I remember it well. It was a sunny day in 2007, a few weeks after I arrived to Australia from my hometown of Nashville. I’d been in Australia for a little while and the homesickness was starting to set in. I was volunteering with a church but hadn’t really gotten into a busy routine quite yet. It was mid-afternoon, and I was lonely, bored and on the verge of sadness. So, what did I do? I strolled down the street to the nearby grocery store and bought two pints of ice cream (cookies-n-cream and vanilla, to be exact) and walked back home. I walked through my front door, grabbed a spoon and then proceeded to eat the entire two cartons of ice cream. Yep! I felt uncomfortably full yet I kept eating. Then, I started to feel sick but I kept eating. I couldn’t seem to stop myself. I ate and ate and ate ’til it was all gone.
For several years of my life, I struggled with binge eating. Now, I don’t want to confuse binge eating with overeating. Many of us overeat from time to time, particularly on special occasions or holidays (hello, Christmas lunch!). There were times when I was a pre-teen that my friends and I stuffed our faces with chips and chocolate at sleep-overs and this wasn’t binge eating. What I’m talking about is an eating behavior much more complex, much more impactful on one’s health. In fact, Binge Eating Disorder is a recognized eating disorder that affects both men and women equally.
Binge eating involves two key features:
- Eating a very large amount of food within a relatively short period of time (e.g. within two hours)
- Feeling a sense of loss of control while eating (e.g. feeling unable to stop yourself from eating)
Binge eating is something not many of us openly talk about. It’s one of those secrets that is shameful, frustrating and often out-of-control. So why do people engage in this eating behavior? From my experience, binge eating meets the needs many of us crave—-comfort, pleasure, de-stressing, excitement and even love. But, here’s the catch: It only meets those needs temporarily. In. The. Moment. Then, in a blink of an eye, you’re left feeling physically sick and emotionally wrecked. Not a pretty picture, huh?
There are many reasons why people binge—-hunger precipitated by restriction or dieting, stress or other unwanted emotions, opportunity, or just wanting to feel good. For me, binge eating was a cyclic relationship with restriction. I would deprive myself of the physical nourishment my body desperately needed that I’d eventually crack and consume such a large amount of food in one sitting that even I was impressed (okay, not happily impressed but more like whoa, did I really just eat all THAT?!) It was a destructive pattern that wreaked havoc on my digestive system and mental health.
On other occasions, I used food to cope with my emotions. I’d devour half a pan of brownies or a block of chocolate as a desperate means of lowing the day’s stress. Other times, I’d break one of my silly self-imposed rules like “No Eating Dessert During Weekdays” and this ‘slip-up’ would snowball into a full-fledged avalanche coated in chocolate sauce and sprinkles! But, there definitely wasn’t a juicy red cherry on top. The cherry was replaced by all those yucky, overwhelming emotions: Guilt. Shame. Anxiety. Remorse.
There is a silver lining to my story. Would you believe it if I told you that I can’t even recall the last time I binged? Or that I can’t even remember feeling tempted to binge? (Remember, binging is different from overeating and the latter—eating past fullness—is completely normal every now and then.) The truth is both of these are realities I have welcomed into my life. Albeit, with much hard work and dedication to my recovery.
I want to tell you the major changes I made that helped me stop binge eating. All of these steps worked wonders for me and, due to following them, I am now binge free!
HOW TO STOP BINGE EATING
Nourish yourself adequately
It is important that you fuel your body with the nutrients that it needs to function properly. Your body innately wants to survive so if you engage in rigid dieting or restriction, you are just setting yourself up for a binge. It is almost inevitable. When you feed yourself the adequate carbohydrates (yes carbs!), healthy fats and protein that it needs, you will notice that your cravings and insatiable urges subside.
Throw out the rule book
When you establish unrealistic expectations or “rules” for yourself to follow around food and eating, you are setting the stage for a potential binge. Here me out: If I told myself that I can’t have desserts except for Saturdays, I’m going to be hyper-aware of sweets all throughout the other 6 days of the week. Let’s say my roommate bakes a batch of cookies on a Friday night and they are left sitting on the kitchen bench. She’s now left for the night, I’m home alone and the house smells of my childhood nostalgia. I really start craving one of the cookies. I know I have this rule about not eating sweets on a weekday, but I justify that one little bite won’t hurt, so I go ahead and nibble on a corner. Ah, it is so tasty! To avoid further temptation, I go into the lounge room and turn on the TV but the cravings just intensity and now the guilt starts to creep in. I’ve messed up. I blew it. Why didn’t I just have better self-control, dangit?! Now, my anxiety has kicked in and I need something to soothe this bad boy fast. Well, I’ve already blown it by having that teensy bite, so I might as well give-up and eat some more. So, I go back and grab the rest of the nibbled cookie. But, since I haven’t had any sweets in almost a week now (remember my silly rule), the delicious taste is so overwhelming good that I can’t seem to stop myself. 15 minutes later and the plate is G.O.N.E. Moral of the story: throw out yo’ rule book, Sweetheart!
Honor your cravings
This one goes hand-in-hand with step #2. Don’t categorize certain food as “good” or “bad” or you’ll start obsessing about the bad list. Just look at a toddler: tell him not to do something and he immediately wants to do it. Or look at Adam and Eve: God told them they could have the fruit from every tree in the garden except one and what did they do? They went and ate from the forbidden tree. It’s only human nature! If you’re desiring something sweet, why not call up a friend and go get ice cream? Craving something salty? Why not grab your man and go to the cinema, popcorn in hand! When you honor your cravings mindfully and (I suggest) with people, you will be less likely to binge on the food you’re craving.
Keep a journal
This one was pivotal for me. It’s very simple and easy. I’d write down everything I ate each day, along with the time and any triggers / stand-out emotions. This helped me become more aware of my eating patterns, plus if I knew I’d have to write down “a whole family-sized bag of M&Ms”, I’d be less likely to eat them. This also helped with my restriction because I was held accountable by my nutritionist to fuel my body adequately. In saying this, I only did this step for a short and intentional time period. Once I got more comfortable and capable of Intuitive Eating, I was able to stop the journaling and trust my body more fully.
Seek help if needed
As I mentioned above, I did see a nutritionist for a few years early on in my recovery. She helped me devise a meal plan and overcome my distorted, unhealthy beliefs around food and eating. I believe it is very important to get the help of qualified professionals if you feel like things are out of control or friends and family have started to notice changes in your eating habits or physical appearance.
Give yourself grace
As with everything in life, it is important to be gentle on yourself. If you do happen to slip up and binge, quickly forgive yourself. Learn from it and move on. A gesture of grace to oneself can be one of the most powerfully healing agents.
I want you to know and believe deep within your heart that healing from binge eating or any type of eating disorder is possible. I am living proof! I know sometimes it can be utterly impossible to imagine a life free from the shackles. Don’t lose hope, dear one. Everything is possible for those who believe.
// ACTION: If you want me to do a follow-up post on the different types of binges in more detail, let me know in the comments below!
Sending my love and huge fist-pumps your way,