My Eating Struggles: Disordered Eating & Binging

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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.

Disordered Eating

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In a world with so many voices telling us the “right” way to eat, it’s hard to know what is actually correct. My brain gets frazzled trying to keep up with it all. It’s just so overwhelming.

disordered eating for pinterestI want to do want is right. I don’t want to do what is wrong. My sense of morality becomes interwoven when it comes to eating.

My generation has grown up with the mentality of 1990s diets. Yeah, there were good things, too – like Boy Meets World and Saved by the Bell. Oh, and obviously Full House. But, we were also taught that carbs were bad (Atkins diet) and that we needed to cut out fat. We were told that margarine was always better than butter and that if the package said “sugar-free”, we should go for that brand. Counting calories was a good thing – the less calories, the better.

I’ve learned since that the ‘90s really messed me up as far as food goes. I naturally wanted good food, but somewhere along the way I got confused. I began to see fat as negative, carbs as negative, and even protein as negative. More on this tomorrow.

Today, we are taught better things… but from too many people. You have Paleos, Vegans, Vegetarians. You have the Gluten-Free crowd, the No-Sugar crowd, the No-Dairy crowd. You have the Eat-Mostly-Meat Texans and the other Deep-Fry-Everything Southerners. There are those who believe that the less you eat, the better. Some believe you need to eat more and more, and some even say you should eat whatever you want. You have those who still have the diet mentality – we should always be trying the next big thing to see if that one will work. There is an excess of diet pills, of protein powders, of supplements. What do we choose? Who do we listen to?

We’ve become disordered. Maybe we don’t have an eating disorder, but that doesn’t mean we’re not confused.

The most succinct information I’ve found on Disordered Eating comes from the National Eating Disorder Collaboration (NEDC) based in Australia, so this information comes directly from their website. I recommend going here to learn more. In fact, their fact sheet on disordered eating and dieting is one of the most helpful resources I’ve ever read.

NEDC defines Disordered Eating as “a disturbed and unhealthy eating pattern than can include restrictive dieting, compulsive eating or skipping meals”. Examples of this might include:

 

  • Fasting or chronic restrained eating
  • Binge eating
  • Self-induced vomiting
  • Unbalanced eating, such as restricting a major food group (i.e. fats or carbohydrates)
  • Laxative, diuretic, enema misuse
  • Steroid and creatine use
  • Using diet pills
  • Dieting, which is “one of the most common forms of disordered eating”

 

People with disordered eating patterns might experience some or all of these:

 

  • Fatigue and/or insomnia
  • Overeating, resulting in weight gain
  • Feelings of guilt & of failure
  • Guilt and self-disgust resulting from binge-eating, failure to stay on a diet, or gaining weight
  • May isolate themselves out of fear of social eating
  • Feelings of low self-esteem
  • Impaired emotions
  • Increased thoughts of suicide
  • Head and/or muscles aches
  • Osteoporosis
  • Diarrhoea and/or constipation
  • May develop or have an eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder, ARFID (Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder), or OSFED (Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder)

Disordered eating is, I guess you could say, the “gateway drug” to eating disorders. It can start with a simple diet. It can start with hearing too many voices and cutting out certain food groups. Have conversations about healthy eating practices – real ones – like eating and balancing fats, carbs, and proteins. Begin to talk about good fats in a positive way – avocadoes, nuts, olive oil, coconut oil, milk, yogurt. We can’t tell someone that might struggle with disordered eating that avocadoes have fat, especially if we have a negative tone about it.

Changing our perception of food to a positive one will help yourself and others. I, for one, am trying to shift my views on food. Join me in fighting against the noise surrounding what we should and should not eat. Be a positive voice for those who are struggling.

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/

Bulimia

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There are so many articles, help sites, blog posts, and social media attention surround eating disorders, but I am rarely satisfied when I read them. In the past three years, I have spent hours upon hours trying to get to the heart of it all – to understand and know. It seems like that is the goal of hundreds of researchers and medical writers as well. I want to write posts for myself in hopes of closing the gap that I see in these articles. To combine what we know medically with what we know mentally, physically, and spiritually. It will at least help me, but I sincerely hope it helps you as well, and hopefully someone you know to see themselves in a better light.. Today, we’ll talk about another eating disorder we know about, but don’t really seem to know.

bulimia conversationBulimia nervosa does not take as many lives as anorexia nervosa, but it is somewhere between 4-6 times more common. I’m not a doctor or a psychologist, but I’d be willing to guess that there are many, many more people (men and women) struggling with variations of bulimia than we know about. The very word means “to eat like an ox”, referring to the binge-eating sessions in those with the disorder (Abraham 32). It’s a degrading, guilt-filled eating disorder where a person has irregular eating patterns, starving at times, binging followed by purging the food consumed. Many bulimics also have clinical depression and it’s sometimes hard to tell whether depression led to bulimia or vice versa (Abraham 91).

