I Am a Compulsive Overeater

This post is merely an introduction to a much longer narrative.

Before I was anorexic, I was a compulsive overeater: between the ages of 12 and 16. Anorexia was my means of controlling that – a flawed solution. However, while I’ve been quite vocal about my recovery from anorexia, I’ve been fairly silent about my binging. My binge eating disorder is one of the “disowned parts” of my story and myself.

My binge eating disorder is one of the “disowned parts” of my story and myself.

And yet we’re only as sick as our secrets.

On Saturday, February 23, I attended my first Overeaters Anonymous meeting, opening a “new door” in my recovery. It became instantly clear that I need this fellowship – not just to heal past wounds, but to tend to current ones, as well. While I don’t compulsively overeat often, it happens, particularly when I find myself needing to “weight-restore.” This creates a slippery slope, as weight-gain requires extra calories, but there’s a difference between overeating compulsively and overeating consciously.

There’s a difference between overeating compulsively and overeating consciously.

When I increase my intake to restore my weight, I often become hyper-metabolic. I burn fuel at hyper-speed, as every calories goes to reviving my tired tissues and organs. I have to eat more, and the more I eat, the more my binge-eating disorder wakes up. It tells me this is an opportunity, a justified opportunity, to go nuts. And I do. Lines blur, and my recovery from anorexia becomes an enabler for my binge-eating disorder.

Lines blur, and my recovery from anorexia becomes an enabler for my binge-eating disorder.

As life would have it, these lines blurred Sunday night, 24 hours after that first OA meeting. I was too tired to leave home for dinner – too tired to take care of myself – so I gave into exhaustion and binged the contents of my fridge. I told myself my body was still hyper-metabolic from my recent weight-restoration; in reality, I abandoned myself, and I abused both my body and food in the process.

I caught myself quickly and “chose again,” shifting gears to write positive body affirmations, and yet I’m still walking the line between self-forgiveness and self-punishment. In the mind of an anorectic, binging is the ultimate failure, so I feel worse about “slipping” today than I did when I was a kid. I thought being anorexic would make me immune, forever keep me from binging – but it’s not a guarantee.

I thought being anorexic would make me immune, forever keeping me from binging.

You see, I keep my eating disorders on different levels in my mind. Anorexia is a feel-good drug, while binging is self-harm. Anorexia gets me high, while binging brings me down. Anorexia is self-punishment, while binging is self-abandonment. Both are bad for me, but I see one as “better” than the other. One is a weakness, while the other is a strength.

In the mind of an anorectic, binging is the ultimate failure.

I so wish – or my disease wishes – that I could identify fully with the anorexia and not at all with the binging. It is the anorexia that keeps me safe – or thinks it does – from my binge-eating disorder. It is the anorexia that tries to control what I do and do not identify with. “Rex” and “Bingey” are in conflict with one another, and since Rex is stronger, she often wins. But, Rex-y, you both are here; I need to tend to you both equally.

My disease is one of control: sometimes I abuse it, sometimes I lose it. It is humbling – deeply humbling – to admit that I am still powerless over food, that I still struggle with both eating disorders, and that I still qualify for Overeaters Anonymous. Why wouldn’t I? Once an addict, always an addict; I will qualify for the rest of my life.

My disease is one of control; sometimes I abuse it, sometimes I lose it.

As much as I wish my binge-eating disorder and compulsive overeating would go away by my abstaining, abstinence does not mean recovery. The reason I find myself relapsing often to both eating disorders is because I have not worked the first step of recovery. I’ve gone through years of nutrition counseling and eating disorder treatment, and yet I have not admitted that I am powerless over food.

Admitting powerlessness is the first step of every recovery program; it’s a form of surrender. To me, abstinence without surrendering is a willful act of power over food. So let me embrace the first step now:

Step 1: I admit that I am powerless over food, that my life has become unmanageable.

I took this photo to embrace this identity. I left the sentence with no period because it does not define or confine me.

I took it this photo in a public place – a university cafeteria, in fact – asking a stranger to do the honors. “Thank you,” I said. “You’re welcome,” she responded. Then, “by the way, me too.” Next her friend said, “I love your scarf!” and the three of us shared a connection.

I was scared to ask for that photo – scared it might be inappropriate – but I took the risk, and when I did, all boundaries and barriers dissipated. I see this moment as a powerful reminder that when we open up, we’re never alone.

When we open up, we’re never alone.

In closing, I would like to say that the opinions expressed here are entirely my own and may not resonate with everyone; take what you like and leave the rest. If you liked what you read here, I invite you to share it, as these messages are for all.

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