This is the fifth and final post in my How I Beat Binge Eating series. In case you missed them, here is the Intro as well as Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4. I finally figured out how to stop emotional eating and bingeing, and I hope my story helps you believe that you can change too!
Pretty Much Normal (and SO Much Happier!)
By here, my daughters were 1 and 3. My binges hadn’t gone away completely, but I was getting better and better all the time. It was exciting and satisfying to finally feel somewhat “normal” with my food and exercise. It was ironic, too, that after all my years of dieting and restricting and training for long races, I was starting to lose some weight without effort. You read that right: by curbing my workouts to 30–45 minutes a day and working in dessert a few times a week, I was losing weight! I dropped down from the mid 150s to the mid 140s by simply taking good care of myself. It felt amazing.
A Final Test
Then something devastating happened. Because I love the person it involves dearly, I’m being intentionally vague. It’s a part of my story I can’t leave out, but something I also can’t share fully here because it’s only my story by extension. I apologize for this, but I feel it’s right, and the person I’m talking about cleared what I’ve written but asked that I leave it where it is and not elaborate further.
Anyway. I found out that someone I loved was struggling with an addiction. This wasn’t something anyone knew about until this person bravely chose to come forward, bring things to light, and start the fight to be free again. When I found out what was going on, I was completely thrown off-balance. I would never in a million years have seen it coming. And, though I know now this wasn’t right, I felt partly responsible.
This person had been close enough to me that I found myself analyzing every aspect of our relationship, every interaction over the past few years. I started feeling intense guilt, thinking that I’d been mean and judgmental and all-around rotten at times to this person. I was convinced that if I’d been better to this person, maybe things could have and would have been different.
I also struggled with bouncing back and forth between wanting to give this person a hug and wanting to throw them in front of a train. Some of the details of the deception involved in keeping this addiction up had to do with lying to me, using me, and generally abusing my trust. This was someone I’d loved and respected for years and years, and finding out they’d kept so much in the dark made me feel angry and lied to and betrayed. Yet when I’d feel this totally justifiable anger and hurt, a new layer of guilt would wash over me for feeling anything but sympathy for this person who I knew was suffering so much. I was both hurting for this person and extremely hurt myself, and for a week or two I could barely even function.
I don’t know what I would have done through this time if I hadn’t had Mark by my side to remind me, over and over, that this wasn’t my fault. He was and is the best friend I’ve ever had, and I don’t know how I could live without him. I also wouldn’t have made it without another good friend who had recently been through something similar and was willing to talk with me about it all. And I know for a fact I never would have made it through without my parents’ willingness to let me collapse on their couch and sob whenever I hit my breaking point and just couldn’t take it anymore.
Relapse & Realizations
During this time of high stress, I had a mini relapse of a few bad, bad binges and one purge. For a brief, dark time I felt as lost and sad as my freshman self from the past. Again I found myself trying to use food to cope. But what happened was actually really interesting: I found that bingeing just didn’t help.
Back in the day, I’d feel massive euphoria and relief when I’d eat a huge quantity of sugar. It calmed and comforted me like a drug. But now? It didn’t have that effect anymore. I just felt overstuffed and cranky after overeating—which I’d always felt post-binge, of course—but the temporary high that used to drive me to binge wasn’t there like it had been years ago. It wasn’t a sensation of feel-amazing-then-feel-crappy like before: it was feel-crappy-then-feel-crappier.
Furthermore, my stomach couldn’t tolerate the volume of food it used to. I hadn’t had a full-on binge in so long that my brain and body had recalibrated: not only did I not enjoy them like I once did, but I couldn’t really even binge like I once had! I physically couldn’t do it.
In an odd way, that relapse period helped me see how far I’d come. I’d figured out, on an emotional level, that food couldn’t really solve my problems. Yes, I still overeat and even occasionally “binge,” but I now see that what I call binges in my head are really just emotional overeating that happens to come as a result of old binge thinking: I follow the same logic my binge urges thrived on, but the amount I eat in reaction is tiny by comparison to what it once was. I figured out then that I hadn’t actually binged in years. I still had overeating and emotional eating issues, true. But true, actual bingeing had been out of my life at this point for a long, long time.
This time was also heartbreaking for our family as my mother-in-law’s health began to really decline. Gina had been diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer back in 2012. She lived a miraculously long and full time after her diagnosis, despite the pain and discomfort of aggressive chemo. I don’t know how she was so unfailingly kind and optimistic through so much suffering, but she was. Gina was amazing that way.
But it was during these already hard months for me personally that we had to watch her finally begin to lose the fight to cancer. I’d be lying if I said I never used food to cope during the sad last few months of Gina’s life, because I definitely did. But even then, my binges were small hits of sugary comfort food rather than full-on bingeing episodes.
The 12 Steps: How It All Came Together
Part of the person I mentioned before’s recovery from addiction included involvement in a 12-step program. The particular program they used is an adaptation of the original Alcoholics Anonymous steps made to be (1) general to any type of addiction, not just alcoholism and (2) to fit in with the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (better known as the Mormon church), who sponsors this program and of which I’m a member as well. Here is a link of a free PDF of the recovery manual for anyone who’d like to check it out.
I saw dramatic, miraculous changes in this person as a result of this program. I have no doubt that God can and does help people change. I started flipping through the recovery manual too, mostly to be a support to my loved one as they worked the steps but also out of curiosity for my own issues with food and eating. And I loved what I found there.
Now, I don’t feel that eating disorders and addictions entirely line up: there are similarities, yes, but the analogy isn’t exact. For example, feeling like slipping up and overeating is a problem or sin as serious as a relapse in drug use is silly and counterproductive, in my opinion. Thinking this way only fed into my old fires of perfectionism and guilt. Figuring out how to stop emotional eating and bingeing is a big deal, sure. I know personally how much upheaval and emotional damage food issues can cause. But still, a problem with food is nowhere near the magnitude of having a problem with illegal drugs or alcohol. Reminding myself of this was key.
So the 12 Steps weren’t a perfect, exact fit for me. But much of what the 12 steps offer is beautiful. I found the steps VERY applicable to me and still do. Honestly, writing these posts has essentially been a Step 4, as any of you familiar with the 12 Steps might note.
Essentially, I feel like this addiction recovery manual is a great handbook for anyone who wants to change and wants God’s help in doing it. I followed the steps as far as they applied to my situation, even called into a few of the support meetings for a time, and read through the manual again and again because of the hope it gave me.
Faith AND Works
The main beef I’d had with Kathryn Hansen’s Brain Over Binge was that she emphasized so much of how you can beat bingeing by yourself. She even repeatedly criticizes the approach of 12 Step Programs as fueling her old mentality that she needed an entire emotional and personal overhaul before she could ever stop her bingeing. But as someone who has been a Christian all my life, I was uncomfortable with the idea that I was every going to fully recover without God. That did not resonate with me like the rest of her book had. But something big clicked as I read through these 12 steps.
I felt in my heart that I could keep applying the Brain Over Binge principles along with deriving strength from a higher power. The saying “God helps those who help themselves” finally made perfect sense to me.
Yes, Kathryn Hansen was right: I could theoretically change my bingeing habit all by myself. But the beautiful thing is that because Jesus Christ lived and died for me, I don’t have to! I do my best to set myself up for success by eating enough calories every day, not overexercising, and trying to reframe my negative thinking. These efforts of mine generally do keep me binge free.
But when I have weak moments, even in spite of all my best efforts, I can pray for strength to keep doing all those healthy things. And every time, I feel those prayers answered through God’s grace. God hasn’t fixed my problems for me, but He has helped make me strong enough to keep fixing them myself through my persistence and learning and hard work.
As tough as the entire year of 2015 was, this year was where my recovery final cemented itself as real and lasting. It showed me that bingeing no longer did anything real for me, and it showed me how my best effort alongside the grace of God would keep getting me and my eating better and better. It showed me that I could survive some of the hardest things life could hand me without using food as an unhealthy crutch. I did it: I beat binge eating.
