How I Beat Binge Eating: Part 1

How I Started Bingeing

Here’s Part 1 of the story of how I stopped bingeing and emotional eating. In case you missed it, here’s my Intro post to this series.

Where to start? I don’t like rehashing what I was like at my worst, but the rest of my story doesn’t make sense if you don’t know what I’ve been fighting to leave behind. So here it is. This is How I Stopped Binge Eating: Part 1, though maybe a more appropriate title for this part would be How I STARTED Binge Eating.

Once upon a time there was a little girl named Sarah. Now, I’m not a scientist or expert of any kind, but I truly believe there’s some addictive component to sugar, and that some of us out there are more prone to be hooked by it—and comforted by eating it—than others. I think I’m one of the genetically unlucky in that way who is just plain prone to overdo sugar.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a hard time eating just one of anything sugary. In fact, my mom tells me that as a child she’d occasionally catch me scooting a chair to the kitchen counter, climbing up to sit by the canister of white sugar she kept there, and digging right in with a spoon. Emotional eating had been part of my life pretty much as long as I can remember. I think I was just plain pre-disposed to it.

I began emotional eating even as a child
Me as a kid. Cute, right? 🙂 I was never a tiny, skinny little girl, but I was never unhealthily overweight either.

Junior high school was the first place anyone called me FAT. I was mortified. I decided to simply stop eating sugary foods, period, to try to lose some weight. And it worked. I don’t know how much weight I lost because I didn’t really weigh myself back then, but it was enough of a difference that people noticed.

And they were so, so, SO  nice to me about it.

I got piled with positive attention. Other kids at school, neighbors, and relatives were all telling me I looked so great. And I loved every second of it. I did eventually begin eating sugar again after 8 months of zero sugary anything. But the weight stayed off even with sugar back in my life, and I stopped worrying about my weight. High school was a much kinder place to me than junior high had been, and those food and body image worries faded away into almost nothing. I was too busy having fun with friends, keeping up my grades, and loving all the extracurricular music/piano/choir things I was involved with to care about the size of my pants. Life was good.

 

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Hiking with my high school besties the summer before college.
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Me on a high school choir trip to NYC in 2006. I’m on the far right.

However, something important to note, I think, is that I never really learned how to cope with stress healthily. Why not? Well, I was never seriously stressed. Sure, school was hard sometimes. I played the piano, and that came with its share of stress too on occasion. But it just wasn’t big, scary, real-life stress. All was pretty much peachy for Sarah Montgomery. Also important to note: all that praise for losing the weight when I was 13 would also come back to haunt me and inform some of my terrible, terrible decisions later down the road.

Freshman Year: the Start of Emotional Eating

I don’t think I was emotionally prepared for everything that was about to change in my insulated little world. I expected life to be handed to me on a silver platter, just as it had been before. Up to this point, everything I wanted for myself had just kind of worked out: grades, scholarships, making it into choirs I tried out for, you name it. I worked hard, sure, but I was also really lucky.

But then I hit the university setting where I was no longer a big fish in a relatively tiny pond. Everyone else out there was smart and nice and played the piano and excelled at everything I did and then some. I found I wasn’t that great at making friends, either. I’d taken for granted that I had friends in high school, but suddenly I found that I wasn’t all that talkative or, really, very nice. I cringe to think how standoffish and ticked about dirty dishes I got at my roommates. I was stressed and cranky and insecure.

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Me with some of my freshman year roommates.

And the lack of general response from boys I was interested in? Well, maybe I should have tried harder to TALK to said boys. But in my head I began to worry that the problem was what I looked like. I began to view my reflection really critically again, like I had in junior high but about 100 times worse. I was a size 8, not a size 2, and once again, that really bothered me. I didn’t have huge, wide-set eyes or gorgeous cheekbones. It seemed like every other girl I compared myself to was prettier than me and thinner than me. All this resurrected insecurity about my likeableness and attractiveness began festering within days of my stepping on campus.

Then things really hit the fan.

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Jumping into group pictures and faking smiles. I got good at that back in the fall and winter of 2008.

