This is Part I in a series around my journey with binge eating, emotional eating, and dieting mentality. It’s the most transparent I’ve ever been about it, and even though it gives me butterflies to share, I hope it resonates with those of you struggling and hoping for a way to break the cycle.
There I was, in my college dorm room, having yet again placed an order that I hated myself for. A $29 large white-sauce pizza, which I would pair with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s chocolate fudge brownie ice cream that I’d picked up earlier from the school lounge, along with one or two hand-sized chocolate cookies. Not like cute, palm-sized cookies — like full fingers-spread, hand-sized cookies. And I knew I’d eat it all.
To be honest, after placing the order over the phone, I initially felt a wave of calm wash over me, relief from being freed from resisting the temptation all day. But deep down, I felt trapped, knowing I would eat everything in an almost blacked-out haze, then fall into a heavy binge-induced nap, then commit to starting fresh tomorrow as I fell asleep, just like I had earlier this week, and the week before that, and the week before that.
The only thing I knew for sure is that I had no idea how to break the cycle, and with every pound I gained on my petite 5’1, now uncomfortable, clothes-outgrowing frame that my jeans dug into and my belly fell over, I felt more disillusioned, fearful, and defeated.
Less trusting that I *could* break the cycle.
Less confident in my will power, or lack of it.
Less comfortable in my own skin, or connected to who I even was anymore.
Phew. If that sounds heavy, it was. Over the next few weeks, I want to open up a conversation around emotional eating, binge eating, yo-yo dieting, and even just an on/off cycle with food that so many women find themselves in these days.
Because in this Instagram culture, I know it’s so easy to see a health coach with her gluten-free recipes and seemingly effortless relationship to food, and feel more alone in your own struggle. To wonder if there is something that YOU lack. To wonder what you’re missing when trying so hard, or if you’ll ever feel free from ongoing thoughts, perfectionism, or struggle around food.
To some of you, this may sound completely unrelatable. I think that’s why it gives me butterflies to put all this out there in such detail. If that’s you, consider yourself lucky to have avoided the culture of dieting that pervades so many lives, and come back for the regularly scheduled recipe posts in a few weeks. 🙂
But for those who this DOES resonate with, who are thinking… oh my gosh, could it be I’m not the only one… I hope to help you come away knowing you’re so not alone, shed some light on what it takes to unwind the cycle you find yourself in, and how to discover a more balanced, freeing, and even joyful relationship to food.
The binge episodes weren’t always part of my life, so let’s go back, shall we? Like way back… to see where this complicated relationship with food even began.
Back to the Beginning
Truth be told, for most of my childhood, I was probably on the luckier end of the spectrum when it came to food. My family was loving. My mama made homemade dinners for the family most nights. She packed us school lunches. She gave us a healthy balance of treats — sugar cereal reserved for camping trips, or chocolate graham crackers with chocolate frosting for the occasional after-school snack. But also plenty of nourishing, real food. Fruit. Veggies. Classic, bone-warming dinners like lentil soup, chicken pot pie, or pasta with meat sauce and garden salad.
But as I became a teenager, my small frame started growing into hips. I think that’s maybe where it began: a well-intentioned relative made a casual remark about needing to be careful, probably wanting to spare me from her own experiences with dieting. But I remember it as a freeze-frame moment, something that screeched my blissful ignorance around food and calories and sugar to a halt and suddenly clicked food into perspective. Wait, that’s a thing I should think about? Suddenly, food became something I should be aware of. Maybe even cautious with.
From then on, my relationship tended to swing between two sides of a pendulum. Healthy, and somewhat forgetful about food, or overzealous, preoccupied with how I could perfect it.
On the better end, I forgot about food. I joined the swim team in high school, and relished that no meal could keep up with my voracious metabolism; occasionally a girlfriend and I would grab dinner at a Mexican restaurant, enjoying a big plate of enchiladas, rice and beans, then follow it up with a Blizzard and fries at Dairy Queen. A few years later, as a freshman in college, I found myself in the middle of the Santa Monica Mountains, hiking hills to and from classes several times a day, and accidentally *lost* the Freshman 15.
