Monthly Archives: January 2011

Q & A Friday- How can I avoid binges in the college dining hall?

This one comes to us from a reader in Vermont.

Question:
I am a junior in college and struggled with bulimia last semester. It got pretty bad but over the holidays I was able to recover and am now doing much better. However, now that I am back at school, I am finding it difficult to avoid binges in the dining hall. It is an ‘all you can eat’ system, with many many options at every meal. I usually find that I eat a healthy meal, but then fall to temptation for desserts, and end up eating a lot of chocolate chips or oreos or other desserts even when I am not hungry, just out of greediness. I am afraid of falling back into my old habits and I really want to avoid that since I feel so much better now. I have found several things that help with binges outside of meal times (drinking tea, water, making sure I get a protein-filled breakfast, etc.) Do you have any tips or advice on how to avoid dining hall binges, and how to avoid getting up for seconds or thirds out of greediness instead of out of hunger, particularly for desserts and sweets?
Thank you so, so much I really appreciate your help!

D

Hi D,

First off, congratulations on your recovery from bulimia. It’s awful to go through and challenging to recover from.

You’re certainly not the only person suffering from dining hall overwhelm. With an amazing amount of choices, and long leisurely meals that accompany the college lifestyle, it’s hard not to have some trouble with bingeing in school if you are prone to it.

1.)Before you start your meal, set your intention about what and how much you are going to eat.

2.)Make sure that when you make your meal, you eat enough. Don’t skimp or restrict.  This will set up a binge. Have a good amount of protein and a lot of vegetables and salad and perhaps a cup of soup, food that will take you a long time to eat so that you have food on your plate for a while.

3.)When you go up for desert, grab some fruit, an apple or an orange, or a grapefruit,  something that is relatively labor intensive so that it takes you some time to unpeel and to eat.

4.)Make sure that you have some healthy snacks in your dorm room or apartment so that you don’t have that sense of “I have to eat as much as I can now.” I went to a tiny liberal arts college in the middle of the woods in Upstate New York in the 90s. There was no way to get food between meals as there were no stores around or public transportation to get off of campus to get food. If you didn’t have a car, you were screwed. This kind of set up a hoarding mentality around food where we would eat as much as we could at each meal or make loads of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to keep in our rooms in case it was too cold or snowy to walk to the dining hall later.  Making sure that you  have  a good supply of healthy food in your room will save you from thinking that you have to be full or that you have to eat as much as you can in the moment because you might not have food later.

5.)Don’t restrict yourself. No “I can’t have any desert or any chocolate” because that line of polarized thinking can set up a binge. Instead, say something like, “If I want it I can have it.” Before you get up, ask yourself if you really want it and if you really need it, if the answer is no, try to sit through it and let it go. If the answer is yes, get yourself one or two cookies or one small serving and eat your choices slowly and mindfully, savor them. Tell yourself that you can have another serving tomorrow, so that there is not a feeling of, “I have to eat all these cookies now because as of tomorrow, no more cookies ever again.”

6.)Whenever you get up, always have your tea cup with you so that if you find you are getting up compulsively because you are anxious or fidgety,  you can refill with herbal tea rather than compulsively getting food.

7.)Don’t stay in the dining hall that long. Go in for a short amount of time, eat a healthy meal, then get up and leave when you are done.  If you feel you’re missing out on social time, just tell people that you’ll catch up with them later. It’s important to take care of yourself implicitly. Your social life will suffer more if you are dealing with an eating disorder or an obsession with food as will your studies. Taking care of yourself around food will help you all around, even socially and academically.

8.)Make sure that you’re getting enough sleep. Not sleeping enough can make one reach for sweets for energy and alertness.

I hope that this is helpful. Does anyone else have any good tips for dealing with the dining hall? Please post in the comments!

Do you have a question about binge eating, bulimia, anorexia, or anything associated with eating disorders? Send an email to bingeeatingtherapy  at gmail dot com. All questions will be kept confidential. Include your first name or the name you want to be referred to as and your location.

Going Toward Health Rather Than Going Toward Weight Loss

It’s not news that being thin doesn’t equate to being healthy.

