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Friday Q&A – I Can’t Stop Eating at Night


Q & A Friday

Today’s question is a pretty common one: 

Question:

Dear Leora,

My problem is that I do awesome all day, I don’t binge at all and I eat three solid meals and I exercise moderately, I’m not restricting, I’m not dieting… none of that.  Night times suck though. I’ve finished eating, I’m not hungry at all, I sit down and put on Netflix and before I know it, I’m at the refrigerator. First it’s a piece of cake or some ice cream or a bowl of cereal, and then I’m up again. I’m up and down about ten times and I can’t stop myself. Before I know it, it’s after 10,  I’m totally full, I’m nauseous and I go to sleep depressed. What am I going to do? Can you help me?

-Karen from New Orleans

Answer

Hi Karen,

You are not alone.  This evening eating is definitely a tough one for many people who have binge eating issues. There are a few different ways to go about it. First off, we have to consider what is going on at night.

1. There are some theories that for some people, serotonin dips at night and so they binge eat to help them raise their serotonin levels. Eating high carbohydrate foods increases serotonin levels because it makes tryptophan more readily available which is an amino acid which is a pre-cursor to serotonin. Other ways to naturally increase serotonin levels are to eat tryptophan rich foods– which would be a glass of (full fat) milk, pumpkin seeds, mozzarella cheese or turkey. Here is a list of high tryptophan foods.

Another possibility is to talk to your health care provider about taking a supplement such as 5-HTP or Tryptophan which are both amino acids that are precursors to serotonin. These can help you relax in the evening when you have that anxious need to binge. Definitely check with your doctor before taking these, especially if you are already on an anti-depressant or other medication.

2. Your pattern seems habitual also. In the evenings you have a routine. You have become habituated to bingeing at night to help you get to sleep. So in some sense, you have to let yourself be uncomfortable for a while as you break that habit. Ways to break habits including interrupting your routine. And for that, you need to make a plan and put effort into it. For instance, if you want to start a new habit of going to the gym every morning, it’s much easier to do that if you put your gym clothes out at night and pack your gym bag before you go to sleep. Then in the morning, it’s much easier to follow the breadcrumbs of getting up and going.  So, think about other ways to break up your routine after diner. For instance, instead of sitting on the couch watching Netflix, perhaps you can get into a bath with epsom salts (this is my very favorite thing to do at night) or lay down in your room and read a book. Make sure that’s all set up for you– that’s how you can follow the breadcrumbs– put the epsom salts in the bathroom, put the book on your bed. Or, you can make plans ahead of time to meet someone after dinner or have a phone/Skype date planned. You definitely want to something that breaks up the routine of the things that you had previously been doing.  You also want to make sure that you have the plan in place ahead of time, otherwise you’re more likely to follow the path (routine) that you’re used to.

3. Look underneath the habit and think about what it is that you are trying to gain by bingeing. Are you actually hungry? Did you not eat enough that day? Are you trying to calm down your body and mind? Are you trying to quell anxiety? The truth of the matter is that most addictive behaviors are used to try to manage anxiety. So think about other ways that you can let go of anxiety in the present. Because eating is a sensory experience, doing things that involve moving your body reduce anxiety and urges to binge. There are a few yoga poses that are easy and release anxiety.

The first is child’s pose which is super calming for both your mind and for your digestion:yoga to stop binge eating

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then there is Viparita Karani (legs up on the wall) as simple as it sounds which good for reducing anxiety, depression and insomnia:

yoga for binge eating

 

 

 

 

I also recommend checking out 10 Ways To Shut Down at Night without Binge Eating.  Try some of these things out and let me know how you’re doing. If things don’t improve, email me again and we’ll brainstorm.

I hope that this response was helpful for you. Do you have a question about binge eating, bulimia, anorexia, or anything associated with eating? 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. Are you interested in online therapy or coaching to deal with your eating disorder? Please contact me to discuss getting started. 

Overeaters Anonymous- The Good, The Bad & The Crazy

Does OA work?

“I don’t eat no matter what… “

or 

IDENMW as they say in certain OA and FA circles.  

I have an extremely complicated history and relationship with both Food Addict Anonymous and Overeaters Anonymous, both as a clinician who treats eating disorders and as a past member. A lot of people ask me “Does Overeaters Anonymous work?” It’s definitely not black and white. It “works” for some but not for others- but you have to define what “works” means.  I want to share with you some of my personal history with it. 

 

My First Experience with OA

Back in the 1990’s,  when we were flannel clad teenagers, my friend Melissa and I sat in a field discussing when we would be able to go off our diets. We’d been drinking Diet Coke since our Bat Mitzvahs and trying to lose weight for longer than that. “Will we ever get there?” we wondered. Our mothers, both in their early 40’s at the time were still dieting. Thin, but dieting. Always dieting. When will it be done?  Doesn’t it seem like dieting should have some defined end? Like that you go on a diet for 6 months, lose your 10 pounds and then you’re not on a diet anymore? But no, we were always dieting, and our mothers- always dieting, and our mothers friends- always dieting and our Aunts and cousins and friends’ mothers – always dieting. It didn’t end.  And so when Melissa ended up dieting herself into a nasty bingeing and purging habit that lasted years, her therapist insisted that she join Overeaters Anonymous to cure her. “It worked.” I say it that way because it worked in the sense that she stopped bingeing and purging. She also finally lost the 10 pounds. Plus more. In fact, at 5’7″ she wound up weighing less than 100 pounds, losing her period and growing a nice coat of *lanugo all over her arms and legs.

I asked her if she was eating and she said, “Oh my god, I eat a ton! Lots of fat and oil and vegetables, and meat. It’s great.”

And then one day, after exactly 478 days of “abstinence”  she binged.

