How binge-eating can mask an eating disorder

Amy Whittle discusses living with an eating disorder masked by binge-eating for years
Content TeamBy Content Team  •  Nov 20, 2017 at 8:04pm  •  Body Image, Health & Exercise, Social Issues

Occasionally binge-eating what felt like mountains of food in one evening is what allowed me to hide my eating disorder for years, not only from others, but also from myself.

Binge eating is in itself, an eating disorder not widely recognised by the public. I imagine if a room of people were asked to draw someone with an eating disorder then a similar image would be replicated from person to person – a tiny stick of a human with the words ‘anorexic’ or ‘bulimic’ flying about in conversation.

I think the biggest thing in today’s society is to step back and acknowledge that eating disorders don’t just present in the form of an overly thin individual. An obese individual who overindulges on a daily basis is suffering from an eating disorder. A person who starves themselves either daily or a few times a week, or makes themselves sick from time to time, is also suffering.

The one thing I have hated hearing over the years, and still to this day hear from time to time (when I am brave enough to be honest and open up to someone), is: ‘So which disorder do you suffer from, is it anorexia or bulimia?’ This is not a phrase I want to hear after opening up to someone – it casts doubt in my mind that I am actually suffering at all.

There have been times when I was low and desperately wanted to share what I was facing in my own mind day-in-day-out but stopped myself. For years I thought ‘well hang on, I’m not thin enough to be classed as ‘anorexic’, am I? And I’m not making myself sick after every thing I manage to eat, so I can’t be bulimic. So I mustn’t have a problem at all! How embarrassing that I have even told someone about my ‘disorder’, I won’t be making that mistake again.’


Discovering my EDNOS diagnosis

If any of you out there are like me – if you yo-yo between depriving yourself of meals, starving yourself, living each day calorie obsessed, and then the next you spend an evening binging on your favourite snacks – consciously aware in the back of your mind that being sick will ‘erase’ all the ‘wrong’ you are doing or if, for the next few days you know you can just avoid food to ‘make up’ for all these calories you’re consuming – then please Google ‘EDNOS’.

‘EDNOS’ or ‘Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified’ is the biggest eating disorder out there – it consists of a cycle of starving then binging then purging.

Believe me, I was surprised to find that not fitting into one specific well-known eating disorder is actually a thing. Instead, I conned myself and others around that I ate ‘normally’.

It’s so easy to think: ‘I had loads of chocolate last Friday so I’m not suffering from anything at all’ or if you heard someone say to you: ‘How do you manage to eat all them biscuits without getting fat? I wish I could eat like that!’.

Phrases like these allow you to get away with this vicious cycle. Everyone seems to comment on the times when you’re eating loads. There have been times when I was low and desperately wanted to share what I was facing in my own mind day-in-day-out but stopped myself just thinking ‘God, if I tell them now that I have an ‘eating disorder’ they’ll think I’m such a fake…they saw me eat all that chocolate last week and I’m not even skinny enough to be taken seriously…how embarrassing, I’m not mentioning this to anyone. In fact…there’s not even anything really wrong with me’.


It’s still incredibly hard to openly admit that I do have an eating disorder and there are only a few people I have trusted with my circumstances since I began to open up 5 months ago. I still binge from time to time and the same thoughts enter my head of how to ‘undo’ it all the next day. It’s hard not to listen to my mind, as the ideas start ticking over and the guilt sets in; as I feel my stomach and think about how horrendously fat I’ve become. But I’m learning not to act on these negative thoughts the way I once did and I hope CBT will help me erase these thought patterns from my mind for good one day.

I feel it is so important for people out there to understand how binge eating can mask disorders and how it can play a huge part in EDNOS, amongst other conditions. Binge-eating enables easier vomiting and therefore plays a massive part in bulimia.

Binge eating is in itself, an eating disorder not widely recognised by the public. After all, who would second guess someone who ate all that food at the party the other night? They’re not starving themselves or suffering, are they? Well…they might well be. In fact, they might be sat down now feeling horrendously shameful and guilty about their actions and have likely already began their next task of undoing all their previous ‘wrongs’.


Take action

If you think you know someone suffering from EDNOS or have noticed someone displaying any behaviours that may represent an eating disorder, then please speak to them and find out what’s going on. By approaching them and asking if anything is going on you might be the one person they feel they can finally be open and honest with. If they appear defensive when you mention it that can also sometimes be a sign that something is going on.

Seek advice online from eating disorder charities; there is some amazing advice available out there, not only for the person suffering, but also for their friends and family.

If you’re reading this and believe you have a problem then I urge you to speak to someone close to you about what’s going on. It feels scary at first to be open, but you’ll soon feel a huge weight has been lifted, and after that going to see your Doctor or referring yourself for counselling doesn’t seem so scary at all.

Trust me, I’ve been there too.


Amy Whittle is 22, and has been living with an eating disorder for 9 years. A few months ago, she was finally honest about it with her loved ones and is now on her challenging journey towards recovery.  She started an online blog to help her and  provide some positivity and motivation for others who are going through a similar thing at:

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One Comment
  1. Hi there,

    I really love your article and its so important to demystify lesser known eating disorders, but in the section where you state “an obese individual who overindulges on a daily basis is suffering from an eating disorder” I feel this isn’t necessarily correct. Assuming that someone who is obese has an eating disorder is dangerous and perpetuates the stigma around being fat. While some obese people do suffer from eating disorders, some people just like food or being fat and “overindulging” isn’t necessarily disordered eating.

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