When I was about ten, my mom handed me a book from American Girl called “The Care and Keeping of You 2” and told me to talk to her if I had any questions. I proceeded to read through 96 pages of information for girls who are about to go through puberty. When I finished it, my mom asked again if I had any questions. I apparently had no trouble accepting that I would soon be shopping for bras or bleeding out of my vagina, and I had only one: “Mom, how do I know if I have an eating disorder?”
The book had a total of two pages on eating disorders that included brief descriptions of anorexia and bulimia and why they were bad. But at a time where I was still young and protected enough to not feel self-conscious about my body, I didn’t understand why anyone would ever do those things to themselves. And I was terrified. I wanted to know when and why people developed eating disorders, how and if they were cured, and – the question I ultimately ended up asking – how I would know if I had one. A few years later, when one of my close friends developed anorexia, I watched how her personality completely changed and became even more afraid.
But my fear wasn’t quite enough. As I grew older, I did start to feel self-conscious about the way I looked. The first time I tried to count calories to lose weight I was twelve. I tried to go on “The Special K Diet” in order to quickly drop pounds around the same time. And there were times – many times – through middle and high school when just not eating at all was tempting. Fortunately, I’m terrible at being hungry and I never succeeded in lasting more than a few hours in my forays into anorexia. Unfortunately, those feelings never really went away.
Flash forward to my senior year of college, where I start counting calories again. Except this time I actually know what I’m doing and I manage to successfully drop 20 pounds over a period of about ten months. At the same time, I train for a half marathon and am in the best shape of my life (up to that point). I looked and felt fantastic. But I made one critical mistake: I tried to change too much too quickly. By the time I finished my race, I had been going a few months following strict nutritional guidelines – a drastic change from my usual diet that consisted mostly of cereal, pasta, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. A week after going off that diet, I binged. HARD.
I’m not even sure I could list all of the things I ate that night, but I know that it consisted of at least three Poptarts, several cookies, and half a small cheesecake. And I’m certain there’s more that I’m forgetting. In any case, it was bad. When I went for my run the following morning, I knew instantly that I’d made a mistake. I felt terrible. I quickly promised myself that I would never do anything like that again; it wasn’t worth it.
Almost two years later, I’m ashamed to report that I did do it again. In fact, I did it often. In just two months I managed to gain back over half the weight I’d lost. Since then I’ve battled the scale up and down, but at the time of writing this I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been. (Some of that is muscle, but a lot of it is fat.) As it turns out, binging still isn’t worth it. It almost never has been. But I keep doing it anyway.
That brings me to the title of this post: getting help. Fourteen years ago, when I first learned about eating disorders, I was worried that I was going to starve myself or start purging all my food. Now, despite my binging and its following guilt, I still wasn’t doing either of those things. So it took me a long time to realize that I had a problem.
I thought that everyone had a hard time resisting desserts, even if they were full. I thought that it was normal for people to sometimes eat way, way beyond when they were already stuffed. I thought my friends who told me they didn’t have those struggles were just lucky. Funnily enough, I thought those things even though I knew I had never been like that before. It wasn’t until I finally admitted to myself that I wasn’t in control and decided to Google “binge eating” that I realized it was an eating disorder. One that I almost certainly had.
Let’s talk about binge eating disorder, because I didn’t know it was a thing, so I suspect many others don’t either. This is not your typical “ugh, I ate too much out at dinner.” This is me getting bored on a random Tuesday night and thinking to myself, “I want a Poptart.” Except I don’t want to eat the Poptart, because Poptarts are unhealthy. So I help myself to a couple Fig Newtons, which are similar, but healthier. I still want the Poptart, so I eat a few more Fig Newtons. Not yet satisfied, I give up and just eat a Poptart. Except those Fig Newtons were good too, so I eat a few more of those. And then a second Poptart because I want to get that taste back in my mouth to deal with that craving. Then I’m like, “you know what sounds really good? Ice cream.” And when I open the freezer to get some, I see the soft pretzels in there and decide to have one of those too. So I go ahead and get myself two servings of ice cream, because at this point what the hell, and throw a pretzel in the microwave. I eat both of those, then heat another two pretzels because they were delicious. Then all of a sudden an hour and a half has passed and I realize everything I’ve eaten and all I can do is think, “oh god… what have I done?!” So I sit myself down in my room in horror and try to distract myself, repeating “don’t eat” in my head over and over again. Thirty minutes later I find myself in the kitchen, eating just a few more Fig Newtons.
That happens often enough to be dangerous. Sometimes I do well and only get into a binge once or twice a month. More often, I find it happening once or twice a week. Occasionally, it’ll be several days in a row. And it’s not just making poor choices; I literally feel like I can’t stop myself – like I’m not in control over my own actions.
Even once I realized that, I thought I could fix it on my own. I figured I just didn’t want it badly enough, or I just needed to try a little bit harder. Maybe I just needed a “reset” to remind myself that I did have the self-control I needed to say no. Maybe I just had to give myself more specific “rules” about when and how much I could eat. I tried for months to get myself to stop binging. And sometimes I would be successful, for a few weeks at a time. But no matter what I did, eventually, I slipped again.
So finally, months after admitting I had a problem, I took the next step: admitting I needed help. Two weeks ago I started seeing a therapist who specializes in eating disorders to try to get the binging under control. I’d like to say it magically fixed me, but sadly, that’s not the way that therapy works. It’s likely going to be a long process, and I’ve already been warned that the binging will probably get worse before it gets better.
Regardless, I admitted that I had a problem, then took the necessary steps to fixing it. Even though they were hard. If that’s not being an adult, I don’t know what is.