Coming home from college on winter break each year was always exciting. Seeing old friends, hanging out with my siblings, and not having responsibilities. I should have been stress-free, right?
When I was preparing to go home each break, I’d tell myself, OK, Kyla. Your abs have been looking good lately, and your diet has been cleaner than ever. Don’t let yourself slip up just because mom is gonna be making banana bread when you get home. Don’t. Give. In.
I was so obsessed with eating clean and exercising to perfection at school that when I got back home, all hell would break loose. One look at all the Oreos, homemade baked goods, and potato chips sent my cravings into overdrive. After giving my mom a hug, I’d head straight for the fridge—and I’d eat until I felt sick.
I was trapped in this restrict, binge, repeat cycle for years, dealing with both orthorexia and binge-eating disorder. It wasn’t until my recovery that I realized there is a lot people don’t really understand about binge eating.
Here are five major misconceptions about binge-eating disorder. If you think you might know someone who’s struggling, this is information you need to know:
1. You can’t always “see” it.
When I finally told someone that I was eating uncontrollably, they didn’t believe me. “But you’re so slim! If the problem were big, you’d probably have gained a lot of weight.” Like all eating disorders, binge-eating disorder isn’t always visible. Just because someone isn’t overweight doesn’t mean that they can’t be binge eating and really suffering.
2. It has nothing to do with willpower.
Sure, it might be easy to assume that binge-eating disorder is just about eating one too many cookies for dessert each night and that fixing it is just a matter of controlling that urge. But the more you try to control it, the more out of control you feel. In fact, lots of binge eating is caused by intense food restriction.
I put all kinds of restrictions on myself—no sugar, no gluten, only raw foods, intermittent fasting—nothing worked. It was more than just whether or not I could force myself to eat a certain way; it was that any source of stress (good or bad) led me to eat in a way that felt manic and sickening.
3. It’s all about covering up pain.
Speaking of stress, binge eating is the perfect escape from the difficult feelings that all humans inevitably have to deal with. Picture this: I’d come home each day from a job that was making me unhappy, living in a body that I didn’t like, and beeline for the fridge. Fifteen minutes later, I’d literally stuffed down any uncomfortable feelings that were trying to arise.
Then, instead of actually having to face those emotions, I covered them up, and I was left to focus on how much I hated my chubby body (and myself) for being stuck in this cycle. To me, this was easier than admitting how unhappy I was.
4. Binge eating normally happens in secret.
Ever felt embarrassed because you went for the extra slice of cake and your friends didn’t? It’s called shame, and for some reason, we’ve got a whole lot of it happening around food. We’re taught that we should remain small, eat tiny portions, and never be gluttonous.
Now, imagine you feel totally out of control around food. Binge eating is strongly linked to shame. Most binge eaters will eat late at night, hide the wrappers from the food they’ve consumed, or go out and buy new food to make it look like nothing’s been touched.
5. It’s not fun. It’s painful—in every way
Some people may think it’s fun to “get to” eat all the time (even though we all have permission to eat whenever we want), but binge eating isn’t a choice. It’s an inability to process the reasons that you’re binge eating in the first place and remaining stuck in that cycle of restrict, binge, repeat. Eating to the point of feeling sick on an almost daily basis feels horrible physically, mentally, and emotionally.
These days, I’m living freely and intuitively with my food choices. I know how to handle my emotional triggers in a way that truly nourishes me—and sometimes that includes eating! However, I no longer have the urge to binge because I know that it won’t support me in healing my emotional wounds, and I don’t feel the need to punish myself just for feeling anymore.
I never could’ve made these transformations without the support of those around me.
Binge-eating disorder is often overlooked in the eating disorder world, so it can be harder to spot. If you think you know someone who is struggling with binge-eating disorder, simply talk to them about it—gently. Let them know that you’re concerned about their relationship to food and that you’re there to listen when they’re ready to talk.