3 Things That Helped Me to Recover From Binge Eating
For a decade of my life I was trapped in a cycle of binge eating that eroded my self-esteem and ability to trust myself. I believed I was greedy and out-of-control and I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t stop. I kept making and breaking promises to myself that I would look after myself better; that I would just STOP doing this. Many times I thought I had beaten it, only to find myself back in this destructive cycle time and time again.
During this time I tried CBT, hypnosis, Overeaters Anonymous and saw transactional analysis, integrative and psychodynamic psychotherapists. I had regular appointments with my endocrinologist to deal with some hormonal issues, which may or may not have been related. I read every book about binge eating that I could get my hands on. I watched countless YouTube videos.
Every new approach brought a surge of hope. Hope that I would finally find the answer to why I did this and why I felt powerless to stop it.
This post is a personal one. I wanted to write it to share with you the three most important lessons I learned that helped me in my recovery in the hope that they may help you, or someone you love.
It wasn’t my fault – This was a difficult one to accept. How could it not be my fault? I was the only one shoveling food into my mouth. Only I could change my behaviour, so to say it wasn’t my fault felt like shirking personal responsibility.
I have learned that the appetite is an extraordinarily powerful force. It is a drive to survive, so once it goes awry, that urge to binge can feel like life or death. In that moment when the urge sweeps over you. NOTHING else matters. It doesn’t matter if you promised yourself earlier that you wouldn’t do it. It doesn’t matter if you know you will regret it later. Nothing matters except the food.
While I continued to blame myself, I continued to stay stuck. Self-blame ignites shame and shame blocks learning and development. If you see yourself as broken, or as someone who is defected in some way, how can you be capable of changing anything?
Restrictive thinking kept tripping me up – I never actually restricted my food to any significant degree, but I was always planning to eat ‘better’, which really meant eating less. Even planning to restrict causes something called ‘last supper eating’. Because you believe the food or type of food isn’t going to be available tomorrow, you increase your desire for that food.
As mentioned, the binge urge is a survival drive that has become dysregulated. Once your brain knows how to override your conscious will when it comes to food, it may become more sensitive to doing so at just a hint of impending restriction.
It’s hard to give up restrictive thinking, especially if you believe you have weight to lose, but I discovered it was non-negotiable in order for me to recover.
I wanted to escape – Geneen Roth talks about compulsive eating as something we do when things are not the way we want them to be. I think this third lesson is a universal one. Many of us struggle to spend time with ourselves. We are always looking for the next distraction or goal we want to achieve. We focus on the future rather than the now where life is actually happening. We turn to our phones, TV, alcohol or food, so we don’t have to pay attention. I am grateful to have struggled with binge eating because it has forced me to live a more conscious life.
Disordered eating and body image issues can become convenient scapegoats for everything in our lives that is not going the way we want it to. When we are worrying and stressing about food, we don’t have to look at the rest of our lives. The belief is, if we sort out our ‘food issues’ first, then we can start fully engaging with everything life has to offer. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, it’s the other way round. In order to recover, we have to be willing to start living first.