Even though my binges made me feel immensely guilty and ashamed, I rationalized my behavior by telling myself it wasn’t really that big of a deal. It was only food, I figured, not cocaine or hard liquor, and why is being fat such a bad thing anyway? But as my babies turned into preschoolers who were becoming wise to the reality that dessert was way more fun than dinner, it dawned on me that my eating disorder was no longer just about me — it was going to start affecting them, too. As their mother, I wanted to model healthy eating, moderation, eating for nourishment, and body positivity. But the truth was that all I really had to offer them was food addiction and deep-rooted self-loathing. I may not have loved myself enough to face my eating issue, but I definitely loved my children enough to look into finally getting help.
So, about a month after my 30th birthday, I put my kids to bed and typed “binge eating disorder Toronto,” in the Google search box on my phone. It wasn’t the first time I’d mulled over the idea of some kind of therapy or medical intervention, but it was the first time I’d learned that there were easily accessible options I literally had no excuse not to try. What I found was a 12-step program, similar to Alcoholics Anonymous, that purported to help people overcome their food disorders. Envisioning an actual end to what I’d long ago assumed would be a lifelong battle, I attended my first meeting that very week.
I’ve been in the program for almost eight months now, and even though I know I’ve only just begun to chip away at what I hope becomes solid, long-term recovery, the good news is that it’s already helped me a lot. I’ve managed to get a decent-enough grip on my compulsive eating. I’ve also managed to lose almost 40 pounds as a result, without trying all that hard. But, as it turns out, that’s also been the bad news. Because as much as I have always longed to lose weight, believing that this would be the real key to my happiness, the reality is that losing my extra weight just gave me a whole new set of reasons to hate my own body.
What everyone conveniently forgets to mention about losing a not-insignificant amount of weight is that your body doesn’t usually end up looking like a magically-airbrushed infomercial “after” photo. What they don’t tell you is that, between the loose skin, stretch marks, and a general “deflating” of parts that less than a year ago had been previously soft and round, a post-weight-loss body isn’t actually all it’s cracked up to be. Even in recovery, as my fellow binge-eaters and I pat each other on the back and comment on how wonderful we all look, I can’t help but feel like I’m missing the mark. Because when I glimpse my naked body in the bathroom mirror before a shower or when my mind gets distracted during sex by the way my breasts hang lower, or the way my C-section scar stands out, angry and uneven, now that my oversized belly no longer covers it, I think, is this it? Is this what I’d been dreaming of for so long?
The answer, of course, is no. As with any other kind of eating disorder or addiction, as with any kind of self-loathing mind game, the dream is never even sort of going to be the reality. The truth is that, while I may be thinner, the part of my brain that never learned how to like myself — the part of my brain that wants to abuse food — is the same part that won’t ever possibly be happy with what it sees. Not only did losing weight not swiftly solve all of my problems; it was never actually going to.
This, I’m realizing, is likely where the real recovery begins. Just like an alcoholic has to learn how to exist as the person they are when they are not hiding behind booze, I now have to learn to be a person who can withstand the pain I’ve always swifty self-medicated, the normal human emotions that have made me so uncomfortable that I needed to eat to push them away. Losing weight may have happened as a result of my eating disorder recovery, but it’s not what’s going to heal me. Now it’s time to finally learn how to accept my body, however it looks. And while that may be a daunting (and very long-overdue) task, it’s one that I finally feel prepared to start working towards.