Monday, 31 July 2017

The Shift That Helped Me Finally Stop Binge Eating

The Shift That Helped Me Finally Stop Binge Eating

I don’t know where the time has gone, friends. July has come to an end, which also means summer is half over. And it feels like I only just started the slow food experiment, yet somehow today is the last day of it.

I have to admit: food has been the easiest of all the slow living experiments I’ve done so far this year. Truly, everything about it was easy. When I got home from that road trip I did across the US, I was so excited to get back into the kitchen. I’ve never craved fresh fruit, salads and smoothies more. And after toying with the idea for close to a year, the voice that had been telling me to switch back to a vegetarian diet was louder than ever. When you’re that excited about making a change, it’s easy to embrace it – and that’s exactly what I did.

For those of you who have been following my Instagram stories (clips that only last for 24 hours), you know I’ve spent a lot of hours in the kitchen this month. I went right back to some of my old vegetarian recipes, and even tried about 7-10 new ones. I don’t know if I’d ever tried that many new recipes in a year before, let alone in one month. But again, I was excited! So not only was I trying lots of new recipes, I was also sharing pictures of the end results. I won’t do this forever, but I was excited about food for the first time in years – and it felt good.

On top of switching back to veg and eating mostly home-cooked meals, two of my other goals were around sourcing and eating more local food products (and finding restaurants that do the same here, which fortunately Squamish has lots of). I feel like the universe was on my side, because shortly after publishing that post, the woman who manages the Squamish Farmers Market introduced herself to me through Instagram and we later connected at the market. There, I’ve been buying produce grown in the Sea-to-Sky Corridor and found a farm in Squamish to buy fresh free-range eggs from. She also invited me to a water bath canning workshop, and then another friend in Squamish gave me a gallon of homemade kombucha. Now, I’m envisioning myself canning things in the fall and playing around with fermentation. This whole month was just another example of something I’ve learned to be true: when you’re ready to make a change, opportunities will present themselves.

The slow food experiment is technically over, as of tonight, and I’ve noticed so many positive effects from it. It’s easier to wake up in the morning. I have a clearer mind and more energy during the day. I am sleeping a bit better (though I also think the Calm sleep stories have something to do with that). I’m less bloated and have less pain in my body/hip. Generally, I just feel better overall. IT ALSO FEELS GOOD TO BE EXCITED ABOUT FOOD! Oh, and I haven’t stepped on a scale since the end of June, but I would guess I’ve lost a few pounds too.

In saying that, I want to talk about something I was asked a few times via email this month. No, I am not on a diet. This was not a diet. And you wouldn’t catch me talking about dieting here, because I am anti-diet.

I’ve been hesitant to ever write about this because it’s not very often I take a HARD stance on something. I’m usually open to seeing both sides of a scenario and encourage people to work within their comfort zones. Also, for most of my life, I was somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. I’ve never really believed in diets, but I’ve gone through a few periods of restricting my calories in order to lose weight. I’d still eat most of my regular meals, I would just eat smaller portions of them. And in the short-term, it worked. In 2012, I lost 30 lbs. from both restricting my calories and working out 4-5 days/week (<– that second part was still key).

But guess what’s happened since 2012? My weight has fluctuated. The car accident I was in played a major role in that, of course. It was five months before I could get back into the gym and nearly three years before I could run again (and that was only after having surgery). Naturally, my weight went up when I wasn’t active and has gone down since I’ve been back to my normal self. I’m not far from where I was when I’d hit that 30 lb. mark, but it’s not a goal of mine anymore, so I refuse to restrict my calories or do any kind of diet to get there. The reason I refuse to diet is because I know they don’t work. And the reason I feel confident saying diets don’t work is because they don’t address the real issues.

Let’s start by looking at this from a “mindful consumer” standpoint. Part of being a mindful consumer includes being able to take a step back before making a purchase and asking ourselves why we are so comfortable buying into the idea that we need this product in our lives. Diets are marketing campaigns. That’s it. It’s so simple but it’s worth repeating: diets are marketing campaigns. Atkins, Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, slow carb, calorie restricting, juice cleanses, intermittent fasting, etc. They address our problems and insecurities and sell us promises to fix them. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to feel like your best self. On that note, if you know your weight or your current food choices could be hurting your health, you should absolutely take control of that situation and start figuring out what some healthier options are for you. But the popular “diets” out there are probably not the answer. They don’t address the real issues. In fact, they often create more.

One big problem diets have created is that they ask us to place food into one of two categories: good or bad. When we eat foods from the “good” category, we feel good about ourselves. It is a false measure of self-worth. I can speak to this personally, because I know what I’m about to say next is truer than anything I’ve said about food before. When we eat foods from the “bad” category, we feel ashamed. And when you feel ashamed of your actions, it is way too easy to slip into a cycle of self-loathing and substance abuse.

I’ve never really talked about my struggles with binge eating here before. You might have caught a glimpse inside the story in these two posts (Don’t Treat Yourself, Take Care of Yourself & What Happened When I Tracked My Food Intake for 60 Days). But for the most part, I’ve never mentioned it because I have more shame about my binge eating than I ever did about my debt, my shopping or even my drinking. In The Year of Less, I write that I know a lot of people use shopping as a way to treat themselves. It’s a pick-me-up on a bad day or even a way to celebrate on a good day. I didn’t shop in those moments. Nope. In those moments, I always turned to alcohol and food. And once the alcohol was gone, the only thing I had left was food.

