4 Habits I Needed to Break During My Eating Disorder Recovery Journey

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As a food and body love coach, I talk to a lot of women who have dealt with binge eating disorder and/or orthorexia. Most of these women were on some sort of diet that spiraled into restricting their food in a way that made them nearly obsessed with healthy eating (the orthorexic side). Often, this backfires in a binge. When the binges recur over and over, some of them develop binge eating disorder (BED). They tell me that they feel panic around certain foods (or all foods in general) because they don’t want to want these “bad” foods, and they especially don’t want to binge eat them.

I totally understand that feeling. I used to feel completely unsettled around food — most of the time I ate “healthy” foods, but if you put down a plate of cookies in front of me — all hell would break loose. I felt like I had to binge eat because I knew I’d have to go back to my “clean eating” the next day after a load of guilt and shame reminded me of how crappy I was for having this “food issue.” For years, I was stuck in this restrict-binge cycle, switching between willpower-ing my way through weeks of clean eating only to find myself diving head-first into a jar of almond butter plus half a box of Oreos. Recovering from an eating disorder is tricky. You have to literally relearn how to eat “normally” again (a strange thing to forget how to do, huh?). Now that I’m on the other side, there are a few things I wish I’d known earlier that would’ve helped me understand why it took me so long to feel freedom with food.

1. I needed to stop seeing foods as “good” or “bad.”

This might be the single biggest mindset shift that will normalize your thoughts around food. Think of it this way: if you tell a little kid they can’t eat something, that’s exactly the first thing they’ll want to eat, right? Our brains are (and remain) primal in this way. Anything off-limits becomes infinitely more intriguing — and therefore we’re way more likely to eat it in huge quantities whenever we give ourselves permission to consume it.

What you can do about it: See all foods as neutral. This is harder than it sounds, I know. But whenever you get the urge to down an entire family-size bag of chips in one sitting, ask yourself, if this were as neutral as water, would I want to eat them all at once? Or would enjoying some now and leaving the rest for later sound better? Usually just knowing all foods are allowed takes off the pressure to binge eat.

2. I had to stop cutting out foods for no reason other than weight loss.

We often think cutting out huge food groups (gluten, sugar, dairy) strictly for weight loss purposes gives us more control around food. But actually, food only ends up controlling us. Similar to seeing foods as good and bad, this heavy restriction backfires frequently. Eventually, we “give in” and want to get our hands on all the carbs (or dairy, or meat, or whatever) because our body is deprived of what it’s been asking for.

What you can do about it: Allow all foods in. Unless you have an allergy or sensitivity to a certain food, there’s no reason to be afraid of it. Sure, you may overeat on the foods that you had previously cut out before, but this can be temporary and is a very important part of the process. If you’re overly concerned about weight loss (and I’d say all restrict-binge cyclers are), grab your journal and write out answers to these questions: What in my life will be different once I lose weight? How do I know? Where did I learn that thinner was better? Is this true? No right or wrong answers here. Just be curious about what comes up.

3. I had to stop “compensating” for eating with exercise.

We’re being taught that we need to “earn” food depending on how hard we’ve worked out that day. “Cheat meals” make us feel like we’re morally obligated to uphold the perfect diet and exercise regimes. If you feel like you’re not allowed to eat certain foods unless you’ve had a booty-kicking workout that day, you’re keeping yourself stuck in the restrict-binge-repeat cycle.

What you can do about it: Keep in mind that all of these self-imposed limitations with food have been learned. Journaling can help you discover discover when and how you decided you don’t deserve to eat certain things. Challenge yourself to eat the foods you crave regardless of how physical you were that day. You deserve to eat no matter what!

4. I had to stop living in a shame spiral.

Binges induce a ton of guilt, and I so get that. Most of us think that the guilt and negative self-talk will motivate us to change our ways, but ask yourself: Has it ever worked for you in the past? Shame is what brought you to the binge in the first place, so why would it help get you out of it? My guess is, if you’re reading this article, speaking negatively to yourself and pinching at your tummy in the mirror after a binge hasn’t kept you from binge eating again later.

What you can do about it: Don’t hate on yourself. If you didn’t drink water all day and then downed a whole water bottle, would you be mad? Of course not! You were dehydrated and your body needed water. Same goes for food — when we deprive ourselves, our cravings grow. Journal after every binge and ask yourself what you really needed in that moment, if not food. Make a commitment not to ‘willpower” your way out of your next binge, and instead use compassionate thoughts that will help you cultivate a loving relationship to yourself… and stop the binges along the way.