However, did you ever think about the fact that aspiring to be thin can also be unhealthy? It can both mentally and physically detrimental. When the end goal is thinness, the means by which to achieve that end  can often be incredibly unhealthy. Some people live on cigarettes and red wine to reach their goal of thinness, some people go on restrictive diets where they just live on meat and diet coke to get thin, others exercise hours a day and restrict their calories or purge there food. They might be thin, but they’re certainly not healthy.

Unfortunately, when the only goal is to be thin, the road can be very challenging. Even thinking of the inherent goal is negative,  the goal is to lose something– you are focusing on getting rid of something. Shouldn’t a goal be positive? Shouldn’t a goal be going toward something, like health, vitality and longevity, shouldn’t you be trying to gain something rather than lose something?

Those who’s focus is to lose weight tend to become frustrated, either by the scale or their inability to stay on a restricted food plan. A woman I knew decided to go on a “no carb” diet. Each day she would eat nothing except meat, eggs, and bacon. However, every couple of days, she’d “fall off the wagon,” and add milk to her coffee or grab an apple or an orange between between meetings or grab a latte from the coffee vendor in her office building. Every time that happened, she felt as though she’d failed and would binge on donuts, cakes, cookies, chips, etc, then vow that she’d go right back on her diet the next day.   Had she been going toward health instead of thinness, she would have realized the insanity of believing that there was something inherently evil about a piece of fruit or some milk.

When you go toward health, you create a shift in your thinking. You begin to think of food as something that is loving and helpful for your body. You choose an apple for energy instead of a diet coke, you exercise to the needs of your body rather than pushing your body to injury, if you find that you’re eating something that you’d prefer not to, you stop eating it and love and accept yourself rather than continuing to eat and purging.

When you go toward health, your body finds its right place. You slow down a bit and give yourself what you need.

Linda Bacon, the founder of the HAES movement, published an article (Weight Science:Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift) this week in Nutrition Journal challenging the assumption that in order for overweight people to find health, they must  diet.  If the “obesity crisis” is truly at epidemic proportions, why the consistent push for diets, when they clearly lead to more weight gain and disordered eating?

Rather than depriving yourself in order to try and lose weight, add something new each day like a support call, a piece of fruit, or a nice walk in the sunshine in order to go toward health.

 

Friday Q & A- I feel desperate to lose weight and I can't stop binge eating.

Question: Submitted via email by Diane from New Mexico

Hello,
I am 26, female, 5’7″ and weigh 180lbs. I would like to be between
150-160. I am very active but struggle with Binge Eating at night.
Sometimes I throw it up when I’ve really lost control. I am so
distraught at the thought of living with this forever. It’s painful to
live in secrecy and have it interrupt my life. I need help, but am so
busy (2nd bachelor degree student full time, working part time and each
check is taken by bills). Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed but can
usually manage the stress. I am desperate to lose weight and stop binge
eating, I need to lose weight for the military too but can’t seem to
“get a grip.”
Do you have any advice? I need help but don’t know what is going to
work. I’ve talked to a few counselors and only one session with a
specialist (can’t afford). I will continue to purge as long as I binge
because 30lbs is excruciating. I have found books help but it is
difficult right now during my hardest semester. I should be studying
right now!!! I ALWAYS fall back on binging. I hate it, it makes me cry.
Anything at all is appreciated.

Sincerely,
Diane

Answer:

Hi Diane,

Thank you so much for your question. I’m so sorry that you’re struggling the way you are. It sounds like  you are having an  extremely difficult time right now.

I think that it is great that you are currently seeking support via therapy or counseling. It’s understandable that an ED (eating disorder) specialist might be too expensive for you.  Have you looked into student services? Often the therapists available to college students have some training in EDs and usually they are free. If there are none available with specific ED training, that’s still okay. Understand that your eating disorder is a symptom of your stress, anxiety and everything else that your going through and as you work through all those emotional issues, you will find it easier to beat your eating disorder.

1.)Don’t live in secrecy anymore. You are absolutely not alone. Millions of women and men suffer from binge eating disorder and bulimia. Find out free support groups in your area such as overeaters anonymous or eating disorders anonymous or ANAD. You might find that you get a great deal of support from other people who are dealing with similar issues as you are.

