Confessions of a Borderline Binge Eater
My Wake-Up Call
Last week I went out for Mexican food. One basket of chips, a cup of salsa, three margaritas, a bowl of guacamole, a steak burrito covered in sour cream, and a side order of rice and beans later, I wanted to vomit. I held my protruding stomach and looked up in pain at my boyfriend, who patted my belly and laughed. "You did it again," he said.
I didn't laugh. I felt fat, out of control.
My parents always said I had the appetite of a truck driver. And I do -- I can eat and eat...then realize I'm about to get violently ill. I remember vacationing at a beach house with my family when I was 6 years old. After dinner, I sneaked to the fridge and ate an entire jar of dill pickles. At 2 a.m. my mom was cleaning vomit off my bunk bed. It's as if I lacked the brain mechanism to tell me I was full.
If you look at me -- five foot eight and 145 pounds -- you wouldn't guess I was a binge eater. Maybe I'm blessed with a good metabolism, or I stay active enough with running and biking that the extra calories don't affect me too much. Either way, I know that what I do isn't normal -- and it definitely isn't healthy. And if statistics bear out, it will eventually make me overweight.
Shortly after the episode in the Mexican restaurant, I decided it was past time to address my bingeing. First stop: health journals. According to a Harvard Medical School study, 3.5 percent of American women have binge-eating disorder (BED). The name sounds an awful lot like what I do, but by the clinical definition -- "eating larger amounts of food than normal during a two-hour period at least twice a week for six months" -- I don't qualify. (Mine is more of a 30-minute, four times a month habit.) Then why do I still feel like I have a problem?
Seeking clarification, I called Martin Binks, PhD, the director of behavioral health and research at the Duke Diet and Fitness Center in Durham, North Carolina. "Just because you don't meet the diagnostic criteria doesn't mean you don't suffer," Binks assured me. "There's an eating continuum -- varying levels of eating 'discontrol.' Regular mini binges, for example [hundreds instead of thousands of extra calories a day] eventually add up, and the psychological and health damage may be even greater."
I think back to nights when I've been full from dinner but still managed to wolf down seven or eight Oreos. Or lunches when I've eaten my sandwich in record time -- then moved on to the chips on my friend's plate. I cringe. Living on the verge of an eating disorder is a tricky place to find yourself. On the one hand, I'm pretty open about it with friends. When I order another hot dog after devouring my first two, it becomes a joke: "Where are you putting that one, your big toe?" We have a good laugh, and then they dot their lips with napkins while I continue chowing down. On the other hand, there are lonely moments when I'm terrified that if I can't control something as basic as eating, how am I supposed to control other aspects of adulthood, like paying down a mortgage and raising children? (Neither of which I've yet to attempt.)
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