And it wasn’t just a binge- it was a binge that brought down the skies and the heavens and the thunders- one of biblical proportions where hours ran into days ran into weeks ran into months. She stopped answering her phone, she stopped leaving her house except at night to go to the 24 hour grocery store to buy binge foods, she stopped going to work and to school…  It was a binge that cost thousands of dollars,  that clogged her toilet with vomit and it was a binge that hit her with a force that felt unbeatable. She was crushing under the weight of it. She couldn’t stop bingeing, she couldn’t stop purging, she couldn’t stop running to the store to buy more binge foods. She put on 70 pounds in 6 weeks.  “Fuck,” she told me, *”I need help.”

That’s where her relationship with OA ended. Her friends and sponsor dropped her, she couldn’t get back to where she was and she hated herself. She wound up back in treatment but this time without OA. 

My next was sometime right after college.  Although I was no longer dieting, no longer restricting, no longer controlling my food, I still felt trapped in thinking too much about weight, body image and calories. It was making me crazy and I wanted it to stop. I longed to feel peaceful around food and embrace my body. A friend of mine who I respected enormously told me that she had found deep recovery in FA, that she no longer had any desire to count calories, hadn’t binged or purged in over a decade and really felt comfortable in her body. She said she just didn’t worry about anything food related. I wanted what she had. So, together, we went to her home meeting where she  introduced me to  my new sponsor, Kate. When Kate first met me, she looked me up and down, sneered and said, “you’re not fat, why are you here?” I explained to her that I wanted peace around food and my body image. I didn’t want to worry about calories and I was sick of unintentionally doing math in my head all day long- that it was stressful and I just wanted to be free. She gave me a food plan and she assured me that it would cure me but said that  I had to buy an electronic food scale, an electronic human scale, weigh and measure every morsel that I ate and call her at 6am each morning and report my weight and my food into her. I explained to her that I didn’t want to be on a food plan and I didn’t like to weigh myself. She told me that this was the way that I could have the recovery that I wanted without being willful or being stuck in my disease. She said that the food plan was the way out- but that I had to follow it perfectly otherwise it wouldn’t work. She told me that there was a line of people waiting to be her sponsee so if I didn’t want help and I didn’t want to recover and if I wanted to spend the rest of my life a compulsive overeater that it was fine, that I should leave.  I felt ashamed and embarrassed. Rather than finding a different sponsor (now I know) I  decided to work with Kate, because after all, it was the only way and she had lines of people behind me begging her to be their sponsor. She must be right. 

The first day on my meal plan,  I was so hungry that I ate an extra apple between breakfast and lunch. Kate scolded me and told me that it showed a defect of character. If I was hungry I needed to drink black coffee, black tea, diet coke or chew sugar free gum.  Each night I went to bed feeling starved, with my hands on my belly feeling my ribs for inspiration and saying “I don’t eat no matter what- I don’t eat no matter what…” as I tried desperately to go to sleep. My eating disorder hands and eyes were reactivated as I felt the outlines of my bones and stepped on the scale every morning. The obsession was familiar and it was easy. It was easy to get pulled back into that vortex. Only this time, my Eating Disorder wasn’t inside my head- it was Kate. I’d allowed her to be the voice of Ed- dictating my behaviors for me and shaming me if I went off program by taking a bite of a carrot while I was prepping my lunch – and sending me back to day 1. I felt like Sisyphus.

I drank gallons of diet coke each day and chewed packs of sugar free gum. My stomach swelled up from the aspartame and carbonation- I wasn’t able to run or swim or exercise at all- I found myself breathless,  my thought process was often slowed down and to be frank, I hated my sponsor.  It was this one day that I was sitting there and more than anything I wanted to put some milk into my tea. My stomach was so bloated and I was so hungry. I called my sponsor to tell her how stressed out I was- how I wanted to go for a run but I had no energy, that I wanted to hang out with my friends but they were going out to a cafe and I couldn’t sit around all that latte’s without wanting one,  that I was depressed, that I hated the way I felt. She told me that I should be grateful for being abstinent, that I shouldn’t think about running or socializing or exercise, that it was the time to figure out my food shit, to go to a meeting, that my complaining was showing a defect of character. I just wanted to put some goddamned milk in my tea. And that’s when I realized it, this group was insane and it was driving me crazy as well. I knew that putting milk in my tea wasn’t worse than drinking liters and liters of diet coke a day. Yet in this sect of FA- putting milk in my tea meant I had a character defect, but drinking liters of diet coke every day was okay- chewing gobs of gum was okay.  Honestly – there wasn’t much payoff for me- Besides an initial couple of pounds, I wasn’t losing much weight at all- which in retrospect, I understand was a good thing- my body was at a healthy weight and my metabolism had slowed way down to compensate for the restriction of calories- the numbers in my mind had only gotten worse. I called Kate and told her that was leaving the program that moment.

Being an FA drop out was a no-brainer for me. But it’s not like that for everybody. 

I have seen people go in and lose 100’s of pounds for the first time in their lives- and then feel like they owed that organization their life. But when they decided to go off plan or put weight back on (which lots of folks do) all the people who supported them, the most important people in their lives turned their back on them, shamed them. Made them feel like they were bad people. Because they ate cake or because they wanted something different. I’ve seen women who haven’t had periods for years- and have that be supported by the group, with many women telling them, “yeah, that’s normal, nobody here gets their period…”  In some cases of OA- eating disorders are supported and it just becomes a huge support for ED under the cloak of recovery. 

And that’s part of what makes OA and FA so confusing. 

My next experience with OA was when I was a graduate student in Psychology learning how to treat Eating Disorders. I interned at an Intensive Outpatient Treatment Center for women with Eating Disorders. The protocol was that every client needed to go to 3 OA meetings a week- no arguments – or they were out of treatment. It was rough. Although many clients were  getting amazing recovery, finding lots of support and fellowship in the rooms,  some were feeling traumatized, pained and so wounded by the program, but they couldn’t leave otherwise they’d be kicked out of treatment and then where would they go? It was definitely extremely difficult to watch and be a part of. I knew how wounding OA could be and I saw that their choices were being taken away from them. Sometimes in recovery, taking away choices is liberating- that way the patient has nothing to focus on except themselves, but other times it is extremely harmful. No two people or recovery stories looks the same so you have to find what works for you – for your mind, body and spirit wholly. 

