U.S. portion sizes

When I got home from Guatemala, my first meal was at the Five Guys inside the airport terminal. I ate a fatty cheeseburger with fries so greasy the entire bag was soaked. I felt disgusting. The joy of eating in the United States was lost with how sick and queasy my stomach felt. Despite this discomfort, I bought a strawberry lemonade and a slice of iced lemon pound cake. I finished both and hated myself more. The worst part is that even with my intense fullness, I felt tempted by every restaurant I saw while walking to my gate. This is a feeling I would experience for months and months to come, until present day. The feeling of being ridiculously full yet still interested in more food. During the last few weeks of summer, I ate out at all my favorite restaurants and completely finished every meal I purchased in one sitting. Rather than stopping when my body signaled to me that it was full, I ate quickly and always cleared my plate. I remember a few of these instances vividly. One lunch at a restaurant in Florida consisted of a cheeseburger with a fried egg and a side of fries. I don’t even want to think about how many calories i put into my body in just minutes. Calories that it definitely did not need. Another weekend was a family event in Ohio with buffet meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I ate enough food at each meal to last me over a full day. Before sophomore year, I went on a 5-day backpacking trip. On that trip, I actually burned enough calories to eat the amount of food I was enjoying that summer. I experienced doing consistent exercise and eating nutritious foods. We brought broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, cauliflower, beans, hummus, peanut butter, oatmeal, kiwi, oranges, apples, nuts, raisins, cheese, rice, and other delicious foods. This experience showed me what it meant to exercise, eat healthy, and feel lively. Maybe TMI but my poop was regular and healthy and my muscles grew stronger. Every time I ate I felt hungry and then was able to satisfy myself. With the exception of this trip, this summer was the beginning of a long period of constant weight gain from overeating. Sophomore year began and it only got worse. The story continues. In the meantime, feel free to contact me at bingerecovery11@gmail.com.

The first triggers

After my first year of college, I went on a seven and a half week summer program to learn ethnographic research methods in Guatemala. Since I went to college in the same city I grew up in, I had never been away from home for more than two weeks at a time. With a lot of courage and an overstuffed backpack, I walked off the plane in Guatemala City to start a life-changing study abroad program. A few days before I left, my appetite plummeted. I was so nervous to leave for such a long time that I could not stomach food. When I arrived in Guatemala, the nerves followed me and I did not eat much for my first weekend. When I started to feel hunger again, I struggled with the tastes of the flavors I was not accustomed to. I started to feel hungry without access to foods that did not make me gag. It was not that the food was bad, but that a combination of physical and emotional reactions to my new environment would not allow me to eat much of what was graciously given to me. After experiencing falling asleep on an empty stomach multiple nights in a row, I decided I needed to make sure I was well-fed when I had the chance. I started to overeat foods I did like to compensate for future meals in which I might not get enough. Thus, the dangerous habits began. I felt stuffed at times and empty at other times. As time went on and homesickness hit me hard, it only got worse. My only food comforts from home were a small bag of goldfish and eight Reese’s peanut butter cups. These were gone within the first week. I began to use food as a source of happiness when homesickness made me sad. I looked forward to meals more than anything else and felt extreme anxiety after taking my last bite of each breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I found excuses to go to a local restaurant where I would buy muffins, pizza, crepes, sandwiches, smoothies, and cookies. I found a local bakery where I stocked up on banana muffins whenever I could. I stopped at convenience stores and purchased packaged cookies and chocolate bars. I asked friends to get ice cream with me at the local ice cream shop. I ate and ate and overate. I did not recognize what was happening at this point. Because I had been skinny my entire life, weight gain was never something I worried about. My metabolism was still functioning at a similar level to when I was a child and so the results from these new eating habits were slow to affect the size and shape of my body. A few days before I left to go home was my 19th birthday. On my 19th birthday, I ate: four pancakes with syrup, two scrambled eggs, two banana muffins, chicken and rice soup with half an avocado, three corn tortillas, half of a loaf of white bread, one chocolate bar, a bottle of Sprite, four potato tacos, and three pastries. With the exception of a short walk to purchase the loaf of bread, I remained relatively sedentary in my homestay throughout the entire day. Before I began college, I weighed 107 pounds. When I got home from Guatemala, I weighed 117 pounds. My first giant mistake was reacting badly to how much I weighed. I ate poorly in Guatemala but it is extremely possible that I gained some of those ten pounds sometime during my first year in college and not abroad. I had not weighed myself between those two measurements. Guatemala was hard: I missed my parents, my boyfriend and I broke up during my first week gone, my research project was challenging, and the language barrier stifled the expression of my true personality. I cannot talk about my experience with Binge Eating Disorder without talking about Guatemala because my first binges were there. More of the story to come. Feel free to contact me at bingerecovery11@gmail.com.

Disfrutar la frutilla

History was never my best subject in school. I zoned out during lectures and could never force myself to finish the assigned readings. Still, I remember random tidbits of information that were drilled into me. For example, I know that the Battle of Saratoga is considered the turning point of the American Revolutionary War. If you asked me to explain why, I would probably mumble something about the French and then quickly change the subject. Despite my lack of historical expertise, I am quite taken with the concept of a turning point. A turning point is a moment in which a person’s direction changes. Their path takes on new scenery. I experienced a turning point yesterday when I experienced something incredible. Let me rewind a little bit. About seventeen months ago, I started struggling with Binge Eating Disorder. I didn’t have the words for my disorder until eight months ago, but I have learned so much since then. I am an undergraduate student from the United States studying abroad in Ecuador this semester. In my psychology course (sicología: sexualidad y atracción), we did an exercise in mindfulness. My professor gave every student a strawberry and asked us to sit comfortably in our seats. With her guidance, we began to breathe deeply and relax our muscles. We felt the state of our bodies and minds and slowed down our breathing. She asked us to pick up our strawberry and feel its texture. With my fingers, I twirled the strawberry slowly and took note of the way it felt on my skin. I noticed the tiny bumps resulting from its seeds, the unique shape of my own strawberry, and the difference between the body and the leaves. She then asked us to rub the strawberry and hold it near our ear to hear its sounds. I acknowledged the way my hand moving against its solid form created a soft sound that I could only hear because of its closeness to my ear. She asked us to smell the strawberry. I brought it close to my nose and breathed deeply. It was so lovely. The smell was pleasurable without even tasting it. She asked us to bring the strawberry to our lips and feel with our mouths the texture of this delightful fruit. Finally, she gave us the green light to eat the strawberry. I took small bites, relishing each one, maximizing the amount of area in my mouth that the bite reached, chewing slowly to truly enjoy the experience. I must have taken at least ten bites before the strawberry was gone, beginning the process of digestion inside my own body. After this exercise, I began to reflect. The purpose was to serve as an analogy to a lesson in sexuality we were discussing, but I related it to my battle with eating. What if I ate every food with the intent to truly enjoy it? What if I slowed down, breathed, and focused on the present moment in my life? How might things be different? With food, if I slowed down, I bet I would not binge the way that I have before. Many of my binges could be characterized by the intense speed by which I literally stuffed my mouth with food. I want this experience to be a turning point. I want to slow down and employ mindfulness. Even more, I want to talk about my struggle. I hope that by writing about my experiences, I can help my own recovery process while also helping others in their own recovery processes. I already have a long story to tell and my recovery is a future life-long journey of working towards health and happiness. Disfrutar la frutilla translates as “to enjoy the strawberry.” Let’s slow down, enjoy the strawberry, and regain a sense of self-worth and contentedness that we have lost somewhere along the way. Feel free to contact me at bingerecovery11@gmail.com.