For years I restricted you and then binged on you —part of me struggling to give myself enough of you and the other, demanding I get rid of you.
I know so much more now than I did when my eating disorder (ED) first started. But it still creeps up. Who am I kidding though? Myself probably.
Because I still spend a majority of my days either feeling fat or obsessing about how much I weigh; trying to keep my P.T.S.D. induced flashbacks at bay.
Whether I’m body checking, on the scale or trying not to open the flood gates, sometimes I eat even when I’m not hungry. I say flood gates because once I start, I find it hard to stop. So if I don’t start, I don’t have to worry about not stopping. It’s confusing, I know. Because a lot of people say, one bite won’t hurt. But for me it does. Because I can’t just have one. One slice. One sliver. Nope. I need the whole thing.
I like foods that take a while to eat. Because I love eating. At the same time, I hate how this shit makes me feel. And yes, I know we need food to survive. As a type one diabetic, I can firmly say it’s freaking medicine. But when I’m eating and eating and eating, I don’t want to stop. And when I don’t stop, like afterward, I’m full. Really full. Too full. I have to lay down. That’s usually when the food shame begins. Because my brain starts talking shit about how gross I am. Why did you eat that, Macey? You’re disgusting.
I’m stuck on a loop.
It’s just, I know about trauma, dissociation, and how bingeing can’t be “fixed” with restriction. I know all this crap is interconnected. But I do it anyway. The worst part is —when I restrict and then finally eat, I tend to go overboard. Binge. Because I basically starved myself all day. So when I eventually allow myself to eat, I’m so excited that I can’t stop. I need everything. So I eat everything. And then I feel bad. Shame.
That’s when I tell myself, I just won’t eat a lot tomorrow, which usually turns to nothing. Restricting and then binging. It’s the same thing all over again. And this is how it goes… Firstly, I’d like to emphasize that I no longer binge as often as I used to. But there are still evenings when I turn to you and eat more of you than I’m hungry for. And I know that this behavior is keeping me stuck in a place I don’t want to be. But here I am.
Like when I want to feel good.
Or, on the contrary, when I want to feel less boredom, less exhaustion. Less frustration from the stressors of everyday life. Why do I keep turning to you when I know you can’t give me what I need? How can I connect the knowledge that says I know you can’t fix me —when a part of me still depends on you? Because I’m ready to take the next step. At the same time, I simply can’t move away from this distorting behavior.
I know I’m not alone —at least mentally I’m not, which at times can be somewhat comforting. But it’s still not enough. Because day-to-day it feels pretty lonely —seeing that I am, in fact, physically alone. That said though, over the past three decades, there’s been some increased attention connecting abuse to binging. It’s just, the social context of abuse —like the specific emotions involved, and how that shit relates to an eating disorder hasn’t truly been explored. So let’s explore.
The Link Between Trauma and Binge Eating
Based on some research, it seems that P.T.S.D. (post-traumatic stress disorder) —not the trauma itself, is what contributes to the development of an eating disorder. Because eating disorders are rarely individually related to abnormal eating habits. In fact, eating disorders are rarely about food. That said, the exact reason as to why trauma contributes to the development of an eating disorder is unclear. What is known, however, is that trauma normally causes some sort of disruption to our central nervous system.
That right there can make it difficult for people to manage emotions. Sexual trauma specifically tends to result in some kind of body image issue. Consequently, eating disorders and other addictions are born as a way to manage those uncomfortable feelings. It’s a defense mechanism, I think —so that our brain doesn’t go back to the scene of the crime. In this case, it’s like, OK when a flashback comes on, I’m going to drown that shit in fries.
Because when I’m eating, I’m not thinking.
If you look a little closer, I think you’ll find that eating disorders share a lot of characteristics with P.T.S.D. They both have high rates of dissociation, for example. Dissociation happens when people disconnect from their surroundings, which can stop certain traumatic memories. And because you’re not connected, you no longer have that overwhelming sense of fear, anxiety, and shame. This separation can happen during the event or later on when or if you’re reminded of it.
At times, that can be a good thing but when you’re disconnected from the here and now, you’re not really living. It’s like you’re stuck, which is why eating disorder behaviors are normally a way to distance oneself from disturbing thoughts, emotions, or memories associated with P.T.S.D. It’s possible to see the psychological symbolism these behaviors have on those with an eating disorder. Purging can be seen as a way to get rid of something unwanted while bingeing can act as a way to fill that missing void.
We know logically we can’t fill an emotional void with food.
We also know that we cannot get rid of unwanted feelings, memories, or symptoms by emptying our stomachs. Yet, both provide temporary relief —in either managing the symptoms of P.T.S.D. or as a coping mechanism in dealing with unresolved trauma. So you eat and eat and eat in order to hush the chaos inside. And I think that’s the hardest part —at least for other people to understand. Because some may say, ‘OK. If you eat and eat and eat, you’re going to either get fat or feel sick.’
But it’s not that simple.