My own personal experience with FA had really skewed my feelings about the fellowship. The problem is that FA and often Overeaters Anonymous tells people how to eat and teaches them not to trust their instincts. And that’s really the concept that they are coming from, “you are a compulsive eater and so you can’t trust your instincts because your instincts will always be to overeat.” This is a cognitive distortion known as emotional reasoning.  You believe something to be true and so it is.

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.”
Henry Ford

You believe that you cannot stop after one bite of chocolate – or that if you eat flour or sugar- it will lead you to binge eat and you’ll never be able to stop, so the best thing to do is not eat it at all. This belief triggers black and white thinking for most.

In OA- where people count days of “abstinence” from their drug of choice (food), they have to start their day count all over again if they eat even a cracker or a slice of white bread. So, let’s say you were in OA and you had 100 days off of sugar and flour. Then one day you had a small bite of birthday cake. You would have to start on day one the next day- so you ruined your abstinence already- why wouldn’t you go to the store and buy a gallon of ice cream and cake- you’ve ruined your abstinence and have to start on day one tomorrow anyway. OA is a huge setup for binge eating. They will tell you that you cannot eat birthday cake because it will trigger a binge for you. You then believe that one bite of sugar will trigger a binge for you and so it does. And it should because your belief is that your day count is ruined and after today you won’t be able to have any cake again, so you might as well binge on all the cake you can. See what I’m getting at? Certain sects of OA keeps people in huge diet mentality and shames them (it’s a defect of character) if they eat off program. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. You think that one bite of white bread or a bite of birthday cake will lead to a gigantic binge and so it does- and all the parameters for that to happen are set up in the OA infrastructure.  And then, a binge eating habit or disorder gets activated.

I’ve had hundreds of clients over the years come in both damaged and traumatized by groups like OA, Greysheets, HOW, and Food Addicts Anonymous. They are in a place where they can’t stop bingeing and they are feeling shamed and angry at themselves. They just want to get their abstinence back- but they can’t. They can do 10 days or 2 weeks – but they seem to just not be able to get to that multi-year abstinence that “everyone else” has. Oh yeah, that’s the other thing- they somehow believe that they are alone in their struggles with OA.  They believe that they are the only ones and that they are bad. The feel ashamed. OA then becomes their own inner critic and often takes the place of their own over-critical parent.  It’s retraumatizing. They’ve given their own inner critic an office and a team. And the worst part is feeling totally alone, without your tribe, your village.  If you are someone who feels  this way, you are not alone. I see multiple OA/FA drop outs each year who have scars and trauma from the fellowship, who have been rejected by this “family” because they cannot get their abstinence back. You are not alone. If you are not comfortable with the group and you have an instinct that something is wrong, their probably is. 

But is there any good to OA? 

YES! Definitely. OA is a fellowship where you can find other folks struggling with the same issues that  you are. One of the best things that you can do for recovery is get support and OA definitely has support. There are some amazing OA groups out there- where you will find smart, kind people who want to help you recover spiritually and not make it all about the food.   There are some people who have life long amazing recovery in the rooms.  Though I’ve seen people find pain in OA, I’ve also seen people find amazing recovery. There are some really amazing fellowships out there that don’t rely on food plans, or rigid rules. You have to find what works for you. As they say, take what you need and leave the rest.

If you want to find some recovery in OA here are my suggestions- this is what I’ve seen that really helps people recover in OA.  

1. Don’t define your abstinence as abstinence from a food. Define it as abstinence from a process. For example: Abstinent from obsessing about food and calories. Abstinent from dieting. Abstinent from bingeing. But never abstinent from flour or sugar or anything like that. That puts you right back into diet mode. 

2. Find a sponsor who will work on you with your steps – but not with a food plan- don’t call your food into anyone. If you need a food plan for recovery- please see a registered dietician who specializes in treating eating disorders. Find one here or here.

3. Find like minded people who report a recovery of self love, kindness and  a mind body and spirit connection. Try to stay away from the weight loss and dieting parts of OA. 

4. Go to several different meetings until you find one that really resonates with you. 

5. Consider eating disorders anonymous as well. Their principals are more aligned with eating disorders as a process and dieting as part of that process.

6. Understand that everyone is doing the best that they can– have compassion for everyone around you and honor their process. Don’t judge people’s choices in OA nor their relapses, it’s always important to have oodles and oodles of compassion for yourself and for those around you. Honoring your own process might mean that your needs change at different times.  

The situation is not black and white. There are many people who have found complete peace with food and their body image in OA- however there are as many who have not. If it feels right and good and your are happy- stay. But if it feels bad – listen to your instincts. You have everything you need inside of you to know what you need. 

Articles about OA worth reading.

Why OA Doesn’t Work

Why I left Overeaters Anonymous

Inside Overeaters Anonymous

Power, Control, & Overeaters Anonymous

How Overeaters Anonymous Saved Me

Using OA after Bariatric Surgery

 

 

*Lanugo is soft light blond peach fuzz that grows on women who have anorexia

*After years of treatment, both in patient and therapy- her bulimia is in full remission, she is on the other side of recovery and she’s a successful surgeon.

