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How I'm Learning to Fight Binge-Related Shame


Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.

My eating disorder has been kicking my butt lately. There’s no two ways around it. That has a lot to do with the side of my eating disorder I never talk about: bingeing.

It’s always hard to remind myself I’m sick, and while it sucks, I shouldn’t be ashamed of where I am in my recovery. It’s even harder to do this when I’m viewing the world through my eating disorder’s distorted lens. When “celebrity body transformations” merit magazine covers and sugar, carbs and fat are seen as the enemy, it’s nearly impossible to tell myself it’s OK to let people know you struggle with an eating disorder, and that bingeing is a part of it.

Eating disorders are isolating by their very nature, but I’ve never felt more alone than I do during and after a binge. I need support, but I don’t know how to ask for it, because I’m afraid to ask for it. I need to remind myself I haven’t committed a crime by eating more than I wanted to. 

Recently, I was having a terrible day. My anxiety was through the roof, and none of my coping mechanisms were helping. I gave in to urges to binge, and I was devastated and felt embarrassed and hopeless. 

But then I did something different. I reached out to a friend and I was honest. I told her how I’d been doing. I told her what I ate. I told her my fears for the night ahead. Would I binge? Would I have a panic attack? Would I vow to never eat again, starting off yet another binge/restrict cycle?

She was a solid, affirming presence. Her words were like a warm hug.

“You have nothing to be ashamed of. You’re a good person. Your eating disorder has nothing to do with your worth as a person.”

Though her words helped me, I can’t say they inspired me to never again restrict or binge.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

That day, I went to the bakery in my office building and bought a pastry. I told myself how this made me a terrible person, and how I was weak for not resisting my urges.

But then I took a bite. And another one. I tried to keep my bites slow and deliberate, so that I could really taste the thick, challah-like dough and the interplay of melted chocolate. I realized I loved what I was eating. 

I realized I was already on the train, and I was a girl eating, and enjoying, a pastry. No one was staring at me. No one acted like I’d committed some heinous crime. 

I realized on that train, eating a pastry isn’t a crime. I realized, while I may be struggling, I’m not a source of shame. 

I’m a source of strength.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via Sarah Nicholl.

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10 Things I've Learned in Eating Disorder Recovery


Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.

A few months ago, I sought treatment for binge eating disorder (BED). My problem, I thought, was about willpower. I didn’t think I had a “disorder.”

Yes, I had binged and purged in high school and college. And occasionally after that. But it had been years since my last purge, so I thought my eating disorder was just a phase. I’d also gone through bouts of restricting and overexercising, but I’d always had a curvy frame, so I didn’t think I “looked like someone who had an eating disorder.”

All I knew was I’d worked hard for almost a decade to lose a substantial amount of weight. But after a knee injury made running impossible, I stopped exercising and counting calories and started mindlessly eating everything in sight. I’d gone from someone who logged every bite and mile into apps on her phone, to someone who isolated at home on the couch, opting for drive-thru meals or delivery most nights. That didn’t sound like a disorder to me. To me, it just sounded like laziness and apathy. And maybe depression.

Wrong.

My eating disorder had taken over my life and I was too uninformed and embarrassed to realize it or ask for help. After a particularly difficult night, I reached out for professional help. Over the course of eight weeks, I went through 80 hours of therapy. I’d go to work and then head off to my sessions at a recovery center. Along with my recovery group, we met with nutritionists, psychologists, group therapists and art therapists, and we shared meals together. Some of us were there because we ate too little, some because we ate too much (regardless of whether or not we purged later). Most of us alternated between restricting and bingeing. All of us were battling much more than just food.

Here are ten things I’ve learned — and am continuing to learn — since beginning recovery:

1. No one chooses to have an eating disorder.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

I didn’t ask for this. I didn’t choose this. For a myriad of reasons, my disorder chose me. This was a revelation to learn at age 37. I believe I choose my behaviors, but I no longer blame myself for having an eating disorder. If you battle an eating disorder, please know it’s not your fault.

