My Eating Struggles: Disordered Eating & Binging

the-forager

This is one of those uncomfortable posts for me, but I want to share. At the very height of my eating struggles, I longed for a post like the one I am about to write – someone with whom I could identify, who might help me know what was going on, who could tell me what to do. Google didn’t help, Pinterest didn’t help, Facebook didn’t help. Sometimes you need another human. I want to be that human for you if that’s what you’re looking for.

I’ve been trying to learn more about eating disorders for two or three years now because I’ve struggled with this feeling of being out-of-control around food – like what we’ve talked about with Binge Eating Disorder. I never told my doctor and, until now, I’ve only told maybe three people. From other kinds of therapy, I knew the right steps to find help. But I couldn’t find a place where I could go. I couldn’t find a web site with answers to my questions.

Here are the steps I knew I needed to take:

  •   I knew I needed to tell someone
  •   I knew I probably needed professional help – doctor.
  •   I knew I needed to build a support system for accountability
  •   I knew I needed to figure out how not to throw up
  •   I knew I needed to develop a good relationship with my body
  •   I knew I needed to develop a good relationship with food

But, that’s all that I knew.ive-been-strugglingwith-disordered

The entire year of 2015, I struggled with eating. Did I have a disorder? I don’t know. I should have told my doctor, found out what I was dealing with, and taken steps from there.

Yesterday, I told you that I got confused along the way from the 1990s on. But then in 2011, I came to New Zealand and began to have stomach problems accompanied by severe fatigue and depression. By November of that year, I could no longer work and started the process of going from doctor to doctor. I went back to the States. The development of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), gastritis, and some pre-ulcers led to disordered eating for me. All of a sudden, everything I ate made me sick. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome made it worse because it was hard for me to get out of bed, let alone think of what I could or should eat. I wasn’t eating much unless someone helped me.

I began cutting out dairy and gluten and acidic foods like tomatoes as I learned that they affected me. The range of food I could eat was limited, and I was lucky to have people helping me along the way. My mom went through and made lists of things I could eat so that it was less confusing. My dad would bring me food home from town at any opportunity.

Somewhere in all of this, I started skipping meals. At first, this was because I was not on a schedule – sleeping most of the day and night. It was easier when I quit sugar for a few weeks. For a time I felt better and started teaching, but I was still not eating much during the day. The more I didn’t eat, the more I craved easy carbs and sugar again.

I started binging at night in private. I would avoid going places where I might see someone I knew, and if I went to a restaurant where people might recognize me, I would get something healthy to eat. At the supermarket, I only bought healthy food because some of my students worked there. I began to care about what I ate around others. I began to hide what I wanted to eat and was craving to eat. I’d get annoyed when well-meaning people asked me what I had for lunch or what I was going to eat for dinner. I often didn’t tell my boyfriend (now husband) everything I ate when he asked, and he asked almost every day on Skype just because he wanted to make sure I was eating enough.

I was skipping meals, feeling good about not eating; then, I was eating out of control later on. I’d feel guilty and then abstain from meals again. Then, I’d binge again and feel guilty. Sometimes, I even purged. My binge episodes were embarrassing and I hate typing this out for the world to see. I’d be so hungry that I’d order two or three times the amount that I would normally eat. And I would scarf it down more quickly than I’d ever eaten before. I’d pretend that I would just eat half of it and save the rest for another meal. But I never did. The more fast food I ate, the more sugar I craved, so I ate a lot of ice cream and welcomed the sweets my students brought to me, though I tried to eat them in secret. I threw up a lot of what I binged, and to this day I’m not sure if it’s because I wanted to or because I really felt sick. Maybe it was both.

It was like I was two people: a health freak and a fast-food monster.s

I don’t remember what point I was at when I realized that I needed help. But, I started looking for it online at first. I wanted someplace I could call that would help me through – tell me what to do. I wanted to find an article to which I could relate. I didn’t want to ask the people that loved me for help. I didn’t want to bother them. I couldn’t find a place that was just for people struggling with food.

