Wednesday, September 17, 2014

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 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.


Anonymous said...

Thank you, this really helped me.

Anonymous said...

Never be ashamed. Be proud! You've come so far and I am glad to be your friend ;)


CatherineMarie said...

*standing and clapping*

Anonymous said...

Lyn, there will always be those who do not understand. I'm one of them as I have never had BED. I've had other issues that if I discussed them online I'm sure someone would tell me I've got it all wrong (human nature I think). My answer is aquafit and avoiding tomatoes, bread/grain and cheese (sob, I love them all so much). I personally am delighted to see you clearly feeling so much better and more in control of your world. The occasional cookie does not a binge make, nor does my cupcake last week (haven't had cake in two years). Had I blogged about that treat I'm sure someone would have told me I'm a horrible human being and totally in binge mode.

Some people need to get a life.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for continuing to share your experiences. It's rare to read someone who doesn't blame, doesn't point fingers at others, and is kind.
Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Funny you said that in your blog today about sometimes wishing that you could still go to the grocery store and get all your foods and desired crap foods and fill your cart. I had that today. I was standing in line with my husband with our usual "healthy" food and looking at the ailes wanting to go back in and fill my cart with crap food. I wanted chips and dips, candy, candy and more candy... I wanted everything bad for me. I don't know if it ever goes away, I just don't know.
Good luck.. I think you are on the right path.

Anonymous said...

Great and honest entry.

Anonymous said...

You are an amazing human being. No matter your weight. Never forget that.

Blods said...

Thank you Lyn, for such an insightful and well written post. You know how far you've come and how hard you've worked and are still working, be proud of your efforts and achievements. Thank you also for this blog, it really does make a difference Blods x

Anonymous said...

The thing is, if you were a thin person eating a cupcake or a cookie or a piece of cake no one would tell you that you were binge eating. Instead it would be "but how can she eat that and stay so thin?" or "ha, yeah right like she really ate that" or "I bet that's all she ate all day".

There's a big difference between binge eating and just plain eating a surplus of calories which results in weight gain and/or maintaining a higher than optimal weight. You can easily do that without binge eating.

I notice that you seem to be a bit....focused, for lack of a better word, on food. I was the same way when I was didn't eat the foods that I wanted to eat (if you eat a small sized portion I believe you can eat any food and lose weight). Cake becomes an obsession when you tell yourself it's off plan to have cake. A sandwich becomes an obsession when you tell yourself it's off plan to have a sandwich. Etc. You can eat ALL foods if you restrict to a certain calorie limit and plan your meals so you are able to fit the foods you want in your day.

I really hope you find your way, Lyn. I can relate very much to your struggle and I know how hard it is.

Connie C. said...

Lyn, thank you for sharing your struggles. While I always am happy for your successes, I find I am most inspired by your struggles. This post had so many, many things I can relate to. Never give up!

WGAJ said...


Thank you so very much for your candidness about BED and your experiences in overcoming the compulsive bingeing. I struggled with it for many years and reached 330 pounds in 2008 - I started reading your blog around that time. After years of learning mindful eating skills in therapy, yet still not being able to use them consistently to avoid bingeing and gaining weight, I decided to have gastric bypass surgery. It worked for me and I'm so thankful not to have had negative side effects (yet). I would have loved to have fought BED without it and am truly impressed with the progress you've made. Dealing with food is still a struggle for me. I had twins who will turn 2 next month and during pregnancy I was determined to be able to gain the recommended amount of weight so they would be born healthy. I gained 19 pounds and had babies weighing 7 1/2 and nearly 5 pounds. All was well and I was at my lowest weight since high school after giving birth. However, during pregnancy I had trained myself in how to gain weight even with the surgery and so I've struggled over the last nearly 2 years in keeping weight off. I have thoughts of wanting to binge (because I physically can now, although differently than pre-surgery). Anyway - all of this is to say KUDOS to you and please keep blogging so openly and honestly. You are an inspiration and an encouragement to all of us who struggle similarly and you are a source of education for those who are here for different reasons. Thank you!


Anonymous said...

Our eating/weight loss/thinking patterns have been so similar for the past few years that every now and then I have to say "Hi." I had BED/bulimia for years and am one of the queens of yo-yo dieting. At the time when you were doing Medifast, I lost 50 pounds, while seeing a nutritionist, and felt I had the secret. Guess what? Making the best, healthy choices every meal and every snack and cooking all that produce is a lot of work. It requires you to be almost as obsessive about food as a binge eater. I got tired of it and gained back every pound.

Finally coming to see that "finding pleasure in my food, taking comfort from something I eat or *not* harmful to my health....and letting go of the guilt" is what is right for me. Like you, I am a good cook and enjoy pleasing my family with delicious meals. So, I've "dropped the diet mentality" and I am losing weight again, oh so slowly, eating what I want, what I like to cook, but only enough, not too much. 22 pounds gone since May, but as long as I can feel comfortable in my body, I don't care where they weight ends up.

I have always loved your writing and reading your post today, it seems you and I are reaching the same conclusions after years of struggle. Of course, I don't "know" you at all, but it feels like you are a friend and I wanted to give you a "you go girl!" for that post.....

Lyn said...

Thank you all so much for the kind words and insightful comments. I am so glad my words had meaning to you. It is hard sometimes to put into words what BED was like, and what obsessive food thoughts are like, but I think it is important to share so others can begin to understand.

Anonymous said...

