Recovering from binge eating

I am a recovering binge eater. I say recoverING rather than recovered because it is a weekly – sometimes daily – battle. I believe it will be a long battle. I have been shrugged off and disregarded when sharing this fact with others – being told that I am fine and there is nothing. Please know, this rejection is the worst reaction you can ever have to someone who is forthcoming about such behaviors. Luckily, I am excessively independent and this didn’t effect me in anyway other than temporarily reducing my desire to increase my interdependence (which is critical to becoming a highly effective individual according to Stephen Covey).

Coming from a long ancestral line of addicts known for episodes of binge drinking – I am genetically susceptible to addiction. This is not an excuse, this is a heightened awareness of what to watch for. After a period of binge drinking – and developing a fear of becoming an alcoholic – I eventually replaced alcohol with food. You might say, but you are not overweight. I once was. Further, my binges did not occur every day (though there were periods of consecutive days) and I maintain an incredibly high level of physical activity (often compensatory).

Food = comfort

My most frequent binges occur when I am under the most stress. I eat for comfort. I eat because it was one thing that I still had complete control over when I feel like everything else around me is falling apart. I eat because food tastes good. I eat to stay awake to get through work demands. I eat for the temporary benefits of increased energy and improved mood. Some individuals might now say that I have shifted to finding comfort with coffee – I may assess this at a later date! I did come to realize that I binged for comfort and I was not satisfied with this behavior, not at all.

Do you eat for comfort? Is it excessive?

Awareness

How do you stop an undesirable behavior? First, you need to be aware of the behavior. Second, you have to want to change. For a long time, I had no idea that I was bingeing – because in today’s society binges have become a norm and many individuals even binge at every meal. It was when my mind began towards thoughts of compensatory behaviors – specifically purging – thatI knew something had to change. I sought professional help – while this may not be necessary for everyone and I am not promoting it as such.

Are you aware of existing problematic eating behaviors?

Environment & triggers

My most dangerous times are periods of sadness. Specifically when I am disappointed in myself or life. Sometimes this is the result of comments other people make – but more often than not it is the result of my negative self-talk. Therefore, it is critical to catch these negative thoughts early, before they can dwell in my brain and set themselves as real. I use a dysfunctional thought record (DTR) to monitor these thoughts on a semi-regular basis.

Another trigger for me is hunger – I cannot let myself become hungry. This is one reason I tend to gain weight when training for endurance running – it makes me hungry. If I allow myself to reach the point of stomach grumbling, it is likely that I will excessively eat.

Do you know your triggers?

Self-monitoring

I tell all of my clients – log your food. Write down everything you eat. EVERYTHING. Often times, writing down everything you eat can be enough to increase your awareness and ultimately change problematic eating behaviors. It can be enlightening to see on paper exactly what you eat. Other times, simply writing it down is not enough.

There are numerous additions and modifications that can be made to a food log. Struggling with compensatory behaviors? Begin tracking the engaging in and thoughts of performing these behaviors within your food log – it is important to know the time it occurs and what you may have eaten as either or both can be triggers.

I like hand writing my food log – as opposed to using an app or online system – because I can add whatever I want. I astrick any consumption that I feel is excessive. I highlight anything that I perceive to be a binge.

Other things to monitor include but are not limited to:

  • Context – where did you eat and who were you with?
  • Mood (& feelings) – what was your mood prior to eating?
  • Thoughts – what were your thoughts prior to, during, and after eating?
  • Physical pain & illness – did you have a headache, sore muscles, a cold, etc?
  • Weather – Sunny or cloudy? Warm or cold? Humid or dry?

I recently wrote about the Recovery Record app, which allows you to track all of these factors and more! I find this app to be one of the best and most useful I have ever seen. And best of all, it does not track calories (unless YOU do it independently). I do not promote tracking caloric intake nor expenditure.

The bottomline

Often times, what you eat is not the determining factor of weight loss or maintenance. When and how much, along with your psychological state, can significantly effect digestive processes and your ongoing psychological state. External and internal stressors have a powerful impact on our eating behaviors.