Because like I just established, we know this shit. I know if I overdose on pizza, bagels, french fries, and sushi, I’m going to feel pretty lousy afterward. But when you’re on a binge, you’re only thinking about the here and now. That’s where that dissociation comes into play. Because at that moment, I don’t have to think about all of my problems. It’s like a drug. Because some say, without it, I’d have nothing to look forward to. Like at the end of a long day, a big bowl of ice cream can be especially effective in temporarily soothing our exhausted, hard-working selves.
According to many sources (i.e. this article), eating sugar and fatty foods activate our brain’s endogenous opioid system —a little something I spoke about in my last post. Basically, that system acts as a natural painkiller. When it’s stimulated, our brain will naturally produce a set of chemicals called endorphins. Endorphins make us feel good by attaching to those opioid receptors, initiating a pleasure pathway and reducing pain. They also regulate bodily functions like how we sleep, how we breathe and how much we eat (our appetite).
Because our brains are wired to make sure we repeat healthy activities, such as eating and sleeping —by connecting those things with feeling good. When we do certain things, in this case when we eat, those chemicals tell us that this particular behavior is good. When that happens, our reward circuit gets kick-started (our pleasure pathway). And the brain notes that something important is happening that needs to be remembered. It teaches us to do it again and again, without really thinking about it.
Pair that with an eating disorder and it’s a recipe for binging.
Take my old addict self as an example. Back in my active addiction days, I knew using was bad. I knew it was the wrong thing to do. But I did it anyway. Because I literally changed the matrix of my brain —I no longer had the ability to say no. I couldn’t fucking stop. My mind and body were literally screaming for my drug of choice. I was powerless. And that shit is a lot like what happens when you live with an eating disorder —it consumes you.
Mine consumed me. And sometimes, it still does. So when you feel happy while you eat that pint of ice cream or those BBQ potato chips and then you try to break the cycle by trying to eat healthier, it can be like kicking a drug habit. Because you’re literally initiating the same process with food and eating as you would with addiction and narcotics. It’s pretty crazy but it’s true.
The Emotional Factor
A feeling is a feeling —it requires no action. But what happens when that feeling is too much? What happens when you do, in fact, act? Like when you’re sad; so sad and bored. There’s nothing to do, so I’m going to eat. Most people think emotional eating stems from a lack of self-control. But that’s just not true. If it was, eating disorders wouldn’t exist. Except they clearly do. Because this shit is real. And it’s not so black and white. Grey? More like black and blue.
Because we live in a society that teaches us at a very young age to avoid things that make us feel bad. It’s like they’re shaming us not to do shit they pretend they don’t do. They also teach us that skinny is pretty but that’s a story for another day. Unfortunately, a lot of methods most of us employ to distract ourselves from those difficult feelings are not always good for us. And without the ability to tolerate life’s inevitable sadness, you’re susceptible to a lot of something called emotional eating.
Emotional eating is when you eat as a way to suppress or soothe negative emotions.
Emotions such as stress, anger, fear, boredom, sadness, and loneliness. Major life events; more commonly, the hassles of daily life can trigger negative emotions that ultimately lead to an emotional eating episode. A little different than binge eating, therapists sometimes call this unconscious eating. Like when you’re done with your meal, but you continue to pick at it anyway. You’re slowly eating the remaining portion you intended to leave behind. You’re not really hungry anymore but you can’t stop.
It can also mean eating something merely because it’s in front of you. And If you’re constantly letting yourself get too hungry or too tired, you’re leaving yourself quite vulnerable to start emotional eating. Because when your body is too hungry or too tired, it not only sends strong messages to your brain that signal it to eat, but it will leave you less equipped to fight off cravings and urges. Tieing this shit back to trauma —when someone experiences abuse —specifically sexual abuse, you lose your sense of self.
Because negativity, shame, and hatred rarely inspire people to make long-lasting positive changes, especially when it comes to our physical bodies and overall sense of self. Whatever emotions drive you, the end result is often the same. The effect is temporary. The emotions return. And after, you likely have even more feelings of guilt and shame. Same shit, different day. Because it’s the same thing all again. Your emotions trigger you to overeat. So you overeat. And then you beat yourself up for overeating.
It’s exhausting. Let me tell you.
I Can Also Tell You, There are Ways to Break the Cycle
First and foremost, if you’re living with an eating disorder, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve been traumatized. And just because you’ve experienced some type of trauma doesn’t automatically mean you have an eating disorder or even P.T.S.D for that matter. If you do though, I want you to know, you have nothing to be embarrassed about. Trust me, I get it. For the longest time, I was. I was embarrassed. I couldn’t even acknowledge that. I wouldn’t let myself go there. So talking about it out loud —let alone admitting this shit to another person was something I’d never do.
And I didn’t.
But now that I’m on the other side, I can firmly say, there’s no reason to feel shame. Despite popular belief, it’s not a weakness, people. It’s an actual disorder. That said, you’re feelings are valid. It’s OK to not be OK. It’s OK if you’re not there yet. We all have something —and if your something is this something, let me give you some advice on what you can do about it. Because pretending this shit isn’t affecting your life is a mistake. That will make everything worse. Acceptance really is how it all starts.
