I developed binge eating disorder when I was 26 years old, after spending countless hours and mental energy on dieting, eating perfectly, and obsessing about my body and weight. Of course, I didn’t actually realize I had BED right away. Instead, after a while I realized it wasn’t normal that I was consuming huge portions of food whenever I was alone. I crammed so much in, and with such intensity, that I scared myself. I turned to the Internet to figure out what, exactly, I was dealing with.
After realizing I had a problem, I tried to remedy it. How? By dieting even more, of course!
I thought if I could just perfect my way of eating and get the “right” body, then I’d be done with binge eating. It didn’t help that a therapist (one who was not specifically trained to deal with eating disorders) insisted that if I only gave up white flour and white sugar that all of my binge eating problems would be forever solved. Sadly, she was wrong, and although she helped me in many other ways, my binge eating continued, in varying degrees, for a number of years.
Margarita Tartakovsky is an associate editor at PsychCentral.com, an award-winning mental health website, and the voice behind Weightless, a blog that helps women deal with body image issues and disordered eating. She also writes a monthly feature for Beliefnet.com, covering topics such as patience and procrastination.
Editor: Nadeem Noor
But instead of telling you what didn’t work, I want to tell you what did. First, I read many, many, many books on the subject of binge and emotional eating. I took Runaway Eating by Cynthia Bulik out of the library numerous times. I read oodles of books by Geneen Roth. For the first time I latched onto the idea that maybe I should be able to eat whatever I wanted. (Every time I tried it, though, I ended up eating a ridiculous amount and then being so terrified of gaining weight I immediately started dieting again.)
I read about intuitive eating. I read about women and their relationship with their bodies. I read books about health and continued to search for the “right” way to eat. I also held onto the belief that I had to get my body to the desired size and weight before I could be comfortable around food. I read books that told me I was addicted to sugar, books that told me to accept myself as I was, books that told me to plan my meal times, books that told me to be mindful, books about my spirit, and books about my thoughts.
I also tried to learn about myself in other ways as well. I went to a life coach and then went through a program to become certified myself. I became a certified intuitive eating counselor and a certified personal trainer. I saw a counselor who dealt specifically with eating disorders. I went back to school and got a Master’s in Health Education. I continued to journal, to write, to blog, to read anything I could get my hands on that I thought would help me. Often those were stories of other women dealing with the same issues.
As the years went on, the binges diminished. I no longer fit the criteria for full-fledged BED, but I was still on the disordered eating spectrum. A series of events in 2013 finally helped me move on and away from it forever.
At the beginning of that year, I vowed to give up weighing myself and give up all dieting and restricting of food. I knew my preoccupation with my weight and body were what kept my bingeing behaviors alive. A short time later, I became seriously ill from taking antibiotics that did not agree with my liver. I ended up with what’s known as cholestatic drug-induced liver disease, turned yellow, lost my appetite (ironically causing me to lose weight), was exhausted, was itchy all over, and had to go to the doctor ever week or two for lab tests and checkups. (Even more irony: I was being weighed almost every week now.) Luckily, after a few months I made a full recovery, but that experience showed me that life was for living, not obsessing about my body.
Within about a month of my recovery, my father went into the hospital, and shortly thereafter I got the dreaded phone call saying he was going into hospice care. At the same time this was going on, my husband and I had to be apart while he worked out of town, he ended up having to have minor surgery, and I found myself on another healthy eating regimen, probably because I needed something else to think about and hold onto.
I flew up to see my father on a Wednesday, and by Friday he was gone. I flew home, went to my kitchen, and ate everything in sight. The strict healthy eating plan was in the garbage, but that was the last time I ever tried to restrict my food intake, and the last time I ever binged.
Shortly after my dad’s passing, my husband came back home. Within a month we saw the plus sign on an at-home pregnancy test. Being pregnant was even more of a life-changer, especially in the way that I saw my body. My body was amazing! It was carrying my child! Of course during this time I fed it what it needed and continued to be kind to it. I also started pursuing things that were important to me again — creating art, coaching, writing, and being of service to others.
On December 2nd, 2013, we learned we were having a baby girl, and within days I threw my scale in the trash. There was no way on earth I was going to let my daughter ever think that I measured my worth by a number on a little box. Nor was I ever going to let her see me obsess about what I ate.
Now I feel free and peaceful around food. I still love conventionally healthy food, but I’m not afraid of cookies or fat anymore. There is no one thing that cured me; it was a series of events and learnings.
It was believing that I was lovable as I was. It was giving up dieting. It was realizing that life is short. It was understanding that life is precious. It was seeing how amazing my body truly is. It was figuring out that there is more to life than worrying about my figure, and that I have many amazing things to share with the world.
In short, stepping away from something that detracted and distracted from living life (dieting, worrying about my body), and embracing things that enhanced my life and allowed me to be fully present for it that ultimately helped me recover.