Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Binging and re-wiring myself: an update

I'm part of the way through a massive brain re-wiring job, and my mixed eating behavior reflects that.

There have been days over the past few weeks where I've wondered if I've changed at all, because it's still normal for me to eat 2 or 3 cupcakes at a time instead of 1 (or none). I often don't want to slow down and eat mindfully; I still want to overeat; I still want to eat when I'm not hungry. I overate ice cream straight from the carton last week and felt out of control, like I "couldn't" stop.

But there HAVE been changes, and I suspect I have been taking them for granted. I opt to panic about what hasn't changed instead of appreciating what has changed.

One of the things that has changed is I no longer feel compelled to finish something just to "be done with it" or "get it out of the house." Binge eaters, past or present, know what I'm talking about. You eat all of the ice cream because knowing it's in your freezer drives you crazy. You bake a cake and polish it off the next day, just so it's over and no longer in the house. Who cares whether eating it is enjoyable--you just have this weird drive to eat it all and put it behind you. And you definitely want to be the one to have the last piece/scoop/portion.

That's definitely changed. I overate that ice cream last week, but I didn't finish it. There was a serving or so left in the bottom of the carton. It sat in the freezer for a couple of days. Then my brother-in-law came over and in the course of our snacking and visiting, I offered him the remainder of the ice cream. He finished it and I felt nothing--none of my old suffering or weirdness. I just didn't care. To recap, this was a two-part victory: not caring that uneaten ice cream was sitting in my freezer, and not caring that someone else finished it.

I recently baked cupcakes and ate spoonfuls of batter in my usual compulsive way during the preparation, which was disheartening. But I also froze many of the finished cupcakes so we could have them slowly over the coming days/weeks, and that's a very new development. True, I tend to eat them two at a time, or to smother them with whipped cream, which doesn't help with weight loss, but I don't feel tortured by the cupcakes sitting in my freezer. I don't care whether my husband eats the last few cupcakes. I can always make more.

Another change: I often want to overeat or eat multiple sweets a day, but I never feel tempted to carry out a classic binge. The fact that I don't want to buy a package of cookies and a pint of ice cream and a candy bar, and then eat it all in 45 minutes in front of the TV, in secret, is a major development! That doesn't even sound fun or pleasurable to me anymore.

But overeating? Eating in the absence of hunger? Eating dessert with lunch and then again after dinner? Still fun. Still pleasurable. I re-read "Brain Over Binge" over the last few days and did some thinking about this. And I realized that my complete recovery from disordered eating is going to look a little different than the author's, and it will take longer, and that's okay. The author was a naturally thin athlete with normal eating behavior before her bulimia took hold. Once she stopped binging and purging, she returned to the normal eating patterns of her childhood and early teenage years and her weight stabilized around 120 pounds. That's about how much she weighed before her disordered eating began. She sort of came full circle.

I cannot remember a time I was a normal eater or a normal weight. I weighed somewhere in the 135-145 range in 4th grade (and got my period when I was ten and a half, for what it's worth). I have been overeating and eating without hunger since early childhood. Full-blown binging came later, during my teenage years, but I had about 15 years of overeating wired into my brain before the binging even started.

So I've come to understand that even if I stop binging, I'm still going to want to overeat. It's a separate problem from the binging, in a way. I have to re-wire myself in that area too, and until I do, the excess eating will keep me fat. I'm facing a two-part recovery at the very least: address the binging, then address the many forms of overeating. It's going to take awhile, and so will arriving at a reasonable weight.

(Also? I'm straying off topic here, but I've got no idea what my "right" weight is. I know it's not 250 and I know it's not 120. I have felt pretty damn good at 175 before, during a period of dieting in college, and I would feel downright slim at 150. But it's all conjecture; I've got no idea what I can maintain in a healthy, relaxed fashion throughout my thirties and beyond. Anyway, I've just set my sights on 200 for now.)

