How I Beat Binge Eating: Part 2

This is How I Beat Binge Eating: Part 2. In case you missed them, here are links to my Intro and Part 1 posts of this series.

“Disordered Thinking”

Now, let me be clear: I was NOT fat. At 5’5″ at 145ish, I wasn’t huge by any stretch of the imagination. Yet my critical view of myself distorted everything I saw in the mirror, and I seriously believed that I had a weight problem. In retrospect I can see how messed up my thinking was. I now think I look pretty fit, cute, and awesome in the pictures in this post. I wish I could go back in time and both whack myself upside the head for being such an idiot and then immediately give myself a big, big hug to help with all the hurt and fear I was dealing with back then.

disordered thinking
Eat hardly anything, eat everything, repeat. Through all this madness my weight and body hardly changed at all.

But anyway. I made a firm promise to myself that purging was no longer an option for me. It was something I never wanted to revisit. But instead, I decided I’d get “healthy.” I was convinced that I was fat and needed to lose weight, and that somehow all of my problems were rooted back to the inadequate, unacceptable way that I looked. I felt like I was addicted to food, particularly sugary food. But if I could work hard and have willpower, I though, I could change everything about myself and my life.

I still catch myself defaulting to this crazy logic in times of high stress. I think it’s easier to decide weight loss is the answer to your problems in life than it is to actually face your real problems. I see now how irrational, how stupid this line of thinking is. But in any event, I moved forward both determined to never purge again and to lose about 20 pounds.


The Beginning of Intentional Dieting

So I joined a gym. I hit the fitness and diet magazines, cutting out and saving 1200-calorie diet plans and sub-300-calorie dinner recipes. I began doing sets of exercises from the magazines that promised to thin my thighs and flatten my abs. I decided I was going to become a newer, better, infinitely hotter and happier version of Sarah.

I sincerely thought that by losing some weight and getting my eating back under control, I’d solve all my problems at once because I’d then be not just healthier but prettier too, which would mean more dating and more friends. Ta-da! I remembered how kind everyone had been when I’d lost weight back in junior high, and whereas one day it seemed like no one noticed me or liked me much, the next day I was bombarded with attention and praise simply because I’d dropped a jeans size or two. I wanted that again! I believed I was going to have EVERYTHING once I lost 20 pounds. And sticking to my  new regimen of “healthy” meal plans and tough workouts was my ticket there.

By this point, all my overtly dangerous and disordered behaviors were gone. No more purges, no more sub-500-calorie days. But my thinking was so jacked up that I was still doing watered-down versions of full-blown disorder behaviors. I ate, but not enough. I didn’t make myself throw up, but I still used exercise as a less-intense form of compensated when I felt I’d eaten too much. And my thoughts were nothing but FOOD. FOOD. FOOD. FOOD. LOSE WEIGHT. GET SKINNY. FOOD.

I think a lot of people currently or in the past fall into this category. We don’t have full-on disorders that need swift and serious medical attention, but we’re not living in a healthy and happy way. Food and exercise and weight loss become obsessions. It’s not so much a state of disordered eating but a state of disordered thinking. It’s being almost anorexic. Borderline bulimic. Often orthorexic. It’s not glaringly dangerous or unsafe, but it is miserable. And it’s a zone I lived in for far too long.


Yet the bingeing raged on.

Before this, I was bingeing not out of hunger but solely due to emotions. I ate fairly healthy and normal meals and snacks throughout the day before I’d ingest an excessive several thousand calories of sugar in the evenings. But starting in the second half of my freshman year, once my first real efforts to diet began, my eating took on a whole new pattern. For the first time ever, my caloric intake became chronically low. And I honestly believed that I was being HEALTHY at this point: after all, the magazines were telling me to do all the things I’d started, and surely they weren’t advocating disordered behavior, right?

The best way I can sum up the shift here is that my binges began solely as a comfort mechanism when I was met with stress I couldn’t handle. But then they morphed into a biological, inevitable rebound effect as I was perpetually hungry. Consistently undereating is what kept the flame of my bingeing alive and well. Label it as restricting, dieting, or whatever you want, but it’s the #1 reason I could never stop binges from happening.

disordered thinking
Here I am at a friend’s wedding. Disordered thinking still kept me in its grip: at this point in time, I still believed I was horrendously fat.

