In my previous post I briefly mentioned that I started to use Starbucks as my new go-to binge eating establishment. I don’t use those words flippantly as this is a serious mental health issue that affects many people, whether they recognize it or not. I knew I had an unhealthy relationship with food my entire life. I made overeating and over indulging a part of who I was, and I didn’t care about the consequences of it. Whenever there was food, I’d eat it, even if I didn’t like it that much. It was common to consume several bowls of cereal or ice cream in a sitting because I genuinely enjoyed it. Looking back, my brain didn’t tell me that I was full or satisfied. Realistically, it didn’t say anything so I continued eating.
Fast forward to 2014/2015. I successfully lost 90lbs by adopting a healthier lifestyle which included a revision to my nutrition. My trainer introduced the concept of “cheat meals/days” to “reset” my metabolism. My first cheat meal came after 3 months of eating clean and at a reduced calorie intake. I was able to eat whatever I wanted within one sitting. Foolishly, I used this as a way to eat all the yummy things that I wouldn’t normally eat like chocolate, brownies, ice cream, pizza, Hakka cuisine, etc. I ate as much as I could since I knew the next day I’d go back to “normal eating”. This behaviour continued once more and I started to adopting cheat meals frequently especially in the summer months where I’d face more birthday parties, barbecues, and other celebrations that involved lots of food.
What I didn’t learn throughout this whole weight loss process was how to control instinctively. I was attached (and still am) to my food scale – I weighed every single gram of good, requested recipes, and didn’t eat what I couldn’t log. But I didn’t know how to just eat like a regular, healthy individual who has the ability to listen to their body and say “I’m satisfied” upon having a plateful of food. So when it came to events I stressed out. I knew I’d end up over eating by being tempted by food and by many people say “c’mon, it’s just one slice/piece/bite”. Surely, it could have been for them. But for me, it was losing control and gave into over eating. These events were followed by days of over working and under eating to account for the fact that I ate poorly. Soon these events became more frequent, and going home for weekends and travelling meant that I’d have to relinquish control – something I am unwilling to do.
It is this lack of control that I feel whenever I binge eat. It is as if a light switch goes off and tells me to drive around and pick up all of my cravings and not worry because tomorrow I would go back to healthy eating. I felt guilty, depressed and disgusted with myself the following morning. It was the worst feeling and on top of it all I felt helpless. This was when I knew I needed help and I couldn’t consult very many people as they didn’t see it being a huge issue. Often, the response was “it’s just one day, don’t worry about it”. or “you look great regardless”. While these messages were sent with great intentions, it didn’t settle the mind. I needed help. I needed real help.
It was in the middle of last summer where I called up a regional support group dedicated to treat unhealthy eating relationships – in essence, they treated those with eating disorders. Now, I didn’t think I had an eating disorder. I was never one of those girls who was a size 00 and still desired to be smaller. I didn’t know where else to go, but knew that this was worth a shot. It turns out that I fit right in. After a few written evaluations and interviews with social workers and other professionals, I realized that eating disorders were not just for the skinny. Eating disorders affected everyone, and it is defined by having an unhealthy relationship with food and the desire to change yourself because you are not satisfied. This defined me completely. Even if I was not diagnosed with an eating disorder the group would have referred me to the appropriate services to help me treat my condition. However, the afternoon came and I got my diagnosis: “Bulimia Nervosa – Extreme”. I couldn’t believe it. I was in shock by the diagnosis…but I was relieved, happy and excited. Why? Because I knew that help would be on its way soon. Now that I can clearly define the issue, I was able to seek the appropriate help and try to resolve this.
I knew it wouldn’t be an uphill only journey, and this was reiterated in group therapy. While group therapy was invaluable and I met some amazing people who had their own battles, I learned very quickly that their mission was to make us body positive but healthy. It was tackling the underlying issue that is needed. Don’t get me wrong, I have pretty low self-esteem. However, I felt that this type of treatment wasn’t for me or maybe it didn’t work as well as I had liked it. Now that I think about it, I’m wondering if I just didn’t receive the information in the way it was intended. Group therapy helped me address the core issues and that I was better than any eating disorder. It got rid of my desire to be size 2. However, it didn’t exactly help me fix my desire to eat uncontrollably. I know the messages were definitely part of our group therapy – especially when I saw that other members were using food as an escape from abuse, sadness and depression. This is similar to other addictions like alcohol and drugs. However, this is what I still struggle with today. In the course of 7 months I managed to gain 35lbs from over eating to deal with the stress of living in an undesirable part of the province, separation issues, and also struggling to discuss this issue with my family.
The binges started getting worse and more frequent, and I often skipped going to the gym (a place I loved to go). Then Christmas came around and I was in charge of baking! Oh joy. As I say to others ‘you would not ask a recovering alcoholic friend to grab you beers at a bar, why would you ask me to bake?’. I expressed concern to family and friends as my clothes were getting tighter and tighter. Again, I was met with the “you look great, don’t worry about it” reply. Don’t get me wrong, I love my friends and family, but I really needed the support. I was helpless and desperate.
Fast forward to the last few weeks. Someone once said to me that I was using my eating disorder as a crutch. My first response was “are you freaking kidding me? I’m going through hell right now and you think I’m making up this disorder and using it as an excuse?”. In hindsight, I have twenty-twenty vision and I was really using it as a crutch. While I do need a great support system around me, I was too dependent on others for their support and not supporting myself. I didn’t want this disorder to define me yet I was still using it as an excuse to binge eat by just stating “this is a low day”. I should never blame anyone in my life for this. Sure I had some rough patches in my past that I can’t let go. However, I need to let go. What happened in the past should remain there, and I can’t change it. I only have the ability to move forward from the present. Each day is a struggle, but it is a struggle with myself today and not with others or my past. I think I needed to realize this to move forward. I don’t want to use my eating disorder as a crutch anymore. Moreover, I don’t have the ambition to be skinny or thin. I just want to be healthy, happy and strong. My idea of beauty is Ronda Rousey – not because of her low body fat percentage or her size, but because she is mentally strong. She has mental strength, determination, commitment and, most importantly, dedication. Even after her worst loss she had the mental strength to be her classic kickass self and laugh it off – not dwell.
So while I continue to post about being healthy and in shape, it is not because I have a desire to be something unattainable. It is because I want to be the best possible version of myself mentally, and smash my goals of being the best soccer player, runner, and cyclist. I need to get help – not for anyone but myself. It is going to be a long journey, but I know I’ll be able to defeat the inner critic in me.