I spent the first 15 years of my life surviving the mental, physical and sexual abuse that occurred at home. I went to 8 different schools in 10 years, moving house each time. At 15, I left school for good, we left my father, moving house two more times, and I started working in my first full time job – all within the space of four months.
Ill-equipped to cope with the stress from these life changes, I started binge eating, quickly gaining 10 kilos in a few weeks. I had no idea what I was doing at the time, all I knew was that for the few moments I was scoffing down biscuits and cakes, I felt calm and safe.
Then the comments started coming; from my boyfriend, family members and people at work to let me know that I was getting fatter and uglier and how I looked to them wasn’t acceptable. Being a desperate people-pleaser from way back, I felt I had to prove to them all that I was good enough. I had to prove that I was acceptable. The culture I lived in taught me the only way to gain their acceptance and approval was to lose weight and get thinner. It was very simple, there was no other way.
I went on my first serious diet, straight out of the pages of Dolly magazine. Within 2 weeks, I was totally hooked and began cutting out entire food groups to speed up my weight loss. I joined a gym and began over-exercising, falling into the pit of anorexia, losing 28% of my body weight in 8 months.
The day I broke my diet was the day I developed Bulimia - I got that neat trick from a Cleo magazine article - and kept it for 5 years. I like to joke that at least with Bulimia, you get to eat! Living with Bulimia though, is no joke, it is a traumatic struggle that’s all about self-loathing. My cycle with Bulimia went like this: restrict food, lose control, binge, purge, then start the cycle over again. My thinking was all or nothing and moved from one extreme to another.
When I stopped throwing up, I was left with Binge Eating Disorder and I did that for the next 7 years. All up, I struggled with binge eating for 12 years – 5 of those years with the compensating behaviour of sticking my head down a toilet bowl.
Here’s a brief description about my days of binge eating from an article I wrote for the Eating Disorders Association Qld newsletter, titled "How to do Self-Compassion After a Binge":
I used to think of my binge eating as something like a huge vulture descending onto me without any warning, cloaking me in darkness, taking over my mind and directing me to run to the fridge and eat NOW!
There was no sense of time involved – only an urgent, out of control shovelling in of food. My bingeing would finish when the vulture released me from its vice-like grip and dropped me back into the ugly reality of the kitchen and what had just occurred.
Suddenly coming back into consciousness, I would be aware of a bloated stomach, sticky fingers, the smell and taste of cheap, trashy food around my mouth as well as an overwhelming feeling of disgust in myself as I looked down at the kitchen bench and all that remained.
What remained wasn’t much food; mainly empty biscuit packets, chocolate wrappers, mauled custard or ice cream containers, and always the white paper packets of sugar-coated white flour products I may have picked up from a bakery earlier.
I’ve been in some pretty low and shameful places with my eating: I have eaten food out of the rubbish bin, burnt food, frozen food and even food our dog wouldn’t eat – and our dog was known to eat anything.
The after effects were crazy mood swings, headaches, body aches and a desperate desire to climb out of my own skin, I was so uncomfortable. I also remained 10 – 15 kilos overweight. Then I would isolate myself in my house and the dance of self-contempt would begin “I can’t believe I just did that! What is wrong with me? Why can’t I eat like a normal person? I am such a disgusting pig!” followed by solemn promises that I would be very, very good from tomorrow onwards and that this will never happen again!
After a frantic clean up to dispose of the evidence, (should my boyfriend arrive home unexpectedly) I would immediately begin planning my new extreme, restrictive diet to make up for the binge and redeem myself the only way I knew how.
So how does a person escape from this living hell and find themselves in a much more natural, intuitive and nourishing place with their eating?
I found myself here with lots and lots of practise at developing an awareness of myself, my thoughts, my feelings, my triggers, understanding the emotional need I was trying to fill with food and eventually working on resolving the true underlying emotional and self-esteem issues that kept me feeling like an out of control, deprived victim with binge eating.
There is no right or wrong way to find freedom from binge eating – but it must be Your Way.
You will be surrendering all external attempts at control and going with Your Flow – not your best friends flow, not your dietician’s flow and not your international eating guru’s flow either. Real freedom cannot be found on pieces of paper or intellectualised in any way. It must be experienced first hand by the individual and the process is actually a kind and gentle one, which is in stark opposition to the way we usually treat ourselves with food.
