My eating disorder is a thing. It is something almost tangible, that I can see and hold and throw at the walls. It is something I love and hate and grab onto, clutching in desperation at times for comfort. It is something I despise and cherish and hate and want to be free of, that has served me and tortured me and accompanied me through the last decade of my life.
I did have an eating disorder. I always wondered what was wrong with me that I could sit and zone out and eat more than a whole day's worth of food in one, fifteen-minute sitting. I wondered why I kept doing it even though I felt guilty, I wanted to stop, I made myself sick, and I was gaining weight at an astounding pace. I let my eating disorder imprison me in morbid obesity for a long time.
My eating disorder became clearer to me as I lost weight. It sometimes looked like a raging monster, one that was biting me on the arms and terrifying me as I tried to get it away from me, all the while embracing it and trying to tame it into some kind of loyal pet. I tried so hard to turn that terrifying, ugly monster into something kinder and calmer and more domesticated. But it always seemed I ended up getting bit, crying and bleeding and wishing I could somehow let it go.
I tried calling exterminators. Therapists, doctors, experts who I thought might be able to slay the beast that I seemed unable to kill on my own. In my head I was cornered, frightened, ever waiting for the next monstrous attack with the razor-sharp teeth and claws that would leave me once again crying and bleeding and bandaging my wounds. And then again I'd try to befriend it, to tame it, to tentatively reach out and understand it, and it would bite me again. I could not be rid of the monster.
Over time, I have finally come to understand that my vision was clouded. I was imagining that monster. It was my own fears come to life in my mind... my idea that my eating disorder was something I could not understand, comprehend, or conquer. It was an outside force, an entity like the demons I feared as a child, that did things *to* me. It took hold of me in its jaws and shook, shook, shook, until I went limp like a rag doll and ate and ate until I could eat no more. It was the only way to appease the monster. Eat. Do its bidding. Only then would its jaws open and it would slink away, leaving me once again wounded and shaking and trying to heal. Trying to be free.
All this time, I was wrong. My eating disorder was not a monster. It never was. I was seeing it through my own fears and bleak hopelessness that surrounds those who suffer, imagine it a monster, and think they can never be free.
It is not a monster. I see it clearly now. My eating disorder is a teddy bear.
It's a brown, soft, fluffy teddy bear. It has no teeth or claws; it has no demon-eyes. It is gentle and comforting and I, myself, chose to reach out and embrace it. It never cornered me or threatened me or caused my wounds. I caused them myself, with my own imaginations and beliefs and actions.
When I was upset, I took the comfort of the bear. Comfort was what I wanted all along. I think sometimes I was trying to punish myself by imagining it a monster. But it had no life of its own, either way; it was just a silly stuffed animal with no power over me. When I was lonely, I reached for it. When I was sad, or happy, or overwhelmed, I put my hand out and touched the soft fur and hugged it near me. My eating disorder has served a purpose all along. I used it to help myself cope. I used it to shut out the world. I buried my face in its softness and closed my eyes and the world disappeared for a bit. It was my own mind that let that teddy bear morph into a flesh-shredding monster to be feared. It was my own sense of helplessness that left me feeling like a victim after every binge.
It's been a long time since I took the bear off its shelf and embraced it. It was even getting a bit dusty over there, but I knew I still had it. I just didn't need it so much lately. This week the bear came off the shelf and into my arms for awhile. This time, there was no fear. There was no fright that it *could be* a monster, that it *could* hurt me. It couldn't. For the first time, I saw it for what it truly is. And I was not afraid.
I've had the bear on the shelf for a long time now. Each time I get it down, it is less threatening and I feel so much less attached to it. Like a child maturing into adulthood, I remember the times when I thought I really *needed* my bear to get by, but then life calls and I forget and it takes up less space in my mind. I sleep without it, I go on coping in different ways. The bear sits on the shelf longer and longer until the grown-up takes it down one last time and then stuffs it into a trunk or a box in the attic.
People like to tell me I need a therapist or a specialist or a psychiatrist to help me tame this thing, this eating disorder, as if it is a monster I cannot deal with alone. If you've read my blog for long, you know I don't buy it. I have spent plenty of time with counselors in the past, and while there have been some good insights, none of them truly helped me erase my self-destructive behaviors. I talked to a counselor last month on the phone for an hour, and while I got some great tips on how to re-frame my idea of weight-loss success and my reasons for wanting to lose weight, I don't think it gave me any new insights into my actual reasons or drivers for eating. Nor do I believe any counselor or specialist could give me more insight than I have had on my own in four years of self-examination, introspection, and working through the mental side of binge eating. That's not to discount specialists in general; I just believe that I am the ultimate specialist in *myself.* I have made it my business to become the expert in my own behaviors. I won't ever understand everything, but I have a pretty good grip on why I do what I do. And I absolutely reject the assertion that I can not be free of an eating disorder without the help of some professional. I do not need therapy. Not for this, anyway.
Don't believe me? Don't think Binge Eating Disorder can be "cured" without a therapist, on one's own? Don't think it can *ever* be cured? Think again. Because technically, I've already cured myself.
