The term ‘binge’ gets thrown around. But how does it feel to be locked in the emotionally destructive cycle of a binge eating disorder?
Here, Aisling Daly, 33, a secondary school teacher from Cork, reveals how she looked her issues with the condition – which affects approximately 1.25 million people in the UK at any given time – in the eye, and built a healthier relationship with food.
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How I tackled my binge eating disorder
Growing up, dinner time equalled fun. I’d race my siblings to the table and we’d devour our mum’s homemade lasagne or curry.
But mindlessly consuming second helpings caught up with me between the ages of 14 and 16, and I put on around 3st. I was tall for my age, so it wasn’t obvious, but it dented my confidence at a time when it was still being shaped.
The first signs of my binge eating disorder
I began restricting my diet, and in less than a year, I’d lost 3st. But I was no happier and, worse still, the pressure I was putting myself under from constant dieting changed the way I felt about food.
If it used to represent fun and family, now I could only see meals through the prism of how they’d affect my body, and it led to an all-or-nothing mindset. By the time I was 17, I was regularly bingeing.
Chocolate was my go-to, along with sugary cereals and sweets. Any time I felt stressed, I’d go to the shop to buy a chocolate bar, then end up buying a multipack. Back in the safety of my bedroom, I’d tell myself I’d only have a few squares, but I wouldn’t be able to stop.
I’d routinely put away 2,000 calories in 20 minutes, eating until my digestive system left me in such severe discomfort I’d have to lie down for hour. I’d feel deeply ashamed. But without the tools to cope with those feelings, I looked to the only thing I knew, and I’d return to food once again.
I was able to hide my binge eating disorder
For some people, those feelings of guilt cause them to purge, and they vomit it all up. But I was never even tempted – I’m so squeamish about vomit. By the time I reached my mid-twenties, bingeing had become my coping mechanism.
Food was inextricably linked with my emotions, so I’d binge any time I felt low or stressed; but, working as a teacher, my stress levels were often beyond my control. Sometimes I’d binge every few days, other times it would be weeks before I felt that familiar urge.
As I’m tall and exercise three times a week, my fluctuating weight wasn’t always obvious, and no one knew what I was doing – not even my partner, Andy.
Fad diets made me feel like I was in control of my binge eating
Every Monday, I’d start a new ‘diet’, telling myself I had to take back control of what passed my lips before the next binge struck. It took Andy proposing to me in 2016 for me to look my binge eating in the eye and begin to work through the feelings that were keeping me locked in this cycle.
It sounds like such a cliché but choosing my wedding dress was a pivotal moment for me. Our wedding represented so much happiness, and I didn’t just want to look my best on the day, I wanted to feel healthy in body and mind – for our wedding day, and for our marriage.
So I did some research into my behaviour. I wanted to know why food had so much power over me, and why I couldn’t stop eating once I’d started. I soon came across the term ‘binge eating disorder’.
Reading other people’s accounts of living with it was a comfort. I’d isolated myself with my bingeing and reading how other sufferers had built a healthier relationship with food gave me hope that I could do it, too.
Talking about my binge eating disorder helped me understand it
Much of the advice I found online was about self-compassion, and doing more of what you love. For me, that’s exercise, so I signed up with a PT. It helped that I could confide in him, too. When, at the start of one session, I reeled off everything I’d eaten that week, he looked at me without judgement.
I think finally opening up to someone took some of the power away from bingeing. It felt liberating to be able to acknowledge that this is how I used to behave, and that I was taking positive steps to change.
But the biggest shift for me came from changing the way I thought and spoke about food. I bought books on personal development and intuitive eating and, on their advice, tried to stop labelling foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
New rules for a healthy body and mind
My new ‘rules’ involved adding whole foods to my diet and avoiding the sugar-laden snacks that used to set me off. I taught myself to cook, too, and I found that filling up on veg-packed stir-fries and baked fish was another kind of self-compassion – the kind that comes from nourishing your body.
I didn’t stop bingeing overnight; it’s been a long process of learning and unlearning habits. Always having healthy snacks with me, like fruit, seeds, nut butter and yoghurt has been helpful.
I employ distraction techniques, too – if ever I feel an urge to binge, I’ll put on a pair of rubber gloves and start cleaning. It might sound strange but immersing myself in a task like this really does help.
By the time I flew to Lanzarote last July to marry Andy, I felt genuinely healthy, in body and mind.
Eating pasta in the sun in the run-up to the big day would’ve been impossible two or three years ago. But adopting an intuitive approach – giving my body what it wants, and needs – has been transformative for me.
I haven’t binged for over a year now, and I’m slowly starting to reintroduce some of the foods I used to binge on, like chocolate. Now I’m in a much healthier place, it no longer has the power over me that it used to.
What is a binge eating disorder: the expert take
'BED is an eating disorder that involves repeatedly bingeing on food – often eating until uncomfortably full or when not hungry – at least once a week for at least three months,' says Dr Sarah Vohra (AKA The Mind Medic) a consultant psychiatrist and author Can We Talk?: A Guide To Talking About Your Child's Mental Health.
'During these binges, a person will typically feel like they’ve lost control and eat a large volume of food in a short space of time.'
'There is often shame and guilt associated with binge eating, so it’s often done in secret. 'Unlike bulimia (another eating disorder, where binges are also common), the individual doesn’t try to compensate for their binges through exercise or by making themselves sick.'
Now that you know what a binge eating disorder might look like, find out what you need to know about mesonutrients.
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