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This question, from Alex was submitted through the comments section in response to a question about binge eating at night. 

Question:

I do have this same problem. I actually use to weigh 280 pounds with a size 48 waist. Then I started taking MMA (mixed martial arts) and got my diet and weight lifting down to a science with one of my great friends who is also a nutritionist. I dieted and worked out perfectly for about 2 years. I ended up getting down to 178 pounds and had a 32 size waist, abs and all. I loved it and i was so happy. Then I tried to take a break from the dieting part but still continued to exercise. I didn’t even diet that poorly and about 3 months or so later I weighed 212 pounds! So i hit the dieting again hard and got back down to where I am at now, about 180 pounds and 32 waist again. But now, its way harder for me to stick to my diet at night. I eat literally only turkey and vegetables all day every 3 hours and keep my calories under control, low carbs, and very high protein. I feel great all day and not lacking any energy even though my workouts take about 4 hours out of my day and they are high intense (lifting plus still taking MMA) But I CANT SLEEP UNLESS I EAT SOMETHING. not just anything, it has to be sweet and completely bad for me. Also anytime through the night I am up and eating or I will literally just lay there and toss and turn. I wake up in the morning feeling like crap. This is EVERY night and easily at least 1000 calories worth of junk throughout the night. I still do have calorie difference though. But working out 4 or 5 hours a day for such small losses of weight is killing me and I know its because of my night eating. It is definitely holding me back and I could really use some help on my problem. PLEASE!

Answer:

Alex, do see the post below this, I can’t stop eating carbs.  Your situation is so similar to this one. You once lost a whole lot of weight using a very low carbohydrate diet, and now you keep trying to get back on it.  There was an experiment some years ago, with rats. I don’t have a link to the study, but the gist of it was: They gave the rats a shock along with a piece of cheese. Then, after a few days, they gave the rats a shock without the cheese. The rats continued to go back for the cheese, but only got the shock. They never received the cheese again, but continued to risk the shock because of the memory of something they once had.   Now this behavior is incredibly human. People get something once or inconsistently and then spend the rest of their lives trying to get it back. This is where addiction models begin, and not just to a substance, but to a feeling, a process, an outcome, a person… It happens a lot with people. Someone treats someone horribly most of the time, but really wonderfully once in a while. The person clings to the once in a while and continues to go back for the possibility of being treated well.  An extremely low carb or restrictive diet is like an abusive relationship with an inconsistent person. There’s a honeymoon period with it. It works incredibly well at first, then you find that you’re never able to recreate those first results. Yet, you keep going back to it because you remember that time when you were able to lose all that weight. You think, “I am at fault here, if only I were able to eat just turkey and spinach and nothing else, I’d be where I wanted to be, I’m going to do it. I’m going to start tomorrow…”

But if you are exercising 4-5 hours a day, your body needs complex carbohydrates. It will be so hard to sleep at night unless you give yourself those carbs, but because your body is starving for them, you wind up bingeing on them. Your body is otherwise eating itself. You say that you are working out more to compensate for more food. But if you worked out less, you would need less food. This cycle seems so hard. Is it challenging to find time outside of your workouts or space inside of your mind that aren’t thoughts about food or resisting food?

You don’t need to binge on carbs every night, and you don’t certainly don’t need to start eating a high carbohydrate low protein diet. It’s not an either or prospect. However, you could be integrating lots more whole carbohydrates into your day. Turkey and vegetables won’t swing it in the long term, and you’ll probably continue to binge. I know that you did it for two years, but your body probably doesn’t want to go back there which is why you find yourself up at night eating.  You might find that you’re able to go back for a week or even a month, but your body will keep on coming back to bingeing as a way to compensate for the lack of calories and carbohydrates. A way to integrate good for your foods is to be having things like sweet potatoes, yams, fruit (lots of fruit), and starchy vegetables during the day. You need to balance your diet out. More carbohydrates during the day means less carbohydrates at night. And, as I said below, no one ever got fat by eating a yam. Or even a baked potato.

1.)Integrate whole carbohydrates during the day. If you are worried about processed foods, shop in the produce aisle. You can have plenty of foods that will help rebuild your body. Think yams, potatoes, mangoes, apples, bananas, peaches, apricots, nuts, beans.

