Binge eating disorder. Let's talk.
Eating disorders are mental illnesses. They just happen to manifest themselves physically, sometimes for the whole world to see, but the root is totally mental. I knew a lot about the two big ones: anorexia and bulimia. But, when I was a kid developing unhealthy relationships with food, when I was a teen ballooning out of control, when I was a young adult giving up on life because I couldn't get my weight under control, I didn't know that there were others. Binge Eating Disorder only became an official classification and diagnosis in the DSM-5 in 2013. We only started hearing about it as a possible disorder which stood on its own when it was appended in the DSM-IV as "requiring further study" in 2000.
Before that? Before it had a name, people like me just thought we were weak. Were told we were weak. That it was a lack of willpower. That laziness and overindulgence were at the root of obesity. That it was some kind of moral failing and if I just tried harder, if i just found the right diet, then I would lose the weight.
But I knew. I knew that something wasn't normal with the way I ate. I have been reading and researching eating disorders for years, and started to come across the term "binge eating" as its own category, but it was clear that it was not a legitimate Eating Disorder. I started to use the phrase "disordered eating" to try and explain what I was doing.
And what I was doing was bingeing. Hiding food, to eat in secret. Eating well past the point of being full and being unable to stop, sometimes not even realizing what I was doing. Hardly tasting the food, certainly not enjoying it after the first few mouthfuls. In a trance-like state, I often found myself driving, arguing with myself in my head about NOT making that turn into the drive-thru, having had no conscious intention of eating anything at all, and then coming back to myself to realize that I was surrounded by enough food to feed a small family. Eating disorders are very much about control. With binge eating, it is about the loss of control.
It's also a coping mechanism gone haywire. Eating became my way of stuffing feelings way down, of numbing any kind of pain. You know what? It worked. It worked as well as alcohol or drugs. I don't know if it was truly a chemical change in my brain - as it would be with other addictions - or if it was purely psychological, but once I learned that it worked, it became harder and harder not to turn to food to feel better. Except, the bigger I got, the more food it took to feel better, because it only worked in the short term. There's a chicken and egg relationship between binge eating, depression, and body image. Hard to say which issue came first for me, which one was cause and which was effect. Ultimately, it doesn't matter; the end result was that I hated who I was because of how I looked, and I thought that I was worthless as a person and didn't deserve help because it was my own fault for getting to that point.
I was wrong.
I was as wrong as someone with any mental illness is wrong that it's all their fault, or that they can regain control by willpower alone. It's no coincidence that my change in lifestyle, my journey towards health and fitness, started around the same time as Binge Eating Disorder started to be widely talked about.
Each day is different. Some are better, some are struggles. I have to choose recovery over and over.
But I have three things I didn't have years ago:
- I have resources and tools, because
- I have a name for my disorder, and because of that
- I have hope.
And I have these things because braver people than I am decided to start the conversation, and talk.