When People Ask Me What Bingeing Is: Are You Asking, or Do You Think You Already Know?

As someone who has dealt with EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified) and Binge Eating Disorder for quite some time now, I have gotten somewhat used to people asking me to explain myself.

"What is the difference between bingeing and overeating," you ask.

I hear, "You're actually just a fat piece of shit hiding behind the excuse of a mental illness to justify your poor life habits."

Now, perhaps that sounds harsh. And in some ways, it absolutely is. And many times, this isn’t at all what the person innocently asking me about the inside of my brain means to say. But here's the thing: I've had a hard enough time coping with the realities of my eating disorder in my own head, and having to justify myself to others isn't something I would ever wish upon someone suffering from a mental illness.

Because let's all remember, eating disorders are afflictions of the mind, not the body. The ravaging effects that we can (sometimes) see as a result of an eating disorder are truly a symptom of a mental issue.

And more importantly, I have had people in my life who have felt this negative way about my behavior. Maybe not to my face. No, no one would ever say it to my face. But behind closed doors... walls are thinner than you think, people. And anyone who thinks that fat-shaming has a limit, that it ends when you're talking about friends and family, is only kidding themselves. A fat-shamer of a  stranger will inevitably fat-shame you too. Friend or foe.

But I digress. Back to the point.

When I explain what a binge is to a family member or friend, it can be difficult. My response to this kind of inquiry can vary from person to person, and situation to situation. But mostly, the level of compassion and understanding that this other person brings to the table becomes a huge factor. What does this person already understand? What does this person already think about my behavior? Have I experienced this person be patronizing or harsh about my behavior in the past, unknowingly harping on actions that I could control no more than a compulsion that a person who deals with OCD can control?

Or, on the flip side, has this person already extended a level of camaraderie, a desire to not only understand but to let me know I am not alone? Now, to be fair, this last bit cannot be offered up by everyone. Not everyone has had moments in their life where they think about food the way that I do, or my body the way that I do. But those that do have that understanding can relate in ways that others never can. Certainly, that isn't anyone's fault. But it makes us all feel a little less alone none the less.

To be honest, just coming to me with an open mind and leaving behind your preconceived notions can do wonders. Just listening. Just nodding. Maybe saying, "Ok, I'm not sure I get that, can you try to rephrase it for me?" And most importantly, being able to say, "Ok, I don't really get it. I've never been there. But I want to be here for you either way."

If you can come to the table with this kind of attitude, I'm likely to explain things to you the way that I see them. I'm likely to say something like:

“The thing about bingeing is that it isn’t even about the food. At first, maybe it is. You need a salt fix. You need the saccharine sweetness to coat your teeth, and you want your tongue to tingle with flavors here, there, and everywhere. And maybe, with those first few bites, you achieve that goal. Everything tastes as amazing as you wanted it to. The endorphins flood your head and you eat faster and faster, just to keep it coming. But soon – sooner than you think – each bite gets blander and grayer. Each bite has just a little less of what you were looking for.  And suddenly, you’re desperately shoving food down your throat, just to taste it again. Just to feel that rush again. Just to feel anything worth feeling.

And then you realize that you aren’t eating because your body wants to fill your empty stomach. You’re eating because you want to fill your empty soul. And no matter how much you put inside, no matter how close to making yourself physically ill you get, no matter how disgusting each bite becomes, you keep going. And you never feel full.”

Does that make it clearer? Does that help you understand that no, telling me it's for my health is not going to motivate me; that telling me oh, find another outlet for your stress and worries is not going to work; that no amount of pleading and arguing and yelling and huffing is going to make me suddenly flip a switch in my head and say, "You know what, you're totally right! This is self-destructive! This is hurting me! I'm going to stop!"

No shit, Sherlock. We all know that. We all know that the way we cope with life isn't necessarily healthy, and that it has consequences. That isn't going to stop us.

What will, you ask? Telling us we're not alone. Being there when we relapse. Understanding that we hate ourselves when we do these kinds of things, and we expect everyone else to hate us too. And by showing us that you would never, in a million years, hate us for trying to get through this world the only way we know how. Showing us that even when we do damage to ourselves, you'll be there, waiting.

Is that asking a lot? Definitely.

Would I do it for someone else? Absolutely.

Because I know that pain. And no one deserves that pain. Most importantly, no one deserves to endure that pain alone.