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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

Practicing Slowing Down– How to start mindful eating

learn mindful eatingOne of the easiest exercises that you can you do to help you let go of binge eating is practicing mindful eating.

The first step in eating mindfully is to slow down.  When you serve yourself a meal, don’t pick or snack until you are sitting down with your plate in front of you. Then, when you go to eat, pay attention to your food. Don’t eat in front of the TV or internet, notice each bite. Notice what it feels like on your tongue, notice what it tastes like, notice what it feels like to chew and to swallow. Pause between bites and allow yourself to enjoy what you are eating in the moment that you are eating it. When you are binge eating, you’re chasing the taste so you barely get a chance to enjoy what you are eating in the time that you are eating it and it becomes a race to finish one food and get to the next.

Today, plan just one meal that you can eat mindfully. When you eat it, slow way down. Taste and savor  your food — no matter whether it’s romaine lettuce or a piece of dark chocolate. Allow your body to integrate the nutrition into your cells. You might find that when you slow down, you become more conscious of your needs and you might even find that you need less food or more food.

As you begin to slow down your meals, you might find that you can even slow down your binges, when you do that, you might find that you are able to make the choice not to binge, that mindfulness and thoughtfulness will win out over the compulsion.

slow. slow. slow. That’s the word of the day when it comes to mindful eating. Slow down and let your body make the choice rather than the binge. You might want to try this guided visualization to help you learn mindful eating.

How to beat stress eating– 50 ways to cope with stress without food

If you give a normal person a list of five things to do, they will get started with the first thing on their list. If you give a stress eater a list with five things to do, they will get started by running to the refrigerator. Eating becomes a way to deal with procrastination, fatigue, and powerlessness. After all, a big part of stress is really just a belief that you are completely powerless over a situation. Eating is the immediate response to the stressor. It’s the thing that stress eaters go to when they feel powerless over the stress. So, how to stop stress eating?

In 12 step groups, the serenity prayer says:

grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

  • Stop! Think about the source of your stress. Is this something that you can control?
  • Figure out what  you can control.
  • If there is nothing that you can do about the situation, you might simply have to accept it and all the consequences that come with it.
  • Deal with the consequences of accepting that you cannot change the situation at hand and take care of yourself around that
  • Are you stressing about something that hasn’t happened yet? Stop. Don’t live in the future or in the past. All that exists is the moment. Make the best choice that you can for the given moment.

Here is a list of 50 things that you can do when you’re stressed instead of eating:

(this list won’t have you running to the fridge)

1.)Organize yourself, figure out exactly what to do and execute a strategy for getting things done. If you are not good at this, ask a friend who is good at this stuff to help you.

2.)Take a bath

3.)Go for a walk

4.)Go to the gym

5.)Meditate

6.)Drink tea

7.)Call a friend and talk out what is going on with you.

8.)Write in your journal/blog

9.)Stretch or do yoga

10.)Zone out and watch a movie that you like

11.)Curl up with a good book

12.)Take your dog for a walk, or pet your cat if you have one

13.)Clean your house

14.)Do some volunteer work– get out of your head by helping some other people out. Serve food at a soup kitchen, volunteer to play with kids at a homeless shelter, walk dogs or play with cats at the local animal shelter.

15.)Buy a meal for a homeless person in your neighborhood and bring it to them

16.)Call someone you haven’t spoken to in a long time

17.)Call a much older relative or friend. The advice of people older than you with so much more life experience can be incredibly valuable.

18.)Listen to music that you can lose yourself in

19.)Get out of your apartment or house and be out in the world with people, don’t isolate

20.)Draw, paint, do something artistic

21.)Walk around the block then attack your to do list.

22.)Promise yourself a non-food reward for every thing you cross off your list, such as 10 minutes to zone out on the internet.

23.)Get a massage

24.)Take a shower

25.)Water your plants

26.)Find something to break, like sticks or branches you find outdoors.Rip up an old tee-shirt. Anything that can feel cathartic and release some tension. Just don’t hurt anyone.

27.)Relax your jaw. Your jaw is the strongest muscle in your body and because of that, you hold a lot of stress in it. Massage your jaw muscles and try to relax them.

28.)Cry

29.)Scream into a pillow

30.)Dance

31.)Go to a spin class, kickboxing class, or to the boxing gym– something that exerts energy

32.)Go for a drive through a neighborhood that you like

33.)Go out to a movie

34.)Smell flowers

35.)Color hard with crayons– releases stress

36.)Garden

37.)Go to the beach and look at the ocean

38.)Think about people you love, call them, tell them your woes or don’t tell them your woes, just connecting can be healing

39.)Paint your toenails

40.)Window shop

41.)Play a musical instrument

42.)Make Love

43.)Write or read affirmations.

