Do you ever “binge?”

In honour of National Eating Disorder Awareness week, I’d like to talk a little bit about an eating disorder that doesn’t seem to get as much recognition, even though there are millions of sufferers.

Type Binge Eating into google and you’ll immediately get 6.5 million results. It seems that a lot of people wonder how to get help with this problem but no one ever wants to talk about it. Why? Because it seems to come hand in hand with guilt and shame, and it’s something that nobody wants to admit to doing.

Well, I’m about to talk about my struggles and open up the discussion because I refuse to be ashamed for struggling with this awful issue. It’s the #1 hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with and work at overcoming, for sure. I hope I can help other people overcome the shame that comes along with this issue and attempt to fix their relationship with food.

There are few different ways we could classify binge eating:

Binge Eating Disorder:
Is classified by recurrent episodes of binge eating which is characterized by
-Eating an amount of food in a discrete period of time (ie: 2 hours) that is definitely larger than what most people would in a similar period of time under similar circumstances.
-A sense of lack of control over eating during the episode (ie: a feeling that one cannot stop eating or has no control over much one is eating).

Also associated with 3 or more of the following:

  1. Eating much more rapidly than normal.
  2. Eating until feeling uncomfortably full.
  3. Eating large amount of food when not feeling physically hungry.
  4. Eating alone because of feeling embarrassed by how much one is eating.
  5. Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty afterward.To be diagnosed with binge eating disorder, you would also meet the following criteria:  
    The binge eating occurs, on average, at least once a week for 3 months.
    The binge eating is not associated with the recurrent use of inappropriate compensatory behaviour as in bulimia nervosa and does not occur exclusively during the course of bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa

That being, said even if you are still binge eating once or twice a week, it can be very debilitating, time consuming, and ruin lives. Just because you don’t fit the “criteria” doesn’t mean it isn’t affecting your life!

Because I don’t want people to be ashamed, I’m going to talk a little bit about my struggles with binge eating. Obviously most of the time was using compensatory behaviours such as overexercising, laxatives, and purging. But as I was really trying to recover fro Bulimia my first goal was to stop vomiting. So I experienced a lot of binge eating without letting myself purge which was incredibly hard. I think bulimia is much “easier” than binge eating disorder because you don’t have to let yourself sit with that feeling of being incredibly full. It’s like all the “fun” with a get out jail free card… Then you can do it again and again. For this reason I have had my fair share of binging episodes.

So what do I mean when I say I binge eat? Did I eat an entire carton of ice-cream and then feel very out of control? That would seriously just be the warm up… I never used to keep track of what I ate in a binge because it was like I kind of went into this zone and pretended it wasn’t happening. And then I would feel so awful and ashamed and disgusted with myself after I never wanted to face what I’d done. But one time I wrote down what I ate during a binge and I’ll share it with you guys. Please no judgement here and I’ll say it again that binge eating is a serious disorder and you can’t “just stop” eating it’s not that simple. So I started by eating a piece of cheesecake at the restaurant I worked at, since I had eaten that; it opened the flood gates to continuing on. I had a whole thing of fries and a burger there as well, and then I went home because I never binge eat fully in public, it’s embarrassing. (Especially when I was maintaining the picture of “health” as a workout addict and fitness instructor). By this time I was pretty full but I wanted to keep going. I had huge bowl of ice-cream with nutella, chocolate chips, peanut butter, and maple syrup (seriously just plain ice-cream wouldn’t satisfy me anymore). That was gone too quickly- so I had that same thing again. And again. Then I ate all 24 butter tarts my Mom had made for something special (and had to lie about it later it was so terrible, I could never admit I ate them all in one sitting!). Finished off with a few cookies, a bag of crackers and cream cheese. As you can see this can also be very time consuming.  I would literally waste hours and hours of my day binge eating in secret and avoiding people. This was happening all the time when I learned how purge- because it’s actually easier to purge the more food you have in your stomach so I always felt “Why go halfway? It’s coming up anyway” – this made everything SO much worse because I never felt like I could just eat a slice of cake. It had to be the whole cake, plus more. That was my biggest struggle in learning how reduce binge eating. As I said before in my balance post- I have always been an all or nothing kinda girl. I wouldn’t touch sugar or eat a single piece of anything bad for me for days and then all of a sudden I would literally consume enough for months in one sitting.