Where I Am Today
It’s June of 2016 as I type this now, and my life is GOOD! I eat enough every day now. I eat desserts regularly. I don’t overexercise. I have a sound understanding of what my nutritional needs actually are, and I honor them. I’m able to question and analyze negative thinking rather than spiraling into self-hatred and frustration by default. And I rely on God, every single day, to help me keep these new habits and ways of thinking strong. I work as hard as I can, and He helps me along.
My life and eating aren’t perfect, but they are so far from what they once were. My bad days tend to be me eating 5 cookies when I planned to eat three, or feeling cranky and eating a bowl of cereal instead of facing the actual problem I’m facing right away.
Is my eating perfect? No. But whose is? Honestly, I’d be okay if this is how things stayed. I keep working towards getting better but acknowledging that where I am is pretty great. I feel healthy. I feel happy. And I feel like all that awfulness of bingeing is finally, finally behind me.
Back when I first decided to truly get better, when I was early in my pregnancy with my second child, I promised myself that before I became pregnant again, I would be in a good and healthy place with my eating. It wasn’t fair to a coming, unborn child for me to be pregnant again if I wasn’t healthy enough to care for a little one that would depend entirely on my health choices.
Furthermore, I know that pregnancy can be an emotional time that also comes with increased hunger, and practically speaking, it wouldn’t be wise for me to be pregnant until I had a better handle on my binge eating. Mark agreed, and so I simply worked through my eating as best I could and decided our family wasn’t going to get any bigger until things had truly changed for me long term.
I can’t help but cry as I type this final section.
It was near the end of 2015 that Mark and I had a series of long talks. Talks about me. Talks about us as a couple. Talks about our daughters. Talks about the horribleness of the past year. Talks about how my eating was finally, actually changing, even in times of high stress. Talks about what we wanted to do in the coming few years, and talks about how we were going to get there. And we finally felt that the miracle I’d worked for, that he’d supported me through, and that we’d both prayed for for years had finally happened: my eating was more or less better. Things had finally changed for me. And I was healthy enough to be pregnant again.
In January 2016, we got the double pink line we’d been trying for. I was pregnant! We had hoped and prayed that we’d be able to be pregnant with this baby and share the good news with Mark’s mom before she passed on. Miraculously, we were able to tell Gina about her grandbaby to come just three weeks before her passing in February of this year.
As I type this I’m 6 months along with the little one we plan to name Scarlett Gina McConkie. Yes, she’s another GIRL! I’m going to be a mother to three daughters.
In the past, I’ve had the thought that I was the worst person in the world God could have picked to send daughters to. I have been intensely afraid that I’d pass down my insecurities and issues with eating and be an influence for bad, not good, on my little girls. But I now take the fact that I’ve got not just one but THREE daughters to raise as a high-five from heaven. You’ve got this, Sarah, God is telling me. You’ve been through so much, figured so much out, and I want YOU to be the one taking care of some of my little girls.
You Can Change!
So as scary and crazy as it seems to put all of this personal stuff about my life out there where anyone can read it, I wanted to do it in case what I’ve learned can help anyone else on their way. I want to shout from the rooftops that you don’t have to starve yourself to be beautiful and healthy. Dieting and restricting aren’t the answer. A number on the scale can’t make you happy. Food can’t heal your hurts and heartaches. And most importantly of all, if you too struggle, know that YOU ARE STRONG ENOUGH TO CHANGE if you’re willing to give it time, never give up, and trust in God!
I don’t know who you are, but if you’ve been through any of the things I’ve described, I want you to know that you aren’t alone. You aren’t crazy or broken or bad or beyond help. You’ve got this. You’re going to be okay. Getting better is absolutely possible, and I know that if you’re willing to give it time and work, you will make it!!!
I’d like to wrap this up with one of my favorite quotes of all time: