Why We Need to Talk About 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 741-741.
I am angry. No, I am furious, because why does it seem like an illness that is so common is being hidden and ignored? I never see many stories about it — it seems like we’re not talking about it all.
When it comes to talking about mental illnesses, despite the recent improvement on topics such as depression and anorexia nervosa, the world seems to have completely forgotten about one of the most common: BED.
I have binge eating disorder (BED). I eat compulsively, not slowing down until I reach the point where breathing becomes difficult and no physical position is able to reduce the pain in my stomach. It is an illness as cruel and taxing as any other.
Combined with the depression that has haunted me for years, eating disorders have torn apart the life I once had planned. They have forced me into a place where I am unable to feel alive and admire the beauty other people see in the world.
But why does my experience with BED feel so different to my experiences with anorexia and depression?
In my fight against anorexia and depression, I always felt I was able to speak to those I trusted — my closest friends who surrounded me in my times of despair. They knew about the illnesses and though they didn’t understand them, they knew enough to be able to help me when I was having a “bad” day.
And now I sit here, after transitioning from being severely underweight to severely overweight, feeling completely and utterly alone. I feel completely unable to talk to them about my binges.
In fact, at this moment, not a single family member or friend knows I write and publish stories about my mental illness.
Because I am scared. I know my family will tell me to stop publicizing my “disgraceful” illness. Some of them would probably even continue denying that depression and BED are actually illnesses. And at the moment, I am just not strong enough to stand up to their objections.
And sometimes, the fear of them reading these posts makes me wonder if I should stop — a feeling I am sure affects hundreds of other people too. They probably hide in their bedrooms, just as I do, trying to find other people with BED in order to reduce their shame. And instead of hearing the voices of the thousands who share their illness, they hear nothing — because it seems fear of judgment has silenced us all.
Even as I consider telling a friend from the past about my problems, I worry. I don’t want to tell them about my BED. Why am I so willing to talk about my anorexia and not my binge eating disorder? Maybe because I have seen an unbelievable number of people talk about their experience with anorexia. Maybe because, in school, we were only ever told about anorexia and bulimia. We were given entire slideshows on each one and yet BED was not even mentioned in passing.
I do not say this implying that BED is worse than anorexia or deserves more awareness, because I have lived with both and have felt the pain of both.
Anorexia leaves you dreaming about food you can’t eat and turns you into a calorie calculator. BED makes you feel as though your stomach is tearing and your body is out of your control. They are both equally as painful to the person living with them and they should be equally represented.
But there is one feeling BED gives me that can be changed: shame.
I have never felt so ashamed of myself as when I was sitting on the floor in my bedroom, crying to my mother on the phone, trying to tell her I had binged again despite her attempts to hide the food. I could feel myself shaking and my mouth just wouldn’t form the words.
Despite my inability to project the words, she understood and her reaction made my entire being crumble.
Throughout my anorexia, she had never said – in such a calm and dead tone – that it was my fault. Well, maybe she had due to her lack of understanding, but not in a way that had struck me so sharply. This time, my weight didn’t put me in danger of death, so she wasn’t screaming and crying in fear. She just didn’t care. As far as she cared, I was stealing her food, behaving like an animal.
I felt shame hit me like an avalanche. I remember staring in the mirror and hating everything I saw. Every inch. This should never have happened to me. I have no doubt that hundreds, if not thousands of people have experienced the same situation and it breaks my heart. There are so many truly crappy symptoms that come from an eating disorder and adding such intense shame is cruel.
So this is my call to anyone reading this who has or knows someone with BED: speak up. Loudly. Use any sadness and anger and turn it into courage. Your voice will help someone else, maybe on the other side of the world or maybe in the house next door, to realize binge eating disorder is nothing to be ashamed of.
Use the comments section. Use Twitter. Use Facebook. Use your words to empower you.
I promise you; you are not alone in your pain.
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.
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Thinkstock photo via Photodisc