3 Truths I've Learned About Recovery from Binge Eating

 

Recovery doesn't really have a "finish line"—it's a journey and a process, and there are no wrong turns!

 

One of my favorite things is opening up my HealthyGirl.org email inbox in the morning and find notes from readers. It doesn’t matter how busy things are in my life away from the site—seeing proof that you guys read and get something out of it in a real way is so fulfilling. That’s all to say: Thank you for reading and commenting and being a part of this community, and if you have a question or something you want to say more privately than in a comment, you can email me.

Speaking of email, I recently got one from 20-year-old Carly (who wrote in once before when she was found herself obsessing over the number on the scale) who’s made some real progress, but is wondering why she still has occasional big binges…

Q: I’m 20 years old, and I’m struggling with binge eating. I’ve been reading Healthy Girl for a long time, and you answered one of my questions about daily weighing on the blog before. (Thanks, by the way!) I started seeing a therapist and a nutritionist, reading books about overcoming binge eating, and really working hard to get through this. I go through periods of time where I do great, with no bingeing and hardly any emotional overeating, and I think I’ve won the battle, and then out of nowhere I’ll totally backslide and have a terrible binge. I was wondering if this has ever happened to you?

Even though I feel like I have all the tools to resist bingeing and to understand why it happens, every once in awhile I still succumb to the binge monster. I’m starting to feel like this is never-ending battle that I just can’t win. Did you ever have times where you thought you were done with bingeing, but it happened again?

A: Yes. Absolutely, 100%, yes, this has happened to me. I’ll get back to that in one minute, but first let me say, Hooray! Hooray for you that you have moved on so far from focusing on weight and body size to taking all of these amazing steps for your insides! It’s so great to hear that you are not only reading books about bingeing, but that you’ve also reached out to professionals for help. It’s so hard to do, and takes a financial commitment, but I know what a difference it made in my life.

Now, back to the direct answer your question: There were so many times throughout this journey when the bingeing would subside for days, weeks, even a couple of months, and then, seemingly inexplicably, I would find myself in the middle of an out-of-control eating session. Sometimes there was a clear reason for it. I could trace the binge back to a certain event or phone call that took place a few days before—let’s say I had a difficult conversation at work, but didn’t take the time to fully process them emotionally, or didn’t use the tools I had like journaling, and the stress or pain would “sneak up” on me and push me to the food. But other times, there wasn’t one specific event that preceded the binge, and it truly seemed to come out of nowhere.

I used to wonder what the heck the wrong with me that I couldn’t stay on the “right” and healthy path. But what I eventually realized was that I was on the right and healthy path! Every misstep was a part of the journey. It all mattered, and I was right where I was supposed to be. Here are a few key things I learned:

1. Recovery is never neat, tidy, or “perfect.” Nearly every binge eater I have ever met has had a winding road to getting sane about food—one peppered with moments when they “fell off the wagon” or slipped. It’s normal, and just the way things are. It doesn’t matter how dedicated or smart or determined a person is, we cannot be perfect. Try to believe it, and let go of the guilt and disappointment. What you’re going through is normal.

2. Getting sane about food can take a while. It’s different for everyone, but considering the fact that many of us have a predisposition to binge eat that’s based on our freakin’ genes, it makes sense that our journey toward learning a new way to deal with life (and in some cases, recover from a serious mental and physical illness—since that’s exactly what eating disorders are) might take a while. For me? It took about 15 years.

3. Whatever it takes, however long it takes, getting healthy about food is always worth it. For me, recovery from binge eating is very different than I thought it would be all those years ago when I first started wishing for it. It’s really…imperfect, and normal and sometimes messy, just like life. But guess what? The guilt is gone, and so is the shame, and the obsession. More often than not, food has it’s proper place in my life, as an enjoyable source of nourishment. Living with this kind of freedom around food is amazing—I highly recommend it. :)

Even though the journey to get here can be frustrating, and longer than you might like, keep on stepping forward. You’ve already made so much progress, Carly. Give yourself permission to enjoy the process and to believe that it’s only a matter of time. xo…Sunny

Now, a Q for all of you: Have you ever gotten frustrated by “slips”? How did you remind yourself not to expect perfection and let go of the guilt?

