I want to talk about my eating disorder. So, you know, trigger warning for all that stuff.
I try to keep my blog more general and have avoided personal anecdotes in the past couple years. But talking about my struggle with Binge Eating Disorder over the past 20 years is as personal as it gets. So buckle up.
I remember the exact moment that triggered my disorder. Rationally I know that if it wasn’t this event, it almost certainly would have been another, but I’m still resentful of the day I, at eight years old, went to my friend Jen’s sleepover. After her parents had gone to bed, she told me to sneak out with her to the kitchen to ‘grab a snack.’ I was horrified. Taking food without permission was not something ever allowed at my house. It was night time, what did we need to eat for? But I was in an unfamiliar place and I wanted Jen to like me, so I did it. And it felt great!
Unfortunately, it meant that when I went back home, I wanted to do the same thing. And so I did. After my parents went to bed I would get up and raid the fridge, the cabinets, the counters. Whatever was around, I would snack on. (I suppose it would be important to mention that up until this point, I was a very thin child. Perhaps even bordering on medically underweight.) It didn’t take long for my parents to catch on to the fact that food was missing. They told me to stop. They thought that would be that. But unfortunately, almost immediately it was a compulsion for me. I couldn’t sleep without it.
My mother would hide the good snacks. She would set traps so that if I tried to open the fridge or the cabinet it would make a lot of noise and wake them up. But I was always one step ahead. I swear I developed ninja-like skills—I was expert at sneaking out and back to my room almost silently. I remember one night binging on a package of chocolate ice cream cones. Didn’t care that there was no ice cream, I ate every single cone (and then got violently ill.) Another night, my parents caught me red handed eating a jar of Fluff with my bare hands. I didn’t discriminate. If it was there, I would eat it.
Things started happening in my life. Fighting, the divorce of my parents, and the beginning of constant bullying for my newly chubby frame. The food became a combination of compulsion and comfort. My mother took me to a nutritionist in an effort to help me learn how to eat. It did absolutely nothing to help. In sixth grade she made me join Weight Watchers. There I was, 12 years old in a room full of people 30 and older. I felt so out of place it was destined to fail from the get go. My doctor lectured me, and it just made me feel bad. My mother locked the cabinets, she stopped buying ‘tempting’ food, she punished me–absolutely none of it stopped me. I will say though, during my preteen years and all the way up to about age 14, I was very active. I walked or rode my bike everywhere, I was out with the neighborhood kids from sunup ‘til sundown, I even went to a local gym. I was chubby, but I was strong.
With high school came depression. I was severely socially awkward and had very few friends, and I loathed myself with such a complete passion. In health class we learned about anorexia and bulimia. One meant you starved, one meant you binged and purged. I hated myself because I couldn’t even do an eating disorder right. I binged but I couldn’t bring myself to purge, and I wished desperately that I could. I thought that I was such a disgusting gluttonous pig that I was even a failure at eating disorders. I thought I was the only person in the world with habits like I had. I can’t begin to describe the shame I felt, thinking I was the only one in the world that was like this. No one ever mentioned that things like Binge Eating Disorder and Compulsive Overeating existed. I thought I was broken, a massive fuckup. Between this, being bullied, and watching all my peers begin dating and going out to social events while I remained both invisible and with a giant spotlight that said FAT GIRL on me, and my classmates mooing at me or pretending the ground was shaking as I walked by, and the burden of all of this causing me to fail nearly every class, adolescence was nothing short of misery.
I attempted suicide twice. I hated myself more for failing. Since my grades were so bad, my mother didn’t allow me to go out with the few friends I had. Any time I wasn’t at school, I was in my room. And there wasn’t much to do but eat. Eating brought me comfort that my lack of a support system didn’t. I ended up dropping out of high school and getting my GED instead
At 18, I got my license and a car and suddenly EVERY FAST FOOD joint was available to me whenever I felt like it. At 19, in January 2006, I moved into a one bedroom apartment with my best friend at the time. To say it didn’t work out would be a massive understatement. Our friendship imploded and one day at the end of May, I came home from work, and she was gone. Moved out without a hint or a sign. She left me feeling alone, depressed, and completely inadequate. I started binging more. I would hit three different fast food joints, buy a huge meal from each of them, and go home and systematically down ALL of them. I would eat until I was stuffed. There was no such thing as leftovers with me. I soon ballooned to the larger side of a size 30/32. I continued hating myself. That was the one thing I could always count on—extremely low self-worth. I truly hated myself.
Finally my life began to come together a bit. I started working full time, I started dating, and later I discovered body positivity. I began to surround myself with people who had bodies who looked like mine. I saw that they were happy. They were loved. They liked their bodies. They didn’t let anything hold them back. If it was possible for them, could it be possible for me too? It took a lot of work and a lot of soul searching, but slowly I started to stop hating myself so much.