2.)Try to wind down at night. There are things that you can do, such as meditate or take a bath that will calm your body down enough to help you get to sleep. You might want to try a guided visualization to keep you on your game with food.  You might also do something like soak in Epson Salt bath to relax both body and mind.

3.)Stop weighing and measuring yourself and use your milestones with MMA to monitor your progress.

4.)Try to work out less. Unless you are training professionally and have a staff to help take care of your body (physical therapist, sports med doctor, etc.) you might be overdoing it and your body will be begging for more fuel.

5.)Be kind to yourself. It sounds like you’re really harsh with yourself, and at night, when you’re tired and your defenses are down, that part of you that is like a Drill Sergeant, so disciplined and constantly self flagellating, is not on his game, so the part of you that needs to be taken care of and to be treated kindly sneaks out and binges. Try to create some moderation and evenness. Bring more levity and fun into your life. Do things that are fun but meaningless in the long term (like reading a mindless book or magazine). Integrate some kindness and some breaks for yourself into your day. I understand that you love MMA and have been really enjoying your new lifestyle, but I’d encourage you to do other fun things and allow yourself to enjoy your life! Bringing a bit of joy can really reduce stress and just make you overall happier and lighter.

I do hope that this has answered your question a bit and you’ve found this 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.

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    Question: How do I stop using food for “entertainment”?? It seems like I can’t stop thinking about food or eating food. I need help!! Thanks!

  • Leora Fulvio

    Hi Sunshine– because of the obsession, I would really encourage you to see a therapist to talk through your intense desires to eat constantly. There might be something that you’re avoiding, along with a very real addiction to the act of eating.

    • sunshine

      Thankyou for your reply. I actually had a counseling session tonight and she gave me some things to work on. Thank so much for taking the time to reply, I do appreciate you blog!!

  • Alex

    Thank you! You have answered a few of my questions. It has been a couple weeks and I ‘Confessed” to my over eating to my neutrionist. He gave me the same advice actually, but by me confessing it and letting it be out there for some reason that has taking SO much stress out of my life and in return I find myself staying on track. But to answer your question, YES! it is still really hard for me to not think about food and think other entertainment. My social life has greatly decreased sence every single one of my friends are blessed with the most amazing matabolism it is hard for me to go hang out with them cause they love to eat, and i do too but its hard for me to order a grilled chicken salad and watch them down bacon cheese burgers. But im serious, I want to throw this out there for other people. It made me VERY stressed to hide my eating disorder but once I put it out there it was WAY easier. thank you again for replying to me and I will try to add those diffrent foods into my diet. Ill post back in a couple weeks and let you know how it went.

  • Leora Fulvio

    Great point Alex. It’s so, so important to get support. Eating disorders thrive in isolation. When the light is shined on the monster, it loses its power.

  • Beavis

    I’m learning more about this because its affecting me.
    Growing up, i was the fat kid that got made of. 8th grade i was 190 punds, 5 foot 2tall or so. Well puberty hit finally and by the end of my sophomore year i was 135 pounds, 6 foot tall. Lean, muscular, athletic. I became addicted to this image. And to holding this image. I stayed that until college then I’m back up to 180. I’m uncomfortable and no.matter how hard i try to diet, the nights kill it.i cannot sleep without eating anything small..as soon as i make a big enough snack, im usually okay with passing out promptly. If i didnt, i would toss and turn all night until i finally fed myself. I work decent hours, fairly active and no soda. I get out a little late at night, but i skip breakfast, eat lunch when i go to work and have my supper right before sleeping.

  • Minnesota Janet

    I didn’t realise I had an eating disordering until I tried to get into a weight loss study last month and was disqualified after the questionaire revealed I had a binge eating disorder, specifically at night. I eat at night because I can’t sleep, and because I always feel hungry – even though I eat well during the day. I am going to try something radical – disconnecting my tv. I never used to watch so much and used to go dancing a lot. Now I’m embarassed by how I look and I know the other dancers gossip about how much weight I’ve gained. (Someone inadvertantly told me). The other thing I need to try is finding a way to get to sleep. I’m adding melatonin and a sleeping herbal pill to my routine starting today. I will also try and give up my morning coffee. I feel I need to do something drastic to change this pattern! Nothing else has worked.