There is some ambiguity in terms of when overeating crosses over into binging, even though I've previously attempted to delineate clearly what constitutes a binge for me. Some of what I used to call binging, I'm starting to view as overeating. I hope that soon, I will feel confident that the binging is truly behind me and that I can tackle the overeating piece of the puzzle without it backfiring.


  1. It is so distressing sometimes to realize that I truly have never had normal eating habits. As soon as I was old enough to have some money and independence I was buying and sneaking food, probably around age 12 or so, which leaves an awful lot of years of disorder that I'm trying to overcome.

    Thanks for writing this, it is very helpful to know that other people struggle with some of the same things and most importantly this has reminded me of why this is such a long and slow process with so many false starts.

    1. Dear Arwenn, I'm glad that my writing lets you see that you are not alone and that others know what your struggle is like. Your kind comments do the same for me in return.

      I've had so many false starts too, but they were learning experiences. I was often impatient, desperate for quick results, and feeling like I had to do it according to some expert's instructions. Now that I have accepted that it's going to be a long road and slow trek, I'm finally getting somewhere.

      I'm happy to be walking beside you!

  2. Hi, I'm so pleased to read your update. I wrote a couple of weeks ago after finding your blog via escape from obesity I think it was. I added you to my reader but it didn't work for some reason, and I couldnt find your blog when I tried to go back to i. Anyway I just saw your post at Kathryn's blog and am so happy to find yours again.
    I've been struggling, but I'm definitely doing better overall. What I've found helpful is that I decide before I start to eat, how much I'm going to eat. So if I want to eat two thick slices of cake, I go ahead and do it but in order for me to determine what constitutes a binge or just 'out of control animal brain behaviour', I found I have to determine portion size before I start to eat. I vary the portion size according to how hungry I think I am. Although I am so out of touch with my real hunger, that is difficult.

    And to Arwenn too - I actually stole money when I was 9 in order to buy sweets. That's when it started for me. I stopped stealing as soon as I my parents realised what I was doing and I have to say the years between me being aged around 10 to the age of 16, I ate normally. The disorder reared it's head again when I was 17. Here I am 33 years later, trying to overcome it. I agree that it helps to know there are others struggling the same.
    All of that said, I believe that Brain Over Binge has been the most effective of all books/treatments/therapies that I've tried. I'm not there yet, by a long way, but I feel very optimistic about it.

    1. Yay, I'm glad you found me and that you are doing better! Thank you for commenting and for the fantastic advice. Deciding portion size ahead of time and sticking to it sounds easy, helpful, and obvious, and yet I haven't been doing that consistently or consciously at all. I think it would make a world of difference.

      I'm really enthusiastic about Brain Over Binge too--my fantasy is that Hansen would write a Binge Eating Disorder Edition that specifically addresses some of the issues that people with a long history of overeating and obesity face, because she's so clear, insightful, compassionate, and no-nonsense (a very unique mix of traits, I think). But in keeping the focus on bulimia and her own story, she's writing what she knows. I think she and her book are amazing and that any binge eater can learn a lot from it!

      My parents had their own separate, secret junk food stashes and I stole from them too. Little Debbie snacks out of my dad's car, and my mom's frozen Weight Watchers desserts from the deep freezer we had in our unfinished basement. This stuff goes way back.

    2. Hi again

      I think we are all different and recovery will look different for each of us. For me, I need structure. And I'm out of touch with my hunger. So for that reason I decided to set myself a plan to eat 3 meals and 2 small snacks a day, and as I wrote earlier, to decide on portion sizes just before I put the food onto a plate.
      I would love to be able to do Intuitive Eating and only eat when I'm hungry but as I said, my eating has been so chaotic that I can't yet identify hunger very often. I will work on this down the line, but for now, it's 3 meals, 2 small snacks, on a (flexible) schedule, and sticking to serving sizes I've already planned.
      I was at an event that served buffet food and I decided, before I went up to look at the food on display, that I would have a bite size serving of each thing that I found appealing. And only one plateful. Only one trip to the buffet for savoury food, and one more trip for dessert.