Let’s hear from someone who has lived this, a young patient with bulimia: “I think that I look forward to a binge-eating session. Exactly what I am thinking is vague, but on reflection it is: ‘Oh good, I won’t have to think about dieting any more – what a relief.’ If anything happens which delays the start of the binge I become quite angry and rather rude to the person who caused the delay. This anger is not warranted and is totally inappropriate – it could be likened to a temper tantrum” (Abraham 189).

We know that food is important, logically. We need it to survive. We need fat to absorb vitamins. We need nutrients and we need carbs and we need protein. But, if you are disgusted with the way you look, then that disgust can transfer to food. Wanting to get rid of that – to purge something disgusting can seem like a good idea.

I always wonder if there are triggers for eating disorders. Many sources say that even just being a woman increases your chances of having an eating disorder: New York Times’ Health Guide research shows that about 80% of those struggling with bulimia are female. Personality is a factor, as well as mental illness, cases of early onset of puberty, and having a family member who has battled an eating disorder all increase your likelihood of having one as well (“Bulimia”). But, I want to give you some of the instigators found by professionals who have dedicated their lives to helping those with anorexia and bulimia. The wording is changed, but the ideas come from a wonderful book called Biting the Hand that Starves You.

8 Possible Initiators of Anorexia/Bulimia (Maisel 24-28)

 

Professions/Activities focusing on the body

Feeling like You have no control over your life/body

Professions/Activities encouraging selflessness

Feeling Belittled or Underappreciated

Feeling overwhelmed emotionally

Life Changes

Achievement & Competition

Families promoting perfection, thinness, or guilt

Just knowing the background of someone struggling with bulimia can help us get a handle on not only how to help, but also how to empathize. Sometimes life is just so overwhelming and all of the voices coming from outside you can internalize into something painful before we know it. Someone who feels “underappreciated” might want to change how they look outside so that the person ignoring him/her might begin to recognize them and see value in them. A person who feels like their life is out of control might want to control it in any way they can – which in the case of eating disorders is through controlling food intake and purges.

You and I need to keep up an external view of disordered eating, whether we deal with eating disorders like bulimia, or other issues like disordered eating, negative self-image, or body dysmorphia.

So, let’s start a conversation. I’d urge you to talk to someone – anyone – this week about one or all of these questions. In your speaking, be critical but stay positive.

 

1)      What issues do you think we face in our culture that need to change (Maisel 76)?

 

2)      Do you think self-image is important to talk about? Eating disorders?

 

3)      Talk about some of the 8 instigators of bulimia.

 

4)      What do you think is the relationship between the disorder and the person?

 

5)      Do you know anyone who struggles with self-image?

 

6)      Why do you think someone might struggle with self-image or eating disorders?

 

7)      Where do we need the focus to be when we talk about self-image and eating disorders?

 

8)      What do you think of this quote: “Connecting to one’s spiritual knowledge can provide a person with an elevation from which she can survey her life and her world with a refreshing perspective” (Maisel 173). Do you think there is a relationship between our culture’s problems and spirituality?

You are welcome to have a conversation below or on our Facebook page. I’d love to hear from you and hear your thoughts on these issues through our Disordered Eating Series.

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References

Abraham, Suzanne and Derek Llewellyn-Jones. Eating Disorders: The Facts, Fifth Edition. Oxford University Press, Inc: New York, 2003.

“Bulimia.” The New York Times: Health Guide. A.D.A.M., 8 Mar. 2013. Web. 26 Sept. 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/health/guides/disease/bulimia/risk-factors.html

Maisel, Richard, David Epston, and Ali Borden. Biting the Hand that Starves You: Inspiring Resistance to Anorexia/Bulimia. W.W. Norton & Company: New York, 2004.

 

Anorexia

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I got on Pinterest just before writing this post – just as a last minute attempt at visualizing the statistics of anorexia. And that is what I expected to find – posts fighting against being emaciated – against anorexia nervosa. But when I searched “anorexia”, I did not find those cute graphics that I was looking for – graphics telling me the percentage of the world population struggling with the disorder and lists of how to combat it.

anorexiaNo. For the first time, Pinterest did not give me what I wanted to see.

I cannot write a light-hearted post about anorexia nervosa because it is a disease that is serious, mentally, emotionally, and physically, down to the soul – to the core of the one who struggles with it. Medicinenet.com defines it like this: An eating disorder characterized by markedly reduced appetite or total aversion to food. Anorexia is a serious psychological disorder”. This disorder can be fatal.

When you google anorexia, you find help for eating disorders. But on Pinterest, where real people pin and re-pin what they want from the internet, you find tips on how to be as skinny as possible. Just like in magazines and in our society, being skinny is glamourized.

