The term ‘binge’ gets thrown around: from being used to describe Netflix marathons to how much you had to drink at the weekend. But how does it feel to be locked in the emotionally destructive cycle of a binge eating disorder?
To mark Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2021, here’s Jessica’s story. She explains how she overcame her issues and built a healthier relationship with food.
I spent my whole life not realising I had an eating disorder.
A couple of years ago, I was receiving treatment through Steps 2 Wellbeing. One day during a telephone session, my counsellor made a passing comment which changed everything.
“Do you think you have any problems with food Jessica?”
I had no idea how to respond. I’d always known I had a big appetite and had always just considered myself a ‘foodie’. Someone who got real pleasure out of taste and flavours, I was even a food blogger in my younger years.
I preceded to explain what my daily eating habits were like and at that point she asked me if I would be happy for her to make a referral to the Eating Disorder Clinic.
At this point, I’d say I went a bit numb. My brain just couldn’t compute that there was an issue with the way I was living my life.
I went home and sat my partner down to tell him what had happened, and his response stunned me even more.
“Oh, I’ve thought that for a while now, it’s good that you’ll be getting treatment for it.”
A few weeks later I found myself at the outpatient clinic, sat in front of the person that would become my rock for the next eight months of my life.
She’d asked about my life, which covered everything from being bullied at school, self-harming and abuse which meant that I had used food as a crutch for most of my life.
It also highlighted that at one point in my life, during a very low point, I had been anorexic. Plummeting from a size 18 to a size 8 in only seven months.
I never ate breakfast, ever, so that was one meal of the day missing already. Most days I would skip lunch too – conscious that the more I consumed, the larger I would get. After three or four days of doing this, I would then ‘binge’ on food – not that I consciously knew that was what I was doing.
She sat quietly and listened, while I explained and excused my behaviour away – tiptoeing around everything and making out like it was a mistake and that I shouldn’t be there.
“Overweight people can’t have eating disorders,” I said to her.
Binge Eating Disorder
At this point, my therapist talked me through the cycle that I was in and showed me a drawing that highlighted the vicious circle that I was in and told me that I was suffering from Binge Eating Disorder.
Binge eating disorder (BED) is a serious mental illness where people eat very large quantities of food without feeling like they’re in control of what they’re doing. It can affect anyone of any age, gender, ethnicity or background.
My relationship with food was damaging me, due to relying on it for emotional support. When I’d ‘binge,’ I’d eat large amounts of food without really noticing or just eating to cheer myself up. A lot of the time, it was connected to me feeling worthless or lonely and triggered by stressful or upsetting situations.
During my time with the clinic, I had individual counselling and psychotherapy, to help me understand the underlying factors that contributed to my bingeing and to find strategies to overcome it.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy helped me identify my negative thoughts. I learned more positive emotional and behavioural responses to my beliefs about myself and my disordered eating.
How it affected my partner
It wasn’t easy for my partner. He often blamed himself, going through a range of emotions from despair and guilt to anger and frustration, leaving him exhausted and having difficulty coping, as well as feeling powerless in how to deal with the situation.
He was terrified of saying the wrong thing, whilst also wanting to support me through the process.
The most amazing thing he did, was to spend hours researching and reading up on BED to educate himself. He would read about other people’s experiences and how they helped their partners through it too.
He was my absolute rock.
My disordered eating is something I will have to deal with my whole life. It rears its ugly head whenever there’s a stressful situation.
The pandemic and my eating disorder
The pandemic has been a real test of my inner strength over the last 12 months.
I was made redundant from my full-time job in July 2020 but was lucky enough to pick up a new role in August.
After two months working there, my mental health was in real decline. I just wasn’t happy in the environment as it was quite toxic.
So, in October 2020 I decided to quit my job and go self-employed full-time which has been the best thing I’ve ever done. I have a much better ‘life-work balance’ and have control of my environment which makes dealing with cravings much easier.
Being my own boss has enabled me to take back more control in certain areas of my life. It certainly made me a much happier person.
It’s really important to recognise that BED is a mental health condition, and should be treated as such. Not mocked by people, which I know some people experience.
It’s not just someone eating a bit more than they should. There are much deeper emotions associated with it such as anxiety, depression and low self-esteem.
I didn’t stop bingeing overnight; it’s been a long process of learning and unlearning habits. There are still things I have to deal with on a daily basis. But with the support of the team at Kimmeridge Court, I was able to move forward with my life in a much more positive way.