2.)Get rid of your scale. Do not let an electronic or mechanical piece of equipment on the floor dictate what kind of a day you are going to have. It’s not fair to allow the numbers on the scale to tell you how you should be feeling about yourself. You might find some liberation and freedom from not weighing yourself.

3.)The idea of losing 30 pounds is very overwhelming. Rather than having a number in mind, try to reframe your perspective from, “i need to lose weight” to “I want to be healthy and feel good about myself.” Weighing yourself, bingeing and purging certainly have not helped you to feel good about yourself or healthy. However, adopting healthy habits just might.

4.)Set one mini goal for yourself each day. Such as:

Today I’m going to eat three fruits

Today I’m going to drink 8 cups of water

Today if I get the urge to binge, I’m going to call someone or get online for support.

5.)Give up dieting. For most people, dieting doesn’t lead to weight loss, it leads to compulsive dieting and binge eating. When you restrict what you are eating, there is a part of you that will lash out against the restrictions and binge.

6.)Start every single day with breakfast. Having three solid meals each day significantly reduces the instance of binge eating. Don’t worry about yesterday and don’t try to compensate for the day before. You can’t go backwards, you can only go forward. So go forward as a “normal eater.”

7.)It seems like you do a lot of your binge eating and purging in the evenings when you should be studying. Procrastination is an amazing trigger for binge eating. Here is a previous blog post I wrote on this exact subject.

8.)On a practical level, get all of your binge foods out of your house. If you notice that there are particular foods that you binge on, clean out your cabinets and refrigerator and have mostly safe foods in your house. When you are studying and tired, it’s hard to make good choices when all the temptations are right in front of you. Keep lots of healthy non trigger foods in your house.

9.)Be kind and compassionate toward yourself. When you binge eat, remember that this is an indication that you are going through a hard time and need something like self love, or compassion or kindness. Binge eating is a symptom. When you binge eat, it’s probably because there is something challenging going on in your life. The irony is, that when you binge eat, you are sending a signal to yourself that you need love and compassion, not anger and punishment.  Yet, when people binge, they tend to berate themselves rather than give themselves the compassion and soothing that they need. That of course begins a horrible cycle of bingeing, self punishing and self hatred and then bingeing again to diffuse the self abuse. If you find yourself in your behaviors, try to stop and ask yourself why. Ask yourself what it was that you were actually needing and trying to give yourself when you binged. See if it might be possible to give yourself that.

Thanks so much for your question. I hope that you find something here  helpful for you.

Warmly,

Leora

Do you have a question about binge eating, bulimia, anorexia, or anything associated with eating disorders? Send an email to bingeeatingtherapy  at gmail dot com. All questions will be kept confidential. Include your first name or the name you want to be referred to as and your location.

 

Bingeing in the Car

Car binges are super common for people dealing with binge eating disorder. I’ve heard many stories of people intentionally car bingeing, by going from takeout restaurant to takeout restaurant and planning their day or evenings around their binges, to more unintentional binges, like picking up groceries and bingeing on them on the way home.

Bingeing while driving  is of course dangerous as your attention is not focused on the road. In fact, according to a 2009 study done by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed that 80% of all car accidents and 65% of near misses are caused by distracted drivers– which includes people driving and eating.

Besides it being dangerous for you and those around you, it’s also a way for you to mindlessly consume food without even noticing what your doing. Often people have a car binge and barely remember it. They were practically hypnotized by the binge. They come home feeling dazed, tired, and overwhelmed by the binge.  Create some boundaries for yourself around food and your car to prevent car binges.

1.)Make a vow that you will never, ever eat while driving. If you are hungry and need to stop for food, actually stop for food and eat it sitting down at a table.

2.)When you go food shopping, pack all your groceries in the trunk.

3.)If you get takeout, put it all the way in the back seat where you cannot reach it while you are driving.

4.)Get your car washed and cleaned and be sure to make it a no food zone. You will feel more comfortable in your car.

The other very common car binge that many of my clients have reported engaging in involves driving to the store, buying binge foods and bingeing alone in your car in the parking lot of a store or alone in a deserted area.