So if you’re living with an eating disorder along and have a history of neglect, trauma, or abuse, I’m telling you, it’s crucial to get help for all of those somethings. We need to talk about it. But everyone is different. Consequently, we’re going to react and deal with shit differently. Meaning, you have to go at your own pace. And things like location, culture, style, as well as context can influence those reactions. Maybe you want to express your emotions outwardly or reasonably, you’d prefer to keep that stuff private.
My two cents? Do it sooner rather than later. Because symptoms of both an eating disorder and P.T.S.D. can affect your physical, emotional and mental well-being. Because this shit isn’t just a “phase” that will pass. It’s not a choice someone makes. This shit is complicated, devastating, and can have serious implications on your overall health. Shit like fatigue, cardiovascular disease (heart failure, irregular heartbeat), low blood pressure, and osteoporosis (reduction of bone density) come to mind.
On top of muscle loss, muscle weakness, electrolyte imbalances, dehydration, even kidney failure as well as agitation, irritability, hostility, hypervigilance, and social isolation —just to name a few. Not even including acid reflux, intestinal distress, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, liver and gallbladder disease, severe anxiety, depression, insomnia as well as sleep apnea and breathing problems. Damn. That’s a lot. But it can all be avoided if you actively do something about it.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), for example.
That shit can do wonders for both eating disorders and P.T.S.D. In short, CBT is a short-term therapy technique that can help you find new ways to behave by changing the way you think. You’d work with a psychotherapist who would teach you healthy coping mechanisms for managing stress as well as overcoming difficult emotions and trauma. Therapy isn’t a one size fits all type of thing. Because there are many representations. Like group therapy, if you feel comfortable, or private one-on-one sessions.
Regardless, in either setting, you will learn new life skills for managing any and all of your co-occurring disorders. On top of talk therapy, you’re more likely to give in to emotional eating if you lack a solid support network. I encourage you to lean on your family and friends. Why not join a support group? Whatever you do, make sure to be open and honest. Even if it feels weird, the people in your life are there for a reason. I want to add and emphasize that you shouldn’t talk to just anyone about this.
Because some people simply don’t get it.
No matter how hard you try, unfortunately, there will always be close-minded one-sided people who will never understand. But I’m thinking if your friends and family are in your life, it’s for a good reason. At the same time, there are smaller steps you can take at home. Like instead of snacking when you’re not hungry, distract yourself. Substitute eating with a healthier activity. Take a walk, watch a movie, play with your dog, listen to music, read, or call that friend.
If you feel the urge to eat between meals, choose a healthy snack, such as fresh fruit, vegetables with low-fat dip, nuts or popcorn. Try lower calorie versions of your favorite foods to see if that will satisfy your craving. Whatever you do, please do not keep hard-to-resist comfort foods at home. If it’s not there, you can’t eat it. Similarly, if you feel yourself getting angry or blue, postpone that trip to the grocery store —until you have time to get your emotions in check. If all else fails, I’m here. Because I’ve had body issues and eating ish for as long as I can remember.
Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels was my freaking mantra.
The more my bones protruded out of my emaciated skin, the prettier I thought I was. In short, I’m the skinny chick who thinks she’s fat. Because I’ll have these episodes of binging and emotional eating —making it hard for me to stop. Making it far too easy for the beast inside to win. This past year though, after dealing with some pretty intense health shit —exasperated by my weight, my doctors told me I need to gain at least five pounds. I’m like no way, dude.
The truth is, when I was a few pounds heavier, I felt better. But where’s the line between fat and healthy? It scared me that if I gained five pounds, then I could just as easily gain 50. So I started therapy to see if that could fix the evil inside. ED. That’s what we call my eating disorder. I say it like that because therapy taught me that recovery is all about disassociating my thoughts from ED’s. And it‘s working. Because slowly, I’m gaining those five pounds and I think I’m OK with it —at least most days.
Because I’m tired of restricting and then binging uncontrollably.
Because I’m sick of body checking & basing my mood on how much I weigh that particular day. Because yes, I was raped (yeah I said it). But I refuse to let that shit control my life. Because it did for far too long. But now I know I’m not my trauma. Either are you. So let this be your friendly reminder that being beautiful is not a number. It’s not skinny either. It’s you. It’s me. Because we’re all a different kind of wonderful. And another woman’s beauty is never the absence of your own.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, binge eating, emotional eating and/ or purging, there are resources available —besides reaching out to me, which you can do anytime. I mean that.
Crisis Textline is an organization that helps people with eating disorders and other mental health issues. Staffed with a team of trained crisis counselrs, all you have to do is text CONNECT to 741741 for confidential advice. Get the support you need 24.7 —365 days a year. Plus, they can refer you to a local medical professional if that’s the route you wanted to take.
National Eating Disorders Association Helpline offers support Monday through Thursday from 9 am to 9 pm EST as well as Friday from 9 am to 5 pm EST. Once connected, you can expect to receive support, information, therapeutic referrals, and guidance about specific treatment options for you or someone you love.
For more information, I encourage you to check out a comprehensive list from Bulimia.com.
And remember, you have a friend in me for life. I don’t judge. I won’t tell. And I truly want to help. Because I’ve been there and it sucks. But it doesn’t have too forever. So if you need anything at all, I really am here. I feel you. I hear you. And I understand.