I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I knew that it wasn’t anorexia or bulimia and I believed the lie that I had to look like I had an eating disorder in order to ask for help. I wanted to talk to my doctor about it, but I felt like he would look at me up and down and shrug me off because I wasn’t bony. Which would never have happened.

I finally talked to my best friend and she helped with a plan to get control. Without her, I’m not sure I would have made it through. She helped me to see that there was a cycle I was repeating: starve myself, binge, feel guilty, repeat. She told me that my metabolism was messing up and that by not eating, my body was just confused. That’s why I was gaining weight. After I talked to her, I talked to my boyfriend about it, and we came up with a plan for him to help me. He asked me what he needed to do to help and I told him what I needed. He would remind me to eat and not to skip meals in a positive way. I would not lie to him about what I ate or did not eat. He would encourage me, and I would accept the encouragement. I talked to another best friend closer to where I lived and she helped me as well.

My boyfriend and my best friend got me over to New Zealand last year during the American summer, Auckland winter. I cried a lot, and hated food. Everything I ate – even apples or oats or other things we consider healthy – made me feel guilty. I hated eating around Mark. But both of them looked after me, talking me through it. They were the support team that I needed and we made plans on what I needed to do when I got back to the States.

Because I couldn’t find where to go, I joined the YMCA to start taking care of my body the right way. I was very careful about this – not to over-exercise. I needed to make exercise about loving myself rather than hurting myself. One reason I joined there is because I saw that they had a thing called “wellness coaching”. I knew that I wouldn’t feel comfortable with a personal trainer at this point, and I wanted some sort of nutritionist – or really just someone to talk to for a little while. I needed someone that could work with my fatigue – someone who wouldn’t judge me.

For a month, I met with the wellness coach. She made me a very basic plan that I could stick to. She saw that I couldn’t talk about food without crying, and she was patient with that. Little weekly goals: Eat little meals throughout the day, try to go to one workout class a week – a small one, and come see her weekly. She gave me information about protein to eat and she basically just listened to me. My larger goal was to build a healthy relationship with food while building a healthy relationship with myself.

Since then, I have married and I am doing well eating in New Zealand. From time to time, it’s hard. But it helps having my support team in place. You who read these blog posts are on that support team now, whether you know it or not. And I am grateful.

This blog is the start of something that can help others. I want to have a center somewhere along the line. There needs to be a place where people that are struggling with food, depression, self-image, and just general life struggles can come and find sanctuary. I want a literal, tactile Little Sanctuary. I want it for you and I want it for me.

In the next few weeks, we’ll start fundraising here to create such a place here in Auckland City. And I will be working hard to make this dream a reality. It’s my birthday this weekend, and this center is my dream for the year – and will hopefully be a place where women can find help for years and years to come.

Binge Eating Disorder (BED)

binge eating disorder

We talked about binging and its connection to loneliness during our Loneliness Series here two months ago. But, I feel like this is, not unlike the others, an often misunderstood section of eating disorders. The pain and self-hatred that goes with anorexia and bulimia is just as strong as this one, but the physical outlook of it to others is different. Those who struggled with Binge Eating Disorder (BED) really hurt.

So, BED. What is it? Basically, Binge Eating Disorder, more common than anorexia and bulimia combined, is an eating disorder where the individual feels like they have no control over their eating. They have episodes of binging followed by guilt and embarrassment. Like bulimics, those with BED sometimes hide what they eat. They feel out of control, with no hope of breaking their binging cycle. It’s not just over-eating. It’s a neurobiological disorder (www1.bingeeatingdisorder.com), and needs to be addressed.

Here are some symptoms that will help us understand a bit more:

 

–          Binging at least once a week for a period of three months or more

–          Can occur in those who have a normal weight and those who are over-weight, including obese

–          Feeling loss of self-control over eating during a binge

–          Feeling loss of self-control over the amount of food you eat during a binge

–          When binge eating, you are eating very fast, eating beyond fullness, and/or eating a lot even if you’re not hungry

–          Feeling distress/guilt after binging

–          Eating alone as an attempt to hide how much you are eating

–          Eating more than most people would under the same circumstances

–          Don’t usually resort to over-exercising or purging

anorexia-2Many people with BED got there for a reason, and with many, there is something in their body or brain function that impairs food intake regulation and increases cravings. There’s still a lot of research to be done to find out the exact cause of this eating disorder, and as I’ve said before, it has only been recognized as a distinct eating disorder for three years. But, the recognition of this particular disorder means that hope and healing are more available now than ever before.

