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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

How to Be More Patient

What even is patience? We spend so much time quoting the virtues of patience, yet most of us find ourselves extremely impatient.

According to wikipedia, patience is the state of endurance under difficult circumstances, and is studied as a decision making problem, involving the choice of either a small reward in the short term, or a more valuable reward in the long term. When given a choice, all animals, humans included, are inclined to favour short term rewards over long term rewards. This is despite the often greater benefits associated with long term rewards.

No wonder it’s so difficult to avoid compulsive behaviors when we are evolutionarily inclined to choose instant gratification over long term happiness.

But how much better would our lives be if we were all patient? Compulsivity is mixed with this primal fear of “I’ll never have this opportunity again. It’s now or never…”  Which is why so many people fall prey to compulsive spending, compulsive eating, compulsive sexual behavior, get rick quick schemes and all sorts of compulsivity. This is a very  animal behavior.  Patience is a learned, newer, evolved behavior that is not instinctual.

Of course patience (or lack of) and eating disorders go hand in hand. For compulsive dieters who alternately restrict and binge,  there is the inherent fear that we only have that one single opportunity to have that ice cream sundae, because come Monday, we can never have anything like that again. And on the flip side of it, comes dieting. The belief is that we need to be thin immediately, so if we do something drastic, like cut out all carbohydrates for 2 weeks, we will lose a dramatic amount of weight in a very short period of time. This is rather than taking time to get to know your body, understand what it needs and cultivate mindful eating and intuitive eating and healthy exercise.  This takes patience.

So as animals, if patience is not instinctual,  how do we cultivate patience?

1.) Patience is a learned trait, so first off, tell yourself that you are going to be patient with this learning process. It’s not going to come instantly. So every time you lose your patience, forgive yourself and accept that you are working against human instinct.

2.)Decide what patience means to you. How are you choosing to be patient? What does that pertain to? What kind of patience do you want more of in your life?

3.)Try some patience exercises. My favorite is washing dishes. Rather than loading up your dishwasher (if you have one) make a plan to wash your dishes slowly and mindfully. As you do, allow yourself to actually savor the experience of washing the dishes. Feel the warm water on your hands, enjoy the satisfying feeling of completion as each dish is cleaned, try to enjoy the time as it passes. Listen to music, breath, let yourself relax into the chore rather than waiting for it to be done. When you begin to allow yourself to melt into your world in the present and enjoy your time moment-by-moment, you are learning patience. The opposite of patience is trying to quickly reach the end.

4.)REMEMBER TO BREATHE! When you are feeling impatient (either standing online or waiting in traffic, or running late or wanting to exercise or eat compulsively) take a break and turn inward and just breathe. Bring yourself into the present and get away from the future.

5.)When it comes to food and weight, remind yourself of all the diets you have tried and where it’s brought you and all the time that you’ve wasted. Take it day-by-day  and even moment-by-moment (rather than  saying something like “i’m cutting out all fat, sugar, and wheat for the next 30 days”) and each day make an intention about finding health and well-being. And if for some reason you find that you’ve had a slip, forgive yourself and move on to the next moment. Each moment in your life gives you an opportunity  to choose the behavior that you want.

6.)Keep the big picture in mind. Remember that the opposite of patience is impatience and compulsive behavior. When you find yourself ready to act out compulsively, slow down and think about what is really important to you. For instance, if you all of a sudden find yourself wanting to return a text message but you’re driving, either pull over to do it, or wait. The safety of yourself and others around you is more important than reading or returning a text.

7.)Figure out what people and what situations trigger your impatience or compulsive behavior. Try to make it a game. Practice patience around these people or situations.

8.)Visualize the future the way you want it to look and then just let it go. Know that you can have the life that you want but not instantly, that the journey is important as well.

9.)Laugh a lot. Especially when things aren’t going as planned. Having a sense of humor about yourself, life, the world around you can help you to relax into it. Life is too serious to be taken too seriously.

10.)Let go of the impatience and anxiety in your body. When you are feeling tense and impatient, notice where you hold it in your body. Breath into those tight spots and try to let them loosen up.

11.)Eat something delicious very, very, very slowly. Take a half hour to sit and eat this thing that you love. Don’t scarf it down, let yourself savor it, taste it, feel it. Engage all your senses. When you are finished, don’t immediately grab more. Know that you can have more at a later time or another day.

Add something

Often, in attempts to quit binge eating, people will set up a rule structure for themselves such as “I can’t eat sugar anymore, I can’t ever eat white flour, I can’t eat gluten…” etc. However, more often that not, those foods that they restrict themselves are the foods they wind up bingeing on. Rather than attempting to control the binge by taking something away, try to add something. For instance, “I will eat a vegetable with every meal and a fruit for desert for each meal,” or “I will take a walk at night after dinner,” or “I will write in my journal or do a blog post  when I have the urge to binge,” or “I will call my sponsor/friend/family member/support person when I am feeling down.”  Change “I won’t”  statements into “I will statements.” The hope here is that you will begin to fill up your time (and your meals!) with the good stuff which will help you to generally feel better.

