I am an emotional binge-eater. I don’t look like one but I am. Big time.
There are generally two types of situations that force me to go over-board and either indulge in excess in things that would be generally OK in moderate amounts, or even reach for stuff that I know is toxic and outright bad for me – such as sugar-filled biscuits.
In my balanced state I am pretty disciplined with my diet and have perfected it over time to serve my highest good. Most of my time, I am beyond taste, I think about how the particular food item nourishes my body, that’s what gives me pleasure.
But when I get emotionally triggered, that’s another story. Once my cortisol rises beyond a certain threshold, I can’t control myself. I need to tranquillise the stressful rush and the first thing I tend to think about is usually something sweet.
Like the other day when one of my editors suddenly concluded that I have to rework a feature she previously accepted within the next 24 hours while my to do list for the next day was already pretty full.
I couldn’t help it. I was on the way home when I read her email. I was hoping to find a supermarket quickly to get some emergency 85 per cent chocolate. I would devour the whole bar and I wouldn’t need to feel too guilty because 85 per cent chocolate is low glycaemic and has only very little sugar. But there was no supermarket around and the cortisol rush just wouldn’t go. I ran into the nearest Starbucks, bought a small 70 per cent chocolate bar, a packet of nuts mixed with dried fruit and stuffed it all down my throat. I still didn’t feel any relief. So I went to a Café Nero further down the road and got an even less healthy (OK the completely unhealthy) gluten-free brownie (I am sorry my dear body, I promise to make up for that with more dark leafy greens).
The second type of situation when I tend to overeat is when I have a task to do that for some reason feels difficult. It doesn’t even need to be that difficult but I have this primary response to certain things that I can’t do it, that it’s impossible and that I don’t want to do it. That quite frequently happens when I feel stuck with my writing. Like I have a deadline approaching and I simply can’t find my way into the topic. Then I use food to delay the work, which frequently results in a whole jar of peanut butter being consumed within a day. The true is that it does not improve my creative powers at all.
How it started
I first developed eating problems in my early teens. It started when I was about 12 years old and became extremely self-conscious about my body. I had no reason to be self-conscious. I was a gymnast and was pretty fit and slim, but I thought I needed to be slimmer. I thought that my ass was too big.
I started increasing my dose of exercise and started to attempt to control my food intake.
I gradually developed a pattern of being really strict for a while and then suddenly totally losing it and overeating to the level of feeling sick. For some time it was sort of balanced. I wasn’t losing weight but I also wasn’t gaining any.
When I was about 13 and a half, I started losing it. My self-control was getting weaker and weaker and my attempts to starve myself were more and more frequently taken over by uncontrollable urges to eat everything I could find. In a year I gained about ten kilos. I was feeling like shit. Many times, I was trying to stick my fingers down my throat to make myself vomit but I could never stick them deep enough (what a loser I used to think, not only do I have no will to make myself not eat, I can’t even make myself throw up. I hated myself)
I was lucky because at some point when I was about 16, I kind of spontaneously relaxed about it, my weight gradually dropped to a healthy 55, where it stayed ever since.
But the urge to overeat in certain situations never completely went away.
There are temporary fixes and there are permanent solutions to emotional binge eating. I am generally extremely careful about my diet and have successfully used food and nutrition to heal my endometriosis as well as my cystic acne.
I believe that the most important thing to do for every binge-eater is to use the balanced state, when you are not triggered, to perfect your diet as much as possible. I am following the Wahls Protocol and it gives me a certain foundation. If I get a sweet tooth in my controlled state, I just ask myself whether I have already eaten all my greens and protein and make sure that I eat that first. Because I have a strict no added sugar policy, I can usually satisfy my cravings with a bit of fruit.
For every binge eater, getting off the unhealthy stuff is the number one priority. If your diet is super healthy overall, you are not that likely to overdo it once you get triggered. You will stop after one chocolate brownie and not after ten.
Getting off sugar, including the so-called healthy sugar is a priority (healthy sugar is myth and binging on dried dates or brownies sweetened with agave and honey is not too much better than the outright bad stuff). If you keep maintaining your sugar addiction in your balanced state, it is going to roll over you once you get the emotional surge.
For me it’s about binging on stuff that is OK, even though I would prefer not to binge at all. Peanut butter and 85 per cent chocolate are my favourite substitutes. Sometimes, I run through a whole jar and devour a whole bar in a day (oops, yes, I do, I really do…)
Of course, these substitutes are in effect not solving the problem. They make the unhealthy habit less harmful but the pattern is still there.
So how to get rid of the pattern? Easier said than done, right? I believe that no amount of strong will is going to make the urges disappear.
The point is to resolve the urges by gaining insight into what is triggering them and then working with the underlying thinking pattern that is forcing you to numb down with food. You can temporarily find an alternative habit such as going for a run or doing ten handstands.
Mindfulness comes handy here, really paying close attention to what is going through your mind that is triggering the overwhelming emotional response that makes you raid the larder.
I realised that the cortisol rush and the ensuing sugar binge I felt after the interaction with my editor was really triggered by feelings that the task at hand is impossible, that it’s too difficult, that I can’t do it. She actually changed her mind and gave me a week and I learned an interesting lesson.
I am quite convinced that my inability to deal with such situations without feeling overwhelmed comes from my childhood. I have never felt supported by my parents when something was difficult and developed some clearly unhealthy ways of coping. Chances are you are in the same boat.