Reassurance or kidding myself?

[eating disorder, food]

I wrote last week, “I need to find other ways to make myself feel safe that don’t involve false reassurance from a number on the scales. I have no idea how to do that or where to start.” I’ve got nowhere with that. Instead, I weighed myself not one morning, not two but three mornings. I have been incredibly lucky once again.

I am 0.6lbs up in the five weeks I have been eating intuitively. That is nothing; a normal fluctuation. In other words, I am maintaining my weight. I stood in my kitchen and said out loud, “I could live like this” and burst into tears. It is an overwhelming relief to know that it is possible that I might have found a viable and sustainable way to eat and manage my weight after the years of desperate fighting. I don’t feel that confident that I can do it but it at least feels possible. Or maybe I do have some quiet confidence when I actually examine my thought. I certainly have some quiet hope. To paraphrase Terry Pratchett, “Hope is heady stuff except heads aren’t often involved”.

Of course, since this time two months ago I was in the depths of my eating disorder (I have been very lucky and have only had mild to moderate symptoms compared to many people), I have also had some thoughts like “if I can maintain my weight eating all this crap [value judgments on food are bullshit but one battle at a time] then I can lose weight if I cut it out” and start having little daydreams of losing weight. One of the essential tasks when learning how to eat intuitively is to “put losing weight on the back burner” which I have pretty much done, though fuck me, was it tough giving that up. If I am still aiming and working towards losing weight then I can’t eat whatever my body asks for because, at the beginning, when I’m healing the feelings of deprivation caused by dieting, I will most likely want my previously forbidden foods. When I ate those freely, while trying to let go of guilt, those foods stopped being so special and powerfully appealing. They became just food. I thought that sounded impossible but it has happened several times now. I discovered that I genuinely don’t much like most sponge cake or muffins, etc, when I ate them mindfully and as much as I want and that was a bit of a surprise considering how much I used to lust after them. Now their appeal and their power has gone. I still find other foods powerfully appealing sometimes (icing!) but I will work through healing those feelings of deprivation too and they will just be food that I like to eat sometimes. If I go back to deciding what to eat based on calories then these foods will regain their power and I will be launched back into the binge-restrict cycle. I will certainly not lose weight then. More importantly, my mood will be damaged by the disordered eating and I will feel like crap.

I felt safe this morning when I weighed myself and the number was ‘good’. Relieved. Happy. Lightened. What if the number had been ‘bad’? I’d be feeling despair and shame and probably very unsafe. I can’t seem to keep track of my body and what it looks and feels like. I am using these numbers as the ultimate arbiter because I know my own judgment when looking in the mirror or even just looking down at my body is rubbish. I can’t tell if my clothes are looser or tighter or I’m just imaging it. I can’t do objective or realistic. I don’t know why. Maybe since I lack these abilities and weighing myself reassures me then it’s okay to continue weighing? That reasoning is just me kidding myself. I have been lucky so far with the numbers I’ve got on the scales but that won’t last. There is so much potential damage to be done by ‘bad’ numbers: it could derail me entirely from intuitive eating and throw me back into the binge-restrict cycle and all the pain that would cause. It’s too risky. I will have to find another way to reassure myself.

How do normal people make themselves feel okay about their bodies? There are lots of people who hate their bodies and even more who are just dissatisfied and indifferent. Do they just put up with these feelings and go about their day? Are the feelings just not that strong so easy to ignore? I see so much disordered behaviour around me in my family and friends now I know approximately what ‘normal’ counts as. A big reassurance seems to be having a partner and the privileges that brings. But I don’t have a partner and don’t think I ever will again so that route isn’t available to me. There’s CBTing the thoughts but while that helps in the short term, it never seems to stick in my brain and my ‘distorted’ thoughts bounce right back. Affirmations or trying to overwrite the ‘distorted’ thoughts with new thoughts. Again, doesn’t seem to stick. I feel so hopeless that I will ever feel okay about myself outside of mania. Which is why I am drawn to the false reassurance of the scales. It is something to hold onto in the maelstom of my head.

