This is the blog post I've wanting to write. But, every time I sat down to do it, I felt so much resistance towards it.
"Where do I even begin? There's SO much to write!"
"I don't want people to judge me"
"Can't I just write about happiness and spirituality instead? I'm over this food/body image shit!"
All of the above. Over and over again. But, during my most painful days of binge eating, I always swore I would write and tell people about the cure once I found it. This is the post that I wish I had two years ago when I was suffering from binge eating and all of the shame, anxiety, and depression that comes along with it.
If you haven't dealt with this, you won't understand it. And I'm not here to try to get you to understand. I'm here to directly speak to the beautiful and strong men and women that have been battling this terrible disorder for too long and need the words of encouragement, wisdom, and expertise to help them bust out of it.
I've spoken out briefly about my experiences with binge eating before, but today is the first time I'm going to lay everything out there. If you struggle with this, I'm sure you've thought of how incredibly disgusting and pathetic you are and how no one else must struggle the way you do. Well, I call bullshit. Because I've done what you've done. I ate what you ate. Plus an extra cookie.
As an overweight teenager, I was a closet emotional eater... but I wouldn't describe the behavior as binge eating. I would be anxious, lonely, and sad, and use food to numb the feelings....which is a completely normal phenomenon millions of people experience everyday.
But.... binge eating is on another level. Binge eating is when we are compulsively eating, feeling "out of control," and filled with regret and shame. We shove insane amounts of food in our mouths in a short period of time until we are physically ill. Binge eating is without doubt the most painful physical and emotional experience I've ever experienced in my entire life. The huge weight swings, the food hangovers, the body shame, the purging....it's an absolute shit show.
Like I mentioned earlier, I didn't experience binge eating until my early twenties. And it was a direct result of being anorexic. I starved myself down to a completely unhealthy level, eating less than 500 calories and running two hours a day for a year or so. And one day, my body literally could not take it anymore. I woke up in my sleep and ate a two pound bag of raw almonds, the most caloric dense food I had in my apartment.
I woke up the next day shocked and disgusted at my behavior. It literally felt like something came over me that I had no control over. I brushed it off, but little did I know, that would be the first of many binges to come.
With the love and support of my friends and family, I slowly tapered away from the extreme anorexia, but I continued to have a completely disordered relationship with food and my body. I now just described it as being fit (eye roll).
I was eating "enough" calories for bodily function, but I was training 2-3 hours a day and restricting myself to tilapia, asparagus, and the occasional sweet potato in preparation for my first bikini bodybuilding competition. I would track all of my food. Crush all of my workouts. Do all of my cardio. But then, the inevitable binge came. It was only happening once a week or so, but I would beat myself up for days over it. More cardio. More restriction. It was a terrible cycle.
As the prep continued, the binges got more and more intense. I'd eat an entire bag of potato chips, box of cookies, and half a jar of peanut butter within 30 minutes flat. I was living with my boyfriend at the time, but I kept my binges a secret, whether I did it while he was gone or while he was sleeping.
I did everything possible to keep my binges at bay during the final month of my bodybuilding prep, but I still had a weekly occurrence of sleep eating that I just could not seem to stop. My body was literally starving for calories. By the time my show came around, I was emaciated. I was too skinny. I didn't look lean and healthy, I looked sick.
To no one's surprise (except me) that day, I didn't do well at the show. And I was in complete shock.
"How could I not place first after the six months of torture I just put myself through?"
"Why am I not good enough? This isn't fair!"
"What do I need to do better in order to make my body look better?"
I was broken. My boyfriend told me he couldn't be with me anymore. My parents pleaded with me to never do a competition ever again. I left my personal training job because I was too miserable and exhausted to train clients. I had never felt so lost, scared, and depressed in my entire life.
And that's when the real binging began. I'm not going to sugarcoat this. This shit was intense, painful, and extreme.
For four months after my competition, I binged every. single. day. Boxes of cheez-its, jars of peanut butter, 6 quest bars at a time (FIBER...OUCH). You name it, I ate it. And not only during the day....I woke up in my sleep every single night to continue the eating brigade.