10 Ways to Train your Brain to Stop Overeating

10 Ways to Train your Brain to Stop Overeating

top ten ways to train your brain

train your brain to stop overeating

 

You know how sometimes it’s not even noon but you know that you are going to have a binge when you get home from work that night? You begin planning it, thinking about what stores you’re going to go to, what foods you’re going to get, where you are going to eat it, what you’re going to do when you eat it, what it will feel like in your mouth, what you will be doing while you’re bingeing (will you be watching television? will you be searching the web? will you be on the phone? or will you just be sitting alone with the food?) You begin to get excited and your amygdala (the part of your brain responsible for emotional reaction) lights up with excitement. Just the anticipation and desire of a binge creates activity in your brain that basically brings you to the binge. So your actual binge starts about hours, sometimes even days before the binge starts. It’s those first thoughts about it, the anticipation which just carries itself and basically makes you feel as though you don’t have a choice. The thoughts of bingeing carry you straight to your binge. But that’s not the only thing that the anticipation does. Just think about food and you flood dopamine into your nucleus accumbens (the pleasure center of the brain) which then excites you, calms you and motivates you to go for the food that you are thinking about.  Just like the drug addict who starts to think about cocaine which then motivates them to score their drug of choice despite whatever dangers lurk. So, not only are you addicted to the binge, and those pleasurable feelings that come with it, but you are actually addicted to the process of bingeing, the thoughts about food, the plans that you make to get food, the thoughts about food. Each thought that you have has a biochemical reaction.

Which makes quitting binge eating as difficult (or more difficult) than quitting heroin or cocaine. When food is your drug of choice, you can’t just stop eating, you have to learn to stop overeating and stop abusing food.

SO HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH THE ADDICTION PIECE OF ALL THIS IN ORDER TO STOP OVEREATING?

When you first have those thoughts and the pleasure center in your brain begins to light up with anticipation (it’s not unlike the process of flirting, or hooking up with someone pre-sex or orgasm), it feels as though it’s over. You’re going to binge. However, when you check in with yourself and say, “oh yeah, there are those thoughts again, I’m planning my binge…” you can slow yourself down. You can tell yourself that just because you are planning your binge, doesn’t mean that you have to go through with it. Just because the process part of the addiction has begun does not mean that you have to go through with it. Remember, this is the SAME EXACT function that cocaine addicts go through before they score their drug, it’s the same process that sex addicts go through when they are looking for a prostitute, it’s the same process that gambling addicts go through when they are selling their wedding ring for money to put in a slot machine.

So what we want to do here is slow your brain waaaayyyy down. Even though it’s just noon and you are at work in front of your computer, your mind is at home in the refrigerator or in front of the television with a pizza.

So what can you do?

1. First, recognize “oh, I’m having THOSE thoughts again…” And say it out loud, “there is that urge to binge…”

2. Remind yourself, “I’m not in the middle of the binge yet, I’m right here at my desk.”

3. Ground yourself, look at your feet on the floor, look at your hands, put your hand over your heart and breath into your belly. Be where you are, not where your mind is taking you.

4. Remind yourself why you don’t want to be on the other side of the binge. Think to yourself, “I don’t want to be in bed tonight with my belly hurting, feeling bloated and uncomfortable, I don’t want to wake up tomorrow morning feeling bad.” Then let yourself feel those bad feelings of how you feel after a binge. Reliving them will be a deterrent for you.

5. Think about alternatives, think about what it would be like to wake up the next morning without a binge, let that process excite your mind. Imagine yourself eating a healthy dinner in a healthy way and see yourself in bed that night feeling comfortable and waking up the next morning with a spring in your step.

6. Plan something equally relaxing for that evening ie: date with friend, bubble bath, taking a long walk outside while listening to music or podcast

7. Call someone and tell them that you have a binge planned and you don’t want to go through with it.

8. Get on the forum and ask for support.

9. Remind yourself that you have a choice. It doesn’t feel like you do, but you do, the thoughts and the desire can’t make you binge, they are just thoughts and desire. You have thoughts and desires a million times a day that you don’t act on.

10. Calm your brain down and slow down your thinking with deep breathing and meditation.

Eating disorders are notoriously rough because they hit you on lots of different levels, process addiction, food/sugar addiction, trauma relief, bad habit… there are a million different reasons that people binge, but if you can bring some mindfulness into the equation, you have an amazing chance of not only being able to stop overeating over and over, but also from recovering and not having to deal with the urges and the pain of bingeing anymore.

Recovery Is Not Linear

how to recover from binge eating

I talk to lots of people every day who are really anxious to recover from their binge eating. They want to do it now. They want to do it yesterday. They are so angry at themselves. And they keep getting into a place of, “oh I messed up. Oh I ate the wrong thing. Oh I binged…” and feeling like they are no longer in recovery if they binged.  This is not recovery. This is diet mentality. When you diet you are on a rigid plan and if you eat off plan, you’ve messed up your diet. You’ve cheated. You can’t cheat on recovery. Because you are part of recovery. Recovery is not a boyfriend that you cheat on and then hate yourself for. Recovery is not a diet that you go on and then mess up and hate yourself. Recovery is not about food. Recovery is about healing. That’s it.  And healing includes not beating yourself up when you eat something that you didn’t plan to or if you binge. Recovery is not about losing weight, obsessing on numbers on the scale or on your jeans. Recovery is about bringing light to yourself. It’s about becoming expansive. It’s about looking away from food and bringing joy back to your life. It’s about becoming lighter emotionally and not carrying so many burdens. It’s about loving yourself and not hating yourself. It’s about being your own best friend.

I was talking to a friend of mine yesterday, another eating disorder therapist who trained at the same ED clinic that I did. We discussed how the focus of losing weight will keep you in the disorder.  The focus has to change to recovery. The focus has to change on gaining, not losing. Gaining strength, gaining health, gaining peace. What would that be like? Can you stop for a moment and imagine what it would be like feel lighter? And by lighter I mean to drop all of those negative beliefs that you have about yourself? Like, “I have to lose weight, I’m bad, I’m fat, I’m disgusting, I’m shameful, I’m a pig…” etc. All those really mean thoughts you have about yourself. Can you imagine what it would be like to just drop them? To take them out of your head for just one minute and be with, “who I am right now in this very moment is fine…” and then just see yourself walking down the street with a glow? Smiling? Feeling good about who you are without having to change first?   Because you know what… that’s what recovery is. It’s about feeling strong and loving who you are.

