst time for a binger, because suddenly everybody else is egging you on. You don't have a chance. Life as a habitual over-indulger is like staying at a holiday resort you have come to despise, and Christmas is the time when the resort gets taken over by tourists telling you how great it is.
This year, I go to one Christmas party and drink a few glasses of wine, and catch the train back to Lewes, where I live. I can tell I'm a more sober individual because I don't fall asleep on the train and miss my stop, which used to happen to me sometimes when I drank - when, that is, I drank. I would wake up because someone was bashing on the window, and I would be absolutely certain that the window was my bedroom window, which would mean that the person had climbed a ladder, which made me feel intense anger for the person. Of course, I would be in Eastbourne, the terminal stop, and the station would be eerily empty, and it would be one o'clock in the morning, and my expensive drive back would consist of a conversation with the driver about how silly I was. But that will never happen again, I tell myself as I get off the train and file along the platform with the other moderate party-goers.
At home I've been cooking a lot. But breakfast has been a problem. As a binger, I used to love breakfasts consisting of slice after slice of half-cooked toast, which I would grab out of the toaster before it was ready, smear with butter, and inhale while I waited for the next pair of slices to cook. After about four or five slices, I'd feel terrible - bloated, but not sated. Too empty, but too full. Now I have porridge made from millet flakes, which is not bad, but not great. The other day I had a chunk of salmon. But I can't see myself doing that every day. Omelettes, then? Sort of nice. Fruit salad? Not great in winter.
Every couple of days, though, I cook breakfast for my nine-month-old son. I make him porridge with a bit of millet, some quinoa flakes, some cooked apricots and prunes, a bit of banana, and sometimes a chunk of tofu. It's absolutely delicious. It has everything. He shouts and bats his hands around with excitement when I put it in the bowl. I find myself saying, "I wish it was that simple for me. I wish I could eat something like this for breakfast." And then I think, "Duh." So now my breakfast problem is sort of solved, I think.
As someone who used to have an out-of-control appetite, I now see bingeing all around me. It seems as if our whole society is a big machine designed to encourage it. I keep hearing people on the radio talking about economic growth, and how they will deal with the fact that China can now make the same things as us, for half the price. "Ah, but we will innovate," people say. Which is true. We will. But how do you constantly innovate in a society that is already affluent? By creating needs, that's how. By making people feel as if they haven't got enough. By making people feel lonely and anxious and fat and inadequate. Most of the innovation, I fear, will be in the world of marketing. Every Christmas we will spend more and every Christmas the gifts will seem more inadequate. We are a nation of shopaholics, and we have become like those alcoholics who think that the wine bottles are getting smaller. My advice: buy shares in Prozac.
I don't really believe in New Year's resolutions. If you do bad stuff and you want to stop doing it, you really have to work out why you were doing it in the first place, which takes time. It might take years. I got really fat, and then I started to eat better and I lost weight, and, months later, I found that I was a slim person who took a lot of drugs. That's when I realised that the problem was not the food, or the drugs, but me. I was doing all this bad stuff, which made me feel awful, to avoid feeling even more awful. So if you're reading this having failed yet again to give up smoking, or drinking, or whatever, sit down and think about what you're really frightened of. And the answer is always the same. It is: yourself.
The Hungry Years: confessions of a food addict by William Leith is published by Bloomsbury (£10.99)