According to the DSM-V criteria for BED, it is characterized by 3 or more of the following:
■eating much more rapidly than normal,
■eating until feeling uncomfortably full,
■eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry,
■eating alone because of feeling embarrassed by how much one is eating, and/or
■feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty afterward.
In addition, the binge eating must occur, on average, at least once a week for three months.
Four years ago, I *easily* met, not just 3, but all five of the above bulleted criteria for BED, and I had met these criteria for many years. I binged like that *definitely* more than once a week, and it went on for a decade.
And now? No. I no longer meet the official criteria for BED. My 'binge' this week DID involve eating large amounts when not hungry and eating until I was uncomfortably full. However it did not meet the other criteria, and even if it had, the frequency of my binges now (a few times a year) no longer allows me to be diagnosed with BED. This is addressed by the chair of the Eating Disorders Work Group for the DSM-V, who states, "the disorder is really a phenomenon of frequently eating an abnormal amount combined with feelings of shame, guilt, or disgust. The behavior is recurrent, and it feels wrong. It’s that combination of factors that distinguish it from the overeating that we all occasionally do” which distinguishes pathological behavior from the kind of periodic overeating in which many people indulge.
Periodic overeating is not an eating disorder. Having too much turkey at Thanksgiving, eating a dozen cookies at Christmas, or being sad and eating half a cheesecake does not make you someone who has an eating disorder. What I was doing four years ago... that was an eating disorder. What I am doing now? Nope, no longer diagnosable by any stretch of the imagination.
I technically am "cured" of BED, going by the books. I didn't need a therapist to do this. I did it myself.
I personally do not yet consider myself healed to the point of normalcy, regardless of what the experts and the books say. If I turn to food for comfort and overeat when I don't really want to, and that affects my weight, that is something I want to fix. It's no longer technically an eating disorder, but since it is a remnant of one, I consider it an extension of that old behavior, or wanting my teddy bear for comfort.
I don't really need it anymore. But let me stress to you that I HAD A DIAGNOSABLE EATING DISORDER AND I NO LONGER HAVE IT. It is NOT necessary in every case to get "professional help" to be free from binge eating. My "binges" do not even qualify as binges anymore. They are less frequent, less intense, and are not ridden with guilt like they used to be. In fact they border on the regular old garden variety overeating that anyone might do. I am freeing *myself* of the remnants of BED. It takes time, but I've been successful.
I've just begun reading Brain over Binge, and for the first time I am finding an author who agrees with me that binge eating is *not* all about some past trauma and we do not all need years of therapy to overcome it. The author bases her writing and recovery on another book, Rational Recovery, which I have not read but that has the same idea: we can free *ourselves* from addiction. I have felt this way throughout my journey. I have always rejected the OA concept of being "powerless over food". It is nice to see some authors who agree with me. It feels rather validating.
I am at the point now where my weight loss is actually no longer about BED, but about self-discipline and eating less calories than I am burning. It's about me being proactive with meal preparation and scheduled activity, and not giving in to eating cookies or pizza when I feel like it. It's about having the strength to turn my thoughts away from food and towards health and life and other, more important things. It is not easy, but it's also not some deep psychological issue. It's just some hard work, habit-breaking, knuckling down and focusing and getting it done.
I am not saying I won't falter or will never overeat or even that I am going to get to my goal weight. Who knows? I will work at it. We'll see where it gets me. But I am done living the BED life. I am not living in fear of the monster anymore, because there is no monster. And a teddy bear, while a childish crutch, is much more manageable than a monster. The monster is gone from my mind, the teddy bear is in the box in the attic. Maybe I'll get it out once in awhile in the future, but it just doesn't comfort me like it used to. Maybe I'll get rid of the box completely. I used to be afraid to get rid of my familiar old 'friend', but the thought of life without it is easier now. I admit that for a long time, once it lost its fearsome monsterness, I wanted to hang on to that old fluffy teddy bear, just in case. It was kind of comforting knowing it was there, even if I didn't plan to take it out and use it. Binge eating was an old familiar friend, and thinking about going without it made me nervous. I clung to it, or the idea of it, tenaciously. But lately, I just see it as a dusty old raggedy thing. I don't need that teddy bear anymore. I often think about just tossing it in the trash, leaving it behind forever.
I had Binge Eating Disorder for many years. It felt like a scary monster to me.
I changed my habits, did some mental work, lost a bunch of weight.
My binges became less frequent and less intense as time passed.
A "binge" now is so infrequent, so much less food, and so much less distressing emotionally to me that it actually isn't classifiable as a binge at all. Rather, it's overeating, even with the remnant of 'binge planning' that was more habit than anything else, and didn't pan out in the end.
The monster that plagued and terrified me for so long is gone, replaced by a teddy bear that I sometimes feel like reaching out to for comfort.
I no longer feel scarred, traumatized, and guilty after overeating. I no longer fit the criteria for BED; I do not have an eating disorder anymore.
My issue now is not some deep psychological scarring or underlying emotional thing I need to 'deal with' in order to lose weight. It is not about my childhood or my failed marriage or my feelings of insecurity. My issue now is that I like to eat. Cake tastes good. I like hot dogs and Cheetos. End of story.
I will lose weight when I stop giving in to my desires to eat more than I should and the kinds of foods that make me want to eat more and more of them.
NO APOLOGIES running! (guest post)
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