Content Warning: Eating disorders.
Disclosure: I am not a medical professional, I'm simply sharing my personal experience. If you need assistance, please consult a medical professional. If you would like some more information on eating disorders or confidential help, the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) can provide this. They have confidential phone and chat hotlines and more resources here. They even have 24/7 Crisis Support via text: send NEDA to 741-741
It's National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, and I wanted to share my story as someone in recovery from Binge Eating Disorder (BED), diagnosed 11 years ago – binge free for 6. I think it's especially important for larger-bodied people to share their experiences as they're often underrepresented in the conversation.
I was five years old when I first understood I wasn't a desirable size, according to my parents. A lifetime of chronic dieting, massive food restrictions, and reinforcement from family and culture that my body wasn't acceptable did a number on me.
A quick, but by no means exhaustive, look at my dieting history. Any given year, there were multiple weight loss efforts attempted to “fix” my fat body. A mix-and-match menu of food restriction:
Age 5: Mousercize record – Mickey and friends tell you what exercises to do
Age 6: Jazzercise classes with mom, food tracking
Age 8: Cabbage soup diet, food tracking
Age 8: Child psychologist visits, nutrition counseling, calorie counting
Age 10: Weight Watchers
Age 12: “Stop the Insanity!” by Susan Powter
Age 13: The Firm + Weight Watchers
Age 14: Phen-Fen
Age 15: “Get With The Program!” by Bob Greene and Oprah Winfrey. I still have my journal from this and it's heartbreaking to read.
Age 15: Depression diagnosis, suicidal thoughts, fat camp (1200 calories and 3.5 hours of exercise per day)
Age 16: Fat camp again
Age 16: Slim-Fast
Age 17: Fat camp visit #3
Age 17: Compulsive over-exercising before and after school
Age 18: Fat camp visit #4 as a junior counselor and aerobics instructor. I taught step aerobics and kickboxing (Tae Bo style)
Age 19: Restriction then beginning of binge eating
Age 24: The Atkins Diet
Age 25: Phentermine plus Atkins
Age 25: More Atkins, The Biggest Loser audition
Age 26: Undiagnosed binge eating
Age 27: The Biggest Loser audition 2
Age 27: EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified)/Binge Eating Disorder diagnosis
Age 28: Low carb/keto
Age 29: 2 rounds of hCG
Age 30: Half marathon with Whole30
Age 31: Juice fasting
Age 33: 3 binge eating episodes during my divorce – binge free since then.
With a history like this, it's no wonder that my relationship with food and my body is incredibly complex. I have gained and lost hundreds of pounds multiple times over. I can't say this with 100% certainty, but I do believe that my depression and generalized anxiety disorder are very much rooted in this body shame. It impacts my life in multiple ways every single day, and I don't know that will ever not be true.
I have mentioned Binge Eating Disorder multiple times on this blog, but realized I've never shared much about my diagnosis, treatment, and how I'm doing today. I rarely see larger-bodied individuals talking about their eating disorders, and I understand why people are hesitant to share personally. Between personal shame, societal perceptions of large bodies as inferior, and the common perception that eating disorders only affect thin people – it's a lot to unpack. It's also incredibly emotional and I don't blame anyone – especially in recovery – for not wanting to dig back into those memories. I've tried writing this post for 5 days now, and it's been an emotional rollercoaster to get through more than a couple of paragraphs at a time.
I think that people associate larger-bodied people with binge eating disorder as simply having a lack of self-control around food, food addiction, or just over-consume. This is exactly what I thought of myself before I was diagnosed, and honestly even for a while after I was diagnosed. It's not uncommon to hear people say “ugh, I totally binged on ice cream yesterday” when they are simply saying they ate more than they think they should have. It's much deeper and complex than that.
In order to help correct misconceptions about eating disorders and let people know help is out there, we need more stories. Here's mine.
My childhood full of body dissatisfaction, constantly being under food restriction, weekly weigh-ins, plus depression really primed me for developing binge eating disorder. I learned how to hide and sneak food by observing my mom, and started doing that by the age of 14 when I realized I could buy Little Debbie snacks at school without her knowing. I was never allowed anything like that at home. I would buy multiples and tell the cashier that I was buying some for a friend. After eating them, I'd hide the wrappers in a side pocket of my backpack and throw them away into the sanitary napkin trashcan inside the stalls of the girls bathroom.
Around Christmas, my mom would always get these homemade fruitcakes from a local craft fair. She loved those fruitcakes, which were more like nut cakes with some candied fruit and way more tasty than the brick of fruitcake you may be imagining. It was one of the rare times we had sweets in the house. I would frequently sneak bits of fruitcake when no one was watching – carefully peeling back the protective cling wrap, and slicing the thinnest sliver I could so no one would notice some was missing. I'd wrap it back exactly as it was to appear undisturbed, clean the knife, and put it back in the drawer, feeling victorious. Memories like this are so vivid in my mind to this day.
I'm going to fast forward to my mid-twenties when my binge eating was the worst, and when I ultimately got diagnosed with Binge Eating Disorder. More accurately, I was first diagnosed with binge eating disorder as a subtype of an EDNOS – eating disorder not otherwise specified – because Binge Eating Disorder did not become a recognized stand-alone diagnosis until 2013.