And the irony is, that when that happens, you will find that you are bingeing less. Why? Because you’re not sitting there and beating yourself up. Because your inner critic isn’t driving you to eat. Because you will have better things to do with yourself than obsess on your calorie count.

When you treat recovery like a diet, each “failure” feels catastrophic and painful and you feel like you slip backward with every indiscretion around food. But when you just keep going forward and continue with recovery activities, which have to be centered around self-kindness, you will find recovery just sneaking up on you. One day you will wake up and say, “Oh, I really want to go out and binge. Interesting…” but you won’t have the drive or motivation to act on that urge because you will have too much love and respect for yourself to harm yourself with food. know that this is the truth. I know because I’ve seen it again and again and I’ve been there.  When you are in recovery, your compulsions are like noise, but not noise that you have to pay attention to, background noise that eventually fades.

Pick one kind thing to do for yourself tonight.
Choose some kind words for yourself.
And if you binge, forgive yourself and move forward. Recovery is one foot in front of the other. Moving slowly, moving kindly and moving with support and love. You are not alone.

Dealing with Deeply Ingrained Beliefs

why do i feel so worthless

I was talking to one of my long-term clients yesterday who is just SO. DAMN. TIRED. And she feels like the only thing she can do is stand in front of her refrigerator and binge eat. Of course she is tired, she has a part-time job in the healthcare field and she has a 6-month old baby at home. In discussing ways that she can delegate and get some rest sometimes, what came out is that she is afraid to delegate. She doesn’t want anyone holding her baby, doing her charting, washing the dishes, cleaning her house, anything else. Why? Not because she has control issues, but because she wants to be seen as indispensable. She is afraid that if she were not “pulling her weight” and being the best she could be, that she would be replaced. That she would be fired and replaced at work, that she would be left and replaced by her partner and that she would be rejected and replaced by her baby.  Meanwhile she’s in so much physical pain that she can’t walk and she’s so stressed out that she finds herself bingeing constantly. It’s not rational, right? Obviously her baby isn’t going to find a new Mommy if she lets someone hold him and rock him while she takes a bath. Obviously her partner is not going to leave her if the house isn’t perfectly clean. Obviously as a top provider in her field, she’s not going to be fired if she takes a lunch break.  But core wounds are not rational. This woman’s Dad left her and her Mom, and replaced them with a new family. He did that again to his new family, and he did that one more time. So, somewhere in her brain she felt that she was easily replaced. Clearly this was her Dad’s issue, he was the problem- he was nomadic, didn’t know how to stay put, didn’t know how to be close to those who loved him. But it’s incredible how one person’s problems set off a chain reaction, isn’t it? Even though him being a chronic abandoner had nothing to do with her, in her little girl brain, she believed that it was her fault which somehow made her into a hyperfunctioning adult who has a million balls in the air and never allows one to drop. To the detriment of everything inside her. And obviously this takes a toll not just on herself but on those around her. No one wants a stressed out Mama or wife. Even though she felt like getting a massage would be selfish and taking care of herself and delegating responsibility to others  would be selfish and risky, she has come to understand that it’s not true. It’s her core wound that is telling her that. In reality, if she were to have some self-care rituals, she might alleviate the stress and have more ease to her life. The people around her might also feel more ease. 

So what about you? What core issues do you have that are keeping you from living your life in a more comfortable way? What is your “original myth?” Hers was “I am replaceable…”  
or “I have to be better than everybody else so that I’m not abandoned…” Other original myths I’ve heard are:
“Who I am is not loveable, so I always have to do more. I can’t be a human being, I have to be a human doing…” or
“I am worthless…”
“I don’t have the kind of money that other people have and never will…” 
“No one will ever love me…”
“I am too needy…”
“I am too much for people…”


What we have to remember is that these original myths were formed when we were children because of something that was going on around us that had nothing to do with us. But as children, we can’t step outside ourselves and analyze our world. We see everything as an extension of ourselves and then the stories become ingrained. 

Questions to ask yourself:

“What around me stressful when I was a child?” 
“Who was anxious?”
“Who was angry?” 
“Who said or did hurtful things?” 
“How did that stay with me?”
“How did that create my original myth?”
“How is this still with me?”
“How can I remind myself that it’s not real?”

As you ask yourself these questions, you might come to find that you are able to loosen your grip on certain behaviors that keep you tired and stressed out. 

Is it Possible to Recover From Binge Eating Disorder on Your Own?

Overeaters Anonymous Support Groups

Overeaters Anonymous Support Groups

I received an email from a woman who is currently reading my book and she asked me the question, “do you think it’s possible to reach recovery on my own?”

It’s a really good question and one that I thought should be discussed in more depth on the blog. I know what the reader means by that, she means is it possible to stop binge eating without dealing with a therapist or a twelve step group, can I just read a book and recover. The simple answer is yes of course. In fact, when you read the rational recovery material, they discuss how every day, active alcoholics put down their drinks and make a choice never to drink again and they don’t. Many people who smoke cigarettes  quit cold turkey and never pick up the habit again. So yes, it’s certainly possible. In fact, one would argue that everyone recovers on their own- by their own will and with their own strength.

