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National Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2013: Binge Eating Disorder (it’s not just a “willpower” thing)

February 25, 2013

This post is a part of a series I am doing this week for National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. While I am currently in graduate school for mental health counseling, these blog posts are my own opinions, and should not be used in lieu of counseling or therapy. While I have struggled with eating disorders myself and have done a lot of research, I am neither an expert nor a healthcare professional.

Wow, I can’t believe my last post was a whole year ago, and it was during this week. A quick update for those of you who don’t know: I’m currently in graduate school, I love it, and I’m really busy. While these posts may be difficult for me to write this week given that I am coming to the last few weeks of the quarter, it is important for me to write during NEDAW and I’m glad to be back to a bit of blogging.

I’d like to start my first post of the week by talking about Binge Eating Disorder (BED) especially because it is finally being added to the newest addition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which comes out in May. Why BED has not been there before  blows my mind, considering that it seems to be one of the most prevalent eating disorders, but the purpose of this post isn’t to get all social justice-y angry (you can read earlier posts if you’d like some of that).

There are a lot of misconceptions about Binge Eating Disorder. I’ve heard some people say it is not really disorder, and that people should just “watch what they eat” and they will be fine. I have heard people say that all fat people have BED, or that all people with BED are fat. I’ve seen a lot of books that tell you they have the “overeating cure” which usually boils down to another diet that doesn’t work. When I start talking about BED to other people, I get confused because people try to joke around with me saying, “hah! I binge all the time! I TOTALLY have that. I LOVE cookies.” The thing is, BED is not something to be taken lightly, or something that everyone has. Overeating sometimes is not BED.

BED is close to my heart, because although anorexia was the disease that sent me to the hospital and almost killed me, binge eating seems like the disorder I have always carried with me, starting in elementary school where I would steal a whole box of Honey Buns from the pantry, sneak them to the basement, and devour them one by one.  Anorexia became a temporary (well, 3 year) fix to something I always believed about myself: that I would never be able to control what I ate, and because of that fact I was a terrible, horrible person.

I’d like to share my experiences with BED for a few reasons: first, I want to share what I went through so that those still struggling know that they are not alone, and that there is hope for recovery (even if you do think your binges are the WORST). And second, I want to show those who have no idea what BED is like how devastating and dark it can be, so that the misconceptions stated above can’t grab hold when BED so desperately needs awareness and compassion.

Like I said, I believe that BED started for me when I was in elementary school. For some reason I went through a lot during that time, feeling very depressed, unheard, and unappreciated. I was told by many peers that I was fat, or that I was “undateable” because I was fat (I know, dating in 5th grade, please), and that I should be compared to a cow because that’s how large I was. The funny, or ironic, part about this time is that I really wasn’t fat. Not that it matters because bullying is ALWAYS unacceptable. But with the teasing, I truly came to believe that I was less-than because of my body size. There are a lot of reasons I probably started eating: to cope with the comments, to feel something good when I felt so bad, to hide and become more invisible so I could escape the comments, or so that I could become more visible when I felt so ignored. I didn’t really have a good sense of what was going on then, but what I knew was that I always felt empty, and I tried desperately to fill that hole with food.

In middle school, the harassment and comments about my weight died down, but the damage was done. I already felt like nobody could ever really like me because I was  too fat. I had one best friend who was my rock in sixth and seventh grade (thanks L) but I was so incredibly shy and scared  that I ceased to talk to anyone I thought could hurt me, which was almost everyone. I knew that I was fat, and because I was fat I was a bad, unlovable, and stupid person, and therefore no one could ever really like me. The shame cycle continued when I went home after school and tried to squash my feelings of self-hatred with any food we had in the pantry. Breakfast and night time were the hardest, and while I’m not an alcoholic, from what I’ve heard it seems similar: I needed a binge at night to zone out from a terrible, self-loathing day, and I needed a binge in the morning because I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle the day ahead of me. And throughout the day I was so ashamed of bingeing that I would binge some more just to get away from the shame.

Anorexia, for me, was a way to prove to myself that I was not a bad person because I could control what I ate. The whole three years of me in and out of the hospital with anorexia, and constantly seeing therapists, nutritionists and psychiatrists just so I could keep my heart rate above 35 beats per minute was in part because I believed that if I ate too much I would spin out of control again and become a terrible, disgusting, horrible person. Ironically, when I “recovered” from anorexia, I did spin out of control and I did binge all day.

