An anonymous blogger shares her experience of binge eating disorder and explains why research plays such a critical part in helping to improve stigma, understanding and treatments.
When I was 19, I suddenly started compulsively eating on a near daily basis.
I’d come home from work and eat dinner, then dessert, and that wouldn’t be enough, so I’d eat cereal and toast and whatever else was in the cupboards. It felt like no matter how much I ate, I was never full. I just had to keep eating until eventually I ate so much that I physically couldn’t eat anymore.
For a long time I thought I was just being a pig; greedy, ‘fat’ and undisciplined. I felt like I had no control over what I was doing - I would just eat to try and satisfy this feeling of intense hunger that never seemed to go away. It was really scary.
I saw myself as the issue, because at the time I didn’t know it was a form of eating disorder.
Physically, binge eating makes you feel terrible – stomach cramps, bloating, nausea, grogginess, lethargy – and if you’re experiencing several binges a week it takes its toll, making exercise as simple as walking really difficult.
The rapid weight gain, water retention, bloating and stomach pain, as well as the guilt and frustration, also impacted my self-esteem and I felt really unattractive. This not only affected my relationship with myself but also with romantic partners, who I began to draw away from. It had a big impact on my social life - I would go out less because I felt like a mental and emotional mess.
When I did finally realise something was actually wrong, it was still difficult to determine what it was.
Six years ago, binge eating disorder wasn’t actually classed as an eating disorder in its own right, and it has only recently been officially recognised as such. I hope that anyone suffering with it now would be able to self-diagnose much more easily.
I’m almost 25 now and feel like I’ve only just come to terms with my condition. My big breakthroughs were last year, when I went to a therapist who used a combination of hypnotherapy, CBT and mindfulness, and recently, when I saw a new therapist who also diagnosed me with generalised anxiety disorder.
It was only when I started to focus on tending to my anxiety that I saw my binge eating improve drastically. I’m now out of regular therapy and feel that it’s given me the tools I need, but occasionally I go back to my therapist if I need extra support.
I can now see a much more positive future for myself and my relationship with food.
I’m trying to work towards a healthy relationship with food where I trust it and I trust myself around it. But I’m also working towards a healthy and balanced relationship with myself.
I know it won’t always be easy. But I haven’t had a binge episode this year, which is the longest I’ve gone without having one since my disordered eating began, so I’m very happy about that.
My advice to people who might be experiencing something like this is to ask for help or talk to someone. It’s really important to find the right GP and speak to friends or family too, as it helps you feel less isolated. There are also free hotlines and live web chats, which are important resources, especially if you’re struggling to confide in anyone. Also, cut yourself some slack! Stop pushing yourself and listen to yourself and your body.
I hope research can build a greater understanding of binge eating disorder that will, in turn, lead to more effective and widely available treatments.
Research can also help to increase our awareness of the disorder as, the more GPs know, the more likely it is that an early diagnosis can be made and people are able to get help quicker. If binge eating disorder became a household term in the same way anorexia and bulimia are, people would be more likely to recognise its symptoms in themselves, or in friends and family.
Furthermore, I hope research helps to reframe the way we talk about food as a society. There is still so much stigma around obesity and overeating, with diet culture’s continued hold over society.
Because of the way we talk about food, overeating is still in many ways embarrassing to admit to and brings a lot of shame with it.
I believe that I’m not the only one who, for many years, saw my disorder simply as a complete lack of self-discipline. This belief didn’t just appear out of nowhere; it’s a message we hear constantly, and is consistently reinforced by the language of dieting that we encounter every day.
By gaining a greater understanding of binge eating disorder, I would hope these kinds of beliefs will be recognised as seriously damaging for our mental health.
*Images of a model have been used to prevent the blogger's identity.
Last updated: 31 October 2019