I recognize I haven’t written about my Binge Eating Disorder (BED) since the start of September. I had promised a regular series called ‘Breaking Binge’ to help you all understand my BED a bit better. My intention had been to post a topic once a month; however, I’ve struggled to keep that pace. Partly because I’m not really sure where to start. The logical part of my brain wants there to be this clear linear progression from point A to point B where I can take you through my journey in a streamlined order. I quickly learned that’s not how this is going to work.
The other reason is pretty simple—it’s still difficult for me to open up about this stuff.
Well, I’ve never let a challenge keep me down for long. It’s time to take a deep breath and dive in.
If you don’t suffer from BED, or know anyone who does, it can be difficult to understand. There are lots of great sites available to explain the symptoms of BED (here’s a good one), but what is it really like? I’ve decided for this series I will select one of the symptoms from the list and take you inside the mind of a binger. My hope is to let those who do suffer know they are not alone while helping those who don’t suffer from it understand why this disorder is so emotionally draining.
Today I’ve selected one of the symptoms I struggle with the most:
- Feelings of extreme guilt, shame, or embarrassment about my weight or how I eat
It has taken me a very long time to overcome some of the embarrassment and shame I carry with me about my weight. Being overweight is a difficult vice to have. I can’t hide it from others. It’s there every day, front and center, for anyone to judge. I’ve had hurtful comments said to me and behind my back. I’ve seen the memes people share and like on social media (like the one telling the fat person to stop using the handicap space and just and park at the back of the lot and do jumping jacks on the way in). I’ve had innocent kids ask me, “Why are your arms so big?” It takes a lot to just smile and respond with, “Because I’m so strong.” You don’t have to look far to realize society doesn’t like fat people. We are judged and we are determined to be less than our worth. We are assumed to be lazy and selfish. Why would I not be ashamed of being overweight?
Here’s an example of how embarrassment rules my life at times. A couple years ago I went to Gatlinburg, Tennessee with some friends for a fun weekend. The girls decided they wanted to go on his mountainside roller coaster. I got in line with them, but then my chest started to constrict. I felt as though I couldn’t pull in a full lung’s worth of air. My palms started to sweat. It wasn’t because I was scared of the ride. It was because I was scared I wouldn’t fit in the seat. I imagined all the looks of pity and disgust from the other people still in line that would be thrown my way if I tried to get in but didn’t fit. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t face that possible embarrassment. Then I was mad at myself for letting my weight hold me back. I cried back at the cabin, but lucky I had been surrounded by amazing friends who helped me let it go—at least for the night.
This panic seizes me often. Squeezing through tight spaces. Turnstiles. Airplane seats. Stadium seating. Movie theater chairs. Really, the thought of having to fit into any kind of chair that contains side arms sends my heart into rapid palpitations.
I’m getting better. The voice that tells me to try is starting to become louder and stronger than the voice that tells me to run. And if I don’t quite fit, I try really hard to not feel ashamed.
What I Eat
The feeling of shame or guilt around what I eat is proving very difficult to overcome. I have this constant list in my head and every food item falls to either the left or the right—good or bad. I stress over it every time I eat. I’ll do a post at some point in the future about my ‘good or bad’ food obsession, but here I want to focus on the feelings of guilt and shame that come with those choices.
Back in May, we drove down to my dad’s house in Louisiana. We wanted to shorten our very long drive as much as possible, so we packed the car with loads of healthy snacks. On the drive back home, I was tired of the same old foods. I wanted something different, so I headed into the convenience store on one of our stops. I’m not exaggerating when I say I took at least 15 minutes, wandering through the store, trying to figure out what I should get. The things I really wanted fell on my ‘bad’ list and I usually would never eat them in front of other people. I stood agonizing in front of the bags of Chex mix when my husband walked over. He looked over my shoulder and said, “Huh, I didn’t know they still made Bugles.” He then snatched a bag and walked off.
I wanted to scream. I wanted to stomp my food and ask why it was so easy for him to just grab that bag of Bugles. Sure, he maybe had a fleeting thought about if they were healthy or not, but the bottom line is he didn’t have to spend 15 minutes agonizing over his decision. And I’m quite certain he didn’t feel guilty about it the entire time he ate them (as I did with my bag of Chex mix). His food choice probably left his mind by the next day. I’m still thinking about it 5 months later.
Another incident happened a couple months ago when I went to the movies. I was on my own, which is fine. I actually don’t mind going to the movies by myself once in a while. It’s good for me to take myself on a date occasionally. Anyway, it was fun day, which meant I didn’t have to feel the guilt of what I would eat. My biggest struggle was if I wanted to eat popcorn or candy. I settled on candy and stopped by the gas station on the way so I didn’t have to play an arm and a leg for a box of Milk Duds. I entered the theater and looked for a seat. I sat down with 3 open chairs to my right and 2 to my left. Two people came in and sat to my right, still leaving one open seat on that side. I was happy—I’m a big girl and movie theater chairs are not always nice to large people. I don’t like feeling as though I need to fold into myself the entire time so I don’t brush shoulders with strangers.
As the lights dimmed, I opened my purse to get my Duds. Before I could pop open the box, a couple sat down in the two empty seats to my left. I froze. I seriously could not eat those damn Milk Duds. I felt the lady next to me would be thinking, “She doesn’t need to eat those. Doesn’t she have any self-control?” It took all my remaining strength to focus on the movie and not the fact that I couldn’t eat my box of Milk Duds just because someone sat down next to me. You see, it’s not a coincidence I waited until the lights dimmed to reach for the box in the first place. I wanted the cover of darkness to hide the fact that I was eating something ‘bad’. But someone sitting right next to me would be able to see, even in the darkness. In my mind, I would be judged. I felt ashamed. I felt I had no right to eat those Duds because I was already too large to be ‘acceptable’.
I analyzed the situation the entire way home while eating my Milk Duds in the privacy of my own car. I had worked hard at the gym all week. I hadn’t binged. I had ‘earned’ that treat, but once again I let my guilt and shame take control of the situation. I allowed myself to believe something that may or may not have been true. I allowed myself to care more about what someone else might think of me rather than what I thought of myself.
I’ve been working really hard at trying to establish a more healthy relationship with food. I know that in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle I need to eat healthy foods. As a result, I will always have to consider the nutritional value of food and whether or not I should eat it. But my hope is that I can get to a point where I don't obsess over it. I need to be able to let go of the guilt and shame. I need to move from “I’m a bad person for eating this.” to “Eating this won’t help me make my goal, so if I do eat it then I need to compensate in another way.”
I have a lot of weight I’d like to lose, but I know the largest weight I carry is from guilt and shame. That has to go first. Then it will be easier for me to focus on the physical pounds I want to shed.
Last night my daughter went through her Halloween candy. She pulled out a small box of Milk Duds and handed it to me. I thought about eating them but put the box down to save for my next fun day. I’d like to say I was making a ‘good’ choice, but the honesty is that I had already had a few small pieces of candy (in private) and I didn’t want to eat them in front anyone. It wasn’t fun day and I technically wasn’t allowed to eat them. A minute or so later, my daughter handed me the box again—opened.
I took it as a sign and I ate the Duds.