I had my first binge my freshman year of college. I label it as the first because it was the first time I ever found that I wanted to stop eating, and I just absolutely could not.
That day, I started a pattern that stayed with me for years: I ate a little bit over my daily calorie allotment and then it was like a switch had been flipped in me and I ate and ate and ate until I went to bed that night. I can’t swear to it but I’m pretty it started with Vanilla Power Bars that my parents had bought me from Costco over winter break. Also a heavy indication that I wasn’t in my right mind, because Vanilla Power Bars taste like sweet erasers. But I digress. I felt ashamed, guilty, and sick.
This coincided with my first diet. I am so convinced that diets create way more problems than they solve! Prior to that first time, I was overweight and always a food-lover who definitely over ate and used food to cope with my emotions. Once I added dieting to the mix, I knew what I was supposed to be eating – I just couldn’t stick to it. I quickly became one of those people who orders a salad or other ‘virtuous’ food in front of other people but then eats herself sick in private.
I struggled with this for years, a struggle that included wildly fluctuating weight… ‘I can’t wear what I bought last month’, ‘I gained eleven pounds this weekend’-type fluctuations. I avoided the people who had been so gung ho and wide-eyed and “OH WOW YOU LOOK SO GREAT!” about my initial weight loss. I felt too embarrassed imagining them looking at my gained-it-all-back-plus body and wondering what happened.
I tried everything I could think of to get better. I spent several years in a twelve step program. I went to lots of therapy. I read every single book I could find on the topic of compulsive overeating. I cut out certain foods, I added in certain foods, I ate in only measured amounts, I intentionally ate as much as I wanted.
It all helped, in its own way. But at the same time, none of it helped. What I mean is, I never had that lightbulb moment of “Oh WAIT! This is what emotional wound I needed to heal/memory I needed to stop repressing! Now I am one of those people who can eat a few bites of dessert and stop!”
Instead, I discovered that my own personal recovery was slow. One area at a time, I uncovered un-self-loving ways I’d been behaving and relating that, as I changed them, helped me to develop into the kind of woman who does not eat an entire cake in one sitting, and who can fit into the same pair of jeans for four years. It was also way more complicated than the weight loss industry would have had me believe – in their brief nods to compulsive overeating in diet books, where they claimed that if I’d just call a friend or write in a journal that I’d suddenly be the kind of person who can eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full. So simple!
There’s other stuff that helped too, like realizing that being restrictive drives me insane, that I am totally fascinated and in love with food (I mean, HELLO) and that’s really okay, and that people are way too busy thinking about their own insecurities to give a shit how thin or not thin I am.
Today, though, I want to share with you what emotional hot buttons I uncovered over time, in case you’re stuck in the same starve-binge cycle I was. You’ve got your own unique journey and your own shit to wade through, but I’m hoping that this will give you some food for thought in exploring the whole “It’s not what you’re eating, it’s what’s eating you” thing.
You are out of touch with your body
I think that the number of American women with overeating issues is a symptom of all of us trying to make it work in our very masculine-energy society, a society that devalues the sensual, feeling power of feminine in favor of the thinking, goal-oriented masculine.
The working world in our country is especially masculine energy (even in female-dominated industries), and so many of us spend all frigging day in it. We hide our feelings in the name of ‘professionalism’. We trap ourselves in in sensory-deprived environments trapped inside gray walls with flourescent lighting – UGH. We constrict our bodies in uptight, uncomfortable clothes that hide our femininity.
Compulsive overeating might be your body screaming and begging to be honored and attended to. For so many of us, we’ve gotten so out of tune with our bodies, and out of practice with giving our bodies the pleasure they crave.
Food is one of the only sensual pleasures that you regularly allow yourself. It makes so much sense that you would go positively apeshit on it.
As an easy start, what small thing can you do today to get out of your mind and into your body?
You are an overgiver
You take on everyone’s problems like it’s your job to fix them. You are the first person that your people call when they need someone, but when it comes to receiving you feel awkward and guilty and like you don’t deserve it. You say yes when what you really want to do is say no. You call to see how people are doing when you know they’re going through a rough time, you take the time to write every asshole on your Facebook feed a personal happy birthday message. You smile and say, “Sure, no problem! I can do it!” whenever something extra needs doing at work.
If I’m describing you, and you also can’t seem to stop eating, really think about it – with your energy so constantly flowing out of you, it is no wonder that you can’t ever seem to get ‘full’.
I can imagine that this is a reason that so many women struggle with overeating after their children are born. It’s one of the most extreme states of giving to another that I can think of. It’s no wonder that it creates a feeling of endless hunger. I’d never want mothers of babies to stop doing what they do – but this is a new lens to view ‘baby weight’ through.
In my experience, breaking away from overgiving is one of the hardest behaviors to change – I’m actually working on an e-book about it to help make the process easier. We ‘nice girls’ have built up such an identity around always being the one who is there for everyone. It feels like stepping off a cliff into a cavern of unloveable-ness to think of how we might relate to people without being that “You’re the best!” person who can always be depended upon no matter what the degree of inconvenience caused.
I will say this, though – it is the most important change that I made, and the area that is very frequently to blame when I feel myself backsliding into binge land.
As an easy start, in what small way can you give to yourself today? This will get your energies a bit more back in balance, even if you’re not ready to slow down on giving to others yet.
It’s easier to focus on food than life, and you’re playing small
When it comes down to it, overeating is like any other addiction. At the core of addiction is a desire to create numbness and distraction from pain.
I bet that for you, overeating was (at some point) a coping mechanism; a source of comfort. The problem is that eventually the pain of such self-destructive behavior becomes worse than the pain you are trying to escape.
The binge/starve/weight obsession cycle is also a very convenient way to play it small in life, to allow yourself to be reduced down to nothing by an obsession with something that means fuck all in the long run. I’m not going to quote that Marianne Williamson quote because everyone does about how we’re more afraid of success than we are of failure but WE SO ARE. There’s no time or energy left to change the world when your brain is being eaten alive by calorie consumption and cookie shame, right?
Please don’t be hard on yourself about it – I think society wants women to play small. If we allow ourselves to be defined by bullshit, we never realize the powers of our own vaginas and take over the fucking world.
As an easy start, experiment with not distracting yourself in any way when you feel pain. Brainstorm about what you’d want to give to the world if your weight and food were a non-issue.
I hope this has inspired you to take the time to figure out where your own personal bottomless pit comes from. I know that years of trying and failing may have made you feel differently, but I promise you, you can do this and you are so worth it.