      I do know when I feel extremely hungry - not happening much since I started this - and will tailor a serving size accordingly. But once it's on the plate, I don't go back for more, because that's when I start to feel out of control.
      I identify binges by judging how out of control I feel. That's the best way I can tell if it was a binge or not.

      I agree that Hansen could write more books. She didn't have much of a weight problem alongside her ED. But we do. That's the reality - WE actually have two problems. We need/want to lose weight, and we binge eat. I have realised that for me, I need to switch the focus off away from losing weight, to concentrating on binge eating recovery.

      I'm struggling, as I said, but I'm for sure doing better with this plan than anything else I've tried.I truly believe that this is my path to recovery. It will be more windy than Kathryn's was, but this will work.

      Thanks for your blog, it's great to have a place I can talk to others about this.
      Best Wishes

    3. Helen, it sounds like you are making great changes even if you are struggling some.

      Interesting that you identify binges by how out of control you feel. For me it's loss of control as well as feeling embarrassed, paranoid, or hostile around/towards others.

      Like you, I need to focus on becoming a normal eater, NOT on losing weight. That will happen as a side effect. I've been checking the scale way too much lately and it hasn't budged, probably BECAUSE my attention has strayed from eating to weight. Funny how that works. Time to shift my attention back to its rightful place.

      Keep me updated--I'm rooting for you!

  3. I do think that dealing with eating/weight issues is a different experience for people who have more 'normal' patterns to return to. Maybe I'm projecting or something, but if someone used to easily maintain a weight of 150 pounds as an adult, and then gained a bunch of weight after college/marriage/kids... I'm not saying losing that weight would be easy, but they'd be getting back to their old weight, a weight where they knew their body was happy, a weight they knew roughly how to maintain. It's a somewhat different matter than what I'm facing, as someone who's weighed 250+ since I was in high school and never really established a baseline of healthy habits. I have no healthy old patterns to go back to. I don't know where my best weight will be, or where my body can easily stabilize.

    I like a lot of things that Yoni Freedhoff at weightymatters.ca says -- he's a bit more enthusiastic about pills and WLS than I'm really comfortable with, but mostly he espouses healthy habits and doing the best you can, and says that your ideal weight is the weight you're at when you're living the healthiest life you can enjoy. Not the healthiest life you can endure, but the healthiest one you really like, which includes eating delicious food and not driving yourself nuts. I'm still shaky on some aspects of that -- his "is this food worth it, and how much do I need to be happy" test sounds great in theory but never seems to work for me.

    Anyway... thought-provoking post, as usual!

    1. Hey rk23! I totally agree that it's different for those of us who have been fat/overeaters since childhood.

      You said it better than I could:

      "I have no healthy old patterns to go back to. I don't know where my best weight will be, or where my body can easily stabilize."


      I've never heard of Yoni Freedhoff but I look forward to checking out his site, so thank you for that. I love the bit about "not the healthiest life you can ENDURE, but the healthiest life you can enjoy." That's what I was trying to get at when I was talking about what weight will be right for me in my thirties and beyond. I've simply got no idea.

      Anyway, I hope you're well! Thanks for stopping by!

  4. One of the problems with the entire range of weight loss talk as it treats the problems as if there were single "best" solutions with mechanistic answers rather than recognizing that the problems for people who have been substantially overweight their entire lives and have never really known "thin" or a healthy relationship with food are very different from those who are "chubby" or have temporary, circumstantial weight gain.

    I have realized from reading other blogs that people who have never weighed more than 200 lbs. or were overweight only for a portion of their life don't get it at all when you start to talk about the psychology of being a person who has been obese for an entire life. Each approach is different, but there really needs to be a different outlook and different resources for those who have struggled since childhood and who have exceeded 230 lbs. or so for long period of times. Unfortunately, we're all regarded as the same and the amount of information is overwhelming.

