What I Wish My Family Understood About Dieting with Binge Eating Disorder
I have been overweight for most of my life. The weight piled on somewhere around 5 years old after a bought with rheumatic fever, and I was never a normal weight again. Childhood was a living hell as I became the focus for every kid who wanted to be a bully. I still don’t know how I survived most days.
To make matters worse, my family life was no better. My parents were poor and in bad health. We never had enough money, and they struggled to pay the bills. We often depended on family and friends to survive. There was constant stress in our house. My sister and I had to take on a lot of responsibility around the house at a young age because my parents were too ill to do everything on their own. By the time I was in junior high, both of my parents were disabled — my father with severe heart problems and my mother with complications due to diabetes.
I learned to cope with food. By the time I was in high school, I was a full-fledged binge eater. Although, I had no idea that’s what it was called at the time. I would skillfully hide food in my room and find solace in candy bars and snacks once everyone had gone to sleep for the night. In front of everyone else, I ate normally.
My parents became concerned as the weight added on. I became tired and sluggish. They took me to doctors for all kinds of tests. No one could understand how I was gaining so quickly when there was nothing medically wrong. I never once told them the problem was me. I was considered morbidly obese by the time I was in my early 20’s.
I am now in my late 30’s. I’m single and taking care of an elderly parent. It’s not exactly where I pictured my life going. I hit my highest weight earlier this year after finishing treatment for ovarian cancer — 380 pounds.
Cancer was my wake up call.
You don’t realize how much you want to live until you almost die.
I was blessed to be diagnosed at an early stage, but that didn’t make treatment any less terrifying. Surgery was painful. Chemo was hell. I have physical side effects that will last for the rest of my life.
But I am alive. For that, I am grateful.
It was my oncologist who said to me, “Your life could be so much better if you lost weight.” He had declared me as having no evidence of disease a few months prior, but I had been struggling ever since. Depression and anxiety had set in hard. I was having a difficult time getting back to “normal” life and was pretending all was well. My oncologist saw right through me. For the first time in my life, I admitted to someone that I had a problem with food. He wasn’t surprised. He had already guessed. That was when he asked if he could refer me to a weight loss center and a psychologist.
This began my journey of losing weight. I’m working with a weight loss doctor and dietician. I’m seeing a psychologist and attending group therapy to work on my eating disorder. I’m proud to say that I haven’t binged in four months, and I have lost 23 pounds. The weight loss has been slow, but I’m losing.
You would think that admitting I have a problem to my family would have been eye-opening to them. They would finally understand all the issues I had growing up. The depression, low self-esteem, body image issues, and weight gain would all make sense. That hasn’t been the case. Instead, my going to therapy has been looked at as an assault on the family. As though not being 100% happy about my childhood is somehow saying that I had bad parents or a bad life. That’s not the case at all, of course, but trying to reason with the offended party hasn’t helped much.
My attempt to lose weight is often sabotaged by either family and friends trying to over-step and help too much, or minimizing the progress I am making by telling me it isn’t good enough.
Here is what I wish my family understood about dieting with binge eating disorder:
A binge doesn’t just mean overeating. It also doesn’t mean eating something you consider to be bad food. According to the National Eating Disorders Association website, binge eating is 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.”
Don’t think that because I ate a small brownie or piece of pizza, that I am on a binge. There are two things I know about my binging — I do it in secret and I eat until I’m sick from it. If I’m binging, you won’t know about it. That’s why no one knew about it when I was growing up. The fact that I am eating in front of others is a good sign.
You don’t need to be the food police for me. I am already my own food police. I have a plan that I am following from my dietician and every single bite of food that goes in my mouth is accounted for. Asking, “Are you sure you can eat that?” or “Doesn’t that portion seem too large?” makes me doubt my decision making. Yes, I can eat that. I wouldn’t have it on my plate if I couldn’t.
I do need you to support me in making good food choices. Complaining that there are no snacks in the house or that I won’t go out for ice cream after dinner, speaks to your eating habits. Not mine. I am not trying to be antisocial. No, I don’t want to sit and watch you eat ice cream. You wouldn’t take an alcoholic to the bar. Why would you take a binge eater who binges on ice cream to the ice cream shop? Let’s find things to do together that don’t involve food.
The one pound I lost this week may not seem like a big deal to you, but it is huge to me. It is huge because it means that for every day that I struggled with my disorder, I persevered. For every moment that I wanted to give in, to quit fighting, to find that familiar comfort that can be found in food, I chose to be strong. I chose to try another way. My brain overruled my feelings. For one more week, I won the battle raging in my brain — the one telling me I can’t do it. You telling me that one pound isn’t good enough, I am losing weight too slowly, or I’m not trying hard enough, doesn’t help. It doesn’t motivate me. All it does is take my already low self-esteem and knock it down a few more notches. I know you are worried. I am too. All I really need from you is support.
You don’t need to bring up the fact that I am in therapy in every argument. You can also stop asking what we talked about because I’m not going to tell you. Therapy is personal and what we talk about is between us. Yes, I have changed. I have changed because I have to. My thoughts, actions, attitudes, and behaviors have to change for me to make better choices and become a healthier person. I’m sorry that you don’t like the new me or that the new me is too different for you. Family is supposed to love each other through good and bad times and all of life’s changes. That’s what makes family so important. While I may change along this journey, both emotionally and physically, my love for you never will.
Binge eating disorder will be a life-long struggle for me. There may be a day when I relapse, but each new day is an opportunity to start again. I will continue to choose life and health. I love life, and I am excited for the future. In so many ways, it feels like my life is just beginning.
I wish I had been brave enough to ask for help years ago. Instead, I will be forever grateful to a doctor who cared enough about his patient to see the silent cry for help.