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Food is my outlet. While I know it probably isn’t good for me, I find it comforting. After a long hard day, the only thing I can imagine is a pizza or a hamburger or fries to wind down my day. I have had some success in cutting back at times and even tried out Weight Watchers and Jennie Craig to help me control my eating, but I could only stick it out for a few months. When I do return to my old ways, it tends to be worse than before. In fact, I’m at my highest weight right now since high school. High school was tough for me. I had a few, but not many friends. I never really felt like I fit it. It was during this time that food became a joy for me. I would typically binge on food alone, but even when I did hang out with friends it was food related.
What has scared me lately is that there are times when I feel like I’m losing control of my eating. I don’t just mean in an existential way. I have literally been unable to stop myself from eating until it is all gone. And, I feel horrible afterwards too. I just lay on the sofa in guilt trying to psych myself up for how I can change this. But it’s not easy. How can I get out of this cycle and regain my control?
-Too Much Food
Dear Too Much Food,
Eating is an important and vital part of who we are. Food sustains our bodies and in many ways is an enjoyable part of everyday life. However, as with many other things that are good, it can also be a destructive part of our lives. Those struggling with regular binge eating often experience higher blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and can also put themselves at elevated risk for heart disease and type II diabetes.
It sounds like you feel at odds with yourself. You know that this pattern of eating isn’t healthy for you but food is also your friend, your comfort. You’re trying to pry yourself away from this friend of yours but it isn’t easy. If you are to overcome this struggle, it will come down to priorities. Every single day you will have to ask yourself what you value more, your health or your comfort. The tricky thing about eating struggles is that you have to eat to live. Unlike many other struggles that have aspects of compulsivity or loss of control, food is not something that you can live without. So this battle for you will be one of re-establishing healthy boundaries.
Binge eating disorder is defined as regularly eating a large amount of food in a 2 hour period, feeling a loss of control over eating, and strong feelings of shame or guilt following a binge. Effective treatments are available for Binge Eating Disorder including cognitive behavioral therapy approaches.
Every single day you will have to ask yourself what you value more, your health or your comfort.
Most of these treatments include recognizing and evaluating beliefs that you have about your relationship with food as well as how you evaluate yourself. Depending on the severity of the struggles you are experiencing, professional treatment may be necessary.
There are clinicians that specialize in a wide range of eating disorders, and the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) website includes good resources. Sometimes it is also helpful to start with reading on your own to educate yourself about the process of treatment. Good self-help workbooks out there including, Overcoming Binge Eating and the Food and Feelings Workbook. You can do it, believe that others can help.
Dear Too Much Food,
I want you to do something for me. I want you to buy a journal and I want you to start logging your eating daily. For many of us food is an outlet. It’s a way to get instant satisfaction and for that brief time feel like we are escaping a hard day or rough time. But if we over indulge or compulsively eat, that satisfaction is quickly turned into punishing ourselves resulting in unhealthy feelings about our body.
I say this because I have been there. It’s a battle I fought throughout my teens and twenties and something I can joyfully say is no longer a part of my life. It took me a while to realize how important my body is, and actually start treating it with respect. I think you can too and I believe in you.
So, why the journal? Because it is a first step to holding yourself accountable for your actions and also a visual log of what you are putting into your body. No one feels good about writing down consuming an entire package of Oreos for dinner. Research has shown that people who keep a food journal are more likely to lose weight. Accountability. You need to start holding yourself accountable for your eating actions and I strongly encourage finding an accountability partner or group you can confide in.
This will take vulnerability, but if you are ready to make the change, it is doable.
If you want to get out of this unhealthy cycle you need to make a commitment to yourself and your body. If that’s getting back into Weight Watchers or a Jenny Craig program then make a commitment to not only continue the program but make a point to seek out others to help you on this journey. This will take vulnerability, but if you are ready to make the change, it is doable.
Writing this letter was an action step. So what is the next? Go grab that journal, write down a plan, get back into a group who can support you and remember that your body is not something to be abused. Love and care for it, fuel it with nutrition and make it powerful. This is the first step to a mental and physical journey and you can do it. I wish you the best as you undertake this challenge.