    1. So true. Honestly, ARE there any resources specifically designed for teenagers/adults that have been fat since childhood and/or have never had a normal relationship with food? Because I've never seen any. You'd think with the behemoth weight loss industry and its endless stream of products, there would be something like that by now.

      To my understanding, many people that end up super morbidly obese have problems dating back to early childhood; speaking for myself, it would have been nothing for me to reach 300 pounds and just keep going up from there. I would not have thought so at 200 pounds, but once I reached 275 pounds and my mobility was affected and my depression worsened, I understood things differently.

      I wish I could create something helpful for children with disordered eating (an early intervention) as well as something unique and tailored for people that have been fat their whole lives. If people had help re-arranging their brains, a task which is DAMN HARD and takes time, maybe fewer would reach morbid obesity and/or feel forced to resort to re-arranging their guts (i.e. surgery) and all the risks that entails.

      I'm not judging anybody's choices. I just wish I had a brilliant idea of how to help those that aren't benefiting from the standard approaches available today.

    2. To clarify, I meant to say:

      "To my understanding, many people that end up super morbidly obese have eating and weight problems dating back to early childhood."

  5. I have just discovered your blog & have been pouring over your entries in tears. I have felt so isolated and completely alone in my binge-eating behaviors. Speaking to people who do not have a life-long struggle with weight simply cannot grasp the enormity of the hold it has on those of us who struggle. I, too, read Brain Over Binge and found it to be very helpful, mentally. I have not, however, managed to stop myself from continuously returning to eating more than enough food for several people at one sitting, day after day. I have also just come to realize that I have been doing this for over 30 years at this point. I used to go to restaurants/diners with my grandmother as a 9 or 10 year old and order 3 pizza burger deluxes (fries in there, onion rings, etc.) The waiters used to giggle, and ask if more people were coming to join us. Nope, just me eating the three orders all by myself. Don't know how to begin eating normal sized portions, rationally I know what to do, I just can't seem to force myself to do it. I do not wish to return to 300ish pounds, but it will undoubtedly happen, as I am almost there again. I am just grateful to read the words, in your posts, and comments of others who can understand the pain of it all. Thank you.

    1. Dear Anonymous,

      I'm so sorry to hear of your pain. You really and truly are not alone.

      I'm convinced, more than ever, that the whole weight loss/behavior change process has to be different for those of us who have always been fat and have always been overeaters. Like you said, other people truly don't get it. In a way, I guess we can't expect them to. They think "oh, I sometimes want to have seconds or a big dessert too, but I know it'll make me fat, so I just pass. Why can't these (fat) people do the same?!"

      But no--not all urges are created equal. Others are not experiencing the same things we are. We know that, but they don't know that.

      I've got no idea why I have trouble stopping at one piece of pie yet could care less about wine, while my (thin) sister has trouble stopping at one glass of wine and could care less about pie. All I know is that neither one of us is morally superior to the other; I don't find it easy to pass on wine because I'm more virtuous or have better willpower or self-control than my sister--I simply have no innate interest or drive to consume much of it. I'm not wired that way. And she's got no innate interest or desire when it comes to pie. Yet somehow, out of all the possible addictions/compulsions/excesses that humans are prone to, those of us who have always been overeaters are singled out and made to feel like shit about ourselves, over and over again. It's ignorant and it makes me angry.

      I have similar childhood memories to yours. I just wanted MORE. Not one piece of birthday cake--four pieces. I wondered: how the hell is anyone satisfied with one?! In third grade, my teacher (an overweight and brash woman herself) called me a pig in front of my classmates because I overate apples and caramel dip at some autumn themed party we were having. So my heart aches when I read about the waiters giggling at your diner order.

      I hope the blog continues to help you, and I hope you find a way forward soon. I know you and I can change; we've just got to forge our own paths and it's not always clear how to proceed. My very best wishes to you.