For the past 6 months, I have been working really hard on my intuitive and mindful eating. Of all the stages in binge eating disorder recovery that I have gone through, this one probably requires the most work. Honestly, I am a little surprised by how hard it’s been. I always assumed if I ever reached this stage with my relationship with food, the intuitive eating part would just happen naturally. I kind of thought everything would get easier with time. A lot of things definitely have gotten much easier, especially in terms of my emotional state, but learning to find balance, awareness, mindfulness, and mental calm with my body every day is HARD. Some days it’s a walk in the park, others I feel like I’m fighting my old habit thoughts all day long. But I am so incredibly grateful that I am finally at this point. For a long time I wondered if I would ever “get better”, and thankfully I have.
At this point, I truly feel like my days of chronic sugar laden binges are behind me. If they creep back in in the future, which I’m sure they will at some point, I now have a firm understanding of what I need to do to get back on track. I have the Whole30 and Melissa (Hartwig) Urban’s book “Food Freedom Forever” to thank for these lessons learned, plus a lot of other helpful resources and constant hard work. It’s taken years to get to this place where I feel like I am in “maintenance mode”, but I really just want to keep doing what I am doing now, instead of working on making changes for the future. That being said, the “doing what I am doing now” is not easy. It’s a level of self awareness I have never had, and every day is work. I realize for a lot of people reading this might sound crazy, because most of you have been successfully listening to your body for your whole life, but for me, this is a very foreign concept. I feel like I am now in a high school AP class for binge eating disorder recovery. Let me explain a bit…
When I was younger and obese, I was eating all the time. Never hungry, always full. I was constantly having blood sugar highs and lows that I thought were hunger but really were just a craving for more sugar. I was eating constantly and never allowing my stomach to rest and digest.
When I lost a ton of weight and eventually became unhealthily underweight, I was always hungry. I ignored my stomach’s cries for fat and and survived off of pretzels, diet coke, and all the fat free trendy foods that I thought were healthy. Hunger was my norm and being full was always a very uncomfortable feeling that I avoided at all costs… until my weekly binge cravings would strike. Then I would eat so much sugar, carbs, and junk food that I would become so overly full I felt like I was going to explode. I would be physically sick for hours and sometimes the whole day after a binge. It took days to “recover” from my binges, and on those days, I was constantly hungry and overexercising. There was never a balance.
Once I started chilling out on the exercise and learning to fuel my body with the proper nutrients, I was able to experience hunger only at certain times of day without starving myself, but fullness was always a weird one for me. With binge eating disorder, fullness is something I have a very confusing perception of. To me, being full is a stomach so stuffed that I can’t imagine eating anything else, and unfortunately, after a lifetime of bingeing, that feeling requires an obscene amount of food. I guess I don’t know what people who don’t binge feel when they say they are “stuffed” after a meal, but I can assure you still to this day, I have never felt physically full after a normal large meal, even a Thanksgiving one. It truly takes thousands of calories for me to have a “stuffed” feeling. That could just be that I have a skewed idea of what full means, but I think part of it has to do with the fact that my stomach can stretch so much from the bingeing that I just don’t get those same fullness cues as people who don’t binge. That’s just my theory, but either way, it makes this intuitive eating thing REALLY HARD.
For a long time over the past few years, I was eating enough, but I still wasn’t listening to my body. I was either counting calories, counting macros, or eating what seemed like reasonable portions just to try and get used to eating “normal” quantities of food on a regular basis. This worked for a while, but once I started learning about Whole30, I realized I still had some major issues to work out. Counting calories is not how I want to live my life. I want to be in tune with my bodies’ signals and learn to respect it and give it what it is asking for. I want to learn to eat intuitively, have mindfulness with my meals, and not eat what the internet tells me is normal, but rather what my body is telling me it needs.
Whole30 helped a ton with this by providing the meal template guideline to follow for building your plate. It teaches you to use your plate in terms of measurements with your hand instead of calories… a palm or 2 size portion of protein, a large handful of vegetables, a thumb or 2 size portion of healthy oils, a small closed handful of olives, coconut, or other fats, and 1/2 to 1 avocado. This concept was so helpful for me. It helped me balance my plate in my initial stages and gave me something to work off of that wasn’t numbers.
After I got better at not counting calories (still struggle to this day though- its such a hard habit to break when you don’t even need to look at the label to know how many calories are in every food), I found myself in a whole new world of confusion. I really felt lost for a while. I didn’t know how much food I needed for my lifestyle. I felt out of control sometimes not knowing what my numbers were, and the anxiety of the unknown often caused me to binge just from the worry that I was overeating. It didn’t help that I was basically never feeling full and was trying hard to read my stomach signals but felt like all I was getting was hunger and never fullness. It was frustrating for a while, but after lots of time, exploration, experimentation, some shifts in my diet, and acceptance that it will take my body a long time to heal, I am slowly finding my way.
