Image from Revelist, link here.
This is what I tell myself whenever I am wondering how to qualify my episodes of bingeing. It’s narrow minded, internalized reductionism (aka, I feel that I have to tell myself that my experiences aren’t significant) and I don’t truly believe it. At least, I don’t believe it in an outward-facing way. When other people describe their binge eating disorder, I am immediately empathetic and want to validate their experience. Why can’t I do that for myself?
One of the problems that makes me doubtful is the fact that people use the word “binge” to colloquially reference an episode of over-eating. I must tell you, that is not what a binge is. A binge is an episode of extreme over-eating that occurs where a person feels that they have no control, are unable to stop, and feel intensely guilty and sad. A binge involves eating to the point of pain, or even vomiting. And binge eating disorder occurs when this happens on a regular basis. I think the current criteria are that a binge must occur at least weekly for the syndrome to be considered BED– unfortunately, for a lot of folks with BED, the episodes occur far more often.
Because people use the word binge so freely, and not always in reference to BED (binge eating disorder), I doubt myself. My friend says she ‘binged’ last night, had two bowls of spaghetti and a few cookies. But she seems carefree about it, and doesn’t do it regularly. Still, I worry that my own bingeing experience is just the same as hers– nothing to worry about, and certainly not an eating disorder.
I have to remind myself frequently that my experience is abnormal, that it disrupts my life and that therefore, I shouldn’t just brush over it as if it were nothing. I go through periods where I binge every single day, twice a day, and am in constant pain from the food. And I fear it– I feel a loss of control over the bingeing, and so during class, or at work, I’m dreading the return home where I have free access to food, because I know that my night will be spent eating against my will (in a sense). It’s a horrible experience that have persisted over the years, and that is a serious pain in my life. And yet I still discredit myself: There’s nothing really wrong with you. You’re just a fat pig with no willpower.
Folks with binge eating disorder are often discredited in general, because the syndrome is not viewed as being as “real” as anorexia, bulimia, or even EDNOS. BED people often hide their symptoms, and aren’t usually extremely thin, making the disorder almost invisible. So the question becomes this: how can we make BED a more visible, less stigmatized illness, such that people who suffer from it (myself included) feel that they can get help? How do we stop delegitimizing BED people’s symptoms as just being a lack of willpower? I find myself thinking about this a lot lately because I’ve experienced the whole range of eating disorder symptoms, and I’ve resultantly had different experiences with treatment. When I was ‘anorexic’ and extremely underweight, I received a lot of attention and immediate treatment due to the visibility of the illness. When I was bulimic and exercising for hours and hours a day, people noticed and started questioning me. But with BED, nobody sees, and so there is a lack of treatment that I feel I can access. It feels like a disorder that is particularly isolating.
It’s important to feel validated when you have any issue, but particularly with BED. I say this from my own experience of feeling particularly invalidated, and struggling with getting help as a result. Unfortunately, I can’t offer any immediate support to those of you reading who might also have BED, other than the account of my own experience. Hopefully, in reading this, and in reading the way that I’ve invalidated myself, someone might feel a bit less alone in their bingeing.