Disclaimer: I am not clinical therapist, psychiatrist, or even an eating disorder specialist. But I am an expert on what it’s like to struggle with a binge eating disorder. I think it started for me as a survival mechanism.
My mom passed away in a car accident when I was eight years old. My dad did his absolute best to meet the needs of my sisters and I, but we were in survival mode from that point on. He made Sunday dinners consistently, but we mostly grew up on frozen and box meals that we could easily fix to fend for ourselves. Please know that I have zero intentions of discrediting my dad. He made sure that we never went hungry, or without any other basic (and sometimes not so basic) needs. My amazing grandparents (oh how I miss them), and aunts and uncles did so much to also help us feel the support that we needed (my heart bursts with gratitude as I reminisce on all they did for us).
I think my extended family were all gifted as some of the most amazing cooks that I have ever known. At every extended family gathering we went to, on either side of my family, there was always the most amazing spread of food. I mean, growing up in a home where most of my meals were processed in a factory made it so that these family events, always containing the most delicious homemade foods, were a real treat. And believe me, I would take full advantage of the opportunity to feast, and I wouldn’t stop until I was sick. This same thing happened each time my grandma, my aunts or my neighbors would bring a prepared meal over to our house. It was such a gift to eat delicious food that didn’t come from a box!
I didn’t realize that it was actually something I should be embarrassed about to go back for un-needed seconds (and thirds, and fourths) until my early college years while living in an apartment with a bunch of girls (I miss those days!). That’s where I started to learn ideas around nutrition, and portion size. But, since old habits die hard, it has not been an easy struggle to shake. I mean, that combination of really good homemade food mixed with the feeling of being completely stuffed puts me in that deep psychological place of feeling safe. This in turn triggers a dopamine response for me, and I feel as if I’ve been rewarded in that state. But because of all of the things I’ve learned about nutrition since that point in my life, I’m immediately so mad at myself, feel shame, and totally frustrated after the binge happens! Beyond binge eating, depression and anxiety have been fairly regular companions of mine through much of my life. So that combination has triggered a vicious cycle of feeling depressed or anxious, eating all the comfort food, feeling stuffed, feeling shame/anger/embarrassment, swearing I’ll never do it again, maintaining control for a period of time, feeling emotional again, repeating the whole process all over again.
I’ve met with a handful of therapists over the years, which has been helpful. But I have also instilled some habits of my own which have been effective in moving past the binge mentality. I want to share with you the tools that I’ve found to be the most effective in helping me to reign in the inner binge monster.
Tools to overcome the binge mentality:
#1 – The most recent therapist that I worked with was in the summer of 2019. He had me memorize a passage that has stayed with me and proven useful countless times since then. It goes like this:
“I want to binge. I am able to binge. But when I do, problems start. So, for this moment, I am choosing to refrain from eating (Insert food item here), So that I will gain:
(Fill in the numbered spaces with three rewards you’ll gain by choosing to not eat the foods which you know will trigger a binge).
This has actually been a really empowering tool as it has helped me to recognize that I’m the one who chooses what goes into my mouth and why. The food never forces me to eat it (although, often it feels that way). I have power. I have control. I get to decide. Plus, I get to recognize the natural consequences that occur from choosing to abstain from eating said item! That’s huge! I have power, and I get rewards!
#2 – Have you ever heard the phrase “educate your desires”? I’m obsessed with it! I’ve heard it in religious settings, but the principle applies to anything that we want to achieve in life. Educating your desires is an empowering tool as we recognize that self improvement is in our own control.
Neil A. Maxwell said, “It is our own desires which determine the sizing and the attractiveness of various temptations. We set our thermostats as to temptations… Only by educating and training our desires can they become our allies instead of our enemies!.. Your deepest desires will control your choices, and your choices will then control the consequences to be felt. (“The Education of Our Desires,” University of Utah Institute of Religion Devotional, 5 January 1983).
Educating our desires is the process of recognizing and honoring what it is we want. Not what we want in the moment, but our larger goals that we want to attain. We educate our desires by surrounding ourselves with the influence which will nurture us to become that thing we want to become.
For example, the times that I have been most in control of my binge eating have been during my studying to obtain my fitness nutrition certification, and my college nutrition course. As my focus zeroed in on what happens as we properly nourish our body, my desires changed to where I wanted that nourishment for myself. This same thing has happened as I’ve listened to podcasts about binge eating, or even just general health podcasts. I’m currently listening to the fit2fat2fit podcast, and I tell you what, there are little snippets that I grasp from that every single day which have motivated me to honor the process of taking care of my nutrition, physical fitness, and even mental health! Surrounding yourself with like minded people is also a strength building way to turn weaknesses into strengths.
So educate your desires! What do you want? Who do you want to become? Who do you need to talk to, listen to, read books from, surround yourself with so that you can effectively change your thought patterns away from current binge eating habits?
#3 – I have found that I need to practice being mindful about what I’m eating EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. I wish that I was one of those people who were gifted with intuitive eating, but I’m not. I have to make the choice every morning to be conscious of what I am putting in my mouth. I have to force myself to be conscious about the nutritional value of each morsel of food. I even have to force myself to be conscious of desiring to eat the right foods. This is work for me. But work is never a bad thing! Someday, I hope that practicing mindfulness will become so second nature that it won’t feel like a burden, anymore. But until then, I have to ensure that I’m actually allowing myself to feel what hunger feels like. Sometimes I set a timer for 2-3 hours after I eat, and tell myself that I have to wait until that point until I can eat again. I have to train myself to respect that the feeling of hunger serves a purpose. It tells us that we are due to nourish ourselves again. If I don’t pay respect to this natural body process, then I’ll always be overfeeding myself. There are so many unwanted natural consequences to over feeding ourselves beyond just gaining fat. Over feeding brings on risk of developing type II diabetes, hypertension, heart disease (which runs in my family), and other health conditions that we have a high chance of avoiding by not allowing ourselves to be binge eaters. So with this, I work hard to constantly measure my serving sizes, and keep a record of the food that goes into my mouth. I’m far less likely to eat something if I know that it is going to be recorded in a food journal.
#4 – The last tool in my arsenal is to be mindful of and avoid any “all or nothing” approaches. Do you know what happens each time I say I’m going – X amount of time – without any sugar? I set myself up for failure and inevitably find myself in the same cycle of crashing, bingeing, gaining control, crash again (I did go three months, once, but guess how that ended? With me binging on sugary treats!). Yes, eating sugar scares me because I never feel like I can have enough. But it’s important for me to be mindful that I can have treats. I need to respect treats for what they are, just that, treats. They should be a part of life. There is nothing inherently immoral, or evil about treats. But as I said, I have to force myself to respect them for being the rare occasional item. It is way healthier for me to plan for a specific serving amount of the treat that is calling to me, and be completely conscious of the way each bite tastes in my mouth. Then when I’m finished, I need to honor the fact that I was allowed the treat, and move on with my life. But man, this is the hardest tool for me to leverage successfully (Have you ever tried drinking a swig of apple cider vinegar after a treat to erase that dire need you feel to eat more of your binge trigger foods after your serving is finished? It’s nasty! But also effective)!
My last little plug, here, is to tell you that getting professional help is a gift and blessing! If you have ever had even the tiniest thought that maybe you need help beyond your own strength, then do it! There are professionals out there who have been trained to help you with the very thing you are struggling with! Side note, did you know that there are Overeaters Anonymous (OA) meetings (like Alcoholics Anonymous, AA, meetings) out there? (https://oa.org). How awesome is that!?!? YOU DO NOT NEED TO SUFFER ALONE! First, call on whatever higher power you believe in, then do the work required to find yourself the help that you need to overcome. You are not meant to suffer alone. Do not delay! You are not meant to carry a burden which lasts excessively long. Allow yourself to get the help required to become the best version of yourself. I promise that you are worth it!
Rant over! Talk to you soon!
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