This blog post has been brewing on my mind for awhile as I find myself truly beating bulimia and binge eating disorder. I have a lot of helpful tips that I’ve learned along the way and would love these to help anyone struggling as I have in the past!
Firstly, I would like to say that recovering from an eating disorder is like peeling off an onion. You start by peeling off one layer and feeling pretty good about it, and realize you have about 100 more to go. That has been the process for me… As soon as I think I have it all figured out- there is something else I need to face and deal with. And guess what- that never ends! As humans we are all constantly changing, growing, undergoing transformations, improving, and peeling off layers. I think I’ve finally realized that I’m not going to wake up one day and say “Oh I’m totally fine and will never have a problem with food again”. It’s an ongoing process that is going to be easier or harder depending on what’s going on in your life at the time.
So sit back, relax- and start peeling back those layers. Also, I’d like to say that there is no quick fix. This is definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through (and I admit I’ve had a very blessed life!) but I’m thankful for how much its taught me regarding self improvement, curiosity, and mindfulness. I would never be where I am today and have the determination to succeed if I didn’t struggle with binge eating.
So, before we delve too deep- the first thing you need to figure out is are you dieting, restricting, depriving yourself, or eliminating food groups? If you are partaking in any of these things- that’s automatically setting you up for eventual binge eating. I’ll link you to this (scroll to the binge eating part if you don’t want to read it all) study on the effects of dieting on mental health and how it sets you up for binge eating. Also, take a good hard look at your eating habits. Are you skipping meals? Not getting enough calories in? Not getting in enough protein or healthy fats? These are all big pitfalls that lead ultimately to being overly hungry and then eating everything in front of you. I’m not going to go too much into a nutritious diet in this post, but for more information you can always send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can talk more about the specifics of nutrition!
Next up is where the real work begins- once you are eating a nutritious varied diet that includes all foods and feeling confident with intuitive eating – you’ll probably be binging a whole lot less which is fantastic!! Like I said- you won’t just stop binging overnight. First my binges became smaller, then and little farther in between- and I still had setbacks.. and eventually it just kept getting better. But it has been 10+ years of recovery, counselling, and group therapy for me and I still have work to do- so don’t be too hard on yourself! I can confidently say that I rarely “binge” like I used to and feel almost 100% “normal” most days without a preoccupation with food– which if you told me that 10 years ago I would have laughed in your face (and then probably cried).
Now I want you to really start examining your thoughts. Mindfulness is the key word. Seeing how you are treating yourself, what thoughts are running through your head about food and your body.
Start identifying your triggers for binge eating. I can spot a binge from a mile away because I know the exact feelings, thoughts, behaviours and little warning signs right away. This allows me to better check in with myself and figure out what I truly need vs. binge eating. Guess what – you never actually need to binge- shocker! What you most likely need is a shoulder to cry on, some rest, something to do, some peace and quiet, a way to turn your brain off, a big hug, a long talk, a good meal.. etc. I did a good exercise in group therapy where after every binge we filled out this piece of paper that identified the trigger, what thoughts we were thinking, what we did, and what we could have done differently. That helped me start to realize what was going on. When I first started doing this I could NEVER have stopped a binge part way through because it honestly didn’t register until it was over. I literally went into a trance and didn’t think about ANYTHING until I was stuffed full, and then all I thought about was how disgusted I was with myself. It was a vicious terrible cycle. I never actually identified the thought and the WHY that was going into the binge- I just thought I had zero self control. PLEASE NEVER THINK THAT!! It’s not about self control, ever.
Once you start really getting a handle on why you are binge eating- you can start to problem solve from there. For me, it started out as starvation response, and became a coping mechanism for anything and everything. Overwhelmed? Binge. Anxious? Binge. Sad? Binge. Nervous? Binge. Want to escape? Binge.
Now- obviously I had a lot of different reasons for wanting to binge and it was hard separate these and identify them at the time. I’ll just talk about the main ones which were anxiety, and overwhelm.
Anxiety: I actually didn’t know I was an anxious person until my therapist told me. And once she did it became this identity that I took on and used as an excuse for everything- I almost wish I just never knew. I feel like everyone experiences anxiety in different ways. For me it is this feeling in the pit of stomach where everything feels like WAY TOO MUCH. I can’t send an email, reply to a text or make a doctors appointment without literally wanting to hide in bed all day- and that’s where the binge eating comes in because I do hide in bed all day and I need something to shut off my anxious brain yelling at me. So how do you fix this? Well- for me medication was the biggest cure along with therapy and journalling. I journal almost every single day, I am on prozac which changed my life, and I am better able to handle those feelings when they creep up because I can recognize them right away. I know that I need more rest than the average person, more alone time, and I need to workout and partake in self care to keep my anxiety at bay. This is what works for me- and maybe some of these things can work for you as well. Identify where your anxiety starts to amp up- is it when you aren’t getting enough “you” time? Or sleep? Or missed a few days of workouts? Do the best you can to keep yourself on an even keel to avoid falling into the abyss of anxiety and binge eating to try to disconnect!
Overwhelm: I’ve only recently really started to get a handle on overwhelm. First thing to realize is that the world is not going to end if you can’t get everything on your to-do list done- so BREATHE.
I found that a lot of common advice like “make a to-do list” and then “swallow the frog” (get the worst, most foreboding thing out of the way first) does NOT work for me. When I am faced with a whole bunch of tasks in front of me I immediately go into overwhelm, shut down, and ignore everything. (See: Netflix marathon and binge eating).