Do One Nice Thing for yourself– RIGHT NOW!!!!!!!

What nurturing non-food related thing can you do for yourself at this moment? You deserve to be cared for and if you don’t take it upon yourself to take care of yourself, you just might wind up using food to fulfill that need.

Here are some things that you can do right now.

1.)Rub nice smelling lotion into your feet and paint your toenails.

2.)Make yourself a cup of tea and drink it slowly while gazing out the window.

3.)Look in the mirror and tell yourself what’s great about yourself.

4.)Go get a hug from someone you love.

5.)Do your nails or go get them done.

6.)Take a nice long bubble bath.

7.)Take a walk outside.

8.)Put a facial mask on and sit around reading a fun novel.

9.)Sit in silence with your eyes closed, just breathing in and out slowly and imagine yourself flooded with healing light energy (otherwise known as meditation).

10.)Stretch!

 

What else can you do?

Do it! Do one nice thing for yourself this very moment!

One Daily Intention

Here’s a quick recovery exercise for you. Rather than thinking about weeks or months or years ahead of you, each morning set just ONE DAILY INTENTION.

Wake up in the morning and before you do anything, before you get out of bed, before you brush your teeth, think about what your intention for that day is. Just choose one. Think about it, visualize it, see yourself achieving it and hold onto it for the day.

Ideas for daily intentions.

  • I will eat slowly and mindfully today. I will let myself eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m satisfied. Just for today.
  • I will go just for today without binge eating. Just for today.
  • I will go just for today without purging. Just for today.
  • I will not compare myself to anyone else today. Just for today.
  • I will not say mean things to myself today. Just for today.
  • I will drink 8 glasses of water today. Just for today.
  • I will refuse to engage in aggressive driving or road rage. Just for today.
  • I will floss my teeth before bed. Just for today.

Write it on a post it note and post it on your desk at work or your computer, or in your purse or wallet so that you can remember that one intention for the day.

Each day day that you set and stick to an intention will help increase your confidence, self esteem and help you on your road to recovery.

What are some of your daily intentions?

Friday – Q&A- I can’t stop fantasizing about food

This comes from a reader who would prefer to remain anonymous:

Question-

I wondered if you could give me some advice. Sometimes when I feel distressed or tired, I find myself having food fantasies. They are very intense and vivid where I imagine myself eating high-calorie food like cake and other sweet, fatty, high-carb foods. I imagine the taste and the pleasure it would give me. I’m not sure what to do when I have these fantasies because they make me want the food.
To give you some context, I used to be 17kg/37pounds overweight. I recently lost the weight over a period of a year through diet and exercise. However, I have fallen off the wagon and cannot get back on. When I was losing weight, I felt like a new person. I was disciplined, I was extremely fit, I was positive, I had energy and I felt in control.
It’s been six weeks since my fall off the wagon and I can’t get back into that mindset, and now all I can think about is food for comfort. I’ve started to re-gain the weight through comfort eating and no exercise. Sometimes I feel like I don’t know what to eat or how to eat or how to get back to the place where I was exercising regularly, eating healthily and being happy.
Many thanks for your help.
Answer-
Hello and thanks so much for your question.
I have a question for you, if you weren’t thinking about food, what do you think that you would be thinking about?
You very insightfully state that your mind turns to food when you are feeling distressed or tired. This tells me that food is very comforting to you. It’s something that you turn to for comfort and so when you are feeling distressed, you begin to think about food and eating to soothe yourself.
You might want to try using an alternative choice journal. When you find that you are feeling distressed, or your thoughts are drifting toward food, fill this out:
Feelings: Describe what you are feeling right now- happy? sad? anxious? angry? tired? lonely?:
___________________________________________________________________________
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___________________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________________
What led to this feeling? Can you pinpoint the trigger?
___________________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________________
Describe what kind and how much food your are fantasizing about:
___________________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________________
How do you hope that this will make you feel? What outcome are you looking for?
___________________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________________

Is there something else that you can do that might be able to give you a similar feeling as you are trying to achieve with food? 

___________________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________________________________

___________________________________________________________________________

For some ideas on self soothing or self care activities see here and for distractions, check here.

I would encourage you to concentrate on health  and well being rather than losing weight. Instead of trying really hard to refocus on losing weight again, think about giving yourself health by exercising in ways that you enjoy. Focus on being emotionally healthy by validating your own feelings and talking to safe people when you’re feeling distressed. Take care of yourself by being gentle and kind to yourself instead of beating yourself up for not being where you think you should be. The irony is, so many people get so angry at themselves when they binge, but the fact that they are bingeing indicates that they need compassion, yet they beat themselves up. If you are bingeing or fantasizing about food, you probably need to give yourself some more attention. Let yourself nap when you are tired and eat when you are hungry. Try to engage in intuitive eating rather than dieting or restrictive eating. Be kind and gentle with you.

A very similar one was asked a few months ago, you might want to check out that answer as well.

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.