I was a binge eater pretty much out of the womb. Born into a family with an abusive father and a passive mother, I ate to find comfort. Eating put me in a physical and emotional stupor that allowed me to tune out the pain of home. It also led to early obesity. By the time I was ten, I weighed close to 100 pounds.

Even after I left home, the binge eating stayed. It had become a deeply imbedded part of me. My feelings of lack of worth and shame were tied to my body and to food, creating a big, messy psychological pattern. It took hard work to find the self-love I needed to realize that I could overcome my eating disorder. And I did—I lost 100 pounds in the year after my twenty-fourth birthday, and I’ve kept it off for twenty-six years. I clearly knew firsthand that binge eating was a psychological disorder. So I was surprised to hear that binge eating was added to the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders just a few months ago. As the New York Times pointed out in a blog post, part of what may have held up this change from coming sooner is that binge eaters don’t “look” like they have a problem.

Unlike the thinness associated with other eating disorders, binge eaters are more likely to be overweight. The assumption for a long time was extra weight was one’s own “fault.” For example, because they have a history of obesity, half of teenagers with eating disorders don’t get help because caregivers can’t look beyond their weight. It’s time for this to change.

Having binge eating recognized as an illness is a huge step. For one, it means getting professional help with be easier. It also means, according to the Times blog, that the stigma binge eaters face may begin to soften. As the general public’s eyes are opened to the complicated issues behind obesity, “fatism”—our cultural discrimination against the overweight – could become recognized as an unfair bias.

This whole thing got me thinking more broadly about how we judge based on appearances. When I was obese, I was constantly told that if I just had some willpower, everything would be fine. It couldn’t have been farther from the truth—what I needed was serious work on my self-esteem.

Not only can eating disorders look different, but other illnesses can, too. A serious depressive may have a smile on his face. A cancer patient may not lose her hair. A person with Parkinson’s may be able to hide his symptoms.

Just because suffering isn’t visible on the surface doesn’t mean it’s not hiding inside.
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Those living with invisible pain need our care, love, and support.

Was there a time you were judged wrongly or misread someone else’s issues?

I welcome hearing from you.

Weight Release & Body Image Coach, Laura Fenamore, is on a mission to guide women around the world to love what they see in the mirror—one pinky at a time—so they can unlock the secrets to a healthy weight and start loving their lives as soon as possible. Having overcome her own battle with addiction, obesity, and eating disorders, Laura released over one hundred pounds twenty-four years ago, beginning her on a journey to guide other women to live more joyous, balanced lives. Laura believes that self-love and self-care is where the transformation begins. Learn more about Laura at OnePinky.com and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

*Image courtesy of Albert Ip.