Research over the last five years has found that binge eating disorder is actually twice as common as anorexia and bulimia combined in women of all backgrounds and ages, including teens. I was one of them.
In high school, I’d skip lunch just like the other girls or pick at fries when we’d congregate at McDonald’s. But when my parents started fighting–and ultimately, talking divorce–a puzzling, frenzied pattern of eating started to emerge. At 14, I sat on top of our German shepherd’s doghouse in the middle of the night, a can of frozen orange juice concentrate in one hand, a spoon in the other, crying and scooping the syrupy stuff into my mouth until it was almost gone. At 15–alone a lot, with my father out of the house and my mother working more than one job I ordered and ate two small pizzas the night I broke up with my first boyfriend.
Soon I was sneaking into the kitchen almost every night–praying my mom wouldn’t hear the wooden floors creak– to eat three, four, five pieces of bread with butter and peanut butter or to nuke a huge plate of chips and cheese for makeshift nachos. When I babysat my neighbors’ kids, or cleaned their houses for extra cash, I spent half the time rifling through their cupboards, stealing their kids’ Little Debbie snacks and potato chips.
I thought I was a pig, and a freak, because I couldn’t stop this weird, secret, uncontrollable eating. I started wearing big, baggy sweaters or sweatshirts over leggings to hide what I thought was an unacceptably fat body.
When I ate seven candy bars in a row one afternoon, I knew there was something desperately wrong. That’s when my mom sent me to Mitch, the family counselor both she and my dad had been seeing throughout their divorce. He gave a name to what I had been doing: compulsive overeating–what’s now also known as binge eating disorder–and he gave me a book to read, Feeding the Hungry Heart, by Geneen Roth.
While it was one of the most important things I’ve ever read, the true beginning of my recovery, it was meant for grown ups. Women with kids. Married women. I couldn’t fully relate to the people in the book. That’s one reason I started HealthyGirl,org, to be a resource for teens and young women who want to stop overeating.
Today, I’m no longer binge eating. I’m a deputy editor at Redbook magazine in New York City, and am at a healthy and stable weight. After years of hating myself, hating my body, and abusing it with way too much food, I’m finally healthy and happy. I want you to be, too!