The Insanity of Binge Eating Disorder, and the Long Path to Recovery
A long time ago, I developed Binge Eating Disorder. I'm not even sure exactly how that happened; I started out a normal weight, with normal eating habits. I know I began comfort eating when I lost a much-wanted pregnancy at 21. I probably ate too much in general in my early 20's just because I was a good cook, loved to bake, and enjoyed eating those things with my family. I put on an extra 20 - 25 pounds after three pregnancies and two losses in a short period of time. I ate sometimes to feel better. To stuff down the awful grief. A piece of pumpkin loaf was a nice distraction; a cinnamon roll took my mind off the fact that I was not able to hold those babies I had so loved and wanted. But it was one cinnamon roll. I didn't binge.
It didn't occur to me to binge back then. I ate normal meals, stopped when full. Maybe have an afternoon snack some days. But all of it was normal portions. I never had a fleeting thought to eat two or three of those cinnamon rolls in a day, or a week... much less six in one sitting. That came much later.
Years went by and my family grew. I guess my stomach did, too, because I found myself gaining more weight with each pregnancy. Six babies, two lost, five years. Bedrest. More comfort eating, a cinnamon roll more often now. But still just one. Still normal portions, calm feelings, enjoyment of every bite. No crazy cravings, no "food runs". Maybe a little more lasagna... an extra half piece. Breastfeeding made me hungry! The calories definitely crept up, the activity level while on bedrest was nonexistent. Poor choices in my eating, very few vegetables, lots of cheese and sauces and carbs. When I delivered #4 I weighed 200 pounds. But I didn't binge.
I exercised. I ate healthy. I joined a gym and counted calories and lost over 30 pounds. I got back down to 167 and was feeling good. But then... divorce. And after the divorce, stress. No food. No money. Scrambling to find work, wishing there was someone, anyone... an aunt, a sister, a cousin, a grandma... to help with the four little children on those long days. We started eating from the food bank then. Afraid some days of not having enough to eat, but relieved on other days when the food bank gave us 3 dozen cookies, 6 loaves of bread, a box of cinnamon rolls, several packages of muffins, and two bakery cakes. And then, I started to binge.
In one year I gained 80 pounds. It's almost a blur, all of it. I had no idea it was happening. It never occurred to me that I was binge eating when I would eat a whole box of donuts in a day. After all, that's what we had here to eat. Beans and rice or scrambled eggs for dinner, maybe some canned soup or pasta sometimes. But hey, there are 3 boxes of donuts on the counter and someone has to eat them before they get moldy or stale and I was really grateful to have them... so the kids and I ate them. Before work, after work, on weekends. Lots and lots of cheap, day-old, bakery foods from the food bank. And I didn't see the weight gain, and the stretch pants fit just fine for 20 or 30 pounds and then "wow, these cheap pants have holes worn in the thighs already! I better go get another pair from Walmart. They must have changed the way they size these things, because I swear I was a 16 and now I am an 18!" And I binged and ate and bought new stretch pants all the way from 167 pounds to 245 pounds, and never truly saw what was happening. I was too emotionally distraught by my circumstances to care about my weight. Never knew I was binge eating. It was automatic after awhile. Eat and eat, anytime something that tastes good appears. Eat it until you can't eat anymore.
Go back, read my early blog posts. I describe true binge eating disorder there. People who tell me I binged when I ate 3 cookies, or that eating a sandwich and fries at Applebee's for dinner is a binge, truly do not understand binge eating. A binge is not eating too many calories at lunch, or having a food that isn't on your diet plan. A binge is not overindulging at Thanksgiving or having an extra helping of dessert. I understand that to YOU, any excess might be called a "binge." But you are using that word as slang for "ate too much." And that is not what binge eating is.
Rapidly eating a large volume of food.
Eating more and more even when full.
Hiding the evidence.
Inability to stop.
Compulsive/obsessive thoughts about food.
Eating in secret.
Feeling completely out of control.
Eating until it hurts.
And it HURTS. I lived it. More than a decade.