I’m willing to bet that for someone reading this post today, you can relate to some of these symptoms. Maybe all of them. My heart goes out to you. Binge eating is an emotionally painful cycle and for those with BED, that is even more true.

This Friday, I’m going to post on “Disordered Eating and Binging Struggles”, which I hope will give you hope and encouragement. But if you feel like you need help, I want to give you some suggestions for now:

What to Do NOW if You Think You May Have Binge Eating Disorder

 

1)      Talk to someone. Make sure it is someone who will not make you feel bad – who will be understanding.  Hopefully that can be your parent, a spouse, a friend. You may want to start out calling a helpline. Google one and make the call. Externalize so that you don’t have to carry the burden alone.

 

2)      Start a conversation with your doctor/nurse. They are there to help you and they should understand that BED is a legitimate eating disorder.

 

3)      Begin the journey of replacing food with something else enjoyable – something that won’t make you feel guilty. Start with an “Anti-Binge” list. I use mine often, and now I can even recognize when I need to read or journal without thinking about the pain I’m trying to destroy.

 

4)      Try to forgive yourself. You are not a bad person just because you binge. Hold on to that truth.

As with all the eating disorders, you are not alone. It’s estimated that almost 3 million Americans struggle with Binge Eating disorder right now. You may feel alone, you may even feel like you are in the darkest depths of loneliness, but you are not. And that is something to always, always remember.

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References

www1.bingeeatingdisorder.com/

The Skin You’re In: Body Type, Image, & Ideal

We come in many different shapes and sizes. You’ve heard of some of them. For men, there are the ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph body types. For women, apple, pear, hourglass, and rectangle/straight. I even found a website that had eight body types for women: straight, pair, spoon, hourglass, top hourglass, inverted triangle, oval, and diamond. That’s pretty extensive.

When I was twelve years old, my family went to Europe to see my cousins in Portugal. We got to spend a week in Paris as well. We saw what my brother termed at the age of 10 “the famous naked lady” (a.k.a. the Venus de Milo) in the Louvre. We saw beautiful paintings, both men and women, both clothed and unclothed, both rich and poor. Even at the age of twelve, I loved how the women portrayed looked so natural. They were different from the women I saw in magazines in the grocery store line, different from the women I saw on television. I didn’t quite know what the difference was then, but I admired the women in those paintings. My idols were not those in the magazines, but the ones painted by Monet, Manet, and Degas’ round-faced, fully formed ballerinas. Thus, I never really wanted to look like Jennifer Aniston or Kiera Knightley. They are beautiful, yes. But, I wanted to be more like the statues lining the great hall of the Musee d’Orsay – natural, comfortable in their own skin, not caring how they sat or lay or stood because their form was being shown as it was rather than how it should be.

the-skin-youre-in

Kids can see beauty in a different way than adults. It’s the innocence. And I don’t want to lose that. I know now that I what I saw in those sculptures and paintings was important, and I’m glad that our parents took us there because it gave me a healthy view of the human body. The human form is beauty no matter its shape and size. A magazine photo editor seems to take away the passion, the texture, the light and soul of the model. But the impressionists, the classicists, and even the moderns show what we would now call imperfection – that passion and soul – the layers of the person inside and out. There was no Photoshop, no airbrushing during the Renaissance and the human body was portrayed as the very essence of beauty.