14 Responses to 3 Truths I've Learned About Recovery from Binge Eating

  1. Wendi G says:

    I used to believe the sky was falling if I binged, especially when I was younger..
    I often think your body is sending you a message, but somehow the neurons aren’t operating at a sane level..when I crave something, there is usually a reason for it I can work out, mostly because it is something I haven’t thought about eating for awhile-a tiny bit of salt in a mostly salt-free diet isn’t a terrible thing, but going through an entire two-bag box of potato chips might not be the answer..
    As I have noticed lately that, on my current low carb diet, I tend to crave foods that are high fibre, I don’t fight it with quite the same gusto as before, but I try mightily to control what I eat among my cravings; for example, I often have a serving of oatmeal twice a week, with blueberries, stevia for sweetener (my favourite healthy sweetener!) and a spoonful of coconut oil..
    This may be high in carbs, but they are wonderful carbs, filling and oatmeal is great for “carrying away” bad colesterol from the body..
    It would be wonderful if we all could just stop beating ourselves up for bingeing and think about what would answer the craving, and satisfy the need without resorting to bingeing.
    I’m still hanging in there, hope you are too..and thanks so much for a place that feels safe to discuss these issues..it means a great deal to me.

  2. I completely agree with your answer 100%. Also, I think she could benefit from communicating this info with her therapist and nutritionist, if she hasn’t already. I think they could possibly assist her further in her journey to a successful recovery, which it sounds like she is well are her way of doing. :-)

  3. Erica8 says:

    “I’ve won the battle, and then out of nowhere I’ll totally backslide and have a terrible binge. I was wondering if this has ever happened to you?”

    Carly, not even .0000003 seconds after reading this did my brain think “HA! Did it ever happen to me? You bet it did.

    Shortly after I read, “I’m starting to feel like this is never-ending battle that I just can’t win. Did you ever have times where you thought you were done with bingeing, but it happened again?”

    Double-“HA!” So, so many times. I remember thinking a few years ago (at a moment when I was incredibly fed up with my binge eating disorder) that I should just accept my condition, that it was a part of me, that I should just say f*ck it..I’ve tried everything and it’s not working consistently. Thank God that was just me letting off steam and not being serious, because as I continued to do the things that were helping me, I binged less and less and less. Even now, about two years into recovery, I’ll have a binge (never as big as they used to be) about every month or two…but I just brush them off. They don’t define me anymore. I always get back on track.

    As Sunny said, you are so well on your way to recovery/sane-ness about food that you don’t even realize it! Just stick with it and stay positive! =)

    *x0|Erica

  4. Kensington says:

    It’s hard to put down the stick and stop hating ourselves for binge eating. It’s hard to analyze every time we do. What was also hard for me was when I was far into recovery – nearly recovered – and would sometimes eat too much. It didn’t happen often, but I felt like my own sky was falling. It took a lot of talk with people I know who are recovered to discover that sometimes it’s ok to be – gasp! – normal. By that I mean that at some point when you’re far into recovery, you don’t have to analyze everything to death. You can sometimes just let something go. If it’s a one time thing, it’s ok to move on.

    I don’t know where you are in recovery, so I may be talking about a time down the road, but you talked about it as if it’s just one time, and not several. Maybe you do still need to analyze things, but maybe it’s also ok for you to see a binge that only happens from time to time and is NOT the norm as something you can move past without considering it a roadblock or a sign that you’re not doing something right. Hope that made sense.

    • Sunny says:

      Yes, yes, yes Kensington! I love the way you put this. That it’s ok to be normal and that part of recovery means not having to analyze every bite we put in our mouths. But, like you said, that part comes later for most of us. xo…Sunny

  5. LovesCatsinCA says:

    Haven’t done a full on, thousands and thousands and thousands of calories binge in years–and 20 plus years ago, they were a daily or twice daily happening–plus purging.

    I don’t really like the “recovery” word. Do I fit the diagnosis of bulimia anymore? No. Do I mini-binge and use food to alter mood now? Sometimes. The difference between me and someone with binge eating disorder is a matter of degree. Sometimes behaviors are better than others. It’s not a perfect, point a to point z destination oriented phenomenon but a process…

    I do congratulate you on your shift though. My behaviors are a lot better but my mind still is far from normal–and thoughts of food still interfere with my concentration and my life–just not as much. So you’re on the right track.

    I like how we can support one another in the blog world though…

    • Sunny says:

      Yeah, I feel you LovesCats: The word “recovery” can be a bit weird. I’ve gotten very accustomed to saying that I am recovered from BED—but at first I found myself feeling unsure or even insecure about it. Like, am I no longer recovered, then, if I eat a handful of chocolate chips? Not at all! I use the word “recovery” on HealthyGirl.org a lot, simply because it’s an easy way to say “getting sane about food.” But do you find it off-putting? I’m interested to know if so! xo…Sunny

      • LovesCatsinCA says:

        I don’t find it offputting. It is convenient to say the word “recovery”. On the other hand, I can say I haven’t met the diagnostic criteria for bulimia for a couple of decades, and I can say that I’ve dropped 30 pounds and have a normal weight (and now normal blood pressure). So recovered from bulimia works for me, and “normalized weight” also works (I don’t think of overweight or obesity as things you “recover” from).

