I suffered from binge eating for several years. And by "binge eating," I mean secretly devouring food. I can remember sitting in the parking lot of a grocery store and before I knew it, I had eaten a piece of carrot cake, a couple of cookies and was trying to decide:
"Should I sneak the brownies into the house and hide them for later or finish them off now? Hmmm, if I eat them now, I can start fresh tomorrow. Yep, that's the plan. And now, I need to ditch the wrappers, dust off the crumbs, and get home to cook dinner."
And so I would make my way home, feeling bloated and stuffed, to cook dinner...and then eat it. Because I couldn't let my secret get out!
And guess what? The "start fresh tomorrow" never really happened. Instead, it would just be the next episode. Lather, rinse, repeat. Or devour, dust off, repeat.
It's such an unpleasant experience to be continuously engaged in a behavior that's destructive, makes one feel embarrassed and ashamed, and that prevents one from participating fully in life!
At first, I felt completely powerless to change, but I was desperate to do so. After much searching and working on myself, I was able to leave my binge eating behind. Here are the three transformations that were key to my success:
1. Achieve nutritional balance.
A significant contributor to my binge-eating behavior was long-term dieting. I followed a commercial diet program for many years, one that emphasized eating healthy foods—fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains—but penalized fats (healthy or otherwise).
Well, I slowly became fat-deprived. Looking back, I now understand why one of my favorite binge-eating foods was nut butter—I would eat it by the spoonful!
So, the first key to transforming my binge eating was to rebalance my food intake to include more healthy fats. Once I did so, my intense food cravings began to diminish.
But that alone wasn't enough. I needed to...
2. Give myself permission to eat anything—openly, mindfully, and joyfully
Years of dieting had taught me that there were good foods and bad foods, and that if I ate bad foods, I was bad. In other words, I learned that certain foods were forbidden, so if I wanted to have them, I had to hide that desire. Eat in secret, not get caught, and eat as much as I could while I could.
And then I was challenged by a health coach to eat one of my "binge foods" openly, slowly, and joyfully in the presence of others.
My first reaction was one of fear.
But then I did it. I actually sat in a cupcake store and ate a cupcake, and I had a conversation with others in the store about the experience. I didn't feel like I was being judged. I was just being. How liberating!
And so I continued to give myself permission to eat whatever I wanted, openly, mindfully, and joyfully. I learned that a lot of the foods I had been depriving myself of, that I had put on the pedestal of "bad but extremely desirable," I didn't even really like!
Once you take away the morality around food and give yourself permission and power to choose what suits you in the moment, you take away the charge and the need for secrecy. You begin to choose foods that make you feel good in mind and body rather than choosing foods based on a dieter's mindset of what's "good" and what's "bad."
That was a huge, powerful shift for me. But there was one more transformation I needed to make to really leave my binge eating completely behind me. I needed to...
3. Give myself permission to feel anything
Emotions, like food, get categorized into good and bad, positive and negative. I was using "bad" food to avoid feeling "negative" emotions. I was grieving the loss of my mother—or rather, I was avoiding grieving the loss of my mother.
My "aha" moment came to me one day when I was out for a walk. As I walked through my neighborhood, I was suddenly overcome with grief. This was grief that I actually allowed myself to feel (I think I finally let my guard down).
I was walking and crying at the same time. And then, the grief faded, and I was immediately overcome with joy, something that I hadn't felt in a long time. It was then that I realized: By suppressing the "bad" emotions, I was also suppressing the "good" ones.
I started thinking. What if these emotions aren't bad at all? What if, instead of something to be avoided, they are actually powerful signs? And by ignoring these signs, what have I been missing? I realized that grief, instead of being a bad emotion that needs to be suppressed, is a sign of a deep loving connection, the kind of connection that people strive to create. Yes, grief is something to strive for!
Empowered with this fresh new insight, I now enjoy experiencing the full range of emotions—the "positive" and the "negative." Instead of stuffing them down with food, I feel through them and use the information they provide to guide me on my journey.
And I haven't had a single binge-eating episode since.