As Malaysia goes into a period of lockdown from 18th March to 14th April, I will be publishing a new post on this blog everyday to keep all my friends back home company. This post is part of the #Lockdown series.
This is by far my worst and my best kept secret…
You won’t believe it, I have binge eating disorder.
Disney will never make a movie of a princess, living in a castle in a faraway land, who has everything and is struggling with eating disorder. Not because it’s not attractive, but because you won’t believe it.
BED is like STD. You can’t see it, but most people have it, and they won’t talk about it.
It is not an uncommon condition. In fact, and as you know, it is on the rise among young people around the world.
But people won’t talk about it because it is a deeply embarrassing, frightening, awkward and off-putting condition. If you have ever had a chance to witness BED in action, you will find that it is the most frantically soothing and heart-breaking episode you’ll ever see. But you won’t, because BED never happens when one is accompanied.
However, unlike STD, people with BED never really know how they got there. There could be multiple causes, but they wouldn’t remember the first time they binged, and recovery is, most often than not, by trial and error. They have to try countless treatments to find one that works for them. If they are extremely lucky, they will eventually get rid of the monster altogether. But if they are not, this condition will stay with them for life and escalate to some really serious, if not fatal, problems.
This article is a recount of my own experience.
I am not medically trained to advise on BED, but I know how incredibly helpful it is to have a safe space and a community where you could talk about issues such as this.
And I want to help.
So regardless whether you are struggling with BED yourselves or know or suspect someone who does – maybe you are not even remotely familiar with this disorder, it doesn’t matter – please read.
Because what I am going to unveil to you is an experience that you will never wish on anybody, but would be completely foolish not to know.
How did this happen?
Why did this happen? When did it all begin? These are very good questions. And rather laughable ones. Frankly, I don’t know.
All I know is that every person with an eating disorder has an underlying issue.
I have many. You are welcome to clear your shelf for a lifetime subscription of mine. Maybe we will start with the Perfectionist issue, the Never Enough issue, the Fear of Being Judged issue… Honestly, I don’t know. I have stopped trying to figure out what got me here in the first place because, in my case, the process hasn’t been entirely helpful.
And this, of course, bags the rhetorical question of how do you know where you are going if you have no idea where you’ve come from?
I’ll tell you what. If you have been struggling with BED for anytime more than 3 months, it is no longer just a disorder. It is a habit. You don’t need to find out how your habits develop in order to get rid of them. You just need to replace them with good ones.
So, what exactly happened when it happened?
When BED struck, all I could think about was food. I would go out and buy a truckload of food that I thought was “sinful” – crisps, ice-cream, chocolates, biscuits, burgers, pizzas, anything that I craved and would not let myself eat on a regular day. I would spend a lot of money, go home and eat until I cannot physically contain anymore. I was always full, but I was never satisfied.
I would even look forward to a binge session sometimes. It’s like an escape. I didn’t want anyone to interrupt, because for a moment, I could be in a bubble and naively believe that I would never ever need to be dependant on anyone or anything in my life. To undo the damage I did to my body, I would sometimes purge. I would stick a finger down my throat and keep throwing up until there was nothing left and all I could taste was the bitterness of stomach acid in my mouth. I would be out of breath by then; my cheeks would be flushed. Tears would stream down my face uncontrollably, but it wasn’t me crying, because I was numb. And as soon as I flushed the vomit down the toilet, I would feel really, really clean.
It’s like all the weight of self-loathe and guilt were lifted from my shoulders. I would promise myself that I will never do it again. But the next day, I would be in the same place, holding onto the same hard, cold toilet bowl, and seeing myself reduce to a pile of wet, pulpy mess, unrecognisable even to my own eyes.
My life was in a downward spiral. I hated my body. I lost interest in food. I stopped going out and flaked on my friends all the time. They said, for a long time, there was no light in my eyes.
Can you remember the last time I blogged about food? Because I can’t.
What did you do to overcome the disorder?
I tried a lot of things. I went for counselling, read self-help books, did CBTs. It was a lot of patience and self-discipline trying to understand my behaviours and, mainly, changing the way I think. I was talking to myself and doing food journaling all the time, it’s exhausting.
The defining moment was when I accepted that this is it, there is nothing I could do to undo the past. It was when I started focusing on healing.
Where are you now? Have you recovered?
I am under very good control and relapses are few and far between. I make a conscious effort to hold on to my faith and to never stop hoping that things will get better.
I have also been continuously praying for energy and patience so I can always have enough to give and share with the others. It’s a very powerful prayer, because as you stop judging and start treating people with kindness and love, you start receiving a lot in return.
What would you do differently if you could go back to the first time you binged?
To be in all honesty, if I could go back and change anything, I wouldn’t.
I am astonished by my endurance and my body’s ability to cope under such immense pressure. BED has not only opened my eyes to the functions of my body that I never appreciated, but also the importance of self-control and perseverance.
If you have a relapse today, it’s okay, get back on your feet, march on. Do not give up.
How can you help?
I am very lucky to not have to be in quarantine on my own at such a difficult time – anyone with BED would know that to be stuck at home alone with a cupboard full of food is hell waiting to happen. But not everyone is. And not everyone with BED has the resources or support they need to come out from the other side. I know. And I want to help, so email me, send me a WhatsApp or a DM or Instagram. Please reach out.
My BED support, Neo, is completing a Master degree in Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology. She and I have been helping each other in this incredibly painful, but tremendously rewarding journey. We will make ourselves available to you if you would ever need a helping hand or a pair of listening ears, particularly in time of lockdown. It doesn’t matter if you don’t speak English, we can speak Mandarin!
As part of her research, Neo is currently looking 100 women to take a simple survey. She is keen to understand the different psychological perspectives we have on body image – i.e. what are your thoughts and interpretations on body satisfaction, body appreciation and body objectification – and find out how shifting our focus on physical appearance to bodily functions could do wonders for our mental health.
I would be assisting her in this project and we are keen to hear you views.
Please drop a comment, DM me on Instagram (@alxndrluella), or send me an email at alexandraluella[at]gmail[dot]com if you want to talk and are interested in being part of the research.
I would really love for you to join us.
1 Corinthians 13:13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
With love x