I’m struggling a bit on how to start this post. I’ve been looking at a blank screen for a while now. I mean, how, or where do you begin to try to cover a topic as broad… as deep, as so uniquely personal and situational as binge eating. Of course there’s tendencies we all have that connect our struggles, but it’s an extremely isolating experience when you’re in it. I’ve sat alone with it for so long and the shame has grown roots down to my feet. What I’m saying is that I’m sitting here thinking of what I could possibly say to help you, when the weight of the shame I still feel is keeping me from even writing about it.
What’s hitting me like a ton of bricks right now is that I thought I was going to sit down and type an organized post with actionable steps about how I “quit” bingeing. I thought I had worked through all of this stuff. As I sit here and the memories and guilt of the things I’ve done for food and because of food are flooding me and well, I wasn’t expecting to feel this way right now.
So I guess this post is going to be me word vomiting through gritted teeth and the sheer terror of finally letting this out, telling you what has helped me and hope it helps me heal a little bit more in the process.
Like I mentioned about 5 times already, I’ve done a lot of things and solidified a lot of habits that are really embarrassing to admit to out loud. I’ve had binge eating on my “blog ideas” list since Feburary when this site first started but what made me finally decide to start writing it was driving past a McDonald’s this morning.
After getting off of a 12 hour overnight shift, I was on my way home and, innocently enough, I passed a McDonald’s. Then came the overwhelming and circular thought process of “needing” 2 sausage burritos from the breakfast menu and a large diet coke. I did the usual food addict process of trying to ignore the compulsion, then trying to justify why I needed it and deserved it (yes, sometimes this still happens to me to this day) and long story short, I was able to rationalize enough to let that lead me into thinking about how I have an “order” at every. single. fast food place. Every single one.
Name a drive-thru and I can tell you the exact thing I used to order. When I was alone. By myself in my car. Wendy’s? 2 junior bacon cheeseburgers with no mayo and a baked potato. Taco Bell? Chicken quesadilla with a softshell chicken taco, add sour cream, 2 loaded volcano tacos and a large baja blast. Chicken tenders with BBQ sauce and onion rings from Culver’s. I could go on.
From there on my drive home from work I began to wonder if it was just me who had this personalized menu down to a science for all of these places. I’m sure many people out there kind of know what they get from these fast food chains, what their kids like, but I started to feel really alone again, thinking that there’s no way anyone used the drive-thru like I used to. To the extremes that I did.
I’d order my McDonald’s breakfast of 2 sausage burritos and eat them while I drove to a different McDonald’s because I was too embarrassed to order the 4 that I wanted at the first one. I used to wake up in the middle of the night when my overnight shifts messed with my sleep, and without thinking, go to the nearest drive thru that was open. It was like I was being pulled there. Like I didn’t have a choice. On the days where I hadn’t worked overnights, it was still the same story, just a different time of day.
If I thought it had been too soon since the drive-thru employees last saw me, I’d go to a different fast food place that was further away. I’d often eat whatever food I got in my paper bag on the way to the gas station where I’d pick up a big bag of those powdered mini donuts to eat in the car on the final leg home.
This wasn’t a rare occurrence. It was daily. I was out of control and even getting physically sick because of how much food I was eating and going into debt over how much food I was eating. That is so, so hard to admit to you. It’s hard for me to think of myself being that person I was.
Even if I haven’t frequented any of these places in a long time, like this morning, the habits and thoughts sometimes creeps up on me still. To this day I still avoid the frozen food sections in the grocery stores unless I need frozen fruit or veggies because old me couldn’t be trusted in the florescent lit aisles. If I wasn’t getting fast food, I was going to the store, picking up a bag of pizza rolls, ice cream and a frozen lasagna. Only to take it home and eat it all within an hour. Another favorite? Eating an entire box of cereal in one day.
There were many, many days in my past where on my days off, the only thing that got me dressed and off the couch was food.
It was easy to do when I lived alone. I didn’t have to worry about anyone judging me or being “concerned” about me except for the drive-thru employees. Then I could sit alone with my guilt in peace. Prior to that though, living with roommates or a previous boyfriend forced me to be sneaky, to hide my binge eating and, ultimately, ensure that I be ashamed of myself. I was ordering a large pizza and order of cheese sticks, or enough Chinese takeout for two or three people, eating it all while sitting on my bed and walking the boxes out to the trash before my roommates got home. I would get excited or impatient for people to leave my house so I could order food to be delivered. I was keeping bags of skittles in my glove compartment in my car so I didn’t have to bring them into the house.
