Having just got back from holiday after a few weeks of the ‘silly season’, I feel a sigh of relief to be back home, back in a familiar environment and back in ‘routine’.
The holiday have been beautiful and relaxing in ways, with a lot of peaceful time to myself, but then also many times where it was more frenetic and stressful, being constantly surrounded by friends, family…and of course…food…everywhere.
The holidays are often filled with a barrage of triggers – which end in drinking too much, eating too much, snapping at friends or family as well as for triggering feelings of loneliness and depression for others. I have certainly dabbled in all of the above, however at this point in my life overindulging in food seems to be the most common way of responding to triggers. This usually happens when I feel of a lack of control over my surroundings, of what food is available, how much of it there is, when to eat it, and what to eat at my next meal. These questions totally consume my mind, and pull me away from enjoying the present moment, from enjoying conversations with others and leave me feeling anxious, empty and disconnected with my body, feelings and thoughts.
For the past few weeks I got into a cycle of overeating to the point of discomfort, feeling unable to stop, to say no, and then waking up feeling miserable and continuing the cycle again. It felt like constantly needing to fill a black hole, and then needing to mask the pain and feelings of guilt, shame and sadness caused by the binge by eating even more.
What I am referring to is not simply ‘overeating’, which many people do, and which is, in fact, totally normal. Binge eating disorder is something that is a lot more complex, and painful. If you have dealt with binge eating disorder you will know the pain and discomfort that is felt after a bingeing cycle. Weight gain, bloating, painful body, but the mental affects are just as brutal. Guilt, sadness, anger, confusion, despair. The episodes leave you feeling guilty, and often taken-aback at what you have just done to your body. Very quickly after a binge cycle the temptation is then to restrict once again – to go on a detox immediately, fast for a while or eat a small portions of food to lose weight gained as fast as possible. Inevitably continuing the cycle of restricting and bingeing once more.
As I do not drink alcohol anymore anymore, arguably one of the best decisions I have ever made, I do, however, have more of a tendency to reach for food in the times where I am surrounded by alcohol and drinking. Or when I am feeling anxious, bored, frenetic, uncertain or out of my comfort zone. This often ends up in a binge cycle, which can last many days. Don’t get me wrong, this definitely happened when I was drinking as well, but I would spend half my time medicating with alcohol and the other half with food. Now, without the alcohol, the food compulsion is a lot more evident, as it is no longer masked with periods of blackouts or justified by hungover ‘munchies’.
Having previously not really spoken much about my food compulsion on this blog, reserving it for issues around alcohol instead, I have recently come to realise, that these two for are in fact one-in-the same for me, and not bringing this into the discussion would not be honoring this a very big part of my journey. I have also come to find that I am not alone in this and that, in fact, many others deal with this issue, many of whom have given up alcohol or drugs and try to find ‘substitute addictions’, and perhaps some good could come out of talking about it.
Where it all began
I started binge eating from the age of around 12 (if not earlier), for many reasons which I can see in retrospect (which deserve their own blog post) and proceeded to gain a huge amount of weight over the following ten years. Being my adolescent years, this was an incredibly painful and insecure time, but was made all the worse by the very visible weight gain, bullying, and the heavy dose of the self-hatred narrative I reserved only for myself. I recently found some of my journals from that time, and it breaks my heart to read how much pain I was in, how obsessed I was around my weight, around counting calories, and the harmful words I used to describe myself, and my reality. I was desperately unhappy, and this was a very dark time in my life.
It was only after varsity where I managed to find some relief. The way I did this was I stopping journalling about food and weight (this was just fueling my negative cycle) and I decided to reject dieting mentality and culture altogether, and allow ALL foods on my plate and in my house. I had desperately had enough, and decided I would rather be overweight and set free from this destructive rat race, than continue on. It was a radical approach I figured out on my own, but I started to notice that when I stopped feeling deprivation, I lessened the need to binge. I also observed that when I got into a relationship this helped my bingeing a lot, somehow by having someone to love and ‘validate’ me. This filled a sense of loneliness, or unworthiness that I was feeling at the time and as a result I ate what I wanted, when I wanted. I did not know it then, but I was practicing ‘intuitive eating’, something which many others are opting for instead of diet culture, and (ironically) proceeded to lose weight over time.
Over the last three years I have been single, and I stopped drinking, both of which I feel have left me needing to confront my food compulsions once more, as I have had less ‘crutches’ to lean on, and naturally have had to manage my feelings, my anxieties, and comfort myself. As a result I have, once again, started to adopt ‘diet mentality’ and tried to find new ways to ‘control’ and restrict in order to counteract these overindulgence, which ultimately have set up periods of bingeing once again.
I have used food as a blanket of comfort, as I friend, as a lover, as a replacement for alcohol at times, as a reward and a punishment. I have restricted myself, and gone hungry many times, and have felt unbearably full at other times. I have gravitated towards intermittent fasting, to provide some ‘relief’, desperate for a break away from food and from the self-hate, but in doing so have fed into the restrictive and binge cycle once again. Through all of this the underlying beliefs are that I am not good enough as I am, I am not lovable as I am, and I cannot achieve the goals I need to in my life until I sort my shit (read weight) out. Also that my body cannot be trusted to be how it naturally wants to be.
Although these last few months I actually reached and then surpassed that magical ‘goal weight’ I had set for myself (over ten years ago), a bizarre thing happened – I was still just as unhappy, still disliked myself and still had really negative thoughts about myself. I always used to think being ‘smaller’ would make me feel happier. Turns out this is a lie I have been fed my whole life.
Forging a new path.
I know I cannot carry on like this. I know better. I need to stop this constant obsession to be lighter, smaller, and find trust in my bodies natural rhythms, hungers, cravings and needs. I know this is not going to happen overnight. Its taken nearly 20 years of diet culture to get to where I am, and I am going to need self compassion and patience to try and undo some of these effects.
It’s scary and the path feels uncertain. What lies ahead when I remove dieting and control of food/ restriction/ weight from my life? How will I learn to deal with my discomfort, emotions and feelings without using food? What happens when I free up all of this precious life energy and devote it on other things? My career, my hobbies, my friends and my self development? The thought is scary and confusing, yet sounds so liberating.
These are all questions I will be asking myself and dealing with this year as I strive for a better self image, acceptance of my body how it is right now.
This year I have decided I will be sharing my journey of my food addiction on my blog, as well as will be looking at ways to incorporate Intuitive Eating practices into my coaching for those who want to stop this cycle. I will be walking the journey side by side with those who wish to do the same.
I have put away the bathroom scale. I refuse to be determined by a number on a scale any longer. This year I want to really learn what it feels like to love myself and care for my body in a way that is gentle, nurturing, and kind. I know I have already come so far from where I was years ago, But the journey is not yet over. A radical shift in perspective is needed.
If you are walking a similar path or dealing with similar issues, feel free to connect with me on it or follow my journey on Dry Space these next few months as I will be sharing blogs, podcasts, tips, articles and meditations to unlearn, and undo the damage that dieting culture has brought into so many of our lives.
So here I am. I’m coming out [the pantry]. A new journey starts today.
If you are looking to receive coaching on stopping negative drinking or dieting patterns, you can book a free 30 minute meet & greet coaching session over here – > www.about.me/andreasmit.