Flying Under the Radar
You’ve been here before.
You are a young and generally healthy woman. It’s been too long since your last annual physical. You’ve put off making the appointment because you fear stepping on the scale – because that would confirm everything you already know. You know that your doctor is going to tell you that you’ve gained weight since your last visit, even though you were told to closely monitor it last time around. And he may or may not break it to you gently. You dread the experience, but it’s nothing you haven’t heard before. In fact, you’ve heard it your entire life: You are fat.
It’s not that you don’t try. You listen intently to television diet gurus; weight loss commercials make your ears perk up. You’ve joined (and quit) Weight Watchers five times; you can still recite Points values on demand. You’ve joined a gym; you go every now and then. You know how many calories are in pretty much everything. After doing everything in your power to achieve a societally-approved body, you’ve gotten nowhere. Any pounds you lose are promptly found again.
Your inner voice grumbles, You are still fat. As your family, friends, and doctors continue to express their concerns about your body, you overeat to cope with the stress of not knowing how to fix it. And that makes you want to just give up: that diet you started on Monday was over by Tuesday afternoon, when the birthday cake in the office break room was calling your name. So you polished off the remaining slices when the room was unattended. You feel guilty. You swear you’ll do better next time.
You feel ashamed of your inability to stop indulging in second helpings and constant sweets, but you just can’t seem to get enough; your portions get larger and larger, and you’re eating them quickly, stuffing yourself with much more food than your body needs in a very short period of time. The food makes you feel better, but your satisfaction is temporary at best; the inevitable feelings of gloom set in as you realize that you’ve lost control yet again. Your inner voice whispers that you’re using food to drown out your own uncomfortable feelings, which is understandable, because maybe the following things are happening:
- You are working a job you hate in a field that bores you to tears; you are underpaid and feel unappreciated, but you take what you can get because you must make ends meet.
- Your relationship with your significant other is in the toilet.
- You’ve found it hard to make close friends as a grownup in the real world.
- You are depressed, and you can’t explain why.
Maybe you’ve heard of emotional eating, and maybe you can make the connection between the food and the anxiety or sadness it’s trying to drown out. But you jump from one diet or program to another, because all you know for sure is that thin is good and fat is bad. By this point, you are hopelessly devoted to the momentary remedy you’ve found in food, and you are barely treading water in a raging sea of diets, food rules, binges, and self-hatred.
If you can relate to the food-and-diet obsession, guilt, shame, and weight struggles discussed here, you may one of millions flying under the radar, suffering from an undiagnosed mental illness – Binge Eating Disorder (BED). BED is the most common eating disorder in the United States. Roughly 3.5% of women, 2% of men, and 1.6% of adolescents are estimated to have BED.
Binge Eating Disorder affects people of all ages, races, and socio-economic statuses. BED received official recognition in DSM-5 (the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) in 2013:
Binge Eating Disorder is characterized by recurring episodes of eating significantly more food in a short period of time than most people would eat under similar circumstances, with episodes marked by feelings of lack of control. Someone with binge eating disorder may eat too quickly, even when he or she is not hungry. This disorder is associated with marked distress and occurs, on average, at least once a week over three months.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association:
- People who struggle with BED can be of normal or heavier than average weight.
- BED is often associated with symptoms of depression.
- It is common for people suffering to hide their behavior and eat in secret.
- Although most people with obesity don’t have BED, up to 2/3 of people with BED are obese and can have the medical difficulties associated with this condition.
Despite its commonality, binge eating and related behaviors (emotional eating, compulsive eating) are not talked about openly, due in part to the shame that accompanies them. Weight stigma is despicable, yet it runs rampant in our society and remains largely unchallenged. Those of us in larger bodies are disregarded as lazy or non-compliant; the word “fat” is used to alienate and silence us, and weight loss continues to be pushed as a substitute for health, wealth, and happiness.
For many of us, binge eating and its associated health issues are symptoms of a much greater problem, not the problem itself. In trying our best to slim down, we are placing a tiny bandage on emotional and spiritual wounds that are bleeding out. We are not tending to the issues that drive us to overeat or binge in the first place. But until we do, we will not find the healing of body, mind, and spirit that we so desperately need.
If problems with food and body image have become more than you can manage, and you are using food as a painkiller, I urge you to seek professional help today. Your recovery process may include inpatient or intensive outpatient programs at eating disorder treatment centers, psychotherapy, nutrition therapy, medication, and/or Twelve Step programs.
Do not let fear get in the way of getting the help you need. Left untreated, binge eating issues get worse, not better. Full recovery is possible. Learn more about this eating disorder and read others’ recovery stories by visiting the Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA)’s website or calling 855.855.BEDA.