I’ve met alcoholics, nail-biters, chain smokers, yoga enthusiasts, and recently even a sex addict. Hey, we all have our vice, mine just happens to be something we need to have in order to survive.
I love food—cheesy rolls and pies and elaborate breakfasts were at Grandma’s on the holidays, warm cookies waited at home after a tough day at school, a restaurant dinner replete with appetizers and dessert was a reward for getting good grades. My family was the “fat family” and I seemed to accept that as a reputation to maintain.
Around 15 though, I started to hate food. Food was the reason for my extra pounds, the reason boys made fun of me instead of asking me out, why I stood in the mirror for hours sucking in my stomach, dreaming of being able to one day shop at the same stores as my friends.
At almost 17, I first successfully threw up a binge. It did not feel great, physically. It burned and heartburn set in and I maniacally scrubbed my teeth afterward. Mentally it felt awesome. I was the master of my body; I could go out of control then regain it with one trip to the bathroom. The more that came up, the more proud I became of myself. With one flush, my shameful binge was out of sight, out of mind.
This didn’t happen often. I wouldn’t say I was bulimic. Moving to college was a new story, however—more stress, more food available, a private bathroom that didn’t have to be shared with the rest of the floor. If I felt too full after a trip to the cafeteria, my roommate’s absence was a sign that it was okay to undo my gluttonous wrongs. I got a boyfriend, one day I told him. He said it wasn’t okay, that he’d go with me to get help. HA—help is only for people who have problems. Some people played sports, other smoked drugs, I threw up my food. Yes, I actually said that to myself. In retrospect, there was most certainly a problem.
Fast forward to my fourth semester at school—boyfriend broke up with me, both of my great-grandparents and one of my best friends from high school died. Food was always there for me. It wasn’t bulimia anymore, just full on binge eating. No need to bother others with my problems, a box of Pop-Tarts would listen.
If I ate to the point of barely being able to breathe, I forgot about everything else.
My weapon of choice? Carbohydrates. Carbs are comfort—breads, pasta, cereal, muffins, cake. It took many, many months for me to realize that this was much more than just a sick love of food. I had learned that eating was a way to mask emotions, and now that I was having more than ever without having learned to healthfully express them, the eating and masking was getting out of control. I first thought about seeking help in February. My Millennial self knew the Internet would have the answer—I Googled “binge eating” and began a new journey. Thousands of page hits told me I certainly wasn’t alone.
I didn’t pick up the phone and call University Counseling Services until September.
According to the Mayo Clinic, binge-eating disorder is the most common of all eating disorders. Also known as compulsive eating, it is not universally recognized as an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia. People think, “Well just stop eating.” That’s like telling an alcoholic, “Just stop drinking.” I would want to stop eating, I’d tell my mom not to send me back to school with leftovers. I’ve literally thrown away boxes of perfectly fine cereal knowing that if something were to trigger me emotionally, I’d devour the entire thing. “Compulsive” is really the best word for it, something I don’t fully understand, but am working through in counseling.
I’m now learning that if I feel sad, BE sad. If I want pasta for dinner, HAVE some—not the whole box. The other day I had two pieces of toast with butter, cinnamon and sugar on top for breakfast because that’s what my body wanted, a comfort food Mom would make when I stayed home sick. I haven’t put butter on anything in at least seven years. There’s a list of foods I’ve essentially banned from my life (deprivation that also contributes to binges) that I’m reintroducing. Mindful eating, or eating when I’m hungry, being extremely conscious of exactly what I want, how it tastes and when I’m satisfied, is working really well so far.
Food is not to be feared. Food is to be enjoyed, it is not a crutch. If I’m having a bowl of macaroni ‘n cheese for dinner, it will certainly not be the last bowl of macaroni ‘n cheese in my life. There’s no need to shovel it, no need to eat an entire box until I’m filled with shame, regret, and a nagging reminder that the bathroom is only five steps away. I have too many good memories associated with food to be overshadowed by what I let food become to me for so long.
Photo Credit: tomsaint