Another post with me saying I don’t know what to do. I suppose at least I answered the question: weighing myself is false reassurance. It was nice to feel okay, to feel safe, for a little while this morning but it doesn’t last and is too risky. I’ve no idea what to do next.

The number

[eating disorder, body image, clothes size]

I’m struggling again with my weight increasing and my body getting bigger. I look in the bathroom mirror and my face is much fuller. I look in the full length mirror and my stomach is much bigger. I put on my sports bra and the band is too tight. I sit down and my stomach spills forward. Again and again, my mind is filled with self-hating thoughts.

I tried on winter clothes yesterday. Clothes that were loose the last time I wore them are now definitely tighter. The dress I wore in March is too tight round the waist. The size 14 trousers don’t fall down anymore.

I desperately want to weigh myself and know for sure how bad it is. I have a little hope that I will have the same experience as last time and I will get a lower number than I fear. I said in that post, “I have to make the most of this reprieve and make progress on my thoughts and feelings about my body, my weight and my eating. I can’t go back to dieting/restricting and binging”. How will knowing the number on the scales change things? I know from my two years of daily weighing that there are a lot more factors involved in that number than just the amount of fat on my body. It’s not an objective assessment on the health of my body, the attractiveness of my body or the acceptability of my body. But I treat that number like it is the last word on all three. I relied on that number to make me feel okay about myself. I never learnt how to do that in any other way.

If I get a higher number than what I think is acceptable then what will happen? I will be devastated, I think. Probably will entirely over-react and take it as proof that I am going to regain all the weight I lost. Go back to being treated very badly because I am fat. Not be able to run or go to the gym anymore. People will look down on me. Hating myself. Catastrophizing much? It’s all so painful. What if I am above the next stone bracket? Will I go back to dieting/restricting? That means going back to binging. I should be very proud that I only binged once in the entirety of June. If I go back to dieting/restricting then the binging will escalate again. It will be much more frequent and they will be bigger binges too. I will gain weight from that as I did every month from January this year. The options are not 1. continue intuitive eating and gain weight and 2. go back to dieting and lose weight. Rather it’s 1. continue intuitive eating and gain some weight in the short term with some hope of losing weight in the long term and 2. go back to dieting, start binging again and gain weight anyway.

Even if this number on the scales is acceptable what does this really prove? When I got a much better number than expected the last time, I cried in the shower repeating to myself “I’m okay, I’m still okay, I’m okay” as if suddenly I was safe again. I think it is all about safety for me: looking acceptable means I am not a target anymore. I sometimes get thoughts that losing weight will make me ‘healthy’ but I know full well that weight doesn’t indicate health status. It would be nice to have a partner but I can’t imagine anyone ever wanting to be with me even if I had a conventionally attractive body so I don’t think it is about aesthetics, much at least. I just want to be able to walk down the street and not worry that people will shout “fat cunt” from their cars at me. Or the glares and pointed comments. People’s automatic reaction to me being dislike. Have people pity me or be frustrated with me or laugh at me because I couldn’t keep the weight off. Catastrophizing again… except all these things really happen to fat people and I am not strong enough to endure it again.

This is all a lot of feelings and thoughts to put on one number. Going back to a previous thought experiment: it I was on the planet with no other humans but everything that I needed, would I care what the number on the scales was? No, it would make no difference to anything. So my problem is not the number, it’s me basing my assessment of how other people will react to my body on that number. I have a lot of justification for my expectations of being treated badly if I regain the weight but it doesn’t mean every single person, or even most people, will treat me badly. There are a lot of people that genuinely don’t care or notice.

I need to find other ways to make myself feel safe that don’t involve false reassurance from a number on the scales. I have no idea how to do that or where to start.

Making peace with food

When I was dieting, I had a relentless drive to try to feel full and very often did not. My hunger signals were numbed though. I just felt stretched and under pressure. That’s because my body was stressed by the calorie restriction. The disappearance of that stretched feeling is lovely.