Addicted to Food?

My binges never again reached the sheer amounts of food they did during that brief, awful time during my first semester as a college freshman. But the frequency of my binges? I found myself overeating if not all-out bingeing once or twice a week. I could “stick to a healthy eating plan” for about 5 days before giving up, it seemed. I’d do just fine with my bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, sandwich piled mostly with spinach for lunch, then chicken and veggies for dinner for a few days. But every time, like clockwork,  I’d snap around day 5 or 6. I’d walk past the campus bakery and feel my brain screaming at me that I needed brownies—and buy not one but a dozen. I’d go to a party and wolf down a huge plate of chips and dip plus a half dozen desserts. My hunger would get the better of me every single time after a few days of “good” eating, and despite my best intentions, I’d binge. Every. Single. Time.

I chalked it up to my pathetic lack of willpower. I’d swear to “start over” the next day. Often, I’d revise my diet or eating plan to be even stricter than it had been before, and the vicious cycle would continue.

In retrospect, I now see that anyone living on 1200 calories a day and burning another 300+ in daily workouts would react exactly as I did. My binges were a result of the physiological need to stay nourished! My brain was telling me I needed brownies because there was in fact a serious lack of carbs, fat, and general calories in my system! I didn’t see what I was doing as “starving myself,” because in my mind I was eating 3 “healthy” meals a day.

But I literally was starving most days, netting about 900 calories where a girl at my age, weight, and height could have and should have eaten somewhere near 1000 more calories than that daily. Yet because of my frequent bouts of overeating, I was probably averaging roughly the correct amount of calories: it just came about by under eating for several days and then stuffing my face.

Keeping Up Appearances

No one would have imagined all this was going on by simply looking at me. With what I felt was herculean effort, I dropped only a few pounds (at my lowest, I was 142) due to all the bingeing. And at my all-time high when my binges were at their peak as a freshman, I was in the low 150s. The few people I confided my overeating problem to acted confused: I hadn’t lost or gained a lot of weight at any point, and I wasn’t purging anymore, so what was the problem?

addicted to food
Another picture from the days where, in my distorted mind, I believed I was still problematically fat. Isn’t that sad?

I’ll tell you what the problem was. The problem was that I felt like garbage. The problem was that at any given moment I was either ravenously hungry or overstuffed and sick. The problem was that I inwardly screamed at myself and called myself horrible names any time I put one toe out of line from whatever stupid diet or cleanse or meal plan I was currently on. The problem was that I looked in the mirror and saw only UGLY. The problem was that I was unhappy and confused and had no idea what “healthy” even was anymore.

The Emotional Damage of Disordered Eating

I kept most of these feelings locked up inside. And it’s not like everything in my life was horrible. Not by any means! I found myself loving the major I’d chosen, finally making more friends and dating more, and honestly feeling fairly happy a lot of the time. So much of my life was great. I landed several writing and editing internships in a row that were fun and fulfilling. I got married to a wonderful, wonderful guy. I graduated from school. I had my first baby, my darling daughter Sophia.

But this undercurrent of constant dieting, constant fighting for a goal weight, and constant self-loathing was always in the background. The time after I had Sophia especially was brutal as I starved/binged myself down from my delivery day 200ish to my pre-baby 140s in just 4 months. The overtly dangerous purging was long gone, but the way I was living sure didn’t make me happy.

Sarah McConkie wedding day
Me on my wedding day with Mark. 🙂 I’m so lucky he’s mine. He’s known about my eating struggles since the early days of our marriage, and he’s never been anything but supportive and loving and amazing through all of this.

And ironically, a new emotion crept in. I read in lots of places that bingeing was a result of trying to cope with stress and problems, and that made me feel so, so guilty. What stress did I have, after all? What problems did I have? My husband loved me, and I loved him. My new baby girl was healthy and gorgeous and perfect. I’d found work to do from home that kept my passion for writing and editing alive (and also helped our meager college-student budget all work out). I had made wonderful friends in the town we’d moved to after I finished my degree.