If your car is an inherently unsafe place, if it is the place that brings you to and from binges, it might be a good idea to make it into a safe place.

1.)Put reminders like post it notes or even little symbols that you alone will understand the meaning of.  Your notes can say something like, “call someone” or “consider the alternatives,” “drive somewhere peaceful…”

2.)It’s challenging to stop a binge when you’ve begun it, and even the act of getting into your car and being on the way to the grocery store feels like you’ve already begun the binge. However, you haven’t. Just because you made the decision to binge doesn’t mean that you have to. You can always just drive your car around the block a few times to calm down or to a movie theater, or the beach or a lake or someplace calming.

3.)Again, create a boundary around eating in the car. At this point, you won’t be able to binge in the parking lot, you’ll have to bring the food home. Once you get home with it, you can make the choice more easily. Often with car binges, there can be a ritual of polishing off the whole (pint of b&Js, bag of chips, box of cookies) thing  before you drive home. Once you bring the binge food into your home, you can still make the decision to have a serving and put the rest away and relax with a movie, bath or good book.

Friday Q&A- Do I have an eating disorder?

Question: Submitted via email by Dagny from Vilinus, Lithuania

Hi,

I would be very happy if you could help me to answer one question. I am not sure if I have an eating disorder or I am simply eating in an unhealthy way. Recently I have started reading articles about it. Since then I suspect I have a bulimia: I have most of the symptoms but I never purge. Five years ago graduating a school and starting a University changed my lifestyle and in a short I put on 5kg. Being all my life slim suddenly I felt different and even fat. I decided to decrease the amount of food that I eat. But one day I started bingeing. The next day I started everything from the beginning but the story continues till now. I weigh more or less the same all the time and never got rid those 5 kilos (my BMI is the minimum normal). I am really lost now because I don’t really feel when and what I need to eat, I don’t really ever feel happy when eating and despite the fact that I try to control myself I am frequently bingeing. I have started a therapy as I have a depression but I don’t really know how to change my eating habits. There are times when I manage to eat three times a day without eating too much and I feel great! I also think that at those times I don’t eat enough and I simply started loving the feeling of hunger.