Food had a lot of power over me. If I broke the rules that I had made, the main one was going over my set number of calories which was logged in an app on my phone, then I felt completely out of control. I would think, “fuck it, I’ve ruined everything” and then I’d binge badly, usually thousands of calories. While I was binging, I couldn’t stop and would have overwhelming feelings that I had to eat while I could, while I was ‘allowed’. That would reinforce to me that I was out of control and that it definitely was imperative that I never went over my calories in the future. I would restart restricting my calories and that would cause that relentless drive to eat so round I’d go again.

The Tribole and Resch Intuitive Eating book and workbook talk in detail about this cycle happening to their patients. It’s a common experience. I’ve seen a lot of talk about it on weight loss and dieting/wellness/’healthy eating’ forums. There are a few things going on at the same time.

First of all, if you don’t satisfy your hunger drive then the “hunger increases and sets off a biological cascade, both physically and psychologically – ‘primal hunger’, an urgent and intense desire to eat – which often results in overeating”. If you are in a state of chronic undernourishment (some people talk about dieting as being a form of semistarvation) then your hunger drive will be very active. Physical deprivation affects people differently. For me, I didn’t have much ill effect for the first year or so and lost weight steadily. Then I started binging again. Infrequently and small amounts at first but it escalated rapidly. Eventually, after a further year, I was utterly out of control, on the road to regaining my weight back and had intense suicidal thoughts for days every time I binged.

Secondly, there is some dodgy thinking going on, otherwise known as cognitive distortions. In this case, it is dichotomous thinking (also called all-or-nothing thinking or black-and-white thinking). My eating was either rigidly ‘perfect’ or ‘good’ and fully in control and planned or the exact opposite meaning wildly out of control or ‘bad’ and binging. I talked to folk online about how I couldn’t have a single meal of mild overeating and then just carry on as normal. It always flipped into a binge. So of course I avoided those meals which were usually social occasions. And my world shrunk a bit more. In the month before I committed to trying intuitive eating, I had actually started to make progress with this and was able to have a range of calories that I was okay or okay-ish landing in. But it was still very rigid and limiting.

The last thing driving my restrict-binge cycle was the psychological effects of deprivation. I did not appreciate that this was happening at the time at all. I still don’t fully understand what was going on. I see the effects of it now though with my reaction to when I start to feel full when eating. At first, when I started intuitive eating, I could not bear to leave any food from a meal or snack. It wasn’t just ‘clean your plate’ habit. It felt like a desperate imperative that I wasn’t safe until I got all this food inside me. I knew I was full but that wasn’t enough. When I binged this month, I had thoughts that I had to ‘make the most of it’ and eat as much as possible while I was ‘allowed’. Also, I have been feeling a strong push to keep my kitchen packed with food. I feel like it’s essential that anything my body wants to eat is there waiting for it at a moment’s notice. I have spent nearly £300 on groceries this month! A lot of that is sitting in my cupboards simply there to make me feel better. With intuitive eating, if you genuinely give yourself unconditional permission to eat whatever you want, when you want, then these drives disappear because your body (or mind or whatever it is of you that isn’t part of your rational thoughts – instincts? emotions?) actually believes that it is safe and will be fed when it needs to be.

I started having moments of peace with food when I started mindful eating (being as aware as possible of the experience of eating and eating without distraction; it’s a key part of intuitive eating) before I really started intuitive eating. They were very strange little calm, cool raindrops in my mind. Just quietness and stillness and a surprised feeling of “oh, I’m okay” when I had satisfied my hunger and my body. Something unclenched in my mind. The oppositive of the frenetic, overwhelming drives to eat that were so intense that they were painful, though also exhilarating to be fair.

Beautiful, perfect raindrop hanging from a green leaf.

These moments of peace are what have kept me going through all the confusion and uncertainty (intuitive eating is really fucking hard at times) and the sense of loss from losing the benefits of dieting like feeling in control, like I was achieving something and like I was doing something right that other people approved of (which have turned out to be illusions). I had hoped that once I started following intuitive eating properly then I would have this peace more frequently and for longer and that’s not turned out to be the case so far. They are still there but sometimes I go days without them and sometimes I feel peace a few times in a single day.