But on the other end, I was watchful. Exacting. I would use middle school or high school summer breaks as a chance to aim for an ambitious wake-up and work-out regimen, ensuring I got a bike ride in, counted calories, and worked off what was probably non-existent cellulite. (Looking back, I have no idea where or how I learned about cellulite at that age, or calories for that matter. Maybe magazines. Maybe kids at school talking about an upcoming beach day. Who knows. Girls tend to learn early, in subtle ways.)
Then sophomore year of college, it unraveled. I experienced a year of massive transitions, all at once. A break-up, a move across the country, a crisis of faith, a phase of veganism… Oh, one’s 20s are rich with it, aren’t they? 🙂 Suddenly, I found myself allured in a way I hadn’t been by food. Getting one muffin in the morning, then going back for another. Tucking them into my purse the second I ordered another, so no one would notice. Getting anxious out with friends about when I could go home and eat freely, without judgment over quantity, even if I was already out at dinner. Waiting until my roommate left for the weekends so I could order more and more food. Seemingly out of nowhere, I had this overwhelming habit that I hated, yet also felt almost possessed by. I didn’t know why the urges to binge were so strong, or why I couldn’t stop them.
On the evenings, I would go to Barnes and Noble and peruse the diet-book aisles. Fervently commit to some new plan and rigorous exercise regimen the weeks before school breaks, in the hopes to work off all the extra weight before my family could notice. With every day closing in as a break neared, it became like a chess game:
If I can just workout 1 hour for the next 3 weeks…
If I do 2 workouts per day, I wonder if I can lose 3 pounds per week…
But the more I tried, the more my mind and body rebelled. I gained over 40 pounds in a matter of months.
I once read about a girl who chopped off all her hair in a moment of declaration that should would stop binge eating. She thought that such an extreme reminder in the mirror would be enough to never binge again. It only took hours. I never cut off my hair, but I understood when I read that. On my birthday — just like every new month and new week — I committed to starting fresh. No more binge eating. The new me. Surely, I could have one birthday chocolate that my parents had sent me from 3,000 miles away, and just enjoy it. Within 24 hours, I started the year in another binge.
It was an absolutely maddening, isolating, disorienting time in my life. I felt extremely disconnected from my body. I felt extremely ashamed of the weight I had gained. I knew I was beautiful deep down, but in every picture, I saw someone that looked less like myself. I was trying so hard, yet getting nowhere. I was lacking confidence in my ability to really sustain any diet for long, as what initially started out as weeks of resolve, dropped to days or even hours.
All this to say…
I don’t know you.
I don’t know your story.
Maybe some parts of mine sound like your own.
I began studying eating psychology because — even after years finding my way out of binge eating — I wasn’t satisfied with the current diet dogma. The way we’re told to think of food, especially in American culture. The way it’s so often a calculation, a formula, a unit to measure or manipulate, that only ends up taking us further from our own bodies. Our own inner wisdom. Our own sense of balance and ease and truth. That too often leads to patterns like binge eating, stealing our energy, mental freedom, health, confidence, and lives.
And, our freaking JOY. I mean, birthday cake didn’t used to mean calories. The first summer watermelon on a hot day didn’t always mean carbs. Pizza on a soul-refreshing night out with a girlfriend didn’t used to mean extra time at the gym the next day.
So I suppose the first step is knowing you’re not alone.
That actually, there is nothing wrong with you.
You have a healthy brain that is responding just as animal would to its environment. All the restriction and the stress and the dizzying philosophies and the way we’ve been taught to think about food, for probably the first time quite this way in human evolution.
You have a brain and body that is faced with foods that are literally engineered to be addictive. The right crunch. The right texture. The right sweet-to-salty ratio.
It was so heartening to me to realize I was not alone in this. I felt so alone.
That there was nothing wrong with me. I felt there must be, because no one openly talked about this.
To realize there WAS a way out, no matter how far gone I felt. A way of eating and relating to food, and connecting back to my body, that could break the emotional eating, stress eating, binge eating and even yo-yo dieting cycle. I had lost hope with each and every thing I tried until then.
If you’re going through this, take heart. In the next post, I’ll share Part II. Because even after I stopped binge eating, it still took me years to resolve a very on-off, black-white, good-bad mentality around food. That is still all too common, pervasive, and subtle in our culture.
If this resonates, don’t leave me hangin’ — let me know in the comments! And I’ll be right back here later this week because fortunately, this is not where my story ends. And it isn’t where yours does either, sister.