I have heard, along with others, Gastroparesis being called an eating disorder by health care professionals. My first instinct is to freak out on them and say “in no way do I have an eating disorder!” The social stigmas that follow around eating disorders include throwing up to lose weight, starving yourself to lose weight, binge eating to make yourself feel better, the list goes on.
One of the first things I explain to someone when describing GP is the need to vomit most foods and my very next statement includes an explanation that I do not make myself throw up but rather it comes up by itself. I have found myself many times before in public restrooms vomiting after eating something using an excuse like “I’m pregnant” if someone happens to walk in and ask me if I’m ok. I have a constant need to explain myself so that I never leave the impression that I am in any way making myself sick.
So, why do I feel the need to always justify the vomiting? Do I really care what complete strangers think? The answer is yes. I battle with myself plenty of times during the day while I’m staring at food I prepare for others and have to mentally talk myself out of just one bite. I drive myself crazy when I know I’m going to get sick but I still eat what I’m not supposed to. Many times have I second guessed myself thinking maybe I really do have an eating disorder because I constantly eat things I shouldn’t.
To make myself feel a little less crazy I decided to look up the definition of an eating disorder:
The Mayo Clinic defines an eating disorder on their website as “a group of serious conditions in which you’re so preoccupied with food and weight that you can often focus on little else.”
Wikipedia defines an eating disorder on their website as “conditions defined by abnormal eating habits that may involve either insufficient or excessive food intake to the detriment of an individual’s physical and mental health.”
Those definitions are very vague if you ask me. Of course, they then go on to name the most common types of eating disorders which then have their own definitions. But based on the two definitions above, yes, Gastroparesis is an eating disorder. Let me explain before you start to argue.
I think about food more times a day than anything else. I think about what I’m going to eat for breakfast, what I’m going to make for the kids school lunches, what am I going to make for dinner, and what food I need from the store. I have to think for a long time what I am going to eat and if it’ll make me sick or if it has too many calories. I have to think about what I just ate because it made me sick or it didn’t make me sick and I may want to try it again tomorrow. Every single day it’s the same!
I think about my weight constantly too. I’m overweight but I’m sure those that are underweight go through the same thing. I look in the mirror and notice how bloated I am or I notice how bloated I am not. I notice that my thighs are sagging a little more or I can actually see my ribs now. I want to look good even if I don’t feel good.
My mental health is also very messed up. I get mad at myself for eating too much or eating the wrong thing because I am punished physically for sometimes days after that meal. I get frustrated when I don’t eat enough calories. I get emotionally drained trying to prepare meals for myself. I get mad at others when they get to eat something I’ve been craving for weeks. I get weepy when I’m overly hungry because I haven’t eaten in hours. I enjoy overeating because I rarely get to feel full. I won’t stop at one bite even knowing I’ll get sick by eating the whole thing because it makes me happy tasting something so delicious.
Needless to say, it would appear that I have an eating disorder. But here is the one thing that sets me and others with GP apart from those that have real eating disorders: We have do NOT have the option to get better. We do not have the option to fix what is wrong. We do not have the option to control when our body shuts down. Everything we are experiencing is because of Gastroparesis and Gastroparesis is not something we chose for ourselves.
I do not have an eating disorder, I have Gastroparesis. I may let myself enjoy food knowing the consequences but I am not crazy.