Binge Eating Therapy

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

attractive young woman in bed binge eatingQuestion: 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.

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