Within four months, I had gained fifty pounds. My joints hurt. My hormones were completely out of whack. My clothes didn't fit. I had anxiety attacks at the gym for fear of people looking at me and judging my weight gain. I had never felt so much shame in my life.
People who hadn't seen me since my competition gasped when they saw me and would ask "Did you stop working out?" Meanwhile, I was working out harder than ever...but my exercise purging wasn't any match for the massive amount of food I was consuming.
Every binge I had was another stab at my self-esteem. I hated my body, but I hated myself more.
I felt COMPLETELY hopeless. I was so unconscious, so broken, and so discouraged. I started researching my symptoms and finally came across the terms Binge Eating Disorder and Night Eating Syndrome and finally felt relief in knowing "Oh! I have a disorder! This isn't my fault!"
Side note: Night Eating Syndrome is something that is hardly ever talked about, which is one of the main reasons I wanted to write this blog. If you or someone you know struggle with this, PLEASE read and share this article with them and reach out to me for further support. The online forums and literature on this subject are SO incredibly wrong about the treatment for this and I know how isolating and damaging it can be.
Anyways, once I defined the "disorder", I was ready to attack it. I started therapy. I got prescribed anti-depressants and sleep medication. I did all of the things I read about on WebMd... but months went by and I was still binging everyday. I didn't know what was wrong with me. So I kept researching, I kept reading blogs. I kept listening to podcasts. And that's when I found intuitive eating/spirituality/self-love/self-development.
I'm not going to pretend like I read one book and everything just CLICKED. Because that's not what happened...and I don't think that's how recovery happens for anyone. The reality is, it took me over a year to completely get over it. It took me hundreds of journal entries. It took me hundreds of meditations. It took me dozens of books, podcasts, and coaching sessions.
But, I can say now that I have overcome Binge Eating Disorder and Night Eating Syndrome. And there's not one practice or lesson that helped me recover....it was a collaborative effort of a lot of things that helped me through. There's social, physical, psychological, and spiritual elements to recovery and I'm going to do my best to address all of those now to help you in your own journey.
I'm going to break this down into the individual stages of recovery I personally experienced.
INTUITIVE EATING & SELF-CARE
When I first found Geneen Roth's books on intuitive eating, I was so resistant towards it. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, intuitive eating is a practice of eating in which we listen to our bodies vs. an external guideline of how we should eat. We eat what we want, when were hungry and stop when were full. It seems like an easy concept, but to someone who has been dieting for over five years... it felt like a foreign language. But, nonetheless, I decided it was worth a shot.
Any literature you find on intuitive eating will most likely express these two concepts:
- Dieting does not work long-term because it is simply unnatural. Our bodies do not want to be deprived and they will rebel when we restrict. If you've ever been on any kind of diet, you know exactly what I'm talking about. The more restrict the diet, the more extreme the binge. (i.e. 6 month binge period after a 6 month bodybuilding prep)
- When we overeat, were trying to cope with an emotion. Anxiety, sadness, loneliness... there's something going on that needs to be tended to, not eaten over.
Within a couple months of deciding to try intuitive eating, I was already having some incredible shifts. I learned to listen to my body instead of my head when it came to my food choices. I started to journal to get in touch with my emotions. I learned about meditation and its ability to calm my anxiety around my eating. I started to understand the concepts of intuitive exercise instead of pushing my body through grueling workouts that I hated.
When I wanted to emotionally eat, I started to catch myself and ask myself what was really going on. Granted.... this was maybe one out of ten times in the beginning, but it was something. It was the beginning of my journey to getting in touch with my emotions and true self.
For the first time in my life, I started to actually take care of myself. I went for walks, reached out to friends, listened to inspirational podcasts, and started to really put myself first.
And it was incredible. Within those first few months, I started to feel so much happier. My eating started to regulate during the day, but I was still eating in my sleep and having occasional binging episodes.