But you don’t have to. And that’s what you should know. Just because you can recover alone, doesn’t mean that you have to recover alone. Eating disorders thrive in isolation. You do your eating disorder all alone, so when you recover, it’s nice to get out of the shadows of the disorder and have someone their to hold your hand, support you and be there if you need extra support. My friend and colleague Nicole Laby (producer of Erasing Ed, which you should totally see if you can) always says, “eating disorders don’t form in a vacuum and so you shouldn’t have to recover in a vacuum.” What she means by that is that there are a million varying factors that come together to make an eating disorder. There is family, there is society, there are your friends at school, there are traumatic events, there are food manufacturers creating and marketing unhealthy substances that we seem to feel addicted to and use like drugs, all these things come together as a perfect little recipe for a dysfunctional relationship with food. Awesome. So because of this, it is often very comforting to have people around you who are on your side instead of on the eating disorder’s side. These are folks who understand what you are going through and who have been there themselves and want to help you and need support too.

I wrote Reclaiming Yourself to be like a pocket therapist for people who didn’t have the means for psychotherapy. However, in the book, I do suggest finding your own support network, be it a best friend or an online network, or a group. It doesn’t need to be a 12 step group, it can be a group of people you form yourself to just give each other love and support around not bingeing. I also created the 28 Day Recovery Program so that people could recover on their own but with support.  When you recover all by yourself, you miss out on the accolades and the love that you get from other people who are supporting you. When you recover with support, if you should fall down, you always have someone there with an outreached arm to hold your hand and perhaps pull you up rather than you being left to climb up and out on your own.  That being said, there is more than one way to recover. You have to find your recovery style and choose what works for you.  I recommend trying several different things, 12 step groups, rational recovery groups (SMART recovery), online support groups, blogs, tumblrs, meditation and mindfulness groups,  whatever. There are a billion ways to find help. Or try it alone and see how it goes. You don’t have to make a decision and then stick to it, experiment and figure out what works for you.

What worked best in your recovery?

Friday Q & A- I’ve tried everything to stop binge eating but I can’t

i can't stop binge eating and I don't know what to do nextQuestion:

Two years ago I was diagnosed with BED. Since, its only gotten worse. Especially these last 6 months. I’ve gone no more than 3 days in a row without binging. My binges are extreme: I mean eating until the point of illness. Stealing food from my housemates. Eating from a garbage. Spending bill money on binges. And the thing is I’ve tried everything. I’ve tried adding more protein. I’ve tried eating 3 meals a day. I tried eating every 2 hours. I’ve tried yoga, veganism, behavioural therapy, meditation. I’m scared. It’s ruining my life. It’s prevented me from studying, going out to eat with friends, ruined my relationship with my housemate, I even skipped an exam once because I was in bed sobbing from a binge.

What do I go from here?
Kristina
Answer:
Oh Kristina,
My heart is with you so strongly. I can hear how desperate you feel and how it just seems like you’re drowning under the weight of your own life. I can see what you have tried, all the different therapies, all the different ways of eating, but the one thing that you don’t mention is any kind of support group.  Meditation, behavioral changes, nutritional enhancement and yoga can all be helpful, but it might be that you cannot do it alone right now.  I often think that when an eating disorder is as pervasive and all -encompassing as your is, that it’s important to have others around to help you pull out of it. Your eating disorder is a strong  evil dictator. Alone you cannot beat an evil dictator, you need an army to come in and help you overthrow him.  My sense is that you shouldn’t be doing this alone.  You should try to find a treatment program – check Edreferral.  If you are not able to go into a treatment program due to money or time constraints, you should find a 12 step group like Eating Disorders Anonymous or if that group isn’t available, Overeaters Anonymous and really jump in. Go to a meeting, get a sponsor. Alone, it’s easy to fail, but when you have a support group, an army behind you, you can find your strength in others when you feel that you have no strength left. Binge eating is very possible to heal from. But sometimes, it’s hard to do it alone. Once you get some momentum and a whole group of people who want you to win, you might find healing to be a bit more gentle. As for  nutritional extremes such as veganism– when healing from an eating disorder, especially binge eating, it’s best not to put extreme restrictions on your eating as these often lead to binges. So, everything in moderation. No low carb, no going vegan, no extreme anything, just try to find a middle ground. Moderation is the opposite of bingeing.
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. Are you interested in online therapy to deal with your eating disorder? Please see my website or email me to discuss getting started. 

Try talking to your food!

natalie dee drawing archive: aug 2006

What if instead of being afraid of food or trying to control food or yourself, what if you made friends with food? What if he who was once the enemy became your friend?

If you have an eating disorder, you probably notice that a lot of what you deal with is fear. Fear of food, fear of parties with food, fear of being out in the world,  fear of what people think of you, fear of how you look or how other people see you, fear of being liked or not being liked, fear of being good enough, fear of pain or emotional hurt, fear of gaining weight, fear of losing weight, fear of fat, fear of eating, fear of not eating…

But what if you disempowered the fear of food by making friend with it?

The other day, a client of mine was telling me that after every public speaking event that she speaks at, she sits down alone  and eats an apple because she is so revved up and the apple helps her calm down. She said, “I know it’s just an apple, but still, I’m using food to dampen my feelings…”  But here’s the thing. Food IS nurturing.  It keeps you alive and nourishes your body. I asked her what it would be like to smile at that apple and say, “thank you for sitting with me and helping me to decompress after my event,” and then enjoy the apple.   We then took that a step further and discussed what it would be like to talk to her food all the time. Like say, “hey brownie, I really want to eat you, but I’m afraid you might lead to a binge…” and then listen to what the brownie had to say. Maybe it would say, “I think that today I’m going to lead you into a binge, so maybe you should just avoid me right now,” or maybe it would say, “Yes, sit down and eat me slowly, I’m not binge food today,” or maybe it would say, “Eat half of me now and half of me later!”  Or whatever it is.

This is obviously another exercise in mindfulness and intuitive eating, but it’s a fun way to embrace your food rather than fear it. It’s a way to think about what you’re putting in your mouth and a way to learn to create limits and boundaries around food.

So, next time you are ready to eat, sit down and check in with your food, “are you what’s healthy for me right now? if not, what do you think I need?”   Food is something that is here to sustain and love you. Your body deserves love and the food that you eat should be loving.  Try it!

