Aftermath of A Childhood Eating Disorder: Habits We Didn’t Consciously Choose

Content heads up: this post discusses Binge Eating Disorder and Intuitive Eating. If reading this type of stuff isn’t your thing, I recommend skipping this post. I’m sharing my own processing here. Take me with a grain of salt.

If you’ve been around for a while you probably know I talk a lot about conscious habit cultivation. In this post I want to talk about some habits that were unconsciously formed as a result of a childhood eating disorder.

In 2013, binge eating disorder (BED) was officially recognized as a formal diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) published by the American Psychiatric Association.

I had binge eating disorder as a child. I recall binge eating in secret as early as 1991, before it was an official diagnosis. Before any resources would have been available to my parents for treatment.

I experienced several of the environmental risk factors for binge eating disorder:

  • Restrictive eating patterns
  • Experiences of weight stigma, weight-related discrimination, and bullying
  • Problems with family or other significant relationships.

And so I formed some habits related to binge eating disorder around the age of 9 years old:

  • Eating large amounts of food when not physically hungry
  • Eating alone out of embarrassment over quantity eaten
  • Feeling disgusted, depressed, ashamed, or guilty after overeating

Since nobody knew much about binge eating disorder when I was a child, I was never treated for it, and I just sort of….grew out of it as I got older. My parents stopped commenting and pressuring me about my weight, and I started taking an interest in my own weight, and the distress and shame and the need for the binge eating related habits dissipated.

But not all of the habits themselves did.

Now, as an adult, even though I have made leaps and bounds in healing my relationship with food and my body, I am starting to notice that old habits do indeed tend to die hard.

Right now I am working on becoming more mindful in my eating, asking myself to name the reason behind wanting to eat (be it hunger, stress, habit, boredom, or something else). And sometimes, I am finding there is no real reason behind what I am doing, other than the fact that I have done it for many years and it is as automatic as brushing my teeth or taking off my glasses before I go to bed. I take seconds at meals because it feels more natural to do so than not to do so. If I am not physically hungry, and I decide not to take seconds, it is a conscious decision. Taking seconds feels far more automatic. I reach for food as a stress reliever at night because it feels more natural than reaching for anything else. Deciding to do something else feels far less natural.

Research shows it takes anywhere from 18 to 254 days to solidify a new habit. If I recall having binge eating behaviors as early as 1991, that is…..25 years, 6 months, and some days (at least 9324 days!).  Those are some very long-solidified habits! That really puts it in perspective for me. Even if the need for these habits are gone, some of the behaviors are still habitual and will take some time before doing something else feels natural.

Thankfully I’ve cultivated some patience over the last couple years. Looks like I may need it!

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