Binge Eating: Why You Shouldn’t Feel Ashamed
Each week I receive emails from readers who are struggling to let go of an eating disorder. A large number of these emails are emails about binge eating.
Binge Eating, or compulsive eating, is often triggered by chronic dieting and involves periods of overeating, often in secret and often carried out as a means of deriving comfort. Symptoms include:
- periods of uncontrolled, impulsive or continuous eating
sporadic fasts or repetitive diets
I wanted to take a moment today to discuss my experience with binge eating as I think it is a topic that is often swept under the rug due to feelings of shame and embarrassment. If you have read my series on Binge Eating (The Unspoken Issue Part 1 and The Unspoken Issue Part 2), you may know that I struggled with it for many years.
My struggles with binge eating began shortly after I started to restrict my food intake. Before this, I had no prior problems with binge eating. I struggled with disordered eating for many years. I would starve myself, over-exercise, and count calories obsessively. It is no surprise to me now that I also struggled with strong urges to binge. Typically once a week (on the weekends) I would get the urge to binge. Sometimes this binge would consist of several hundred calories and sometimes over a thousand. However, the amount never mattered, it was the feeling that was associated with it.
I felt completely out of control.
Afterwards, I would feel so ashamed, I would cry, and I would vow to restrict my intake the next day- and weeks after. During this time, I was also dating Eric and I remember being so scared that he would find out. I was so ashamed I couldn’t tell him because I was worried what he might think. After a few years of dating, I finally got the courage to tell him why I was in a bad mood, and I just told him that ‘I really overate and now I feel badly.’ Of course, he didn’t quite understand the gist of what I was telling him, and I couldn’t expect him to because I wasn’t fully honest about it. It really put up a wall between us for a long time.
It took me a very long time to realize that I would always have problems with binge eating as long as I was still depriving my body of what it needed. In an evolutionary psychology course we learned that it is an adaptive response for our bodies to seek out large amounts of food when in a deprived state. It makes total sense to me now that my body was just trying to get food in any way possible!
You can only deprive your body for so long before it acts out in protest. My weekend binges were in fact a protest against my weekday deprivation.
My body had ENOUGH.
And so this cycle continued for a long time. It is such a hard cycle to break because after a binge the guilt is so high that the only comfort you can think of is feeling empty again and restricting your intake. The cycle repeats itself over and over and the person who struggles with it, sinks deeper and deeper into isolation.
I am here today to tell you that it doesn’t have to be like this. You don’t have to live your life with cycles of deprivation and compulsive eating. It is possible to beat it and to eat in a steady cycle.
How did I beat binge eating?
Two things were pivotal to me beating Binge eating:
1) I sought counseling for my eating disorder.
I tried and tried and tried to beat it on my own but I couldn’t. It is so powerful and the emotions and habits tied to an eating disorder are extremely hard to overcome without help. I always, always encourage anyone who is struggling to seek out a counselor. It was a major turning point in my life. The counselor I saw in university made a huge impact on my life. To this day, I remember fondly the nice things she said about me. I should write her and thank her, actually.
2) I stopped restricting what I ate
I honestly do not think that I could have beat binge eating if I didn’t stop restricting my intake. This took me a long, long time to realize and I hope to be able to save some of you some time too. When I finally stopped restricting my intake, I allowed myself to eat when hungry and I stopped counting calories and weighing myself. The hardest part was that I still suffered from binges even though I was not restricting my food! You know why this was? Because old habits die hard. My body did not want to trust me. I had deprived it for so long that I couldn’t be trusted, so even though I was now eating enough food, I still struggled with binges now and then.
This was extremely frustrating for me and I will admit, I relapsed a few times because of this.
However, the body CAN learn new tricks. It took me about a year to finally stop the binges even when eating normally. My body finally learned to trust me again and it didn’t feel the need to ‘store up on food’. I know for a fact if I was still restricting my intake, I would still be struggling with binges. It is an adaptive response, don’t forget. Another thing I had to realize was that the goal weight that I wanted to be was not realistic. It is obvious to me now that the weight I wanted to be at could not be achieved in a healthy manner because obviously I had to starve myself to get there!
Ultimately I had to pick one of two choices for myself:
1) To starve and try to achieve my goal weight and struggle with binges and all the horrible emotions that come with an ED,
2) To let the ED go and to give my body what it needed. This meant that I would likely gain some weight and I would have to learn to love myself as I was meant to be.
This was no easy task, but I chose 2.
I can confidently tell you today that I am happier than I have ever been in my life and I know I would not be at this place had I not decided to turn a new leaf. Am I as thin as I once wanted to be? No, but I can tell you the happiness I now feel is better than any other feeling in the world.
We have to realize that each and everyone of us are different. Our bodies are different. Some people are meant to be muscular, some bigger, some smaller, some taller, some curvier, some shorter.
We have to find out where our body will be happiest. I believe that is one of the hardest things for a woman to figure out, but once you do you will never go back. We are all beautiful in our own UNIQUE way!
This post originally appeared on Oh She Glows as Binge Eating: Why You Shouldn’t Feel Ashamed.