I just discovered this little tip a week or so ago and my life has changed FOREVER. I am super obsessed with productivity and efficiency and buy every book on the topic and listen to every podcast I can. I was recently listening to a podcast on how to increase productivity without inducing overwhelm and I was like this podcast was MADE FOR ME.
Here’s the tip: Create a pathetically small goal to get done for the day. And I mean small. My first day my only goal was to send an e-mail. One email.
The idea behind this is that the hardest part is getting started. I know that is ultimately true for me whether its working out, getting down to work- I somehow create in my head that it’s going to be so hard, and take so long, and be so frustrating. But once I got that one e-mail done I felt empowered. I was like okay, what else can I do!? I ended up probably having the most productive day of my life where I just kept tackling one thing after the next thinking “okay, just one more thing” until I finished everything on my to-do list and normally I wouldn’t have even thought was possible to get done in a day. My stress was GREATLY decreased, and my pride, accomplishment and self-efficacy was increased.
I highly recommend trying this tip! In fact, this blog post came to be from that little tip. I decided I was going to sit down and reply to e-mails and then I realized I’ve been thinking about blogging for forever, so why don’t I just start the first paragraph or two? Now I can’t stop! haha.
The next tip that I find also really works for me is to set a timer for 20-25 minutes (or even 10 if you want to start small) where my phone goes away and I do nothing but focus on the task at hand until the timer goes off. I am actually shocked at how much I can accomplish in a focussed 25 minutes vs. an unfocussed hour. I’m all about working less and getting more done! This is great tip for those of us that work from home. Sometimes it can be so hard to get started because you can also clean, do laundry, cuddle with your dog, read a book- there is no one telling you to get shit done- you have to be pretty self motivated (which I am only half of the time haha).
So those two tips have completely allowed me to tackle my overwhelm one step at a time. And oh- lets say you just get that one task done and you are like NOPE still not feeling this. That’s okay! The point is that you got that one thing done; and if you still aren’t feeling it maybe today is not the day to tackle all that other hard stuff. But consistently getting even just 20 minutes of work done per day & feeling accomplished vs. spending the week in overwhelm and panic is so much better wouldn’t you agree?
(*This tip also applies to working out- set a timer for 20 minutes and go for a walk or do something body weight training at home- bet you’ll feel awesome after!!)
Back to binge eating- I hope you are now starting to see that binge eating isn’t actually the problem. You are binge eating as result of something going on in your life that you need to address. I actually look at my binge eating as bit of blessing because I know if I’m all of a sudden binging a lot- something is not right here! Alarm bells go off and I can get to the bottom of where these feelings are coming from and fix them. Binge eating is not going to go away from a new diet, meal plan or exercise routine. (Trust me, I’ve tried). You need to dig deeper to truly eliminate it from your life.
FEELINGS & EMOTIONS:
Now we get into what I feel is the hardest part of my journey through recovery. Learning to actually sit with and feel uncomfortable emotions. If you know me in real life you would probably describe me as fairly bubbly, enthusiastic, & happy. And I am that way most of the time! But what I didn’t realize is that it was OKAY to not be like that all the time (something I definitely still struggle with). I had to start getting comfortable with other emotions like sadness, anger, frustration etc. Usually when I felt any of those I immediately pushed it down (with food) and put on a happy face. This resulted in some major breakdowns and crying when I finally released those feelings and constantly feeling like there was something wrong with me for not being able to “control” my emotions.
One of the things we learned in group was to sit with uncomfortable feelings. Don’t try to ignore it, push it away, eat over it, exercise over it, drink over it. Just be. This is where meditation can come in handy because it allows you to non-judgementally acknowledge what you are feeling without attaching anything extra to it. For example:
“My boyfriend broke up with me- and I’m feeling sadness, rejection, and loneliness” you can acknowledge those feelings and just embrace them WITHOUT letting yourself go into a downward spiral of “I’m not worthy, I will be alone forever, no one will ever love me again, I am fat and ugly” etc. You need to pay attention to what your mind is saying to you, because it can go down that route quite quickly! So feel the actual feelings, without creating stories in your head of something that is not true. Got it? Journalling is incredibly helpful for this because you can write out what you are thinking and really sort through everything with pen to paper.
Living in the moment and sorting through my feelings was the biggest breakthrough I had with binge eating. I can now eat something and instead of it setting me off into a full blown binge I can just acknowledge how I feel in that moment and realize what I truly need. This is something that my therapist taught me… “What do I need right now?” is something that I’m always repeating to myself and trying to determine; when I find myself eating when I’m not hungry or particularly even craving that food.
This is a helpful tool that I have on my fridge and that I recommend you take a look at. It’s a coping strategy flow chart and goes through the harmful copy strategies vs. the life enhancing coping strategies. It involves way more than just food so take a look if you think you struggle from any other negative coping mechanisms. This chart is designed by Michelle Morand from the Cedric Centre if you are interested in viewing more of her work!
I’m going to end the blog post here, I hope you found some helpful tips and tricks to help end the battle with emotional eating. As always, feel free to contact me and I’m always here for support! It’s very difficult to do alone and I don’t think I would be where I am today without the help of numerous therapy sessions and amazing people in my life.
Thanks for reading!! Love,