My husband Tuan says he hardly recognized the woman he drove to the emergency room in 2016: me. I was doubled over and moaning, after being woken up at 5 a.m. by intense abdominal pain.
In the E.R., I found myself on a gurney on the hospital’s surgical floor. The orderly had left me off to the side of the bustling corridor, where they lined up patients scheduled for surgery like taxiing planes awaiting takeoff.
Prior to that, an E.R. doctor had diagnosed me with cholecystitis, an inflammation of the gallbladder, and said I needed surgery to remove it. I’d had hereditary gall bladder issues, which had caused me to develop gallstones (hardened deposits of digestive fluid that can form in your gallbladder). But it was one particular gallstone, which had become lodged in my cystic duct, that became the source of my excruciating pain.
Waiting to be operated on was harrowing. I was nearly naked and the air felt cold—or maybe it was my fear making me feel that way. I shivered a little as I imagined my body in the drawer of a morgue, should something happen to me. A doctor approached me and introduced himself as my anesthesiologist.
The surgery was a wake-up call. I’d been keeping a secret for far too long—that I had been binge-eating since childhood.
“Can you read this before you give me the anesthesia?” I asked him. He nodded as I handed him a slip of paper. “I will come through this surgery well, and heal quickly,” it read. “I am loved.” The affirmation I wrote made me feel a little more in control.
Maybe my affirmation worked, because my surgery was successful. Afterward, though, I wore a drainage bag attached to the lower laparoscopic incision in my right side. It tugged uncomfortably at my skin, especially during bumps in the road as we drove home from the hospital.
After recovering for several months, I realized that the surgery was a wake-up call. I’d been keeping a secret for far too long—that I had been binge-eating since childhood—and surely that behavior had not kept me in optimal health.
My eating disorder had its roots in the chaotic household in which I grew up. I lived in fear of my mentally ill father and my parents didn’t emotionally care for me, so I often ended up turning to food for comfort. Many times after family dinners—long after I was full, long after my family members had left the dinner table—I stood alone over the stove in the kitchen of our suburban home, eating leftovers from the pots. A typical after-dinner binge left my belly feeling hard and round, yet I never felt sated.
I got married in 2009 and continued secretly binging (or so I thought). My husband worked hard to ignore my binges, but empty Combos bags, clanking Pringles cans, and Cadbury bars still clinging to their foil—which I’d toss over the side of the bed after eating—were hard to overlook. I’d eat to treat myself after an annoying or long day, but these treats were ruining my health. Occasionally, my husband caught me bingeing and teased me for my “secret eating,” but neither one of us named the problem or took steps to address it.
For decades I had been able to binge without consequence. But now, in my late forties, my binge-eating had finally caught up with me. After the hospital, I had to try to make sustainable lifestyle changes for the sake of my health. More than that, my seven-year-old daughter deserved a mother who modeled good health practices.
I found a new doctor who worked at a hospital nearby. “I need help losing weight,” I told her. Young and eager to assist me, she saw how miserable I felt. The doctor promised emotional support—an essential element of sticking with good health habits.
It has been almost three months since that initial meeting and I’ve lost nearly 20 pounds (off of 200lbs), four BMI points, and several inches from my waist, hips, and butt, and my blood pressure has dropped. I’ve reduced my portion sizes and sugar intake, but I still allow myself to eat the foods I enjoy—in moderation. My husband now buys mini ice cream cones at Trader Joe’s (60 calories each), for example.
I had to try to make sustainable lifestyle changes for the sake of my health. More than that, my seven-year-old daughter deserved a mother who modeled good health practices.
Instead of forcing myself to go running, which I seriously dislike, I signed up for unlimited Pure Barre classes for a full-body group workout. I swim at the community pool and aim to walk 10,000 steps every day. I keep a food (and mood) journal to stay on top of triggers and remain honest with myself about what I eat.
In September, I rode my daughter to school on our cargo bike (another lifestyle tweak) for her first day of second grade. I felt good about knowing I had finally faced my behavior honestly, and I loved my improved mood, the way my pants fit, and how my more-sculpted shoulders looked in a sleeveless shirt.
I also love that my daughter watched me change my own health habits. I hope, inspired by my example, she’ll find ways to stay healthy far beyond the second grade.