Binge Eating and Weight Gain

I have put on weight and I do not feel good about it. My clothes feel tighter and I can see the extra weight on my face and around my stomach. I am not in denial about why I have gained weight. My birthday, followed by Christmas, followed by a weeklong holiday in January gave me plenty of opportunity (and excuses) to overeat all the sugary, calorie-laden foods I frequently crave. And it was bliss. But it can’t continue.

The primary reason I started seeing a dietician about my binge eating was due to my concern that I would very quickly put on a lot of weight if I continued binging four to five times a week. That scared me shitless. Here’s the thing, within a period of less than twelve months I had lost weight. I had lost a lot of weight. Although I didn’t weight myself when I first started dieting, I know from weigh-ins earlier in the year that I weighed over 23 stone. In September 2015 I was wearing a UK size 28 in trousers, and a UK size 26 in tops. I was 24 years old. I did not feel good myself. Even as a teenager and in my early twenties, I remember buying only size 20/22/24. By September 2016 I am wearing a UK size 16 in trousers and dresses, and a UK size 14 in tops and jackets. I cannot underestimate how life changing this was for me. Beyond the obvious health benefits, I could suddenly walk into any high street shop and buy clothes. I felt normal for the first time in my life. So of course the prospect of gaining back the weight I lost terrified me. It would signal loosing the freedom I had gained. I could not go back to the person I was.

My dietician made it simple. I could not diet and recover from binge eating simultaneously (cue internal panic). The reality is dieting and recovery not compatible. Recovery for me meant to stop restricting the types of food I ate and to concentrate on eating regularly, healthily and normally. Essentially, eating more than I had been while dieting. My dietician was honest with me and said it’s possible I could gain weight, however it was more than likely my weight would fluctuate slightly but stay much the same. She asked to put my trust in her so I did. And I am so glad I did. I found freedom in being able to eat normally for the first time in my life. To take care with ensuring I am getting all the nourishment I need from healthy sources, whilst still being able to enjoy a treat without having to overcompensate by binging. The best part? I didn’t gain weight; I actually lost weight and then began the journey to maintain at that sweet spot (for me) of 12st 7lb.

I know, I know. I shouldn’t be fixated on my weight anymore. My dietician insisted I stop weighing myself multiple times a day. Despite being initially reluctant, I can happily admit that weighing myself once a week is more than enough for me. So I set a 4lb range within which I could be ‘comfortable’. And as I had my birthday, and Christmas, and New Year and a holiday, I slowly crept out of that comfort zone. I ignored the part of me that was panicking at the threat of spiralling out of control, and I almost started ignoring the scale… Ignorance is bliss, right?

I weighed myself five days ago, after drawing a line under all the holiday indulgences and vowing to get back to eating normally, I weighed in at over half a stone more than my happy weight. So here I am today, vowing to not let feeling bad about myself as an excuse to keep gaining. I am back to eating healthy, regular meal and snacks. No calorie counting, no restriction, just watching what I eat like a lot of people do. I have not binged or overeaten for almost five days. And it doesn’t feel hard like it sometimes does, which is reassuring. I know that I can get back to my ideal weight without ‘dieting’; I just need to cut out the binges.

But I feel slightly vulnerable today, which is why I decided to get my feelings out in writing. For most of this week my boyfriend has been staying over. It’s much harder to binge when you’re with another person. Tonight I am alone. I have my dinner planned, and my evening snacks. I feel in control, for now. I must remember it’s just another (normal) day.

 

 

Hide the Jar

As a child I once witnessed my mum pour my grandmother’s alcohol down the kitchen sink of the holiday home we were staying in at the time. Beyond the emotion and frustration associated with that moment, it was the first time I saw the reality of addiction. In that moment I understood the difficulty a person has in abstaining from a vice if the temptation to indulge in right in front of them. Asking my grandmother not to drink was not an option.

My vice is sugar. I don’t think I would call it an addiction. But if I’m binging then the need to eat as much sugary food as possible feels compulsive and uncontrollable. Ironically before developing a binge-eating problem I couldn’t care less about chocolate or cake. My cravings usually consisted of starchy, savoury foods like crisps, potatoes, pasta and takeaways. Now I obsess over cheesecake and peanut butter, two foods I had never even liked never mind craved. Pancakes, muffins, chocolate spread, ice cream, biscuits, sugary cereal – these are some of my favourite binge foods. I have memories of driving from supermarket to supermarket, placing these items in my basket as I tell myself that I’ll just have one or two; just a taste to satisfy my craving. I know that’s a lie and as I pay at the self-serve kiosk I’m already fantasising about what I’ll eat in the car on the way home, a mini-binge before the main event.

The reality of binge eating must seem absolutely bizarre to someone who cannot relate to the madness of compulsive eating. I once tried to disguise a binging episode as a ‘treat night’ to my boyfriend, on one of the only occasions I’ve felt like I binged in the company of someone else. Noticing how quickly I scoffed a share size Cadbury’s Oreo chocolate bar (and that was after the cheesecake, crisps and biscuits I’d already eaten), he made a throwaway comment about how different my treat nights looked compared to when other people allowed themselves a treat. He didn’t mean to make me feel bad. He simply voiced something I already knew; that I did not have a normal relationship with food. The shame I felt by this was compounded by the fact that I had stuffed numerous chocolate chip pancakes in my mouth before even leaving my car, and had more biscuits hidden in there. There was a silver lining to this episode though. It was one of the moments that made me realise I needed professional help to understand what was happening to me and to prevent myself from gaining weight fast. The reality was that I was eating uncontrollably like this multiple times a week. Maybe it took binging in front of someone else for me to face-up to the fact that my behaviour was not normal.

The reality is that I cannot trust myself around certain foods. I can’t have my favourite binge foods in the house because I can’t seem to operate self-control around them. I wish that didn’t have to hide a jar of Nutella in my mum’s house. The ridiculousness of the statement is not lost on me, by the way. It’s a bit hoarder-like, isn’t it? I should just throw the jar away if I won’t eat it. But I can’t seem to. My dietician reassures me that one day I will be able to have a jar of Nutella in my cupboard, and use a bit on a slice of toast now and again, like normal people do. That’s my ultimate goal. I just want to eat like a normal person.

“Normal eating is going to the table hungry and eating until you are satisfied. It is being able to choose food you like and eat it and truly get enough of it -not just stop eating because you think you should. Normal eating is being able to give some thought to your food selection so you get nutritious food, but not being so wary and restrictive that you miss out on enjoyable food. Normal eating is giving yourself permission to eat sometimes because you are happy, sad or bored, or just because it feels good. Normal eating is mostly three meals a day, or four or five, or it can be choosing to munch along the way. It is leaving some cookies on the plate because you know you can have some again tomorrow, or it is eating more now because they taste so wonderful. Normal eating is overeating at times, feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. And it can be undereating at times and wishing you had more. Normal eating is trusting your body to make up for your mistakes in eating. Normal eating takes up some of your time and attention, but keeps its place as only one important area of your life.

In short, normal eating is flexible. It varies in response to your hunger, your schedule, your proximity to food and your feelings.”

– See more at: http://ellynsatterinstitute.org/hte/whatisnormaleating.php#sthash.7jpZVraC.dpuf

Sometimes I have to remind myself that I am in the one in control. There is no special binge eating force that overpowers my brain and limbs as I open the fridge. I am a rational, intelligent human being that makes her own choices. So as I sit here today I know I have that half eaten box of Celebrations chocolates hidden in the back of a kitchen cupboard. But I will choose not to open that box today, just like I chose not to yesterday. This is what progress looks like.

Binge Eating and Me

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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.