My binge eating disorder is this weird, omnipresent thing. It’s always lurking about in the shadows, but that doesn’t mean I’m binge eating every opportunity I get, but THAT doesn’t mean I don’t have it during the off-season. I mean, it’s like other mental illnesses in that way — I have clinical depression, but I’m not plagued with the sads and the “I-don’t-want-to-exist”s 24/7 (thank goodness).
So I guess that’s my way of explaining why I don’t discuss it all that much. I’m not ashamed of it so much as I’m either blissfully unaware that I’m in the throes of major binge eating till one night I’m laying in bed with the worst stomachache of life because I ate when I should have stopped five meals ago OR I’m eating just fine. Until I’m not.
Binge eating disorder is the one no one talks about and the majority of people don’t believe is a real issue (“You’re just eating because you’re bored,” “Everyone snacks before bed,” “You don’t look like you have an eating disorder”). Do we all binge from time to time? Totally. We have seratonin in our stomachs that reacts more strongly than the seratonin in our brains, and when carbs hit, we’re euphoric, and that feels awesome, so we have more. It’s not complicated. But the whole disorder — eating alone so others don’t see you, lying about what you’ve eaten, feeling such an incredible sense of shame nearly all of the time that you start to wonder if purging is actually as bad as it sounds. (I’ve never tried. I’m not one for throwing up.) It has nothing to do with the food — nothing at all.
Mine can be supposedly traced back to my days in the womb, little Fetus Mary just chilling in some amniotic fluid in the belly of a woman who starved herself to hide her pregnancy (which she successfully did all the way to the day of my birth, where I emerged feet first at 5 1/2 lbs.). As it was explained to me by both a Dietetics major and my psychologist, when I did get food — any food at all, which we can assume was infrequent and lacking in basic nutrition — I gobbled it up. I yearned for food, and when it arrived, I snatched up as much as I could because I knew it might be awhile before I got more. And my brain developed with the fear that perhaps the food wouldn’t come, that I had to eat what I could when opportunity arose, because it may be the last chance.
So here I am, 32 years old, with the occasional penchant to eating and eating and eating and eating and eating bread followed by chips followed by fruit followed by cheese followed by popcorn followed by a salad followed by a sandwich because deep down in my heart, I am afraid I won’t get another opportunity.
It’s perfectly illogical, so you’re preaching to the choir if you want to tell me all about that. I wish I didn’t have it. But when it is late at night, and there is a cookie in my pantry (or six or twelve or an entire package), there is nothing anyone can do or say that will fully convince me that it will still actually be there tomorrow. And then, because I am so stressed by my stress that I wanna up and vomit, I’ll eat some more to self-comfort. That I am not morbidly obese by now can only be chalked up to my Korean genetics, a strand of DNA that ensures I will never be fatter than around 140 lbs., even while binge eating, even while living a sedentary lifestyle. But please, whatever you do, don’t tell me I’m lucky because I’d take being fat over being mentally ill any day.
Lately I’ve been counting my calories in a non-obsessive, curiosity piqued sort of way through my Fitbit and exercising almost daily in hopes that at the end of the day, I will be able to have a small ice cream sundae or some McDonald’s fries or a glass of lemonade or some small treat — a reward, really — that tells me I’ve successfully achieved my daily goal of not overeating. Thus far, I’ve been able to indulge a little bit every night for the past week without going over a 500 calorie deficit except for this one night where I did, but I still ate less than I expended (and I’m very proud to inform you that I ordered a Medium fry at McDonald’s tonight, and I didn’t even finish it all). It’s been kind of liberating, taking charge of my eating habits rather than letting them take complete and utter control over me. I’ve been trying to make peace with the fact that I am no longer a rail-thin size 2/XS who can tuck her blouse into her pants and not look like sausage, that I am allowed to have new clothes, that I am allowed to look cute, and that it is perfectly acceptable for me to go up a size or two as needed because the clothes just look better (have you ever seen a woman who simultaneously muffin-topped and camel-toed? It’s tragic.). I am working on being happy. I mean, isn’t that all anyone wants? Just a general sense of happiness with his/her own physical, mental, and spiritual well-being?
But I know this may not last forever. We’re going on a cruise this Saturday, where an all-you-can-eat buffet and free room service will be my nemeses, where we won’t have internet service and I won’t want to log my calories anyhow because what a mood killer, and I’m a little worried that I’ll snap mid-way through and wake up one morning to make the unfortunate decision to have fifteen strips of bacon for breakfast, followed by hashbrowns, eggs, pancakes, toast, and fruit (I’ve done something similar, I really have, and yes I felt awful afterward). And I know, I know, I can start all over again and I shouldn’t consider it a failure as much as a lesson learned, but ideally I’ll just be a normal person who doesn’t lose her mind when presented with unlimited food. (Having my husband shooting me warning glances will probably help, and before you think, “Oh my gosh he’s a tyrant!”, know that he’s just doing what I need him to in order to survive through this life.) Ideally, there will be no self-loathing on this trip.
Perhaps even if my birthmother had been the peak of physical health and nutrition while she was pregnant with me, I still would have been struck with an eating disorder. It’s not really off the table. But sometimes I wish things had gone differently, that she’d felt comfortable confiding in a family member or a friend before it was too late, that she had a maternal instinct kick in that told her she needed to give me the best she possibly could because I was trying to survive in there and I’d need to survive, even longer, out here.
Sometimes I wish.