Since I started sharing the amount of days I was binge free on my Twitter and Instagram, I’ve had lots of extremely kind and lovely comments from people sharing support, as well as messages from others who also experience binge eating asking me how I got this far and what my best tips are to help resist a binge. So, I thought it would be good for me to write a post on this, something with the top things I’ve learnt so far on this crazy hard journey that might provide help for others in a similar position.
I must make it clear – I am NOT a professional or expert in mental health, binge eating or eating disorders, and if you’re really struggling with these issues I implore you to talk to someone and go see a doctor. All I’m offering here is what I’ve learnt, what keeps me going and how I personally have got a handle on my binge eating.
These things definitely all link together and come under one approach to a positive relationship with food and your body, but I’ve tried to separate them into distinct thoughts and actions.
Don’t restrict yourself
This is the biggest, biggest thing that has helped me prevent my binge eating and start to move towards a more positive relationship with food (though I’m not there yet, believe me). I wholeheartedly believe that if you suffer from binge eating, taking the decision to cut out huge food groups and even certain foods that you might normally binge on is a fast track to relapse. You might be able to hold on for a while, but all I’ve ever found from doing this is that soon the food you’re cutting out becomes all you can think about it, obsessive thoughts intensify and all it does is give the food so much more power over you – and eventually, you give in.
By not making any food off limits, even the ones I normally binged on, I’ve made the task of getting better not seem like such a big mountain to climb. I’ve took the power back from those foods. I’ve stopped them from controlling me (or am trying to). They’ve stopped being this big scary thing that I have to pretend I don’t want in public for fear of judgment and hoard for myself when I’m alone. If I really want chocolate, or a takeaway… I’ll have some. It’s slowing down, making the most of the food and not eating them in an emotion-filled stupor that is key from separating eating what you want from binging.
I actually was a vegetarian for about a year, until I made the decision to remove that label from myself a few months ago. I still very strongly believe in the vegetarian and vegan lifestyle, and eat veggie/vegan meals a lot of the time, but I realised that putting the pressure on myself to avoid meat was making my binge eating worse. Being vegetarian put such a heavy weight on me, forced me to choose food I didn’t always want and left me seeking satiation from binge foods. And so, despite desiring to move towards a more vegan lifestyle, I’m currently eating what I want in that respect. When I’ve managed to construct a more positive relationship with food, I’ll start reducing animal products when I feel the time is right. But for now, giving myself freedom with food is important to help free myself from my disordered eating.
As I say, I’m no expert in this, but I see other binge eaters cutting out carbs or counting their calories and I can’t help but feel that it’s not going to work for them as a long term solution. Of course, I can’t know that what I’m doing will work either, but I just know that punishing yourself for eating any kind of food will not help you build that positive mentality you need to beat your binge eating habits.
Removing guilt around food
One of the most damaging effects of binge eating is that it can turn food into an object of guilt, shame and even resentment, instead of something to fuel and nourish your body and soul – and I’ve found that if you binge for long enough, you soon start to feel guilty for eating anything at all, whether it’s something considered ‘healthy’ or not.
This can make every day life such a struggle. I still feel panic and horror at the thought of managing to feed myself without binging. The bottom line is that everyone has to eat, and so feeling such deep rooted emotions around food can have a really negative impact on your mental health.
Working with myself to mentally remove this guilt around food has been a crucial part in the recovery I’ve made so far.
Practising mindful eating
Relating directly to the previous point, practising mindful eating is one of the things that really helped me to remove the guilt and emotion I feel towards certain foods.
My therapist suggested that I look up mindful eating videos on Youtube – I used this one and this one – and go through the exercise using a food I would previously have binged on, which for me is chocolate. This was such a scary idea at the time – I’m allowed to eat this food that I used to buy in bulk and squirrel away, inhaling it when I was alone?
I saw the mindful exercise as a huge deal, something I was building myself up to the whole week as this amazing chance to eat something I’d been trying to recover from and reduce my intake of for so long. I looked forward to it like you would a first date, got butterflies at the thought, and planned out the time and day I would do it, as well as meticulously choosing exactly what food I would do it with.