My binges usually involved eating an entire pizza or a bag of peanut butter M&Ms. Sometimes both. I’ve also lied about what I ate, eaten alone in my car, and even hidden food at home or in my desk at work. Being ashamed about my food binges is what caused me to keep them a secret for so long. Shame feeds on secrecy. And my secrets were two-fold: I didn’t want to talk about the things in my life that were causing me to binge on alcohol and food, and I didn’t want to talk about the binges themselves either. I was ashamed of it all. And when you’re ashamed, you live in a cycle of self-loathing and potential substance abuse. After eating the “bad” food, I would tell myself I was a bad person and convince myself I’d be fat forever so I shouldn’t bother attempting to restrict these “bad” foods from my diet. And then I would usually binge at least once a week.

Over the years, I’ve made a number of positive changes to my diet – this time, the word “diet” being used to describe the food I happily choose to eat on a regular basis, not a specific program I am following. I’ve accepted that dairy isn’t great for me and switched to almond milk and other alternative products. I’ve swapped my afternoon coffee/treat with a smoothie (and only have it when I’m genuinely hungry for it). And obviously this past month, I cut meat out. You should note that none of these changes were made overnight. More importantly, though, none of them were made with the hopes that I would lose weight. I made them after listening to my body and paying attention to how things made me feel. So I’ve been on the right track but I would still have the occasional binge on pizza or chocolate or both because I wasn’t addressing the real issues.

The real issues for me were underlying: having a low self-worth, being fairly sensitive to criticism and judgment and pain, and not realizing that I was trying to numb it all. Honestly, I wasn’t even ready to talk about some of these things until I finally started going to therapy this year (and I will now forever advocate the importance of taking control of our mental health alongside our physical health). But one thing I figured out on my own first was that I had to remove the shame about eating “bad” food in order to finally able to stop binging and end this cycle – and I started removing the shame by changing the stories I was telling myself about food.

One of the reasons diets are setup to fail right from the start is because we see the healthier food options as the worser options. We feel like we “have to” eat them or we “should” eat them, and the story we tell ourselves is that we don’t really want to but we will suffer through it. At some point in the past couple of years, I changed the story and started reminding myself how delicious it was and how much better I felt after eating the healthier options. From there, I’ve slowly added cleaner and more whole-food recipes to my regular diet.

The other mindset shift I had to make was that I stopped sorting foods into “good” and “bad” categories – or really, I just stopped feeling like any food was BAD. Is sugar great for you? No. Is pizza great for you? Not really. But once I stopped telling myself it was bad and I was a bad person for eating it, I was actually able to enjoy it occasionally – and I can’t remember the last time I had a genuine binge. When I decide to eat the piece of pizza or the slice of cake, I simply choose to enjoy it <– and that has made all the difference. Instead of eating an entire thing, I now know how to have just a couple pieces and save the rest for another day. I enjoy the amount I eat, chew slower and taste the flavours. I don’t binge and I don’t feel ashamed after. I know I’m not a bad person for eating pizza or chocolate.

Now, I know that in itself won’t work for everyone right off the bat. Sugar is a drug, and even having a little bit can cause a lot of people to binge on more and more of it. But I still stand by what I said about removing the shame about ever eating it at all. Eating sugar doesn’t make you a bad person. And as soon as we can change these thoughts, we can start to change our relationship with all food. In my mind, that is the ultimate goal. Forget about diets. In an interview with Nicole Antoinette, Anna Guest-Jelley reminds us that if diets worked, the industry wouldn’t exist because everyone would be their ideal weight and size. So, forget about them. Instead, let’s change our relationship with food. Let’s fall in love with the food that makes us feel like our best selves, taste the flavours of the things we enjoy and stop shaming ourselves for eating anything that is so-called “bad”.

So to answer the question again, no, I wasn’t on a diet this month. The slow food experiment wasn’t a diet, and you’ll never hear me say I’m on a diet because I am anti-diet. Diets are marketing campaigns created to sell products. They promise they’ll fix our problems and insecurities, but they don’t address the real issues. The real issues will be personal for everyone, but I think it’s safe to say that changing our relationship with food and the stories we tell ourselves about it are part of a lasting solution. That’s not a diet. That’s an act of self-care.

Experiment #6: Slow Food

  • Eat mostly* home-cooked meals – done!
  • *Eat out max. once/week at restaurants that use locally-sourced ingredients – usually ate out twice/week
  • Swap out some ingredients for stuff that can be sourced in Squamish or BC – done!
  • Switch back to a vegetarian diet – done! minus eating fish tacos around my birthday
  • Eat slowly – done!

I want to add that a lot of what I’ve been practicing over these past couple of years could be described as mindful eating (or “intuitive” eating). There are some great blog posts and books on the subject, with ideas and guidelines written by dieticians, nutritions and doctors who are far more qualified to write about this than I am. And like I said before, if you struggle with binge eating or are worried about your health, I will forever advocate the importance of dealing with both your mental health and physical health.

The only things I can speak to are my experiences, and my experience shows me that my own binge eating was a result of not treating underlying issues and feeling ashamed about my food choices. Removing the shame and changing the stories I told myself about food are two of the ways I’ve been able to develop a healthier relationship with it – and with myself.

That is the goal. <3

Extra Reading

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