Every time I was at a restaurant I was hyper focused on what I could order to get the largest amount of food possible. Or justify my need for an appetizer too. I’d make comments that sounded like, “oh I’m so full but fries really aren’t good reheated”. Even though I knew I was going to eat every last bite and there would be no leftovers anyway. The binge eating thought process you have is so irrational and the excuses or reasons you come up with to give yourself permission to do it are just so far out there. Really, anything goes when you’re looking for an excuse to eat.
That shame continued to grow and pile on in the form of self-reproach and self-condemnation. I was watching myself destruct day by day. I was going out to dinner, eating my meal and ordering an additional to-go meal, telling my dinner companions it was for a boyfriend when really, it was for myself for when I got home. My guilt and shame rang louder than anything else during this time and I had given up dealing with it any other way besides eating more. Condemning myself to a life controlled by food and being unable to escape the punishments.
After all, to me, it was ME who did this to myself. The enormity of my shame and the incredibly overwhelming feelings of hopelessness and helplessness still make me cry when I think about this time in my life. Because even though most days I think it’s behind me, it takes one glance… or, ya know, one blog post, to remember that it’s not that far behind.
While I’ve always had issues with food and obesity, for a number of years right before I changed my life it was pretty bad. My life revolved around it. I was fixated on it each time I was near it. I remember being at gatherings or events and thinking, how are these people not eating this food? I am the only one in this room who is SO concerned about the chips on the table. None of these people even care that they’re here. How are they doing that? I wanted the food more than I wanted to even talk to anyone there.
Side note: I had typed “it’s so disgusting to even think about now” after that last sentence. Then deleted it out of an effort to be kind to myself. But, out of another effort to be open and honest, that is how I really do feel. It’s gross to me that I’d ever think or behave like that. It’s easy to say now, but I didn’t see it then. A few paragraphs up I had typed, and then swiftly deleted, “and you wonder how I got up to 300 pounds?!”, after realizing deflecting with a joke doesn’t make it funny or acceptable. It also brings up the fact that I clearly do still have more to work in the forgiveness department here, because calling that disgusting is something I would not only never THINK but never say to a friend, or to you. So why am I saying it about myself?
Once I was alone with said food at a get-together or in a breakroom, I’d immediately cram as much food as I could into my mouth as soon as the room was empty or I knew no one was close enough to see. And I wouldn’t stop until I heard someone coming. My old boyfriend and I would actually get into fights because I would constantly and compulsively eat the leftovers he had from his restaurant job before I even could talk some sense into myself to stop when he was sleeping or wasn’t home. I couldn’t be trusted with any of the food in my house. My boyfriend who I thought I loved at 20 years old constantly reminded me of it, too. Talk about feeling ashamed of yourself.
Honestly, he wasn’t really wrong, though. Wrong in the way he treated me and spoke to me about these issues? Absolutely. Wrong in the specifics of what he said? No, he really wasn’t. I was compulsively, obsessively, addicted to food.
I remember one time I had volunteered to make those cream cheese pinwheels for an appetizer for Thanksgiving. There were probably over 50 of them I had nicely assembled on a serving tray before leaving the house for the two hour drive to my Aunt’s. I knew myself well enough to know that I’d eat them if they were in the front with me. So I put them in the back seat and before I knew it I was putting my car in park at a stoplight to reach back and get them. They were gone by the time I got to my destination and I innocently enough told everyone I “forgot them” at home. I had just consumed 2 packages of tortillas, 2 large packages of cream cheese and a half pound of meat in one sitting.
I used to wish that instead of my problem being eating everything, my problem was that I ate nothing. I can truly see how how sick I really was in that thought process and as much as I wish it wasn’t true, it is. I really did think that way. I know now, and probably did then too, that food disorders of all types are equally dangerous and difficult but if I said I didn’t wish back then that my extreme swung the opposite direction I’d be lying.
Now here is the part of the post I had “planned” to write. A few cut-to-the-point actionable steps “you can take to stop binge eating too!”- said in my infomercial voice.