When the poverty ended and I could finally afford to eat *whatever I wanted*, all the feelings of sadness turned to glee. I did not have to eat those day-old donuts and cakes anymore! I could eat at McDonald's every day if I wanted to, or go out to nice restaurants each weekend. I could buy or make a *good* fresh cheesecake, or good cheese for lasagna, or make a big meal of roasted chicken with mashed potatoes, gravy, dinner rolls with butter, and a pie for dessert. I could buy all the things I used to have to bypass in the grocery store. Haagen Dazs ice cream! Deli enchiladas! Chocolate covered nuts, boxes of chocolate, truffles, Philly cheesesteaks! As many kinds of chips as I wanted. And oh how I wanted.
Looking back it was insanity. But isn't that what binge eating disorder is? A mental illness? I couldn't see what I was doing to myself. I couldn't talk any sense into the out-of-control binge eater ordering 3 kinds of pizza for dinner and baking cookies and brownies in the same day. She was just SO HAPPY to have what she wanted. Finally. Except she didn't really want to weigh 283 pounds. But that's where this behavior led.
I know I still have food issues. Of course I know. I do still sometimes eat things I wish I hadn't. I do still sometimes get intrusive food thoughts and cravings. The difference now is:
These thoughts are no longer a daily event, but more on the order of a few times a month.
I am aware.
I think about what I am doing.
I usually put these thoughts aside and do not act on them.
I act on these food thoughts rarely, instead of several times a day, every day.
If I do act on these thoughts, I am moderate. One serving. Maybe two, max.
I do not eat rapidly and out of control.
I can stop.
I do not eat until it hurts.
I AM NOT ASHAMED.
I am not ashamed that I had a sandwich and fries while I was sick. I am not ashamed that I found my cup of tea with coconut milk and honey deeply comforting this morning. I am not ashamed that I had a softball-sized peach for a snack. And I am not ashamed that I had cake for dinner one day last month.
I appreciate the comments many of you leave. I reexamine my behaviors and thoughts on a regular basis, and many of my breakthroughs were sparked by words left here over the years by readers. But I also want you to know, so that you are not disappointed, that each of us has our own reasons for what we do, and our own goals for how we want our lives to be, and our own decisions to make about what is acceptable or not in our own lives... but not in the lives of others. Your ideal life is not my ideal life. There are things I am not satisfied with: my activity level, my weight, my tendencies to slip off plan when I am stressed or sick. All of those things are intertwined, all of them are things I am aware of and addressing. But there are also things I *am* content and satisfied with: finding pleasure in my food, taking comfort from something I eat or drink that is *not* harmful to my health, using this blog to write about my diet and food thoughts, and letting go of the guilt I used to feel surrounding what I eat. I am far, so far from perfect! You know this and so do I. There are hints of BED still within me. Sometimes I wish for it, I long for it, I want it: shopping sprees and grocery carts filled to the brim with junk. Evenings alone eating ten kinds of delicious foods after the kids go to bed. Giving in to the euphoria of that food-induced high. Like a druggie. But you know what? I *do* remember all the bad. I force myself to remember the pain, both emotional and physical. I close my eyes and feel how I used to feel when I came down from the binge, so sad, so hopeless, so alone, so ashamed. And then I open my eyes and I know I don't really want it anymore.
I could relapse, I know it. There is a fine line there between obsessive thoughts and actions. I pray that as time goes by my desire to stay clean from the binge will continue to grow stronger as my memories and desires for the binge fade and weaken. I am not invincible. It has taken years to stop binge eating and will surely take more years to erase the voices of the obsessive food thoughts. I do not have the same thoughts as a person who has never suffered from BED. But I also no longer have the same thoughts as a person who is fighting to break free from the binge addiction. And for that, I am deeply thankful.
I am 38 years old, female, a degree-holding stay-at-home-mom, and I weigh 278 pounds. I have been obese for ten years now. Time to get out of this fat prison I have made for myself.
--This is the original introduction I wrote when I first started this blog in 2007. I leave it as a reminder to myself of where I came from. Currently, I am 46 years old and weigh significantly less...see the blog for details. I lost 103 pounds, then had a partial regain, and am once again working at weight loss and better health.
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