By : Odina S.
I didn’t even notice it at first. I just figured that I had a sweet tooth – a really rebellious sweet tooth. It started with the odd cookie here and there, throughout the day. My subtle love for cookies soon turned into a secret, scandalous affair with chocolate bars, brownies and ice cream. Eventually I was eating an entire bag of Oreos in a single sitting. I was addicted to food.
Binge eating is compulsive overeating and is characterized by eating huge amounts of food in a short period of time. Sufferers feel guilty yet at the same time, powerless to stop. People with binge eating disorder – or any eating disorder – obsess about food all day long. How much to eat, when to eat, who is watching them eat and whether they can hold off another 5 minutes before stuffing their face full of food. These symptoms are almost always accompanied by depression and feelings of loss of control.
Eating calorie-rich food all day sounds pretty fun, but it’s not. The cookies, cake and milkshakes that I consumed daily were my only source of satisfaction in life. I wanted to hate food but I didn’t. I felt hopeless and powerless. In a desperate attempt to regain control over something – anything – I tried to control my weight. This lead to a vicious downward spiral and pattern of constantly obsessing about food, to binge eating and ended with purging the contents of my stomach by whatever means possible (also known as bulimia).
It is difficult to pinpoint the single cause of any addiction, as is the case with eating disorders. Many people with eating disorders generally have low self-esteem, feel inadequate, suffer depression, have troubled family relationships and difficulty in expressing themselves emotionally. The irony is, many women with eating disorders are often extremely intelligent, accomplished and respected – yet they still feel insufficient. As you can imagine, these attributes do not make you the most fun companion in the world (accept it and move on!). Your partner might find you a bit of a challenge to love.
Eating disorders are disturbingly common in the western world. According to the National Eating Disorder Information Center, about 1% of young women suffer from bulimia and the lifetime prevalence of binge eating disorder in the States is 2% in men and 2.5% in women. Sadly, all eating disorders have harmful effects on relationships, as non-sufferers simply don’t understand how to cope with a loved one that binges. Many simply give up. Even more devastating: up to 10% of sufferers eventually die from complications due to their addiction to food.
There may be several other symptoms that you notice which indicate an unhealthy relationship with food. Eating disorder sufferers don’t see food as necessary for life or something to be enjoyed – they see it as the enemy. This is a conundrum because food is a big part of many social gatherings. Food can eventually end up stifling your relationships!
Eating disorders inevitably affect your loved ones and your relationships because your obsession with food makes you a real drag to be around. Several years ago, a friend of mine invited me over one night and when I got there she had prepared a huge pasta dish for me. I told her that I didn’t eat carbohydrates. She was devastated. Another friend of mine named Jan makes commentary on every morsel of food that she puts in her mouth. She tells us about how much she needs to work out to burn off various meals. She doesn’t eat rice, potatoes, bread, salad dressings or desserts. I have almost traded her in for a new friend on several occasions (except I suppose that I should be a bit sympathetic).
While Jan is still in denial about her disordered eating, another friend named Maya has sought help. She was forced to acknowledge her binge eating problem when her boyfriend mentioned to me she was hitting up all-you-can-eat buffets almost every day of the week – alone. My friends and I had also noticed that she was increasingly embarrassed about her body and becoming more and more introverted.
Maya’s family had no idea why she was gaining weight but they were very concerned. Her friends had no idea why their beloved friend was so down all of the time. A couple of us girlfriends sat her down and asked her what was up.
Maya was incredibly stressed out at university, was fighting with her boyfriend and felt like she had no control over her life anymore. She was numb inside and ate to feel something – anything. As a result of all of the calories, she was gaining weight, pre-diabetic, had stopped exercising and was crying all of the time. She was once a very fashion-forward woman, who suddenly lost all interest in anything that didn’t have an elastic waist band. Since I had been through the treatment I was able to talk her through the process. She was ready to feel better and open to my suggestions.
We got her in touch with an eating disorder clinic that was free to attend with a doctor’s referral. She ditched her boyfriend and got a place on her own. She regularly attended counseling sessions and learned to deal with anxiety better. Within a few months she was down 10 pounds and feeling good about herself again. We lean on each other for support by going for walks and cooking healthy meals together. When one of us feels like bingeing on something, we call the other one for a chat. If Maya is not available I go for a long walk to distract myself from the overwhelming urge to eat. Maya does the same.
Maya was lucky to have a support network. Not everyone is so fortunate. If you have already accepted that you have a problem with food, you are part of the way to recovery. Take that next crucial step and reach out to family, friends and your doctor. Remember that your addiction affects other people in your life too.
Jan, on the other hand, is a more difficult case. She denies that anything is wrong with her, instead stating that she is a picky eater. Her husband has given up on trying to get her to eat and her friends are slowly abandoning her. She is simply miserable to be around. She constantly talks about food, calories and exercise. She is about 100 pounds and 5’6”. All we can do is let her know that we are here for her.
The good news for those addicted to food is that there are really good resources available in most major cities. I got pushed into treatment by a boyfriend when he realized that I wanted to spend more time at the gym burning off my binges than with him (truth be told, the treadmill had a real job and a purpose in life…whereas he didn’t). Treatment for disordered eating usually comes in the form of cognitive therapy, group sessions, nutritional counseling and medical interventions. Interestingly, after a 6-year battle, my addiction was almost instantly cured when I went on anti-depressant medication. Within days I was eating normally.
I am now considered a “recovered bulimic” (like any addiction, I don’t think you are ever cured – you just learn coping and control techniques). Maya is a recovered binge eater. Food might always be my frenemie. I love it, hate it and love to hate it. The good news for me, you and your loved one is that recovery is very possible. With the right support and resources, almost anyone can overcome an eating disorder.
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