I'm not a medical professional, and this is my personal experience. If you want to read about the diagnostic criteria, warning signs, and treatment for Binge Eating Disorder, see this page on the NEDA website.
When my mom was sick and I became responsible for her care, my mental health took a nosedive. My depression and anxiety were worse than ever. I began eating large volumes of carry-out food for dinner (when I was home and no one could see me) until I was so full that the only thing I felt was a mix of incredible discomfort and usually nausea. My favorite restaurants knew my order when I or my boyfriend called, and I'd do things like asking for extra plasticware to hide the fact that I was the only one eating 2 huge entrees, and occasionally an appetizer on top of that. I'd begin eating, and in what felt like an instant, not even know how I ended up consuming so much to make me feel absolutely miserable. It was mindless and always a blur until the pain and self-hatred kicked in afterward.
These binge episodes happened more and more frequently until it was about 4 times per week. The other 3 days of the week I was telling myself how utterly disgusting and out-of-control I was. To this day, I can still remember what it felt like, post-binge episode. Being able to recall that feeling is one of the things that I found helpful as I worked through treatment.
There were so many aspects that felt out of control in my life at that time, and I am incredibly thankful that I was already being treated fairly regularly for depression and anxiety. I fully recognize that access to mental health care, insurance, and money to pay for it is a privilege.
I can't remember the exact sequence of events, but I began vocalizing my feelings of disgust with myself and my behavior in therapy. It was recommended that I consult with a nutritionist, and increase therapy. I did both and eventually learned that so many of my behaviors around food (including hiding food, chewing and spitting, eating alone, uncontrollable eating episodes, and occasional purging) were indicators of an eating disorder. I didn't know fat people could have eating disorders – my whole life I believed that these behaviors were because I lacked self-control and discipline.
I didn't know fat people could have eating disorders – my whole life I believed that these behaviors were because I lacked self-control and discipline.
My treatment was increased therapy sessions (cognitive behavioral therapy) and a little more work with the nutritionist where I had a safe space to talk about what I was eating through my food journal. I didn't need nutritional help by way of learning how to count calories – I could do that since I was 10 – but found it helpful to have another place I could talk about food without shame. Establishing a journaling habit and sharing it with my therapist helped me write through what may have been occurring during the times when I most wanted to binge. I also journaled what I felt after a binge – physically and emotionally. I worked to develop coping mechanisms that weren't related to food.
My last binge was in 2014 when I went through my divorce. In the midst of what felt like my world being torn apart, I had 3 binge episodes in 2 weeks. Thankfully I was still in therapy and was able to identify the behavior before it got worse. One of the most hurtful things I experienced during that time wasn't the betrayal of my ex, it was having internet trolls speculating that I must have still been bingeing throughout my marriage because I wasn't losing weight. I know better than to give trolls that power, but it hit so deep knowing how much I'd worked to break out of that. It was an occupational hazard of once being a weight loss blogger, but also existing as fat.
Today, there are several things I do to normalize my relationship with food:
- I don't omit entire food groups: “off limits” foods and restrictions have never ended well for me. The only exception is gluten, because of a medical condition. There may be things I choose to eat less of, like sugar, because they make me feel bad, but nothing is off-limits.
- Take care of my mental health in general: journaling, identifying and addressing stressors, medication, and therapy
- No hiding of food or postponing eating until I'm alone
- No food justification: this is the hardest for me at the moment. When I'm eating with others, I often try to justify eating it by saying things like: “I ate a really small lunch today” or “I've not had sugar all week.” I have full body autonomy and don't need to explain my choices to anyone.
- Eating at regular intervals: I don't get hungry until the afternoon, so in the past I've skipped breakfast and lunch. This throws my dinner food cues off and I have a hard time recognizing when I'm satiated. I'm still not good about breakfast, but I have a meal delivery service once a week for lunch. Since I work from home, I can quickly microwave it and eat something tasty without having to prep or go out.
- Removing excessive diet or food restriction talk from my social media feeds. This means hiding or muting some people I like, but it's a necessary step where I am right now.
This video from an Instagram and NEDA collaboration struck home in so many ways.
Ending this post with a neatly wrapped bow isn't happening – I've tried for 3 hours! I suppose it's appropriate, considering how complex eating disorders are. Hopefully sharing my experience is helpful to someone. I'm open to questions about my personal experience, but I'm not qualified to offer specific guidance or advice. I appreciate you reading this entire post – I know it was a long one!
If you want to talk to someone about eating disorders or would like confidential help, the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) is a great resource. They have confidential phone and chat hotlines and more resources here. They even have 24/7 Crisis Support via text: send NEDA to 741-741.
I started this blog over 10 years ago as a weight loss blog. There is a lot of content still in the archives that serves as a reminder of how much progress I've made towards acceptance. The way I talked about my body and size here, and to myself, was problematic, especially prior to 2013 when I changed the name of my blog away from Skinny Emmie. Some of the archived content makes me cringe today, and I hope that I can one day clean it all up.
That being said, here are some other posts I've written related to body image if you want to read more: