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.

my emotional eating worsened in college
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

Pregnancy Cardio

There’s something about starting the morning with a tough workout that sets a healthy tone for the rest of my day.  Reminding myself that I’m strong and awesome at the very beginning of my day is good for me. While I’m not (and never have been) tiny, I am fit. Exercise helps me focus on health being all about how I feel, not just what I look like.

Of course, it’s a nice fringe benefit that exercise trims and slims your physique. But that’s not the focus when it’s just me and the trail or me and a killer workout DVD, giving all I’ve got and being amazed at how my body can do so much. There’s no mirrors, no one watching, no one—most importantly, not even me—judging. It’s just me and my pounding heart and the rush of endorphins. A daily dose of that feeling is a powerful, powerful force when it comes to talking myself out of a potential binge. I’m better able to appreciate all the great things I am, inside and out, when I’m putting in tough workouts most days of the week.

But what happens when you become pregnant? Can you keep up tough workouts, especially tough cardio workouts, and keep reaping the benefits your workouts used to give you?

Sarah McConkie
Here’s a picture of me in fall 2015, right before running the SLC Comic Con 5K. I’m fit but not itty bitty at 5’6″ and 145ish lbs non pregnant. Exercise is powerful in helping me remember that my picture doesn’t need to look like something from a Victoria’s Secret catalog. This body of mine is fit and strong and beautiful in its own unique way!

Should I Run During Pregnancy?

I’m not a doctor, so I can’t really answer this. But non-pregnant, my favorite mode of exercise is definitely running. I LOVE RUNNING. But for now, I’m taking an extended running hiatus.

Now, I know that there are women who run marathons at 8 months pregnant (which is incredible!) but I am not one of those women. I tried running a little during my last pregnancy. While it felt great in the moment, it left me crazy sore and in pain afterwards. By week 26 I decided I was done, and I didn’t really exercise at all for the rest of that pregnancy. For me, running during pregnancy isn’t the best choice. But it might be for you! Consider how you feel  both during and after runs. And most importantly of all, talk to your doctor about it.

Pregnancy Cardio

If you can run when pregnant, go for it! But if you’re like me, you may find that, walking is my best pregnancy cardio option. It feels great both during AND after the workout. Also  important is that it’s something I think I can keep up through all three trimesters this time around. If I had regular access to a pool, I imagine that swimming would also be a good option. But walking is great because pretty much anyone can do it anywhere as long as you’ve got a good pair of shoes and somewhere safe to walk.

But what about pregnancy workout DVDs? Here’s my personal opinion on cardio during pregnancy: most DVDs that claim to offer prenatal cardio tend to be unsatisfying, hokey, or both. I’ve found some stellar strength and toning DVDs for pregnancy; prenatal pilates and barre workouts can be amazingly fun and challenging. And lots of them feature maybe one good but short cardio segment. So when it comes to pregnancy cardio, good old-fashioned walking is my weapon of choice.

walking is a great form of pregnancy cardio
Lucky me. I live near a fantastic trail where I do most of my walking.

How to Make Walking a Real Workout

Walking can be a lazy non-workout or an absolute sweatfest depending on how hard you push yourself. Now, I’m not going for heart-slamming, torch-a-milllion-calories cardio workouts during pregnancy, but I do like to work up a bit of a sweat and challenge myself a little. I want to approximate the feel of those runs I miss so much, even if I simply can’t push at the same intensity as before. So how do you make walks appropriately challenging during pregnancy? Here are 3 tips:

Hit the Treadmill

Treadmills are great because they can force you to keep up a challenging pace. I find that it’s easy to zone out and slow down when I’m walking on the trail, but a treadmill walk tends to be a better workout because I can set the pace and stick with it. Treadmills also allow you to throw in hill and incline intervals. That’s a great way to keep walking both challenging and interesting.

Another major plus to using a treadmill for pregnancy workouts is that you can stop right away if you suddenly don’t feel well. Walking outdoors is a little riskier that way, because if you suddenly have a problem, you may be some distance away from help. I feel safer pushing myself a little on a treadmill because I know I won’t be caught high and dry in the event of a problem.

Build a Killer Walking Playlist

Using a treadmill is a great way to maintain a tough-but-doable walking pace. That’s a major pro. But one of the cons of a treadmill is that, well, it’s a treadmill. While treadmills do offer huge benefits in some ways, I much prefer walking outdoors when I can.

Have you ever heard of jog.fm? This site is AWESOME. Basically, it allows you to search for songs and build playlists based on BPM (beats per minute). That way, you can walk to the beat of songs that are all about the same tempo, meaning that if you put together a playlist of similar BPM songs you’ll walk roughly the same pace for your entire workout.

Best of all, it’s free! You can click on links on the site to buy songs through iTunes,  but the service of finding the BPMs for each song and compiling playlists with those songs doesn’t cost a cent. And I’m all about that. 🙂 I found that I already owned about 20 songs that fit my target BPM and simply put them all onto one playlist on my phone.

 my pregnancy cardio playlist

 

Also important to note: jog.fm gives a pace-per-mile number as well as the BPM number, and I’ve found that those numbers don’t usually line up with the actual times I’m walking. For instance, my ideal BPM supposedly lines up with a 10:00/mile when I’m actually doing more like a 15:00/mile.

Make It a Game

I like to wear a heart-rate monitor during my workouts. It helps me keep my walking workouts fun because I can compare past workouts to my current one and try to “beat” my previous walks. For example, some days I try to walk farther than I did the time before in the same amount of time. Other days, I see if I can score a higher calorie burn than my last workout. Thinking of workouts like a game with a score can be really fun and motivating.

 

walking
I wear a HRM watch during my workouts, and here’s a final summary of my 45-minute walk the other day. Not bad!
How do you get in pregnancy cardio workouts? Any other tips to keep walking workouts challenging and fun? Let me know in the comments below!