Moving from restrictive eating to over eating was never going to be easy...
It's hard to hear yourself described as a Binge Eater, especially when many years were spent as a Restrictive Eater (Anorexia being an extreme on the spectrum)
I have come to accept that my reliance on food, either a lack of or an abuse of, will probably always be with me and now I am quite ok with this being a part of my make up and my lived experience.
Binge Eating Disorder is becoming a better researched area of Mental Health enquiry, with the national charity BEAT launching new studies and surveys. Stigma is at it's highest with anything that may involve being overweight or eating "too much". I do believe that a large proportion of the population are on a spectrum of sorts when it comes to their relationship with nutrition, body image and eating behaviours, and that the biggest issue is the shroud of shame and silence that accompanies anything that as seen as not acceptable or healthy. Can anyone honestly profess to always having eating solely for nutritional and energy purposes?
I have written before about my Eating Disorder journey and so I do not need to cover old ground here, nor will I describe the tell tale signs or facts, which can all be found on the fantastic BEAT website www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk.
What I would like to do though is encourage conversation or perhaps even offer reassurance to those who are crippled by Binge Eating, Compulsive Over-Eating, Bulima, or the many other non-specified Eating Disorders. I always aim to be frank and I will admit that I find writing these pieces are as therapeutic to me, if not more so, than they may be to others, and a part of that has been the incredibly support response I have had since talking to readers about my experiences. If I'm honest, I NEVER talk openly about my near constant thought patterns around food and disclosing this part of my life feels like a massive leap of faith. Although I have moved away from body image obsessions and actual dietary extremes (I have become quite fond of my body), the thought patterns are still firmly lodged in my mind on most days.
Going from a low weight Anorexic to an over weight Binge Eater/Emotional Eater was really, really tough. The hardest part for me, psychologically, was an acute embarrassment that those who knew me as slim or thin, or those close to me who knew about my restrictive eating, could now see me as over weight. I am convinced that they are thinking "Blimey, she let herself go" or that I would be seen as greedy and a failed Anorexic. Indeed, with the exception of family and a few very dear friends, I feel more comfortable in my body around people who didn't know me in my earlier days.
My persistent tendency to reach for food in any given high emotional state, be it happy, sad, anxious or otherwise, reaches me even if I am poorly with a tummy bug when others may avoid or feel sick at the thought of food. If I lose my appetite, I will still comfort eat to try and self soothe. Interestingly, I have had a chronic reduced appetite over the last year or so, and I haven't quite worked out why. Yet I will still eat to deal with my emotions. I am basically ignoring my body's natural signals, which of course is what I have done since my Eating Disorder began as a teenager. This means that I can go all day without food because my lack of appetite doesn't remind me to eat, then I will get to the evening and eat crap as a response to low blood sugar levels. Not exactly a good recipe for optimal nutrition.
However I do have phases, long phases, where I eat according to my bodies needs and choose "high nutrition" foods. I actually really enjoy these kinds of foods, my childhood diet was wholesome and full of veggies, fruit etc and my kids laugh at my enjoyment of big portions of broccoli. Perhaps these phases are a result of a good chemical and hormone balance, a change of medication that has even out my serotonin levels, or some other mental distraction. When I was studying during my Yoga teacher training I was in one of these calm phases, and this leads me to think that my monkey mind thrives on channelling mental energy into productive activities such as learning new skills and working towards tangible achievements. I once had a therapist who pressed the view that Eating Disorders are actually just good old Thought Disorders, and I completely agree. It isn't about food at all, it just so happens that some people rely on food or abuse of food as a coping mechanism where others may rely on alcohol, drugs, shopping, or cutting themselves to name but a few.
I sometimes eat in secret. I sometimes hide food wrappers. I can find it hard to ignore any chocolate that is in the house. But these habits have significantly reduced in recent years, again I do not know why exactly. I no longer stuff myself with so much food that I feel sick, and I no longer refuse to eat in front of other people and then hide away later and eat huge amounts by myself (although I still do try to avoid eating around others, I simply do not like it).
Somes factor that I can identify as being helpful include removing myself from a toxic relationship, discovering the deeper aspects of Yoga, surrounding myself with people who agree that mental health is more important than physical health, and of course a strict policy when it comes to social media images and topics. I also know that my medication for Bipolar made my over eating worse when I first started taking it 10 years ago. It seems that my body has become used to it now and despite being over weight, indeed obese according to my BMI, my weight is stable and fairly unchanging. I can see why so many people are adverse to using certain medications because of the distressing appetite increase associated with them. This is a whole other topic, one that I will not explore today other than to say I would never, ever advise someone to stop any medication regime, whatever the side effects, without medical assistance and opinion.
So what's the bottom line? What am I trying to say? God knows. I certainly do not have all the answers, My journey is life long and accepting this has been illuminating and given me a sense of freedom. I don't like to use the word "Recovered" or "Recovery", because it suggests that there is only one way of being, and being anything else needs to be corrected. And if I have pretty much always been this way, what am I recovering? Holding my head high and saying "Yep, I'm quite fat and I don't really do much about it" is painful, but important. I don't like to think of anyone feeling overwhelmed and distressed because they don't fit a non-existent norm, it makes me want to grab them in a bear hug and squeeze them full of love.
Please don't keep it to yourself. It's ok. I promise.
With love and bear hugs,
For help with any of these issues I suggest the following...
I also advise starting a conversation with a GP, health or exercise practitioner that you trust.
My experiences and opinions are not intended as medical advise.