I was very unwell with bulimia nervosa as a teenager. I felt insignificant next to my friends. I received comments on the size of my legs from horrible boys and I’d hate getting changed in the same room as my mates because I’d constantly compare myself to them. It was a feeling that had followed me my whole life, receiving comments on my weight from as early as four years old. I was always the bigger sister, in age and in size, and for me, the way my body looked had always stood out.
I started experiencing bingeing and purging when I was around fifteen. I’d always loved food, but bingeing, to me, was a way to cope with how I was feeling. I would eat late at night when the house was asleep, feeling completely out of control as I ate until I was uncomfortably full and felt sick.
I would dissociate during binges, it was almost like I had no idea what I was actually doing. I would eat foods that would normally make me feel anxious as I would try to eat little during the day as a way to ‘manage’ my binges. But my binges weren’t managed, at all — and I would cope with the guilt and shame I felt afterwards by purging.
When I was finally done, I would sit in the bathroom and cry. It was a vicious cycle that I so desperately wanted to end, but I was so deeply absorbed by it.
Over time, I stopped purging. This isn’t because I wanted to — but because I became very unwell from doing so and was hospitalized after vomit got stuck in my chest cavity and caused my right lung to collapse.
It was an incredibly scary time and I was left with even larger feelings of guilt and shame — not just because of what I’d done, but because of what it could have meant for my family. I swore to them afterwards, that I would stop purging.
But the bingeing never stopped. I couldn’t. And I still can’t. Eleven years on, I still binge most evenings. It is like it is so deeply ingrained within me that I can’t stop. No matter how hard I try.
Binge eating disorder is a serious mental illness where people eat very large quantities of food without feeling like they’re in control of what they’re doing.
It’s a large amount of food in a short period of time, and unlike bulimia, purging usually isn’t involved.
Beat Charity describes BED as being far from enjoyable. It’s not ‘overindulging’. Binges are distressing. And it can be impossible to stop even if you want to. Some people, including me, even forget what they’ve eaten afterwards.
Beat says: “Characteristics of a binge eating episode can include eating much faster than normal, eating until feeling uncomfortably full, eating large amounts of food when not physically hungry, eating alone through embarrassment at the amount being eaten, and feelings of disgust, shame or guilt during or after the binge. Someone who experiences at least one of these distressing binge eating episode a week for at least three months is likely to be diagnosed with binge eating disorder.
“Binges may be planned like a ritual and can involve the person buying “special” binge foods, or they may be more spontaneous. People may go to extreme lengths to access food — for example, eating food that has been thrown away or that doesn’t belong to them. Binge eating usually takes place in private, though the person may eat regular meals outside their binges. People with binge eating disorder may also restrict their diet or put in certain rules around food — this can also lead to them binge eating due to hunger and feelings of deprivation. People often have feelings of guilt and disgust at their lack of control during and after binge eating, which can reinforce that cycle of negative emotions, restriction and binge eating again.”
I know that I’m most at risk of bingeing when I’m feeling low or overwhelmed by my feelings. It’s a coping mechanism. Food is my comfort. But it can also happen when I’m feeling happy or in an average mood.
Even though binge eating disorder is a recognised eating disorder, there is still a lot of shame and stigma attached to it. But I hope to make even the smallest mark in changing this — which is why I’m writing about it for the first time, for a publication that I am most comfortable with; that feels like a safe space.
I know that for me, I often don’t believe I have a “problem”, because society tells us that. We’re so used to hearing about eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia nervosa, that opening up leaves us vulnerable to being called “greedy”. And sometimes I tell myself that I’m just that because it’s easier than opening up to the world about what’s actually going on.
It’s something I don’t talk about very often because to tell you the truth, I have long felt scared to speak out about it for fear of not being taken seriously. Even though I experience the same distress, guilt and shame that came with purging, not purging makes me feel like a failure. Like all of the awful comments, we hear in regards to greed are true. But they’re not.
Every single time after a binge, I want to cry. It makes me feel really distressed and as though I have a complete lack of control. A lack of willpower. And that’s why it’s so difficult to open up — because I don’t want someone to confirm these thoughts.
I haven’t gone into too much detail about my binge eating disorder, because it’s something that is still very personal to me, and because I want to follow Beat’s guidelines on what is appropriate within articles. It’s also something I still find hard to talk about. But I want people to know that it’s not something to laugh at, to make jokes about, or to dismiss.
Binge eating disorder is a serious mental illness — it’s not being greedy or having a lack of willpower — it can be life-destroying. It’s time to acknowledge that.