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12 Hidden 'Signs' of Binge Eating Disorder

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 741741.

Oftentimes, when we hear the phrase, “eating disorders,” we usually only think about anorexia and bulimia. And while we should definitely continue to talk about these conditions, most of the time they are the only ones that get discussed.

We can’t continue to ignore other types of eating disorders — including the most common type of eating disorder in the U.S. — binge eating disorder (BED).

If you’ve never heard of binge eating disorder, here are some facts courtesy of the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA):

  • It’s a disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of bingeing on large quantities of food.
  • People with BED often feel a loss of control during a binge and can experience shame and guilt afterwards.
  • It affects over 2.8 million people in the U.S.

To shed some light on this condition, we teamed up with the NEDA to ask people to share some “signs” of their BED that frequently go unnoticed. Below you can read what they had to say. If you want to join the conversation yourself, click on the image below to share your answer!

If you live with #BingeEatingDisorder, what's a "sign" of your condition that typically goes unnoticed? Your answer might be used in a post for The Mighty. #EatingDisorders#MentalHealth
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Though some “signs” of BED may manifest outwardly or affect weight, it’s worth mentioning BED doesn’t have a specific “look.” As Mighty community member Hannah B. put it, “Not all people who live with binge eating are considered higher weight. BED has no specific look or body type.” 

As a note, if you struggle with an eating disorder, the following post might be difficult to read. Please stop reading and take care of yourself if you feel triggered or find yourself struggling.

Here are the “hidden signs” of BED folks from the NEDA and Mighty communities shared with us:

1. Not Eating Around Others

“Eating when no one else is around. Started when I was young — eating in secret, hiding food wrappers because I was ashamed. I am married now to an amazing man who knows about my addiction to food, but I still hide my wrappers and pretend I never ate, even though I’m stuffed.” — Rebecca D.

“I used to eat things in the car or wait until everyone went to sleep so no one would judge me.” — Emily K.

“When you can’t control your thoughts around food. Everything you think of is food and you try so hard not to. And the eating in public is the hardest thing to do because you feel people judging you.” — Aimee L.

2. Staying Up Late to Binge

“Cooking a whole meal and not eating with my family. Suggesting my husband go out to eat with kids so I could eat alone. Staying up later than everyone so I can binge alone.” — Sarah B.

3. Using Food to Cope With Difficult Emotions

“Using food to regulate the intensity and/or presence of emotions.” — Ariana M.

4. Skipping Social Events

“Not attending holiday parties, birthday parties — basically any event that has trigger foods.” — Gabrielle M.

5. Waiting a Long Time Before Eating

“One of my things was waiting really long to eat. Then, when I finally ate, I would eat an incredible amount of food … and then I would restrict again. And on and on it went.” — Emily H.

6. Hiding Food Wrappers or Empty Containers

“Fast food wrapper hidden under the seats of the car. Wrappers inside of wrappers to hide amount of actual food eaten.” — Sarah B.

“Wrappers stashed places, bundled up bags of garbage in the garbage cans, not being able (or willing) to explain where [my] money went.” — Nicole D.

7. Constant Dieting

“Dieting. I would obsessively restrict and count calories, while tracking fitness goals and weight for anywhere from one day to a few months, but every time I would ‘fall off the wagon’ would be 100 times more traumatizing and unhealthy than if I’d just listened to what my body needed to begin with.” — Emily B.

8. Rotating Grocery Stores to Hide How Much Food Purchased

“I used to constantly rotate where I would shop for food, so no one would notice how much I was buying and how often.” — Sydney C.

“Going to multiple grocery stores so no one will realize how much you are buying. … Or pretending you are buying ‘for the office.’” — Penn C.

9. Spending More Than You Can Afford on Food

“The lengths to which you will go to get food, it truly is like an addiction. BED is horribly powerful and can make you feel compelled to do almost anything in order to quench the overpowering urges to binge. But the feelings of shame and guilt mean you often do it secretly and try to hide your behavior from others. So you lie about eating habits, eat food from the bin, eat other people’s leftovers, go to multiple supermarkets in one day, hide food to have later, borrow money (sometimes without asking) or go into debt just to buy food to binge on. … You miss appointments or are late to work/school because you simply can’t stop. BED is not indulgent overeating. It is painful, compulsive, severe, nauseating and disheartening. Just a heads up though to anyone reading this, I am completely recovered from it so don’t give up hope — seek professional help and be kind to yourself.” — Rosie D.

10. Shoplifting Food

“If I had no money, I would binge on junk. I even shoplifted food to binge on.” — Phoebe L.

11. Not Cooking Around Others

“I could never cook if someone was in the kitchen with me and now I’m realizing it’s because I’m scared they’re judging how much I make and they’re thinking I’m fat for making that much even if it isn’t a big amount of food. I get scared that people see me the way I see me.” — Abbey H.

12. Shame

“The guilt. I feel guilty when I want to binge, then I feel guilty if I don’t because my brain is saying I want to/need to, over and over, and I am going against that by not doing it. Then on the days I cave to it, I feel massively guilty afterwards and full of regret.” — Ellie S.

“The self-loathing that follows a binge. Even if I can control a binge by eating healthy foods, I beat myself up badly for not being in control or for letting the binge ‘win’ yet again.” — Pauline D.

If you live with binge eating disorder, you’re not alone. You’re not “weak.” You don’t lack “self-control” or “willpower.” Feeling embarrassment or shame about your mental health struggles is very normal — and your feelings are always valid. But we want you to know struggling with BED is nothing to be ashamed of. BED is a mental illness like any other, and most often, it requires professional intervention.

If you’re struggling, please reach out. You can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. Though it may not feel always feel like it, there is hope for recovery.

Here are some other stories from our binge eating disorder community:

Unsplash photo via AnkDesign