How I Discovered I Had Binge Eating Disorder, Not a Lack of Self-Control

It’s National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, so I figured it’s a good time as any to talk about binge eating disorder (BED). About a month and a half ago, I saw my psychiatrist. During our talk, she asked me if I struggled with binge eating.

Then I delved deeper into my relationship with food — something I try not to think too much about.

I don’t overeat because the food tastes good. I don’t eat more than others because I’m bigger. I don’t just overeat once in a while. I don’t see a piece of cake or pass a sandwich shop and “give in” to temptation for the food. It feels more like a need instead of a want. It’s a compulsion.

I feel gross after a binge. I beat myself up about it. I want to treat my body better, but I find myself in the same situation time and time again — binging fast food or all the snacks in the pantry.

So, how are BED and lack of self-control different when it sounds like BED is about a lack of control? Feeling a lack of control when binging is a symptom, after all.

When we (society) think of someone lacking control, we think of someone who gives in to their every need. We may see them as “weak.”

I’ve internalized this concept. Yes, self-control is a good thing, but before I knew about BED, I always blamed it on having no control. I felt like I should have done something different. It seemed like my fault I found myself in this situation over and over again, even when I tried hard not to binge.

My issue isn’t a lack of self-control. Believe me, I’ve told myself that all I needed was more self-control. I’d resolve to have more control and… I’d binge.

I can’t recover from BED if I don’t address the emotional issues that lead me to binge. I can’t address binge eating from the perspective of control. I have to address it from the root: a need for better emotion regulation. I’ve always been an emotional eater.

Angry? Eat. Stressed? Eat. Sad? Eat. Happy? Eat. It’s hard to hear your thoughts or feel emotions when you’re intensely engaged in something physical like eating.

I’ll eat when I’m not hungry, and I’ll continue eating even when it feels hard to breathe because of my overly full stomach.

If I start thinking of eating something when I’m trying to sleep, there’s no ignoring that thought. It’s loud and intrusive. I have to eat. Food is almost always on my mind.

On the other hand, I’ll go all day without eating, or I’ll skip meals. Then I’ll binge at night or the next day. I don’t have a routine for eating or nourishing my body.

In high school, I spent three months gaining “control” over my eating and body. In reality, I restricted, counted every calorie and worked out multiple times a day. I felt faint but dropped weight quickly.

I became obsessed. I constantly thought about food and the number on the scale. I stared at myself in the mirror asking myself questions. Is my collarboneshowing more? Can I feel my hipbones? Is there less fat on my stomach to pinch?

It wasn’t until years later I understood my disordered eating and the slippery slope I was heading down. It may seem ironic that someone who once obsessed about weight and calories could be struggling with binge eating disorder, but it’s two sides of the same coin.

My relationship with food is closely related to my relationship with my emotions. During those three months in high school, I had just come out of a depression but there were still many stressful things in my life. I found comfort in focusing all my energy on what I ate and restricting. I liked going to bed hungry.

Before then, I had struggled with overeating and binging. I’m not sure what caused the switch during that time or what made it switch back. What’s clear is my relationship with food was and is not healthy no matter which extreme I find myself in— restricting or binging.

In some ways, binging, restricting and/or purging can seem like a way we have control, though this is a dangerous facade created by eating disorders. I’m “controlling” my emotions and stress by eating a lot to deal with it. Or I’m “controlling” what goes into my body when everything else around me feels chaotic.

Whatever someone’s experience is with an eating disorder, you shouldn’t decide they have an issue with self-control or need more willpower. There’s way more to it than that.