Let’s Get Real: Binge Eating Disorder is a Real Eating Disorder
For years, I tried to convince myself that I had two problems:
- Problem #1 was my willpower.
- Problem #2 was my weight.
That’s all there was to believe — because those were the messages out there, from magazine covers telling me how to lose 10 pounds in 10 days to people shilling diet programs and powders promising miracle weight loss.
For years, I told myself: I can do this; I can drop all these pounds that I’ve carried with me since childhood — since I started binge eating at age 9.
I told myself: I’ve lost weight in the past; I can do it again.
But any time I started a diet (which felt like every day), I failed. And this made me feel like a failure. I blamed myself. It makes since that I was so hard on myself.
Back then, binge eating disorder didn’t exist.
Well, to be clear, binge eating (the behavior) existed, but we didn’t know that it was an eating disorder that could be treated — or even what to call it. It wasn’t until recently (2013) that binge eating disorder even had a diagnosis.
Binge eating in childhood
As a child, my doctors just thought I was a “growing girl” or that I’d level out after puberty. But my weight was off the charts.
It makes sense that my mother — a psychiatric nurse — would find wrappers from binges under my bed and would only know to ask me, Are you purging?
But I wasn’t. While I put on a good effort to start weight loss programs, even as an adolescent, I always ended up in the same place — in a shameful, self-loathing spot — where nothing changed and the only way I thought I could feel better was to get back to binging. Then, of course, I felt worse.
This continued for decades because, remember, binge eating disorder wasn’t even a thing back then.
As all of this took place, I just felt like something was wrong with me.
Binge eating in adulthood
A lot of things — from the eating disorder itself to society — tried to convince me that what I was going through wasn’t real — that some how I could power through it.
I mean, how could I — an otherwise capable human being with a job, children, a husband — be conquered by a cupcake?
It didn’t make any sense.
I tried to make myself feel better. I called my problem “grazing.” Then I called it “compulsive overeating” or “food addiction.” I even tried something called “mindful eating” in hopes it was the answer. But there was no way that someone (me) who didn’t ever feel full could find a healthy spot in which I would want to stop eating.
It wasn’t until a visit to a psychiatrist’s office, when I was trying to figure out what was wrong with me, my willpower, and my weight that I saw the words “Binge Eating Disorder.” And there it was: the answer.
Binge eating disorder is a real eating disorder
I learned that binge eating disorder was a biologically-based eating disorder that had gone undiagnosed for decades. Binge eating disorder is both under-diagnosed and yet the most prevalent eating disorder. In fact, there are 2.5 times more people with binge eating disorder than with anorexia and bulimia combined.
Here are the symptoms of binge eating disorder:
- Frequent overeating, at least once a week for three months
- Eating more rapidly than normal
- Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
- Eating large amounts of food when not physically hungry
- Eating alone because you are embarrassed at how much you are eating
- Feeling disgusted, depressed or guilty after eating
And, I learned that were more important pieces that could trigger a binge, at least for me:
- A lot of the components of BED are biologically-fueled. Both my father and my grandmother had some tendencies toward binging.
- My brain might react differently than others in response to food marketing.
- Sleep deprivation (which was unfortunately my constant state as a new parent) could affect my appetite, hunger and hormones — leading to increased binges.
Binge eating wasn’t just a cop out. It wasn’t about willpower. It wasn’t about weight.
Binge eating disorder is a real diagnosis with real treatments
Unfortunately, there are also a lot of misconceptions and myths about binge eating out there. There are also a lot of facts and helpful information out there, like the following:
- Binge eaters aren’t always overweight; people with BED come in all shapes and sizes.
- Binge eating disorder isn’t controlled by willpower or dieting but rather by learning to build a healthy relationship with food.
- Losing weight with binge eating disorder doesn’t mean that you’re cured (I learned this personally after dropping a significant amount of weight and then the next year gaining most of it back).
You can recover from binge eating
I know what I’ve struggled with this past year, but I also know that recovery is possible if I take the steps necessary to get there.
I’ve learned to retrain my brain to react differently to food cues. I’ve taught myself to shut down the voice in my mind saying things like, “I’m doomed for failure” or “I look horrific.
This is the work of recovery.
In the days where binging was all-consuming, I really would have benefitted from a program like Eating Recovery Center’s residential program, partial hospitalization program (PHP) or intensive outpatient program. When we are willing to acknowledge that binge eating disorder is a real illness, we can also be willing to do the work necessary to beat it — and, thankfully, there are resources in place to help us do the work.
Kara Richardson Whitely is Eating Recovery Center’s Binge Eating Disorder Recovery Advocate. She is the author of the award-winning memoir Gorge: My Journey Up Kilimanjaro at 300 Pounds and Weight of Being: How I Satisfied My Hunger for Happiness, which will be out on July 17, 2018.