Making major changes to how we relate to food and body takes time, so the most important thing during this healing period is to be patient with yourself and trust the process. There are women everywhere who are struggling with this exact same thing! Reach out to family, friends, and coaches for support, and know that on the other side of this is the life of freedom that we all inherently deserve.

Recovering from either orthorexia or BED is no joke. It takes time, concentration and serious commitment to questioning all the things that make you feel like you don’t deserve to feel good with food. But it is 100 percent possible. Try seriously implementing one or two of these and see what comes up for you. Remember — there’s no wrong way to feel! The exploration and curiosity of why we remain in certain behaviors is what gives us the clarity to move forward.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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The Connection Between Writing, Self-Love and Compulsive Behavior

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I started what would become an almost two-decade long struggle with food and my body in middle school, around age 11. Most of the struggle in the beginning manifested in sporadic guilt and regret: In my mind, I berated myself for the so-called roll of fat over my Gap jeans that preventing me from tucking my shirt in (God, did I ever want to tuck my shirts in like the other girls did), and I obsessed over the way my arms looked in tank tops — a “dangle” making me feel like I may have some kind of aging disorder. Yet, most of this struggle only resulted in half-hearted attempts at restricting my food to all-veggie salads and sandwiches made with diet bread and before-bed calisthenics routines and an occasional Jane Fonda workout video.

But as I made my way through middle school, the struggle became more and more real: I started to notice how my friends were able to consume an entire bag of Doritos, wash it down with real Coke (not Diet Coke), top it off with a pint of Hagen Das and not show a slight bloat in their incredibly flat stomachs. I began to feel horrible at sleepovers, regretting the hangover the next day from a night of pizza, ice cream, chips, cookies, and cake.

On the outside, I never had a “weight problem” and was always visually pretty average. My struggle was deep, deep inside. And it wasn’t about being fat or about being pretty or about fitting in. It was about feeling out-of-control.

Here is the thing about that time period: Despite the internal monologue berating myself, I still ate fairly normally, eating when hungry and stopping when full.

It wasn’t until age 14 that I began to eat compulsively. A combination of the transition from middle to high school with my first real heartbreak sent me head first into a carton of vanilla fudge ice cream. These episodes were different from the occasional over-eat-athon with girlfriends at a sleepover. When the hunger switch inside me said “full,” I kept going… like driving a car and watching the speedometer lean all the way over — I pushed the peddle further to the metal.

Oddly, I felt powerful while binging. I felt a freedom I didn’t feel in my day-to-day life. Yet, after each episode, I was left helpless and empty, despite the filled-to the brim murkiness in my belly.

Over the course of almost two years, I put on 45 pounds. Then something shifted for me… I no longer felt powerful and free when I binged. I felt horrible, I felt like I was violating myself, hurting myself, like I hated my self… yet, I didn’t hate myself and I didn’t want to do it any more. With the promise of college to take me out of my small town, I saw that a wider world was waiting and I didn’t want to be stuck in my wall of food, missing out on it all.

So I stopped… with the help of a book by Geneen Roth called “Breaking Free From Emotional Eating.” I learned about the powerful tool called the hunger scale, and I started to watch and listen to those numbers instead of the ones on my bathroom floor.

And my weight evened out, and I lost the compulsion to binge.

But this isn’t a personal essay about how I cured myself of compulsive eating.

This is an essay on the connection between writing and self-love, writing and compulsive behavior. There is a connection to writing somewhere in this adolescent experience of mine. If I were to create an analogy, I don’t think it would fit perfectly but it goes like this: If writing is to eating, then compulsive writing is to compulsive eating. In other words, if writing is nourishment to my soul as eating is nourishment to my body, then it is possible to turn that act of nourishment into an act of destruction, as I did once with food.

Writing was, for many, many years, a natural expression and expansion of myself, my soul, my thoughts, my force field, my energy.

The way I feel about my writing now is so very reminiscent to how I felt when binge-eating stopped feeling powerful and free and started to feel limiting, horrible, and self-destructive.

The natural ebb and flow of my hunger was disrupted by my misuse of food. I remember one day I woke up and thought, instead of going to school and dealing with the pressure and stress of ninth grade with all of its uncertainty, newness, and heartbreak, I could stay home in my bed and eat… anything. All day long. I could taste and chew and fill and never have to feel the sadness and depression of loss that I was carrying around (starting with the sudden death of my grandfather, followed by a painful break up, and the ending two close friendships). If I just keep eating and tasting the tastes of delicious sweetness, I won’t have to feel a thing ever again!

Or so I thought.