44.)Give yourself a foot massage

45.)Go for a good run!

46.)Write kind notes or emails to people for no reason

47.)Walk outside and smile at 10 strangers

48.)Write a letter to your higher self or your higher power or the Universe…

49.)Slowly inhale  to the count of 5 then exhale  to the count of 5. Do this for 5 minutes.

50.)Let it go.

Need more ideas? See 101 Things to Do Instead of Binge Eating

Coming up Next— how to deal with the things that you actually CAN change, but somehow can’t find the will to. 

The Grief Of Recovery

Saying goodbye to an eating disorder isn’t easy– that’s an understatement. There is a giant grieving process that goes along with it. When you decide to let go of binge eating, you are letting go of something that you feel has been a best friend, a lover, an ally, always there when you need it, always consistent. Letting go of that is certainly challenging. There will be a big part of you that just doesn’t want to give that up. Food can be more reliable than people. It will always elicit a similar  response, it’s always there, it’s always comforting. Of course, you know that these comforts are no more than temporary, and sometimes not even that. So, being ready to let go of binge eating and bulimia can be a humbling experience as you begin to delve into your recovery and understand more about who you are outside of this eating disorder.

These changes won’t just be challenging for you, they will be for anyone around you. There will be a mourning period when you let go of your old ways of being. As you go through the stages of grief you will find that the people around you are going through their own grieving process as they don’t want to let go of the “old” you.

For you, the grieving process might look like this:

  • Denial: I don’t need to do anything different. My issues with binge eating have nothing to do with anything other than willpower. I just have to stop eating and I’ll be fine. Once I lose the weight, my life will be better.
  • Anger: This is ridiculous. Life seems really hard all of a sudden. I have all these uncomfortable feelings. I don’t know why I had to stir up all of these emotions. There was no reason to do it. I hate this. Bingeing is better than sitting with these emotions.
  • Bargaining: I think that I can reasonably go back on a low carb diet and lose the weight without having to go through all of this recovery bullshit. If I just start now, I’ll lose the weight and everything will be fine.
  • Depression: This is never going to be better. I’m always going to be stuck in this disease.
  • Acceptance: What I’ve been doing for all these years, dieting and bingeing and purging and starving and eating my emotions hasn’t worked. I’m in the same exact place as I was when I began. Maybe even worse because now I have to deal with my eating issues too.   I’m going to try and let go and surrender to my recovery and take care of myself emotionally in a way that I haven’t done before. It will be challenging, but in the long run, my life will be better for it.

For people around you, the grieving process might look like this:

  • Denial: Great! She’s starting another diet again. I’m sure that it will fail miserably the way all of her diets do. Whatever, there’s no reason for me to be scared, nothing is going to change. She’ll be eating nachos with me the second I see her.
  • Anger: What’s wrong with her? When I asked her to do me this favor, she refused. That’s not fair, she has always done the things that I’ve asked her to do. But now that she’s in recovery she’s trying to take care of herself? That feels really bad. Where am I? Why is she neglecting me? If she is taking care of herself, then who will take care of me?
  • Bargaining: Maybe I’ll take her out to dinner to a meal that I know she usually binges on. I know that she won’t be able to refuse and then things will be the way they used to.
  • Depression: Things will never be the same. I lost my best friend. I’m alone and lonely and I have no idea who I am.
  • Acceptance: Just because she’s taking care of herself doesn’t mean that I can’t take care of myself. If she’s really my friend, I will feel happy for her, not threatened and jealous. I understand that it has been a hard transition and change for me, but as I support her in her recovery, I can also support myself in being more independent. Without food and favors and resentment between us, our friendship can be more pure and deeper.

Hopefully this won’t happen, but unfortunately, there is a possibility that  you might lose one or two friends in the process of recovery. Those are the friends that were so invested in you being sick because it gave them a sense of who they were or even made them feel better about themselves. They are unable to accept that you are getting better. Those friends who you lose deserve  compassion because they are uncomfortable in their skin and need you to be sick to feel better about themselves rather than working from within and taking care of themselves. Though you can feel compassion, you don’t need to take care of them. That’s an inside job.

Think about what your grieving process around recovery looks like. What are you leaving behind? How will you cope with that?