My Partner And I Are Both Yoga Teachers Who Suffer From Binge Eating Disorder — And You'd Never Guess
Eating by myself used to be my favorite guilty pleasure. The only thing more comforting than a large, warm meal ... was four in a row when nobody was home. Secrecy is usually the foundation of binge eating disorder (BED), a mental illness I have wrestled with since my teenage years. And I was an expert at hiding my disease — until I met Myles.
Myles and I met at a yoga teacher training program in Los Angeles in 2013. I was studying to become an instructor and he, a senior teacher of almost a decade, was on staff. (Yep, it was technically forbidden.) We fell in love within a few weeks, and one month after he left the United States, I was on a plane to Byron Bay, Australia with $220 USD in my pocket and a few over-packed suitcases that held everything I owned.
There was something intangible about our connection that I couldn’t quite figure out — it felt like we had known each other for years. It wasn’t until our first dinner together that I realized we had the same amusing and heartbreaking obsession with food.
Myles chuckled, shook his head, and said, “You and I are going to kill each other, aren’t we?”
Just seven hours after I skipped off the plane, we sat across from each other at a dimly lit Spanish tapas restaurant, two glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon in front of us.
“What looks good?” Myles asked as he perused through the menu.
“Um, everything,” I said, and I felt my eyes widen. He glanced up at me, chuckling at my enthusiasm.
We tossed back and forth all the dishes that looked good, from stuffed olives to seared octopus to raspberry chocolate cake, until we were basically having a fit of joy at the whole menu. As soon as the food started coming out to our table, I was floored at how identical our reactions were to each plate: gasps, moans, and eye rolls of excitement.
Our true, deep likeness revealed itself, though, once the food was cleared. Rather than sitting back in surrender, we remained upright and alert, hovering over the crumbs. It was the grotesque position of wanting much, much more. The monsters were unleashed.
Myles chuckled, shook his head, and said, “You and I are going to kill each other, aren’t we? Out of all the girls in the world, I had to find the one who has the same exact addiction.” He said it without cruelty, just brutal honesty.
We ate two more desserts that night after we left the restaurant, and we brought home a whole armful of snacks — Red Rock sea salt chips, Picnics, Snickers, popcorn — to munch on in bed, regardless of the fact that our stomachs were full. It was the most fun the either of us have ever had bingeing.
On the outside, we seemed fine. But although our relationship was blossoming, we were eating each other into the ground, convincing ourselves it was OK because we were matching the other's outrageous habits.
We discovered within the first few weeks of our relationship that the same constant hunger plagued the both of us. Soon enough, overeating together became our most cherished activity. It was a strange kind of intimacy; it was the first time we had ever been honest about our disorder with a partner.
It's no surprise that we also triggered each other. Binge episodes don’t simply come from nowhere; whether a person suffering from BED is overwhelmingly stressed or even experiencing a moment of tremendous happiness, there is a generally a trigger that kicks off a session of overeating. Myles and I were so thrilled to start a new life together that we simply ate our way through joy for the first few months.
Before we knew what was happening, we had dug ourselves into a hole. We spent far too many nights cuddled in our dark living room, watching episode after episode of The Walking Dead and noshing on piles of fried food and ice cream. Then, without fail, we would go to yoga the next morning and have an organic juice with our friends afterwards.
Both of us gained a few pounds, but not enough to draw unwanted attention or make anyone believe we were engaging in destructive habits. On the outside, we seemed fine. But although our relationship was blossoming, we were eating each other into the ground, convincing ourselves it was OK because we were matching the other's outrageous habits.
Then, two days after my birthday in 2014, everything changed. I discovered from a cousin (on Facebook messaging, of all methods of communication) that I have a brother and a sister in South Korea my parents had kept hidden from me my whole life. The news was devastating, and it sent me into shock for days. I felt like my whole identity, especially within the context of my family, had been ripped out from underneath me.
Myles was an even better support than I ever expected. Even when I shifted into the stage of raging anger, he stood by my side. But it was exactly the kind of taxing incident that sent me into a spiral of depression, prompting my BED to take over with full force.
When I finally felt strong enough to leave the house, I begged him to take me to breakfast. He obliged, and as we pulled up to our local bakery, I jumped out of the car before he could get the key out of the ignition.
I pressed my nose against the glass windows and stared at the pastries, fresh and fragrant and immensely comforting. Without hesitation, I began ordering, “Two blueberry muffins, one slice of banana bread … Could I get an egg and bacon roll too please? A hot chocolate, and a couple croissants. Oh, and that apple strudel thing.”
He let me eat for hours that day, slouched in front of the television and emotionally dead. It was almost as if he had too much compassion for me, like he was too familiar with my pain to snap me back into reality.
I looked back at Myles behind me and was stunned by the softness on his face. There was no judgment or disgust. We were in a special union of understanding and true acceptance, for there had never been another human in either of our lives who could grasp the concept of our pervading hunger in times of intense stress. It may have been shameful, but our bond was unbreakable.
He let me eat for hours that day, slouched in front of the television and emotionally dead. It was almost as if he had too much compassion for me, like he was too familiar with my pain to snap me back into reality. Any other partner or friend who isn’t chained to BED wouldn’t have hesitated to pull me out of my stupor. But as Myles sensed the monster ascending, he backed away. He thought I deserved to eat myself into another state of being because he knew what a briefly euphoric escape it could be.
It took me about fourteen days to feel normal again, and when I finally scraped myself out of the deep hole, Myles was waiting for me. I was swollen, and my stomach hurt from the psychological beating I had given myself. I grabbed him and said, “We can’t keep doing this. We have to stop each other. I need you to help me, not encourage it.”
He looked helpless. How could we rescue each other when we were stranded in the same boat?
We took some time apart — we had to get a grasp on our individual health before we could even hope for success together. He traveled to Sydney for a week to surf and be on his own. I sought help from a therapist as well as a spiritual teacher, who taught me mindful meditation. The most liberating breakthrough was our willingness to be open with our friends about the illness.
Our reunion was a tearful one, and even though we were proud of the changes we were beginning to make, the transition wasn't easy. Bingeing was what had brought us so close, and we had to find other ways to achieve intimacy. We rid our kitchen of junk food and started cooking every night. We joined the nearest Crossfit gym, which turned into our second home. The length of time in between our splurges got longer and longer.
A few months ago, we traveled to South America together to teach yoga in Lima, Peru. It was a tough move, since we didn’t speak the language fluently. On a Saturday night, we found ourselves planted on the couch of our new apartment. I was scrolling through a website that offers fast food delivery with just the touch of a finger. I was fixated on the Popeye’s menu, particularly the spicy chicken wings.
“Sh*t, that looks so good,” Myles said, glancing over my shoulder.
“Should we do it?”
He shifted in his seat. The room was silent for a few moments. Finally, he shook his head and firmly replied, “No, honey. I don’t want to be those people anymore.”
I hugged him, happier than ever. I knew we’d never be cured of BED. But this was a new beginning.
Editor’s Note: If you’re struggling with binge eating, help is available. Call (877) 453-4378 to find treatment near you.
Images: Gina Florio