Hi, I’m Sonya and I struggle with binge eating.
Sounds weird, doesn’t it? Like I’m at an AA meeting or something. Not that I’ve ever been to an AA meeting, because I’m only 18.
But I digress.
Yes, I have a problem with binge eating. And, if I’m being honest, I’ve avoided writing this post for a long time. I always turn to this blog when I have something difficult on my mind, and when I first started having problems with food and overeating, my initial reaction was simply to push it aside. A little voice in my head cautioned me that maybe it would help to write about it, but the larger part of my brain body slammed that little voice into a tiny room, locked it in the room, turned off the light and threw away the key. (I know that’s a really weird extended metaphor, but I’m baring my soul here! Just bear with me, okay?)
Why did I do that? In short, because I was ashamed, embarrassed, and afraid of looking weak and being viewed as a fraud. After all, here I was, posting about listening to my body, feeding it healthfully and intuitively (#mindfulnessmonday, anyone?) while I was doing the exact opposite in my offline life.
In my defense, for the first couple of weeks, I wasn’t really aware I was bingeing. At that time, I was dancing every day and still eating an incredibly strict diet, and I was only bingeing on non-calorie dense foods like rice cakes or vegetables, so I didn’t see an increase in my weight.
However, as this behavior continued, I found myself buying more unhealthy foods, knowing that I would binge on them later. I wrote this off as cutting myself some slack or not being so obsessive, but in reality, it was just a different kind of obsession. And, if I was strong enough to resist the temptation of buying those foods, the urges would only come back stronger the next day. I felt scared and out of control, but kept it to myself and tried to rationalize it by saying my body was just getting used to a more inclusive diet, and the cravings would stop when I had re-adjusted. They didn’t.
Binge eating is strange in that once it becomes a habit, it becomes enjoyable while at the same time being something you hate. Because the influx of junk food lights up the pleasure centers in your brain, you think yes, I want more of this, like an addict with drugs. But in reality, what you are craving more of is the temporary happiness the binge imparts, not the food itself.
Somewhere in there, the rational brain knows that devouring an entire bag of chips in one sitting is not really what you want, but it is silenced by the overwhelming, primal instinct of more more more.
Another important thing I want to touch on in this post is emotional eating. It is not the same as binge eating, but sometimes the two can be combined. I’m still learning about all of this, but I’ll do my best to explain how I understand they are different.
Binge eating is purely a habit. Usually this is caused by dieting and not having a balanced diet and giving your body everything it needs. When this happens, the primal brain yells at you to feed it, because survival instincts kick in. I NEED FOOD! So you oblige. However, the more you do this, the more it becomes a habit, so after a few weeks, you just think of it as something you can’t resist and you end up bingeing every time. It only takes about 3 weeks for it to become a habit, and the neural pathways become stronger every time you binge. As you would imagine, this makes it incredibly difficult to beat.
So, binge eating = brain programming, NOT emotions driving you to consume excessively.
That is emotional eating. Emotional eating is when you are stressed, tired, overwhelmed, etc. and instead of confronting these feelings and dealing with them as you should, you stuff them down using food. That way, instead of thinking and feeling the difficult emotions you are experiencing, those emotions are diverted to the huge amounts of food you have just consumed. So, every time those emotions come up, you head to the kitchen to cope and avoid your feelings. That way, instead of thinking about the things you are going through, you can think about how much you hate yourself for bingeing and send yourself into a food coma and forget your real problems for a while. Of course, the pleasure food gives you is short-lived, so you end up repeating the pattern and it becomes habit just like binge eating does. So the habit is the same, but the driving force behind it is emotional rather than a physiological reaction in your brain.
Now if I’m being entirely honest, I’m not 100% sure which one I suffer from. Originally, I started binge eating because I was told by my physician that I needed to gain weight because I was underweight. On one hand, I was furious about this. The control freak part of me scoffed. I had worked so hard to get where I was, and now she was telling me to throw away my hard work? No way! However, on the other hand, I was tired of not eating some of the foods that I loved, so I thought, okay, this isn’t so bad. I’ll eat a bunch of food for a few days, gain a few pounds, and then go back to my old diet. Clearly, I did not know how hard it would be to do that.
I went online and did some research on how to diet to gain weight. Everything I read told me to drink more caloric beverages, eat more calorie rich foods, and to eat often, even if I wasn’t hungry. Now that last one is really key here, because I believe that was the driving force behind my issues with food. So I went out, bought a whole bunch of food, and started eating it. When I was bored, I ate. When it was time for a meal, I ate. When I had time to spare (which was often, since I didn’t have a job yet), I ate.
And it made me feel awful. But I saw results, so I kept going. I felt terrible. I still wasn’t overweight, but I consistently felt disgusting. After eating for most of the day, I would stuff my body into a leotard and tights to go stare at myself in the mirror for two and a half hours, trying to focus on my technique, but not being able to get over how gross I felt and how fat I thought I looked.
Now this in itself was already wrong. I was deliberately going against what my body wanted. Even as it protested loudly for me to stop gorging myself on veggie chips and raw almonds, I kept stuffing them down. I knew it was wrong, but all I wanted was to gain the weight back as swiftly as possible so I could get everyone off my back and get back to counting calories and my previous extremely restrictive diet and obsessive food habits.
Eventually, as the behavior continued and I stopped dancing, I saw the pounds piling on and knew I had to do something about it. I’ve been learning how to listen to my body, not my primal brain, and I think I am doing better. However, I still have those days that test me and make me question whether I will ever be normal again.
The first picture is me, afraid and alone, trying to run away from my problems by getting away from my apartment and the food inside it, while trying to convince myself that I didn’t really have a problem and I was just going for a walk.
The second picture is me, happy, in my apartment, knowing that I may have a problem, but I can love myself. Binge eating does not define me and change is imminent.
I am determined to break the cycle, and ready to accept and love myself and have a healthy relationship with food again. Don’t get me wrong, I still have urges, and I don’t consider myself “cured” just yet, but now that I understand what caused them, they are a whole lot easier to resist.
If you suffer from binge eating or emotional eating, know that you are not alone, and it is possible to break free from it. Some resources that helped me are listed below, and if you would like to share your story in the comments or share this post to support others out there, that would be great. We are all strong and beautiful, no matter how we look or how we may feel sometimes.
Sous Sus Chef
- Carly Rowena: https://www.youtube.com/user/Carlyrowena (she’s great even if you don’t suffer from binge eating and are just interested in living a healthier and more active lifestyle)
- Josie Mai: https://www.youtube.com/user/josievmai (her channel is especially good if you are interested in intuitive eating)
- Earn Your Happy – episode 021 Beating Binge Eating with Brittany Brown (this was the first time I became aware that binge eating could be non-emotional and I wasn’t alone in suffering from this issue and not being obese)
- Compulsive Overeating Diary | Living With Binge Eating Disorder (This podcast deals more with compulsive emotional eating and I used it as a distraction when I wanted to binge. However, now it’s not really helpful for me as my problems no longer stem from emotional issues).
- Brain Over Binge: Why I Was Bulimic, Why Conventional Therapy Didn’t Work, and How I Recovered For Good by Kathryn Hansen. If you don’t want to purchase the book, she has a website as well http://brainoverbinge.com/. I haven’t personally read it (yet!) but it is discussed widely in the binge eating community online and many of the videos above.
There are so many more books, videos, and podcasts out there to help people who suffer from these issues. Please, please remember that you are not alone and this doesn’t have to define you or your life any longer 🙂 You are more than your weight or physical appearance. Stay strong, friends.