To an outsider it might appear that my day was just like any other college student. I got up, went to my morning class, grabbed lunch with a friend, went to my afternoon class, worked out at the gym, did some home work, ate dinner, chatted with friends, got a late night snack then went to bed.
But that façade was far from reality. In fact, I was struggling all day to keep my composure, and desperately trying to hide the fact that I hated myself. I had fallen into a nasty cycle. I would go to bed with my stomach filled to the brim with over 5,000 calories worth of desserts and fried foods. I would wake up ravished and hating myself for needing to eat after the type of dinner I had. So I would try to go as long as possible without eating, and aim to eat only 500 calories a day. My thought process was – if I ate over 5,000 calories yesterday, I should have enough fuel in my body to last me three days. My starvation definitely slowed my weight gain but I still inevitably gained 15 pounds in as little as three months.
The worst part was, I had absolutely no control. NONE. People would look at me like I was crazy when I told them I couldn’t stop myself from eating. Why can’t you just stop when you’re full? They didn’t understand that stuffing my face wasn’t a choice for me. It was a necessity. My hands were not attached to my mind, and I could only stop when I felt so full I wanted to puke. During a binge attack, half of my mind would try to reason why it was okay to eat a whole box of Oreos. The other half of my mind would hate myself and hate the fact that I had no control. There was not an ounce of compassion in my bones. I found myself devouring a whole large pizza, or three whole entrees, or an entire large bag of potato chips. It’s rather astounding how much food my stomach could fit. And the greasier, cheesier or chocolaty the food was – the better.
I do not remember the exact day but I do remember the period of my life when I started having these binge attacks. I was in my second semester in college, and my first real boyfriend and I broke up. I was heartbroken beyond belief, and the sense of abandonment I felt was equal to when I thought my father had abandoned me so many years ago. In reality, my mom divorced my father and moved us to the United States. But to a 7-year-old, all I knew was that my dad was no longer there.
My binges occurred in waves and was never severe enough that I could be officially diagnosed with a binge eating disorder. But that doesn’t take away from the gravity of my situation. My self-loathing only escalated as time after time I would find myself pigging out in front of the fridge. Friends and family tried to help but I knew how to keep my eating a secret. I constantly felt judged and shame ran deep in my veins. WHY ME?!? So many other people in this world have it worse than me, so why do I punish myself? I worried that people would think I was incapable of handing life, and in fact, I did not feel capable at all! No one understood what I was going through. I was more alone than ever. And so I ate.
I decided to start counseling a month after my first binge and 5 years later I am just starting to understand the triggers behind my binge. The difficulty with this type of disorder, at least for me, is that there is not one cause. A variety of different factors play into my disorder, and its difficult to understand it myself, let alone describe it to others.
What I can tell you is that my binges come more often when I am insecure. When I am lonely. When I feel scared. I was forced to grow up quickly, and to protect myself I was never attuned to what I was feeling. When my boyfriend and I broke up, my heart was ripped oven and all the emotions I repressed since I was a little girl came out. And I couldn’t handle it. So I searched for something to make me feel okay again, and I found food. The feeling of fullness and heaviness was the grounding I so desperately needed.
Food is a tough drug of choice because unlike alcohol, you need food to survive. I cannot abstain from food. The battle happens everyday I sit down with a plate in front of me.
In my sessions, I learned that the most important first step was to find compassion for myself. For the little girl inside me who was terrified of the world. In my seemingly endless binge cycle, it was hard to do. But I started to read books about other people with this problem, and it brought comfort to know I was not alone. Slowly but surely compassion came, and a few times I was even grateful for my disorder. My binges were my body’s way of telling me that I was feeling lonely, overwhelmed, powerless and abandoned. How lucky I am to have such an aware body! Now I just have to get my mind there BEFORE my body finds the need to be comforted through food.
It has been quite some time now since I’ve had a huge binge. In the five years since I first started binging, I have learned to be a little less judgmental. A little nicer to myself. And being nicer to myself includes working on the inner critic as well as letting go of what my diet “should” look like. Allowing myself to eat whatever I want has given me the freedom to eat healthier foods as well as enjoy chocolate here and there. The key is to let go of the guilt.
It’s been a long journey of self-hatred, self-love, suffering and compassion. And I know the journey is far from over. I am still learning how to have a normal relationship with food. I am still learning to treat my disorder as a gift from God. I am still learning that no one is perfect, no one is put together, and all we can do is the best we can at every moment. And I am still learning that self-forgiveness is the most powerful key you can hold in life.
But I also know that because of this disorder, I am stronger than ever. I have faith in life. And if the binge comes again, then so be it. I cannot be scared about the future. Life is a roller coaster and that’s what makes it exciting and livable. And as long as I open myself up to my feelings, and do not allow fear to consume me, then I know I have grown.
We are all imperfect beings trying to live a perfect life. Let me be the first to say – I do not wish to live the perfect life. I just wish to accept my life exactly as it is. That is the true gift of God.