If you haven’t recognised this already, disordered eating tends to revolve around a compulsive need to control your food, and relinquishing that control is key.
And so, at home, alone, I pressed mute on the TV and sat quietly to carry out my mindful eating exercise. I listened to a video that helped me get into a meditative state and then began to eat mindfully. I smelled the food, absorbed how it felt on my fingers and against my lips, the texture of it, placed it in my mouth but didn’t chew…. when I did chew I noticed the way I did so, how it melted in my mouth, how the food changed form as I ate it. I chewed it over and over before I finally swallowed it.
It was a really interesting thing to do. The thing I noticed most is that this food that was so loaded with emotion to me… it took that all away. I saw it for what it was – just a pack of chocolate, just sugar and cocoa and biscuit, not some kind of emotional crutch or reward or punishment. Just food. It made me wonder why I’d feared it and yet been seduced by it for so long.
Don’t focus on weight loss
This is a hard one, because I’ve been binge eating so badly for such a long time that I’ve put on a lot of weight. In fact, I’m now around 5 stone overweight. This has changed my body in so many ways that I dislike – it’s affected my personal style, my overall health, my self esteem massively, my body confidence.
I’ve noticed I have a dialogue with myself which essentially says that once I lose the weight, then I can start living. Then I can do the job I want, and the personal projects I want to do, wear the clothes I want and be the person I want to be. But there is zero point in waiting to lose some pounds for your life to start. You’re living, right now. So live as you are, accept who you are, and focus on healing your mind – if you’re able to do that and get to a truly positive place with food, your body will become as it’s meant to be.
Trying to learn to eat intuitively
This is something I’m fairly new to, and am just really starting to learn about. The core of intuitive eating is feeding yourself based on your physical hunger and satiety levels, rather than situational or, for the most part, emotional causes. It’s not a set meal plan, it’s not counting calories, it’s not restrictive and it’s not a diet. It is simply really taking note of your body, whether you’re feeling genuine hunger and acting on that in a way that satiates you without over or under eating.
Eating intuitively is my new end goal, not weight loss.
I listened to a podcast recently that talked about intuitive eating in a really interesting and positive way – it’s called ‘Don’t Salt My Game’ by registered nutritionist Laura Thomas PhD, and you can find out more about it here.
Filling yourself up with stuff other than food
Lots of things I’ve read about how to improve your relationship with food talk about filling up your life with something else that makes you feel good or helps you express and connect with your emotions – something other than food.
This can be creative things like art, writing, music – or it could be going out to events, meeting new people, taking up a hobby, reading or just making stuff. It could be as simple as a day out with your partner or a friend, getting out the house and breathing some fresh air.
If I’m having a particularly rough or down time, taking part in some of the things mentioned above can have a hugely positive effect and lift me out from under the black cloud which so often leads me to binge eating.
There has to be restraint – otherwise it would be easy
The bottom line of how I’ve now gotten to over 40 days binge free? That I have made the decision not to binge. I have exercised restraint. I haven’t given in, gone to the shop and stocked up. I haven’t sat by myself and ate so much chocolate I can’t move and feel like I could be sick. I just haven’t done it.
I reached a rock bottom with my mental health (which I talked about in this post) and it made me realise that I could either carry on eating myself into oblivion, or I could decide to change.
It’s hard, it’s uncomfortable, but to be binge free, you simply have to choose not to binge. I know, I know how hard that is. But you don’t grow whilst you’re comfortable. There’s going to be times where you really, really want to slip back into those seductive old habits, that comfort zone – but just dig a little deeper and walk past the chocolate aisle.
Praise yourself, because every single time you say no to binging is a fucking miracle, and you deserve to feel proud of that.
The way I look at things, I have decided to be binge free. I’ve decided to do my best to look after myself and feel okay, and I’m committing to that every single minute of every day.
The reality is…I’m nowhere near perfect. Just trying to recover, one day at a time – and you can too.