By pretty much any standard, my life was amazing. What kind of crazy, whiny, ungrateful, broken loser was I to feel the need to binge with so much GOOD in my life? By this point, I’d decided and firmly believed that I was fat, but I now also believed I was fundamentally a bad, pathetic human being.

binge eating
My beautiful oldest daughter, Sophia, at just 3 days old.

This is what my life was like for the next 4 years.

Life had settled into a groove of good with hidden bad. I was constantly dieting and restricting, and as a result, constantly overeating. Disordered thinking dominated my thoughts about eating, exercise, and my body. But it was livable. And so I lived that way, pretty much from the second part of freshman year on until I became pregnant with my second child in 2013.

sure I was addicted to food as a new mom
Here we are on a hike with baby Sophia in the fall of 2011.

Pregnancy #2

At the beginning of that pregnancy, both my husband and I were hit with a terrible, terrible stomach flu. Think stomach convulsions as painful as childbirth. Dry-heaving in 10-minute intervals for two hours straight. An ER visit because I seriously thought I was either experiencing ectopic pregnancy or dying. It was horrendous.

Yet the end result of all that misery was a bit of weight loss—and people noticed. I was hit by waves and waves of “You look amazing! What are you doing?” and I loved it. It was like when I lost that weight in junior high all over again! I liked the slightly thinner version of myself too. So? I found myself dreading the inevitable gain that was going to come with this pregnancy. I next found myself lying about having morning sickness (which I really didn’t) so I could skip meals here and there. But within a week or two, I realized this was NOT okay.

I felt horrible. What kind of monster would start all this disordered stuff up again while PREGNANT? How could I be DREADING weight gain when the reason for it was that I was bringing a beautiful baby into the world? What selfish, shallow, superficial, small-minded brat could justify intentionally undereating that would put my unborn baby at risk? I was so ashamed.

The phrasing I used when I talked to myself was overly harsh, but my core feeling was right. If this kind of thinking and behavior was resurfacing while another little life was dependent on mine, I needed help. ASAP.

Coming next: How I Beat Binge Eating: Part 3

Review: BarreAmped DVD Workout

Among my best tips for healthy pregnancy is this: get some good workout DVDs and use them! And when it comes to quality DVD workouts to use during your pregnancy, Suzanne Bowen is the best instructor out there.

I tried out A LOT of pregnancy workout DVDs in my quest to find the very best ones, and of the 6 that I decided were top-notch, 3 were made by Suzanne. I think her workouts are spot-on when it comes to pregnancy because she realizes that you are pregnant—so no one-armed burpees or jumping jackknives for now!—but that you are still capable of working hard to stay strong and fit while exercising for two. Starting the day with a good workout is one of my strongest safeguards against giving in to the urge to binge when stressed or cranky, and I’m grateful that good workouts like BarreAmped exist so I can still push myself and work hard even while I’m pregnant. The best price you’ll find on it is on Amazon for $16.99.

Just a heads up: These review posts and a few others on my blog contain affiliate links. That means if you click on a link on one of my posts that takes you to another site where you buy a product I recommend, I get a small commission. I take that as a huge virtual high-five and thank you from my readers! So, if you like something I recommend enough to buy it, it would make my day if you used my link to make your purchase. But I hope you know that I have a staunch policy of ONLY including affiliate links for products that I actually own and think are incredible, as well as only linking to the best price I can find for any given product. 🙂

my tips for healthy pregnancy include using this BarreAmped DVD

Like most prenatal DVDs I tried, this one is broken down into short segments, each one with a different focus. This is great because it allows you to create a customized workout based on which areas of the body you want to work on a given day. It also allows you to make your workout last anywhere from 15 minutes to over an hour, depending on what you’re feeling like throughout pregnancy. I love the flexibility and customization BarreAmped offers because of its mini-segment structure. Here’s a breakdown of what each workout on the DVD includes:

Warm Up (runtime 2:57 and 8 calories burned)

Especially during pregnancy, it’s important to emphasize doing things safely. I’ll admit that I’m often one to skip warming up and cooling down, but this warmup segment is so short and sweet that it’d be silly not to do it. Suzanne takes you through some light cardio that gets you moving and loose and ready to roll.

