It all started for me when I was sixteen. I was happy and healthy and had a great group of friends. I was even happier when my best best friend — a guy I’d had a crush on for months — became my boyfriend. At first, things were great and I was the happiest I’d ever been — until things started to change. Like so many young relationships, it fell apart. He ended up dumping me after two months to date my best friend for more than two years. Looking back, if I had known then what I know now, I would laugh, wave good riddance, and tell my friend that this boy would screw her over, too, just like he screwed me over in the past and he would continue to screw over other girls in the future. But that wasn’t how I felt at sixteen. At sixteen, it felt like my life was over.
Being my typical type A self, I knew I had to distract myself and keep myself busy to forget about how much I was hurting. I got a summer job and I demanded to be scheduled to work for as many hours as they could give me. I worked and worked and threw myself into this minimum wage job to block everything from my mind, but it wasn’t enough. As soon as I got home, I would lie in bed and all the feelings would hit. I don’t remember the first time it started, but I remember the pattern. I would find whatever food I could get my hands on. And I would eat. And eat and eat and eat. And I wouldn’t stop until everything was gone. I would give myself stomachaches consuming thousands and thousands of calories in one sitting. Cans of Pringles, family-sized bags of chips, half-gallons of ice cream — no matter what it was, I would grab it, I would eat it, and when everything was gone, I wouldn’t feel anything anymore.
I eventually got over this breakup, as every girl does sooner rather than later, but what I learned was that when things were getting rough, food would numb the pain. When my grandfather died, I ate. When I got rejected from my top choice schools, I ate. When I felt like I wasn’t good enough, I ate and ate and ate. For me, it wasn’t about the hunger. It was about the control. It was the binging without the purging. I remember lying in bed after bingeing like this and feeling so insanely jealous of girls who were anorexic or bulimic. I wished and hoped and prayed I could make myself throw up, but I knew I wouldn’t. The food stopped me from feeling, and if I got rid of the food, then the feelings might come back. So I kept it down, and I ate some more. Through all of this, my body changed for the worse. Seeing an unhealthy image where a healthy, happy, fit girl used to stand made me feel even worse, so I kept eating to quiet those feelings, too. It was a terrible, vicious cycle, but I had no choice. I had to keep eating.
All the same, I never saw any reason to get help. I didn’t have an eating disorder. Eating disorders are anorexia and bulimia. Eating disorders make you skinnier. I certainly wasn’t depressed. Depression was for middle-aged women, shot through blue filters, on commercials with sad piano music playing in the background. Depression was for people who thought about killing themselves. None of these things were me. I was just fat. Many people in my family are overweight, and I just accepted that my time had come to join their ranks. I ate whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. So what if that meant I ate between five and ten thousand calories on a bad day? It’s just who I was, and I didn’t need to change that.
I denied that I needed help for seven years. My health went downhill. My hair fell out due to poor nutrition. My blood pressure rose along with my anxiety. It wasn’t until I had a complete breakdown one day that I realized I might be dealing with something outside of my control. I realized I needed help, and even when I went to get help, I was surprised at how resistant I was to it. This was the moment that I would be letting go of the control I’d held onto for seven years, and it took me months to accept that I wouldn’t have this grasp on my life anymore. I was letting go of the last thing I could control, and that scared me to death. But I knew that the only alternative was to continue to watch my life spiral downward, so I eventually accepted the help I should have asked for seven years ago, and I’m so glad I did. Things finally started to change for the better, and I didn’t need to control my life with food anymore. I could take control of my own life, make my own decisions, and shape my future with my actions. It felt good, it felt right, and for the first time in a very, very long time, I felt alive again.
I feel like these stories are always supposed to end in an “I’m completely better and perfect and fine and you will be, too!” way, but I’m here to say that I’m not sure that’s the truth. At least for me, anyway, battling binge eating wasn’t like recovering from chickenpox, where you get the disease once, you suffer through it, and then you’re completely free from running into it ever again. Unlike a virus, this disorder can lurk around, waiting for the perfect sign of weakness to strike back with full force. I have to be cautious and on alert for warning signs. When things start to go terribly wrong, I check myself for signs of depression and binge eating. Am I eating that third donut because it tastes good and I want to, or is it a sign of a bigger demon reemerging in my life? Am I staying in bed because I want to keep watching this Netflix show, or am I preventing myself from dealing with my problems? It’s a daily struggle, but it’s easier than it used to be. Now that I know and acknowledge Binge Eating Disorder in myself, I can recognize the warning signs and pull myself out of a slump before I have to dig myself out of a trench.
One of my biggest inhibitors in reaching out for help was the lack of awareness about Binge Eating Disorder. With as much emphasis as society puts on anorexia and bulimia, binge eating often gets completely overlooked. I felt that I was weak and that I couldn’t reach out because my eating was causing me to gain weight, not lose it, and I didn’t recognize an eating disorder in my behavior. Don’t let anyone tell you that just because you’re not losing weight, it doesn’t mean you don’t have an eating disorder. Don’t let anyone make you feel that you’re just fat. Don’t let anyone tell you that you should just “get over it.” And please, when the time finally comes that you start making healthy changes to battle this disorder with everything that you have, do NOT let anyone shame you into stopping.
Just because you’re not restricting your calories or purging, it doesn’t mean you don’t need help. Don’t fool yourself — this behavior puts your physical and mental health in jeopardy. Binge eating is often tied very closely with depression, which can lead to self-harm or suicide attempts. If my story sounds familiar to you or you recognize any of these signs in yourself, don’t wait as long as I did to ask for help. Binge Eating Disorder is classified as an eating disorder by the National Eating Disorder website, and you can read more about it here. Up to 5 percent of Americans are estimated to suffer from Binge Eating Disorder, but I hope that with sharing stories like mine, we can inspire those who need help to take that final step to reach out, and we can bring that percentage down and fight this thing together..
If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, please call the National Eating Disorder’s confidential helpline at 1-800-931-2237, or visit the website for more information.
Image via Shutterstock