I suppose I have to not just pay lip service to the idea that these are early days but actually work on being patient. Maybe after another month, I will be writing about how these moments have increased. Hope is heady stuff when you’re not used to it.

Routine is king

I did a NHS psychoeducation course about bipolar disorder a few years ago. It was surprisingly informative. I thought I was pretty well read already but I learnt some useful things. I also met some people who I am good friends with now.

A lot of the information about bipolar disorder was relatively basic and would not have been out of place on a standard educational website for people newly diagnosed. The interesting bits were two metaphors that they used to ilustrate this information.

The first was the concept of a stress bucket. Everyone has a unique capacity for stress (the size of the bucket) and has different stressors in their life (fluid filling the bucket) and different stress relieving techiniques (a tap or holes emptying the bucket at the bottom). How much stress you can take before you develop symptoms (the bucket overflowing) is mostly genetically determined, so the theory goes. To stop the bucket overflowing, some people need to work harder than others to bring their stress levels down and to reduce the amount of stress coming into their life. I think I liked this metaphor so much as it made me think that I wasn’t to blame for how little stress it takes to destabilise me. I just have a small bucket in my head. Also, it made sense to me to link reducing incoming stress to increasing stress relieving activities. I can adapt to having a small bucket filling up quickly by putting in lots of taps.

Secondly, the psychoeducation course used the metaphor of a mood thermostat. Just like the thermostat for your central heating, a ‘normal’ brain tries to keep your mood within a certain range from sad at the bottom to happy at the top. It has mechanisms to lift up your mood (such as drives to do things that bring you pleasure or make you happy like seeking social contact, eating, sex, etc) and mechanisms to dampen down your mood (such as making you feel tired so you sleep or rest). A bipolar brain isn’t very good at keeping your mood in this normal range and veers up from happy to mania and crashes down from sad to depression. The psychoeducation course talked a fair bit about things that we could do to help regulate this mood thermostat. These days, this is called self-care. The strategies that I use are eating regularly and nutritiously, getting enough but not too much sleep (it took me years to fully apply sleep hygiene but it has worked very well for me), exercising, taking medication as prescribed and avoiding alcohol (nine years) and recreational drugs (sixteen years, yes, I am bragging now). I don’t think there is any actual clinical evidence for the recommendation to try and have routine for your daily activies but it seems to be common advice from healthcare professionals. The psychoeducation course’s wording was “routine is king” which has stuck with me because it’s such an odd way of putting it.

My central heating thermostat dial with a post-it note with a blue unhappy face on the left and a post-it note with a red happy face on the right.

For many years in my twenties and the first half of my thirties, I had no routine at all. I got up when I couldn’t make myself sleep anymore (I would have preferred to have been dead but sleeping as much as possible was close as I could get) which could be any time of day. I went to bed when it finally occurred to me and that could be anytime from 9pm to 7am. I didn’t eat at particular times. I didn’t exercise at all. I certainly wasn’t taking my medication regularly and several times got scunnered of it and stopped it all entirely. The only thing I was doing ‘right’ was that I wasn’t drinking or taking recreational drugs.

Now, I have somewhat swung the other way and have a very scheduled routine. I get up at 5am and go to the gym or for a run at 7:30am except for one, or sometimes two, rest day a week when I sleep in and get up around 9am (that is a very much against sleep hygiene but hasn’t, so far, disrupted my sleep). I have breakfast when I get up and a snack/second breakfast when I get home around 10am. I eat lunch around 1:30pm and dinner around 6pm and have snacks in between. In the afternoon, I try to get out the house and see a friend or at least walk around other people. I am an extrovert and I get lonely if I don’t talk to other people for more than a couple of days. Something happens in my brain and I get this numb, stretched feeling like everything is wrong. Took me a long time to connect that feeling to not having social contact. Phone calls help so sometimes I phone family instead. I try and read a book and play the guitar every evening. It doesn’t sound like much when it’s written down. I imagine the ‘normal’ people are wondering what I do all day. Manage fucking symptoms, of course. But that’s another post.

