Deprivation Binge

‘The day I realised I had a binge eating disorder’

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I need to be clear here – there is a difference between BED and occasionally raiding the freezer in the hope of finding comfort at the bottom of a tub of Ben & Jerry’s. As Beat clarifies on its website: ‘BED is not about choosing to eat large portions, nor are people who suffer from it just “overindulging” – far from being enjoyable, binges are very distressing, often involving a much larger amount of food than someone would want to eat. People may find it difficult to stop during a binge even if they want to. Characteristics of a binge-eating episode can include eating much faster than normal, eating until feeling uncomfortably full, eating large amounts of food when not physically hungry, eating alone through embarrassment at the amount being eaten, and feelings of disgust, shame or guilt during or after the binge. Binges may be planned like a ritual and can involve the person buying “special” binge foods, or they may be more spontaneous. People may go to extreme lengths to access food – for example, eating food that has been thrown away or stealing food. Binge eating usually takes place in private, though the person may eat regular meals outside their binges. People with BED may also restrict their diet or put in certain rules around food – this can also lead to them binge eating due to hunger and feelings of deprivation. People often have feelings of guilt and disgust at their lack of control during and after binge eating, which can reinforce that cycle of negative emotions, restriction and binge eating again.’

As I started to work with Jess, who is also a trained psychotherapist, I began to see how obvious food is as a drug of choice – and how clear my descent into BED had been as lockdown had progressed. It had developed as all my normal ‘healthy’ coping mechanisms – in-person 12-Step Meetings, human connection – had been stripped away. And food can seem a harmless drug to lose yourself in. For many of us, I realised, it is often the first addiction – I had a clear memory of sneaking to the fridge as an eight-year-old girl to eat raw frankfurters, the overwhelming saltiness providing some sort of strange comfort to my OCD-wracked brain. As humans, it is also the first way we learn we have some control over our parents, by refusing to eat the broccoli they give us. Food equals power, whether it’s refusing to eat it or learning that you can overeat it. I had no idea where to start with it.

Jess was clear with me that treatment for BED was not about weight loss, and that, if this was my main goal, I would not successfully treat my disordered eating patterns. I had to focus on creating healthy boundaries, not on a figure on the scales. Jess explained that if someone conquers disordered eating, their weight normally settles at its natural level, but that this couldn’t be my main motivation.

It wasn’t – but it was hard to persuade people of this. Even friends and family believed it was about losing weight. In a world obsessed with the dangers of obesity, it was hard to explain that I wanted to do this not because of the way I looked, but because of the way I had begun to feel. ‘But we thought you were so happy with your body!’ said a well-meaning friend. ‘You ran a marathon in your underwear! Was that a… lie?’ No, it was not. But if anything, her question was more of a reason to write this piece: because as long as weight is seen as one of the chief signifiers of someone’s worth, we will never be able to approach food in a healthy way. And like all eating disorders, BED has much deeper psychological roots than simply being ashamed of your body. Usually, it is the result of being ashamed generally.

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