When it didn’t work, I had to stop. I wanted to stop. I was more than willing to figure out how to eat normally and healthfully again. So I began to listen to the signals of hunger and fullness, and my eating began to be rhythmic and predictable and feel good and normal. I stopped obsessing all day long about it. Sure, my mind would wander and do what it did, but I became so grounded in my own hunger urges and needs and queues, that the chatter in my brain didn’t matter to what I actually did in terms of eating. My soul and body took over the chatter in my brain, and I started to trust myself .

When my writing didn’t catch fire in the industry as I thought it would years ago, I just wrote more and harder and faster because then I didn’t have to face the pain of loss, disappointment, and heartbreak.

Geneen Roth talks about how food is just food and not love. It is not power or control either. Food brings you the ability to be nourished, and it keeps you alive. The same can be said about writing, yet there is a break down in this analogy — writing can bring about change, and it can bring about love. It can also bring about hate, fear, rage… because writing is art. Art has power, has the capacity to be powerful. But writing is not love. Writing is not worth. When I write compulsively, I take away my own power, my own self-trust, my own authentic voice.

When I use writing to avoid emotional struggle and pain, when I use it as a weapon against myself, when I go at it with a rawness that no longer feels healing, writing is just as bad as compulsive eating, gambling, or drinking for me.

Yes, something so good can become so bad if you use it to avoid emotional distress and pain.

When I began to eat based on internal and natural cues, I started to remember that I used to do that, that before puberty took hold of me, before I started to be afraid of my feelings, I would do a lot of things without too much obsessing and worry.

Today, I don’t eat to avoid pain. I don’t eat to block things in my life. I eat for hunger, flavor, and taste. Eating is enjoyable, but when it is over and I am full, I move on and live. There is no struggle.

Over the last year and a half, I’ve stopped writing compulsively and have started to listen to internal cues about what I love to write. I love writing this piece. I love helping my clients write. I love writing freely or writing for a purpose or writing on a deadline.

I hurt as I sit here and write this. I hurt about my manuscripts that sit in my computer and that are not agented and that are not considered by editors. I’m sad about my books that sit in my closet and not in the hands of readers. The difference is, I allow myself to feel all the hurt and pain, and I don’t write to avoid it. I accept the pain of rejection, of “no,” and in that acceptance, I find my own yes, my own pleasure for writing.

Follow this journey on Writer Womyn.

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'I Want More': Inside the Mind of Someone With Binge Eating Disorder

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I want more, but my stomach is full beyond its limits.

I want more to fill this emptiness gnawing at me, twisting my insides.

I want more because I can’t stop.

I want more because it’s so good.

I want more, I want more, I want more.

Binge eating is a constant struggle. It’s so exhausting to fight off the urge to eat every little morsel I can find. Eating fills my time, but not my stomach. I still feel hollow, and eating is the only way to get rid of that emptiness. I’m not hungry, but I can’t stop eating the leftover wedding cake or the doughnuts my mom bought the other day.

Ten doughnuts in one day. All because I couldn’t control my binge eating.

Some days are worse than others. Some days I eat an entire tub of brownie ice cream, along with a bag of chips, a big bowl of cereal, some cookies, a few peanut butter sandwiches, and a handful or three of Hershey chocolates. And other days I barely eat anything. Sometimes my binge eating chokes me, and I can’t find the strength to fight back. It consumes me, and all I know is I need to eat the entire six-pack of chocolate hot cross buns as fast as I can. I guiltily shove them into my mouth, knowing I’ll regret it later.

But I don’t care because I just need to eat.

It never really had a huge impact on me until I realized how much weight I was gaining, and how fast it was piling on. I became hyper-aware of every piece of food I was putting into my mouth, and it always led to self-hate. I would stare in the mirror, grabbing the loose skin on my stomach and end up crying. I didn’t know how to deal with binge eating.

I didn’t want to accept I had an eating disorder.

I always thought of eating disorders as sickly skinny girls with protruding bones, or girls bent over a toilet. But that’s not always the case. Eating disorders don’t have one face. They attack anyone and become a parasite. They take over your life and twist your thoughts.

For the longest time I was terrified to eat in public, especially when I was binging that day. I believed everyone was staring at me and judging how much food I was shoving into my mouth. I couldn’t order at restaurants because I knew they were thinking, “She doesn’t need that much food… She’s such a cow.” I didn’t want to go shopping because nothing ever fit me, and if I did find something, then the cashier was surely taking note of how I had to get the biggest size.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

But none of that is true. Well, some of it could have been true, but I’ve realized it’s ridiculous to let any of those fears stop me from enjoying life. No one should feel ashamed to eat in public or go clothes shopping.