I have definitely taken the advice of getting and maintaining a routine to heart. I think it has improved my quality of life but maybe things would have improved anyway. The disadvantage is that I have become a bit rigid in when I am comfortable doing things during the day. I feel unsettled when I can’t eat or go for a run at my usual times. If my mood is already bad then I don’t just feel unsettled and uncomfortable, the change can totally derail me and my entire routine breaks down for a few days or sometimes longer. Now that I am using intuitive eating, I hope that I will learn some flexibility with my eating at least as you eat when you are hungry and not according to the clock. I have been more flexible with my exercise routine over the last few months too.

So routine might be king in my life now but it wasn’t always. On the whole, things have improved but it is not the silver bullet that some people have suggested.

Taking a swing back

[eating disorder, weight numbers]

Yesterday, I listed out all the negative thoughts about my binge on Tuesday. I am feeling a lot better today and want to record how that has happened because chances are that I will binge again at some point in the future. I don’t want to but it’s a very entrenched coping mechanism with me and I am very early on in my learning of intuitive eating. I also have pretty poorly controlled bipolar disorder which means I have some periods of intense, painful emotion that are difficult to deal with (ha, look at me being all reasonable… “difficult to deal with”? More like fucking impossible to deal with.)

It’s all very good talking about challenging thoughts but the thing that really started to even out my mood was going a run yesterday morning. I ran four miles with some one minute walking intervals as per my physio’s instructions as I am recovering from an injury. I felt such relief after I had finished running that I had managed to go. I didn’t really enjoy the run (I don’t think I’ve ever 100% enjoyed a run other than when I was hypomanic and that’s how I got injured) but the sense of achievement afterwards was very soothing to my self-hating thoughts.

I also had a good friend round for lunch and confided a little in her. That made something inside my head unclench and feel relief too. I find it very hard to confide in people. I think I am afraid of being judged and shamed. I feel such overwhelming shame so easily with my own thoughts and I just can’t bear to have that happen in front of someone else. I cry very easily when the shame is triggered and I don’t think I could bear that either.

Going back to the binge: I really thought the intuitive eating was going to stop me binging. I was looking at absolutes: I used to binge and now I don’t. It’s a poor way of trying to deal with the uncertainties of life. It isn’t accurate and it doesn’t work. I don’t have to keep doing things the same way. It was dichotomous thinking (otherwise known as all-or-nothing or black-or-white thinking) and it piled the pressure on myself to be ‘perfect’ and not use this coping technique that has actually given me a lot of benefits over the years as well as the obvious harms.

While I was binging and cruising my kitchen cupboards I kept thinking “oh I can have this now, wasn’t allowed it before”. I have been turning intuitive eating into the hunger and fullness diet. I would only ‘allow’ myself to eat when I was the appropriate level of hungry. That sounds sensible: eat when you’re hungry. But how hungry and for how long? Normal eaters eat for other reasons sometimes too, e.g. celebration, to be socialable, occasional comfort. Whatever new rules I had created in my head, I wasn’t meeting my needs and was triggering feelings of deprivation. Along the same lines, I repeatedly thought I was finished binging only to eat more because I felt like I had to get my fill while I could. I haven’t given myself unconditional permission to eat like the book says is essential. I think I have to really feel like I can eat what I want whenever I want without plunging myself into overwhelming guilt or negative thoughts or any kind of emotional sanction. I let myself eat but then I let my self-hating thoughts punish me for it. No clue how you’re supposed to fix that.

I promised myself that I would not weigh myself in June. I weighed myself almost daily for the almost two years I was dieting. I got very adept at interpreting the fluctuations in my weight caused by my cycle, time of day, my food intake, my salt intake, changes in exercise, etc, and not to mention unexplainable normal variations, but I put much too much value on that number. An unexpectedly low number always cheered me up and a high number would upset me and make me feel hopeless. When I started intuitive eating, I had been dieting so my glycogen stores were low meaning that my weight would naturally bounce up when eating a normal amount of calories. I also thought I would gain some weight as I would be overshooting my eating while trying to discover what comfortably full felt like. So it would be a terrible idea to see that higher number and feel compelled to go back on a diet. It would be another battle in my head that I’d almost certainly lose.

