Life with Binge Eating Disorder: A Normalized College Condition

“I remember feeling all these different emotions. Shame. Sadness. Frustration. I remember wanting to die while I was stuffing muffins into my mouth in the dark.”

Last year, my friend Katie was diagnosed with Binge Eating Disorder (BED), which is a common yet relatively unknown condition as it is often overshadowed by other eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia. Since little spotlight is given to it, I wanted to converse with Katie about her experiences in order to gain more insight.

Image via The Fix

BED is the condition in which one is compelled to eat copious amounts of food, even when they do not want to. For Katie, it was as if the body had a mind of its own. She described a binge eating episode as something that she could not control. It was an out of body experience. “Whenever I had an episode, it was like a battle between my brain and the rest of my body,” she explained. “I would try to tell myself to stop eating because I knew I didn’t want the food. I knew I was getting uncomfortable, but my body would keep moving until there was no more food left.” After the episode, she would look at the remnants of the food and feel like a “monster.”  

When it came to the type of food, Katie had no preferences. She consumed anything that she saw, since “taste [did not] matter” during an episode. The main goal was to have something to chew on. For example, Katie once consumed an entire pot of white rice in one sitting “not because it was good, but because it was food.” Another more serious instance came when she ran out of her own food, and she had to steal her roommates’ snacks out of desperation. “I stole whatever I saw,” she said. “Crackers, dry cereal, I even stole a jar of peanut butter." Although she did replace everything before they had noticed, Katie was terrified of herself for committing the act.

Image via MMuffin/Metro

Although the definition of the disorder focuses mainly on eating, Katie noted that her actions, including her binge-eating episodes, were based on her mental instability and her insecurities. For example, Katie regularly went on intense diets after an episode because she was ashamed of how much she had eaten. “I would try to starve myself for days not just because I was afraid of getting fat, but because I was so mad at myself for doing it again,” she said. “I hated myself for it, and I didn’t think I deserved to eat.” After a few days, however, Katie would return to binge-eating due to pure hunger, and the cycle would start again.

Katie never wanted her friends and family to see what was happening since she felt that she was doing something wrong. Therefore, she would binge eat alone at night, when everyone in the house was asleep. “I felt like a criminal,” recalled Katie. “I kept thinking about how people would react if they saw what I was doing, and I would stuff myself as fast as I could so that I wouldn’t ‘get caught’ in the act. It was anxiety-inducing.” Because she would eat so quickly, Katie often felt bloated and uncomfortable afterwards, which made her feel self-conscious.

This anxiety and self-hatred would eventually lower her self-esteem and lead her to self-doubt, even when she didn’t binge. She constantly had “Imposter Syndrome,” in which she felt that she didn’t deserve anything or that she was not supposed to belong anywhere. “It was to the point where someone would compliment me, and a voice in my head would go, ‘but they don’t know what you have done.’ [Then], I would just feel guilty for lying to the entire world.” Katie explained. This mentality would cause her to binge even more.

Towards the end of the interview, Katie emphasized that to her, mental health is the main issue when it comes to BED. “It is listed as a psychiatric disorder, but I don’t think many people understand just how big of a role our mind plays, and just how easy it is for someone to fall into [BED], especially in college,” said Katie.

Image via Giphy

Emotional eating has become incredibly common among students, as college is often an unpredictable and stressful time. With difficult exams, uncertainty about the future, and an overall intense academic environment, it is normal for us to eat out of stress and anxiety. We have also become incredibly desensitized to the act by social media. Every meme that we relate to and every gif that we laugh at is distracting us from the severe consequences that emotional eating can bring, such as BED. It is also burying the importance of mental health and that eating when stressed or depressed is a serious issue because we are, at the end of day, stressed or depressed.

So what do we do about it? How do we prevent ourselves from developing BED or any other eating disorder? How do we treat BED if we are diagnosed with it? Katie provided a simple yet difficult solution. “The best thing to do in my opinion,” suggested Katie, “would be to get treatment for any psychological instabilities, because that is the root of everything. That is why people stress eat, and for me, that was why I eventually had binge-eating episodes. [However,] since I got diagnosed, I started going to therapy and got treatment for my mental health, and even though it’s a work in progress, I can say with full confidence that it is working.”

Binge-Eating Disorder is a lot more common than we think, and we will never know when it will pop up in our lives until it is too late. Therefore, it is important to get help and treatment for whenever we feel we need it, no matter the severity. Whether it is depression or mild stress, it is good to reach out and ask for help from friends, family or the resources at UCSB. We also need to remind ourselves that it is okay to do so when things do not feel right, since it is the lack of this knowledge that results in developing conditions such as BED.

The name of my friend has been changed to protect her privacy.