2. There’s no hierarchy.

Restricting is not better or worse than bingeing or purging. Each carries a life-threatening risk. Each can control your life until you seek help.

3. You can’t tell by appearance whether someone has an eating disorder.

My weight has fluctuated wildly throughout my life, and I have plenty of “before” and “after” weight loss photos. But really, every photo taken before I entered recovery is a “before” picture of me battling an eating disorder, no matter the size.

4. Eating disorders are a type of mental illness.

Eating disorders have physical and mental implications, along with a high comorbidity with depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and suicidal ideation. As such, recovery is highly tailored to each individual and multifaceted. A recovery team typically includes a doctor, therapist and nutritionist. To recover, you must treat the body and the mind.

5. Eating disorders crave secrecy.

“Ed” (what many like to call eating disorders) thrives on secrecy. Ed loves it. Ed wants you to isolate, wants you to lie, wants you to stay hidden. Ed is the liar. Personifying the beast helps me distinguish between what’s true and what’s disordered thinking. And this distinction usually takes months — if not years — to master.

6. Foods are not “good” or “bad.

Man, society loves placing positive or negative values on food.

I’m just going to have a salad – trying to be good today!

Should we be bad and order some fries?

For those of us in recovery, this messaging is extremely triggering. Our brains work differently when it comes to food and body image. We hear a comment about food and assign the value to ourselves. Thoughts can go a little something like this: I ate a donut and donuts are bad and now I’m a bad, worthless, out-of-control failure. The reality? Food is just food. Some foods may make your body feel better or worse, but eating them does not make you a good or bad person.

7. Exercise doesn’t have to be about calories burned.

Like many who battle this disorder, I engage in a lot of black and white thinking when it comes to myself. For example, when I was injured, I could have switched from running to swimming. But my all-or-nothing mindset told me it was pointless, that I’d only lose weight by running and I might as well just give up and stop working out entirely. I knew exactly how many calories were burned for every mile I ran, and if the workout didn’t require a sports bra, then I believed it wasn’t worth doing. That was my thought process. The most liberating thing since beginning recovery has been exercising for the sake of being kind to my body. Taking my dog for long walks by the lake, without focusing on our pace or distance. I’d forgotten what it felt like to exercise without an agenda. And without punishment.

8. It’s common to swap behaviors.

One of the biggest misconceptions might be the idea there are only two types of disordered behaviors: struggling with anorexia or bulimia. Many of us have used more than one behavior — restricting, bingeing or purging — and often when we stop one behavior, another tries to fight its way to the surface. For this reason, alcohol can become a new danger — even if it wasn’t an issue before — and people in recovery are often advised to limit or abstain from drinking.

9. Scales and apps are slippery slopes.

Toward the middle of recovery, I donated my scale and deleted every food and fitness tracking app from my phone. That was hard. I felt a surge of panic knowing I’d no longer have “proof” of my fitness and weight loss “accomplishments.” I remember asking my therapist, “How will I know if I’m good or bad if I don’t have something to measure myself against?” We sat silently as I processed what I’d just asked her, and then I said, “Oh. I hear it. OK, I understand why these apps aren’t good for me.”

There might be a time, years down the road, when I can use them again. But right now, my brain is not able to separate my value from a number on the scale or a calorie burned. I now use one recovery-focused app that tracks my moods and thoughts as I interact with food and my therapist and nutritionist each have access. Together, we create a weekly nutrition/fitness plan. The name of the game right now is mindfulness and grace, not a number on the scale.

10. It may get worse as it gets better.

Recovery isn’t linear (oh, if wishing made it so). No matter how maladaptive they were as coping skills, my disordered behaviors served a purpose. They numbed me. When I started recovery, there was slight lift in my mood. I knew I was taking a positive step and I felt hopeful I could conquer this beast of an illness. Then, I crashed. As I stop using my disordered behaviors and actually feel my feelings, my anxiety and depression resurface with a vengeance for a bit. Nothing is numb. Everything is raw. And it hurts. It hurts so much sometimes I want to give up and go back to my numbing behaviors. That’s my new fight. But with the help of my team, I’m no longer fighting it alone.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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When I'm Unsure if the Voice of Reason or My Eating Disorder Is Talking


Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.