And then, through the wonder of the internet and hearing other people’s stories, I discovered that Binge Eating Disorder existed. It was real! It was in the DSM! Other people had it too! I wasn’t just a failed bulimic! I read the symptoms and cried, because I finally realized that I wasn’t failing at having an eating disorder, it’s just that no one told me about this one.
- Eating unusually large amounts of food
- Eating even when you’re full or not hungry
- Eating rapidly during binge episodes
- Eating until you’re uncomfortably full
- Frequently eating alone
- Feeling that your eating behavior is out of control
- Feeling depressed, disgusted, ashamed, guilty or upset about your eating
- Experiencing depression and anxiety
- Feeling isolated and having difficulty talking about your feelings
- Frequently dieting, possibly without weight loss
- Losing and gaining weight repeatedly, also called yo-yo dieting
With the exception of yo-yo dieting, I fit every symptom perfectly. The relief I felt at being able to put a name to my disorder was indescribable. And it worries me so much that as school age girl, I was educated over and over about anorexia and bulimia, but BED was never mentioned, nor was anything else on the spectrum of eating disorders.
I wish I could say that there was a happy ending here. Sadly, however, BED is still something I struggle with daily. Due to the fact that I live in extreme poverty, I am unable to eat well. I only eat once a day, which has destroyed my metabolism. My behaviors when it comes to food are really disordered—I actually enjoy starving myself all day because it makes the one meal I get to eat that much better. Luckily my weight has remained stable for the past few years.
Last year, I went on an unsupervised diet. And when I say diet, I mean crash diet. I allowed myself 500 calories a day, and that was it. I signed up for myfitnesspal and became obsessed with logging every little thing I put in my body and every physical activity I did. I was heavily into body positivity at that time, and I kept it a secret from almost everyone I knew. The few people I did tell, I claimed it was a ‘cleanse’ to kind of ‘reset’ my body. But I knew it was no such thing. I thought that I could ‘fix’ my binge eating disorder by doing the exact opposite thing instead. I lasted a month. The worst part was, during that month, I felt great. You would think that on 500 calories a day I would be sickly, completely lack energy, and be altogether unwell, but that was not the case. I felt great, physically and mentally. And that I think is what scared me the most, because in truth, I miss it. But I know that’s not something I can sustain (and especially not now that I’m much poorer and unable to obtain wholesome healthy foods.) And I know that my obsessive behaviors are unhealthy whether I’m binging or starving.
(I’d like to pause here and say that I chuckle whenever naysayers of body positivity or of me in particular assume that I claim that I’m healthy. I have never, EVER, made any such claim. My eating behaviors are anything but healthy, even if my blood pressure/blood sugar/heart rate is just fine. I do not personally practice Health at Every Size, although I do support it.)
I have to say though, I’m lucky to have found body positivity. At the end of the day, my current body is due to my disorder. Not genetics, not my thyroid. It’s all the BED. And for too long, I resented my body for being such an obvious physical marker of my illness. Body positivity taught me to make peace with my body. More than that, it taught me to love my body. I honestly don’t know what the future holds. I might lose weight, I might gain weight. But the body that I’m in right now is the only one I have, and I’m so lucky to have discovered the tools to learn to love it. Truly I believe that’s the first step to recovery in the case of any eating disorder. And that’s why I do what I do, which is to promote body positivity for others. I spent, more or less, from age 9 to age 25 completely disgusted with my physical self, and you know what? Feeling that way affects every other part of a person’s life. Your body image, your self esteem, it affects SO much about you, from your willingness to wear certain things to being willing to date to even being willing to leave the house. Loving my body is an open act of rebellion. And I love that!
No amount of dieting will fix BED. The only thing that will help, and something I hope I’m able to have access to once I’m finished with university and have a job, is a psychologist or psychiatrist who specializes in eating disorders. It’s a disorder and needs to be treated as such. The fact that I personally also have comorbid disorders such as depression, anxiety, and Borderline Personality Disorder doesn’t help, but I think the best treatment for me personally would be some sort of CBT or DBT to really focus on modifying the behaviors that I exhibit. For now that’s just a pipe dream, and I have to do what I can to survive and put my health on hold for now. Recovery is a full time job, especially when it comes to such extensive behavioral changes, and for me I have to prioritize school and work and getting my life together before I can focus on my disorder. But for those with the means, there are many resources out there (check out BEDA for some!)
The purpose of this post is to, in addition to tell my story, to be a resource. BED research is severely underfunded and under-represented. In fact, eating disorder research as a whole is very underfunded.
I encourage everyone reading this to get involved. In America alone, over 30 million people suffer from eating disorders. I recommend checking out the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) which organizes walks, fundraisers, has internships, and even a media watchdog program. Simple awareness and advocacy can go a long way!