On Overcoming an Eating Disorder and Moving Forward
As the subject of this blog post suggests, this is a deeply personal trip down memory lane. I never thought I would suffer from an eating disorder, let alone talk about it years later. However, with the rise of conflicting articles I've been reading and stories from friends that I've been hearing on the topic, I thought I would finally share my own story.
Allow me to throw us back to seven years ago...
I've never been known for sugar-coating anything, so let me just dive into the spiel shall we?
I was 21 years old and living in New York City when I started binging. At the time, I didn't realize there was a term for the condition that I had, let alone that I was eating the way I was due to emotional distress that I didn't even realize I was having. It started out seemingly innocently enough - coming home from a long day and having a snack. Then having another snack. Then slowly escalating into a sort of eating frenzy that would culminate in feelings of shame and disgust.
As quickly as it had come on was as quickly as it had escalated. The cycle of binging and self-loathing took up my life. I had gained 20 lbs in the space of two months and I was feeling out of control. During the time all of this was going on, no one I lived with knew what was happening, as part of my behavioral pattern was to eat when no one was looking. In addition to binging in the evenings, I would find myself unable to control the amount of food I would consume on occasions such as a work birthday where a co-worker would bring in donuts or some form of treat. I was obsessively thinking about food more than 80% of my day.
I would start out by saying, I'll have just one. But, of course, one turned into three and the next thing I knew I was scolding myself (my inner monologue was a bleak one). Food was a source of comfort for me, still is. I was using food to make myself feel better; something many of us do to one degree or another. My relationship with food went from survival to emotional dependence. I started hating food and the control it had over my life and mind.
After a couple of months in a place of hidden shame and constant self-deprecation, I decided I needed outside assistance. The first step towards my "recovery" was to seek professional help, I knew I was in over my head. My salvation came in the form of a psychologist who specialized in eating disorders (I say salvation and mean it, that woman was a godsend). I was a patient of Dr. M's for approximately one year. Within that year, we worked on getting to the root of my emotional eating - as food was merely a vessel for my emotional state and not the cause of it. We found that what triggered this occurrence for me were my personal woes - loneliness, alienation, overwhelming stress, and a serious reality check, to name a few.
Through many tears and internal games of tug of war, I was able to break my binging habit and work my way towards a healthier relationship with food. Just talking things out with Dr. M made me understand that I was feeling so much more than I ever realized, that I put up walls I didn't mean to, and made things worse for myself by blocking out thoughts and feelings to essentially be numb from all things negative (but also all things good).
Living in New York City, with a strained relationship, new job, new university, new culture and new lifestyle was supposed to be wonderful; instead it was the cataclysmic event that lead to my emotional breakdown, if you will. There were good moments, don't get me wrong, but it was too much too soon and I didn't know that I wasn't ready for all of this change.
After two years in New York, I moved back to Israel. While I never did have another binging episode, my relationship with food and with my body were still something I struggled with every day. It was there that a personal loss led me to find help once again.
This time I found it with a life coach. Let's just call her Coach. The work I did with Coach was focused on all aspects of my life, not just food; although that was one of the major topics of conversation. With her guidance, I was able to differentiate between things in my life that I thought were my own fault when in fact I was only a participant in and not the cause of.
Sparing you the gory details, I felt like my loss was my fault and was brought on by me not being good enough, pretty enough, thin enough, smart enough. Coach helped me rationalize my thinking (which is also the kind of work you do when you're recovering from an eating disorder) as I feared that I would relapse into the negative "numb" behavior (something anyone who has dealt with BED* knows all too well).
*Binge Eating Disorder (BED) "is a severe yet treatable eating disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of eating large quantities of food (often very quickly and to the point of discomfort); a feeling of a loss of control during the binge; experiencing shame, distress or guilt afterwards; and not regularly using unhealthy compensatory measures (e.g., purging) to counter the binge eating. It is the most common eating disorder in the United States. " - National Eating Disorder Association
I spent six months working with Coach on changing my thought pattens from negative to positive (it's a workout, let me tell you! and is something that I manage to achieve only around 50% of the time when I try really, really hard). I did, however, successfully shift my inner monologue to a much kinder version of the mean girl I was to myself. I'll never forget Coach asking me, "Would you let a friend talk to you the way you talk to yourself?", the answer, obvi, was hell no.
The key to recovery is being kind to yourself, listening to your body, and knowing that you are stronger than you think.
Every. Damn. Day.
I am now seven years after the onset of my eating disorder, six years from the "recovery" period and have not had a binging episode since. That in and of itself is a win. My former obsessive thoughts about food have been calmed, yet not silenced (being a woman in today's society makes it that much harder), and my inner dialogue has become increasingly kinder. It's a work in progress.
The ebb and flow of trying to lead a healthy lifestyle starts with a healthy mind, so if you're struggling with obsessive thoughts, anxiety, depression, or anything that disrupts your day to day life, reach out to your healthcare provider and see what mental health services they cover, or find one independently; I promise it will be the best decision you ever made.