A day for me, at my worst, looked like this (possible trigger warning for those currently struggling). I woke up immediately ashamed of my body, the binge the night before, and what that meant about me as a person. I started my self-talk, mantras, and my attempts to be “good” for a day, saying “I’m an idiot for last night. How could I do that to myself? I will only eat 800 calories today. I should not need more than that because of yesterday. I will only eat fruits and vegetables and healthy items. No ice cream. I can do this.”  I would eat a bowl of cereal, usually Special K, and told myself that I had to stop there. That bowl was never enough, and sometimes I would have one or three more, despite my plan. I packed my lunch the night before, and during my free period at school, at 9:30 or 10:00 am, I would eat it all, trying to convince myself that I was hungry and that I wouldn’t eat until dinner that night. Then the lunch period would come and I couldn’t handle my loneliness, so I would buy a huge bag of pretzels and some peanut butter from the cafeteria. By this time I HATED everything about myself, and there was no way I could convince myself that I was still “good.” I was bad, and bad people fuck everything up, and if I fucked everything up already, who cared if I ate so much? I would buy a  2 packs of M&M’s. Sometimes I skipped my afternoon classes to go to the bagel shop and get a huge bagel with cream cheese, and then stop by Jamba Juice for a huge smoothie. At night I would eat dinner, but after dinner was when there was no semblance of control. I literally could not stop after three Clif Bars, three yogurts, a plate of leftover dinner, half a pint of ice cream, and two packs of pop tarts. My binges always took place by myself, and I could never let anyone know what was going on. My parents knew that I was bingeing, but I would wait until they went to bed. Considering the stigma that comes with overeating or being fat (when the two are not really related), there was no way I could let anyone into my world. It would be elementary school all over again.

A lot of people don’t understand that I never really tasted any of the food I ate. People think that the food just really tastes so good and that’s why bingeing is hard to stop. But for me, binge eating was not about tasting or enjoying food. It was about numbing myself out to the pain I was experiencing, and destroying the awful and terrible person I believed myself to be. There is no enjoyment to that.

For someone who has never felt it, the shame and self-loathing that comes with binge eating is devastating and unimaginable. A lot of people think that if someone with BED just develops different coping skills, or just pushes away the plate, or just stop feeling ashamed. The problem, as we have learned with all eating disorders is the “just do this” attitude. And the problem with our society is that we believe that being fat is something that is easily controlled, and that if people just had enough willpower, or “just do this” juice, then everyone would be okay. However, the deep wounds, cuts, and scars that are created from such self-loathing and shame are never healed by a simple fix. Eating 5 servings of vegetables per day will not mend years of deep bleeding inside.

Help IS out there, and I am proof that you can heal from BED. I, like everyone, overeat sometimes. I also know when I am hungry, and when I am full. I taste food, and I am not afraid of derailing my day with one extra bowl of cereal. Recovery doesn’t come from mere “willpower” in my opinion, and it takes time.

If you want some book ideas, here are some that I found helpful:

  • Eating in the Light of the Moon, Anita Johnston
  • Don’t Diet, Live It!, Marcus and Lobue
  • When Food is Love, Geneen Roth
  • When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies, Hirschmann and Munter

Please comment here! I would love to hear your thoughts and discuss more. Also, let me know what you would like to learn/hear about during this week. I have ideas, but I want to know what would be important for others to know.


5 Comments leave one →
  1. February 26, 2013 1:22 am

    Reblogged this on Fractured Ideals and commented:
    A great personal testimony of living with Binge Eating Disorder (BED).

  2. February 26, 2013 3:55 am

    Reblogged this on Extended Recovery.

  3. February 26, 2013 4:00 am

    Welcome back to both the “blogosphere” and “fatosphere”!

  4. The Real Cie permalink
    February 27, 2013 11:41 pm

    I resonate with everything you’re saying. I was called “fat” when I weighed 110 pounds. I became bulimic when I was twelve. I was bullied horribly. I would sneak food too. I hated myself. I haven’t really learned to like myself, but I’ve learned to accept myself somewhat more.

    • chachamama permalink*
      March 1, 2013 10:09 am

      I’m so sorry to hear that you dealt with bullying at such a young age and that you hated yourself so much. There is is so much strength in acceptance and I’m glad that’s where you are headed! And Boulder. What a beautiful and crazy place to live. And by crazy, I mean those marathon runners and cyclists, and triathletes working out all day every day as the norm didn’t really help me develop a healthy relationship with exercise.

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