The Common Eating Disorder No One Is Talking About
The Canadian (and American) Psychological Association defines BED (binge eating disorder) as, “recurring episodes of eating significantly more food in a short period of time than most people would eat under similar circumstances, with episodes marked by feelings of lack of control.” BED, is a highly common food disorder, and yet no one is talking about it. Not many, at least. Moreover, BED is distinct from overeating in that these instances of overeating create psychological distress and are driven by emotional cues (like sadness), rather than physiological cues (i.e. hunger).
To my knowledge there are many who quietly struggle though BED. I hope this article sparks more stories of truth, healing and the perseverance necessary to outlast and kick having a food disorder in the ass. Over and over again. After all, one of the core action components that I facilitate with my clients is: digging in deep.
Because, when BED tries to take the steering well, we need a formula. An arsenal. In order to do so, we have to define some terms, go for a ride on my own way-back-machine. We gotta “go deep.”
Articles and resources for people struggling with anorexia and bulimia are plentiful, while I’ve found support for those with BED is minimal. I thought I was greedy, or had no self-control. This lack of discussion and awareness had a polarizing effect on me. (Not anymore!)
Food was my first “addiction” and has remained my last. It started when I was very young, I would sneak into the kitchen and grab whatever I could to self-soothe away the various crap my tender, young heart, body and brain endured. Cookies in the closet. Chips in the dark under the covers. Completely zoning out — or what is clinically described as “blacking out” — during meal and snack-times, going for seconds constantly, etc. I remember getting in epic trouble at a particular foster homes and often treated like a glutton. No one ever took the time to realize there was something seriously wrong, or get proper help/care for the kid who was in a world of pain.
So my weight fluctuated as a kid… I don’t remember much about how I managed that (was I seriously dieting as a small child and then bingeing? I don’t know — looking back on pictures it’s clear, I fluctuated.) As a tween, food became a way to rebel, and I didn’t realize (or care) that I was only punishing myself. It wasn’t until I left “home” as a teen — and hit the streets — that other forms of self-medicating became thrusted upon me, constantly available and always a-plenty. So I became skinny. Really skinny. Kicking those habits became the focus as a young adult and the food-beasty started to trickle back in. And it was a sneaky beasty. It (my BED), took its sweet ass time rearing its ugly head around again, although, of course it did, as I had never addressed it.
If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.
I never used to think as food as nourishment for my body; it was way to self-medicate and numb the pain; cleverly poised as a frenemy. I didn’t know about BED, nor did I feel strong or confident enough to talk openly about it. Now I’m a straight up advocate, which is why I’m dissecting some of my past here with you.
I want women like me who have similar stories (not necessarily in how we got here, but in having BED), to be able to find me and know they aren’t alone. I want young girls to grow up seeing people who represent and look like them and know that diversity is what makes us strong! The adversity of having mental illness or a food disorder is diversity, too. I trade in stories and in truth. It’s not so much a commodity as it is a responsibility (to me). I have to be really honest with myself in order to put my shit out there and have it affect somebody else.
So what helps me?
1. Setting an intention (in my bullet journal) each and every day to take care of my physical and mental health.
2. Having a food disorder has influenced my work. Helping others in and out of the food disorder realm has been deeply rewarding and fulfilling. Inspiring, grounding and potent.
3. Making art is the best therapy I never paid for.
4. Cognitive perception: a field of Humanistic Psychology known as the Self-Determination Theory provides an interesting model for why individuals engage in binge eating disorders. Having this knowledge helps the brainy part of my brain. The theory suggests that every person on the planet needs to fulfill three core values to be happy. Every person must feel competent, related to others and in control of their actions. BED perpetuates itself in part because of the strong feeling of a lack of control. Impulsive behavior is common (*waving* hiiii!) and it is very easy to feel as if we’ve lost the ability to regulate our own behavior. When we’re depressed, anxious, stressed, insecure and fearful we feel like we have a lack of control, we feel detached from others and we can doubt any attempt for ourselves or others to help; causing the cycle to self-perpetuate. (Please tell me this is happening.) It can lead to people feeling alone (You’re not alone!) and incapable of solving the problem.
5. Competence: I used to feel completely incompetent, because every attempt to make change was stymied. While I still have my off days, I’ve made some sort of dark and twisted peace with my BED and I know I have the power (you do too) to work against the negatives and continue to build-up my sense of self. I deserve it. You deserve it.
6. CBT (cognitive behavior therapy), art therapy, traditional indigenous/anishinaabe ceremonies and gestalt therapy have been game changers for me.
7. Exercise: being outside (running, hiking, camping) are just a necessity. Those endorphins though. Fuck the scale.
To anyone struggling with BED, I say to you with complete confidence and sincerity: You are not broken, and you are worthy.
Also, my personal mantra: You may see me struggle but you will never see me quit.
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Lead photo via contributor