Demystifying Binge Eating Disorder

My eating disorder, for the most part, has always been mostly invisible. Whether I was fat or thin or “average,” everyone always paid attention to my size rather than my behavior. As a kid, I was always somewhat overweight until I decided to “do something about it” in middle school. I spent the entirety of seventh grade until well into my college years manipulating my body through diet and binge cycles, restriction, and excessive exercise.

When I was officially stamped a diagnosis of binge eating disorder based on my self-reported bingeing and emotional eating symptoms, ten years after they started, I was at a “normal” weight and I felt accepted and integrated into a friend group for the first time in my entire life. My newly found confidence and body image as a thin teenager had a lot to do with that, and so did my introduction to alcohol at seventeen.

Behind the scenes, I was always either bingeing or purging using excessive exercise. My exercise routines kept me able to “run light” on the cross country and track team and able to keep bingeing and break even on intake and output. I didn’t know years later that I would stretch out my stomach and add to the digestive issues that were already caused by my severe anxiety since childhood. Even now, I still have trouble minding and responding to my body’s hunger and fullness signals because my stomach is used to taking in quantities of food that I didn’t even enjoy eating at the time.

I didn’t know years later that I would stretch out my stomach and add to the digestive issues that were already caused by my severe anxiety since childhood.

When I found what I first perceived to be “recovery,” all I really found was another diet program. I wanted to get better and to stop binge eating, so I sought the help of a nutritionist six months before graduation. When I came home from college, I entered Overeaters Anonymous—a program that I thought would fix my thinking about food and my obsession with food. Instead, I was given another diet program that produced even more rigidity. I lost 26 pounds in two months and I put it back on and more after quitting program. I didn’t quit because I failed—I quit because yet another diet disguised as a healing process had failed me.

Sitting in a room full of people who fat shamed themselves, who food-policed me at gatherings, wasn’t recovery.

Recovery from my eating disorder came to me through a different support system, and, ironically, through the Instagram community. I started following accounts that featured women who loved their bodies, whether those bodies were large or small or somewhere in between. People often think of social media as a toxic space, but a lot of movements having to do with body positive images and messages are looking to change that.

Recovery from my eating disorder came to me through a different support system, and, ironically, through the Instagram community.

Activists like Megan Jayne Crabbe, Jessamyn Stanley, and Sonya Renee Taylor have changed my entire perspective about what dignity I deserve. I started to read about new models of nutrition that rejected medical fat phobia and discrimination against people because of their size. I flooded my brain and my space with information about how to respect your body and the idea that you can be big and healthy at the same time. I credit podcasts like The Recovery Warriors Show, Food Psych, and The Every Body Podcast for my entry into this phase of my own self-love journey.

I first read Body Respect by Linda Bacon and Laura Aphramour, then Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. I learned a lot about nutrition, and realized that all the information that has been imparted onto me about diet and exercise wasn’t about nutrition at all—it was all mostly about how get and stay thin. 

The messages I received all my life were about moralizing food rather than enjoying it, getting rid of it rather than using it for energy, and treating my body like a machine and not as a container for all the other things that my personality and humanness are about. Without a doubt, in this phase of my recovery I have gained weight, changed body shapes, and I have a full range of sizes, both straight size and plus size, in my closet. I identify as a fat person and I do so unapologetically. I eat vegetables and pizza and drink a lot of Starbucks and a lot of water. I struggle with depression and anxiety just as I have since around the same time my eating disorder started. And I wouldn’t change any of it.

The messages I received all my life were about moralizing food rather than enjoying it.

The fact that I am fat and that I’m okay with it likely makes so many people uncomfortable. I’ve witnessed this discomfort among friends, in my work space, and nearly anywhere I dare to declare that I eat whatever I want. People think that this is arrogant, careless, or that I don’t watch out for my health. 

In fact, the reactions to me reiterating some of the information and research from Body Respect were downright oppositional. The weird thing is, I’m not even as fat as some of the most vibrant and healthy and thriving women I know. In comparison to a lot of fat women and people in larger bodies in general, I am a small-sized fat girl. 

I didn’t “try” to weigh more or less or be a certain size. My body got bigger from all the damage that’s been done to it since I was twelve. Dieting chronically, like I have throughout life, actually makes it harder for a person’s body to stabilize weight. It confuses the body into and out of states of deprivation and after a while, it doesn’t know when it is hungry or whether it’s full. These are the things I have to work to retrain in my recovery constantly.

Dieting chronically, like I have throughout life, actually makes it harder for a person’s body to stabilize weight.

Often, I question my legitimacy as a fat-identified person, just like I used to question whether or not I deserved help for my eating disorder because I didn’t “look” sick, even when I acted sick. Throughout my history, I have even questioned whether my behaviors are a “disorder,” or just an occupational hazard of living in a culture with an extremely toxic and rigid thin ideal. It’s an ongoing process. And right now, I’m just letting my body do its thing while I relearn how to enjoy food and not inhale it, to deal with my feelings without reaching for a numbing agent, and how to stop eating as if I am responding to trauma that no longer holds space in my immediate life.

Recovery doesn’t look the same on everyone, and neither does disordered eating itself. I just know that I have a responsibility to my body to treat it with respect—I have a responsibility to know better, do better, and to get really internal about my relationship to my body, the energy I put in it, and the messages around me that tell me that I’m never going to be enough, that I’m never going to qualify for fat or thin or average or recovered or disordered anyway. I have to remember that a lot of those things are someone else’s standards, and that nothing about me is standard. It’s all a part of the journey.

Photo by Ursula Spaulding.

 

Theinbetweenqueen is a native New Yorker, grad student, and teacher. Follow her at inbetweenqueenblog.wordpress.com.

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