I hear what you're saying, but that's not what the link you posted defines as BED. It sounds like an alcoholic who says "well I don't black out and lose my memory of what happened anymore, so I'm not abusing alcohol." Feasting one or two days a week is not binging, I agree. But the obsessive thoughts about food - before your poverty and after. I've been very poor - not eating out of food banks, but $1/day - and I've had substantial income. The feeling of "I have the money" to afford excess food never cancelled out my need to buy an amount that I can eat before it goes bad, and buy a balanced diet. If chicken breast was a treat at $2/lb, I upped the ante to salmon at $7/lb when my income went up. I bought better and more varied fruit, vegetables, bread, etc.

And even though I could eat out every day, I know that I will appreciate it only if it's infrequent. I guess for me eating out has never felt very convenient - in the same time it would take to drive somewhere, order breakfast, I can make a nice omelet, toast, coffee. deli whatevers - yeah they're convenient, but they're packed with fat and filler. cooking is time consuming but I also know that the act of cooking is satisfying in itself, touching the food and smelling it cooking and tasting it along the way. Wouldn't you rather have a homemade enchilada over a deli one? And isn't your body worth the time it takes to make it?

Anonymous said...

Congrats on digging deeper into your issues. It's a mind game. Nice reading your post. Agree with poster above; shared struggles are inspiring. Maintaining is a complicated mental scenario which I'm trying to understand myself. Thanks

Debbie in Texas said...

Lyn -

You wrote: "many of my breakthroughs were sparked by words left here over the years by readers."

Many of MY breakthroughs are sparked by YOU. The way you can logically break down complex thoughts into a smooth flowing, cause and effect narrative helps me to examine issues within my own life. You have so many people in the background cheering for your continued success and ready to gently reach down to help when there is an occasional stumble.

You are an amazing woman. Thank you for your insightful wisdom.

Lyn said...


thank you so much! Those are some very nice words for me to read today. Encouraging :)

Went to the doctor (finally, after waiting almost 3 weeks to see if this would get better on its own) and was diagnosed with a raging sinus infection. Started on antibiotics yesterday but still feeling *really* rough... face pain/headache. Thus no posts this weekend, but hope to feel better enough to think and write in a day or two.

Crabby McSlacker said...

Wow, what an honest and wrenching but inspiring post! And interesting to see the role financial insecurity can play in creating an "eat it while you can" mentality.

I know there are ups and downs and challenges for everyone, but it's so inspiring to see how far you've come! And am grateful for the positive messages that may help so many others still struggling with BED.

Anonymous said...

Lyn, have you considered that dieting/restricting is a trigger for BED? Many people do not realize this but often a diet - even just one- is the catalyst to the dreadful disorder. I wonder how many of your health issues would clear up if you were able to just "be." Do you think you could really truly allow yourself freedom to eat what you want, and see what happens? The kicker is: you really need to let go of any diet plans or shame or fear. Let your body guide you. it will lead you in the right direction. And start walking every day. Just baby steps and build up. You will be amazed at what you are capable of if you let go of fear and shame.

Lyn said...


That sounds a lot like Geneen Roth's theory (she has written several really interesting books)... let go of the restrictions, listen to your body, just "be" and eat what you truly want. I did try that approach some years back (pre-blog) and gained quite a bit of weight, pretty fast. I am not so great with the intuitive eating.

I do think that restriction is a very common trigger for binge eating or overeating in general (restrict/binge/restrict cycle) and have done that myself. As I've tried to figure out my own triggers (and actually have a post in my head about that) I really think restricting doesn't trigger me any more than eating moderately does. My triggers are visual and auditory, and they come on strong whether I am dieting or overeating or not even trying (eating what I want). The only difference is, when I am dieting the conflict and struggle ins stronger because I don't want to give in. And I also want/crave different things depending on what I am eating (yes, I crave brownies more when I can't have them, but if I *can* have them on my plan, then I crave frosted/caramel/"special" brownies that I haven't had access too.)

At any rate, I think it is *essential* to do as you said with letting go of shame and guilt. That is something I've worked on a lot recently and is why when I eat something, I do not feel shame about it. I think if I went off and binged I would feel shame, though. I fear it. I don't want to ever go there again.

As far as diet plans, health, and what I am eating now, I am doing what my endocrinologist and a thyroid specialist both recommended, an elimination diet (which yes it sucks that after 7 weeks I ate stuff without reintroducing it properly, but I am AIPing until I feel well again and then will start reintroducing the foods again slowly).

Thank you for the thoughtful comment, I do appreciate your input.

Kayla Fulp Horst said...

Thank you Lyn! I hadn't read your posts for a while because my life has been crazy. This post was exactly what I needed! I suffer from BED, but had it under control with Weight Watchers. My husband and I sold our home and bought somewhat of a fixer-upper and I went back to school. Other things have popped up that have been hard to deal with, so I have relapsed. I am up over 30 pounds in 3 months. I can and I will get it under control again. Thank you for showing me that it is possible!

Theresa said...

Wow! What a great post. Just found this blog after it was attached to another. I thought you were talking about me. :( I am in control at the moment and have lost -30 lbs. Fingers crossed I have figured it out. I will be reading your blog from now on.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this---I know from experience how hard it is to drag all of this out into the light of day and have a good, hard look at it.

Amy said...

Funny someone else mentioned Geneen Roth, I have really learned a lot about my own beliefs and the events that triggered them from reading Geneen's books. I think food should bring pleasure, as should all our senses. The key part is that you are aware of what is happening, you are not on autopilot. That's when you know you've already told yourself you are not strong enough or good enough to overcome your challenges.