        But as far as getting “sane about food” I will freely admit that I’m not completely there yet. I’m more sane than I used to be. I’m less sane and more obsessed than normal–even recognizing that there is a normal amount of body unhappiness in even the healthiest women…

        I am in the process of learning to cope with life without stuffing my feelings with food. Sometimes I do this better than others. On this blog, and on others, I try to offer things that might be helpful to those who are on the same journey, and learn from others things that are helpful to me, from others on the journey.

        I just don’t think it’s a done deal even if you “recover” from a particular manifestation of a particular way of disordered eating. Life has its stressors. The endocrine system has its hormones.

        I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I got an eating disorder post adolescence in college, and that I’m revisiting some of the same issues, on a lesser scale, but still the same issues, in midlife. My perimenopausal hormone fluctuations are a sort of adolescence in reverse.

        Thanks for this blog.

  6. Katie says:

    I have been healing/ recovering for over and year and a half now with group support, books, and wonderful blogs like this. I am to the point where my binges are significantly reduced (maybe 1 or 2 per month?). Food was my go-to coping strategy for years, and I have worked hard to break that habit, except occasionally I revert back to to it when I am confronted with something that really feels bigger than I think I can handle. Now when I binge I know it is me showing myself that I need to direct my attention to something – a feeling, a situation, etc..

    Today I take a binge as sign that something really important is brewing and I need to check in with myself, be super extra nice to myself, listen, and wait for what is bothering me to rise to surface.

  7. LovesCatsinCA says:

    I read this poem and I thought it would be inspiring to those of us who need some inspiration…

    INVICTUS

    Out of the night that covers me,
    Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
    I thank whatever gods may be
    For my unconquerable soul.

    In the fell clutch of circumstance
    I have not winced nor cried aloud,
    Under the bludgeonings of chance
    My head is bloody, but unbowed.

    Beyond this place of wrath and tears
    Looms but the horror of the shade,
    And yet the menace of the years
    Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

    It matters not how strait the gate,
    How charged with punishments the scroll,
    I am the master of my fate:
    I am the captain of my soul.

    William Ernest Henley

  8. Heather says:

    I’m not sure what counts as a slip anymore…

    I guess I’m more accepting that the whole thing – everything I do and everything I think – is part of moving forward. Some bits feel more positive or comfortable than others (for example, speaking up for myself and my feelings at work this week), some are sort of grey area (for example, starting cake-baking as a hobby – potential for eating too much of it!) and some are kind of dark-looking (for example, having to sit with a colleague whose focus and conversation is on food all day).

  9. Maridethanne says:

    This is my first time reading this site and I found it through google. I google everything when I want an answer and some how I find just what I am looking for. I have bookmarded this site and want to be a part of this because I think I have been a binger all of my life. I am 67 years old so that is a long time. It is comforting to read about other people who are having this problem. It comes and goes with me but lately it has been happening on a regular basis around my lunch meal which seems like it never ends. I do not binge at night for which I am thankful. I do not binge at breakfast either. I journal almost daily to write out my emotions in a word document. Somehow getting it down in writing helps me to get it out from inside. Thank you so much for being here.

  10. iluvfla says:

    Wow what a great post. It is nice to hear from others who have a problem w/ binge eating I knew they were out there but have never spoken to them. Like real binge eating, like even though I already had half a large pizza I still have the urge to finish off a bag of chips. Even though I’m so full I feel sick I canKt stop shoveling food in my mouth.
    I am really working at getting healthy & finding my bodyweight I am happy with. There were so many times I have been so good about my eating & at the end of the week I would lose it & make-up for all the good eating & healthy calorie options by bingeing. I am starting to get back on track & it is nice to hear from others with the same issues.
    -thanks

  11. Heather says:

    I just stumbled upon this website because yes at 27 I am finally figuring out that I am a binge eater. I’ve never realized that my periods of over eating and not caring about what I put in my mouth was a disorder. It sounds like you are well on your way to recovering from this and I feel like this is such a daunting and discouraging thing to begin to deal with. Reading these comments and understanding that I have a problem and need support and help is, I know the first step and that I have to do something. I have been thinking about talking to a psychologist for a long time just for general sanity and someone to talk to with an unbiased opinion. Now I know I must do this to help work out why I do this and what feelings are setting me off on these binge periods. Thanks for this website and wish me luck!

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Sunny Sea Gold

About the Author

Sunny Sea Gold is a media-savvy advocate and commentator specializing in binge eating disorder, cultural obsessions around food and weight, and raising children who have a healthy body image.