Today marks a milestone in my own personal journey: the release of Through the Eyes of an Eating Disorder, the 15th book in the Grief Diaries series. Although this book isn't about loss, it is about grief. Because living with an eating disorder wreaks havoc in our lives, creating a different kind of grief.
Many in my generation remember when the gifted singer Karen Carpenter died in 1983 from complications of anorexia nervosa at age 32. Her death shocked the nation, and brought a little-known eating disorder into the public spotlight. I was seventeen at the time, and I mourned alongside fans around the world. But I had never heard of anorexia nervosa, and couldn’t fathom what would cause a famous singer at the height of her career to starve herself literally to death.
So here is my secret. I live with an eating disorder on the opposite end of the spectrum: binge eating, an illness that caused me to live in secrecy and with great shame for much of my life.
I didn’t realize I had an eating disorder until I was forty years old. My struggles started long before, but like a lot of Americans, I just thought of myself as fat. I was too ashamed to ask for help of any kind. After all, nobody twisted my arm to eat that Big Mac.
Over the years my quest for control found me at the mercy of Slim-Fast, the Beverly Hills Diet, the Scarsdale Diet, Atkins and Jane Fonda. But they never lasted long; food was my heroin, my crack — my fix.
As a fat person, we're subjected to comments such as “You need to lose weight,” or “All that weight isn’t good for you.” Some people believe such remarks can shame us out of our eating disorder. Yet it only serves to inflict emotional harm, and is a criticism that insults our intelligence and appearance in the same sentence. Yes, I know I need to lose weight. Yes, I know all that excess weight isn’t good for me. Do you think I’m not aware of that? Binge eating is a mental disorder affecting my brain, but not my intelligence.
But, as embarrassing as it is, I shared my story in Through the Eyes of an Eating Disorder because I want the world to know this: eating disorders are a powerful, destructive illness that wreak havoc on our health, career, and family. Whether its binge eating, anorexia, bulimia, or all three, its controlling grip forces us to live with hidden behaviors. The secretiveness leads to shame, which leads to more destructive behavior to soothe the shame. It’s a vicious cycle.
But it is conquerable. It takes hard work, honest collaboration with your support team, and determination.
I’ve now been in control of my illness for ten years. I conquered the beast, shed one hundred pounds, and lived to tell my tale. But I’m not cured. Some days the beast is tame and docile. Other days I struggle to keep it confined in its cage. Stress, hormones and lack of sleep are big triggers for me. And so I remain vigilant; for a binge eater, all it takes is one moment of weakness and down the rabbit hole I go.
Eating disorders don’t just manifest one morning like a case of chicken pox. Anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating are a mental illness saturated in silence and secrecy. It’s not easy to share my journey with the world, but I have, alongside Jane, Deborah, and ten other women.
Taking that brave step to share our stories out in the open will help shed insight into a little understood mental illness, and bring comfort and hope to those who share our struggles. Because if we can conquer the beast within, so can you. XOXO