Since I (briefly) mentioned I was inclined to binge eat here, I’ve been inundated with questions about it – questions which it’s taking me a while to answer, because frankly, I’m not sure how.
See, when I try to talk about things like my tendency to binge eat… I just don’t want to.
Yes, I, queen of confidence and apparently unflinching honesty, find all that stuff a tad raw to face up to in public. It’s one of those things where it seems a little too private to put ‘out there’ – because it’s such a secretive, personal thing to do. But you guys are consistently overwhelming me with your goodness. So many people have been incredibly forthcoming with their own stories since I started this blog that I think it’s worth talking about binge eating in a little more detail than I have done, previously.
And if it helps one person understand it a little better, then great. I’ll consider that my mission accomplished for today.
When I used to binge, the sheer volume of food I could get through in a single sitting was, frankly, incredible. Pizzas, ice cream, sweets, cake, cookies – often all at once. The idea of ‘full’ in any normal sense ceases to matter, because binge eating bears absolutely no relation to normal food consumption.
Rather, it’s a planned method of self-destruction. I’d get it in my head that I was going to do it several hours in advance, and I’d plan ahead for it in quite a lot of detail – so much so, that after a little while, it was something of a ritual. It seems to me that the word ‘binge’ kind of implies that there’s no control in it, but actually, in a lot of ways, it’s very much a planned, prepared and controlled thing.
Personally, I’d go out and buy a whole basket full of food – making it look as much as possible like I was planning a meal for a bunch of people so that the person at the till wouldn’t judge me. Say, for instance, I was buying a pizza. I’d then buy garlic bread, coleslaw, and a cheesecake to make it look like I wasn’t eating alone.
I don’t need to point out the irony there, I’m sure.
And then I’d get home. I’d get my baggiest pyjamas on and make the preparations for bed – because later, I’d definitely be too full to do anything more intensive than crawling into bed and falling into an honest-to-god food coma. I’d line up something really trashy to watch on the TV, and I’d get my “meal” ready.
It’s not in any way pleasant. It’s not fun. The taste, the texture, and the quantity of the food you’re eating don’t offer any enjoyable feeling, because it’s as far from ‘mindful eating’ as you’re ever going to get. It’s just a matter of one huge, willfully disgusting bite after another, until all the food has gone.
And then, once it was done, I’d usually feel briefly better – in a kind of dopey, sedated way – before the inevitable ‘what the hell have I done’ crash, which as a rule, tends to be both physical and emotional at the same time. There’d be a slight nausea, a horrendous fullness, and a shocked revulsion at the amount of food I’d consumed, followed almost immediately by the decision that tomorrow, I’d starve all day in order to make up for it.
Which, obviously, I wouldn’t. This girl does not go hungry, under any circumstances. But in my shame, I’d destroy all the traces of my binge whilst focused on the fact that it would never happen again. I’d throw out all the wrappers, take the bins out, hide anything I needed to and wash up the evidence I couldn’t bin or destroy – and then I’d go to bed. And I would hate myself for it.
That’s what a binge would look like for me.
It’s been a long time since I’ve done that – at least eighteen months, I’m sure – but when I think about it, it’s still very much a raw feeling. It’s a strange problem to admit, and one that people tend not to understand – but one which, I think, we should probably talk about more.
I’m guilty of not helping matters by having taken so long to write a post like this. But that’s not just because I didn’t want to admit to doing it, or discuss it in any detail. In fact, part of the reason I’ve been reticent to bring it up is because I’m not sure what advice I can really offer in how to overcome it.
I mean, the only reason that I don’t binge these days is because I’m happier on an all-round level. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that my preferred choice of trashy TV would be something like Grey’s Anatomy – the weepier, the better. Looking back, these blow-outs of tears and cake seem to me like I was getting the emotions out whilst trying to dampen them down at the same time. That’s a miserable situation to be in.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I will still emotionally eat from time to time. Cake has been a good friend to me over the last few surgery and upheaval-filled months. But it’s never in the ritualistic, focused, self-destructive way I’ve just described.
I think that’s as a result of the long-term, holistic approach I’ve taken to improving my life, in a way that goes beyond just talking about my weight. It’s been a process in which I’ve had to be very honest with myself, and accept my flaws and faults – and I’ve had to deal with a number of underlying issues along the way. But by giving myself the option to change, and the freedom to take my time over it, the temptation to binge seems to have naturally subsided. These days, my relationship with food – and, in fact, with my whole self – is one of moderation, and acceptance of the fact that, from time to time, you’ve just got to give yourself a damn break.
I suppose what I’m saying, to all the people who’ve come to me with their own stories of binge eating, is that the ‘cure’ – if you can call it that – is different for everyone. There are always things that cause you to want to hit the self-destruct button, be that through drugs, alcohol or food – and they’re something you have to face up to in a balls-out, “come at me bro” kind of way if you’re going to overcome them. But at the same time, learning to focus on the whole you – the you outside of your eating habits, the person that you are and the one you want to be – is the best advice that I can give.
It’s easy to get tied up in the idea that binge eating – or indeed any kind of disordered eating – is, itself, the problem. But that’s very rarely the case. Everything else is the problem. Binge eating’s just the way you try to deal with it. So with that in mind, I’d argue that the way to escape the cycle of bingeing is to try, systematically, to deal with everything else. That can take a long time – but it’s a necessary step (or number of steps) in achieving that ol’ friend of ours, wellbeing.
You can be happy, you can be well, and you can be the best you possible – but you have to believe that, and you have to invest the time in improving your life beyond simply eating or not eating certain foods. It’s about self-acceptance, understanding, and love – and the faith that you aren’t alone.
‘Cause boy, I’ve been there.