From as far back as I can remember I struggled with chronic binge eating. Especially once I lived on my own and started eating meals alone. I never threw up, though many times I wished I could after eating such large amounts of food. It was a constant cycle of setting limits and boundaries, obsessing over food, eating way too much and then feeling ashamed and guilty afterwards. Eating was a way of coping when I was stressed, bored, or sad. I thought that I would never change, and I feared that I would always be a failure.
The funny thing about fear is that it defines the boundaries of our life. The more afraid we are of failing the more power we give that fear and it can easily take over our lives. I thought the solution of making food my idol was just having enough willpower to withstand the cravings. Of course this never worked. The many years I spent overeating is proof of the fact that sheer willpower is not enough to transform a lifestyle. Just so you know, self-depracation is also extremely innefective.
You guys know how much I like plants and so I find a fitting analogy for this in weeds. They take over our lawns in disturbed areas and many have deep roots that reach down into the soil and are very difficult to uproot. For many weeds, even leaving a root piece the size of your pinky fingernail will cause a whole new plant to grow. Chemical warfare has been waged on the plants to try and eradicate them from our lawns, but this just causes them to get stronger and more potent. Trying to get rid of bad eating habits through sheer will is like trying to get rid of weeds with chemicals.
To begin to solve the problem, we need to look at why the weeds are there in the first place. You will notice that they are found on disturbed soil, highway banks and places with pollution and heavy traffic. You will also notice that you don’t find weeds in healthy established ecosystems like old growth forests. In a similar fashion, I believe the key to overcoming disordered eating is by replacing bad habits and crowding them out with a balanced and healthy lifestyle.
I am not perfect by any stretch. I still mess up and eat too much food at times. But I believe that I am getting better. Two days ago I was home alone, had just finished lunch and wanted something a little extra. There was a box of donuts on the table, leftover from when Chris bought after-concert donuts to his students. Apparently you get a good discount on donuts when you buy 300 of them :). Anyway, I picked up a donut, was about to eat it and asked myself why. Was I eating it because I was hungry? Did I even want it? Why did I want it? Of course, after evaluation, I realized I didn’t really want a donut. I was in a weird state of bored procrastination. So, I put the donut down and moved on with the rest of the items on my to-do list that day, and enjoyed a delicious dinner with my husband that night. I can look at that and see progress. Before, I would have eaten the donut, sat at my computer and wasted time while finding other random things in my cabinets to binge on and then feel completely crappy the rest of the day. Praise God for progress :).
This brings me to 4 things that I believe have been pivotal in the slow but steady process of remediating my relationship to food.
1. Focus on Good Nutrition
To me this step is paramount to restoring a healthy relationship to food. Our body chemistry is so complex and the way we eat affects everything in our body from digestive system function, adequate hormone production, how we utilize and assimilate nutrients, how our bodies handle inflammation, etc… How can we feel our best and live life fully when we don’t give our bodies the nutrition it needs to function correctly? Perhaps our poor relationship to food stems from a place of severe undernourishment. The two things that have been game changers for me have been drinking nourishing herbal infusions, and consuming 2-3 Tablespoons of coconut oil a day. I consistently drink 2-3 quarts of infusions every week alternating between oat straw, nettle and sometimes red raspberry leaf. The coconut oil is beneficial for a bunch of things including improving digestion, boosting metabolism, and supporting healthy hormone production (article on 101 ways to incorporate coconut oil in diet). Once I started adding the infusions and coconut oil into my daily diet I noticed a huge difference in cravings.
2. Accept Forgiveness
Another important step in overcoming binging is learning to accept forgiveness. I would easily get stuck in an emotional rut by beating myself up over another episode of binging. Then I realized how selfish and sinful that is. I was so focused on myself and replaying things I wished I could go back and do differently. Then I realized, I had to stop defining myself by the poor choices I made. I am far from perfect, but slowly moving in the right direction and learning to accept God’s forgiveness. Accepting God’s forgiveness and learning to forgive myself allows me to focus my attention outward, and connect to others through the lens of forgiveness and compassion instead of judgement and fairness.
3. Identify your triggers, and find replacements
This is another big one for me. I know that I tend to overeat when I am bored, procrastinating, stressed, or sometimes for no other reason than I am alone and no one is there to witness my behavior. The other day when I wanted to eat that donut, I did a little self-assesment before I put it into my mouth and realized that laziness and not actual hunger that was driving my desire to eat. This exercise has helped tremendously. Many times, if I am completely honest, I don’t really want the food in question at all. I am just using the food to fill an emotional void. Once we find our triggers, we need to take it a step further and identify replacements. If you are bored, go for a walk. If you are feeling emotionally empty, pray to God for restoration. Or call a friend for social interaction. If you are feeling tired, take a nap or sit down with a cup of tea for 10 minutes to recharge. The possibilities are endless, but the important thing is to realize why you are overeating and try to find non-food alternatives that will fill the void.
4. Enjoy the moment
Finally, I believe to move forward from a binging relationship to food is to remove it’s power over our life. A part of this process is learning to enjoy and appreciate good food. I promise, food is not out to get us or destroy our lives. My intention is not to move from binging to becoming super legalistic about never eating sweets or unhealthy food. As with most things in life, I believe moderation is the goal. Unless you are avoiding foods for health reasons (such as allergies or food sensitivities) then I think all food can and should be enjoyed. For example, I didn’t eat any sweets Mon-Frid this week, but I made a delicious chocolate pie with heavy whipped cream and enjoyed 1 1/2 pieces last night after dinner. Things I eat and enjoy on a regular basis that others might consider unhealthy are lots of coconut oil, olive oil, and butter with full fat dairy products and homemade desserts and delicious sourdough bread, etc… I guess what I am trying to say is that in our process of redefining our relationship with food, we shouldn’t demonize the food itself. It is an inanimate object. Once we learn to identify our emotions and how we relate to food, we can being to rebuild a proper relationship. Food is a tool and should be used as a way to nourish our bodies, bring us pleasure and connect with the people we love.