Bouts of binging is an extremely common problem for people coming out of recovery from anorexia- think about it, you’ve starved your body for years, and now that you’re finally comfortable eating all foods again, your body is going to want to eat everything! Mentally and physically you have deprived yourself for so long, it’s only natural that your body goes into survival mode and stocks up on calories now that you’re willing to eat them. And having not eaten chocolate for years, when that sugar hits your lips its a hundred times stronger it’s almost ecstatic.
I struggled on and off for over a year of binging post recovery- by recovery I mean reaching an NHS acceptably healthy weight- not necessarily fully mentally recovered. When it first started I was still ‘skinny’ so as much as I hated myself for over eating, I knew that physically I wouldn’t look any different… until this became a regular event and the weight started to catch up with me. But the feelings of immense guilt for showing such weakness meant I had to make myself bring it all back up. It was painful and disgusting, but I had to do it. Sometimes I would eat late at night then make myself throw up whilst everyone was asleep, until one night my mother came down stairs to find me with my head over the sink and an empty bag of cookies.
At that point my sugar addiction was soaring and I was trapped in a viscious circle. To try and compensate the day after a binge I would cut down on calories and stick to vegetables and low fat protein… but this restriction only brought about more boughts of binging. Sometimes a binge would be a few chocolate bars, sometimes a whole box of granola or biscuits, anything sugar coated which I could find in the cupboard. I would gobble the food up so quickly that it made me feel sick. It was always done in secret, partly because I was ashamed of being a ‘pig’ and had this ‘healthy’ persona to uphold. The post binge sugar rushes could leave me feeling awful for a day or two, I would be lethargic, headachey and have stomach pains. Not to mention I was miserable to be around because I was ashamed and angry at myself, but of course if anyone asked why I was sad, I couldn’t say.
On my year abroad was when it reached its worse. I was surrounded by new foods and lived a new lifestyle of eating out and drinking. I was surrounded by new people who didn’t know my prior illness, so I didn’t care as much if I had gained fat, because they couldn’t compare me to how skinny I was before. The binging continued until it reached the point where I had gained a lot of fat and I was very insecure in my appearance. Every time I ate ‘bad’ foods could lead to a mini emotional break down and ultimately a binge. To someone who’s never suffered from this before you’d think that if it’s making someone that unhappy, surely they can just stop doing it? What’s so difficult?
But for post anorexics, I think the relationship with food has become again somewhat twisted. You once hated food, then you turn to love it because you realise how much better life is when you eat it, when you’re not always hungry, and because it just tastes so damn good. My anorexia convinced me I hated sweet foods…Ha! I had a huge sweat tooth before, and I do again now. So when I was reintroduced with my old favourite chocolates and cakes, I didn’t say no! You develop a new type of obsession with food, almost the complete reverse to what you knew before, which is the main reason why it’s so mentally hard to deal with. At one point I actually feared feeling hunger because I was scared of my illness returning, so I was constantly eating and snacking. You think to yourself “I used to be able to be in control of my food, now I am like an animal, what’s happened to me!?” Yet depsite the feelings of self-hatred and regret after every binge, despite how often you say you’ll never let it happen again… it does.
But at some point you hit rock bottom. You feel so low that the only other way is up. It took me over a year to resolve my problem with post anorexic binging, and there are still occaisons now when I can over eat because I worry that I have’t had enough calories, or I have a ‘mini binge’ on something sweet because I’ve been too focussed on healthy eating that my body is craving sugar. This is where balance comes into it. I gradually started reducing the regularity of binges by looking at my diet and seeing what I was lacking- what was causing me to crave these foods? I started by ensuring that I was getting good quality balanced meals throughout the day. This included not scimping on carbs, eating healthy fats and still having some sweet foods, the healthy ones such as fruits, but also the occaisonal chocolate bar as well. I stuck to three meals a day. Even if I did binge, I couldn’t punish myself for it the next day because I had to be consistent with my meals. This did mean that I didn’t lose any of the weight I had gained, but it did start to resolve the binging, which in turn lead to losing some of the fat later on. At the time, all you want is a quick fix to drop the weight as quickly as possible, but this will just make the situation worse. Be patient and trust the process. Before I knew it I had gone weeks without a binge, and eventually they just started to fade away.
If I ever now feel like eating the entire box of chocolates I bought or having a mid night feast- well I just listen to my body first. Am I actually hungry and in need of good quality nutrients? Am I just thirsty? Have I been really healthy the past week and my body wants a little sugar to boost its metabolism? Whatever the answer, I try to understand my body’s needs and give it what it wants. If I’m trying to get lean and keeping an eye on calories, then I use maco counting to ensure that I can eat both the things I love and still reach my body/ fitness goals. What’s most important is that I try not to beat myself up about it if I do over indulge. It’s easy to let your body dismorphia tell you you’ve instantly gained weight just from those chocolates, but when you think rationally you know it’s not true. Most importantly is to enjoy what you eat, respect your body in the process, and not let food control you. As much as it’s great post anorexia to be a ‘food lover’, at the end of the day, it is just food. Find the balance between eating food for necessity and eating food for pleasure and you’re en route to a happy and sustainable lifestyle.
Be stronger than your insecurities. Be stronger than your ED.