So, by telling that story I hope you see that I understand. When my clients feel really upset when they eat a piece of cake or have a bag of chips one night – I GET IT. And trust me when I say I’ve experienced it almost daily for 14 years. So, to come out of that personal hell- what did I do? I admit I really didn’t think that there wasn’t a light at the end of the tunnel. I didn’t know how I could ever break this habit and I didn’t even know who I was without it. Picture that being a major part of your day. How could I fill the time? I literally didn’t know what to think about when I wasn’t thinking about food, calories, working out, or what I was going to binge on next. I didn’t have a life (although I did hide it pretty well most of the time) and I was miserable.

I want to tell you that there IS A LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL. And I want you know that I’ve come out on the other side and I NEVER EVER thought I would. I read about other people recovering from bulimia or binge eating and I thought “well, they weren’t as bad as me”. I hope you can see that for me it was really bad. (I didn’t even mention when I would sometimes spend a whole day doing this. Eating everything in sight, purging it up, and starting all over again. I would say that was my rock bottom).

I don’t want to be discouraging, but I didn’t just all of a sudden wake up one day and beat it. It has taken me years to get to where I am now. But I think that everyone should recognize that there probably isn’t a quick fix. It takes a lot of work and self-reflection, and changing your life and taking it one small day at a time. It’s an addiction and it’s not easy to give up. I’ve heard other people with binge eating disorder describe it like alcoholism. But they are almost jealous of alcoholics because they can just never touch alcohol again. We still have to eat everyday and eating can be such a grey and confusing area.

I’m going to break down what I did to begin to heal my relationship with food, and maybe some of these things will help you! If you ever want to talk to me about this don’t be afraid to ask 🙂

I feel like a lot of trainers try to give tips on binge eating and they’ve never actually experienced it. They will say “just wait 10 minutes and the urge will go away!” I don’t know about you, but I definitely wasn’t in the frame of mind to be even thinking about waiting 10 minutes, and if I did it would be torturous and I would just feel incredibly anxious and spend that 10 minute thinking about all the food I was going to eat anyway.

I’ll describe the binge eating like this (this is how it worked for me). I would just be going on about my day and then I would get an “urge” to binge. Just this feeling that I would try to stuff down. But then it would start getting worse. I would find myself thinking about what was available for me to binge on. (And in this context, it wasn’t that I was hungry and needed a snack. It was more like the addiction coming out). I would do anything I could to distract myself, but even once it got to that point it almost seemed too late. The first little bit of food I would eat I would always say to myself “I’ll just have this one little bowl of ice-cream. I’m allowed ice-cream. It’s totally fine”. But I would immediately feel guilty and awful as soon as I started eating it. And it’s not even like I WANTED to binge. The entire time I would know what was about to unfold but I felt powerless to stop it; and I knew how I would feel in an hour and I didn’t want to do this, but I did. I felt completely out of control. You know what happens from there.

The first thing I recommend is GET HELP. I went to a support group for a year, twice a week with other girls suffering from the same thing. It was immensely helpful. Binge eating (90% of the time) isn’t about the food. It’s about distraction, or anxiety, or sadness, or depression. We learned how to relax when we felt the urge (hence my tattoo “Just Breathe” on my side. When I learned how to breathe deeply and let go of the anxiety and the urge to binge it was life-changing for me). We learned how to enjoy food again. We learned to let go of rules, and calorie counting, and exercising. That was step one. If a support group isn’t for you, counselling and therapy can be amazingly helpful too. I also saw a therapist for years and she was amazing at helping me recover. It’s VERY HARD (almost impossible) to do it alone. There’s also Overeaters Anonymous meetings all over the place and I’ve done those too!

