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


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