I think 2017 is looking up. And I say that guardedly, knowing full well that I can always slip backwards.
My name is Ryan Sheldon. I’m 28 years old, and I suffer from binge eating disorder (BED). It wasn’t long ago that I was deep in my disease: bingeing, planning, hiding. I could tell you countless stories about the multiple fast-food-restaurant visits in between meals, the obsessive planning of what I would eat days in advance, the clever ways I used to mask what I was doing so no one would know. Many of you are familiar with that vicious cycle, especially coming through the holiday period as we all have, and it sure isn’t easy.
I always loved food as a kid, and for a while it seemed normal. Plus, my mother reinforced it, either by telling me I was a “growing boy” or “big-boned”—making excuses for my overeating. But as I got older I started using food as a crutch. The first time I can remember doing this was when in my early twenties when I was in a toxic relationship. I used food as a safe place to get away from the emotional trauma I was feeling at that time.
Over time, food became more than just a safe place. It became the main source of happiness in my life. I started obsessing about food, planning my meals for later, for tomorrow, for next week. And soon, that wasn’t enough. I started visiting fast-food restaurants in between meals, thinking nothing of spending $60, $70 on junk food and wolfing it down while still in the car—sometimes even before the guilt and shame started settling in.
That cycle of planning, binging and the subsequent shame got to the point where I could no longer control anything in my life. My relationship with food was paralyzing, but I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I knew I had to find a way to get help, but I was stuck.
I have been seeing a therapist for many years, and though he does not specialize in treating people with eating disorders, he was a sympathetic ear to my struggles. He pushed me to open up about my eating habits. In these conversations, I first started opening the door to the possibility that I had an eating disorder. Finally, I learned that binge eating disorder was an actual, diagnosed condition and that there are many others suffering from it. That was truly life-changing for me. For the first time, I wasn’t ashamed. It took so much pressure off of me, and I no longer felt like I was crazy.
I started talking openly and blogging about my eating disorder. Through social media, I began meeting many other people, and in particular other men, who face similar challenges. This has been a tremendous step in my journey because for the first time I didn’t feel alone.
In recovery, I’ve learned the hard way how difficult it is being a man with an eating disorder. People think eating disorders only affect women, and there is a kind of sexist attitude that says it’s okay for women to suffer from them, because they’re the emotional ones, but it’s not for men. People say things like, “You’re a guy. Just go work out!” It causes even more shame and more hiding, because men don’t feel it’s socially acceptable to talk about their struggles with food. Men can’t get people to take it seriously. Even if men are overeating, people just say, “Well, he’s a guy.” Believe me, that makes it so much harder to correct.
Beyond that, it’s not easy to deal with having BED in the real world. For example, dating has been a struggle for me because I am always afraid to show a woman that I’m struggling with food. I wonder what she will think of me and I worry she will stay away from me because of it. It’s not easy trying to date when I’m out with my guy friends who are totally fit. They have a six-pack, and I have “no pack.” It makes me feel like I’m already out of the running from the start.
So, I still have a lot to overcome. But I am optimistic about the future, and I have goals for the coming year, like learning to love myself more, sticking to a healthy lifestyle, and continuing to embrace my eating disorder recovery. I understand that even though I’ve done a great deal of work on myself, and feel much better than before, the disease is still alive in side of me. A hiccup could come at any time, and I could slip backwards. But I don’t spend too much time worrying about it. That’s so last year and I want 2017 to be about the positives in my life.
Ryan Sheldon is founder of Confessions of a Binge Eater, a blog he created to share his journey with binge eating disorder (BED). Ryan hopes his story will help others suffering from BED overcome shame and embarrassment, as well as gain back control over food.