I was feeling better after going a run but still felt like my body was utterly unacceptable and deformed and ugly and had expanded disproportionately in some places. I have had these feelings all throughout my time dieting and they have been significantly worse since I stopped weighing myself daily and having that objective, but imperfect, measure to backup the thought of “your judgement is off again, like it often is, just look at the fucking number”. I told myself that if I was under X+1 stone then I would keep on with the intuitive eating and if I was under X st 7 then I would be delighted. I looked in the mirror and told myself it was a bad idea and then went and weighed myself anyway. I have gained 1.4lbs. Even my relentless thoughts were speechless in shock. I really did expect to be well over X+1 stone going from how my body felt and what it looks like in the mirror. My judgement isn’t worth shit when it comes to assessing the size of my body.

I cried in the shower in overwhelming relief saying “I’m still okay, I’m okay, I’m still okay”. My mood improved considerably, I was almost dazed by how my thoughts lightened and I suddenly had the ability to shut the fuck down the negative thoughts about my body. Talk about overvaluing the number on the scales! I was incredibly lucky to have got that number and to have responded in the typical way to intuitive eating. This could easily have gone the other way and I would have had the opposite, equally extreme, response of self-hatred and plunging back into dieting. Then the inevitable binge-restrict cycle would have started back up.

I have to make the most of this reprieve and make progress on my thoughts and feelings about my body, my weight and my eating. I can’t go back to dieting/restricting and binging. I am working through The Intuitive Eating Workbook which is helpful but I don’t know if it will be enough as these thoughts and feelings are so strong. I think I have learnt from this last binge and my reaction to it though. Blogging about it has made my thoughts more concrete too. I will keep trying.

Why can’t I stop

[eating disorder, calorie numbers, suicide]

I binged on Tuesday. I don’t know how badly as I didn’t count it up but would guess around 2000 calories, maybe more, on top of a normal day’s intake. It was nearly three weeks since I had last binged, which was when I had properly started intuitive eating, and the ‘clean streak’ of no binging had become magnified in importance in my mind. I feel bitterly disappointed in myself and despise myself for ruining everything… hang on, hang on, getting a bit carried away there…

As is my pattern, I had been saying to other people that things seemed to be going well in the days before it all went to shit. I had been trying to introduce one of my online friends to intuitive eating by talking about how it had stopped me binging and allowed me to become much calmer around food. Now I have pretty much ghosted that group though I do plan to return. It makes me feel so stupid that I could have convinced myself that I was doing better when obviously I was just kidding myself. I feel pathetic and like I am always going to be stuck in this pattern. However, I suppose it is possible that going from binging regularly to not binging at all was an unrealistic goal and that simply binging less is still progress. I could scream in frustration right now because I don’t know what is going on or what anything means. I don’t know what to do for the best.

I had been having a couple of ‘hungry days’ where I seemed to be getting hungry more often than I felt comfortable with or thought was reasonable. For example, having a substantial snack at 10am then hungry for lunch at 12pm then hungry again at 1:30pm. It fucked with my head with all the “am I really hungry?”, “this is too much food”, “my clothes are tight”, “my abdomen is much bigger”, “I’m not doing this right” and just an overwhelming torrent of critical and doubting thoughts. I had a lot of diet mentality thoughts that I was eating an unacceptably large amount of food and was gaining an unacceptably large amount of weight. I didn’t weigh myself but I measured my waist and it’s gone up from 30.5″ at my lowest weight to 32.5″ now which is above the cardiovascular risk cutoff. I had packed away my size 10 underwear as it was too tight and a pair of fitted trousers are now too tight as well. I just felt unacceptable and abnormal and hyperaware of this deformed, ugly body that I want to be rid of. I spent two years managing my anxiety about my body by saying “it’ll be better soon, you’re losing weight, it’ll be better soon” and dealing with the feelings of being suddenly huge by remembering that my weight that morning was pretty much the same as yesterday’s and the day before. Now I am adrift. I have never developed any other coping techniques.

