There I was, eighteen years old, sitting alone in my room downing what was to be the first of two post dinner chocolate milkshakes. Actually, they were called Chunky Monkey’s. Whoever came up with that name clearly doesn’t know young women very well because unfortunately, that was kind of how I perceived myself. A bit chunky, a bit over-weight and very unhappy about it.
Binge eating is a strange phenomenon. To many, it would seem counter intuitive to eat until you feel like you’re going to pop due to the fact you're so unhappy about your size or shape. But to me it didn’t. I think lots of people, men and women, can relate to drowning their suffering in a tub of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, or a large pizza with extra cheese. I was on the bus with a friend once and she had a huge stash of lollies and chocolate sitting in her lap. “Are you ok?”, I asked her. “Yeah, I’m just having a binge”, she said. I couldn’t believe it. Somebody else did what I did? And she did it so openly? So, lets just get one thing straight, you and I are not alone.
I’m going to be honest with you, at my worst it was pretty bad. I would sit in my car feeling miserable about myself. I felt anxious and yet I couldn’t always tell you why. I felt I needed to go on a diet because I was too fat. And I felt stressed out in other ways too. So I ate. One cookie, one ice cream, two ice creams, three. But no matter how much I ate it was never enough to stop the unhappiness. Afterwards, I always felt so bad and I would make it worse by judging myself for it.
The unfortunate thing about addictions (yes, food can be used as an addiction too) is that it gives you a temporary feel good sensation, but it doesn’t last. It might numb your suffering, but the unhappiness behind your cravings still isn’t solved and that unhappiness sits beneath the surface. Food was kind of like a bad relationship for me. I knew I shouldn’t go back to it but being alone, feeling rejected or hating my body was so much harder to face. First, I had to learn to be kind to myself so that slowly, I wouldn’t feel the same need for this toxic relationship.
Often, I would go hard out on a diet and make one small mistake. Like seriously, small and think, “Oh my god, I’ve blown it”. I would react by punishing myself with judgements and eating more. What I had to learn to do in these exact moments was to be kind and loving towards myself. When a child makes a mistake, do you punish her? Or do you pick her up, cuddle her, teach her and move on? That’s exactly what I had to learn to do with myself; to swap self criticism for self love.
You see, as long as we don’t accept ourselves for whatever reason, such as our size, our results or our relationships, we will never be content. Part of releasing the need to use food as a way to cope for me was identifying what it was that made me feel unhappy inside to begin with. In essence, my unhappiness stemmed from the belief that I am not good enough. That was what made me turn to food. I wasn’t a bad person or lacking in will power, I was just suffering and I didn't know how to cope.
I began to talk about how I felt with someone I really trusted, which helped me to open up and feel supported. If I binged I made a very conscious decision not to harass myself with judgement, because that was the exact moment to shower myself self-acceptance and love. I decided not to rebound with restrictive diets any longer as this only increased my obsessive thoughts and fed the yo-yo cycle I was so familiar with. Instead, I focussed on balance. Eventually the desire to binge in the same way began to cease. Slowly, I started to feel I had a choice. I found balance and stopped critiquing my food choices all the time. I didn’t judge myself for having some chocolate and I started to feel I could stop when I’d had enough. I am by no means perfect, and sometimes I slip up, but I am getting there. Food is no longer a way to get “love” or to fill an emptiness inside me. Instead I am being more kind to myself, being gentle and believing that regardless of my shape or size, I am loveable. Just like you are too.