 

A recovery story

I’ve been seeing *Emily in therapy for four years. She has written her recovery story and agreed to have it posted.

I actually remember the first time I binged and purged. I was in eighth grade and we were at Thanksgiving dinner at my grandparents’ house. My grandma used to make these huge elaborate meals, with like 5 or 6 different pies and all sorts of mashed potatoes and stuffing. My cousin Jenny, who is a year older than me, was there. She was like, everyone’s princess.  Everyone was soooo excited because Jenny had  made the cheerleading squad at her high school and she was in the homecoming court. Up until that year, me and Jenny had always sat there during Thanksgiving and giggle and eat all the pies together. But this year, she barely paid attention to me.  She wore these tight  jeans and kept her portions small. She was like a real teenager.  My mother looked at her admirably and said she was so proud of how beautiful Jenny had become. She also said that it was smart to watch her figure now that she was no longer a little girl. My mom then looked at me and said nothing as I scarfed down my third piece of pie. I had never really thought about it before. I mean that’s what we did on Thanksgiving. We ate my Grandma’s pies. Even my Grandma turned against me. “Eat less pie Emily! Be more like Jenny. Look how thin and gorgeous she is now!”  I felt horrible. My own (not name brand) jeans were unbuttoned to make room for my swollen belly and I felt how greasy my hair and skin had become.  After dinner, I excused myself to the bathroom and I don’t know how or why, but I began searching through the medicine cabinet. That’s when I saw the chocolate ex-lax. I knew what they did and I knew that I could use them to get rid of the pie. I don’t know how I knew to use them. I guess I’d heard of it somewhere… and so I took three pills. I remember thinking that I should take more than it said on the back, but I didn’t want anyone to notice that they were gone.  The laxatives kicked in that night. I sat up all night running to the bathroom. And although my stomach felt ravaged and I was in terrible pain, after my bathroom  trips, I would step on the scale and see how much weight I’d lost. It was amazing to me that the pounds were just dropping off. And that’s how it started.  Later that week, I made myself throw up after eating a milkshake and onion rings from Burger King.

And that was my descent into the dark years of bingeing, purging, taking laxatives, and starving myself. I kept trying to be more like my cousin Jenny who showed up at Thanksgiving every year more and more beautiful, with perfect grades, the captain of cheerleading, with a football player boyfriend. And me, I became more and more isolated. I had put on a lot of weight and I wore all black, smoked cigarettes and had kept my hair dyed black and pierced everything I could. I didn’t really have a boyfriend, though I did sleep with a lot of boys, but no one wanted to get serious with me. I kidded myself into thinking that I didn’t care. But I was depressed. Really depressed. I used to cut myself on the arms and legs sometimes, just so that I could emote because I felt, I believed that I was completely alone. My grandparents seemed to tolerate me, but didn’t have a lot of interest or pride in me. And my mother sort of seemed disgusted by me. She knew about my activities with boys and told me that I had no self-respect.  Food was a lot of what comforted me. I would eat full pizzas on my own after school and wash them down with diet cokes. I’d go days eating nothing, just drinking coffee and diet coke and eating pixie sticks to keep me going. Then I’d collapse, cut school and go to the donut store and eat a dozen donuts in the parking lot, wash them down with diet coke and laxatives, then throw up in the bathroom of the gas station, and then drive around town buying food to binge on and find gas station bathrooms to purge in.  I just wanted to be normal. I wanted to be like my cousin Jenny. I wanted people to love me and I wanted to be beautiful and cared for. I thought that if I could get thin enough, I’d be okay. But my bingeing and purging  continued all through high school, and shockingly, I still was able to get good enough grades to get into college.

I stopped purging in college, but became addicted to diet pills, marijuana, and sometimes even cocaine to keep me from eating. I finally lost all the weight I wanted to, but my body was breaking down. I suffered three fractures by the second semester of my sophomore year. I realized then that I had to stop with my eating disorder. But I couldn’t. I had no idea how to eat normally. I tried to eat three meals a day, but it always ended with me bingeing. I managed to stop purging, but I was still bingeing and then restricting. I did manage to graduate from college, but my grades really weren’t very good. I barely went to class and when I did, I didn’t pay attention or get much out of my classes. I really wasted my mother’s money.

After college, I tried a variety of things to help me lose weight. I tried different diets, I tried nutritionists, I tried a 12 step group with a food plan. But all of those things made me just binge when I fell off my food plans or diets.  Eventually, I decided to start seeing a therapist. I knew I had an eating disorder and was ready for help. It was really hard at first because I felt like my therapist just couldn’t help me with the thing I most needed help with– I wanted to lose weight, I wanted to stop bingeing. I told her to just tell me what to do and fix me. She gave me lots of assignments, many of them were about eating 3 meals a day, whatever I wanted, but I had to eat mindfully. She sent me to a nutritionist who specialized in treating eating disorders, and she also recommended that I see a psychiatrist to help me get some meds that might help with my depression.  I spent a lot of money. A serious amount of money between all those specialists. But I was desperate. 