The binge sneaked up on me. I had gone to the gym in the morning so was even hungrier than usual but had had breakfast, a morning snack and lunch. By mid-afternoon, I was suddenly very hungry so had a substantial snack that the dieting mentality thoughts said was far too high calorie. I finished it and sat at the table with my head in my hands and my thoughts spiralled out of control from “you can’t possibly still be hungry” to “you are going to regain all the weight” to “you should be dead” to “you’re pathetic, you might as well binge”. I meant it too. I really would rather die than go back to how I was treated as a fat person and have all that self-hatred too. Of course, I have plenty of self-hatred now so maybe I won’t notice a difference. I wrote in my diary, “I just want peace and quietness and to feel free”.

At first with the binge, it was very pleasurable. I ate sweet foods that I liked and I ate them slowly and mindfully. I don’t have much pleasure in my life so this was nice. There was comfort. It’s also exhilarating to just go with the out of control, falling feelings.

Then the feelings changed and I started getting this strong push to eat more and more to punish myself. I had images in my mind of me lying in my bed and another me standing over myself hitting me with a thick stick. I’ve had images like that before. The Intuitive Eating book talks about how emotional eating is a spectrum from sensory gratification to comfort to distraction to sedation to punishment. I think I went right along the spectrum. My most common reason for binging is for the sedation as it quietens and slows down my thoughts. It actually works very well for that, for me. There is also a massive relief in being so full that even the thought of food is impossible. It feels very safe like I am finally complete and don’t have to want anything anymore. The self-punishment aspect is less common with me though when I first developed binge eating disorder it was a frequent reason to binge.

I have not reacted well to the binge. I have been taught that practicing self-compassion and being kind to yourself rather than reacting with harsh, self-critical guilt is more likely to allow you to change your behaviour. But I can’t get over my feeling that this is just lying to myself and letting myself off the hook. It feels right to punish myself. It feels like I am doing the right thing. However, it’s not helped me bounce back, that’s for sure. I haven’t exercised, I’ve cancelled seeing friends and I’ve basically shut down. I have spent so much time thinking how much I despise myself and how I am going to kill myself. The latter brings me some comfort. It seems the better my mood is when I binge, the worse the fall is. When I first developed binge eating disorder, my mood was so bad that I barely noticed the guilt after a binge. It’s devastating now.

That has listed out all the negativity in my head. Now to take some swings at it.

Two squares of chocolate

[eating disorder, food, calories numbers]

I have been throwing myself into intuitive eating for a fortnight now. In some ways, I am astonished with my progress as I haven’t binged and binging feels very far away. In other ways, I am frustrated that I am still getting all those disordered and painful thoughts.

For around a week before I really committed to intuitive eating, I tried some of the techniques of mindful eating (the book calls it ‘conscious eating’ in places as it predates the rise of the term ‘mindfulness’) but was still calorie counting, weighing and measuring all my food and weighing myself every day as I had done every day for nearly two years. My eating definitely improved with the mindful eating as my binge urges were easier to cope with but they were still frequent and insistent. Even looking back from a fortnight, I am amazed that I coped with how bad those binge urges were. It was pretty fucking horrendous at times and felt really desperate. No wonder I binged and binged so badly sometimes. I had a 4500 calorie binge on Monday 27th May and that was my last totally out of control binge. When I say 4500 calories, I mean that I added it up from the packets so it’s not a haphazard guess. I have had bigger binges in the past but I still find that number pretty shocking. I had a further, smaller binge of 1500 on Thursday 30th May which was triggered by seeing that I overeaten according to my calorie counting app during the day and then thinking “fuck it, I’ve ruined everything anyway”. This is a cognitive distortion called dichotomous thinking and also known as ‘black and white thinking’ or ‘all or nothing thinking’. I felt less out of control during this last binge but it was still a binge.

