I struggled with an eating disorder for around 12 years and binge eating was the hardest aspect of my recovery.
The shame I felt post binge was all-encompassing and isolating; I would try to escape my emotions through bingeing, and avoid my problem through assuring myself that the next day I’d be ‘healthier’ or ‘get myself back on track’. Bingeing is ultimately our brain’s way of telling us that something isn’t quite right, physiologically or emotionally. By avoiding how I felt post-binge, I was ignoring the signs and the cycle was continuing. But there is a way out. Here is a list of some of the things which have helped me cope, and ultimately overcome binge eating.
Accepting that I had binged was the first step. I think that acceptance can sometimes be seen in a negative light. But I wasn’t saying I was happy or okay with the situation. It just meant I was no longer going to run from it.
Being Kind to myself was next. The way I spoke to myself after a binge was often intense and distressing. It made the situation worse, and more likely to repeat itself. I felt really uncomfortable to start with, but began to practice compassionate thinking, asking myself, “What would I say to a friend in this situation?”. I also found it helpful to be realistic, telling myself, “You’re still trying to understand this, allow yourself time to do that”. I gave myself permission to address my negative feelings about the binge, and also give space for kindness.
Not Restricting was extremely important. There was the temptation to restrict my food intake the next day, or vow to eat as 'healthily’ as possible (a disguise for restriction). Our body knows when we need to eat, and restricting set me up for a future binge. You still deserve nourishment after a binge, and deserve to eat regularly during recovery. I made a conscious effort to ensure I was eating regularly to avoid disordered patterns.
Learning how to Self Soothe after a binge also helped. Bingeing takes a toll on the body and the nervous system, so learning how to calm the body can be very beneficial. Breathwork, stretching, gentle yoga, having a shower or bath, cuddling a pet, massaging, dressing comfortably and using a weighted blanket are all amazing self-remedies for distress. It’s important to take the time to do things that ground you in the present moment and calm the body. Self-soothe boxes can really help with this.
Changing my environment after a binge was very important. Sitting in the same room I’d just binged in was uncomfortable and made it difficult to separate myself from the binge enough to properly reflect. I personally enjoyed getting outside and close to nature. If that isn’t an option for you, then even moving to another room to self-soothe can make a world of difference.
Identifying my triggers aided my understanding of what was going on for me when I binged. After I’d soothed myself enough to think rationally, I would ask myself, “what triggered the binge? Why was this a trigger? What early warning signs were there that this would lead to a binge? How did I respond to those signs? What feelings arose before the binge? How did that feel in my body?” Writing my answers down made them easier to process and reflect on my responses and actions.
Planning coping strategies helped me learn to prevent the urge to binge from the outset. Once I’d realised what and why something triggered me, I could begin to develop strategies to manage them from early on. It can be intensely difficult to prevent the urge to binge in the moment, and the rational part of our brain can shut down. It’s important, therefore, to identify early, subtle warning signs. For example, tiredness was always a trigger for me, so I worked on recognising the subtleties of how tiredness felt when it first crept up. This allowed me to factor moments of rest or stillness into my day - even if it was just switching off technology for five minutes to focus on breathing. These small preventative measures helped me avoid an exhaustion with the potential to trigger a binge.
Having distraction techniques close at hand - when you're feeling in a state of distress it can be hard to think clearly. Positive self-talk and logical thinking goes out the window. I found it really helpful to have a list of distraction techniques that were easily accessible, taking the pressure off needing to think of them in the moment. I would have a list in places like on my bedroom wall, saved to my phone, in my handbag... You can also do this with positive affirmations or reminders of how valued you are by others.
Journaling and practicing gratitude was an excellent technique for me. I found it helpful to journal each night, allowing me to process and release my thoughts and feelings from the day I’d also begin each day by writing down three things: one thing I was grateful for in the bigger picture of my life, one person I was grateful for, and one thing I was grateful for about myself. The last one was always the hardest, but nevertheless it paid off. Practicing gratitude helped me shift my mindset to a more positive, hopeful place which in turn, helped me respond better to my eating disorder.
Finally, I opened myself up to a world of new activities. When you’re living with an eating disorder of any kind, your world becomes very small. It can be easy to fall into the mindset of "I’ll do X once I’ve overcome my eating disorder”, which ultimately keeps you focused on it. Bringing in amazing new hobbies and interests, despite still struggling with my eating disorder, helped me discover who I was beyond it. It showed that I valued myself, and helped me fine more reasons to recover.
-Contributed by Becca, Beat Support Officer