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Binge EatingMY STORY AND THE 2 TOOLS I USED TO OVERCOME IT
In this video I’d like to share with you my own experience with binge eating, but I would encourage everyone who’s interested in learning more about eating disorders to check out an amazing TED X talk by Dr. Ilona Kajokienė. Ilona is an experienced psychologist and an author of several scientific publications emphasizing eating disorders and their treatments
Ilona Kajokiene says there are three primary eating disorders: Anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder.
While anorexia and bulimia have been recognized as mental illnesses for a very long time, binge eating was only officially recognized as a mental illness in 2013, and men make up almost half of those who have been diagnosed.
Ilona goes into much more detail than I could hope to get into because this is her field of study. She shares a lot of great information regarding the clinical reasons people fall into these disorders. I’ll simply share what my experience was, where I believe it comes from, and the tools I used to finally overcome it.
Becoming a binge eater didn’t happen overnight. I can’t tell you the day, or the week, or even the month when eating became a problem for me. When I look back, instead I see a long, gradual shift toward a state of deeper and deeper depression and anxiety, devoid of self love.
During the worst years I can remember it felt as though there wasn’t much left for me in the world. I believed my life would be forever ruled by a horrible addiction to food.
When I say addiction to food, I don’t mean that I binged during every meal I ate. I would usually eat a normal breakfast, a normal lunch, and a normal dinner. When I say addiction to food, I mean episodes of feeling compelled to eat as much food as I could in as short amount of time as possible.
I’d be lying if I said that, to this day, I didn’t still feel ashamed of my weakness when it came to these episodes. However, I do forgive myself for them and understand where they came from, but I’ll get to that in a moment.
If you’ve never struggled with something like this, I’ll do my best to convey what it feels like. At least, how it felt for me. Most of my memories of these episodes blend into into themselves, except for one time in particular.
I remember sitting on my couch in a severe mixed state of anxiety and depression. I could feel in my gut and my heart that all I was doing was delaying the inevitable. I felt powerless. Hopeless. It’s as though you can feel yourself slipping into the passenger seat of your life while some demon takes the wheel.
At some point I stood up and began walking. I remember as I made my way to the grocery store down the street walking on the sidewalk and feeling disconnected from my body. It was like an out of body experience, because I could feel myself being pulled in one direction while trying to stop myself and go back the other way. But I couldn't. All I could do was be a sort of fly on the wall while my body continued toward the grocery store.
When I got to the grocery store, I remember feeling manic. As I walked the aisles loading up my basket with cookies, ice cream, chips, and whatever other junk food I could find, I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs and throw everything to the floor.
I wanted to tell everyone what I was doing, what a piece of trash I was for not being able to control myself, but I think I felt it didn’t matter.
I think I felt this was who I am and there wasn’t anything I could do to change it. I still think this part is pretty funny, though. I felt manic. I mean, I felt out of my mind when I was there. But somehow, for some reason, I still cared that the junk food I was putting into my basket was vegan. I would check the labels just to be sure.
When you binge eat several times per week, you end up going to different stores to avoid being recognized. I remember the feeling I had when I would lie to the grocery clerk that I was buying the food for a party. The clerk hadn’t asked in the first place.
I would change up the stores I went to throughout the week so they didn’t begin to recognize me as the guy who bought boat loads of junk food every other day.
The same walk back from the grocery store I would feel even more powerless. I remember feeling how heavy the grocery bag was and thinking of how it would soon be in my stomach. The contents of this bag I’m holding will soon make me feel sick.
Like I’m dying.
Like I’m coming apart at the seems.
But again, I felt like my actions were out of my control. Eating that food felt as inevitable as the sun coming up in the morning.
What does it feel like when you eat 7,000 to 10,000 calories in the span of an hour? It doesn’t feel like a anything. And that’s the reason, in part, I think I did it and, from those I’ve talk to, the reason they do it as well.
A large part of my life was filled with anxiety or depression from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to sleep. Except when I was eating. When I was in one of these episodes, I was numb. I didn’t feel anything. It was almost meditative.
It was never about taste. I don’t even think I tasted the food after the first bite. It was always about numbing myself to emotions.
The irony, of course, is that when you’re done that bag of food, when you’ve polished of a few days worth of calories in one go, the emotions you were numbing through binging come flooding in with an exponential amount of force.
This is when the weight of the world comes bearing down on you. This is the moment when your body finally feels physically the way you always feel about yourself mentally. Depressed and worthless.
And that was my first a ha moment.
I realized I was using food as a way to prove to myself that I was worthless. That I was weak. That I was unable to amount to anything. That feeling like I was a piece of trash both physically and mentally was what I deserved. It was who I was.
As horrible as that sounds, it was my first step toward recovering. I was beginning to become aware of what binge eating was doing for me, of the way it helped me continue the story I told myself of who I was.
It didn’t end there. In fact, it would be another few years before I began crawling my way back to a healthy relationship with food.
The second step toward recovering was when I adopted two tools into my life. The first was meditation. I’ll create a future post on meditating, so I won’t go into detail on how to do it. However, I’ll link some great resources I used when first starting in the description of this video.
How did meditation help? When I first started meditating it was very hard and incredibly uncomfortable. If you’re forced to be in the moment, familiar feelings of anxiety and depression wash over you almost instantly. And that is the power meditation had for me.
If you stick with meditation for a few weeks, you eventually find a peace with those feelings. They begin to drift into the background and you no longer feel as though they are the definitive component of your being.
The ability to remove myself from feeling as though anxiety or depression were at the heart of who I am gave me the freedom to experience life through a new lens.
