While I realize these companies were trying to get me to enjoy whatever they were selling more, I can't help but hear the encouragement to do something in excess and when it comes down to it, is that ever really healthy? Binge eating is MY struggle but what about binge drinking? Or binge smoking? Or even something that is "good for you" like exercise!? Is excessive exercise "healthy" because exercise is "good for you"?
I can't change the media, I won't change the slogans these companies are using to promote their product but I can change my reaction to them and remind myself that binging is not something I need to partake in. I do not need to live a life of excess to be happy; despite the fact that society tells me I need more, more, more.
It is very hard for me to find balance and I often find myself wanting more because everywhere I turn I'm being told that more is better. I try to:
Work more for more money.
Eat more for more comfort.
Exercise more for more results.
Restrict more for more weight loss.
Life is a spectrum and on one side there is black, on the other there is white but in between there is a vast and endless amount of gray ready to embrace me but because I am constantly looking for more, I never allow myself to feel that "this is enough". I never settle in the gray because if gray is good, grayer is better.
I haven't had a binge eating episode in over a year and while I'm proud of that I never make the promise that it'll never happen again or convince myself that I'm cured.
The truth is sometimes I tiptoe dangerously close to the line that separates binging from overeating. I have used food as comfort, eaten when I'm not hungry and eaten past the point of satisfied, however, I haven't had a true binge where I feel out of control or powerless. I have been aware of every bite I've taken while emotionally eating and over the course of the last few months I've even tracked it all. When I was binging it was almost like I wasn't there. I would sometimes even forget what I ate and I'd try to go back and process "what happened?" by writing down everything but couldn't remember it. When I was binging I was very broken and I thought I was sealing the cracks but all I was doing was making them bigger.
I know what it feels like when I binge, but I know we are all different and I remember there was a time quite a few years ago when I wasn't sure if I actually had an eating disorder. I convinced myself that since I wasn't eating food that was rotten and I wasn't eating trash I wasn't actually binging. It was mostly denial, but it was partly a lack of being educated about what Binge Eating Disorder was. I didn't know if what I was doing was actually binging or just overeating. I looked up the definition of binge eating for this blog in case someone out there is where I was a few years ago. I found this from NationalEatingDisorders.org
Binge eating disorder (BED) is a severe, life-threatening, and treatable eating disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of eating large quantities of food (often very quickly and to the point of discomfort); a feeling of a loss of control during the binge; experiencing shame, distress or guilt afterwards; and not regularly using unhealthy compensatory measures (e.g., purging) to counter the binge eating. It is the most common eating disorder in the United States.
NEDA is a great place for more information, resources and support regarding eating disorders and they don't just deal with BED.
Not every person who struggles with binge eating is overweight and not everyone who is overweight struggles with binge eating; I was lucky enough to develop an eating disorder and a weight problem but the two are not mutually exclusive.
The hardest part of recovery is losing your coping mechanism. I binged for almost 30 years before I was ready to stop. I had become REALLY good at it because it was a habit I practiced as long as I can remember. When all else failed, I could binge. When I was binging I had relief. Even if it only lasted as long as the binge itself. As soon as I was able to recognize that I was binging WHILE I was binging everything was ruined. Yes, I said ruined. While it was a major breakthrough to experience the remorse, the guilt, the shame WHILE I was binging it meant that I wasn't able to experience solitude during the binge. Sometimes I long to go back to the days where binging soothed me because sometimes without binging I feel like I have nothing and with society constantly encouraging me to "go ahead and binge!" it can be tempting to say "ok!"
I'm writing this blog today because I need to be reminded that binging didn't bring me peace and living a life of excess is not something that I want, no matter how pretty someone else makes it look. Binging robs me of self respect, pride, confidence, enthusiasm, happiness, strength, love and energy just to name a few. It isolates me. It traps me and eventually it'll kill me.
If you stumbled upon this blog because you are struggling too, I've outlined some of my strategies below. I am not a doctor, therapist or an expert by any means so anything that I share when it comes to my struggles should be taken with a grain of salt. Just because something has worked for me doesn't mean it'll work for you but I know when I was in the thick of it, I would've liked to know that there is someone out there who can relate.
Losing weight is not a cure for BED.
I used to think that I would never be a normal weight because of my binging. I kind of gave up on thinking I could do it even though I was 100 pounds overweight and didn't want to be. I thought it was something that was out of my control but I started Weight Watchers anyways and low and behold, I lost weight. When I would slip and have a binge I'd convince myself that I was never going to be successful at losing weight which made it really hard to recover from a binge. It was tempting to just quit. I binged throughout my entire weight loss and lost more than 100 pounds (I never purged) proving it is possible to lose weight while subsequently binging. I thought that the longer I was on WW and the more weight I lost the less I'd want to binge. Losing weight does not change the issues triggering the binging. Losing weight just changed the number on the scale and on the tag in my clothes.
Dieting doesn't work for me.