Now I am continuing the mindful eating, as much as I can while trying to be realistic and not fall into rigid perfectionism, and have stopped my dieting behaviours. I haven’t weighed myself since Monday 27th May and the only food I have measured has been while following recipes other than rice which I don’t know how else to cook a reasonable amount. I have sometimes been calorie counting roughly in my head. It seems to be a way to soothe and reassure myself that I am not eating ‘too much’ but it often backfires and I get anxious about the number I come up with. I spent two years determining how much food to eat based on a glorified calculator on my phone. I picked up rules and advice and recommendations some of which, maybe all of it, is bound to be bullshit and applied them to how many and what kind of calories my body received in a meal or a snack. No flexibility. Nutrition is so incredibly complex and I thought I could work it out in a few minutes on free app on my phone. Instead, now I am using my inbuilt system of analysing how many and what kind of calories my body needs. These internal hunger and satiety cues will supposedly meet all my body’s nutrtional needs and do it in real time too. I am still not 100% convinced that it will work on me as I am worried that I have broken my internal cues beyond repair by dieting. But I know that this last diet, while successful in the conventional sense in that I lost over 100lbs, also gave me binge eating disorder again, hammered my mood and took up swathes of my time and energy. It couldn’t continue as it was.

My major obstacle to trying intuitive eating is my fear of gaining my weight back. I was treated like shit when I was a fat person and my life is a lot easier now. It is partly aesthetics too but I actually look worse undressed as I am on the bad end of the spectrum for how much loose skin I have been left with. I just feel much more acceptable and therefore safer in an average sized body. So I am afraid of gaining weight and going back.

Two of the principles of intuitive eating are giving yourself unconditional permission to eat and to eat when you are hungry. Because I have dieting for so long, I have intense feelings of deprivation and don’t feel secure at all that my need for food is going to be met. I feel like I am just going to force myself to go hungry. I am lucky in that I still feel hunger despite my dieting, though I don’t feel it with much subtly, and I am trying to eat whenever I am hungry and what sounds the most appealing and gives me the most satisfaction (another principle). It is common for people to have a healing process at the start of trying intuitive eating where they eat a lot of ‘junk’ or ‘treat’ foods (which the authors call play foods) as a rebound to the deprivation of dieting. The foods you weren’t allowed are the ones that look the most appealing now you can have anything. They say that if you eat them when you are hungry, really savour them and stop when you are satisfied then those foods will lose their power and hold over you and you will eventually genuinely only want them occasionally. Ha, I thought, bet that’s rubbish and just another mind trick to make you eat less calories with less effort. Ha, I have found out that it’s actually true.

Like a lot of dieters, once I opened a packet of something not usually allowed, like a bar of chocolate, I feel compelled to finish it. It’s because I didn’t know when I was going to be allowed it again so I felt like I had to make the most of this current laxity. Never could manage “just one biscuit” or “just one square of chocolate”. One slip of the rules and it was often a full binge. But I currently have four opened and partially eaten bars of chocolate, and two unopened bars, in my cupboard. I have a craving for a particular type of chocolate and I go and buy it. Some wait in the cupboard as they then don’t appeal anymore. After dinner, when I want something sweet like I almost always do, I put one or two squares on a plate and eat them at the table as mindfully as I can. Somehow, and it feels like magic, something feels soothed and completed and when I think “I could have more now” then I think “nah, maybe later” or just not really bothered. It’s very strange. The fact that I know the chocolate is there and I know that I can go and get it whenever the hell I want makes me seriously consider if I really want it. I am not even sure anymore if I actually like milk chocolate. It doesn’t taste that special. If I had read this a month ago I would have thought that the writer was just lying to themselves in an effort to eat less but it seems this isn’t a mind trick as I thought but just the way (most?) human brains work.

Four opened and two unopened bars of chocolate from my cupboard which even a few weeks ago I would have binged on but now forget about because they are not appealing anymore.

I am trying to reassure myself that the other intuitive eating techniques will work as well the ones as I have used with the chocolate. If that bit works then maybe the advice that I won’t gain much weight if I thoroughly follow my hunger and satiety cues will also work. It’s a leap of faith and I think I am finally ready to take the risk.