Now that I’m aware of what it is and know there’s a reason behind my actions, it’s a little easier to deal with. I try to stay on top of my binge eating by listening to my stomach. Am I really hungry? Or do I just want a fourth chocolate glazed doughnut because it’s delicious?

Life is about balance.

There will be bad days, but there will also be good days. I can’t beat myself up over the bad days anymore. I can’t let the negatives of my binge eating disorder control my life.

I will eat that doughnut if I’m hungry, but I will also make sure to take care of my body and love it the way it deserves to be loved.

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What People Don't Understand About Compulsive Overeating

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“Hi, I’m Sage, and I’m a compulsive overeater.”

I’ve said this line hundreds of times by now, but I still search awkwardly for what to say when I’m with people who don’t understand why I can’t eat any food with processed sugar in it.

“Just have one!” they say. “Treat yourself!”

I don’t know how to explain, but for me, there’s no such thing as just one. Maybe they don’t believe me because my weight has never changed by more than five pounds. Maybe it’s because my binges happen alone, locked behind my bedroom door, with all the wrappers hidden away in the garbage by morning.

Sure, I honestly don’t believe compulsive overeating will kill me, but I do think the misery it brings could ruin my life to the point where it feels not worth living.

Once a person I was on a date with cracked a joke, “Ha, a food addict! Like a heroin addict! Man, it’s been five hours since my last meal. Gotta get my fix!”

I didn’t laugh. I thought about the desperate feeling of turning into an automation, the mechanical horror of shoveling food into my mouth, even as guilt and regret pound through me. The feeling of being a regular human, free to make choices and in one moment having addiction tear all choices away from you. Nothing makes you feel weak and helpless like screaming at yourself internally, as you steal food from your roommates yet again, drinking their whipping cream straight from the carton. As your heart beats faster, you run the calorie count through your mind over and over.

You either bludgeon your self-esteem to a pulp, wondering what’s wrong with you or you build a careful fantasy bubble of denial and cease to participate in the real world at all. The feeling of helplessness spills over into all parts of your life, until you don’t trust the world and you don’t trust yourself. This is a dark place to be.

Usually, people treat the way I eat like it’s a diet and admire my self-control. Actually, I have none. I can’t eat sugar, at all, without losing my mind, my freedom and my hope. So I put huge amounts of effort into changing my lifestyle and my way of thinking so that I can avoid eating sugar, as much as possible.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

My best friend once offered me a bar of chocolate as I sweated over an intense craving.

“It’s just a choice you make,” he said. “Why don’t you just choose to have it if you want it?”

He’s right and he’s wrong. This is a choice I make. But it’s not a choice between a chocolate bar (no consequences attached) and not having a chocolate bar (no consequences attached). I choose not to eat sugar because I choose a life devoid of desserts and treats, leaving room for other things to grow: relationships, development at work, listening to see if I have a spiritual side and appreciating the small things in life.

The other choice is a life of obsession and depression, where the only things I can think to be grateful for are cheesecake, ice cream and Skittles. This is a life where my secrets isolate me from others and where I have to pretend wanting to make myself throw up isn’t screwed up and sad. This is a life where I try to solve my problems with food, only to be overwhelmed by all my unsolved problems.

I’ll choose to not eat sugar. It’s not perfect. Yes, I really freaking want an ice cream cone right now. But more than that, I never want be in the hopeless grip of compulsion again.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. 

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I Miss My Eating Disorder

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I miss my eating disorder.

For 10 years, my life was ruled and ruined by a viscous cycle of starvation and purging. I missed out on enjoying adolescence and spent my days in constant torment by the thoughts inside my own mind. For 10 years everyone’s goal for me was to “get better” or “grow out of it,” but I never thought I would be ready to let it go. I did not believe it was possible to exist without my eating disorder. I did not know who I was and thought I would be worthless without it. For 10 years, I found solace in my eating disorder, in the midst of a chaotic and sometimes terrifying world.

An eating disorder is a horrible plight, cursing those individuals with genetic predisposition and any number of unfortunate environmental factors, together creating a perfect storm. However, it can also feels like a close companion, a friend who others do not understand the power of. A friend who is there in the middle of the night when no one else is, who praises you for self-control when the weight is dropping and who tempts with depression and thoughts of worthlessness when the number isn’t what you’re convinced it should be.

From the outside, this might not sound like a friend. From the inside, my eating disorder was one of the most reliable entities, often the only thing I could count on. Most significantly, it was my voice when I felt as if my words held no ground. Everything I could not find the words to say could be expressed physically, as I made it a mission to destroy myself.

