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Binge eating disorder is...
Eating a family-sized box of Velveeta Macaroni and Cheese and finishing it off with a store bought chocolate cream pie.
It’s being jealous of your boyfriend, who rations out a leftover meal over a few days, rather than scarfing it all down in one sitting as soon as he’s alone.
It’s receiving four sets of utensils with your takeout Chinese food because it’s a meal meant for that many people.
Binge eating disorder is secrecy, shame, and a constant fear of judgement. It’s an all-out obsession with food and a losing battle against sugar, salt, and fat cravings.
I’ve been a binge eater for as long as I can remember.
I have vivid childhood memories of stealing slices of pie meant for guests, hoarding ice cream in my room, and dashing to the “candy cabinet” at my grandmother’s house as soon as I was alone. Many of my memories involved being alone, with food.
My mom moved my brother and I to the United States from Austria, where my father stayed. My father would fly out to see us a couple times a year until I was 8, when my parents finally divorced.
During most of my growing up years, my mom made up for being a poor single mother by working full time and going to graduate school. I never saw my dad again. If I ever get proper therapy, I’ll probably discover that the apparent hole in my stomach is related to an unknown, forgotten hole in my heart.
Despite this, I don’t recall experiencing extreme emotions during my binges while growing up. Like another xoJane author once mentioned about her own disorder, there was never a distinct sense of release or ease of stress, as is often accompanied with emotional eating.
The feeling that did stick was the quick sting of shame whenever my mom chastised me for taking seconds at meals.
“Do you really need that?” she’d ask.
Of course I didn’t. But I knew that, if I didn’t get the opportunity to indulge then, I would do so in secret later on.
It was my mom’s little phrases that always stung the most, hung around in my head the longest. “Do you really need that?”
While my behaviors began at a young age and persisted until adulthood, I never considered myself to have a real disorder until much more recently. Eating disorders, I had always believed, involved a lack of food -- not an abundance.
Then, one afternoon, it clicked.
I had just chowed down on a large Italian sub, a quarter of one of those Sara Lee chocolate cakes that comes in boxes, and too many mouthfuls of whipped cream, squirted directly into my cake-hole.
I felt disgusting -- nauseous, bloated, and nearly drifting in and out of consciousness. This, I suddenly realized, must be what it’s like to get drunk alone.
In my carb-y haze, I googled “compulsive overeating.” Though it was a familiar term, it had never previously struck a chord in me. As I browsed through the links that came up in the search, the pieces of my habit began to fall into place. Secrecy. Shame. Obsession with food. Check, check, check.
I learned that overeating as a disorder was a thing. I learned that this might be my thing.
After that moment of realization, I attempted to solve my irrational behavior with an irrational solution. Without health insurance, I could not get therapy and simply stopping my pattern of binge-ing after work every day felt like an impossible feat. So, I turned to Intervention.
Intervention. That show where your family and friends plot to film your destructive behaviors, intervene, and then send you to rehab.
I thought that, if I could get into some fancy eating disorder rehab center, then maybe I would finally get the needed therapy to change my ways. So, I nominated myself for the show by filling out an online application under my mom’s name and a fake email, along with my life story. Totally irrational solution to my totally irrational behavior...
Of course I knew it was a stupid plan that would probably never work.
A) Power eating copious amounts of food, then battling the inevitable food hangover and shame seemed to pale in comparison to heroin addiction and alcoholism. And....
B) How the hell was I supposed to follow through with a plan to nominate myself for Intervention? I would somehow have to get my family and friends to put up with my ruse and turn the reality of drug addiction into a semi-fictional horror show revolving around my sugar abuse.
Then the producers actually called.
They were interested in me, the girl who couldn’t stop eating and seemed legitimately depressed about it. I felt both humiliated and validated, in a sick, twisted way. Humiliated, because I had actually stooped so low. Validated, because my habits (which I had not exaggerated or blown up to get attention) were dramatic enough for prime time TV. I didn’t return the call, nor the repeated attempts thereafter.
I was horrified with myself.
Now, six years later, I am currently in my first real job after graduate school. My troubles with food are far from behind me, though a brief stint in real, insured therapy has given me some perspective.
There are still afternoons where I come home from work and promptly give in to the temptations of online food delivery. It's my version of a glass of wine at the end of the day, though calorically, it probably exceeds that of a whole bottle of wine.
In a way, it helps to know that bingeing on food is not related to an uncontrolled physical need. It is rooted in some insecure place in my head that I just haven’t found yet.
When I do, I’ll be able to work through it and begin to heal. The struggle is finding the time and motivation to actually begin this process in earnest.
I want to eat food like a normal person, but when a day of anxiety fades into the dawn of a day without worry, I feel like maybe my problems aren’t so intense as I initially thought them to be.
So, I delay seeking help yet again.