After nearly a lifetime of silence, I now find it effortless to acknowledge that I have binge eating disorder (BED).
It wasn’t always this way. Somewhere between the ages of five and seven, I discovered my connection to food and began a relationship that would shape most of my life. For me, food provided both comfort and stress, it signified love and hate, it brought me up and then down, it was my best friend and nemesis.
My mother was anorexic as a teen and as a young mother she coached me to distinguish between “good” and “bad” food and taught me the many rules and rituals she followed. Mom modeled her own uneasiness with her body and we dieted together often. We both acted on unexplainable urges that propelled us both toward and in retreat from food with equal vigor.
As a child, I admired my mother’s ability to restrict and found myself weak in her eyes as I caved over and over to frenzied feasts of as much food as my poor body could handle.
My own cravings and seemingly insatiable appetite were a failing in my mind. I believed my will was weak and therefore I was undeserving of anything that would be bestowed on a person who was thin, including love.
As a child, I overheard many conversations between my parents concerning missing food from the refrigerator or a new stash of wrappers in my room. I worked to keep the extent of my binges from them, but was not always successful. They tried everything they could think of to help me stop overeating; but the series of doctors, weight loss programs and compulsory diets only served to drive me deeper into the arms of food and self-imposed seclusion.
I was teased and bullied about my weight during elementary school and into middle and high school. Despite being popular and well-liked by my peers and teachers, I was an easy target because I was overweight.
I was sure that that the answer was to be thin, but each time I attempted to diet, I would find myself caught up in a tangle of rules and expectations for myself that were unsustainable. I would lose massive amounts of weight only to find myself gaining it back quickly and in an amount greater than I lost initially.
The pain built after each failed attempt and I retreated further and further in to a dark place that required more food and fewer relationships. My self-esteem, always fragile, steadily eroded through the years as I came to realize I was always going to be a target based on the size of my body.
My desire to be thin increased alongside my weight. The pressure I put on myself and the hours I spent focusing on how to lose the excess weight fueled a cycle of extreme dieting and bingeing. I attempted bulimic behaviors, but found that I was unable to commit to these activities. In my mind, this signaled I was truly a failure.
During my late teens and early twenties, I watched as my high school classmates went on to college and began building their lives. I attempted college immediately after high school, but found that I could not handle the pressure that came with the demands of a higher education. My eating disorder required more and more time, which left fewer and fewer hours in the day available to build an adult life.
I struggled for several more years as my mental health deteriorated and my waistline expanded. I was in the depths of despair and depression with no future and even less sense of self. I knew that I needed help and it meant a commitment to searching for answers. I was not very hopeful, but willing to try anything.
I took a first step by seeking the help of a therapist and began to work on understanding my relationship with food. There was no mention of an eating disorder during this time and frankly, my only motivation was weight loss.
This initial work did result in some weight loss and an improved outlook on life. I attended college, earned my degree, and began engaging in life despite the fact that my bingeing continued. I knew I had much more work to do and was getting a sense that my intense desire to lose weight was a part of the problem.
After several years, I once again sought treatment. My new therapist diagnosed me with “binge eating disorder.” I cannot convey the liberation I felt. The distress and preoccupation with food/body size actually had a name. I realize this is difficult to believe, but I was overjoyed! It meant I was not alone and there were others who were struggling. It also meant, for me, that I could address my issues and put aside the guilt and shame.
Responsibility for the disorder now belonged to me and I felt relief.
I began to search for other binge eaters through both national and local eating disorder groups. I occasionally found one or two, but it soon became apparent that either I was one of a very few or BED was lacking acknowledgement and severely under diagnosed. I was certain that it was the latter and I began to think about what it would be like to have a community of those with whom I could relate and share support. At the time, I had no idea how this unmet need in my own life would directly affect my future and my own journey with BED.
Over the next 10 years I married a wonderful and supportive man, and had two children. Pregnancy threw me for a loop and after several years of severe depression and relapse, I opted for lap-band surgery – still convinced on some level that my lingering issues would be solved if I were thin; even though I knew better intellectually.
The day after I returned home from the hospital, I began to have serious withdrawal symptoms. I obsessed about food, cried, screamed, and became even more depressed, which fueled massive binges. The band did not tolerate bingeing because of its forced restriction on my stomach and I quickly became, what I term, a “mechanicalized bulimic”.
I could not believe that after all the years of therapy and self-discovery food could still control me like this and now I had the added problem of purging. It was clear that this band around my stomach was not going to solve my problems and I would need to revisit treatment for binge eating disorder.
I assembled my team to include a psychologist, nutritionist, and several complementary practitioners who helped me manage my disorder and introduced me to many new tools using Dialectal Behavioral Therapy (DBT). As a part of this type of therapy, I was taught intuitive eating and found this tool to be transformative as I addressed my issues. For the first time, I felt I was treating my body well and my mind and spirit approved.
I made the decision to not “fill” my lap band for further restriction, but rather continue to work on the real issues. Body acceptance is something I work to reaffirm daily. I make my health and the positive things I can do for my body a priority rather than the number on a scale.
I allow my imperfections in all their beauty and embrace my body at every size along the way. I continue to explore what works for me and learned to replace binges with healthy relationships, activities and passions. Bingeing will probably always be in the tool box for me, but it has morphed in to something that looks very different than 35, 25, 15, and even 5 years ago. A “binge” I now understand, for me, is not about the food; it’s about everything around the food and my ability to process situations and emotions.
In early 2008, the desire to build a community for those with binge eating disorder became a passion I decided to pursue. I discovered through the available literature that binge eating disorder represents the greatest number of individuals with an eating disorder. In fact, 1 in every 35 US adults is affected and 70% of those with the disorder are overweight or obese.
It was clear to me that turning up the volume around BED within both the eating disorder and obesity communities was vital to increasing general awareness and therefore help and hope for the millions affected by the disorder. I began working on the idea that was planted all those years ago when I received my own diagnosis and with the help of some forward-thinking and courageous board members the Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA) was born.
Today, BEDA is a rapidly growing national organization with a membership consisting of both treatment providers and affected individuals and their families. We host a yearly conference, and serve as a voice for those suffering in silence and a resource for those seeking their own path to recovery.
I trust that my own experience will reflect the hope that is possible for all those who struggle with eating disorders as we are a resilient and determined bunch. With access to treatment, additional research, and education many more stories of recovery are possible.
I am grateful every day for my own journey and encourage others to join me to bring binge eating disorder “in to the light.”
For more information please visit www.bedaonline.com.
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