Comfort eating: breaking the binge cycle

I feel like I prefix a lot of these posts with similar statements, but here’s the thing: I’m a chronic binge eater, and I probably always will be. It will always be part of my psyche and one of my default coping mechanisms, but it’s not a part of myself I’m proud of. Over my adult life to date, I’ve gone through periods – long periods, in some cases – of eating mindfully and developing a healthy, balance in my diet.

I’ve also been through periods where I’ve crash dieted, or – when I was much younger – starved myself. My relationship with food is complex, but at it’s root is this:

I find food pleasurable.

If it’s raining, and the world feels grey, I’ll eat something sweet and feel better. When I was depressed in university, hunger and misery tended to coincide with a shortcut through a store, and so I’d stock up and binge in bed. There are meals I find emotionally evocative, such as tiramisu or roast new potatoes, and eating them is a way of connecting to a time when I was happy.

If I’m in a good mood, it’s justification to make it better with food. And my issue has always been an inability to handle anything in moderation.

If I buy three brownies, I am perfectly capable of eating all three. If I buy ice cream for the freezer, I’m fully aware of the possibility that I will eat it all in one sitting. If I know there is food in the house and I’m in a mood, I’ll seek it out and eat it, regardless of how ridiculous it is – I’ve eaten dehydrated sundried tomatoes and tins of tuna when I’m miserable.

Eating, for me, is also about boredom. I’ll eat to spice up a dull afternoon, or to get me through something I’m dreading. I’ll eat out of a fear of FOMO, worried that I’ll regret it if I skip desert.

That said, I’m not ignorant of what this mindset is doing to my body. I’ve studied nutrition, I’ve read books. I’ve got qualifications in behavioural psychology and cognitive feedback, and I understand the reasons behind what I do. I have an understanding of human physiology that tells me why I should stop.

A few years ago, I shed two dress sizes just by introducing exercise and cutting my calorie intake. I shed weight quickly, when I focus, like my body is just waiting for an excuse to be its best self.

All of that is hard to remember, though, when I’m in the middle of a bad day and there’s free cake in the office.

The last time I tried to get healthy, I did it because I wanted to look good for my partner, and I know how insane that is. I was in the worst depressive cycle of my life, and that motivation allowed me to feel righteous indignation and wallow in victimhood – it felt like if I was miserable already, I might as well have a good reason for it.

This time round, it’s not about him (who, by the way, is nothing but supportive and adorable, and would never judge me). It’s about me, and a realisation I’ve come to.

I’ve been too narrow in my focus. I’ve been avoiding mindfulness, out of fear that I won’t like what I find when I interrogate my own thoughts, and it’s been the same with food – it’s a crutch I’ve been afraid to give up. Recently, though, I’ve realised that in future years I might come to regret decisions I’m making today.

Someday, I’d like to have kids, and I can imagine 30-year-old pregnant Tea yelling down the Tardis-tubes at me, furious I didn’t do more to spare her the embarrassment of no one being able to tell she’s pregnant until she’s 30 weeks along.

I can imagine 40-year-old Tea, having to juggle life-long chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes with the life I hope she’s living.

I can see 50-year-old Tea, sad that her children have developed negative relationships with food, and unable to advise them because she’d feel like a hypocrite.

So, I’ve been trying a new tactic. I track my calories with an app, but I don’t deny myself anything. If I want carrot cake in the office, I can have a slice – a small slice, so that I have enough calories for a delicious dinner. I never want future-Tea to be mad at present-Tea because I didn’t have the foresight to be mindful and consider, with pleasure, the things I’m putting into my mouth.

I’m trying to walk more, and learn to run again, and it’s been fun, in the most part. I’ve cut out coffee, allowing myself the occasional delicious tea, and once the headaches passed I’ve been feeling much more alert in the afternoons.

Basically, it’s been really hard work, and at the time of writing I’m about a week and a half in. I have rewards planned for myself for every 4 weeks I keep it up, and I’m feeling a lot more in control of my feelings, and taking pleasure in things like green beans and strawberries – things I love, but can’t really taste when my palate is ruined by sugar and coffee.

I don’t have a conclusion to come to. I don’t have a list of advice, because I haven’t found a solution to this, but I know that lots of people feel very alone when it comes to this subject, and it’s really hard not to binge when you’re mentally unwell.

I just wanted you to know that I’ve been there, and I know what you’re going through.

Have courage, and be kind to yourself.

With love, always,

Tea.

NB: PLEASE NOTE, I AM NOT A DOCTOR OR A MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL. THIS BLOG IS INTENDED AS A PERSONAL DIARY, AND ANY ADVICE GIVEN IS FRIENDLY AND LIGHT-HEARTED – PLEASE DO NOT USE IT INSTEAD OF SEEKING PROFESSIONAL HELP. IF YOU DISAGREE WITH ANY ADVICE I GIVE, PLEASE LET ME KNOW. SIMILARLY, IF YOU ARE OFFENDED FOR ANY REASON, PLEASE SHARE AND I WILL TAKE YOUR THOUGHTS INTO CONSIDERATION. FINALLY, IF YOU ARE HAVING VIOLENT OR SELF-HARMING THOUGHTS PLEASE SEEK MEDICAL HELP AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.
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