It’s the morning after the night before. I feel that familiar sense of self-hatred and shame as I lie in bed and mentally list everything I consumed. It seems impossible to get up and get on with my day. The world hasn’t ended, but it may as well have. Overnight I have turned back into that miserable girl that weighed over 23 stone. I fight every impulse that tells me that I have ruined all the progress I have made, that I am weak and broken and cannot be saved. I also have to fight the urge to stand on the scales, to truly rub salt in the wound by seeing the physical consequences of my inability to control my binge eating. Every casual glance in a mirror is more opportunity to be disgusted with myself as I see the extra weight on my face and body that may or may not actually be there. I call this the binge hangover. For me, it’s the most damaging aspect of having a problem with binge eating. Beyond the weight gain and nausea and stomach pain, it is the mental torment that hurts the most.
But actually I can get up and get on with my day. I can ignore the urges to weigh myself and berate myself in the mirror. I can draw a line under whatever happened yesterday and make good, healthy food choices throughout the day. Most importantly I am not the same girl I used to be. With the help of a dietician and medication, I feel like I am recovering. As part of that recovery, I am still seeking to examine why I came to this point. Why I began binge eating and why I am still binge eating.
As far as I can tell, my binges are triggered by three behaviours. Firstly, restricting my food intake makes me more vulnerable to binging. Having worked with a dietician to examine my eating habits, it became clear that following a restrictive diet for almost one year had led to me develop binge tendencies. It suddenly made sense that the less I ate the harder it became to resist those binging urges that crept up from within me. What makes less sense in my head is why one day I could manage my cravings without feeling like I was restricting myself, and the next day I couldn’t and became fixated on all the food I couldn’t have. I had successfully overhauled my diet and stopped my emotional overeating for a significant period of time. I had come to the realisation that food should not be used for a reward, that food is energy and putting any more emphasis on it than that was damaging and illogical. This became my new mantra. I overhauled my diet completely. I was losing weight and eating well (so I thought) with the occasional treat. I felt better than I ever had before, mentally and physically. I was fixed! … And then I wasn’t. The confidence I had in my ‘cure’ ended as quickly as it had begun. I didn’t know why I suddenly could no longer enjoy a cheat meal without taking it to the extreme, or why I began to obsess over food again. I don’t believe weight loss diets are inherently unhealthy. But I acknowledge that for some individuals, they can trigger unhealthy behaviours. On self-reflection I think it comes down to your personality, and the way your brain is wired. I am an all-or-nothing person. I have perfectionist tendencies. I feel guilt very strongly, even if it is irrational.
The second behaviour that I believe triggers an eating binge is overeating. Eating more than is normal, especially if it is an unhealthy food, makes me feel enormously guilty. It’s reasonable to assume this could be quite useful, a self-control mechanism. ‘I feel guilty for eating all this food so I will stop eating.’ Unfortunately my self-control mechanism seems to need a little fine-tuning, and my response is to keep eating. I keep eating in an attempt to silence the guilt and shame. I’m sure this is a feeling familiar to any emotional eater. Everything’s fine as long as you’re eating, right? What this usually results in is a binge eating episode where I eat whatever I can get my hands on until I feel ill and uncomfortable and go to bed.
I was able to address my restrictive habits, and in turn my overeating, by working with a dietician to make sure I was eating nutritional, satisfying food and normal portion sizes. In other words, I was learning how to eat normally for the first time in my life. I was surprised then when my dietician (who specialises in treating individuals with eating disorders) told me resolutely that I would binge again. She wasn’t being discouraging, she was reassuring me that all was not lost or hopeless (there’s that all-or-nothing thinking again) just because I binged again while in recovery. She was right, by the way. I did binge again, multiple times. And the world didn’t end.
Before continuing, I want to say that reaching out to a professional for help is one of the best decisions I have made in terms of my health and wellbeing. I will talk about this more in depth in a separate post. Although I am still in recovery and still struggle with my relationship with food, I truly believe that I now have the tools I need to be able to one day live completely binge-free while maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
The fact that I still binge eat, even after addressing the factors that make me more vulnerable to binging, made me examine if there was something else that triggered these behaviours in me. I searched for answers online and eventually read Brain Over Binge: Why I Was Bulimic, Why Conventional Therapy Didn’t Work, and How I Recovered for Good by Kathryn Hansen. I had seen countless reviews online with people crediting this book and it’s author for helping them overcome their own disordered eating. Unfortunately utilising the techniques described in the book weren’t as successful for me, but it did help me to realise that I was still binge eating because it had become a habit. So that’s where I am now – trying to break the habit.
Honestly, some days are better than others. I am still fighting to beat the binge. But these days I wake up with the affirmation that the morning after the night before is just a new opportunity for a better day. No more, no less. How’s that for a hangover cure. That’s what binge eating recovery is for me right now – taking one day at the time. I am working on a day-by-day basis to make healthy and satisfying food choices, to refrain from restricting and to avoid overeating. It sounds simple but it is a delicate balance for anyone who struggles to maintain a healthy relationship with food.