I went through the first 102 pins that came up in my search – just out of curiousity. There were only 16 that had any sort of anti-anorexic mentality – four books about surviving an eating disorder, a sweatshirt proclaiming “I beat anorexia”, and some sad quotes that showed how difficult it is to beat an eating disorder. Only 15% of the first 102 pins were anti-anorexia.

The other 86 pins? On my count, 34 of them were just of underweight girls – some with words glorifying starvation, exercise, or self-hatred. 37 other pins were solely dedicated to losing weight, including “ana tips”. Apparently, chewing ice burns 55 calories per cube.

This post was going to give you statistics and attempt to help readers become a little more aware of what anorexia nervosa is and how difficult it is to overcome. Throughout this week, we’ll look at other eating disorders, so maybe we’ll get a chance to go into that later. But what I want to do today, because it struck me completely down, is go through some of what I’ve seen re-pinned in the last hour.

I pray this shows you more about eating disorders than I could tell you on my own.

The first photo I saw took me by surprise. I kept repeating it in my head, thinking that it mustn’t say what it said: “We never regret eating too little.” A photo of a skinny girl, thighs not touching, face not showing stands in the background.

 

Here is another one: “Have you ever just cried because you are you?” The comment beneath it was this: “I can’t even look at myself because I’d rather die than being me.” Can you imagine the heartache of the girl that pinned this?

 

I am not ‘beautiful’. You don’t see

What I do when I look in the mirror.

You don’t hear the voices in my

Head telling me I’m fat.

 

Don’t tell me I’m perfect just the way I am. I have a mirror.

 

The nagging guilt in the pit of your stomach asking, ‘Why did I just eat that’?

 

I didn’t eat for three days so I could be lovely.

 

You keep a lot to yourself because it’s difficult to find people who understand.

 

Hungry? Have a bottle of water.

Still hungry? Eat an apple.

Still hungry? Too bad. You need to be skinny.

This one was pinned by a girl whose Pinterest name is “Thin Princess”. She pinned it to her “Motivation” board.

 

How about this saying that you’ve heard before? In this context, it’s a little different: “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.

 

I feel too fat to have an eating disorder.

 

My problem: I don’t want to eat, but I do, and when I do, I hate myself a little more.

This particular pin stuck out to me: “I don’t care if it hurts. I wanna have control. I want a perfect body. I want a perfect soul.

In their book on beating eating disorders, Maisel, Epston, and Borden echo this idea that anorexia nervosa, as well as bulimia nervosa, is more than just physical. There is a link that anorexics feel between morality and food. They even say that most of the women with anorexia or bulimia have had a very high level of justice and carried the ideals of helping others in their lifetime, even from a very young age. When their dreams of helping others seem unreachable, it’s their eating disorder that offers “help”. They write that anorexia and bulimia vow to “bring an end to the pain, fear, and despair” by helping one see their “hopes and dreams possible” (Maisel 23). Those with anorexia are good people, like many of us. It’s not a matter of just eating to solve the problem. It’s often a matter of just wanting to perfect themselves in every way, but finding it almost impossible to step away from the harmful aspects of what that perfection demands.

One particular patient, Emily, wrote this at the age of 14. She had been anorexic since age 11. “Anorexia approached me when I was miserable. It told me it could make me feel better. It told me that my fat was making me unhappy. It told me to get rid of the fat and then I would feel better. Basically, Anorexia told me that losing weight would make me feel better, because all of my problems and all my bad feelings were existing because I was fat and ugly. If my fat was gone, all my problems would be gone too. There. There it was… the answer! It all seemed so simple and so perfect and SO EASY. That’s why Anorexia is so appealing. It seems like the perfect solution. It gave me the power I could lose the weight and then I would no longer have any reason to feel bad. I could have reasons to feel good, too, on top of it all. I was really quite impressed and pleased by Anorexia in the very beginning when it first introduced itself. It told me it would make me feel better if I lost weight but it didn’t tell me it would punish me for failing to lose weight. It didn’t tell me how difficult it would be to lose weight. I did eventually realize that if I lost too much weight I might die but by then I didn’t really care. Oh, well, if I die, I die. Big deal. Being thin and beautiful is worth dying for” (Maisel 46).

I want all of these words to help lead you, as they have me, into a greater understanding of eating disorders, particularly anorexia. I want us to be able to see all people – no matter their disorder, their illness, their disability, or their struggle – as just that. People. The struggle those with anorexia nervosa face, from very young ages to much older, is not something we can judge. It’s not something we can understand, but it is something we can identify, help with, and make a small difference.

Here is a simple way you can help. Post and Re-pin positive messages about the body. Don’t let it be you who pins or accidentally supports negative body image. Let beauty be shown in any skin – “fat”, “skinny”, short, tall. Let your messages on the web lead to positive change in the world. Simply doing that can create change.

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References:

Maisel, Richard, David Epston, and Ali Borden. Biting the Hand that Starves You: Inspiring Resistance to Anorexia/Bulimia. W.W. Norton & Company: New York, 2004.

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.