Last week I spoke openly on my stories about my past struggles with Anorexia Binge-Purge Eating Disorder. Every time I speak openly about this topic on my social platforms, I am met with two types of private message. The first is from women who are currently struggling with an eating disorder and wanting some guidance (or hope) from someone who has fully recovered. The second type of message I receive is from women who have questions about how to STOP binge eating. To kill two birds with one stone, I’m going to address both of these topics based upon my own PERSONAL EXPERIENCE with the above (I will also touch on the General Practitioner Diagnostic Criteria of the above eating disorders from the Royal College of GPs 2017). Although I was originally diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa (more than 15 years ago), I developed quite significant Binge-Purge tendencies later on in the disorder which lead to extreme isolation & a number of health conditions (I was bingeing & purging close to 15 times per day to the point of not leaving the house).
This blog will outline some tips which really helped me recover (I actually recovered faster than my doctor anticipated & had only one relapse which I quickly overcame). Before I detail these strategies, I need to say ONE thing…
In order to recover, you have to WANT to recover. No one will do it for you. If you’re not ready to put your health & your life first, this blog post isn’t for you. If you’re ready to change your mindset & start treating your body with the respect it deserves, keep reading.
A disclaimer before I go on…I am NOT a health professional. I am currently completing my Bachelor of Health Science (Nutrition) with plans to complete a Master of Dietetics (and specialise in the field of Eating Disorders). However, this does not mean I am qualified to give you any type of advice. This is solely my experience recovering. At the end of this blog I will provide some TRUSTED resources from qualified health professionals which were highly beneficial when I was struggling with this disorder.
First things first – I need to clarify a few terms. I see a lot of people throw around the term “binge eating” on social media. As someone who has experienced both “Binge Eating” (with an eating disorder) and “Over-eating” (without an eating disorder), I wanted to provide my own example of my experience with both.
Scenario 1: Overeating
On Friday night I went out for dinner with friends. I ordered a pizza to myself, plus dessert & get home and decide I feel like some chocolate and extra ice cream (despite feeling satisfied from dinner/dessert). I go to bed fuller than normal and a little guilty because I started a “healthy reset” earlier that week. That said, I know that tomorrow is a new day and it’s not every day that I feel like indulging in this amount of food. I go to bed & have a good night’s sleep.
Scenario 2: Binge Eating
My friends message and ask whether I want to go out for dinner. I say yes with guilt because I secretly know i’ll cancel at the last minute so I can be home alone to eat. I’ll order two types of take-away, dessert & whatever I can find until i’ve filled the void inside me. Nothing I eat seems to be enough. I feel so uncomfortable after meals but I can’t stop! I get so angry & upset at myself & tell myself i’ll stop tomorrow but the cycle keeps on repeating itself. I end up staying up until midnight eating mindlessly. I feel like i’m losing control of my whole life because of how much I eat. I wake up feeling tired, guilty & depressed because I know I will continue to engage in last night’s behaviour.
The current diagnostic criteria for General Practitioners for Binge Eating Disorder as per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5) (for Binge Eating Disorder & Anorexia Nervosa) is as follows
Binge Eating Disorder
- Recurrent episodes of binge eating
- Associated with symptoms such as eating more rapidly, feeling uncomfortably full, not feeling hungry, eating alone due to embarrassment and/or feelings of disgust
- Marked distress regarding binge eating
- Frequency of at least once per week for three months
- Absence of compensatory behaviours, anorexia & bulimia nervosa
Anorexia Nervosa – Subtype Binge-Eating/Purge
- Restriction of energy intake resulting in a significantly low body weight; or a less than minimally expected weight (based on age, sex or developed trajectory)
- Intense fear of gaining weight; or persistent behaviour that interferes with weight gain, despite low weight
- Disturbance in body image; or persistent lack of recognition of the seriousness of the current low body weight
- Subtypes: restricting type, binge-eating/purging type
Another screening tool used by General Practitioners is the “SCOFF” questionnaire, which consists of the below five questions.
- Do you make yourself Sick because you feel uncomfortably full?
- Do you worry you have lost Control over how much you eat?
- Have you recently lost more than One stone 6.35kg in a 3 month period?
- Do you believe yourself to be Fat when others say you are too thin?
- Would you say that Food dominates your life?
If you have answered “yes” to more than 2 of the questions above, this may indicate a diagnosis of anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa (however, Doctors will usually investigate other diagnostic/clinical warning signs such as Blood, Physical assessment and/or ECG before a diagnosis is made).