Further – you cannot spot a binge eater. They come in all shapes, sizes, and socioeconomic backgrounds. There are more of us out there than you may suspect. Be kind to those who express concern with eating – because more than likely there is something going on inside.

For those who may suffer from binge eating – you are not alone. This does not make it easier, but it is always nice to know when you are not alone.

Yours in health,

Becca Rose

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AWESOME wellness App – Recovery Record

I put a lot of time and energy into reading weight loss and fitness self-help books, using health and fitness Apps, and – of course – reading scholarly research. This is rarely specifically to expand my personal knowledge but for the benefit of my clients. I want tools in my box to offer my clients as a means of teaching them independence. I want to empower! Finding quality tools has proven difficult! The multi-million dollar industry is filled with a lot of, for lack of a better term, JUNK.

Therefore I have resorted to a lot of “use this, BUT” referrals. For example, I suggest that a client use MyFitnessPal as a food diary but I advise against tracking physical activity and exercise in the App. This follows with a disclosure of the risks of working for the calories that the App claims to you earn. Most calorie expenditure methods are frustratingly inaccurate.

BUT, I have found an App for my iPhone that I absolutely LOVE for self monitoring. (Keep in mind, that I am not a huge fan of Apps and I tend to gravitate towards a pen and paper when it comes to things like journaling, maintaining workouts records, and food recording.)

Background

In the process of my own self-improvement, no one App seemed to meet my needs. I found I would need to use 4, 5, or even more Apps in order to track everything that I wanted to track. This was not efficacious nor efficient. Further, it did not allow me to compare them all and I was looking for correlations. One of the most critical things for me to track has been my pain – how do my activity level, activity choices, and nutrition correlate with my pain. Is there a weather association? Mood? How do these all interact? I compiled my own worksheet for self-monitoring to meet my needs.

self monitoring

THE RECOVERY RECORD

I am excited to share that I recently discovered the Recovery Record App. It looks to me like someone beat me at my own game – this is my worksheet in an App! Initially designed for use as eating disorder therapy homework – do NOT let this deter you! With Recovery Record you can track:

  • Meals and snacks (e.g., what, where, when)
  • Emotions
  • Motivation
  • Self-Efficacy
  • Accountability
  • Goals & Achievements
  • Hope
  • Pain
  • Thoughts & Feelings
  • Eating behaviors (e.g., bingeing, desire to binge, dietary restriction)
  • Hunger
  • Physiological/Somatic symptoms

Fully customizable, you can establish reminders and rewards, find accountability partners, and share your information with others (e.g., dietitian, physician, counselor, family). While you can track disordered eating behaviors, you can also disable that tracking – along with any other logs you may not want to keep.

You also have the option of logging in via your computer, which I prefer if I want to add a lengthy note or track a significant amount of food.

Stop calorie counting

One of my favorite things about this App is that there is no built-in calorie counting. I discourage calorie counting and encourage mindful eating – and tracking everything that you put into your mouth is just as effective – if not more effective – than counting calories (Cooper, Fairburn, Hawker, 2003; Fairburn 2008).

Reminders

How often do we use the excuse, “I forgot!”? The reminders in this App are useful without being annoying. The App will nudge you to record your meals, but you are free to go back and record information later as well. the best part, you can disable the reminders you do not want.

The bottomline

This App will help you improve and monitor whole-body awareness. This is an App that will EMPOWER you. We know that how and what we eat and exercise are correlated with thoughts and feelings. How about where and when you eat? If you suffer from chronic pain or illness – do you eat more or are you restrictive during times of suffering? Do you avoid exercise? Once you are aware – you can work to change where you may see a need to change. And you can share this information with nearly anyone you choose!

And no, the developer is not paying me to endorse the product – she (they) do not even know that I exist. But they will soon! Kudos to developer Jenna Tregarthen – she may have made it to the list of individuals I want to meet in my lifetime.

References

Cooper, Z., Fairburn, C. G., & Hawker, D. M. (2003). Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Obesity: A Clinician’s Guide. New York: The Guilford Press.

Fairburn, C. G. (2008). Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Eating Disorders. New York: The Guilford Press.

Hays, K. F. (1995). Putting sport psychology into (your) practice. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 26(1), 33-40.