No food post from me today. I wanted to do something to acknowledge I struggled with binge eating and anorexia for many years. And although it’s no longer a real day-to-day battle for me, I remember the feelings all too well. And thought I would share with you what my eating disorder looked like.
I binged probably once a week for most of my late-twenties. It started off as my “cheat day.” I was in the midst of my trying-every-diet-under-the-sun phase and I liked the idea of a full 16 hours of eating whatever I wanted. It soon became a habit I both dreaded and looked forward to.
I usually picked a day when my husband Abe was working, a time when I knew I’d be alone. Scheduling it so that I wouldn’t have anything the next day, either – that way I could be sick the following day “in peace.” The morning would start off half-heartedly trying to talk myself out of the planned binge. I promised to fuel my body with a nice hearty breakfast, like a bagel and egg sandwich. But the idea of “freedom” had been planted in my brain. I would find myself on the street an hour after eating. Convincing myself I just needed “a little something.” Just like a drug addict.
I would stop into the pizza shop, and enjoy a thick Sicilian slice. “Honor your cravings,” like all the diet books tell you. I’d be the only one there, the first customer at 11 am. Then I would wander into the health food store, telling myself I’ll pick up something healthy to satisfy my sweet tooth. And that would be it. I wouldn’t allow myself to eat the rest of the day, until dinnertime. A bag of yogurt covered pretzels, malt balls, and fig bars would be purchased from the bulk bins. I’d circle around the block, eating them. I’d pass by people on the street and wonder if they knew what a mess I was.
Back home I’d try to distract myself from whatever was in the kitchen by watching TV or playing video games. “How can I still want more?” I would wonder. But there it was – that bottomless pit feeling. Not hunger, but emptiness. I would finish whatever was carb-y and easy to shove into my mouth. Anything from a loaf of bread to a box of cereal. Ashamed that Abe would come home and know I binged, I would go back out to the supermarket to replace it.
While at the grocery store, I figured I might as well pick up some more stuff to “enjoy.” It was like the last supper. I prayed this would be my last binge and figured if I was going to go all out, I’d have to go ALL THE WAY. Wandering the aisles, I’d try to figure out what I wanted. That if I could never have it again, what would it be?
For some people this may seem like a fun game. “What would your last meal be?” But for me it was torture. Nothing was good enough. Not even the items that had taunted me all week while I’d been dieting. I must’ve spent an hour walking around. Removing packages from the snack aisle, putting them back. Finally I would decide on something sweet (like a box of cookies). And something salty (a bag of chips). Another something sweet (a chocolate bar. For dessert.)
Of course, I would pick up whatever I needed to substitute back at the house.
This was “the fun” part, when I’d accepted that I was going to fully binge. While I still felt physically and mentally capable of handling it. I’d inhale everything I’d bought within an hour. When my stomach wouldn’t take anymore I’d stop and sit in my food coma. Then polish off some more when I had any room. Usually I would make it through all the sweet purchase, half the salty. Then a bit of the second sweet, and some of the replacement food. All done before Abe came home. By this time, I’d already called him hours ago (probably before I went to the grocery store). Just to let him know I was feeling sick so he wouldn’t be surprised to find me sprawled on the couch, incapable of movement.
That evening, whenever Abe wasn’t in the same room with me (like the bathroom) I would take my grocery store purchases from their hiding places and shove them in my mouth. Quickly, afraid he might enter and walk in on me any second. Even though Abe was fully aware of my eating disorder, he never did “catch me.”
Some nights I enjoyed being pitied and allowed myself to feel the sickness. This was an effective method for not being expected to participate in the following day. And other nights I would pretend nothing was wrong. Telling Abe I wanted to eat out that night and then ordering the fattiest, most calorically-dense thing on the menu I could find. Then only eating half of it. I would be proud of myself that it appeared that I was eating “like a normal person” in public.
I always slept hard the night of a binge – 10 to 12 hours. Sometimes the next morning I’d have another “lighter” binge day. Some days I wouldn’t have any problem not eating all day, except for a “sick meal” of soup in front of my husband. At the same time that it was scary for me. I knew I was out of control and feared this cycle would never stop. It was also extremely comforting. I always knew what a binge would feel like – before, during, and after. A few times the binges made me so sick that I involuntarily threw up. I would have food-poisoning-like symptoms for days. And I would vow to Abe and myself to never repeat the behavior again. But I would.
It’s been at least a year and a half since my last binge, maybe longer. I’ve gotten through it with the help of my husband, family, friends, and an eating disorders specialist. But mostly myself. This blog has been instrumental in helping me figure out my new relationship with food as well. I’ve definitely overeaten at times since then, but I have not repeated any of the psychological behaviors that accompanied my eating disorder. I no longer lie to my husband or myself. I still can’t quite believe that that was my life for so many years, that I have been able to shed this part of my life that I was sure would never go away.
One of my degrees from college was in Women’s Studies, where we studied eating disorders , dissecting and theorizing and exploring the subject ad nauseam. I never believed I would have one. I truly hope that if any of you are currently struggling you know that recovery is possible. It may feel like two steps forward and ten steps back at times, but the guilt, the pain, the shame – the seemingly never ending struggle – does end. I can say that today with complete confidence and pride.