In 2013, Binge Eating Disorder was added to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5)—thirty-six years after I found myself sitting on the floor of a dark basement, leaning up against a chest freezer, eating a case of frozen Twinkies—my shameful secret.
My first memory of hiding food was when I was 8 years old. I took sugar and creamer packets from a table at a restaurant and hid them in my pocket. When I was able to be alone, I poured them in my mouth, right out of the packets. Looking back, it now makes sense to me that I was managing my anxiety with sugar. We had just moved to a new town and a new school. It was a difficult time for me.
When I was 15, I joined Weight Watchers. I weighed and measured everything; I even ate the liver that was required weekly on the program back then. I got lots of compliments for my weight loss, but I felt anxious, like I was just barely hanging on. I remember eating out with my family when I realized that I had gone over my allowed servings for that day. I started crying but everyone said I was being ridiculous. That diet triggered what came next: a cycle that is now called Binge Eating Disorder.
The binges were so humiliating and destructive that I never told anyone. Obsessed with obtaining food, replacing food, lying about missing food, experiencing abdominal distress and self-loathing occupied my secret self. Oh, the stories I can now tell….
One such story: My mother was making cinnamon rolls. She’d rolled up the dough filled with butter, brown sugar and nuts, cut them, and placed them in a pan to rise on top of a warm stove. She left the house and I was alone with the uncooked rolls. I remember eating a bunch—maybe a small pan of them. I was stuffed and miserable. My stomach started churning and I started burping up gas from the yeast in the raw dough. I was panicked. I was so sick. I began vomiting and having diarrhea. I just climbed into the bathtub and cried. This is such an embarrassing story! I still can’t eat cinnamon rolls to this day. I don’t know if anyone ever knew why I was sick but they never asked about the rolls.
For nearly 15 years I weight cycled, a pattern of dieting and bingeing that I would later recognize in many of my clients. I thought my body defined me—and I was at war with it. I was an athlete and had a degree in Exercise Physiology and a successful career in the fitness and nutrition industry—which made my secret even more humiliating.
After inpatient treatment for what was diagnosed as “non-purging bulimia” back then, I returned to college for a master’s degree in counseling and continued my personal journey of healing. Afterward, I launched a twenty-year career in eating disorder treatment. I had studied and utilized mindfulness-based therapies in my practice, and I was looking for a model for my clients that would apply specifically to binge eating. After becoming a Facilitator for the Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs, I participated in an Am I Hungry? Eat Mindfully, Live Vibrantly Retreat with Dr. Michelle May.
What I sought out professionally began to help me personally. Despite full recovery from binge eating and two decades of working as an eating disorder therapist, my bookshelves were still filled with self-help diet plans and cookbooks. That is until I read Michelle’s book, Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: A Mindful Eating Program to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle. This approach completely freed me from my own Restrictive Eating Cycle. I now have confidence in my own food choices and treat my body with love and kindness without looking for answers outside of myself.
The Mindful Eating Cycle Michelle described in her book served as the perfect framework for the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating for Binge Eating Program that we co-created. For my doctorate program, we conducted a pilot research study and the results were astounding! In ten-weeks on the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating for Binge Eating program, the participants score on the Binge Eating Scale went from severe bingeing to non-bingeing.
That inspired us to publish Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Binge Eating and we are now offering Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating for Binge Eating Retreats and Therapist Training . It has been a long journey but I am grateful that this journey made it possible to help others heal their relationship with food and their body too!
Kari Anderson, DBH, LPC