WW has helped me significantly with my binging but didn't cure me and after losing 100 pounds I realized that it wasn't going to so I looked for a new diet that would. WW taught me about portion control, helped me choose foods that satiated me and gently guided me towards more nutritious options without ever telling me what I SHOULD or SHOULDN'T eat. Food was never good or bad on Weight Watchers and being part of a community who understood my struggle (even if I wasn't totally open about my binging) was an essential part of my recovery. WW promotes balance which is exactly what I need but I felt like I had failed at WW by continuing to binge. I couldn't give myself credit for the fact that it was happening less and less frequently or recognize that I was recovering faster from a binge due to what I was learning in the meeting rooms; all I could focus on was that I was still having binge episodes so I decided to diet. I did some "research" (by which I mean I read one book, not written for people with eating disorders) and I found a diet that promised to cure all my dragons. I was convinced that by removing sugar, grains, dairy, gluten and pretty much anything fun I would then be cured. Removing food felt good at first because I felt like I knew exactly what was expected of me but it made it extremely difficult to actively participate in my life and before I knew it I was labeling food "good" or "bad" and when I ate those foods I became "good" or "bad". At first I binged when I simply thought about "bad" foods, but I only binged on "good" foods. Then I started binging on anything I could get my hands on and in a year I gained back 30+ pounds and lost my mind.
I need Weight Watchers in my life.
It's confusing I know. Losing weight isn't a cure and a diet is a trigger yet I need WW? To me, WW isn't a diet. It's a lifestyle that gives me some guidance and some structure but no definitive "this is right or this is wrong". There is no good or bad. There is just food and the way the points are calculated takes all the guess work out of it for me. I can determine whether or not something is worth it based on how many points something is. The points don't mean "yes" or "no" they just give me a second to pause and investigate. "Why is this so high? Is it worth it?" Plus in the meetings we get to have conversations about deeper rooted things. I get a little science, a little support and a lot of motivation. It isn't weight loss, it's life gained.
Unstructured eating doesn't work for me.
I typically don’t snack, instead I try to eat mini meals which is a strategy that I’ve used for the past 1+ years to remain binge free. Mini meals to me consist of a couple items whereas a snack is just one thing and it isn't usually something that's nutritionally dense. I've tried to snack on chips or mini bars or popcorn...things that would be considered "snack foods" but those do not satiate me and I often end up overeating them because of that. Now instead I try to get a protein and a fiber with each mini meal and I eat these throughout my day. I never go too long between meals because physical hunger is a trigger.
Track, track, track.I have become aware of what my triggers are by tracking diligently. I used to stop tracking when I got close to negative weeklies but now I'll track all the way into the red. Ignoring and denying only allows infection to fester so I practice awareness by tracking what I'm eating. If I don't want to track it, do I really want to eat it?
Identify MY trigger foods and figure out how to handle them.
I've realized that restriction doesn't work but there are certain foods that I just have to eat until their gone. For example, I cannot have cereal in my house. I will have a serving and then another serving and then I'll finish the box. I will obsess about it if I know it's in my cabinet and drive myself insane. It isn't worth it. However, sometimes I crave cereal so I’ll buy a single serve cup to enjoy without the rest of the box being there to call out to me. I’ve removed triggers from my home but not my life. I cannot keep ice cream in my house but I can and will go to the ice cream shop and enjoy a cone or even a sundae once in a while.
Sometimes triggers aren't food.Certain people or situations can cause me to want to binge. Identifying who those people are and creating boundaries with them is extremely difficult but also essential. Repetitive situations can also set me up for a binge. When I procrastinate and become overloaded with my work I can feel stressed and want an outlet. By checking one or two things off my to-do list everyday I can keep the overwhelm at bay and therefore ward off the urge to binge.
I take gratitude walks where I list all of the things I’m grateful for. I go to the gym and I take classes with exciting music that gets me pumped up and excited! I allow myself to recognize how good it feels when I get up and go so the next time I think I don't want to, I can remind myself that I really do. It's easy to let an indulgent TV show turn into a TV binge which really doesn't feel good.
I have a Go-To-Question.
Sometimes my head will try to convince me I’m alone a simple and effective way of challenging those thoughts is to say “is that real?” No matter how paralyzed I feel, no matter how empty and broken I can still muster up the energy to ask myself that question.
I ask for help.
I surround myself with support and people who understand. There are so many resources available to me. Therapy has been tremendously beneficial. I saved this one for last because I figured if I started here people would turn tail and run. There's a lot of stigma about therapy but for me it’s so great to have a complete stranger to vent to. I can say whatever I want about whomever I want and not feel like I need to protect them because she doesn’t know who they are. I can speak candidly, openly and honestly and I never have to worry that someone might find out what I say behind that sacred door. Having that outlet has been huge because so many of my issues with food start with not caring about myself. Not valuing myself. Wanting to abuse myself. Having a therapist means having someone who's brave enough to challenge you and make you answer questions you never thought to ask. It also really helps with the non-food triggers. Sometimes we are so close to a situation we can't see how unhealthy it actually is and we need a professional to step in. Just like an eye doctor can help make things a little more clear literally, a therapist can help make things a little more clear figuratively.
While I'm certain I'll never be cured from my BED I'm also certain that I can't be persuaded by some stupid advertisement to "go ahead and binge" because I've done that and it doesn't feel good. When I do struggle with urges I'll get back to basics and utilize the strategies I've laid out above.
I've said it before, I'll say it again. I'm worth fighting for.