My relationship with food over the years has been interesting.
I remember back in high school when I was dancing, I would literally eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted to eat it.
This meant spaghetti and Coke for breakfast some days, huge chocolate chip muffins they'd sell at school, full Chipotle burritos + chips, Chinese take out, hamburgers and Skittles at football games, Subway sandwiches + a full bag of chips.... ugh, I am drooling just thinking about it.
And the wonderful part (although my inside were prob. close to rotting, lol), was that I stayed SO thin. Maybe I can thank dance for that. Maybe it was my high school metabolism. Either way, I was skinny.
But the best part was that I don't remember EVER thinking about food. I don't remember EVER saying "Omg. How many carbs are in this? Does this fit my macros? Maybe I shouldn't eat this." I just ate when I was hungry. Stopped when I was full. It was marvelous. It was freedom.
Fast forward to college when I gained interest in health and fitness. I started working out with a personal trainer who put me on a meal plan, but I was still eating a LOT of food. I remember my breakfast looked something like 2 eggs, a whole banana, avocado, toast, tomatoes. WOO! Livin the dream. And I started to see great results.
But then the downfall came. I became obsessed with the results I was seeing.
I became addicted to wanting more results. Better results. Faster results.
So I went from complete food freedom to complete food obsession -- often tracking every piece of food I put in my mouth, refusing to eat anything that wasn't 'clean,' and then at the darkest depths of all of it - transforming into Binge Eating Disorder.
I'll talk about my history of that in a later blog post, but today I want to share with you:
How I overcame the obsessive "all-or-nothing" mentality when it comes to food, and how to navigate the feeling when you eat too much and feel the urge to 'make up for it.'
Let's start with answering the main question: how did I reverse those obsessive thoughts?
Well, first of all -- I'm not sure it's ever really completely possible to reverse the thoughts. Once you've had an eating disorder (or disordered eating patterns) for the good part of a few years, those thought patterns are pretty hardwired into your brain. And the only way to change the way you feel toward food is to change the way you think.
That means every time you have an obsessive tendency, like "ugh I ate too much X last night. I'm just going to not eat all day tomorrow." Or, "I'm just going to eat this WHOLE pizza tonight, because tomorrow I'll go back to being perfect. I'll just do more cardio to 'make up' for it."
The only way you're going to overcome these ingrained ways of thinking, especially if you've been thinking this way for years and years, is to replace these negative thoughts with a positive.
According to the Power of Habit, when you're trying to get rid of a negative habit in your life (like quitting smoking, giving up an eating disorder), you have to replace that habit with something else in it's place or it won't stick. That's why when you're in eating disorder recovery, you have to have something else to apply your energy to, especially in the times the urge comes on to binge.
It's different for everyone, but things that worked for me were journaling, walking, painting my nails, reading a book, talking to a friend, getting out of the house -- just doing something else... ANYTHING else, that wasn't eating.
I plan to talk much more about my history with my eating disorder, but for the sake of this post, let's say you're past the lowest lows of it and are living a somewhat normal life, but you still tend to have small tendencies or thought patterns that linger.
Every time one of those "all-or-nothing, I'll eat all of this and make up for it tomorrow, I just won't eat again until this is all 'burned off'" thoughts comes up, here's what I try to do.
1. Take a step back. The thought usually originates either as I'm eating something off my meal plan or not considered 'healthy.' Even if it is something healthy but I've eaten more than my macros 'allow' for that day, the subconscious guilt/shame/need to be perfect thoughts start creeping in. "You shouldn't be eating that," which turns into, "It's OK. Just eat that tonight and then tomorrow you will [ultimatum]" ... like I'm bargaining with myself to do hours of cardio/fast because I'm eating a banana with freakin' almond butter that's outside of my macros.
If you can catch yourself during the stage where you're still eating, you're golden. Because the next step is...
2. Don't have a scarcity mindset. Remind yourself that this isn't the only time you're ever going to be able to eat 'said' food. Most of the time when I would binge, it would be on completely normal things I could eat every single day if I wanted to: peanut butter, ice cream, cereal, pretzels, random things that didn't even necessarily taste good... but gave me so much comfort because it became a habit.
