Over the past years I have spoken to many people inside and outside the gym in regards to body image and eating habits. Sadly the most common things that get shared are our warped body dysmorphia and messed up eating habits with immense guilt when we overeat and binge. On Friday I saw one of our regular hardcore gym goers who too be honest I have never actually spoken to but on Friday I smiled and commented how well he is looking and how hard he trains. At first he seemed taken aback but then smiled and thanked me for the compliment then continued with his training. A few moments later he came and tapped me on the shoulder and said truly thank you for the comment as it had really lifted his mood and he explained that he can never actually see any changes and feels like his head is messed up with what he sees in the mirror. Instantly I recognised the tone and my heart softened and I said again how well he is doing and to keep going as it is exercise that keeps us sane to which he laughed and agreed. He said he weighs himself every day and cant stop. I explained that I lived like this for many many years as I was Bulimic (to which be said he too was Bulimic growing up), allowing the scales to dictate my moods and self image constantly but now I step on the scales perhaps once or twice a year (and still will have a meltdown of course) but then I remember my journey and screw my head back on as much as possible to keep moving forward.
Since my early teens I began the vicious cycle of binge eating habits which developed quickly into Bulimia with cocktails of laxatives, diuretics and any other medication I could use to decrease my weight. By the time I was 16 my day was usually to eat as few a calories as possible (common target less than 1000 calories) then to hit the gym for 2-3 hours (10km run, 1 hour exercise class and 1 hour swim). However as I would leave the gym in the evening the insane sugar cravings would fully kick in as I went home and despite mentally arguing with myself, I would find myself in any food store purchasing on average £10-£12 worth of chocolate and sweets to take home and gorge on. I would promise myself not to eat it all in one go, however sadly it would all be consumed that same night uncontrollably (usually in less than an hour). My typical binge included: an entire box of After Eights, an entire family pack of Giant Buttons, entire pack of peanut M&Ms, big bag of chocolate peanuts, family packs of star mix Haribo and another family pack of a different chocolate grabbed at the till as a last minute purchase. The guilt and self hate would kick in followed by swallowing a stupid amount of laxatives before trying to sleep and praying that I had not gained any weight. My sleep was always broken from the laxatives and I would take diuretics in the morning to reduce more weight before weighing myself and the starting the routine again. It was a gruelling regime that followed for many more years until I broke and was hospitalised as my head had fully fallen off. I was mentally and physically destroyed and had hit my rock bottom at 22 years old.
I guess the only way is up after you have hit the floor. But it was a fight to get up. I had an incredible support network plus a lot of therapy over the years to which I am eternally grateful. It is only now I can recognise my behaviour patterns and triggers. My relationship with food is so much better than I can ever remember but I have also accepted it will never be perfect. Certain foods I still do not allow in my life, purely because I know I can’t just consume a small amount and will end up eating it all in one go, so for my sanity I just do not buy it and genuinely avoid it if I am eating out. I have also accepted that I still occasionally find myself binging but I choose foods I deem “healthier” like peanut butter (I just love the bloody stuff) but I manage the emotions that follow a binge far better than before. I recognise that a big binge is 99.9% due to an external trigger that is out of my control so I will then turn to food to binge on to flip the lack of control from whatever has happened externally (anything from a work issue to a fight with a loved one to something I totally have no control over), I can then redirect the issue onto myself and focus on hating myself for being an absolute pig instead. Its a vicious cycle and in the past the next step was to fill up on laxatives to punish myself plus more hours of exercise.However, when I find myself having a binge these days, I try and become conscious in the moment and mentally try to logically (as difficult as it is), look at what has caused me behave this way. I try to then look at the external situation and perhaps actually see if there is anything I can action to do anything about the situation that has or is happening. And perhaps if there is nothing I can do at the time, I try to ground myself and calmly talk kindly to myself to see if I can change my mindset. Its tough and there are times when logic cannot be achieved (I am very crazy at times) but one thing I have learnt over the years is to speak to someone, a friend, family member or external support like a therapist or councillor when I need that support or a different (and usually more logical) point of view. I never used to share any of my darkness even with close friends or family but talking and writing things down has literally changed my life.
When we eat food our body releases dopamine (a “feel good” chemical) but the more sugary and fatty foods you eat when you binge releases a ton more dopamine which gives a “high” feeling. Over time the binges escalate as we need more and more junk food for that same “high” feeling and it becomes addictive. And like any addiction, binge eating comes with a real physical “sugar crash” that leaves you feeling tired and weak, sometimes even causing sweating and shakiness. Not only will you need to eat more to feel satisfied, binge eating changes an important hormone in your body called leptin. This hormone tells us when we are full however regular binges stop this hormone being released so we cannot tell when we have over eaten and continue to binge until we usually run out of food. This in turn causes massive effects on insulin and can eventually lead to type II diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome and many more health problems.
So the questions I pose… wheres the line? What’s having a treat to a binge? When should we feel guilty for eating more food than we normally allow? Is having the occasional pig out the end of the world? Are you not eating enough in the day then having a big sugar blow out at night? How can we stop binging habits? Whether its something triggering you to binge or just bad habits, something needs to change as this behaviour is taxing on the body as well as mentally (and physically) exhausting. Punishing yourself with endless hours of exercise is usually common with these habits as the pure fear of weight gain is massive. And despite promising to stop the binges they seem to occur more frequently than you desire. Here’s something you need to understand, massively restricting your calories in a day and then exercising wont work long term. The body kicks into survival mode and before you know it you are in the middle of an uncontrollable binge. So if you are skipping or dramatically reducing carbohydrates, then its likely that a binge will occur at some point. Carbohydrates are our bodies main source of fuel. They all get broken down into glucose and enter our blood stream, transported (and stored) into our muscles ready for movement. If the muscles are already full, excess glucose will be stored as body fat. HOWEVER, if you have barely eaten in the day, then used up the glucose in your muscles, your body goes into survival mode and the sugar cravings fully kick in for most of us hence causing binges to happen. And here’s the bad news, as you freaked out the body by not eating enough in the day, those junk foods you have binged on get stored as body fat as the body is now fully in survival mode telling the body to store these foods incase we starve ourselves again. And to make it even worse, the body will choose to burn muscle rather than body fat in these scenarios. See the problem here?
So how do you stop these habits? The main thing is to keep your blood sugars in a healthy range that your body is happy with. Therefore eating a healthy balanced diet of carbohydrates, fats and proteins will keep your body happy and massively reduce insane sugar cravings. Eating small balanced meals/snacks throughout the day will stop you crashing. Life does happen though and perhaps the binges are due to to external life situations etc. Some ways I have found to help reduce these binge behaviours include:
Speaking to friends/ family and/or a therapist
Self care (things you can do to make you feel better in yourself like reading a book, taking a bath, going for a walk)
planning your balanced meals and keeping a food journal
allow yourself small treats when you fell like it rather than extreme restrictions
source different variations of foods you perhaps don’t love as much as perhaps your typical binge food, for example if your a massive milk chocolate fan, choose very dark chocolate instead or if you love sweets choose ones that you don’t like as much so you wont over indulge on them
If you know some foods you cannot control then just avoid them for your sanity
De stress and perhaps try some guided meditation and yoga
Try speaking with love to yourself….the way we speak to ourselves can be so harsh and yet I am sure we would never be so cruel to a loved one
Choose exercise that makes you feel good and not drained
Drink more water and try to get at least 7-8 hours sleep a night
Stop living in the past, if you achieved a weight that took some crazy restrictions, then it is time to let that go and find a way to achieve something in a healthier and happier way
It is you that has the power to make changes xXx