Binge Eating Disorder in "This Is Us" - Kara Richardson Whitely
Spoiler Warning: CONTAINS "THIS IS US" SEASON 4 SPOILERS
(Image courtesy of "This Is Us" on NBC)
In my humble opinion, the "This Is Us" writers (and team) nailed it.
From the moment I saw Chrissy Metz — aka Kate — on "This Is Us," I felt like my story was finally being told. Of course, this is not my actual story, but bingeing has been my experience for just about as long as I remember.
Binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder, but it is the least talked about. And I’m not in the business of diagnosing someone, especially a character, but watching Kate’s story play out was like looking in a mirror.
This season seems especially poignant. Kate and Toby are navigating post-baby life. And for me, this was my most difficult time with binge eating disorder. While most people were cooing about the golden age of a new baby, I was falling apart physically and emotionally.
The year before my first child was born, I had lost a significant amount of weight. Then in the course of one pregnancy, I gained back more than half the pounds that I had lost. And it wasn’t just because I was eating for two. I had anxiety and worry about what kind of parent I would be. I also had depression because I was exhausted and frustrated with myself.
While a lot of people talk about post-baby weight loss, my bingeing was in full force after my daughter’s birth.
My experience with binge eating disorder
Life as a new mom was really stressful — I was financially broke and on maternity leave. I was also sleep deprived. Later, I would come to learn that money stress and sleep deprivation are my two biggest triggers that can lead me to want to binge. Meanwhile, I felt isolated (like a lot of people who binge) because I worked from home. Just like Kate, who appeared to be the calm in the middle of the storm, I was struggling.
In "This Is Us," to the naked eye — without the dialogue of Toby (Kate’s husband) and Rebecca (Kate’s mom) when Toby says he worries about Kate the most — you might have missed it.
The scene is Kate in a music class with her kiddo; everything was stressful as Kate was trying to get out of the house, picking apart Toby for forgetting something and then getting to the class to have it be a complete disaster. This scene from the "This Is Us" writers was some of the most authentic writing I’ve ever seen.
When I was a new mom, I also did try to go out and care for myself, and things often fell apart. I remember going to a Baby and Me Yoga class, and we got kicked out because my daughter cried so much. That day, I got in the car and cried until I composed myself enough to go to a drive-through. I wanted to pause the world as it was spinning around me, and the only way I could think to do that was stuffing my painful emotions down with food.
You see, binge eating disorder doesn’t typically involve one eating piles and piles of food all at once. That’s a stereotype played over and over again in this world that considers binge eating simply an issue of willpower and weight. For me, I would eat a little here and a lot there. My food intake wasn’t about survival — I was fleeing what I was feeling. I found freedom in sugar-laden coffee drinks. I found it in adding extra toppings. It was found by constantly having something in my mouth, from candy to a piece of gum. Freedom was found as I helped myself to leftovers when I was clearing plates. Bite by bite, I was stuffing down my feelings so they wouldn’t come to the surface.
During this time, I tried numerous diets and detoxes but each attempt would end in failure.
On "This Is Us," as Kate was struggling, Toby was over-exercising and dropping pounds, hiding it from Kate. The subtlety of Toby’s food plan right next to baby Jack’s food chart in this past episode was absolutely brilliant.
I know how Kate felt. I felt the same way when my husband would disappear for hours on end with his running club. I would say it was fine for him to go, but I was feeling that I would never get a break from motherhood. I felt like a milk machine. A martyr. But I wanted to make it seem like — I wanted to feel like — everything was fine. So, he left. And I’d say nothing. He would return feeling refreshed, and I would be steaming with resentment.
How I got help with binge eating
We can hold a tremendous amount of secrecy and shame around food. This would happen to me on a daily basis, going beyond the point of emotional eating and entering a full-fledged eating disorder.
Getting out of the binge eating disorder is much harder when life is complicated by obligations — from financial strain to the caring of a new life.
I knew I needed to get help, and my doctor recommended an eating disorder specialist. It was a massive effort. I needed four hours from a babysitter to go to the city by train for a 45-minute appointment. But seeing a specialist started the conversation. It opened up new ways for me to think about food. Most importantly, I learned that my path to recovery wasn’t so much about food, but about learning ways to manage stress in my life. I learned to structure my time and thereby my meals. I dug into my past, not just to understand the roots of why I binged, but to understand strength and resiliency earned through life.
Most importantly, to me, I opened the conversation. "This Is Us" is doing the same thing for the millions of us who watch — those of us who are struggling need to be validated and understood — and we need to finally be seen.
Kara Richardson Whitely is the author of "Gorge: My Journey Up Kilimanjaro at 300 Pounds," "Weight of Being" and is an executive producer on an upcoming project. She serves as an Eating Recovery Center Binge Eating Disorder Recovery Advocate. You can follow her journeys on Instagram.