My Disordered-Eating Experience

Binge-eating was my ride or die for 25 years. I don’t think it’s something I will ever be fully ‘healed’ from, contrary to the curative binge-eating recovery plans prescribed by Instagram PTs acting way out of their scope of practice. What better way to highlight this than by completing oversharing on the internet?

I fucking love food. Always have, always will. I can remember from childhood the thrill of excitement at being at an event or birthday party and seeing tables full of colourful, hyperpalatable, diabetic coma-inducing goodness. Growing up, people would marvel at what a “big appetite” I had, or how I was lucky I was so young and could eat “whatever I wanted”. Nothing inherently problematic there, just a child and her penchant for sugar.

The other love of my life in childhood? Overachieving. School, sports, height percentiles – I exceeded them all. Why do I bring this up, apart from humble bragging that I’m better than you? Well, it makes it easier to understand why I kept going. I was a fantastic binge-eater. The best you have ever seen.

I could put so much food away. I’m talking a family bag of Doritos, a huge share bag of jellies, entire packets of biscuits, in a single sitting. And then, because I am such a good binge-eater, I would eat everything else like my normal meals because I can hide it better than everyone.

Before the shame kicked in, I’d revel in my experiences with a weird sense of satisfaction. Look how much I can put away. The graveyard of palatable goodness rising slowly under my bed wasn’t always a shameful experience. It was great to be able to self-medicate all of the pressure and emotions that come with being a human being with food. And the best part?

So long as you stay relatively lean, no one gives a fuck. No one is concerned. I didn’t really care that I was numbing out from everything at all, because no matter how bad things were, at least I wasn’t getting fat. Because, obviously in my twisted world, gaining weight was far, far worse than a relationship with food that was completely fucked up. I might feel the need to put away a full packet of biscuits when things get hectic, but at least I don’t have to go up a jeans size.

The initial thrill of a binge is unparalleled euphoria. At the start, when I decided it was a binge-eating day, I would excitedly peruse the supermarket aisle, eye up the offers, see what I could afford and excitedly fill my hands with the order of the day. Anything I wanted I could have so very easily. I could almost feel the tang of the sour jellies on my tongue, the crunch that gave way to the spice of the Doritos and the softness of the chocolate, before I even unwrapped it. I would be so excited to get home and retreat into the comfort of solitude with my stash.

The best bit of binge-eating? The start. At the start, its genuinely so enjoyable. You are hungry, everything tastes nice. You still decide you want this, and you are happy to be numbing out and avoiding whatever emotion or stress brought this on. Happy days.

Then, the inevitable descent into self-hatred and shame comes. Eating past the point of “stomach”-full is where the true numbing out is found. This is the point at which most people, when they “overeat”, stop. Not us bingers though. We power through. We push through physical fullness until we hit the point of no return – genuine, anything-else-into-my-system-I’ll-explode fullness. And it feels fucking horrible. Your stomach is pushed out, and painful from extending beyond its natural limits. Sugar sweats, headaches, and then the crippling shame.

You feel like an idiot. The world’s biggest fuck up. There has to be something wrong with you, to be always chasing that. You know how it ends. And yet, here you go again. Another day, another week. Sometimes, it’s only a matter of waiting to feel a little less full before you can go again.

Binge-eating is the most fucked up, toxic relationship I have ever had. The initial dopamine hit that comes from the food hitting your tastebuds quickly fades to disgust and shame. But you don’t care about the consequences. You have an out from your sad little life, and it tastes fucking delicious baby.

What brings it on for each and every one of us is so very different. We aren’t all the same. Sometimes it’s not just because we are over-restricting or trying to eat too low calories. This shit was happening to me before I even knew what MyFitnessPal was. Of course, when I did enter the tracking realm at the ripe old age of 17, things got hella worse.

When it was bad, it was really bad. There was a graveyard of sweet wrappers under my bed, and occasionally when I turned over in my sleep I would hear the crinkle of plastic underneath or get the waft of the ghost of a long-finished Dorito packet. And that was a sensory reminder of the shame and the futility of trying to resist binge-eating.

I find it quite hard to write fluidly about my experiences, partly because I don’t want to do any introspection and partly because I think it’s shit. Kim, there’s people that are dying. And here you are, unable to articulate that you used to eat more than you should.

Used to. How incredibly subjective. Binge-eating is defined as a “loss of control when eating an uncomfortably large amount of food”. I haven’t binge-eaten in probably close to two years now, but I have definitely hated myself and self-medicated with food, so I don’t know if I get to keep my two-year chip. Fuck knows. Things are better now, and that is largely down to the work I have done on myself, therapy and a shit ton of guidance from my coach – Emilia. Having a good coach like her in my corner is something I have never taken for granted.

I used to pour over scientific articles about training, nutrition and binge-eating because if I could just understand everything, of course it would just go away. The research definitely helped me realise I wasn’t alone, and that there were strategies that were actually scientifically backed. However, it turns out you can’t outstudy a borderline eating disorder. Good old fashioned introspection and challenging long-ingrained beliefs about food and a crippling desire to overachieve was the only remedy that worked for me. And it is fucking hard. I would much rather have sat and eaten my feelings than admit I even had any.

Things got a lot better once I started doing that “soft” hippie work I had previously written off as horseshit. That’s not to say it magically got better overnight. As anyone who has suffered with any kind of eating disorder/disordered eating knows, there’s always that voice in the back of your head. I don’t think it ever goes away, but for me it is definitely a lot quieter now.

Not a lot of net positives to take away from the whole experience, obviously. On one hand, it helps me understand what many of my clients go through, and has really inspired me to further research disordered eating (peep the eating disorder journals this holiday season). On the other hand, it was fucking awful and ran my life intermittently for 25 years. Swings and roundabouts innit?

There is no closing note of positivity where we wrap up everything and never suffer from a disordered thought ever again in our lives (wouldn’t be on brand for me anyway). Much like anything, overcoming binge-eating is something that must be constantly worked at. If it’s something you struggle with, please reach out to your local support networks (Bodywhys in Ireland, BEAT in the UK). One of my major regrets is that I never did.

Back to our regular scheduled critique of the latest horseshit in nutrition next week.

Published by Michelle Carroll

I am an online coach (MSc Sports & Exercise Nutrition, EQF Level 4 Personal Trainer, PN Level 1) and radiographer (BSc). I believe in empowering others to make better choices for their health through education. I think that the fitness industry has created a disconnect between best practices and “evidence-based” practices. I hope by chronicling my experience as a healthcare professional and my education as a fitness professional I can assist others on the path to bettering themselves.

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