Now, I try to remind myself (if I'm in stage #1 above), to not have a scarcity mindset. Instead, have an abundance mindset. Remind yourself that whatever food you're eating will always be there... even tomorrow. You don't need to eat all of it right now. And it won't make you feel better to eat ALL of it. Whatever it is, prepare it (don't just eat it out of the package), put it on a plate or in a bowl, sit down, eat it slowly, savor it. THAT is true mindfulness. And THAT is how food is meant to be enjoyed.
3. Let's say you don't catch yourself while you're actually still eating or about to eat...
So the damage is done. You've gone over your macros. Maybe it was only by a banana (gasp! How terrible! *Side note, I don't mean to make light of this because I know how crazy it sounds that we dramatize something like eating a banana so much. But can we just take a step back for a moment and look at how silly that really is? It's a freakin' banana. A BANANA. You won't die just because it has carbs. I like to think I'm a smart girl but when I have thoughts like this I'm like come onnnn Julie, perspective. There are starving people in the world.)
Sorry, rant over. So maybe it was only a banana. Or maybe it was way too much of whatever food.
Repeat after me: NO MATTER HOW MUCH YOU ATE, YOU DO NOT NEED TO MAKE UP FOR IT.
NO MATTER HOW MUCH YOU ATE, YOU DO NOT NEED TO MAKE UP FOR IT.
NO MATTER HOW MUCH YOU ATE, YOU DO NOT NEED TO MAKE UP FOR IT.
If I've learned ONE lesson in recovering from binge eating disorder, it was the thought above that no doubt healed my ingrained thought patterns. I repeat this to myself whenever I feel that guilt or shame or embarrassment creep in.
(P.S. I understand if you're reading this and saying "you shouldn't feel shameful or guilty! It's just food." But when you've had (or still have) an eating disorder, these self-created pity parties bring about SO much guilt and shame and embarrassment that it's debilitating. That's why so many people never speak about them or get help for them.)
For me, it was because of the "need to make up for it" mentality that started the vicious cycle of binge --> deprive --> binge --> deprive in the first place.
And by simply taking the "deprive" mentality out of that cycle (aka 'making up for it'), the bingeing becomes so much less tempting.
So let's say it's the night after you've eaten 'too much' or 'outside your normal diet,' please give yourself some grace and repeat that message to yourself.
No matter how much you ate, you do not need to make up for it.
You do not need to fast/not eat the next day.
You do not need to go on a juice cleanse or consume only water.
You do not need to do hours of cardio to burn it off.
Give yourself permission to not be perfect. Cut yourself some slack. You're not a bad person because you strayed from your diet for a day...
YOU ARE HUMAN.
And if you can't give yourself the grace and acceptance to feel OK and normal in this moment, here is your permission to fck things up sometimes. Because you're not perfect. I'm not perfect. No one is perfect.
I pray that if you're reading this, you find it at the right time that helps you resist the urge to 'make up for it.'
But let's say you've already attempted to do that by fasting, doing extra cardio, whatever your vice is (for me it was always overexercising)....
4. Understand that the more you give into those urges to 'make up for it,' the more power you're giving food and addiction. At first I started to write 'It's OK this time, just know that it shouldn't become a habit'... but then I erased it because it's never OK to feel like you need to punish yourself for what you've done. Because what becomes OK just this one time, will just become acceptable the next time you overeat. And the next time. And the next time. And "just one more time." Sound familiar? Isn't that how the binges started in the first place?
Resist the urge to punish yourself.
Break that habit of 'making up for it' TODAY. Not next time you overeat. NOW.
You are not a bad person just because you ate too much.
You will not undo your progress just because you went off your meal plan once.
Cut yourself some slack. Get rid of the urge to 'make up for it.'
Move on and don't give food or exercise the power over you. Remember, YOU control your habits, thought patterns, life. Take responsibility for where you are right now. As hard as it may be, seek help if you need it. I wish I would have WAY sooner than I did!
Stay strong, my sweet friend. You're not alone.