Light Weight Work (runtime 12:42 and 55 calories burned)

In this segment you’ll be using light dumbbells to do high reps of what look like simple, wussy moves. Ha! I was DYING and taking breaks with my 3 lb dumbbells towards the beginning of the segment. This is tough, effective stuff! I really like how my shoulders are looking lately, and I think it’s due to this segment and ones like it on my other DVDs. I was able to kick it up to 5 lb dumbbells towards the end of the segment after I’d done this workout a few times (during the chair series that focuses mainly on the back and triceps). This is definitely on my short list of the best upper-body workouts to do during pregnancy.


Thigh Work (runtime 13:54 and 52 calories burned)

I’m going to go ahead and say this section is the toughest one on the BarreAmped DVD. Yowza! You are going to feel your thighs ignite as you do this workout and then, the next day, feel that nice, satisfying level of soreness where you can feel you worked out hard but are still walking fairly normally. 🙂 This is definitely more toning work than cardio, so don’t expect your heart rate to be through the roof, but you’ll still be working hard. Suzanne’s cueing on form and alignment is especially good through here, which I appreciate since I’m new to barre workouts.

Seat Work (runtime 12:12 and 21 calories burned) 

This section is one where you will definitely need to use a chair, as Suzanne recommends in various places throughout the DVD. You’ll be starting out with standing glute work that will require a chair for balance (I don’t know about you, but at 22 weeks I’m already a bit off-balance thanks to my growing bump). You might be a little thrown by the screen going black around the 6:00 mark—I was the first time I did this DVD—but don’t worry. The segment goes for another several minutes, but that little break is just where Suzanne changes from standing work to work down on the mat (so along with your chair, make sure you’ve got a soft mat to work on).

Mat Work (runtime 14:14 and 33 calories burned)

 I thought this section was great because it hit all sorts of areas—it’s a good, quick, total body toner that would work well for really busy (or just really tired!) days as well as in combination with other workouts on the DVD. You begin with a tough modified pushup series that will kick up your heart rate a bit and then continue into moves that hit everything from shoulders to thighs. I will say that Suzanne spends a lot of time talking between moves in this one, so you may want to just continue doing a move during those talking breaks until she actually begins demonstrating the next move if you’re hoping for more of a challenge.

Cardio Tone (runtime 13:17 and 69 calories burned)

Although this segment is at the end of the list, it’s one I like to do right at the start because it’s a toughie! I found that it was a nice continuation of the Warm Up and does a good job prepping your body for any of the other toning segments to come. You use dumbbells for part of it, and I found that 3 lbs was a hair easy but 5 lbs was a crazy-tough challenge, so pick your poison there. 🙂

I did find myself following the modifier, Sweden, through most of this one (side note: I wish I had even the remotest connection to the country Sweden other than that I like Ikea because I think Sweden is a super cool name and would totally consider it for this baby if it wouldn’t be so random). Anyhow. Sweden is great throughout the entire DVD for (1) being a visual reminder of how awesome and fit you can be and look even during third trimester and (2) demonstrating moves that are still challenging but that don’t require any balance at all, which is good if you’re either in your third trimester yourself or flat-out clumsy in general like me. I also thought a few of the moves here, although the section is labeled cardio, were really tough on my booty. So bonus points to Suzanne for that!

Relaxation Stretch (runtime 9:17 and 9 calories burned)

All of the pregnancy DVDs I tried out included some sort of stretching at the end. I’ll be up front and say I don’t use any of these stretch workouts as often as I ought to, but this is the very best one of all the stretching segments out there.

It’s short enough that I actually do it now and then, and I feel like every single move is actually doing something for me. It was both relaxing and efficient if that makes sense—I didn’t feel like any time was wasted on moves that weren’t legitimately helping some part of my body feel nice. The stretches you do down on the mat while using a chair for support were fabulous for my lower body (which got WORKED in the Thigh and Seat segments of the DVD!) and the stretches she gives for your neck and shoulders felt heavenly. I think I carry a lot of my tension in my neck, so I really appreciated the focus on working some of that out.

There it is. I hands-down recommend Suzanne Bowen’s Prenatal BarreAmped workout DVD and love having it in my exercise rotation. It’s available on Amazon for $16.99, which is the best price I found. I have loved this DVD and I hope you do too!