In freeing ourselves, we cannot be told what to do or what to eat because this is just another way of disempowering ourselves and looking outside ourselves for answers. The message we feed ourselves in this process is a loud and clear “I can’t be trusted. Just tell me what to do because I’m hopeless and I don’t know”. And we disconnect.
A natural human response to being told what to do is to rebel. And so we lay our own foundations for lots more rebellious eating to follow. This doesn’t make any sense on a logical level, but we are not logical beings, we are emotional, feeling beings and we need to find a way to work with our feelings, rather than against them (by avoiding them as we do). We need to embrace them with kindness.
When we begin to trust ourselves and our feelings, we reconnect with our bodies. When we use our intuition, honour our hunger and respect our bodies as the house we live in, we will surely create dramatic changes within. This change then flows on to showing up externally, as it is a reflection and long-term side-effect of all the internal work you are doing on yourself. Weight loss cannot be your sole goal; for while ever it is, it will never happen in a sustainable way. There is no willpower required with this approach: willingness to trust yourself - yes, willpower, no.
Forming a large part of my recovery has been my work in spiritual healing and practising meditation for the last 19 years. When I began the process of stopping dieting, then stopping binge eating and then finally working on the underlying issues, my jeans size dropped three sizes over a period of about two years and two babies. I have remained the same size for the last 19 years. It is no co-incidence that since I have been continually confronting and working on my issues, my excess emotional weight has stayed off.
A key piece of research that helped me understand that none of my binge eating was actually my fault (as in, it wasn’t conclusive proof that I was a weak-willed, useless, fat failure) was something I discovered through the EDA called The Minnesota Experiment. Please Google it and find out for yourself that every time we binge, it’s not our fault. Every time we restrict our food (or diet), it’s only a matter of time before we end up losing control and overeating as a normal, healthy, biological, survival response. This is an expected outcome of dieting and has been known since 1944 – but no weight loss organisation will ever tell you that.
Head researcher of this study, Professor Ancel Keys, proved that other normal, natural human responses to dieting are depression, mood swings, tiredness, lethargy, angry outbursts, loss of libido, obsession with food and weight, a narrowing of interests, loss of humour and spontaneity, self-contempt when we do break our diet as well as weight gain – and for some people, a much higher risk of developing an eating disorder.
There are a few guidelines I can share with you to help you on your journey to freedom:
* Let go of all forms of dieting – dieting is what causes us to binge eat in the first place. Extreme dieting causes extreme bingeing.
* If it has taken a few years to develop a hard-core diet mentality that’s all about deprivation and scarcity, give your self the time and space it takes to replace that with a mentality of abundance, comfort and safety around food.
* Practise trusting yourself, practise eating in response to your body’s hunger, practise listening to your body, practise resting when your body is tired.
* Try self-compassion instead of self-contempt. It’s a pointless waste of emotional energy beating ourselves up when we do binge. Practise observing your own behaviour without judgment. I started saying to myself: "Ok, so I’ve eaten a lot of food right now, I don’t understand why I did that, but on some level my body needed that food and I allowed myself to have it."
* Take on more personal responsibility for your own life, no one else in the world can do this for you. Seek whichever form of therapy helps you to heal – a cute saying I read recently is “Face your stuff or stuff your face.” Healing is always our choice.
* Understand that whenever we binge, it is always an attempt at self-soothing. We need to pay attention to the feelings we were attempting to soothe. There is an emotional need that is aching to be filled and we keep turning to food for answers.
* Looking within with a great deal of honesty and a touch of vulnerability will provide all the answers we need, if only we can allow ourselves to go there.
It can be absolutely terrifying to feel our feelings for a few intense seconds instead of numbing them with food, but what’s the alternative? A lifetime of binge eating and feeling out of control? No thank you. I chose freedom and I haven’t once looked back over my shoulder and wished that I could again be binge eating. The pain of change has always been worth the effort.
I have thirteen years personal experience with eating disorders, which I obtained from the University of Life. I have never completed any formal training through commonly recognized channels - and this is my point of difference. I have been providing counselling and running workshops for people with eating issues since 2004. I pride myself on being a human being, and someone who is using her personal experience to help others, instead of having it use me. Please check the side bar to your left for details of my professional experience.
To assist people in transforming their relationship with food, feeding your self-esteem from the inside out.