Even with what I believe to be a healthy view of the human body starting out, the years have worn and weathered my subconscious views of beauty and the way that I look at myself. There have been days when I have, rightly, looked in the mirror and seen a piece of art – a piece of the Renaissance standing before me and inside of me. Even at the age of 16, I wondered why any girl would struggle with self-esteem issues, eating disorders, self-harm, depression, and the like. All women were beautiful and I truly believed that. I’ve never seen an ugly woman in my life. It’s not that I was what the world would call “pretty” – I was just a short girl with curly hair that I didn’t really know how to fix. But, I was content with who I was – happy.

The world is unkind, though. I began to feel invisible, like many teens do, that year. And at the age of 17, I began my journey through clinical depression and anxiety. When you feel invisible to the opposite sex, even for a day, you begin to think differently. I still didn’t feel ugly, but I didn’t feel good, and I started down a road that I’m not sure I could have helped not going down.

I don’t think I really, truly felt ugly until I was halfway through college. I got back from a summer in Nepal having gained a few pounds because I couldn’t jog there and the people fed us so much. A guy friend of mine was talking to me about my summer there, and I showed him how we had to eat with our hands. I thought it was funny and interesting, but he had such a disgusted look on his face and I won’t forget that feeling of inciting disgust on the face of someone who had been interested in me for quite a while. He began to sit at a different table from me during meals, with other girls. Sometimes at night when that disgust in his face made its way into me, I’d leave the apartment and just try to run – more to hurt myself than anything, really. I’d run as hard as I could and then get frustrated that I couldn’t run that hard for very long and then find a corner to cry in. I felt hatred toward myself, toward my body and I wanted to punish it. I remember the first time I went to Wal-Mart after midnight because I couldn’t take it anymore, buying diet pills with the little money I had, looking through them all, reading their promises, wanting them to work quickly. I’d skip breakfast and feel like I was helping myself lost weight, but then I’d crave carbs and eat as much, binge-eating, as I could because I was a tired, sleep-deprived, stressed college student.

There have many different times in my life when I have gone through this similar cycle. A sudden hatred of myself that carried on into a hatred of how I look – watching movies where the female protagonist is both strong and skinny. And so my beauty idols all became bony, tight-faced actresses who have enough money to have trainers and make-up artists and yoga instructors and nutritionists at their disposal 24/7, not to mental people toning, contouring, and editing their bodies both on screen and off screen.

But, I still prefer the female bodies of the Renaissance to the female bodies in the ads. Sometimes I wonder if it’s because I can relate to their body type. But, I know from my introduction to them at the age of twelve that this is just not true. I relate to them because they are real. They have genuine bodies, beautiful and healthy. And that’s what I want.

I do have days when I look in the mirror and see a masterpiece. I see the brushstrokes across my face, intricate and detailed and lovely. I see the shape of my body and think back to the Musee d’Orsay. And that is how it should be.

We need to, as men and women, to remember what true form is – and true form happens to be the form with which you were born. True form is who you are – a true, genuine you. Apple, pear, banana-morph, whatever. Each person is a work of art – unique in size, colour, and spirit.

The shape of you and the shape of me is a masterpiece. I am strong inside, but you will never see my bones through my skin. You will probably never even see muscles when I flex. But, the skin I’m in is a skin I want to be in. And I will continue to strive toward that ideal, whether it is the ideal the world has or not.

Loneliness & Binge Eating

What does it mean to “binge eat”? Basically, it’s eating a lot of food at once, really quickly. Sometimes the person doesn’t even realize that they are “binging” at the time. Afterwards, they may feel depressed or guilty.

It’s funny because I’ve had down on my calendar to write about the link between being lonely or sad and binge eating on this very Wednesday for at least a month. And before I sat down to write today, I ate a whole bag of smoked paprika hand-cooked potato chips and a bowl of leftovers in the fridge. That was after lunch. Then I commenced to drive to the mall and grab a mocha frappuccino from Starbucks. And, although, I thought about each one and decided that they were okay for me today, it brought me back to some of my very worst binge-eating days.

Loneliness (9)

And in the past ten minutes, I have seriously considered trying another blog post to write today because of that. But, kind of like our post on Monday, it seems like the right day to write about this tricky subject. 🙂

Binge eating.