There’s a war in my head. Some days it gets so loud in there, it gives me a headache. A real one.

The voice nattering incessantly in my ear is not a healthy voice. It’s a familiar one. It feels like a safe one. But that voice is an expert manipulator, liar and thief.

There’s another little voice in the dark: the voice of reason and wisdom, sense and sensibility. But that voice is weak and timid. It has never learned to stand up to the manipulator.

My eating disorder voice has learned how to mimic the voice of reason. Some days I hear myself saying I should (or shouldn’t) eat this and I can’t quite tell which voice is talking. Are you trying to trick me? Or heal me? Sometimes I just don’t know.

The voice that whispers away in my head is very unhealthy. It encourages me to override any ounce of logic I may have when it comes to good health and nutrition, by telling me I’m fat. It tells me if I get fat, I’m unworthy and a failure. It tells me any food I consume is making me fat. The tiniest morsel of anything feels like failure.

The voice of reason knows this is not true. It is in fact, absurd. That good health and nutrition and a healthy body at a healthy weight are achieved through regular consumption of nutritious meals in moderate portions and leading an active lifestyle. I know all this. I have known this for a long time. I was raised with an awareness of good health and I have been surrounded by family and friends all my life who lead healthy lifestyles. I know the theory and I’ve seen the practice. Yet the manipulator nibbles away at my confidence and plays the “just for today” game. Telling me to delay the implementation of common sense until I’ve achieved some unachievable goal through unsustainable means.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

I sincerely hope by recognizing the profoundly negative impact the manipulative voice has, I have taken the first step towards recovery.

I sincerely hope one day I can win the war. I hope one day I can know for sure when the voice of reason is talking, and to know how to listen to it without fear. Until then, I keep listening and wondering, who is talking to me?

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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Why I Don't Change How I Eat on Jewish Holidays


“They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat.”

This is a common joke about the Jewish holidays. The holidays come with plenty of food: matzo, challah, kugel, latkes – and plenty of restrictions.

During Passover, we cannot eat any food made from wheat, barley, rye or oats. Restricting is meant to commemorate the Israelites who fled from Egypt before their bread could rise. On Yom Kippur, we are asked to fast from one sundown to the next. Fasting is a time for us to reflect and atone for our sins.

But for me, they were excuses.

As a teenager, I asked my parents to let me fast for Yom Kippur, claiming I wanted to be an adult when I was really searching for justification. A way to give in to my eating disorder while doing something right.

For years, my parents would try to suggest healthier alternatives, such as staying off my phone or not watching television for a day. I would refuse to listen and continued trying to fast for the wrong reasons. I avoided eating bread during Passover and became frustrated each time I “slipped up.”

After struggling with my eating disorder, I finally let tradition slide during the holidays. I ate three full meals on Yom Kippur and bread during Passover, even when my friends talked about how hungry they were and how hard fasting was.

I still hesitate to tell my friends and family I am going to eat as we depart from services. I’m worried they’ll think I am less Jewish. Fasting is seen as a “mitzvah,” a good deed. But a mitzvah is also taking care of your body and your mind.

Traditions must take a backseat when my eating disorder separates meaning from my intention. So I go into the holidays with the notion I can be both Jewish and in recovery without one affecting the other.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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Eating Disorders Can Start at Any Age. Mine Started at 5.


Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.

Eating disorders don’t alway develop in the teenage years.

My eating disorder started at age 5. I remember only having diet cokes and salad. I hated my body, I told myself. The thoughts only grew from there — and the eating disorder made me believe lies.