I know this seems long but I felt like I had to provide context for the rest of this blog post. Remember, there are a number of other types of eating disorders, however, I am going to stick to my tips for overcoming Binge Eating. Remember, if you have been engaging in frequent or recurrent binges at least once per week for more than three months, coupled with unhealthy thought patterns/behaviours of disgust, distress or even isolation/purging – please take action and listen to my very first tip…
TIP #1 SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP
Sounds simple but it’s one of the hardest steps for many in this position. In fact, I had Binge-Purge disorder for more than 3 years before presenting to a doctor & actually admitting I had something wrong with me. By this stage I had significantly lowered the amount of potassium in my blood (hypokalaemia from purging after a binge) and had subsequently given myself a heart arrhythmia! If you believe you may have an eating disorder, I cannot stress how important it is to book in with your General Practitioner straight away. An eating disorder can be life threatening and the mortality rate is higher than you think (I know of women with eating disorders who have dropped dead walking to the bus).
According to the National Eating Disorders Association,
“The mortality rate for people with eating disorders is significantly higher than that of the average population and among the highest for a psychiatric illness. According to recent estimates, mortality is 5 times higher in individuals with anorexia nervosa than the general population, when matched for age and sex. The rate of mortality in individuals with bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder is considerably lower than those with anorexia nervosa, but still significantly higher than the general population”
At the end of this blog post I will provide some helpful resources & contacts. Life is precious, take this first step seriously.
TIP #2 PLAN YOUR MEALS & USE A FOOD/FEELING DIARY
This may sound counterintuitive. Individuals who have an eating disorder are typically quite obsessive when it comes to food. Asking an individual with an eating disorder to plan their meals may seem strange to that individual as it seems like you are fuelling an already obsessive nature, however, as someone who once had this exact thought, please trust me – it will help you! Awareness is key. Recording your meals, when you binge & your thoughts and feelings surrounding food is very confronting. However, it serves a very important purpose and can help you identify your thoughts/feelings/actions surrounding binge cycles. In the next tip I will discuss specific tools & strategies to help you track & plan your meals.
See below for an example of a food diary which is very similar to the one I used throughout recovery.
TIP #3 IDENTIFY TRIGGER FOODS & SAFE FOODS
The goal of this exercise is to not view your trigger foods as “bad”. The goal of this exercise is to identify foods that you may associate with a binge and keep them out of the house while you are getting back on track. For example, some people will only eat certain “safe” foods at work because they know they won’t be tempted to binge & because they are surrounded by people. If there are certain foods you eat in isolation because you know it will trigger you to binge, this is a “trigger” food.
Safe foods and Trigger foods differ amongst individuals. I won’t provide an example in this post because it could influence your own list. Once you have identified a “Safe” List and a “Trigger” List, the goal is to eat as many safe foods as possible until you have improved your frequency of binges. Please note* safe foods need to comprise a balanced diet (protein, fat, carbohydrates, starchy vegetables). Once you have started to decrease binges per day/week, you will need to start reintroducing at least 1-2 trigger foods into your diet each week. Try to eat your trigger foods when you are in the presence of people as this will provide support & resistance to binge. If you eat a trigger food without bingeing, this is a MASSIVE tick in your food/feeling diary. If you binge after the reintroductory period, don’t stress! Use this as a learning experience – what was the emotional or physical trigger that lead you to binge (see below for “Identify emotional and physical triggers”).
TIP #4 EAT EVERY 3 HOURS
If you have an eating disorder or are even starting to develop binge eating habits, the truth is – you cannot trust your hunger cues. Please do not follow an “Intuitive Eating” protocol thinking it will help you overcome your bingeing habits. Until you have your bingeing under control, you simply cannot trust your intuition when it comes to eating.
When identifying your emotional and physical triggers you will realise that your desire to binge or not eat can often be determined by your emotions, or negative thought patterns about yourself. For this reason, you need to resort to PLANNING your meals and feeding your body what it needs. If you are underweight (or anorexic) with subtype binge-purge, you will most likely always feel hungry because your body is malnourished. Once you start to eat regular balanced meals consistently, your body will no longer be in starvation mode. You will be surprised how much a meal plan (if implemented correctly) will change your mindset. Once your body begins to receive nutrients & the correct number of calories, your mindset will begin to change. I distinctly remember the shift in my mind as I started to regularly digest my meals and follow a meal plan. I would feel very uncomfortable after meals and it took all my power not to binge or purge (I screwed up on MANY occasions, it wasn’t easy), however, over time my obsession for food reduced. My next meal was no longer on my mind 24/7. It was as if my body & mind had suddenly resolved their differences and established a level of trust. I started to be able to trust my hunger signals (which were activated like clockwork at breakfast, morning tea, lunch & dinner). I no longer needed to binge or purge. I became satisfied with what was on my plate and could appreciate food for what it was – nourishment.
