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I am a binge eater. There. I have said it; my biggest and most shameful secret, and more importantly, more difficult to manage than my bipolar disorder or the generalized anxiety disorder that I have also been saddled with.
I don’t think the average person fully comprehends the severity, complexity or horror of binge eating. For starters, many binge eaters consume such gargantuan amounts of food, in one sitting, that they have to take Gravol for the subsequent nausea.
That’s been me for much of my life. I hide it. Lie about it. And even cry about it. I am the hostess who can’t wait until the main course is finished so I can eat every last scrap on everyone’s plate in the kitchen under the guise of readying the dessert. I am the same hostess that has eaten more than half of the desserts before my guests have even arrived so I learned to buy in triplicate at the bakery. And I am also the one who can easily spend $20 a day on junk food for weeks on end, which explains why my weight fluctuates wildly and my cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure are all high, too.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, has finally included binge eating among its list of psychiatric disorders. According to the DSM-5, binge eating is comprised of “consuming food faster than normal; consuming food until uncomfortably full; consuming large amounts of food when not hungry; consuming food in solitude; or feeling disgruntled, depressed or guilty after eating a large amount of food,” just like I feel after a large food orgy of my own. The DSM-5’s definition makes binge eating seem somewhat tame when compared with my humongous appetite and the ensuing self-loathing and chaos I experience; I eat volumes to stomp down the shame I feel and take Ativan to quell the ever-present chaos.
My partner learned of my binging after witnessing my behaviour for the first time at a buffet on our second date. He spotted me as I was trying to slink away from the party with a plate that looked like it was piled high with every dessert on offer and by the time he had caught up with me, I was behind the garage, sitting with the sun on my face and licking icing sugar from my lips and fingertips. Not one of my better moments to be sure, but he just looked at me and with a big grin, winked and said, “You’re busted!” He didn’t know the convoluted relationship I would have with food – since sugar is my kryptonite – or that I would face more food challenges on a regular basis.
Now fast-forward to the present day; 10 years later. Miraculously, I am still with the same man, but it has been less than an easy ride. I have made many broken promises about swearing off all junk food only to be caught red-handed pilfering in the kitchen.
My partner likes to bake, but throws away leftovers with the hope I will not gorge at midnight, as I am known to do. Within days, I discovered the desserts in the trash and began scarfing down every last morsel. And then, it was here we both entered the Twilight Zone: He discovered my nocturnal feasts and started sprinkling a kitchen cleaning powder on the desserts rendering them inedible – or so he thought. But I continued to devour these desserts after brushing off the Comet with a pastry brush. Binging brings out the crazy!
My favourite binge food is maple syrup. I like the expensive stuff, pure maple syrup, which I swig directly from the bottle sometimes consuming a whole bottle at a time. Needless to say I do not feel very good afterward. My dietitian says I choose to consume such large amounts of sugar at once because it alters my serotonin levels, but obviously this sense of well-being is extremely short-lived and I feel much worse later on, believe me.
You might ask yourself, why do I binge eat?
How did I start this grossly unhealthy compulsion more than five decades ago at the age of six? I have taken enough courses on binge eating and have undergone enough hours of therapy to know why. It stems from my father, who was abusive and frighteningly unpredictable. Pretty much the only time he was ever nice to me, in my whole childhood, was when he would buy me a milkshake on Saturday afternoons and so I started to associate love with food; an easy step for a youngster to take.
I also binge in this futile quest to be slim and beautiful; go figure. I know it’s paradoxical to get fat while dieting, but it’s because my plan backfires abysmally. I starve myself to be beautiful, but the human body can only take so much starvation before it goes berserk in its pursuit of food, at which time I eat everything in sight.
Turning 60 earlier this year had a great impact on me. It inspired me to re-evaluate my relationship with food and come to terms with the underlying issues that had led to my binging in the first place. As a result, my binges have become smaller in scale and further apart, and I am much more calm and content as a result. I am, I hope, on the mend.
Louise Dwerryhouse lives in Vancouver.