TRIGGER WARNING: THIS POST WILL SPEAK ABOUT DISORDERED EATING BEHAVIOR AND COULD POTENTIALLY BE TRIGGERING. PLEASE ONLY CONSIDER READING FURTHER IF YOU FEEL STABLE ENOUGH.
I’m generally very interested in EVERYTHING that has to do with the brain. I love to do pre-clinical research. I am highly interested in the neuroscience of eating behavior, energy expenditure, and affective disorders. But there is another, very personal side to the story. And it has its origin very early in my life.
How it All Started
As a kid, I was always a little bit heavier (but never obese) and never lost my baby weight even though I did a lot of sports (was never good at sports though, but that didn’t stop me!). I never had a normal relationship with food. I think I was about 6, 7 years old when I started with binge-eating. Maybe it was even earlier, but I can’t recall that. When my parents were leaving our home for a moment, I would directly sneak into the storage room to ‘steal’ some sweets. If no sweets were available, I would eat nutella, sprinkles, cocoa powder instead. Of course my parents noticed the missing things, but I lied about it. Eventually, I figured out how to eat ‘just the right amount’ of everything and leave everything exactly in the same place, the door in the same position, so they wouldn’t notice. It was sick!
Whenever friends were coming over (or I was going to their place) I would convince them to go to the supermarket and spend out pocket money on sweets. Little did I know, that that was not normal. Little did I know that that was already bingeing behavior. And other than my friends, I didn’t really know when to stop eating. Even though I was a child, I would still end up eating a full bag of gummy bears, chips, a bar of chocolate, and a box of cookies IN ONE SITTING. Even if my stomach started to hurt, I would continue eating after a short break. I wouldn’t stop until the opened packages were finished. This continued throughout my whole childhood and adolescence up until early adulthood. In puberty, secondary triggers, like bullying intensified my problems.
Binge Eating Disorder
Something I never heard about up until maybe 4-5 years ago (also because no one ever talked about it! Back then, eating disorders were a big NO-NO). I never considered my eating behavior as ‘disordered’ until then. I thought, I just eat more than other people. In my eyes (and my understanding back then) eating disorders were only anorexia and bulimia. I thought, only too skinny people have an eating disorder. I thought, my eating disorder was not a ‘real’, because I was not purging after my binge eating sessions like people suffering from bulimia do.
Lack of Self-Control?
Of course I tried to change something about it. I seeked for therapy. I tried diets. I tried substituting the candy with healthy alternatives. It would all end up in me going to the supermarket and buying a huge shopping cart full of cake, cookies, and candy, and eating it all as if I was controlled remotely. I totally distanced myself from that situation. It felt like I was watching it from the outside. Until the moment of regret kicked in, when I finished my whole purchase. One of the major problems was, that this didn’t only happen every now and then. I think it peaked around age 22-23 when I did that almost every day.
At some point I started counting calories, and it went great for a couple of months. I looked healthier than ever before. Until it felt especially rewarding to eat as little calories as possible. Until I was weighing myself every day a couple of times. Even before and after using the toilet. I lost quite a lot of weight, but I was still in a normal range. What increased, were my cravings. And my bingeing came back stronger than ever before. My weight fluctuated +/- 24 kg when I was age 18-24.
As a Scientist, I Should Know Better, Right?
THIS. This made me feel really bad. Over the years I read and learned a lot about nutrition and eating disorders. But I can tell you, knowledge does not always translate into adequate behavior. I was feeling extremely bad about my ‘lack of self-control’ and my too impulsive behavior. And I think feeling so bad about it made it even worse. Until I finally realized, that I was sick. That something was not controlled right in my body and brain. Until I realized, that my goal should be to heal my body and mind and not to find back to a low body weight.
Additional Health Concerns
Another thing that made me realize that my health should be my priority number one was the amount of sugar I consumed and what it did to my body. TOO MUCH INFORMATION: In my strongest binge phase age 22-23, I would get PAINFUL diarrhea every day after my binge-session. I would feel hungover the next day, FROM SUGAR. I became worried about my gut-health. But I especially became worried about developing diabetes. In the end, I only have that one body for my life. And I needed to start caring better for it.
On the Road to Recovery
I’m SO glad to say this, because since a little more than year I have finally been able to follow an intuitive eating pattern, lost weight without actively restricting myself, and kept weight fluctuations in a normal, healthy range. I don’t own a scale anymore, which definitely contributed to this. I think moving to Sweden had a big impact on breaking out of my old life and patterns. Yes, I am not completely binge-free, BUT the few relapses that I had looked completely different than my old binge-patterns. They would usually include ‘only’ one bar of chocolate. Or one small box of cookies. Also, I’m not going to the supermarket anymore just because I have the urge to binge and nothing at home. Additionally, other than before, I didn’t give up after them. I continued eating intuitively and looking forward.
Motivation for Doing Research on Eating Behavior
Now you know the personal side of my story. Of course I would be also interested to do my PhD in a different field of neuroscience. But I think, my field right now is a great fit. I’m very motivated to unravel the neuroscience of eating behavior. Especially because I highly empathize with those affected by eating disorders and obesity and the individual burden those diseases entail. I hope to be able to contribute with my research in understanding the underlying neural mechanisms, even just a little bit, to help end the stigma and find new possible treatment options.
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