With a smile,
Dagny from Vilnius

Hi Dagny,
Thanks for your question.  So called “Normal” eating (not disordered eating) is the ability to eat when your hungry and stop when you’re satisfied. Of course everyone overeats or undereats at times, and that still doesn’t mean they have disordered eating. What distinguishes your habits as disordered eating are not just the erratic binges, but the intense distress that you feel around your eating,  your attempts to control your eating and feeling powerless against it, and the feeling of joy and excitement that you feel when you are  hungry. These red flags might indicate that you are dealing with disordered eating and possibly an eating disorder.  For someone who isn’t dealing with an eating disorder, hunger suggests that it’s time to eat. Nothing more. It’s a physical cue, not an emotional sensation. For the disordered eater, hunger can be a high, it can make one feel virtuous and good, or for someone on the other side of the spectrum, it can be very scary and incite terror.
So, what can you do?
1.)First off, I’m happy to hear that you are seeing a therapist for your depression. It’s always interesting to begin to examine how food and eating go with mood. For people with eating disorders, they are intrinsically linked. Do you eat when you’re stressed? Sad? Anxious? Happy? What is it that you’re really needing during those times, what can you replace the binges with?
2.)I also recommend seeing a nutritionist who can guide you toward healthy eating. It’s hard to know what’s right to eat. My own personal eating habits mostly center around whole, unprocessed food. Anything that grows. So, I eat a lot of fruit, dried fruits, vegetables, nuts,  and fish and chicken and some red meat. I also eat yogurt, cheese and sometimes, a couple of times a week, I will eat a cookie or a pastry or a slice of pizza or something else that is seemingly more processed  than what I usually eat. Because I’ve chosen to eat healthy most of the time but not restrict treats, I’m able to eat them without bingeing on them or without feeling guilty. It’s just food. Pizza is not a crime.
You have to find what kind of eating habits are right for you and your body type. No one plan fits all.
It’s great that you’ve noticed that when you eat three meals a day you feel good. That is exactly what you need to be doing, commit to eating three meals a day. Because right now you’re unable to recognize your cues for hunger and satiety, you might want to eat by the clock. Eat three meals a day with a couple of snacks in between. Eat breakfast within 30 minutes of waking.  Eat slowly and mindfully. Chew your food and notice what it feels like to eat, swallow, digest. Begin to allow yourself to notice the difference between eating for sustenance and binge eating.  Eat enough so that you are no longer hungry. You don’t have to be full and uncomfortable. A breakfast that I enjoy and feels nourishing to me is two eggs and a banana and orange juice and a cup of tea. That feels like enough food to tide me over for a few hours. What feels like enough food to tide you over for a few hours?  After your breakfast, allow yourself to really look at the clock and decide that in 2-3 hours, you’ll have a small snack. Usually my midday snack is something like a cup of yogurt or a handful of almonds or an apple and a piece of string cheese.  What kind of snack do you like?  What helps you keep going? For lunch I usually have either a fresh salad with chicken or tuna in it, or some hot vegetables such as brussel sprouts or a squash with some tofu or chicken to go with it, or I’ll have chicken soup or some other kind of soup– chili or hearty stock soups or stews are popular here too.  Later, I’ll have a snack, usually fruit and nuts. Dinner is often lots of vegetables and a potato and some kind of meat. Then, I usually have dried fruit for desert, or sometimes I’ll have ice cream or frozen yogurt. I might have a snack later or not. It depends on how I’m feeling and how late I eat dinner. This is what keeps me going for the day.  Sometimes dinner will be pizza, or chinese food or Indian food. Sometimes I’ll eat very large portions, on hungry days, and sometimes I’ll eat smaller portions.  You don’t have to eat the same things or the same portion sizes day to day. It’s about giving your body what it needs at the given time by tuning into your hunger and your needs for food. Though this is intuitive for non disordered eaters, it’s not for people with eating disorders. It will probably be challenging at the beginning to know when you are hungry and when you are satisfied.  It’s a practice to do this.  You might begin by taking a few weeks or months to train your body to eat at given times.
For example:
Breakfast- 7 am
Snack- 10 am
Lunch – 1pm
Snack- 4pm
Dinner- 7pm
Snack 10pm
You can create a limit for yourself that you are not going to eat between meals or snacks, but because you know that you’ll be getting another meal in a few hours, your brain knows it doesn’t have to binge. As you adjust to your new schedule, your hunger will begin to adjust as well and eventually you will find that you are hungry and ready to eat at certain times.
3.)Bulimia and binge eating have the pattern of ALL or nothing. What you’re looking to do here is normalize that. Rather than all or nothing, you’re trying to balance out your day of eating. This will get your eating habits to a more normal state.
Thanks for your question. I hope that the answer was helpful.
Do you have a question about binge eating, bulimia, anorexia, or anything associated with eating disorders? Send an email to bingeeatingtherapy  at gmail dot com. All questions will be kept confidential. Include your first name or the name you want to be referred to as and your location.

Letting go of perfection…

One of the motivating forces behind eating disorders is the drive to be perfect. People hope for a perfect body, perfect eating habits, flawless skin,  trying to act perfect by always saying the right thing, they try to keep a perfectly clean home and car, and  on and on and on– whatever the individual definition of perfection is . The problem is of course, that nobody is perfect so in the strive for perfection, failure is inevitable.  Often, because of that, trying becomes a frustrating let down, as well as a horrible blow to self esteem. “I messed up, therefore I’m a failure, I suck, I’m a horrible person…” and descent into depression or further into eating disorder behavior, or other compulsive behaviors follow.  Some people have such high expectations of themselves that they feel paralyzed. They can barely function because their belief of what they have to be is unattainable so they figure “why bother?”and live in a stuck place where they are unable to go forward with their lives because they hate themselves so much for what they are not. Other people are not so dichotomous and strive toward perfection, but punish themselves when they fail. Like people who have very rigid eating regimens and so if they eat something off their plan they binge, and figure they’ll start all over again the next day. Or they might punish themselves by purging or doing excruciating exercise.

Letting go of the myth of perfection is not easy. So many folks have their heads wrapped around that goal that they believe their lives will be meaningless without it.

