The 10 Things Treatment for Binge Eating Disorder Gave Me
This week, my Facebook reminded me that I was discharged from eating disorder treatment two years ago. So I thought I’d share the top ten things eating disorder treatment did for me:
1. Treatment opened my heart to emotions again.
For me, binge eating disorder crept in when I was going through intense trauma from sexual abuse around age 10. I ate to numb out the feelings of fear, intense sadness and heavy anxiety while I carried this deep secret for five years. As a young adult, I dealt with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by turning to food to continue to numb out, making my eating disorder intensify. Treatment showed me that emotions are relative — they can be neither good or bad. Treatment also taught me how to process and accept my emotions. My world has been so much more complete and whole because I can feel my emotions with no shame or regret, while confidently knowing what to do with them.
2. Treatment helped me to enjoy my food.
A common misconception I’ve experienced by those with no eating disorder background is that if you are overweight, you love food and that is the problem. Actually, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Someone who is overweight could potentially have an eating disorder that is not diagnosed. Also, I don’t know anyone with an eating disorder who would say, “I love food.” In fact, in my treatment group, we all collectively admitted we were obsessed with food, but didn’t necessarily “love it.” Certain foods were enjoyable, but the obsessions that the eating disorder creates in your mind actually can cause a lot of anxiety around food. Before treatment, I thought about food about 90 percent of the time. If I wasn’t thinking about my next meal, I was thinking about my next binge or if I had enough food for the day or week. I would regularly over-purchase at the grocery store because I was afraid I wouldn’t have what I needed, when I needed it — especially if I needed to binge. Now, thanks to meal planning, I can confidently structure my meals and purchase what I need. I can fully enjoy the meals I create and my time eating out because I’m not preoccupied with the reason I am eating. Instead, I know when I’m hungry and can easily identify what I’m hungry for. I can enjoy food for what it was meant for: nourishment and enjoyment.
If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.
3. Treatment gave me the support I needed.
Like many people with eating disorders might experience, I felt like those closest to me didn’t really understand. After years of dealing with binge eating disorder, I was extremely overweight and everyone around me thought the issue was laziness, a poor diet or apathy. The first day of my outpatient treatment group, I was terrified. I wanted to run out the door so badly, but I was able to fight the urges. I had opened myself up to my therapist and she challenged me to stick it out. I’m so glad I did! I can’t tell you how many times someone else shared something and one of us would reply, “You too?! I thought I was the only one who did/felt/thought that!” It was a relief every week to learn that you’re not “crazy” and that this is definitely more than a dieting issue, it is a mental illness that needs to be treated.
4. Treatment equipped me for my future.
Before treatment, I was so consumed by the present and past that I couldn’t achieve a single goal. I couldn’t think about my future or my dreams. In fact, my dreams were always prefaced with “when I reach my goal weight” or “if I ever stop spending so much money on binges, then I could…” — but neither would ever happen. Treatment gave me tools to fight my urges to binge, ways to restructure my thought process and intercept the lies or beliefs that were derailing me for so long. Now I am able to feel emotions as they come and process changes in life that only affect me for a moment, not derail my entire year. This means I have been able to set financial goals and meet them since I’m no longer spending money on binges. I have also been able to set goals for my career and education that I wasn’t able to think about before; such as making plans to go back to college in the fall of 2018 to complete my bachelor’s degree.
5. Treatment strengthened my confidence.
I was the most anxiety-driven person I knew when I started treatment. If I felt scared, I would just not do it, not go there or stop whatever it was that caused the anxiety. Treatment helped me to identify lies I was believing about other people, the world and myself. I was then able to unpack the lies and get to the truth. I was also able to identify where the lies came from originally. The result of all of this has helped me to be a much more confident person in my relationships, my job and in everyday life. If something triggers my anxiety, I’m able to process my way through it, look back later and recognize if it was an accurate fear or not. It has completely transformed my life.
