This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, with a goal to spotlight the seriousness of eating disorders and improve public understanding of the causes, triggers and treatments of these disorders. The theme for the week is “I had no idea,” emphasizing the importance of recognizing that early signs and symptoms that seem small or insignificant are actually things that should trigger evaluation and treatment. Many people don’t know the early signs of eating disorders or that early treatment can help those struggling before it gets worse.
As a recovering binge eater, the “I had no idea” speaks to me another level as well, to the secret nature of so many eating disorders. At this point, I will warn anyone who thinks hearing about someone else’s binge eating disorder might be a trigger for your own issues, please be warned and consider if you want to read further.
When I first opened up to my husband about my binge eating (more binge eating disorder here), those were the actual words he said: “I had no idea.” He adores me, pays attention to me and had lived with me for over two years at this point and yet had no idea that I would binge in my car on fast food before I came home and made dinner for the two of us or that I would always buy two loaves of bread at Panera so I could eat one in my office and bring the other home. He had no idea the number of times I hid in the pantry or the bathroom or any other place where no one was watching so I could eat and eat and eat. He had no idea that I needed him to throw that birthday cake in the garbage outside and cover it with other garbage because I was so emotionally raw from having this conversation about how I really had a problem, that if it was in the (somehow cleaner?) kitchen garbage can, I might eat it anyway. He had no idea. He had no idea what it was like to feel so out of control and so disgusted with oneself over those episodes and still doesn’t because I don’t know quite how to describe it.
I can’t even remember how old I was when I first started this. I know it was junior high or early high school, because I can remember vividly sneaking into a particular bathroom in a particular house we had to close the door and inhale the slices of white sandwich bread I’d smuggled in there or the nook under the stairs in that house where I would do it. It really got out of control in my early 20s when I lived alone and didn’t have to work so hard to hide anymore. Oddly, I still sometime found myself eating in weird places, hiding even though there was no one to catch me.
For a long time, an element of the self-disgust was that I had no reason to be screwed up. Do you really need an excuse to have an eating disorder? Of course not – it can happen to anyone and it isn’t your fault. (Let me say that again in case someone out there needs to hear it: It isn’t your fault.) In my screwed up young mind, I couldn’t possibly have an eating disorder because people with eating disorders were thin. Now, of course, I know that isn’t true. People with eating disorders can look like anyone and everyone.
It’s getting better. I don’t know that it will ever go away, but it definitely gets better. I’ve spent a lot of time practicing and learning my triggers, learning new coping mechanisms and dealing with the emotional issues that are my biggest triggers. I’ve been very open with my husband, who even though he doesn’t know exactly what it feels like, knows that he will help me however he can. That may mean moving things I’d binge out of the house on bad days. That may mean helping me talk through something or sending me out for a run instead. The solutions are going to be different for every person, but first you have to take the steps to look for those solutions.
If you think you or someone you love may have an eating disorder, or even if you just want to learn more so that you can help others you may encounter, check out the National Eating Disorders Association and #NEDAwareness. There is also free online screening for eating disorders available at MyBodyScreening.org. Most of all, be kind to each other because you never know what someone else may be struggling with.