  • Remember that perfection is a myth. No one is meant to be perfect, that’s not the way life is. We evolve, learn and grow. Nobody can sit down having never played the piano before and play a perfect concerto. You must start from scratch, learn, practice, and make mistakes.
  • If you never made any mistakes, you would never learn anything. Mistakes are the way we learn. If you can learn from your mistakes rather than making the same mistake over and over again without learning anything, you are evolving.
  • Perfection is not a human or even animal trait. There is no such thing as perfection. That’s not why we exist on this planet. Of course  I don’t know why we exist, but I’m betting that being perfect is not at the top of the list. Especially considering that it’s so subjective.
  • Life is not exciting when our goal is to be perfect because we are unable to take in the intricacies of life. We become so stressed out when we “mess up” that we aren’t able to appreciate what is happening in the moment.
  • Having personal goals and striving toward them is crucial for happiness and joy. However, if the end goal is so rigid, the journey there won’t be enjoyable. The end goal might not even be attained, but what you can learn as you travel through can be more enlightening than what you even set out to achieve.
  • If you find yourself paralyzed, try to take one small step forward. Rather than thinking that you can’t do this overwhelming task perfectly, make small goals that will enable you to move forward.  For example, If you think that you have 200 pounds to lose, that’s very daunting and probably very difficult to begin. However, if your goal is something less daunting, like “try a new vegetable once a week” or “try and get some movement in every day” or “eat at least one fresh fruit and one fresh vegetable each day,” or “make an appointment with a nutritionist” you will find that it’s not too daunting. And if you go a day without getting movement or without eating a fresh fruit, you can always make up for it the next day, rather than thinking, “this is too hard, I can’t do it, I’ll just have to give up.”  It’s possible that you might not reach your end goal, but that’s okay. Your end goal is really health and by integrating changes, you will find improved health.  If you have a very messy house that seems overwhelming to clean, just do one drawer or one surface at a time. It might take you many weeks or months to complete the task, but cleaning one drawer or one section of your closet, or one corner of a room is a lot more doable than cleaning a whole house.
  • Rather than striving for perfection, think about what you can do each day that helps you to be the person that you like. Think about the things that you do that make you like yourself and try to do more of it.  You don’t want to do an overhaul and completely change the person you are, that’s a recipe for self defeatism and self deprecation, not to mention a complete self esteem killer.

Being who you are is what makes you perfect. No one can be a more perfect version of you than you.

Bingeing Consciously

I was reading this post by Chevese Underhill Turner, the founder of BEDA (Binge Eating Disorder Association) and remembered why binge eating is such an incredibly useful coping tool.  Binge eating is one of the quickest, easiest ways to completely shut down without going to sleep or taking a drug.  It’s not that different for many people than getting high or getting drunk. It’s another way to  turn your brain off and keep you from being in the now. But what if you were to binge consciously? What would that do?  What would it be like if you could feel the food in your hand, taste the food in your mouth, feel the food going down your esophagus, your digestive processes beginning to take place… What it would it be like to binge consciously? What do you think you would notice?  Do you think it would serve the same purpose or help you in the same way that it used to? Do you think it would be hard? What emotions do you think you would feel? What bodily sensations would you experience?

If you should find yourself in the middle of a binge, here is a challenge to bring yourself into consciousness. It doesn’t mean you have to stop, just try to be present and see what that feels like.  One of the amazing things about being present is that you become more aware of your feelings and your actions. When you have that awareness, the choice becomes yours. Binges feel so unconscious and so driven by a compulsive desire that feels outside of you.  I hear many people report that they didn’t even know that they were bingeing until they were in the middle of it. They kind of just woke up halfway through an eating frenzy and barely knew how they got there… it just kind of happened. That’s okay. The first step to being conscious is to notice when you catch yourself doing something. Rather than let yourself zone out to continue, pull yourself back and watch yourself with empathy, compassion, and curiosity. Notice what you are doing and what you are feeling. As you continue this level of awareness, you will find an amazing thing… Your bingeing will begin to decrease. Not magically, but because when you are conscious, you have choice, you can choose to use the tools that you have to deal with what you are feeling.