When you think of the term, what do you picture? I’m trying to ask myself the same question. I know what it looks like in my life, but I think that before I started binge-eating, I thought of it as an eating disorder, but one that was accompanied by purging – bulimia, in effect. But, that is simply not always the case. In fact, BED (Binge Eating Disorder) has just in the last three years become recognized as a diagnosable on its own rather than under EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified).

I want to talk more about it as a disorder next month (September 7 on my calendar right now), but today let’s just try and understand why it happens to every day people like you and me. Why do we get these massive cravings for fatty foods, sugary sweets, salty fries, or whatever else you may lose control over? And is it really emotional eating? Does it happen to everyone?

Coming from the States and the American diet, I’m willing to bet that almost all of us have binged at some time or another. We eat a gallon of ice cream after a breakup – or a box of Twinkies when we fail a class or have a fight with someone we love.

Studies show that loneliness affects our bodies, and we’ve talked about that some in our loneliness series. It affects the way we respond and cope with basic elements of life. Some of the more complex ways our brain works can “go haywire when our sense of belonging takes a hit” (Cacioppo 35). So, the following real-life study makes a lot of sense: Psychologists randomly divided up into three groups. One group was made to feel that they would be alone at the end of their life, another was told something unrelated, and another group was made to feel they would lead a normal, happy life, surrounded by friends and family. The group that believed that they would be alone in the future showed impairment in executive functioning whereas the other two groups did not. Basic ability remained close to the same. Executive functioning in the brain relates to attentional and inhibitory control – our attention span as well as the control of what you’re doing and how to make it happen. The processes to make things happen (from deciding, planning, organizing and finishing a task) or not is affected by loneliness. It affects our self-control.

But here’s the kicker: They put all three groups, one individual at a time, into a room with a bowl filled with 35 cookies. It was framed as a “taste test” and they were told to eat as many cookies as they needed in order to give a proper analysis of the cookie. The members of the alone group ate an average of about TWICE AS MANY cookies as the members of the other two groups (Cacioppo 43).

The people made to feel isolated, alone, and just sad ate a great deal more cookies than the others. I find what Cacioppo (the “loneliness” psychologist) says here really hits home:

 “Is it any wonder that we turn to ice cream or other fatty foods when we’re sitting at home feeling all alone in the world? We want to soothe the pain we feel by mainlining sugar and fat content to the pleasure centers of the brain, and, absent self-control, we go right at it. This loss of executive function also helps explain the oft observed tendency of rejected lovers to do things they later regret” (Cacioppo 43-44).

In another study, this time with older adults, studies showed that for each point different on UCLA’s Loneliness Scale, the older adults had an intake of about 2.56% more fat calories (Cacioppo 45).

I’ve heard it called emotional eating. Sometimes it’s not even binging. But, it’s fascinating that it happens when we’re sad. In fact, you might be getting sad reading this post because you just can’t stop eating. Many of us have been there. And just like with being lonely, you are not alone.

Ask yourself these questions:

 

How do I feel before I binge? If you feel in-control and have made a conscious decision, then fine. But if you lose control, you won’t feel good afterward. Once, I ate a whole lot of tiramisu that my friend made. And, I’m not gonna lie, I made that decision and I did not regret it. I felt good before, and mostly good after. But the majority of the time that I go overboard, I don’t feel good beforehand or afterward.

 

How does binging make me feel? If it makes you feel good – physically, mentally, and emotionally – then good! If it makes you feel sick, sad, guilty, depressed, or bloated, then maybe it’s not so good. I hope that next month’s posts will be able to help you. I wanted help when I was at my worst.

 

How can I make good decisions about what I eat? We don’t have to eat carrots and only carrots every day. I’m learning that. But, we can think about how what we eat makes us feel. There are some tricks we can do – people who can support us. I just went to the YMCA and talked to someone once a week about food and how that food made me feel.

Food does not have to be where we turn to for comfort. But, if you do go to it and binge a little, know that it is a normal response. Know that there are reasons why we go for that chocolate cake and that whole pizza with a liter of Coke. Know that you are not alone and that sadness doesn’t have to control you.