When I was around 8 years old, my mom would send me to the bus stop with a pop tart. I wouldn’t eat the crust, so I threw it in people’s yards — and or threw most of it in people’s yards  — or in my bag. I remember the first time I purged. I remember in third grade trading or giving away my food, not all the time, but I would go through episodes.

Then the school store. My parents always sent me to school with lunch money, but it was the perfect amount for stretchy erasers and more. I didn’t have lunch money and I didn’t eat my lunch. I’m guessing someone told my counselor in aftercare because he came over at lunch time and asked me to eat. I told him I wasn’t hungry and he ordered me something, but I don’t remember if I ate it or not. My friends in class told me they were going to tell on me.

My teacher, who was also my brother’s teacher before, told me, “I know your parents send you with lunch or money, if you don’t eat I am going to call your mom.” I guess I started eating after that. I hated my body.

Then summer of 10th grade, I started not eating to be thin. My best friends ate lunch with me. I started using diet pills and self-harm. I told them I eat at home. The eating disorder is sneaky and makes you tell lies. My parents did not know until later when my mom put an article on my bed about Mary-Kate Olsen coming out and getting treatment. But that was it.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

Yes, they knew something was up, but they didn’t know what. I was always in my room. I was the kind of child/teen who didn’t ask my parents for anything. I stayed out of their way. My teacher from ninth grade and 11th grade asked me if I was OK and I’m like ya. She kept checking on me. I was knew she cared. I knew it was out of hand when my grades plummeted, and a friend from elementary saw me and hugged me and told me she was worried about me.

When I was 23, I told my parents I was going into treatment in three days. With each treatment center I learned a little, but I always relapsed. Last year I went into another treatment center and they helped me beat my eating disorder and I was finally happy. I did their partial hospitalization program. Living in a house and making meals and going food shopping was hard and terrifying, but it helped me so much. I haven’t fully relapsed in a year. Yes, I have had some slips, but I pick myself up and I reach out. This year there’s been struggles, but I haven’t relapsed. There is hope. I have known people who’ve had eating disorders in their 60s. I knew one girl who started hiding food when she was 4.

Eating disorders can show up at any age. Please get help — you are not an exception.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via SinanAyhan

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What I Remind Myself When I Feel Like 'Food Is Failure'


Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.

For a long time, food tasted like failure. And that failure is an emotion so powerful it’s almost tangible — I could reach out and touch it. I constantly told myself “food tastes like failure and failure is a feeling.”

But that’s a lie.

Failure is not a feeling, it’s a perception. Eating food is not failure. My reaction was a learned response to what for most people is a healthy and essential part of life. Like walking and talking and breathing. People eat food. Those who don’t, die. Some eat healthy and some don’t, but eating in and of itself is not failure. This is a lie I was accidentally taught and have since ingrained into my heart and soul.

This lie has turned failure into a feeling. But those feelings are more accurately categorized as shame and anger and being overwhelmed. Which according to the feelings wheel, translates to sad, mad and scared. I live my life sad, mad and scared. Or in clinical terms – anxious and depressed.

There is a second lie deeply rooted into my soul. I believe feelings are facts. So when I feel like a failure, when I’m ashamed and angry at myself and overwhelmed with the sense of inevitability of my own stupidity, I believe these are facts. Not only do I feel stupid, I believe I am stupid. Not only do I feel fat, I believe I am fat. When I eat, I sometimes feel these things like facts.

And this is another lie.

They are feelings. That is true. But they aren’t necessarily facts. They can be challenged. The very loud voice inside me – the voice that says I’m not good enough and I’m going to fail – needs to be silenced. It is telling me lies and the lies will destroy me if I don’t fight them.

This week I’m reminding myself eating isn’t failure. I may not be able to remind myself of this all day long, but I’m getting there at breakfast. I’m learning to eat breakfast and not feel like a failure. To not feel ashamed and angry and overwhelmed. The voice of reason is strongest in the mornings, when the day is fresh and full of hope. And from this baby step, I hope to slowly learn failure is not a feeling and feelings aren’t facts.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via LanaBrest.

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