My All-Time Low

It was so many things all at once. The economy began to slide. Yes, this lovely year was 2008. This meant my dad, who had always had good, steady employment, was suddenly laid off. One of the scholarships I’d planned on receiving sent me an email that essentially said they probably didn’t have funding anymore, so sorry. WHAT?! My mom was suddenly dealing with losing her dad in the aftermath of a stroke he’d recently suffered. A friend and neighbor from back at home was diagnosed with terminal cancer—after that family had already lost one other member suddenly just months before. I found out about someone close to me who had been abused as a child but too scared to come forward about it until that fateful fall of ’08. And to top it all, my first wave of midterms had left me reeling. Wasn’t I one of the smart kids? And now my first-ever college finals were imminent.

I found myself breaking down and crying in bathrooms around campus so my roommates wouldn’t hear me. I would hit up a vending machine to order a king-sized candy bar as a pick-me-up, only to decide I wanted more and to go find another vending machine on campus to buy another from. Emotional eating became the bandaid that held my fragile self somewhat together. I’d bounce around from place to place on campus, buying the sugary foods that seemed like the only stable, comforting thing in my life in that dark time. Without a mother cooking for me and watching over me at home, it was easy to get and eat huge quantities of food without a soul knowing.

I was embarrassed about the amounts I’d eat and would then rebound by living on nothing but diet soda and carrot sticks or Slim Fast shakes for the next day or two. There was also a huge set of stairs on my college’s campus that I’d make myself run up and down over and over and over in the evenings as I tried to erase the effects of my binges.

Then, one night after a particularly bad binge and cry-fest, I had an odd flashback to a movie I’d watched in a high school health class about Karen Carpenter. I think its message was intended to be a deterrent for young girls to turn to disordered behaviors, but for me it became a how-to-become-bulimic manual. I also had the twisted, horrible notion that everyone felt so BAD for Karen Carpenter, and it’d be nice if someone ever noticed and cared about  me like that. So I purged for the first time.

For about an hour, I was on cloud nine. I felt like I’d gotten away with murder. I can eat anything I want and never pay for it! I thought. I will lose so much weight! I’ll look like my cuter friends and roommates! Everything is going to get better!

But soon the seriousness of what I’d done settled in, and I was even more frightened than before. What was I doing? I couldn’t ever do this again! I’d just start eating healthily as of tomorrow, I decided, and then I’d never have a reason to purge again. That was that.

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More college. Thank heaven again for my good roommates who were kind to me even though I was pretty much a mess.

Until the next time I couldn’t deal with my feelings, that is. I did it again a few days later. And then again. I began to wonder if I’d be able to stop. And that was terrifying.

Getting Help

One night about three weeks after that first purge, I just couldn’t handle it anymore. I found a dark, secluded bench behind a building on the far corner of campus and pulled out my phone to call my mom and tell her everything. I couldn’t live this way. I felt weak. I felt shaky. My throat hurt. My head hurt. My heart hurt. I needed help.

My mom responded quickly and lovingly and rushed down to my college town the very next day to help me find counseling. I also let my roommate know what was going on—who was kinder to me than I deserved, both that awful night and up until today—and felt a glimmer of hope that it was going to be all right. I promised myself I’d go talk to a counselor and that I was DONE purging.

The counselor I met with was a nice guy. I think he sincerely wanted to help me. But I also think he didn’t realize how seriously overwhelmed and incapable of dealing with stress I was. We chatted weekly a handful of times, and I told him each time that my purging had stayed stopped. Our conversations were pretty much, “Hey, how are you? No more purging? Good job.”

At one of them a “Here’s a good book we like to give to eating disorder patients” was thrown in with a recommendation to read Intuitive Eating by Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole (side note: I flipped through it, thought its ideas were baloney, and chucked it under my bed). Then he let me know he felt good about where I was and we didn’t need to meet anymore unless I really wanted to. I gave him a hurried thanks-but-no-thanks and scooted on out of that office for the last time. I took his blessing to go as a sign that I was “better” since my purging was all gone.

I could now get back to what I had by then decided my real problem was: being fat.

Next: How I Stopped Binge Eating: Part 2

How I Stopped Binge Eating: Intro

You guys as my readers know this by now: I once really struggled with binge eating. Now I just kind of, occasionally do. I’m still a work in progress, but I feel like I’m out of the woods and that the change in my life has been AMAZING. So what got me from point A to point B? My About Me page gives a bit of my background by way of introduction. But I felt from the start that the main point of having this blog would be to tell others how I stopped binge eating. Hopefully, my story could help others do the same.

But first, let me digress a bit.

