I have an eating disorder. This is what it looks like.
It’s still there — even after weight loss surgery.
I have an eating disorder.
Binge Eating Disorder, to be exact.
Its roots are in my childhood.
It started with being sexually molested just before starting puberty, and those things being mixed up so badly that I was afraid of growing up.
It started with my step-mother telling me I wasn’t fat yet, but I would be if I wasn’t careful.
It started with my coach telling me I could be a great swimmer if I lost ten pounds, and my innate need to be pleasing.
It started with poverty of food-scarcity proportions.
I’ve known it was a problem since my mid-twenties. I remember thinking that it was an especially cruel fate, as far as eating disorders go. I mean, if I had to have this thing, couldn’t I have one where the visual side-effect was being skinny?
I spent so much of my 20s contemplating whether I could learn to stick my fingers down my throat.
Binge Eating Disorder is something like Bulimia — without the purging. I am compelled to eat. It’s how I manage my emotions. It’s how I cope. It is my addiction. It’s the part of me that’s broken.
I am not compelled to purge. No amount of thinking about it made it happen.
I have an eating disorder.
Only, I can’t actually engage in it anymore. Because I had most of my stomach removed from my body.
(I sometimes wonder whether some futuristic Indiana Jones will find my mummified body and have to try to understand why an otherwise healthy adult woman would have 80 percent of her stomach surgically removed.)
This is the diagnostic criteria for Binge Eating Disorder:
Recurrent episodes of binge eating. An episode of binge eating is characterized by both of the following:
Eating, in a discrete period of time (e.g., within any 2-hour period), an amount of food that is definitely larger than what most people would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances.
A sense of lack of control over eating during the episode (e.g., a feeling that one cannot stop eating or control what or how much one is eating).
The binge eating episodes are associated with three (or more) of the following:
Eating much more rapidly than normal.
Eating until feeling uncomfortably full.
Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry.
Eating alone because of feeling embarrassed by how much one is eating.
Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty afterward.
Marked distress regarding binge eating is present.
The binge eating occurs, on average, at least once a week for 3 months.
The binge eating is not associated with the recurrent use of inappropriate compensatory behaviors (e.g., purging) as in bulimia nervosa and does not occur exclusively during the course of bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa.
Prior to weight loss surgery, I was a textbook case.
I often had discrete periods of time where I ate more than what most people would eat and felt decidedly out of control.
My binge eating episodes included large amounts of food that I ate too fast, to the point of being uncomfortably full, sometimes when I wasn’t even hungry to start with. I never thought I ate alone out of embarrassment, but having the chance to be alone with food was often a binge trigger. I usually felt guilty afterward, which caused me marked distress. Forget three months, it happened at least once a week for thirty years.
I have never had a compensatory behavior — no purging by any method.
It’s more complicated now.
I have a surgical full-stop on the amount of food I’m capable of eating within a discrete period. I do still eat to the point of pain — it just happens after I’ve eaten a small amount of food.
It’s been more than three years since my surgery and here’s maybe the biggest lesson I’ve learned: My eating disorder is not dependent on my ability to eat.
It is still there. Still with me. I’ve been forced to figure out other (hopefully more healthy) ways to cope with life than eating.
But I still have an eating disorder.
I still eat to the point of pain. Sometimes (not too often, but sometimes) actually to the point of vomiting, which I never did prior to weight loss surgery. I don’t induce it, so I don’t think it counts as purging. At least, it doesn’t feel like it does. But it happens as a natural consequence of filling myself too full.
When I find myself with time alone, my first thought is still to eat. I can’t eat the volume anymore, but the disordered feeling is still there.
I eat too fast, still. And worse, I know that sometimes I eat too fast because I can eat more if I outrun that too-full feeling by a few minutes. I do that, even though I know that it’s going to hurt and possibly make me throw up.
I still spend time, when my stomach is too full and I’m caught in a this weird space between an eating disorder and the physical inability to act on it, thinking that I need to change. I need to eat different. Better. Follow the rules of one program or another. That I am broken and unfixable.
I don’t meet the diagnostic criteria for Binge Eating Disorder anymore.
I still have an eating disorder.
Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, two dementia patients, a good friend, Alfred the cat, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the original Ninja Writer.