“I’ve struggled with this secret for years. The shame I feel after an episode can’t be replicated. When my husband wonders where our food went, I shake my head and tell him the kids must have eaten it. I do whatever I can to hide what I’ve done, to cover it up, to forget it. If only it were that easy. The hangover from it, emotionally and physically, seems to last for days. Even weeks.” Karen* recently shared with me while talking about her relationship with food.
Karen is a hard working, successful nurse and mom of 2 children who has struggled with weight and body image for as long as she can remember.
“My first diet was when I was around 11 years old,” she shared. Since then, her weight has cycled up and down as she has made it her mission to become a smaller, more “toned” version of herself.
“My closest friends don’t even know the power that food has over me.” She disclosed. “At times it feels like the secret is so heavy and oppressive. I feel like I’ll be judged if they know the truth… that I’ll be seen as weak and that there’s something wrong with me. What will they think when they know that I’m the culprit of the vanishing food in my own home?”
She continued, “something that I’ve noticed is that one bad binge leads to another and it often takes weeks or even months and many pounds gained before I can regain a sense of control around food. By which time I’m completely and utterly emotionally drained.”
When I asked her the most painful part of this experience, she shared, “knowing that no matter how “good” I might be doing in the present, that a big crash is coming. Even if I use all of my willpower to abstain from binge eating for an extended period of time and try to eliminate triggers, I feel like I'll never be healed or free.”
This is a common experience of people who suffer from Binge Eating Disorder (BED). BED is the least commonly discussed eating disorder, but also the most prevalent eating disorder. The National Eating Disorders Association reports that BED affects up to 5% of the US population and that 3.5% of women, 2% of men and 1.6% of adolescents suffer from the disorder.
In my Willow Grove, PA therapy practice, I specialize in working with women and teens who struggle with disordered eating, Binge Eating in particular.
You may be wondering where BED and compulsive eating comes from. Every person’s experience is different, but there are many commonalities amongst clients who share their struggle.
Many people binge or eat compulsively in an attempt to manage feelings. Others may binge eat as a result of getting caught up in dieting cycles, trying to manipulate their weight to fit into society’s thin-ideal. Other clients have experienced some sort of trauma that has manifested in their relationship with their bodies.
Regardless of the why, food and negative body thoughts serve as a distraction of problems that have many times been avoided for years. To begin to heal from BED it is important that people begin to understand the strong link between emotions, beliefs and binge/compulsive eating. Once this link is recognized, they can learn ways to manage and be with their emotions, how to shift their inner monologue to one of kindness and compassion and how to interact with their issues without using food to buffer them from their pain.
Binge Eating Disorder does not discriminate. It impacts people in small bodies and large bodies. Because of the shame and guilt that is experienced (in people of all body sizes) as a result of binges, this disorder often flies under the radar screen.
This is why I specialize in BED. To help women put words to their struggle and move through the oppressive feelings of shame and isolation in relationship to their bodies and food.
You don’t have to suffer in silence. There is nothing wrong with you. Healing is possible.
How can you start?
Seek help from a trained professional. A therapist can help you recognize and move through the source of your binge eating and compulsive overeating.
Put words to your story. As Brene Brown teaches, shame thrives when fed secrecy, judgement and silence. Who is a safe person in your life? Consider putting words to your story to help you feel less isolated and alone in your experience.
Pause. When feeling triggered to eat, give yourself a moment to identify what you are feeling. Write the feeling down in your journal, a memo in your phone or on the back of receipt if you have to. Consider how you can care for yourself to tend to that emotion. Maybe it's eating the food, maybe its punching a pillow or take a walk. You have the freedom to decide what you need for yourself in that moment.
I’ll say it again. You don’t have to suffer in silence. There is nothing wrong with you. Healing is possible.
*name has been changed to protect identity