Jazz Jennings Gets Real About Binge Eating — Here's What You Need To Know About The Disorder

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* trigger warning: eating disorders

I remember the first time I binged like it was yesterday. It was thirty years ago. I’d suffered from anorexia for over a year, only allowing myself 1,200 calories a day — something I’d count over and over and over — and I’d exercise for an hour and a half.

I’d stopped having my periods, my hair was falling out, and I was always falling asleep in class.

What started out as trying to lose a few pounds after I hit puberty, quit all sports, and gained forty pounds in one summer after getting my hips and boobs, turned into an obsession with thinness.

While I was only eating rice and vegetables, I was always hungry and food became the only thing I thought about.

I’d have dreams where I was eating whatever I wanted. I pored through food magazines and would have fantasies about eating.

I was so hungry, I started taking sleeping pills (without my parents knowing) just so I could sleep at night.

Then, one night I came home from a basketball game and my parents were asleep. My father had just made a fresh batch of blueberry jelly and there were twelve cans of it on the counter. I thought I’d have some with a piece of bread. After all, jelly was fat-free, and this was light bread — so I’d have a half of a piece then hopefully be able to sleep.

Something happened to me that night: I felt like I’d left my body and I was floating over myself watching. Within a half hour, I’d eaten a loaf of bread and two jars of jelly.

I went to bed hating myself and vowed I wouldn’t eat anything the next day to make up for it.

I made it until dinner time because I knew how closely my parents were watching me, so I ate with them.

Then, after dinner the same thing happened — I ate an entire box of dry cereal. The entire time, I felt like I had no control.

The binging and hating myself was a vicious cycle that lasted for years. It became a ritual, something I did when no one was around. I’d usually sit on the kitchen floor in the dark.

Before I was going to binge, I knew I was going to do it. I also felt like there was nothing I could do to stop myself.

That was in the early ‘90s and I literally didn’t know what binge eating was. I’d try to make myself sick, but I could never go through with it.

Binge eating, also known as compulsive eating, is when you eat lots of food in a short amount of time and feel like you can’t control it at all.

This is very different from having a craving, or raging PMS, and eating a whole bag of chips in one sitting.

According to NIDDK, “If you binge eat regularly—at least once a week for 3 months, you may have binge eating disorder.”

After you binge you are filled with regret and shame, yet you can’t seem to break the cycle.

Binge eating is different from bulimia in that you don’t purge the food. It is also the most common eating disorder among the U.S. NIDDK reports, “About 3.5 percent of adult women and 2 percent of adult men have binge eating disorder. For men, binge eating disorder is most common in midlife, between the ages of 45 to 59.”

Jazz Jennings, a 20-year-old transgender activist, recently opened up about her binge-eating on her Instagram saying, “I suffer from binge-eating disorder, a disease in which I’m not only addicted to food, but I eat it in large quantities,” Jennings continued. “My binging, along with an increased appetite I experience from some of the meds I’m on, has caused me to gain almost 100 lbs. in a little less than 2 years. I’m posting this photo because it’s time for me to address my weight gain and hold myself accountable.”

It’s such a brave thing to address so publicly and I only wish there had been this kind of dialogue around the eating disorder when I was younger. I know this post, and the fact that so many outlets are covering it, is going to help so many people feel like they aren’t alone.

“Binge eating can occur in people of average body weight but is more common in people with obesity, particularly severe obesity. However, it is important to note that most people with obesity do not have binge eating disorder,” according to NIDDK.

It’s important to realize how dangerous binge eating really is. In fact, according to the National Eating Disorders Association, it can be life-threatening.

People who suffer from binge eating are often uncomfortable eating around others, always seem to be on a diet, show signs of depression and be highly critical of themselves, and will have lots of weight fluctuations.

If you are living with someone who has suffered from binge eating, you will notice large quantities of food are missing in a very short period of time.

I always binged at night when my parents were in bed and they would always comment about the missing food. After too many close calls, I started buying my own food and binging outside of my house so I could get rid of the food wrappers.

Binge eating is an addiction. It wasn’t until after I had therapy that I realized how severe my problem was. It also felt like a loss after I stopped binging. In a strange way, I looked forward to my time alone with food.

It is very treatable and a full recovery is absolutely possible — I haven’t binged in 25 years.

First, talk to your doctor if you think you or a loved one has a binge eating disorder. They will be able to refer you to a mental health professional who can help. This is helpful because, “Treatment may include therapy to help you change your eating habits, as well as thoughts and feelings that may lead to binge eating and other psychological symptoms,” says NIDDK.

My therapy helped me be aware of my triggers. I threw away the scale and stopped trying to go long periods of time without eating, which were the two biggest things that made me want to binge.

The National Eating Disorder Association has a list of great resources and help — whether you are suffering yourself, think you have a child with Binge Eating Disorder, or you are having a relapse.

The most important thing to realize is there is help and support out there and you don’t have to go through this alone.