But this is also the part of the post that’s probably the least clear to me. The feelings of self-loathing I had? Yeah, pretty clear on those. The things I did to get food or get ahold of more of it? The times I acted like I had no idea who ate the last serving when asked about it? Yep, remember those too. But the actual step-by-step process isn’t so cut and dry. I can’t give you a list of things to check off to be “cured”. I’m still not over it. I’m still dealing with this. I might always. I don’t know yet. I for sure have some emotional scars that are still very present and real.
What I can tell you is what I’ve done, over time, to begin the process of working through these habits. I can only tell you what’s worked well for me. As I wrote this post just now I kept thinking, “wow I really wish I would have seen someone (aka a professional) about this”. So please, if you’re feeling lost, hopeless and alone like I was, please don’t be ashamed to seek guidance. I’ve linked to some resources at the bottom of this post.
1. Find something else you can use to cope that you enjoy, but be careful with that too
I used food to cope with everything. Everything. Good things, bad things, happy things, sad things, boredom, being busy, you name it. I really had to be conscious and learn to recognize when and why I was eating. And then try to use different strategies to cope or distract myself.
I say be careful with that though, because I’ve definitely toed the line with swapping food addiction for exercise addiction. It never got “that” bad but there was a while where I thought it was fine but I was working out twice or three times a day. I’d go to an hour workout class, then drive right to the gym and do an hour on the treadmill and then later that night I’d bike 15 miles. Of course I never physically looked like I was over exercising, but appearances aren’t everything.
2. Talk to someone
I can’t really say this is something I did, but I can urge you to do it because it’s something I wish I would have. I’ve talked a bit about how I didn’t tell anyone when I first started to get healthy. I was so embarrassed, afraid of failing, and wanted to prove to myself I could do it on my own. While I’m so proud, I certainly made it a bit harder on myself by not having a support system in place when I needed it. I haven’t told anyone about the things I wrote above, ever and I think maybe if I would have reached out to someone who I know loves me, it maybe wouldn’t have continued to spiral because I felt so alone.
3. Take your time and don’t expect perfection
I didn’t just stop thinking about food, wishing I had food, wanting food or overeating overnight. Having bad days or, even weeks, where you feel out of control and back in old habits is 100% normal. The biggest thing I learned was to have some grace with myself. Because it was when I didn’t that I just stayed in the out of control eating cycle. Making myself feel bad about getting “off track” only added to the guilt I already carried. Being disappointed in myself only made me want to eat more. Instead, I slowly started to realize this habit was one I could control by being patient and allowing myself to be imperfect in order to move on.
4. When emotional rational failed, I tried logic
When I found myself compulsively wanting and thinking about food I didn’t need, I tried to remind myself that I didn’t need it I wasn’t hungry, I’m just hurting or tired or sad. This works… sometimes. Sometimes it’s just not a strong enough reason to talk yourself out of eating when that’s all you’ve done and all you’ve relied on to comfort you for years.
When my emotional attempts to resist the urge to binge failed, logic sometimes prevailed. Don’t get me wrong, emotional eating is, well, emotional. Logic and reasoning didn’t 100% solve my overwhelming compulsions for food every time. But it did make me take a few minutes I otherwise wouldn’t have to try to sort though these feelings I was having.
If you’re a facts and information kind of person like I am, the books “It Starts With Food” and “Primal Blueprint” might help you like they helped me in terms of truly understanding what the food is doing to my body, why other choices I could make in that moment might make me feel better, which is what I was trying to do with my compulsive binge eating anyway, right?
And for the emotional side of it, I highly suggest “Food Freedom Forever”, which heavily discusses how to let go of the guilt around food. It’s a good, good read.
Having specific, scientific information that taught me how different foods affect me was helpful for me when I was trying to logically love myself into making a decision. I was able to understand and use the knowledge I had, that I didn’t have prior, to help take the emotional aspect out of it.
Overall, it wasn’t just these 4 things that helped. It was a combination of many things. Tons of trial and error. Lots of failed attempts to win out over my habits. Lots of personal growth and changing the things that triggered my eating. From new routes home from work, removing people from my life, allowing others in, clearing out my entire kitchen from foods that cause me anxiety.
This isn’t a definite list, but with it, I hope that you can start to see some positive changes in the way you think of and use food in your own life.
Resources if you’re struggling with binge eating or an eating disorder:
As always, so thankful for your support and the love I receive from you on this site. Thank you for making my little corner of the internet a positive and healing experience.
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