When I finally admitted to myself I had an eating disorder, the behavior I struggled with was binge eating. From my earliest memories, I used food to sooth my fears, loneliness, and depression. Throughout my adolescence and young adult years, I struggled with horrible self-loathing because of my size and blamed all my unhappiness on my body. I struggled for years with anorexic behaviors, bulimic behaviors, compulsive exercise, and the like. But it all started with binge eating and my fear of being judged as worthless if I wasn’t thin and muscular.
It took 20 years for me to finally grasp all my attempts at weight loss were exacerbating my eating disorder. This was my great awakening. Restriction was the primary reason I binged! But it wasn’t just restricting food that led to it. It was restricting life. I missed out on hanging out with friends, seeking out romance, going after the career I wanted, and having any kind of life adventure – all because I didn’t think I deserved it. If I was thin, maybe then.
The truth is I had to stop using food as an emotional Band-Aid and start to address all the “stuff” that was eating me up inside. I spent a couple years working with a treatment team to unlearn all the diet-mentality I internalized throughout my life. I worked on listening to my body, not my head, to tell me when I was full and when I was hungry, and to allow myself to eat what I craved. That I sometimes actually craved vegetables and fruit was new too. Before they were punishment foods for eating the “wrong” things like pizza and wings. Working to accept my body as it was, rather than how I wished, became a major part of my recovery as well. But most of all, I learned my eating disorder was a symptom of bigger issues I had to work through from underlying mental health diagnoses like depression and anxiety to life experience of neglect and trauma. I never could have gotten to the deeper issues without addressing the eating disorder at the same time.
Here I am 15 years later, and I wonder where I’d be without having done the hard work to recover. All day long, I see messages in the media telling me to eat great, eat late, have a fourth meal, diet with Jenny or Oprah, work out 15 minutes a day for perfect abs, and find male enhancement for real love. With that kind of messaging, no wonder we’re all so lost.
But there is a way forward and it starts by letting go of the desire to lose weight. Focus on the life you want regardless of what shape or size body you have. Learn to admire your body for its gifts, which are plenty, and understand health is not dictated by a number on a scale. Health is whatever you deem it to be as a combination of physical, emotional, and social wellness. Weight loss won’t get you there. Treating the mental health behavior and underlying causes will. That’s what binge eating treatment is really about.