Talking to my therapist really felt like a relief. We talked through a lot of the pain, depression, and through a lot of my childhood.  I realized that a lot of my eating disorder wasn’t about the food and it wasn’t about me getting thin. It was about me feeling really badly about myself. My Dad left my Mom and I when I was 5 years old, and I always thought it was my fault. The more I began to understand how I felt completely flawed my whole life, the more I understand that it was a myth– a story that I told myself. And that through that myth that I had conceptualized in my 5 year old mind, I began to act the way I believed I was. I tried desperately to get love and attention from men, but ultimately, I felt so worthless, that I let them treat me like crap– letting them have sex with me then ignore me the next day. My mother said I had no self respect, and she was right. But she never taught me how to respect myself. She never quite let me think I was worthy of love and admiration. I wasn’t any less smart or less beautiful than Jenny, I just believed I was. She had a mother and a father at home. I had no Dad and a Mom who was angry and felt rejected and resentful. She came into therapy with me several times as we discussed her own feelings of being worthless after my Dad left her for a much younger woman.   As I began to understand my own sense of worth, I started to try and take better care of myself. I learned to sit with my feelings, I learned to HOLD myself with respect. That was huge. I didn’t have to be super witty, nor did I have to do everything for everybody to make them like me. I didn’t have to be anything. I just had to respect myself. And so as I did, my eating disorder began to have less of a hold on me. As I talked through all those things, I realized that the drive to be thin was really just a drive to be accepted. So I learned to accept myself. It has been really hard for me to accept all those lost years, it’s like my whole teen years and most of my 20s were stolen by my eating disorder. But in learning to accept, I’m just trying to respectfully mourn those lost years.

I’ve been 100% free from any eating disorder behaviors since September 18th, 2010. That was the day before my 28th birthday. I am not afraid of Ed any longer. I know that I have the tools to work through whatever life should hand me. And if I do relapse, I know that I can’t lose the recovery that I have. 

*Name has been changed.

If you have a recovery story that you would like to be published, please send it to bingeeatingtherapy (at) gmail.com

How To Lose 5 pounds In 2 Days

ahhh I wish I could stop this damn dietThe very best way to lose five pounds in two days is to make a decision to take two whole days to stop dieting and chose to eat very slowly, very mindfully, and very intuitively, giving your body exactly what it needs to thrive.

I know that quitting dieting to get to a healthy weight sounds totally counterintuitive, but overeating is the other side of dieting, which means that when you choose to go on a restrictive diet, there is a very good chance that you are going to lose your momentum, then binge, and put on more weight than you took off.

Healthy, intuitive eating is the opposite of dieting and of overeating. If you really, truly stop dieting, just for a couple of days, and implement intuitive eating,  your body will  begin to settle into it’s healthy, comfortable weight. I know that it sounds unbelievable, but I promise you, it’s true. Quitting dieting is the sure way to find your healthy, natural weight and come to peace with food and your body.

One of my clients and I were discussing the other day how everything she’s done to her body over the past 25 years, all the diets, all the exercise, the thousands of miles she’s run, the millions of crunches she’s done, the bags of cookies she’s eaten, the loaves of bread and boxes of candy she’s binged on, the carbs she’s restricted, the low-fat diets she’s been on, the shakes she’s drank, the detox diets she’s done, the diet books she’s read, the leg lifts, the pilates classes, the workout videos, the gimmicks, the fads, the coconut oil she’s eaten, the kombucha she’s drank, the South Beach, the Weight Watchers, the Atkins, the Dukan, the Ex-Lax, the “as-seen-on-tv” exercise equipment and workout videos, the stress, the anxiety, the not leaving the house on “fat days”,  the depression, all of it… it’s all basically been for something like five pounds either up or down.  That’s it. In all the years she’s been dieting, she’s been either up five pounds, or down five pounds.

This client teeters between 130-140 pounds but hovers around 135. She hates herself at 140, likes herself better at 130 and struggles at 135, where she probably most naturally falls. And she has been at this weight since she was about 16 years old.  And for all these years, she’s been trying to get down to around 125 pounds. Can you imagine how many pounds she’s lost and gained in the past 25 years? And the thing is, she really keeps coming back to the equilibrium of 135 pounds. Sometimes she’s 5 pounds up. Sometimes she’s 5 pounds down. But she’s never happy.  She tries and tries and tries to get to 125 pounds. And she’s been trying and fighting with those pounds for 25 years. There’s no room for much else in her life. Her weight takes up most of her energy. And for just five pounds. Does that sound familiar to you? Is that you or someone you know? It’s not unusual, and for many people,  it’s their whole lives. They strive to be a weight that their body just doesn’t want to be. They struggle with diets, they struggle with food and exercise, and they struggle with self image.

People spend so, so, so much time trying to lose weight, and all that work, all those years, for many it’s just for a few pounds.  They’ve run 100 marathons, gone on a million diets, eaten 10 billion oreo cookies, spent hundreds of days fasting and dieting miserably,  and yet… their bodies aren’t all that different.  I call it the 5 pound paradox. All the work spent and, it’s usually around five pounds either way. Wouldn’t… acceptance be easier? By quitting dieting for 2 whole days and eating intuitively, there’s a chance that five pounds would drop off your body. But it would definitely drop from your mind, and that’s where it weighs the most.

If you didn’t have your weight to obsess on all the time, what else would you be thinking about and doing? Sometimes dieting and thinking about getting to a certain weight all the time is easier than dealing with what’s underneath, what you’re really trying to cope with. Dieting is a way of gaining control and coping with challenging feelings and situation.

What if you took the next two days and made a decision. No diets. No bingeing. Just for two days:  “I’m going to eat slowly and mindfully,  I’m going to implement intuitive eating, I’m going to eat what my body needs to be healthy, three solid meals per day. Whatever looks good. Whatever I want. No over the top thinking about it.  Just giving my body what it needs three times both days.”  After those two days, reassess. What is it like not to diet? What is it like not to obsess? Can you handle it for another day? Are you ready to let go of control? If not, that’s okay. But just give yourself two days. No weighing yourself, no measuring. This isn’t a free-for-all binge. This is, “pretend I’m a normal eater.” Think of the most normal eater you know. Your friend who eats three meals a day, orders what she or he wants without remorse, regret or overthinking it,  Eats till she or he’s not hungry any longer, then stops.  Try to embody that attitude for a two day experiment and just see how it goes for you. You might be surprised and you might feel liberated.

You can sit quietly and talk to your food or try meditation, breathe deeply before every meal,  or try some downloadable hypnosis sessions on intuitive eating and mindful eating to help you.