Eating Disorder Awareness Week: Charlie’s story
‘We need psychological help, not a lecture on healthy eating’
TW: Discussion of eating disorder behaviour
This account has been provided anonymously by a student at Lancaster University who suffers from Binge Eating Disorder. Charlie* has bravely chosen to tell their story on what suffering from an eating disorder is like at university.
I suffer from Binge Eating Disorder (BED). The Mayo Clinic says that BED is a serious eating disorder where someone has a compulsion to overeat large quantities of food regularly and feel unable to stop eating. The difference between this and bulimia is that bulimics tend to purge their food after a binge or exercise excessively, while BED sufferers don’t do this, and the food remains in the body.
‘I’ve had a toxic relationship with food since six years old’
I’ve been like this for years. My parents would use food as a way to distract themselves from parenting me, and I grew to learn that a couple of bags of crisps could subdue my feelings or that a tub of Ben and Jerry’s could help my sadness at being alone. It sucks. I’ve had a toxic relationship with food since six years old as a result.
Sure, everyone overeats sometimes. You do it at Christmas or on birthdays, etc. BED is different – it’s where, for me, I overeat excessively, sometimes rapidly in short periods of an hour or two, in a way that feels out of control and is a regular occurrence, even if I’m not hungry or I’m already full. There’s always regret and guilt after a binge when you see the empty wrappers and think, “Fuck, I can’t believe I ate all of that. I’m disgusting”, but a few days or weeks later, you’re doing it again.
‘I can never feel whole’
I’ve eaten so much that I’ve thrown up and then gone right back to continuing to eat on more than one occasion. No matter how much I try to fill the emptiness I feel inside, I can never feel whole. One of my biggest binges ended up with me consuming roughly 10,000 calories in one day. That’s a crazy number, but many people deal with similar thoughts and binging cycles as I do.
Lockdown was the worst. I struggled with the loneliness and isolation that many students faced in the online learning environment. Being on campus meant I had access to a range of new food places. I would go to Alex Square almost daily to stock up what would be a normal person’s weekly treats in Spar or Gregg’s, hide away in my room and then eat that in a day. I hated my body. I gained 60 pounds in four months – a dangerous weight gain, but I didn’t care. Food stops me from self-harming, and if it’s at the expense of my health, then so be it.
‘I feel even more guilt and shame for not stopping’
As a bigger student, the biggest struggle is that people raise eyebrows if I say I have an eating disorder. How could a fat person possibly have an eating disorder? It’s harder to gain help from GPs when you’re fat and struggling, and I wish more people were sympathetic about it. I want help, but it feels like help won’t come until I lose weight. Yet, how can I lose weight with this eating disorder and have no idea how to combat it? It’s a Catch 22, and the stereotypes of fat people make me sick!
Saying that you have an eating disorder as a fat person comes with more negative comments than positive ones. “You just need to eat healthier”, “Why don’t you come to the gym with me?” or even “have you tried meditation?” and loads more have been said to me over the years. I hate it. You don’t help me or anyone else who suffers from this by making these suggestions. People actually cause more harm by saying these things because I feel even more guilt and shame for not stopping.
‘Obesity is like a disease’
It’s hard – it’s like an addiction, and positive thoughts and vibes aren’t going to fix it. People always assume that being obese is a choice, but it’s so much more. It can be medication, hormonal issues, even steroids for cancer treatments cause weight gain. Obesity is like a disease. It is so hard to overcome, and being looked down on for having an eating disorder that means I overeat and gain weight is awful. Yet, if we try to help our eating disorder with surgery, we’re told it’s not right, or we’re taking an “easy way out”.
I can’t even go to my GP and discuss it without suggesting diet and exercise like I haven’t tried for years. People’s stereotypes against those who suffer from eating disorders that don’t turn them anorexic are disgusting. We need psychological help, not a lecture on healthy eating.
I’m not alone in this situation. The Priory Group states that between 1.25 and 3.4 million people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder, with 25 per cent of those stats being male. This number may be greater with the pandemic and lockdown, but people struggle to go to a GP and get help. There’s still shame around having an eating disorder – like you should be able to control food, but you can’t, so you’re a failure.
*Name changed to protect student’s identity.
If anyone who has read Charlie’s story thinks that they suffer from an eating disorder and want help, don’t hesitate to get in touch with your GP.
You can also talk in confidence to an adviser from the eating disorders charity, Beat, by calling its adult helpline on 0808 801 0677.