The second tool I used was journalling. When you’re going through something as emotionally charged as an episode of binge eating, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to keep an objective perspective.
By journalling a few hours following an episode, taking stock of your circumstances and how you felt about them before, during, after, will begin to give you a perspective you wouldn’t normally have access to. You might start to uncover, as I did, regular circumstances that possibly triggered the episode.
What I began noticing after journaling about these episodes gave me my next a ha moment. Whenever I binge ate, it would always coincide with one of two things.
The first thing was being invited to social events. I might have been invited to a party, or a concert, or some sort of event where there would be a lot of people gathered in one place.
I’ve always felt out of place when surrounded by large groups of people. In those situations, I would feel like everyone was better at being a normal, functioning, social human being than I was.
Ironically, being around a lot of people made me feel more alone than ever. I felt like an outcast. This would lead me down the road of anxiousness and self deprecating thoughts.
So, instead of going to the party I was invited to, I would eat. And I would eat some more. And eventually, I had eaten so much food and felt like such a piece of garbage that I had given myself the excuse I needed not to go.
The last thing I wanted to do was be physically, emotionally, and mentally incapacitated AND be around a lot of people. So, I would stay home.
The second reason I would binge eat, coincidentally, was whenever I had to be on camera. I love the idea of being on camera, of putting out content and, potentially, helping people. But this process, the very one I’m going through now, is like pulling teeth for me. I won’t go into detail, but it stems from something called imposter syndrome.
We’ve all felt this in some way, shape or form, whether in in your job or your relationships. Essentially, you feel like a fraud. Like you’re going to be found out as a charlatan. Like you don’t know what you’re talking about, even if, at least to some degree, you do.
I would come up with a bunch of content and get ready to shoot some videos over a weekend. The content was always well researched and centred around health and wellness; about becoming the best version of yourself through exercise, nutrition, and lifestyle. This content was meant to be posted to my personal training blog and social media.
But how was I supposed to help people with this content if I couldn't even help myself? What difference did it make if the content was true and legitimately could help people? It was being delivered by a guy who couldn’t stop himself from binging two or three times per week. It was coming from a fraud.
By journalling, I began to see how it would play out. I would get everything ready to shoot on Saturday. I told myself on Wednesday that I would finally shoot everything on Saturday.
As the weekend approached, though, I would become more and more anxious. Eventually, Friday night I would compulsively walk to the store and load up with junk food and binge eat before going to bed.
Lo and behold, Saturday morning I would wake up bloated, depressed, and with a stomach ache, knowing the last thing I would want to do is get in front of a camera and tell people how to live healthier, happier lives. So, I wouldn’t.
So, where am I now? I haven’t had a binge eating episode for almost three years. That isn’t to say that I haven’t overeaten at Christmas time, as I definitely have. There’s a difference, though, as the intent behind the eating is no longer malicious or self deprecating.
I’m not eating to prove how worthless I am, I’m eating because I’m surrounded by friends or family and it’s a genuinely happy, life affirming event. My relationship with food has done a full 180 degree turn and I now enjoy every meal with a healthy respect for the enjoyment and nutrition it gives.
I got to this stage by using the two tools mentioned earlier, journaling and meditation. Journaling allowed me to uncover the patterns I wouldn’t have otherwise recognized. By uncovering those patterns I could begin to anticipate upcoming episodes and mentally prepare for them.
Meditation helped me form a healthier relationship with my anxiety and depression. It offered me the opportunity to sit in discomfort with emotions until I was able to view the experience objectively and rationally. I would eventually understand that these emotions did not define me, but how I chose to experience them did.
I could choose to let depression and anxiety wash over me and dictate my decisions in life. Or I could sit with them and try to understand where they came from.
Once I knew where they came from I could do my best to love them because I now knew they were simply misguided attempts to protect me.
Protect me from developing relationships with people at the risk of being seen as an outcast.
Protect me from being called a fraud by risking putting myself out there to help people with their own health and fitness.
However, these thoughts and emotions were only protecting me from living a life outside of my comfort zone, of the story I told myself of who I was, of who I could be, and who I would never be.
If you’re struggling with a similar situation, I can only tell you what’s worked for me. But I see it in everyone in different forms. For you and I, it’s food. For someone else, maybe it’s TV, porn, video games, or the internet.
In any case, it’s a way to continue the story you tell yourself of who you are, the value you have as a human being, and what you can and cannot achieve. In some twisted way, though, you’re lucky to have something so torturously painful to mark the path towards your personal growth.
I’m happy to say that now, whenever I feel compelled to crawl back toward the comforts of food and isolation, I can see it for what it is; a sign that I have an opportunity for growth, for self love, and to write a new page in the story I tell myself.
I can see now that the feeling only comes around when something uncomfortable stands in my way. It’s no longer my enemy, but an opportunity to face the uncomfortable, the unknown, and come out on the other side a stronger version of myself.
If you are struggling with this, it won’t be an overnight success. You will likely fail many times along the way. But your journey can start today. You can start by looking at what you’re doing, and what you’re not doing, to continue the story you tell yourself. To keep
But it’s important you know what you’re working on. Your not working on a goal to eat normal. As Ilona said so beautifully, the opposite of an eating disorder in not eating like normal people. The opposite of an eating disorders is self love.
If you got something out of this video, or if you know someone who would, please feel free to share it with them or on your social media. If you or someone you know need someone to talk to, you can reach out to me in the links I’ve shared for this video.
This isn’t about changing who you are. It’s about loving who you are. Self love requires self work. And if you haven’t hear me say this before, the secret to success is getting started. So it’s time to get started.