Finding a Balance Between the Desire to Recover and the Desire to Lose Weight

It’s Week 2 of the Book Club—and, as you know, we’re reading Crave by Cynthia Bulik, Ph.D. You don’t have to be reading along in the book in order to get something really helpful out of these posts, but we hope you will!

Dr. Bulik’s second chapter is about weight loss and binge eating, a topic Sunny has tried to tackle before. It’s touchy subject, since the last thing any expert wants to do is encourage “fat talk” or the urge to drop pounds. Dr. Bulik admits that the weight issue can be really tricky: Because people who binge don’t always purge or overexercise, some may gain weight—if they do gain, it often leads to a feeling of hopelessness, so you just binge more, keeping the vicious cycle going, she says. (Then, often if you focus on “dieting” or weight loss, it makes you miserable and backfires.)

No matter what your weight, healthy weight stabilization has to be a slow, gradual process, says Dr. Bulik, and “quick-fixes” like extreme diets only fuel the fire and end up making things worse. What does that mean in real life? I remember hopefully reading stories of people getting better, making changes and slowly stopping the binges and then their weight gradually just falling away naturally as things got better. I think this is an ideal situation, but not exactly what happened for me. As I dealt with some of my issues and the overeating calmed down, my weight stabilized. This stage felt sort of like a relief, “Gosh-at least I’m not gaining anymore weight.” But also felt a little daunting, “Now what? I feel so uncomfortable in myself!”

I did a lot of reflection (journaling and reading things) before I felt that I was at a place where I could focus on some strategies for gradual, healthy change and not fall back into destructive black and white thinking or the diet mindset (careful with this!). This preparation part did take a bit of time, but I was patient and honest with myself and I think it really helped me. It wasn’t until I had truly dealt with some of the underlying reasons for my behaviors that I was able to move on to getting my body back to a place where I felt comfortable. I often would have little moments of being really kind to myself and apologizing for some of the past self-destruction, and that I was trying my best to make things better and honor myself and body.

For me, exercise was and has been the most helpful thing. Not only does it make me emotionally and mentally feel great, but as an athlete growing up, it is a familiar activity and allows me to really be in touch with my body. I found that moderate exercise (say, 45 minutes a few days a week) and being conscious about what I put in my body was key. I know I read this everywhere, but never gave it the credit it deserves…the little things are what ended up making the difference.

How have you dealt with weight and body issues in the past and how are you dealing differently now? Have you found exercise to be helpful or did you have trouble not becoming obsessive about it? —Morgan

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10 Responses to Finding a Balance Between the Desire to Recover and the Desire to Lose Weight

  1. Sunny says:

    My experience was similar to yours, Morgan. I focused on recovery first and addressed the reasons I was using food. I got to a place where I honestly didn’t care about my weight at all. And that was the point, strangely, when I was able to make changes that brought my body to a healthier (and yes, slimmer) spot. It’s like I had to get to a place where it didn’t matter anymore before I could turn my attention to it in a healthy, non-obsessive way. It took a long time-and that’s fine! Recovery, whether it’s emotional or physical, isn’t an emergency. It’s one step at a time, as slowly as you need to go. xo…Sunny

  2. Shady says:

    I’ve tried restrictive diets in the past and I’ve found that I than become obsessive about food counting every last calorie. While those with healthy relationships with food may find this helpful I think I was on a different path, one that may have led me away from binge eating but toward being unhealthily obsessed.

    For me, I need to deal with my food issues and figure out my triggers and what is missing in my life that drives me to eat the way I do and only after that can I begin to make healthy choices and changes about food.

    Remember, you didn’t get this way overnight and from reading the comments and stories, our issues with food stretch back most of our lives, so don’t expect them or your weight to change overnight. But I think once the issues are resolved the weight will follow.

  3. Heather says:

    I was picking up material from one of my suppliers yesterday and was talking with the Office Manager. She looked at me and said ‘Wow, Heather, you look fantasic…you look like you’ve lost weight and you look great…what’s your secret?” I thought about it for a second and replied that I was happy.
    In the last few months I just made the choice to let go of my anger towards the people who screwed up my life and focus on work and on just surrounding myself with good people instead of hiding out at home. What’s really weird is that on Saturday afternoon I ran into my first business partner who screwed me out of a whole bunch of money and left me deflated and angry. I haven’t spoken to him in years. I didn’t talk to him, but just seeing him in the line up at Starbucks left me so filled with anger and resentment that all of the feelings I had been trying to let go of came flooding back. I immediately went to the grocery store and bought enough food to properly fuel a binge. When I got home I emailed a friend about having seen him and was reminded why my life was better than his. I got so sidetracked that I forgot why I was so angry. I put the deep dish pizza that I bought in the oven and had one piece of it and didn’t want any more. I lost the urge to binge. And, just in case it came back, I put the rest of the pizza into the garbage disposal…but it didn’t.