In terms of a meal plan – I highly recommend booking in with a Dietitian so you can establish a balanced meal plan that suits your individual needs. This will include Breakfast, Morning tea, Lunch, Afternoon Tea, Dinner, Dessert or “Supper” as they called it in my recovery.
TIP #6 IDENTIFY EMOTIONAL & PHYSICAL TRIGGERS
Identifying WHY you binge is one of the most important tips of this whole blog post. It is your “WHY” and it holds the key to unlock the door that it is preventing you from recovery. This exercise can be quite confronting but it needs to be done in order for you to move forward. I have listed some examples of emotional and physical triggers below. I personally didn’t like to reflect on emotional and physical triggers directly after a binge as it made me feel crap. Instead, I would do it first thing in the morning. I’d reflect on the previous day while the triggers were still fresh in my mind. It is also nice to wake up with the thought that “today is a new day”. It always made me feel motivated to think that I had the power to not binge on that very day and the only limit was my mind. Putting in place alternatives to triggers is important (as discussed in the next step) because it allows you to find a substitute for this behaviour.
E.g. Emotional triggers – feeling depressed or worthless, feeling like you are not good enough, having a bad day at work, having a fight with a loved one, a break-up, too much uni work, being overwhelmed with work or life events, procrastination
E.g. Physical triggers – starving yourself or not eating for prolonged periods, cancelling appointments/meeting with friends so you can be alone, feeling bloated or full, feeling like you are overweight, feeling that your clothes are too tight, feeling certain body parts like your arms or stomach, obsessing over your weight, eating a trigger food when you’re alone
TIP #6 FIND AN ALTERNATIVE TO TRIGGERS
Following on from step number 4, in order to reduce the likelihood of bingeing at each meal, you need to find an alternative. These are activities you can do after or before you’ve eaten a meal when you are at a higher risk of bingeing due to physical and emotional triggers. I’ve listed some examples below. The below won’t always work for every individual. For example, reading a book WOULD NOT prevent me from bingeing. I would need to do something physical like go for walk, meet a friend or get out of the house. I would also do things like go to Uni and stay there all day, or eat my lunch with work colleagues. Find something that works for you and put it in your food/feeling diary. Just like you need to plan your meals, you also need to plan to prevent potential triggers.
E.g. Alternatives – Go for a walk with your dog as soon as you’ve eaten, clean the house, leave the house straight away after a meal, meet up with a friend, go to uni and stay there all day, eat around people at work, make yourself a cup of peppermint tea after each meal to help with bloating, do a puzzle, write in a journal – write how you’re feeling, eat in a food court & bring something to read or do for approx 1-2 hours after (to ensure your meal is digested)
TIP #7 REWARD YOURSELF & LEARN FROM BUMPS IN THE ROAD
My favourite tip! Rewarding yourself is so important throughout this whole process. Doing all of the steps above takes dedication, motivation, persistence & HARD WORK. It’s a life project and you need a reward at each milestone. Whether it’s a new piece of clothing (I used to buy myself a size up so I didn’t have to wear tight clothes when I was putting on weight – it also motivated me to put on weight). Other rewards could be a weekend away with your friends, going out to dinner (when you reach a certain milestone of not bingeing for X amount of days) or buying yourself some nice lingerie (#bodypositivity).
This concludes the blog post! I hope it was helpful and I hope it influences someone out there to make a change in their life. I can honestly say I now have the BEST relationship with food 7 years post recovery and embrace ALL foods. Recovery isn’t easy but it was the best thing that ever happened to me. You won’t know yourself post recovery and you’ll be surprised how many people say, “there’s something different about you…but I just can’t put my finger on it”. The difference? A new lease of life, self-respect & the realisation that if you believe in yourself, you can do anything – you’ve got this girl!
https://metronorth.health.qld.gov.au/rbwh/healthcare-services/eating-disorder (this is where I went for help)
https://www.bookdepository.com/Overcoming-Bulimia-Nervosa-Binge-Eating-3rd-Edition-Peter-J-Cooper/9781849010757 (this book was the exact book I used to help me overcome my eating disorder)
YOUTUBE RECOVERY STORIES! This was one of my “ALTERNATIVE” actions to bingeing. It would motivate me to keep on going and gave me hope. To view my recovery story on Youtube CLICK HERE