Binge eating – a problem that you are not alone with, and one that society needs to stop dismissing

I’ve maybe told a few close friends or therapists about this problem, but this is the first time that I have spoken about it so openly on a site where anyone who wants to see it can see it. Why have I decided to write a blog entry about it for the world to see? That’s an easy question to answer… because this is such a stigmatised and ill understood problem that many suffer with in silence. How many of you reading this have hidden biscuit, chocolate, takeaway and other junk food wrappers and containers in separate bins or in other secret places because you feel ashamed that  you’ve eaten more chocolate bars than you “should have”, a whole packet or several packets of biscuits, or lots of takeaways in a short space of time- just to name a few examples? How many of you who do so find that it is a consequence of feeling a compulsion to eat crap, or to eat and eat and eat until you are so full that you feel sick and can barely move? Note the word “compulsion”- ie: a feeling of having to do something. That’s right, binge eaters, like us, are not lazy, uneducated about what constitutes a healthy versus an unhealthy food, or greedy- we have a genuine problem that we need to feel able to seek help for without being dismissed and without being treated as though we’re just a bit dim!

I don’t claim to be an expert on drug or alcohol addiction, on compulsively avoiding food, or on how society treats these things; but it seems appropriate to draw a parallel since drug and alcohol addictions, and anorexia and bulimia or other compulsions to avoid calorie intake get far more media exposure than binge eating. Just as someone might feel a compulsion to snort a line, shoot up or drink a bottle of vodka because what they are feeling is too unbearable to face whilst sober; and just as a person who avoids food may feel too full to bursting with anxiety or stress to eat, or use it as a means of the only thing that they can control in their lives- people, like me, are prone to binge eating for precisely these reasons, plus a few more, which are as follows…

  • Craving the feeling of tiredness that being full to bursting brings, when otherwise your brain is too busy to be able to relax.
  • Eating so much that you feel queasy and so full that you can barely move as a way to focus on that physical discomfort rather than on your circumstances or emotions.
  • Feeling lonely- food is always available to keep you company, and it never judges or rejects you, unlike people.
  • Craving lots of saturated fats and copious amounts of sugar to give you much needed energy which you desperately need to get you through the day- after all, life is exhausting!
  • Craving lots of crappy food to recover from a hangover.
  • Rebelling against what society wants from you. A subconscious or indeed conscious “SCREW ALL OF YOU! I’m going to eat the foods that society tells me not to, and there isn’t a damn thing that you can do about it! You disapprove? Well that’s just tough!” When family, doctors or other people, tell you that your BMI is too big, that YOU are too big, that what you’re doing isn’t good for your health, that people don’t fancy you or clothes don’t look nice on you while you’re big, that you’re just being greedy and that you should substitute chocolate for an ‘oh so delicious’ stick of carrot; the inclination is to think “I don’t need to conform to who you think I should be” (nothing wrong with this- I’ll get back to it later), or to be upset by how you’re being treated and wallow in self pity.
  •  To subconsciously reinforce the cycle of self loathing- giving you yet another thing to feel ashamed of and unhappy with, and fear of breaking away from this familiar habit- however unhappy it makes you.

To go back to the bullet point on rebelling briefly… Just to clarify, I’m not writing this blog entry as a means of joining the dreaded “blot out the dreaded obesity epidemic!” brigade, or to suggest that people who are big and happy with it shouldn’t be. Not all people are big because they binge eat, and not all big people are unhappy with their size or their eating habits, and not all big people eat a lot in order to comfort eat and handle distress- and that is none of anyone else’s business. .

Size definitely isn’t the focal point of this blog. Yes, I’ve put on a lot of weight over the last couple of years due to ill health and due to comfort eating, and yes, I feel self conscious about it and feel frustrated that nothing gets any smaller! However, I have still been asked on dates, and met my last partner whilst being the biggest that I’ve ever been- so take no notice of anyone who says that you stop being fanciable once you gain weight. I also know that berating myself because of my increased size, or having doctors and the media say “lose weight fatty!” will serve absolutely no purpose other than to make me feel sad, isolated and completely undeserving of self worth. Believe me, I am not spurred into action by being told that I ought to lose weight, or that my eating habits aren’t healthy… I will instead binge eat and binge drink even more because it upsets me; and I’m sure that everyone who has a problem with binge eating will identify with me on that one.

It will also do me no good at all if I manage to eat healthily and lose weight without addressing the underlying causes. Contrary to popular media portrayals, when I’m happier, I lose weight, and when I’m unhappy, I pile it on. So all that will happen if I lose weight during a happy period in my life, is that I’ll regain all of it AND MORE once I become unhappy with something, and during those binge eating, unhappy periods, I can honestly tell you that you don’t control it, IT CONTROLS YOU; and diets, exercise and other solutions which focus solely on the numeric weight loss or lifestyle change, are overly simplistic and ignore this critically important element of binge eating. More help and understanding for why we binge eat is needed. Instead, all we get it quick fix suggestions and judgemental remarks, and this is not fair, and solves absolutely nothing.

For those of you who struggle with binge eating, the charity BEAT are hugely helpful, knowledgeable on how it comes about in the first place, and are supportive. Don’t be put off by the term “eating disorder charity” and let you think that you’ll be turned away for not being underweight, or that you’ll be judged for having the opposite problem. One thing that I found hugely helpful about them is that they do not focus on the numeric value of numbers on a scale or BMI, they focus on regaining a healthy attitude towards eating- however much or however little, and focus on the reasons why you feel a compulsion to binge eat in the first place. They have a lot of resources, online peer support groups and volunteers that you can ring for support. You are not alone and you have nothing to be ashamed of.

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