    • Katie says:

      I wish people could just say, “you look great,” rather than commenting on weight loss! Happiness and energy looks great on people; lots of people lose lbs due to destructive and unhealthy behavior.

      • Heather says:

        Katie, I totally agree. And try to make a real effort to not say things like then when I notice that people have lost weight. I always try to comment on hair or smile or outfit.

  4. I dealt with my binging and compulsive overeating for a couple of years before my weight started to be stable. I gained about 40lbs during my hard core recovery period but now, I’m starting to slowly lose and I’m not really trying. I always think how ironic it is that finally, I love myself and the weight is just coming off on it’s own. Granted, I made some significant changes in my diet (gluten, sugar, dairy) because as I learned about my body, I realized how physically terrible those things make me feel. But, I think that when I was in the throws of my DE I didn’t care enough about my body to make any changes. I was torturing myself and now, I don’t do that anymore. I take care of myself. I still battle with disordered thoughts but I know that I just need to keep chugging along and doing the work.

  5. Kate says:

    I was doing ok, feeling more zen about eating and food, until I made the mistake of weighing myself last Thursday. (In the wake from an stressful incident that happened Wednesday.) My weight had gone up a bit again and I’m freaking out over my weight again. I know I should let it go and learn to feel happy in my skin, and this step will be the first on the road to eventual weight loss, but I feel upset and lost. I hope it was one of those fluke things and my weight didn’t actually jump again (all of my clothing fits the same). But I’m still struggling with the idea of “heal first/lose weight later.” I’m going to start to journal again to learn my triggers and to sort how I feel about food and my body.

  6. Angie says:

    I read Chapter 2 and Sunny’s posting re: the obese woman she observed, and thought about my experiences of health and eating. I have ingested so much junk that it’s ridiculous. I have exercised too much to shed that junk (the calories and the feelings) and find myself searching for balance. I am still too worried about the number on the scale (Geneen Roth wrote something like this “scales are for fishes, not for people” - I wish I could remember this phrase more often) and my BMI. I need to find that middle place where I can be at peace with my body, the food, the water, the everything. Some days I get close, but I really want more peace. As one of the visitors/contributors on this site, I also have two kids who are around when I eat and will learn my habits. I really worry that I will unwittingly pass along my disordered eating to them. My best days are the days where I make the time to focus on what I’m feeling, remembering to drink plenty of water, eat food that nourishes me, and to exercise because I love it (and not because I ‘have’ to). Dr. Bulik’s book is great - she lays out the consequences of what happens when you don’t pay attention and deal with things. I’m finding it helpful. Thanks -

    • Kate says:

      Angie, deep deep down I’m scared to have kids because I want them to look at me and see how healthy I am when it comes to food. I don’t want my kids to ever feel like me and I don’t want to treat my kids the way my family treated me growing up.

      I also wish I could just tell my family “I have an eating disorder, I will not be having kids until it goes into remission.”

  7. Emily says:

    This one is a huge struggle for me. I feel like I’ve made so much progress in figuring out the emotional component of why I binge, but I am very uncomfortable with where I am physically. My clothes are all very tight. I have plenty of “skinny” things hanging in my closet, but I don’t have nearly enough “fat” clothes. That means I’m often wearing something constricting that seems tailor made to exacerbate my “fat” feelings. At the same time, I don’t want/carry really afford to buy new clothes. So I’m kind of at an impasse. The short-term solution is to not diet, but to eat healthfully and mindfully and forgive myself when I don’t. We’ll see where that takes me.

    An interesting side note about the scale. I decided a few months ago that my scale was holding back my emotional progress, that I was focusing too much on the number and that I didn’t need unnecessary external factors to change my daily self-worth.
    Fast forward to this week, when I went to the doctor’s office for a routine checkup and told them I didn’t want to know my weight. They wrote it down on my records and gave me a copy – totally unintentional, but I saw it and was devastated. I went from feeling cute and perky that morning to fat and sad that afternoon. I saw my reflection and thought I looked disgusting. My negative self-talk went from virtually non-existent to persistent and almost inescapable. It took me a day to realize it, but it finally dawned on me that I was telling myself those things because I knew my number.

    Man, I was pissed. But in the past few days, I’ve come to see a bright side. Now I know – vividly – how sharp the contrast is. I have some perspective on just how pervasive, subconscious and destructive the scale (and any external force) can be on my self-esteem. That perspective is a gift.

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