LETTING GO OF THE DESIRE TO LOSE WEIGHT
As I got deeper into the intuitive eating/self care space, I came across one woman that would change my life forever, Isabel Foxen Duke. If you struggle with any disordered eating behaviors, I highly encourage you to go and check her out. She's the most bad-ass emotional/binge eating coach I've ever had the pleasure to work with. After listening to a few podcast interviews with her, I was completely mind-fucked by her work and decided to join her Master Class program.
Within the first week of the program, I finally understood why I was still binging.
I was still restricting.
Was I counting calories or macros? No. But, in the back of my mind, I still wanted to lose weight. And Isabel quickly taught me that as long as our motivation is weight loss, we will still feel crazy around food and inevitably binge. You can't fall off the wagon unless you're on one.
The only way to have complete food freedom was through complete allowance. And not just allowing myself to eat what I want when I'm hungry until I'm full.....but allowing whatever I wanted to eat, in whatever amount, whenever I wanted...hungry or not.
Because if were practicing intuitive eating with the same diet mentality we had when were tracking calories, were still in a restrictive mindset. Were still setting ourselves up to feel guilt and shame when we don't abide by the guidelines of intuitive eating. And what do we do when we feel guilt and shame? We binge.
Learning all of this was a game changer for me. I understood it from a practical level, but I was still getting tripped up on complete food allowance. And I realized it was because of my resistance to completely give up weight loss.
I had been trying to lose weight and/or change my body for my entire life. That's all I knew. How could I just give that up completely?
Well, it looked like I didn't really have a choice. I was never going to lose weight from hating my body. I was never going to be able to stop binge eating if I never stopped restricting. I had to accept my body for what it was and not try and force it to be anything else.
And there was a relief in that realization...but I still didn't feel that great about my body. That is, until I found body positivity.
BODY POSITIVITY & BELIEFS
And once again, I owe it to Isabel for introducing me to it. For those unfamiliar with it, do a quick search on #bodypositivity on Instagram and you'll know what I'm talking about. It's a huge movement that's sweeping our society by storm. Women of all shapes and sizes unapologetically rocking their curves and flaws for all of the world to see.
When I found plus-size women that were beautiful, sexy, and loved by others on social media....I started to challenge my beliefs about what really defines beauty and worthiness.
My entire life I was raised to believe that you had to be skinny to be sexy and admired. But, here are these confident women rocking size 14 jeans, loving their lives, and being admired by thousands of people. It was possible.
I didn't have to be a victim of society's standards. I could own the body I was in, no matter what my weight is. I could find love no matter what size jeans I was wearing. I could wear shorts and have my legs jiggle. I could wear a bikini on the beach and feel good doing it. I could do whatever the fuck I wanted.
I started to dig deep into this movement, listening to every podcast I could about it. I stopped following all of the "fitspo" accounts and started following plus-size/body positive women that inspired me. I started to look at my body in the mirror and appreciate it for being just the way it is.
And before I knew it...I felt good in my body. For the first time in my life, I loved my body.
At this point, I was no longer dealing with intense binge eating...but, I was still eating in my sleep. No matter how much I loved my body, no matter how much food I allowed myself to eat during the day...I still had an out-of-control compulsion to wake up and eat in my sleep.
MINDFULNESS & NEUROPLASTICITY
Throughout the time when I first began my recovery process, I was also working to develop a spiritual/self-care practice outside of food. Meditation and journaling were so incredibly healing for me and I knew there was something so much deeper to the practice besides overcoming food related issues.
Around the time I found body positivity, I was simultaneously growing a huge interest in mindfulness and neurology. Meditating had brought me so many incredible benefits, both spiritual and practical, and I wanted to learn even more about it.
In my research, I came across a lot of studies on thought control, neurology, and habit breaking. And THAT, my friends, is when shit clicked.
I'm going to try and explain in the most digestible way possible.
When we have been performing a habitual action for an extended period of the time, the behavior pattern literally gets hard-wired in our brains. We build neurological pathways that become extremely efficient at getting us to perform the action...without us having to think about it.
Think about habits you have in your life right now.... brushing your teeth, driving your car.... You don't think about these habits. There's not a moment in your day where you think "Oh, I think I'll brush my teeth." You just do it without thinking about it. Because you've done the action so many times, your brain became extremely efficient in performing that action.