6. Treatment allowed me to get to know the real me.
I was no longer controlled by my obsession with food. I was also no longer letting fears control me. As I learned to process and deal with my emotions in a healthy way, I awakened to a greater sense of self — understanding the person I wanted to be more than I ever had. I also learned that I am naturally more introverted, so I’m a little bit cautious around others in general. I was also able to identify strengths I didn’t know I had, and weaknesses that I let dictate my everyday life. As I have identified my weaknesses, I have been able to work them out so they are not as destructive, and instead, seek help and guidance when the need arises.
7. Treatment helped me find my voice again.
Boundaries were such a foreign concept before treatment. I never had the confidence or courage to set them, let alone follow through with them. Treatment helped me see that I am a person who is valuable and that I should set boundaries around toxic relationships, or even just day-to-day structures like my time, work-life balance and my own desires. I learned I didn’t have to be everything for everybody, or a doormat to those who do not value me as a person. I was able to speak up and say, “No.” I was also able to set my own parameters when it came to my interests and hobbies with regards to time management. This is something that was huge for me, especially since I have a complex trauma background. It has been a hard road to get to this point, but it was worth it.
8. Treatment restored my hope.
Anyone who struggles with binge eating disorder will tell you, it is not easy to live your life centered around the binge eating cycle. I can look back over the years before treatment, and I can honestly say I was so hopeless. I was just living for the next binge, much like a drug addict would say they were living for the next high. Let me be clear that a binge is not a “cheat” meal or “a few extra bites.” Binges are different for everyone, but what sets them apart within the eating disorder classification is that they are high quantities of food consumed in a really short amount of time. My binges were at night for around one hour. During my binges, I would consume more calories than one person needed in a day on top of my very strict diet during the day. On paper, it looked great because I never recorded my binges and never admitted to anyone else they existed. Treatment allowed me to open up about this deep, shameful secret to others and restore hope that had been gone for decades. As I worked through my eating disorder struggles, I was able to find a purpose for living again and no longer felt like my life was controlled by my eating disorder. This unleashed a powerful hope in me that was so empowering and refreshing. I can actually say I love my life and love being alive.
9. Treatment gave me a heart for others.
I did outpatient group treatment for 16 weeks. It was three hours a week and consisted of one hour of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), one hour of dietician work and one hour of physical therapy. It was also required that we meet with our individual therapist weekly for one hour and our individual dietician for 30 minutes. I worked with my therapist and dietician three months before and three months after treatment. The whole process was nearly one year. During this year, I was able to listen to other people’s stories and how their eating disorder affected them. I was able to celebrate their successes, cry with them and support them. Our group dropped in numbers from start to finish, but those of us who remained were so thankful we were not alone. It was so helpful to know that others were committed to the group and were trustworthy. I was able to put words to things I never could tell anyone before. My heart grew two sizes because I was able to see past my own fears and struggles in order to support others going through the same thing I was. Now my heart aches for those who are just starting their treatment journey because I know firsthand how terrifying that road is. It is worth it for me to share my story, with the hope that others might start their treatment journey and can one day share their story too.
10. Treatment gave me recovery.
I am fortunate to have come this far. I feel as though I’ve been in the recovery relapse prevention phase forever because every day I have to wake up and make a choice to stay recovered. I can’t recall a day where I don’t have something come up that might trigger a binge. I have had moments where I went to bed early because the urge to binge was so strong — if I stayed up, I wasn’t sure I could fight it in my fatigue. I have had days where three or four times I was tempted to gave in. On one occasion, I actually went to the grocery store to by food for a binge, only to park my car in the parking lot and call a friend instead. I have been binge-free for two years, eight months, and 30 days (1003 days total). Every day I have had to choose recovery, fight for recovery and live out recovery. It has not been easy, but I know I would not have gotten this far without treatment — for that I am grateful.
Follow this journey here.
If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.
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Unsplash photo via Cameron Kirby