Camping

This past weekend we went TO the woods, literally, on a little overnight campout. Yes, I am 5 months pregnant, and yes, I slept in the tent on the ground and have lived to tell the tale. You may hereafter refer to me as superwoman. 😉

We had a great, great time. We had a scary few minutes when a ginormous MOOSE showed up while we were hiking. It was running around like it was ticked about something and wanted to impale somebody. Eek! But luckily, the demon moose calmed down and retreated back into the woods, leaving us unscathed. It was a calm, gorgeous, relaxing little time out in nature with my family. Our girls loved being able to explore around the campsite, throw rocks in the lake, and roast marshmallows. And I loved seeing them have so much fun.

binge eating

But. If you’ve ever struggled with binge eating, you know that trips can be tricky food-wise. It’s really easy to let yourself think, “Oh, this is a trip, and trips are special occasions, so I’ll have two more S’mores even though I’ve already had three and then be good again tomorrow.” Which often ends up being an extra five S’mores instead of two. Then that line of thinking progresses into “Oh crap, I’ve totally blown today so who cares now” thinking. And that leads you to polish off any remaining marshmallows straight from the bag instead of roasted. Next you sneak the extra hot dog your husband didn’t finish . . . and soon you’re bingeing.

The Cycle Broken at Last

What I described above has been the story of far too many vacations and holidays in my past, but this weekend it wasn’t.  In the evening I had a generous but not insane quantity of both hot dogs and S’mores, as I’d pre-planned for myself in MyFitnessPal, and in the morning I woke up ravenous but stuck to 1  1/2 bagels with cream cheese plus some applesauce. I’d pre-planned just the one bagel, and I’ll be honest: after that extra half bagel, that old binge thinking came sneaking in: “You’ve messed up the day! That was too much! Just have another bagel now! It’s Saturday anyway so just go home and eat whatever and then start over with the new week on Sunday.”

But I was able to say to myself that all those were stupid, illogical, irrational reasons, especially in light of my “blowing it” being a measly half bagel over what would, in my head at least,  have been ideal. Furthermore, I was actually hungry, so eating that extra half was a totally legitimate healthy choice anyway! So I told that binge thinking thanks, but no thanks and went on to be just fine eating-wise for the rest of the day. What a change from how things used to spiral out of control so quickly for me!

how to stop binge eating camping pic
Me in all my makeupless, wearing-my-husband’s-clothes, pregnant glory. I’m 22 weeks 3 days here and insisted that Mark document pregnant and smiling me camping as evidence for posterity that I’m not always a total grouch. 😉

 

This ability to stop binge thinking in its tracks is something that took me years to figure out. I guess I’m not totally “normal” in that I still have those binge thoughts fairly regularly, but most of the time I can shut them right down whenever they creep in. So what has changed? What made my binge eating go away?

I feel like something this blog of mine needs to do better is connect the dots from my past to my present. It’s fun to write about all the good, exciting, healthy stuff that’s going on for me in the present, sure. But what about back then? What has actually changed over the past year or so? How did I get from my worst version of myself in terms of binge eating to the imperfect-but-pretty-darn-okay Sarah that rocked this weekend of camping?

How I Stopped Binge Eating

For the next few weeks, I’m going to be blogging about this. I’m going to do it in a several-posts series since, well, it’s kind of a long story.

Now, I don’t think it does one lick of good to rehash my worst moments. Nor is it helpful to give graphic descriptions of what my bingeing and purging looked like back at its worst in 2008. That doesn’t do anything to help you or me. But I want to frankly share my story. I want the series of turning points that finally all came together and gave me the courage, knowledge, and power to stop binge eating to be out there.

I can at last tell those persistent binge thinking patterns to go right back to hell. And because of it, life is so, so good. And if you struggle, I promise: you can change too!

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Me with some friends in my freshman year of college in 2008. I did a pretty good job of keeping up a happy front, but inside I was really struggling with my eating and in general throughout this time.

This is going to be hard for me. But I know what tremendous good has come of people sharing the raw, real versions of their struggles with me. And I feel strongly that I should do the same. I know this is maybe naive and Emily-Dickinson-ish of me, but if even one person out there is helped by something I put out there, then I feel that I’ve done something worthwhile. If you’re wondering how to stop binge eating and stumbled on this post, I hope that something from my experience can help YOU.

In that spirit, let’s go right on to How I Stopped Binge Eating: Part 1