Binge Eating, Bipolar Disorder, and Finding Help

My path to binge eating, bipolar disorder, and food addiction

TW: self-harm, sexual abuse

Illustration of a frustrated man with a lot of junk food
Sometimes I feel like I can’t stop eating. | Image made by author with Canva AI.

Growing up, I was always the skinny boy. I refused to wear shorts for most of my childhood because when I did, everyone called me chicken legs. My siblings, other kids, and even adults made fun of my thin limbs.

My days were full of playing with my Fisher Price action figures, building snow forts, and climbing trees. Many times, I got so lost in what I was doing that I forgot to eat. With an occupied mind, food seemed unnecessary.

In my mid-20s, I found out I have bipolar disorder. After nearly losing my fight, friends rushed me to the hospital. I checked in weighing 116 pounds (52.6 kg.) For reference, I’m 5-feet, 9-inches tall (175 cm.)

Once I knew what I was fighting, the parade of medications began. It took three years and 30 medications before my care team and I discovered a cocktail to keep me stable and functional.

Medication and Weight Gain

From May 1995 to June 1998, my weight ballooned from 116 pounds to 214 (97 kg.) First was Depakote, well-known for causing weight gain. Later came mirtazapine, which I still take.

Mirtazapine doesn’t necessarily cause weight gain, but it triggers the munchies. If you’re not asleep within an hour or so of taking it, you get an unquenchable hunger. Or at least I do. Some nights I’ll eat until I’m nauseated, but that’s not all the medication’s fault.

Suffering Loss

My life is peppered with traumatic events. From childhood sexual abuse to losing nearly a dozen friends to suicide. The most painful was the loss of my twin flame, the girl I joked I shared a brain with.

One Tuesday afternoon, shortly after we spoke, she was heading home from cleaning her grandfather’s house. Not far away from his driveway, a red dump truck crossed the center line, and life as I knew it ended.

My doctor tried a few more medications to help me cope with the devastating depression that followed. One stopped the pain but also kept me from feeling anything else. My mom finally contacted my doctor.

“My son is a zombie,” she told him. “This isn’t life. Something has to change.”

She was right, and a few more changes helped me become a productive part of society again.

Destructive Habits

When you lose the better half of you, nothing feels right. The world becomes a foreign landscape, and for a long time, joy and happiness feel impossible.

For years, I’d used self-harm as a way to cope with my darkest feelings. My sessions got more intense and dangerous after my friend died. I knew how serious the habit was, so slowly, I transitioned from damaging the outside of my body to stuffing the inside.

While I like alcohol, I don’t like feeling hungover. One night I downed a bottle of tequila, remembered I hadn’t eaten anything, and so ate the nearest thing: two Hershey’s chocolate bars. Let’s just say tequila and chocolate do not mix well, and it was the sickest I’ve ever been from alcohol.

Then I discovered the calming effect of comfort foods. Eating a box of hot-n-ready Krispy Kreme doughnuts filled my stomach and the emotional hole inside. Downing a pizza or bag of Doritos helped me forget how much was missing from my life.

But comfort eating got away from me as I started an era of binge eating with bipolar disorder.

Illustration of a man sitting on a dock by a lake
As Lizzy died, I spent too much time thinking. | Image made by author with Canva AI.

Binge Eating

With time and effort, I stopped self-harming. It’s been more than 15 years since my last session, but the urge is still there.

Food, though, has become a constant problem. No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to lower my calorie intake. If I don’t eat before bed, I’ll lay awake the entire night.

It’s not about hunger. Rarely do I feel hungry at night. Instead, it’s a compulsion. A desire deep inside refuses to rest until I cram unhealthy amounts of food down my throat.

In the morning, I can barely look at myself in the mirror. I’m so disgusted with the middle-aged man who looks nine months pregnant.

Some nights I try to skip the feeding frenzy, and take a sleeping pill or extra anxiety medicine to make me sleep. Too often, though, I wake up in the morning to empty potato chip bags or candy wrappers. I don’t remember eating, but sometime during the night, I get up and eat my fill.

What’s going on? I kept asking myself, and the fight of binge eating and bipolar disorder went on.

Then I stumbled upon on article about food addiction.

Binge eating with bipolar disorder is a lifelong struggle for many. In this post, a writer shares his journey forward to better health.

#SpeakingBipolar #mentalhealth #mentalillness #bipolardisorder #mentalillnessawareness
Please share on Pinterest. Graphic created with Canva AI.

Food Addiction

You can’t be addicted to food, I lied to myself. Food is a necessity. You have to eat to live.

While it’s true eating food is vital for life, it’s also true you can become addicted to it. This is especially true for foods high in salt, fat, or sugar.

Yep, I tick off all three nearly every night.

According to WebMD, to identify a food addition, you should ask if you:

  • Keep eating certain foods even if you’re no longer hungry
  • Eat to the point of feeling ill
  • Worry about not eating certain types of foods or worry about cutting down on certain types of foods
  • When certain foods aren’t available, go out of your way to obtain them
  • Eat certain foods so often or in such large amounts that you eat instead of working, spending time with your family, or doing recreational activities
  • Avoid professional or social situations where certain foods are available because of fear of overeating
  • Have problems functioning effectively at your job or school because of food and eating

Reading through the list, it felt like getting hit in the back of the head by a Louisville Slugger. Nearly every line described an area of my life and my experiences with binge eating and bipolar disorder. I’ve even run out in the middle of the night just to buy a bag of junk food because I couldn’t sleep.

Food addiction can also cause anxiety, depression, and physical effects, including chronic fatigue, sleep disorders, reduced sex drive, and headaches.

If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. One study showed 13% of people aged 50 to 80 showed signs of food addiction. Another study lists the statistics at 5% of the general population.

There is good news. It’s possible to fight and beat food addiction.

Illustration of a man talking to a therapist
Talk to your doctor about your struggle. | Image made by author with Canva AI.

How To Stop

While some doctors discount the reality of food addiction, most are willing to help. The first step to conquering your addiction should be to talk to your primary care doctor. Explain how you feel and describe your eating habits.

When you see your doctor, it’s vital to be open and honest. Yes, it’s painful and feels embarrassing to admit a food addiction, but admitting the problem is the first step.

You can also find the help you need for binge eating and bipolar disorder through these sources:

12-Step Programs

Food addiction is an addiction, so it makes sense the 12-step framework would be part of treatment. To find the best program for you, here are a few options to consider:

Medication

While I couldn’t find clear evidence of a drug to treat food addiction directly, treating other conditions can help ease your struggle. For example, food addiction often coincides with anxiety or depression. By treating those disorders, you may feel less likely to overeat.

Private Programs

Many communities offer public and private programs to help overcome food addiction. Check with your doctor or do an internet search to see what’s available in your area. A good support group can help you conquer binge eating and bipolar disorder.

My Journey

I’m still early in my food-addiction journey: recognizing I have a problem. Yet, I know me, and when I put my mind to something, I will succeed.

Since I fight both bipolar disorder and a physical chronic illness, the addition of another issue to combat feels overwhelming. I’m determined, though, and that’s half the battle.

Food addiction is proving to be a tougher opponent than I expected, but I know it’s beatable. As I make progress, I’ll share updates in future stories.

Until next time, keep fighting.


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Binge eating with bipolar disorder is a lifelong struggle for many. In this post, a writer shares his journey forward to better health.

#SpeakingBipolar #mentalhealth #mentalillness #bipolardisorder #mentalillnessawareness
Please share on Pinterest. Graphic created with Canva AI.

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