I’ve been putting off publishing this post for months, waiting for the perfect moment once I have it all figured out and can wrap my story up with a nice little bow and call it complete. I’m realizing that will never happen. Last month’s solution may not work today…which brings me to a confession…
I used to nighttime binge a lot. And I don’t mean years ago. I mean months ago, even after I became a health coach. Actually it was exactly during my training to empower others in their health that I found myself pacing my kitchen late at night, rummaging through the cupboards for something to satisfy me.
It usually started the same, and I could tell it was happening but I wouldn’t stop. I’d come home, tired, knowing I just needed to sleep. “I need a little something, first, though,” I’d tell myself, knowing, in the back of my mind that it wasn’t going to end with just a little something. So I’d start, maybe a handful of nuts. Not satisfied. Okay just some almond butter too. Still not enough. Now I needed coconut milk to wash it down. Then I’d be done. No still not enough. Then I’d go for crackers, popcorn, anything salty. Then I needed a spoonful of honey to balance out the salt. Before I knew it, 20 minutes had passed and I was still “snacking,” often to the point where I was uncomfortably full, yet still not satisfied. The more I ate, the more I stressed, which made me want to eat more. A vicious cycle. I’d finally collapse on my bed, too full to move.
And, okay, it often wasn’t the worst food to be eating (I didn’t keep “junk” food around), but the spirit and emotion behind it was unsettling and even scary at times. It was as if I’d lose total control of my body. I felt powerless and like a failure, especially because healthy eating has been so important to me for the past couple of years, ever since my Grandma’s death from cancer.
I’ve never made myself throw up, although I had my own version of “purging” for a while: through juice cleanses, rigidly clean eating, etc. I finally quit that too, noticing the yo-yo pattern of binge and purge eating, finally realizing it really wasn’t healthy. After months of very clean eating, I found myself underweight (125 lbs at 5’10”—130 lbs at my height is considered an anorexic weight by the way — and 130 had been my “limit” weight for months..the highest I’d let the scale get to before doing a juice cleanse to shed a few pounds). I wasn’t anorexic but orthorexic for sure. Orthorexia nervosa is an unofficial eating disorder where one becomes obsessed with healthy eating, to the point where it becomes their main concern and interferes with actually living life. It’s super common and often unaddressed for people because it looks like healthy eating.
Luckily, I was also being trained as a health coach at the time, and one of the first things we learned was that cravings are an opportunity and a good thing. Our body is telling us it needs something and our job is to listen. The “hunger” might actually be for love, for a hug, or it could be literal physical hunger for protein, fat, etc. Every body is different, so there’s no way to decode cravings without looking at the individual. So I resisted all of my urges to do another juice cleanse or to quit sugar altogether, both of which I knew would subside my cravings…at least for a little while. But it wouldn’t really get at the root of what was going on for me. I just needed to figure out what that actually was.
The downside of training to be a health coach was that I thought I could/should figure this out on my own. I was getting all of this education, so I should be able to heal myself right? Funny, because the foundation of health coaching, of coaching in general, is that the coach simply has the vantage point of being outside of the coachee. We get so close to ourselves, so used to ourselves, we start to mix up what’s “normal” for us with what’s actually working.
Okay, so I finally got a coach. I realized self love was the only answer, but I really didn’t know how to to truly love myself and my body just the way it was. I was led to Dr. Dorie McCubbrey’s book How Much Does Your Soul Weigh? Also known as the “Don’t Diet Doctor,” her words spoke to my soul. I started working with her one-on-one immediately.
Dr. Dorie told me that at this point I knew too much for my own good and needed to let go of “perfect” eating and stop restricting myself. We began by feeding my inner child. I asked my inner child what she wanted and allowed her to have that, much of which were foods I had forbidden myself to eat. Sugary cereal. Mac ’n cheese (from a box, with the weird powdered “cheese”). Oreo cookies. And not just food. Dancing, singing, laughing, being with friends…
This all sounds fun right? Let me just say it was fun at times and torture at others. I gained weight, stopped being able to fit into a lot of my clothes, and went through moments of hating myself more than I ever did. Luckily my coach was there to remind me, “You’re healing. Be patient. You were starving.” My body literally had thought it was starving and was learning to trust me again.
So what happened with the binges? Feeding my inner child has truly transformed them. By allowing myself to have those things I had forbidden, I gradually stopped feeling a compulsive urge to eat. And by eating those foods, I also remember why I had started eating healthfully in the first place: because it makes me feel good, which makes me HAPPY (the original intent was never to lose weight). After eating almost an entire box of cereal in one evening, the next morning I woke up with a terrible sugar/cereal “hangover” and I was craving greens. So for now I’ve gotten my fill of those childhood treats, but they are no longer forbidden. Nothing is. If I want a cookie I’ll have it. And now I can actually stop with just one…actually the other day I stopped at half…a miracle! Balance. Sigh. Oh, and trust me, I still have my days where I find myself cupboard-rummaging and emotionally eating but even then, it’s nothing like it used to be. And I don’t beat myself up about it anymore. What would I say to a 4-year old little girl? I love her up and tell her it’s quite alright. I even laugh at myself now.
Disclaimer: this has been a journey of over a year, and there was no simple solution. It wasn’t just allowing myself the forbidden foods. I did a lot of soul searching and cultivated self love practices (think rose petal baths, reading, meditation). I surrounded myself with supportive people. I focused on following my heart (hence why I’m leaving a fantastic job and moving out of NYC in a month to travel and focus on wellness full time).
This story isn’t to give other bingers a quick solution to their own habits. My intent is to share myself with you, to let you know I’m not perfect, and there’s really no such thing. I also want you to know that a key for me was to go deep and to not go alone. Don’t do it alone. Don’t read this and then try all of the things I did. Every body is so unique and different.
My other intent is to let you know that if you’re dealing with something like this, it’s all an opportunity. Even through my self loathing, I kept saying “this is happening for a reason..this is a key part to me being the greatest contribution I can be to others.” And that’s what it truly has been. I can now fully empathize and support those dealing with emotional eating and eating disorders.
Lastly, let me say that I’ve figured nothing out. What works for me and nourishes me one day may not be what I need tomorrow. I at least have tools and support to constantly reevaluate. This is all a journey and I will never be done. Some may read that with disappointment. I see it as a gift. We are ever-changing, never the same. Life would be so boring otherwise. Trying to control it all is insanity. Sometimes we just need to throw our hands up, dance, and have a bowl of peanut butter cocoa puffs drenched in chocolate [almond] milk.