My recovery did not look the same as any of the classes I took, books I read, or popular websites I perused. It almost pains me to see some of the advice medical websites post for people with disorders like this. I remember wondering what was wrong with me that made this advice seem impossible to follow. Most of those sites now, at least, tell you not to beat yourself up, which is very good advice. But when you can’t seem to do anything else they suggest, it’s discouraging.
Here is a list of common advice I have seen and how I interpreted it. I am not a doctor, a nutritionist, or a psychologist. I am someone who spent her whole life struggling with weight and food and body issues and finally figured out how to eat and feel like a normal person by taking the best advice from many sources and discarding what didn’t work. It took a long time to realize that I could discard seemingly good advice if it didn’t work for me. As with anything you read on this subject, take what works for you and throw the rest away.
Common Advice: Avoid Temptation by keeping all junk foods and binge type foods out of your house.
My Take: This advice was not good for me. It reinforced the idea that I can’t be trusted around some food because it has a magical power over me which makes me eat it. My recovery depends on me believing that all food is good and that I can trust my body to tell me what it does and does not need and want. So, I buy sweets and other snack foods that I think my family and I will enjoy and I don’t worry that I will eat them in a binge. Allowing myself to enjoy any foods, including sweets, alleviates cravings and thoughts of bingeing.
Common Advice: Listen to your body and only eat when you are hungry.
My Take: This is overall good advice for a normal eater, but completely unattainable for me as a binger, who wouldn’t have known a true hunger signal if it knocked me over. If I had the ability to eat only when I was hungry, I wouldn’t be in this predicament. So, I just eat what I think I really want with no restrictions and no guilt. After a year of this practice, I realize I eat for various reasons and not always just when I’m hungry. And even though I feel compelled to eat when I am hungry, I choose what and how much I eat, the food doesn’t choose me.
Common Advice: Eat at regular times and don’t skip any meals.
My Take: This too, is good overall advice for the normal eater. But I found that any type of scheduled meal times smacked of control of my mealtimes by an outside source, leaving my body out of the equation. My goal is to let my body tell me when it needs to eat and how much it needs. I am just here to choose the food, prepare it and enjoy it. When I first started this practice, I would eat breakfast and be hungry again two hours later. I allowed myself to eat as much as I wanted at this two-hour mark, sometimes another full meal. Usually, I didn’t get the urge to eat again until that evening and sometimes the next day. This must have proved to my body that I wasn’t going to restrict food, because after about 3 days, I stopped being hungry between meals and my hunger became more closely tied to typical meal times. I did not force myself to eat at normal times, though, it happened on its own once I allowed myself to eat regardless of the time.
Common Advice: Do not avoid fat.
My take: This is excellent advice, since fat plays an important role in your digestion and helps you feel satisfied. But I took this rule a few steps further – Do not avoid any food that you think you want to eat.
During the first year, my tastes changed dramatically. Things I used to crave, I suddenly didn’t have a taste for, and things I used to dislike, I acquired a taste for. It was almost sad, the day I realized french fries didn’t turn me on anymore.
Common Advice: Eat mindfully, slow down and savor the flavors and textures.
My take: Here again I knew instinctively this advice to be good, but had no idea how to carry it out. So I went back to the one thing that I DID know. And that was to eat anything I want, anytime, anywhere. So instead of trying to eat mindfully, I just observed how I was eating with no judgement.
Sometimes I found myself in front of the TV eating out of the chip bag, sometimes I found myself standing at the fridge eating leftovers, sometimes I noticed I gulped down my meal faster than anyone at the table. No matter what eating circumstances I found myself in, I did not make any judgements. I didn’t feel guilty or like a failure for not eating like I ‘should.’ Eventually, I asked myself what I would enjoy more, eating leftovers directly out of the fridge or eating a fresh veggie stir-fry I could whip up in a few minutes? I began to slow down and appreciate aromas and colors and textures of food because it made me feel good, not because I forced myself to ‘pay attention’ while I ate.
Common Advice: Instead of snacking when you are bored, make a list of other things you can do like go for a walk, call friend, or take up a hobby.
My Take: ‘Yeah, right!” As one frustrated commenter wrote on a someone else’s recent post, “If I could do that, I wouldn’t be seeking treatment.” I already know what I should do, the question is, HOW do I do it?
This was not an easy thing for me to figure out since this is the crux of the issue- Why do I binge or overeat instead of doing something more fun and healthy?
This subject requires its own article, maybe a whole book, or better yet, an encyclopedia. There are probably as many reasons for someone to binge as there are people who binge. We are all different. But I did realize, that to stop bingeing, I didn’t have to delve into all my personal problems and anxieties. All I had to do was give myself permission to eat and treat myself with respect and kindness, regardless of my eating behavior. This soon spread to other aspects of my life – If I made a bad choice or a wrong decision about a relationship or some other thing, I began to comprehend that it was Okay to make mistakes without punishing myself and just go on with my day. It didn’t take long for my overall anxiety level to lessen and I was able to enjoy more of my food and my life overall.
Common advice: Stop dieting. Eat in moderation and eat sweets as an occasional treat.
My take: Again, the ‘stop dieting’ part is great, the other parts, not so good. I tried very hard to learn how to eat in moderation but failed miserably. Eating in moderation meant I had to use some one else’s guidelines because I didn’t know what moderation meant for my own body. It was only in allowing myself to eat totally guilt and regret free that my body taught me what moderation was. I was surprised that my body wants about the same things as the suggestions I see on portion sizes and meal times. But I couldn’t force this information on myself, I had to allow my body to show me.
Regarding thinking of sweets as a treat; I have not yet decided how to fit this into my new lifestyle. If I think of sweets as something special, something more tantalizing than other foods, it raises my interest and creates a false desire for them. I am trying to figure out how to think of them in terms of everyday food. I try not to give them any special status and allow myself to freely partake. I am finding myself not nearly as drawn to them as I was when actively bingeing.
Common Advice: Stop berating and punishing yourself if you slip up. My take: Part of this advice is really good and part not so good. The ‘not so good‘ part is the term ‘slip up.’ It gives me the impression that I need to be doing something other than letting my body determine when and what and how much to eat. It makes me think that if I deviate from a food plan or healthy eating program, or even my current course of eating what I want, then I have to forgive myself and get ‘back on the wagon.’ The truth is, I don’t have a set program based on what someone else thinks I should eat. And I never have to forgive myself for eating anything. Eating food is not a sin. It is a very natural process. Even overeating and bingeing is my body’s response to deprivation signals I give it from my skewed thoughts of restricting food to lose weight.
The good part about this advice is – No matter what or how much food I find myself eating, I don’t judge or feel guilty. I treat myself nice. I respect who I am as a person. There is no ‘getting back on track.’ There is only the next time I am hungry and all the food in the world that I can choose from to satisfy my hunger.
“My value is intrinsic. It is not determined by what I do, what I have, what I look like or what I can accomplish. I am valuable because I am a human being. Once I believe this deep down in my soul, I can function fully.” MD