The mission was unsuccessful, as I am now living a life better than I ever dreamed possible. But I was not prepared for how much I would miss my eating disorder. Weight restoration and the ability to resist giving into disordered thoughts are only a small piece of the puzzle. It was such an important part of my life for so long, and although there was joy accompanying strides in recovery, there was also indescribable grief.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

More than two years into recovery, I still grieve my eating disorder, sometimes daily. I miss the control I had over one area of my life. Even when I didn’t feel “in control,” no one else could be either. No one could take my eating disorder away. I miss the sense of victory when weight dropped, and in a strange way, I miss the safety net of hospitals.

When I begin to think I miss my eating disorder enough to go back to those behaviors, I look through folders and binders from previous hospitalizations and treatment centers. Recently, I was in one of those folders and found a list I had written of 15 reasons to fight my illness. It has been more than four years since that hospital stay, and I have already done seven of the things on that list. There are still eight more reasons to fight, and I’m sure I could come up with even more now.

As difficult as some days are, I do not want to be in the depths of an eating disorder again. I have dreams for the future, fueling my desire to stay free. I am fortunate enough to have the continuous support of family and friends.

It is incredible difficult to convey in writing all the complexities of life with and life after an eating disorder. This is only meant to scratch the surface and acknowledge “living recovered” is not necessarily easy and definitely not perfect. Everyone’s journey with an eating disorder is different. This is just a piece of my story. I would also love to encourage those struggling in search of their own freedom to not give up. Recovery is not a simple or straightforward, but even on the bad days, it’s worth it.

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5 Things I’ve Learned Since Becoming a Mother With a Mental Illness

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It is 5:30 in the morning, and after another sleepless night due to nightmares, I am sitting on the couch watching my girls sleep peacefully. This is when I most see the innocence in my little girls, and I can’t help but wonder how I’m affected them.

After all, when your mother has more than one mental illness, bipolar disorder being the main, you run a higher risk of having that disorder yourself. However, I am trying to turn a new leaf. In keeping with that spirit, I have compiled a list of five things I’ve learned since becoming a mother, battling mental illness. I have learned…

1. How to speak openly with my children about mental illness. 

I want my girls to grow up knowing as much as possible about all mental illnesses, with an emphasis on bipolar disorder as it can be genetic. But of course, we’re still learning about it. We need more resources and more studies done. How can we expect to get that from future generations if we don’t raise our children to grow up with compassion and empathy for those who battle mental illness?

2. How to speak openly with my children about my mental illness.

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after first being treated for postpartum depression. For the first several years of my daughters’ lives, I was afraid to let them see any part of my illness. I wanted to protect them from it for as long as possible, but after hearing my own daughter make stigmatizing remarks, I knew I had to find a way to talk to them about my personal mental health, not just mental health in general.

3. It is OK to admit when I need help.

The Lord blessed me greatly with two little girls, who love to help Momma clean up around the house (as long as it isn’t their rooms.) I have no problem putting them to work. However, when it came to needing help with my illnesses I was too ashamed to ask. I have been learning that it’s OK to let my girls know I need a time out. If I am having a rough day with my illnesses, I am no longer ashamed to ask my girls for help, whether it be having them lie in bed with me for a while or telling them to watch television while I take a five minute time out in the bathroom. It is the easiest, yet hardest way, for me to teach them about compassion and empathy.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

4. I am stronger than I think I am.

Every single day I wake up and get out of bed. Some days, it is all I am capable of, and again I’m learning that’s OK. However, I am also learning just getting out of bed isn’t always enough. For me, I know the medications I am on will only help so much, and the rest is up to me. Each day I push myself to do just one more thing, I thought I couldn’t do while depressed, I am proving to myself how strong I actually am. Considering I’ve spent most of my life focusing on my own weaknesses, it’s a pretty big accomplishment.

5. It is not my fault.

For years, I was riddled with guilt, thinking I had doomed my daughters’ to the same fate as me, thinking because of me they would develop some sort of mental illness. You know what? It isn’t my fault. I didn’t ask for mental illness. I didn’t do anything wrong by having children. Just because I have mental health problems doesn’t mean I don’t deserve to live a normal, happy life with a husband and children. If one or both of my girls end up with a mental illness, then I will teach them the things they have taught me, only with a clear conscious because it is not my fault.

There’s no doubt I’ve learned more than this in the last seven years, but these five things have helped me through tough times. What would you add to the list? How about instead of  only seeing our weaknesses we start seeing our strengths instead? How would that improve your mood today?

This post originally appeared on modernbipolarmomma.

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