Then I started reading as many books on binge eating as I could. The most helpful to me were “Brain Over Binge” and “Intuitive Eating”. Those taught me how to eat normally again and recognize what was going on in my brain when the urge to binge arose.

The first year, I just tried to make my binges smaller. Even if it was just by a little bit, I gradually ate less during the binges. Then I GRADUALLY (and by the way, this wasn’t a linear process, I had ups and down and still had very bad days too) started spacing them out a bit more. That took about a year, and I eventually went 100 days without binge eating which was a huge accomplishment for me- but I fell right back into it and it was just as bad as before. Another year for me to get my binges down to about 3-4x a week. This was a major accomplishment as well. Finally I got myself down to 1-2x per week. Life was a lot more manageable and I was able to start focussing on other things. I still overeat these days, but I wouldn’t say I binge anymore. I don’t feel as out of control and I don’t get that panicky feeling like I used to. I think I’m still learning how to eat junk food without the guilt and anxiety that used to come along with it. I’m definitely still learning and still have bad days although they are few and far between and it’s an amazing feeling.

Start journalling- try and recognize what is triggering your binges. What happened that made you want to dive into that chocolate cake headfirst? Mine was almost always anxiety and an overwhelming to do list that I felt like I couldn’t handle. I learned how to manage my stress through meditation, to-do lists, giving myself more breaks, etc. Be NICE TO YOURSELF.

Start loving yourself now. Maybe it sounds a bit cliche, but as soon as I started learning to love my body at my heaviest and stop trying to change myself, is when I really started recovering. I was no longer analyzing everything I ate and having guilt over food that would lead to binges. It was HARD to recognize and change those thoughts of “I’m fat & ugly and disgusting etc etc”. I had to constantly look out for that voice in my head telling me I wasn’t good enough and keep telling myself over and over that I’m beautiful and strong and smart and am perfect the way I am.

Start reading, asking for help, and find out what your triggers are. When I first started years ago- TV would be a major trigger for me. I had to stop watching TV pretty much to reduce that trigger, or only let myself binge without the TV to break that habit. Now I can watch TV without the urge coming on. I had a lot of triggers that I had to work through, hence why it took me years to recover.

Start figuring out what you actually need. Most of the times its not food. Do you need a different job that makes you happier? Do you just need a hug? Are you lonely? Do you need something to do? What changes do you need to make in your life? Start them! Be honest with yourself.

Ask your doctor about medication. If you are really suffering and in a very dark place, there are things that can help you get out of that hole. I never wanted to use medication as a means to help me recover from my eating disorder, but as a last resort I tried it and it made all the difference. It’s not a magic pill, you still need to put in all that other hard work too. You need to learn whats causing you to reach for food instead of what you really need.

Talk to people. Don’t be ashamed. I’m still cringeing about putting this post on the internet for the world to see. I’m worried about judgement. I’m worried about what people will think of me. BUT I think in order for people to recover from this, they shouldn’t be ashamed. I know how ashamed I was and how much I hid from people. But I’m better now. I’m so much happier. I’m not going to be ashamed that I went through this, and instead I want to help other people come out of the other side. Everyone has shit going on in their life and some of it is harder than others! I’d like to use my struggles as a means to help people. I’m not this perfect trainer and nutritionist that just breezes through and thinks healthy eating is easy. Hell no it isn’t easy! It’s really hard at the best of times and about a million times harder if you suffer from binge eating disorder. You can’t just “go on a diet” or a “meal plan”. You have to address the other things going on first. I still can’t even put myself on a meal plan or diet and anything because I immediately feel restricted and want to binge. So for me, I find all the healthy foods I LOVE, and I eat when I’m hungry and I stop when I’m full- and when I want a treat- I eat it! Such a novel concept that years ago I would have looked at myself now in pure jealousy.

I hope this post was helpful. I feel like it was a bit all over the place because I’m writing from the heart. I realize these aren’t easy little tips like “Drink lots of water and paint your nails to avoid eating junk!” (because are you kidding? Like that would stop me). Try and face whats going in your whole life to really heal your relationship with food.

You can get through this and I promise you that it’s possible!

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