And while some habits, like the ones above are great because they save us a lot of time and mental energy....its not so great when we pick up a bad habit, i.e. night eating, binge eating, smoking, yelling at our kids, etc.
But, our brains don't know which habits are good and bad. To the brain, all habits are good because they are saving energy. And the brain will do whatever it can to keep the habits.
The good news? Our brains can change. Scientists call this process of brain evolution neuroplasticity. And we actually didn't even know this was possible until a couple decades ago! So, how do we create this change? How do we break the bad habits?
Well, we have to force our brains into building new neural pathways. And we do that by committing to not act out on the bad habit.
So, all of this time I spent reading books, listening to podcasts, loving my body, intuitive eating, meditating, journaling searching for the answer to stop binge eating/night eating...was really just as simple as committing not to do it.
Now, if I just completely lost you in that jump...stay with me.
When you have a bad habit, like binge eating, you have to understand that your brain has become so efficient at acting this habit out that it will literally do anything to keep you doing it. It will start to reason with you. "Come on, just this once." "You deserve it." It will produce intense emotions like anxiety and fear. It will make you feel compelled to do it.
But, that's just your brain being an efficient brain. It's not here to hurt you. It doesn't want to keep you stuck. It's simply doing what it's designed to do. And as soon as you understand that, you take all of the power back.
If you want to break the pattern, you have to stop doing it. Plain and simple. You have to commit ahead of time that you will not act out on the thoughts and urges your brain produces. Don't wait until you're in that moment to decide, because then you'll be relying on will-power, and you will lose.
Think of it like this...the habit of binging/eating in my sleep for me was like a super highway in my brain. So when I decide to not act out on that, it's like me telling my brain to take the a winding, dirt road off the exit which it has to navigate and figure out. My brain is like "Hell no! That's stupid!" But...once again...it's just my brain being efficient.
So, how did this end up looking in real life?
I committed to stop night eating. I continued to research neurology for further encouragement. I woke up in the morning and said "I am capable of change." "I will not give into the urges of my brain." "I will not eat in my sleep."
And when I heard other voices pop up "Yeah, right!", "You'll never be able to do that," I just dismissed the thoughts as junk. It's just self doubt. It's just my brain trying to get me to keep a habit that I want to break.
I would say the same things before I went to sleep. And if I woke up in my sleep to eat, I would notice the urge. I would sit with it and think "This is just my brain trying to trick me." And I would write in my journal, take some deep breaths, and go back to sleep.
I'm not going to lie and say this was easy. It wasn't. Our brains are tricky sons of bitches, but.... they can be changed. The more I practiced not acting out on my urges to eat in my sleep, the easier it became. And soon, I didn't even have to think about it. Words can't begin to describe the immense relief I feel saying today that I have overcome this.
And truthfully, looking back, I would not have changed one thing about my journey. The podcasts, books, journaling, meditation, and struggle were all essential.
If I didn't learn to love my body, I would still be battling body dysmorphia and letting food and the gym control my life. If I didn't learn to meditate, I wouldn't have had the mindfulness I needed to recognize faulty patterns in my brain when breaking the habit. And most importantly, if I didn't learn to love myself, I wouldn't have been as committed as I was to beating this.
I will never say overcoming binge eating is easy. But, I will say it's possible.
If you're struggling with Binge Eating Disorder or Night Eating Syndrome, I hope something in this post resonated with you. I hope you can take something new away from this. I hope you feel comfortable enough to share your story with someone else and are inspired to rise to a new level of commitment to yourself. Because you are worth it.
Below are a list of some incredible reading/listening suggestions to help you in your journey:
Books- Intuitive Eating, When Food Is Love, Brain Over Binge, You Are Not Your Brain, The Power of Now, The Power is Within You, Madly in Love with me, You Can Heal your Life
Podcasts- Let it Out Radio, Mind Body Musings, Fearless Rebelle Radio, Food Psyche, Finding Our Hunger, Earn Your Happy
Sending you all love and light. As always, if you have any comments, questions, or feedback, please feel free to reach out to me.