Confessions of a Binge Eater
One bite called for another, but she craved the wrong thing.
by Jeannie Moore
One night while I watched TV with my twelve-year-old daughter, Joanna, an actress appeared on the screen. She was about my age, with a slender body and beautiful long, brown hair. As she applied suntan oil, the young woman showed off a two-piece swim suit. I envied her.
Joanna interrupted my thoughts. “Mom, once you could wear a bathing suit like that. What’s happened to you? I worry about the weight you’ve put on. You could have a heart attack!”
I sat there, stunned and unable to speak. Joanna and I both knew what my problem was. Glancing at the big bag of potato chips I had just devoured, as well as a half-gallon of strawberry ice cream and several candy bars, I sank in shame. At 5’4″ and 200 pounds, I was fat.
“Why can’t I control myself?” I asked as tears flowed down my cheeks. I’d been a beautiful woman with a slim figure. Now I had ballooned to a size 24.
“Mom, where are the potato chips we bought last night?” my older daughter, Jennifer, asked as she entered the house. Sadly, I had to tell her that I’d finished off the bag — something I did often. I couldn’t eat just one chip; I consumed a whole bag in less than an hour. I did the same thing with ice cream. After one or two dips, I ate the whole container. I also hid candy bars, cookies, and brownies in dresser drawers, closets, and upper cabinets.
Many times I waited until Joanna and Jennifer left for school before I started gorging. If I became stressed, depressed, or angry, I ate more and more. I thought I was hiding the problem from my daughters but realized now that my behavior was hurting them as well as me.
Learning the truth
One day they confronted me about my eating problems and asked me to see a doctor.
At first, I struggled to admit my problem; but the love of my daughters encouraged me to reach out for the help I needed. They went with me to see a Christian counselor, Dr. Ingegneri.
After some testing and a couple of sessions, Dr. Ingegneri told me the truth: “You are a binge eater. It’s like being an alcoholic, except it involves food.”
He discussed health risks associated with binge eating, such as heart attacks, high blood pressure, diabetes, and strokes. This alarmed me because I was a single parent. What would happen to my children if I died?
To pull me back where I needed to be, Dr. Ingegneri suggested a low-fat diet, exercise, and prayer.
Admitting the truth
When my daughters heard what the doctor said, they removed all junk food from the house. We bought lots of fresh vegetables and fruit. Joanna offered to give up fast foods to help me recover from binge eating.
This was the easy part. The first and toughest step in my recovery was admitting my problem. I struggled to go to my church and say, “I need your help and prayers,” but members there showered me with hugs and shared words of encouragement. I called my mom and asked her to pray for me, too.
Beyond this, Dr. Ingegneri encouraged me to go to Oklahoma to visit my family and reveal my eating problem to my parents. To my delight, I received their support, not rejection. Mom and I hugged each other and cried.
As I allowed God to speak to me through my daily Bible reading and prayer, I realized binge eating is gluttony and that it was sin to keep overeating. Still, God showed me that I was the apple of His eye and that He loved me the way I was.
I read in the Bible that we should serve only one master (Matthew 6:24) and understood that binge eating is like serving two gods: God and my stomach. Because of something else I read — that we shouldn’t worry about what we eat (v. 33) — I learned to let God direct me in developing healthier eating habits.
Understanding the past
For six months as I prayed and sought Dr. Ingegneri’s counseling, I began to understand why I had this condition. As a child I was often hit if I stayed very long at the table during meals. The verbal fights among my family during meal times hurt me emotionally. I learned to eat so fast, I didn’t actually taste what I ate.
Besides verbal fighting, my brothers slapped me whenever they wanted to, and my parents didn’t correct them. I often hid food in various places so I could avoid eating at the table.
I hated the friction in my family. No one noticed my unhappiness or the way I ate. At times I felt I could curl up and die and that no one would miss me.
As I grew into a teenager, I suffered from low-self-esteem due to the verbal abuse at home. I did not believe I was pretty when I looked in a mirror; the image was not real to me.
A cousin introduced me a Navy man, and I married him during my senior year in high school. Five years later I was divorced with a two-year-old daughter, Jennifer.
Seeds of anger
Fourteen years later, I married again and had another girl, Joanna. Unfortunately, my inability to love myself made for another disastrous marriage. My second husband mistreated me much like my brothers had when I lived at home. When I realized I couldn’t have a healthy marriage, my self-esteem dropped even lower, and I grew to hate myself.
Wanting more out of life, I started attending college when Joanna was only a year old. I successfully obtained a degree in psychology and landed a job in which I cared for two mentally and physically handicapped girls. It didn’t last long. During a training session, the physical therapist used me during a demonstration without my permission or foreknowledge. She threw me on a large ball used to stretch the limbs of the girls. Hitting the ball damaged the muscles from my neck to my tailbone.
Realizing I now couldn’t work after obtaining my degree, I grew angry about life.
Emotional and physical decline
Once again I married, this time to a so-called Christian and well-respected leader in the community. I also obtained a job teaching psychology at a college near my hometown. Joanna attended school, and Jennifer worked when she could. One day Joanna told me that my husband was verbally abusing her. My heart broke as I recalled the abuse in my childhood, and I immediately left him.
The stress drained me, and my body succumbed to a strep infection and rheumatic fever. For several weeks I was in and out of the hospital. During my slow recovery I developed rheumatism. Both my marriages had failed, and now my health failed.
My life seemed to have no purpose. One night I wandered into the kitchen and reached for the ice cream. I started with a small portion, then helped myself to more. Before I knew it, I had eaten the whole container. I discovered that eating made me forget my troubles for a while.
The next night I did the same. Soon I was gobbling up anything I could get my hands on until I felt sick.
What’s wrong with me? I asked myself. Why am I doing this? As months passed, I ate only small portions during the day, but at night I ate whatever I wanted. My weight climbed: 140 . . . 150 . . . 160. . . .
During my counseling sessions, I learned that binge eating can spring out of anger toward others or toward God. For me, it was a way to shake my fist at God for letting me live and love in a world of disappointment and for letting me get hurt on my job. It was a way to express anger that no one — including God — seemed to care for me.
Dr. Ingegneri showed me that forgiveness was an important part of my recovery. I needed to chew on the truths of the Bible instead of on food. I needed to pray so I could build my faith and lean on God instead of cramming food down my mouth.
I kept a journal, writing down everything I ate and why I was eating. For my information only, this journal helped me take positive steps in my recovery. I set short-term goals for myself: to walk a mile at first, then two, and to exercise.. If I accomplished the goal, I rewarded myself with little things like a new book, bubble bath, or movie.
Slowly, the pounds melted off. After six months, I stepped on the scales and saw them register 140 pounds. I was elated! Best of all was the pride in my daughters’ eyes. Their support had made all the difference.
One day I ran into Charles, my first boyfriend as a teenager, and started dating him. A few months later when he proposed, my newfound confidence told me I’d finally met, and wanted to keep, the right man. We married two years ago.
Today I am a healthy 165 pounds. I stay fit by eating right and walking two miles a day. More important, I’m closer to God. While I’ve reduced my physical size, my spiritual size has enlarged, thanks to the Creator who taught me how to depend on Him to help myself.