I give all the credit from my recent success to living low carb and cutting sugar out of my life. Once I started eating more fat and less carbs (even the Whole30 carbs like fruit and potatoes), I noticed a huge shift in my mindfulness, my cravings, my hunger, and just recently, my fullness. By eating more fat, I have been able to feel a form of satiety and go hours without having cravings or even unsure hunger. I still don’t often feel full or stuffed, but I definitely have more of a “satisfied” feeling after a protein and fat filled meal. It’s at least a feeling of “I don’t need or want to eat anymore.” That alone is a huge improvement. Usually in the past, I just forced myself to stop when I felt like I “should” be full. Now it’s an intuitive questioning of “Do I feel like I have had enough?” and if later I still am unsure, I will eat something else.
These past few months have often felt like I’m studying for an exam or doing a science experiment. Everyday is an exploration of finding my true hunger, distinguishing between cravings, practicing mindful eating, eating to satisfaction, and trying to respond to my emotions with things other than food. I’ve never listened to my body so much in my life. It’s honestly exhausting sometimes, and there are definitely some days where I say screw it, I just want to eat and not think. Of course sometimes the old bingey thoughts creep back in and I slip up. I’m certainly not perfect and the “healthier” binges still occur from time to time, but overall, I am doing really great. So mentally, I would say I am in a healthier place than ever before, but it hasn’t come easy. I still have a ton of work to do, things to learn about my body, and healing to do with my gut and stomach.
Physically, I am slowly losing my excess weight from all the stress of last year. It’s VERY slow, but I have come to accept my body for where it’s at and and am learning to love myself no matter my size. That has taken quite a bit of mental work too, but I’m definitely in a much better place in terms of body image these days than I was when I first gained the weight. What matters most to me now is that I am healthy. And healthy can be at any size. Just because I’m overweight from the doctor’s standards doesn’t mean I am any less healthy than when I was in the ideal category. My lifestyle now is so much healthier than it was when I was a size 2, and I am really grateful for finally realizing that. So yes, losing a little more weight would be nice because I still feel like I am holding on to some extra stress weight that I would feel better without, but my weight is no longer something that I use to define my health.
My plan for this next month is to just continue what I have been doing. I am still working on maintaining my low carb lifestyle, and that is my main focus right now. I have done so much research over the past year on the benefits of low carb and I am sure that it is how I want to live for the long term. I know many people say that people who struggle with eating disorders shouldn’t do something restrictive like low carb because it will be triggering, but I have experienced the complete opposite. Going low carb has made me feel free. I am slowly ridding myself of my sugar cravings, I have less binge urges, I have a much clearer mind, and overall my mood and emotional state is so good that I can’t imagine going back. I sleep like a baby, I have constant energy, I am so happy, and I feel like I am finally giving my body the food it has been begging for for years. In my opinion, I would tell people who are struggling with binge eating that trying something like Whole30 or Keto is definitely worth exploring. I know it’s not for everyone, but this is a lifestyle choice that is healthy for you whether or not you have an eating disorder, so it’s at least worth doing some research.
The main thing I’m working on in terms of my binge behavior recently is my issue with nuts. Nuts are my “gateway food” to bingeing. They are low carb and healthy, so I always tell myself they are a good choice, but I can never stop with just a handful. I know that nuts are not a good choice for me mentally right now, so I am working this month on my relationship with them and trying to never have them as a snack on their own. If I eat them in a salad, I don’t have as bad of binge triggers, but just munching on them midday does me no good. The only problem is that we went to Costco last week and Zach bought 3 GIANT BAGS of walnuts, pecans, and almonds, so they are gonna be in my house for a while. But I am looking at this as a perfect learning experience and I will continue to work on my relationship with them until they are gone.
In other news, I’m still working on my Whole30 coaching certification, but have completed the first 2 stages and have 2 more to go. I haven’t gotten my results back from stage 2, but fingers crossed they are good! I’m really hoping I can finish in time to be able to offer my first coaching services by the summer, but I’m trying to be patient and just go with the flow. It’s a journey, not a race. As with everything in life.
Ok, thats all for now. But for real FOR REAL, I will be posting much more regularly now that I have my sweet new MAC BOOK AIR! Well, not new. 2015 refurbished. But new to me and so nice to have a Mac again!