Imagine… You have a long history of binge eating disorder and you are in an active recovery. You are finally figuring out which foods work for you, what your triggers are, and how to manage the cravings and urges when they strike. You are feeling really good about life and have created a solid environment to fuel your success.
Then you eventually find yourself on vacation in Europe for your honeymoon, surrounded by pastries, croissants, and a “laissez faire” attitude. It’s vacation, so you can have all the treats you want, right?! This is when bingeing on “all the things” is ok!
Wrong. Well not completely wrong, but mostly wrong. Here’s why…
I haven’t put in years of hard work with my eating disorder recovery to let my sugar dragon trick me into believing that spending my honeymoon bingeing on Austrian donuts and French croissants is OK just because I was in Europe. More importantly though, the mental shift that I have finally made with food is that it’s not about “allowing” myself to eat all those foods. I know at this point that I can choose to eat whatever I want, whenever I want. On this trip, I realized that I didn’t WANT to eat a lot of the foods that I would have normally binged on in the past. I felt the freedom to choose the foods that I truly wanted, while also saying “no thanks” to many other foods because they simply weren’t worth it to me.
This mindset did not just come to me naturally out of the blue. I spent months resetting my body and mind and finding my personal “food freedom” using The Whole30 Program. One of the most monumental concepts that The Whole30 has taught me is the idea of finding your own worth it vs. not worth it foods. This is truly the foundation of food freedom, and it’s different for every person.
With my history of binge eating, I used to not let any of my thoughts distract me from my mission of eating every sugar and carb filled treat in my path. I was like the Tasmanian Devil in the grocery store. I wouldn’t let my brain or body decide if any of those foods were worth the physical and emotional roller coaster I would ride for the next week after my binge. All I cared about was satisfying the craving and then eating uncontrollably until I was physically sick. It was often like an out of body experience where I would “come to” after a few hours and think, “what just happened?!” I basically shut off my brain for those few hours of eating so I didn’t have to deal with all of the thoughts I was avoiding. I used food to numb my feelings.
These days, things are very different. After completing multiple Whole30’s, while also diving deep into the reasoning behind my bingeing and doing some tough inner work with a nutritional therapist, my mental and physical clarity is better than ever. I went into my honeymoon this year with a great deal of confidence and self awareness. My blood sugar levels are finally stable because my body is fueled by healthy fats, protein, and nutrient dense veggies. My cravings and binge urges are at an all time low due to my diet changes and my work to discover the true meaning behind my bingeing. Now that I am aware that I have used food to avoid uncomfortable thoughts and emotions for my entire life, I am able to do the work to learn to sit with these feelings when they arise rather than turning to sugar to numb them. It’s not easy, but this inner work is just as important as the food I am putting in my mouth when it comes to finding my food freedom.
You can’t fix a lifetime of disordered eating and sugar addiction in one month, which is why I use the Whole30 as the foundation for my extended recovery process. I never expected to be “healed” in 30 days, but after a solid 6 months of sticking to wholesome real foods and avoiding all sugar and processed carbs and oils, I am finally starting to experience many noticeable non-scale victories. It truly took a good 4 months until the changes started to become apparent for me though, which is why I am always encouraging my coaching clients to be patient with this process if they have a similar history to mine. This is a journey, not a race. It takes time, effort, and dedication. Whole30 and food freedom is not a 30 day quick fix. It’s an ongoing process of reconnecting with your body, resetting when needed, and constantly learning and growing from new and challenging experiences.
Going into my honeymoon vacation, I definitely felt some stress, but it was minimal. I knew I wouldn’t stay Whole30 in Europe, and I was OK with that. What I did know was that I wanted to feel my very best on vacation and not let food ruin any of my time with my husband. For that reason, I was always very careful to determine what was “worth it” at each meal. Overall, I actually ate very healthy on my vacation, and I don’t regret it one bit. I slept well every night, had tons of energy for skiing and site seeing during the day, had minimal digestive issues, and overall felt really balanced and stress free about my choices. There was even a dinner where we weren’t sure what we ordered because the entire menu was in German and all it ended up being was bread cubes to be dipped in cheese fondue. There was not a single piece of meat or vegetable on the table. In the past, this would have sent me into a state of panic, stress, and an eventual binge. This time though, I just decided to roll with it, knowing there was a chance my sugar dragon would flare up and that I may not feel my best the next morning, but understanding this was about the experience and time together with my husband, not about the bread.
If you are curious about which specific foods I decided were worth it on my vacation, I had a few bites of an apple strudel that was very good but not worth eating the whole thing, a bite of tiramisu which I had the same feeling about, a bite of an Austrian potato bread dumpling that wasn’t up my alley, and the bread and cheese fondue I spoke about earlier. It ended up being totally delicious and worth every bite. The next morning was definitely a little rough digestion wise, but honestly it wasn’t even close to what I would have experienced in America. I learned a lot about the food in Europe during my travels, and it is just a different quality than many of the same foods we have in America. In general, I felt way better eating the gluten and dairy in Europe than I do here.
So no, I didn’t eat a croissant in Paris (gasp!) because I just didn’t want one, and no, I didn’t eat Schnitzel (thinly pounded deep fried pork) in Austria because it just didn’t look that great to me. Some may call me crazy or say I was missing out, but if I wanted it, I would have tried it, and that was the most liberating feeling I have felt in a long time.
Now to be clear, I definitely had some cravings and “bingey” thoughts on a few occasions while traveling because no, I am not “cured” and yes, I am human… but that is what food freedom is all about. Letting those thoughts in, sitting with them instead of fighting them, and then allowing yourself to determine what foods are truly worth it, and what your sugar dragon is just trying to convince you to eat.
Sometimes when you have binge eating disorder, you feel helpless. You feel like sugar and carbs have complete control over you. But if you really devote the time and energy to resetting your body and brain, practicing mindfulness, and putting in the hard work towards your goals, you will eventually find your food freedom like I am. This vacation was a huge “see the light” moment for me. I am sure I would have not had the same success had I not worked so hard for the many months before to reset my body with the Whole30, and I am so thankful that I did. Sugar addiction is very real, but once you finally kick it to the curb and your body learns to feed off of foods like fat and protein as it’s preferred energy sources, you are able to experience true hunger and fullness without the constant voice of a sugar dragon yelling in your ear. I am a big believer that the first step in the recovery process is resetting your body with wholesome real foods. Once you are able to think clearly without all the blood sugar highs and lows, you can then start to do the inner work of learning why you are addicted to certain foods or behaviors and how to address them further.
Food freedom is a lifelong journey. It doesn’t just happen overnight. Just because I had a great experience in my food freedom on my vacation doesn’t mean that my hard work has stopped. I came back from my trip knowing that I needed to remain focused on my recovery, continue doing the hard work, and staying mindful and confident in my progress. Whole30 is actually the easy part. Having such a strict set of rules to follow is very black and white, which is always easiest for the brain to digest. Food freedom is when the real work begins. For all of you out there struggling with binge eating, I hope this post gives you a little more insight on how the Whole30 has helped me in my recovery and how I navigated my food freedom while traveling. Traveling can be a huge trigger and stressor for many with eating disorders, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Do the work. Eat real food. Reset your body and mind. If I can find food freedom, so can you.
For more information on The Whole30 Program, visit www.whole30.com, or contact me for more information about my coaching services!