“Talk about the shit you don’t want to talk about.” That was one of the quotes that stuck with me from the Netflix documentary I Am Maris: Portrait of a Young Yogi, the story of a woman who overcomes an eating disorder and finds joy through yoga and sharing her stories online. I was struck by this concept of talking about the topics you don’t want to talk about. I have been pretty open on this blog, talking about some tough topics. But this one has been something I’ve been too scared to talk about until now. My main goal with my blog has always been to help other people not feel so alone with what they’re feeling, so if me talking about this subject can help just one person, it will be worth it.
I can track the start of my issues with binge eating back to 2014, when I was studying abroad in Spain. There were difficult things that happened during my time abroad which left me feeling lonely, sad, and angry. What I turned to in order to cope with my pain was food. I remember walking to the grocery store around the corner from my host family’s home and buying cookies and chips, which I would then hide in my closet or under my bed, to eat in secret when I was alone. My host mom cooked meals for us every day, and these were by no means small meals. Even when I left dinner feeling stuffed, I would go back to my room and eat from my secret stash. There were days when I felt so sad and alone, and eating gave me some kind of temporary comfort. I think this is when I developed a connection in my brain between sadness, stress, anxiety, and food. I began using food as a form of self-soothing, to try to cope with my emotions.
This habit never truly left over the past six years, but some periods of time have been worse than others. l continued into my senior year in college, when I was living with one of my best friends in a small two bedroom apartment. I would go to the store and buy groceries, including a lot of snacks (chips, crackers, cookies, chocolate, you name it). Like I did in Spain, I would hide them in my room and eat them alone while I studied or watched TV. Like in Spain, these binges often were tied to an emotional release. I’d notice myself craving junk food when I was stressed about an upcoming exam or my thesis project.
The summer and fall of 2015, after my senior year, the binging continued. I was still not acknowledging it or really aware it was an issue. I was in a long distance relationship, and I remember driving from Austin to Fort Worth to see my boyfriend, and eating on the drive. Sometimes I would start the drive determined not to snack, but at some point I would pull over at a gas station (even if I didn’t need gas) and buy candy and chips and a soda for the road. It sometimes felt like I literally couldn’t make that drive without snacks. Even if we had plans to eat dinner when I got there, I couldn’t help myself from snacking. I would arrive in Fort Worth with a stomach ache, feeling disgusting. My boyfriend had no idea.
2017 was one of the hardest years of my life, which caused the emotional eating to hit a new level. I went through a breakup, changing jobs, and my parents getting divorced all within a few months, and I didn’t know how to process or cope. Once again, I turned to food. I was living by myself, so it was extremely easy to get away with my bad habits. There was a little convenience store right down the street, and on days when I was feeling particularly sad or stressed, I would go to the store and buy a couple bags of chips and some candy, and I would eat all of it that night. Sometimes that’s all I would eat, but sometimes I would also go and get fast food, and then I would still eat a lot of the snacks afterwards.
Finally, slowly, over the past few years, I started to realize I had a problem. I wanted to stop. But it was a vicious cycle. I would do really well and not binge for a week or two, but then one day, as if I wasn’t in control at all, I would find myself back at that store, hating myself even as I chose to buy the food. As I was binging I would say to myself, “This is the last time!” Just as an alcoholic swears this will be their last drink. Or I would convince myself I could buy snacks and control my eating, just as an alcoholic convinces themself they can have “just one drink.” Every time I was proven wrong.
One of the hardest parts of this complicated relationship with food is the negative self-talk that comes along with it. There is a voice in my head constantly telling me things like: “Nobody else has this problem. Everyone else has no trouble eating healthy and not overeating, why can’t you? If anyone knew this about you, they would see you differently. Everyone can see you’ve gained weight. You don’t look as good as you did a few years ago.” On the other hand, there’s an equally negative voice trying to reassure me I don’t have a problem. “You don’t starve yourself. You don’t purge. You’re fine, stop being so dramatic. You’re at a healthy weight. Everyone indulges in junk food sometimes, what’s the big deal?”
I wish I could say I’m writing this as someone who has it all figured out, but I’m not. Though I’ve been doing much better lately, and the binges have become much less frequent, they still happen from time to time. I’m not writing this as someone who has completely healed or moved past it, but as someone who is ready to admit they have a problem, and commit to making a change, one day at a time.
I’m writing this in the hope that other people can relate. I feel a relief settling in me as I write this. It doesn’t need to be a secret anymore, I can choose to make a positive change in my life and move on. I’m writing this in the hopes that maybe it will help someone feel less alone. I’m also writing this to help myself. Maybe when it’s out in the open it won’t feel like such a dirty little secret, and I can finally move forward.