Approaching normal

Thursday, May 2, 2013 Permalink

For those playing along at home, you may recall that I’m neither dieting nor am I not dieting at the moment. Historically for me it’s been one or the other. I’ve been either dieting (aka ‘on a mission’) and being ridiculously strict and losing weight; or I’ve been binge-eating everything in sight (regaining weight I’ve lost and more!).

After having gained and lost gazillions of kilograms and found that ‘dieting’ really just doesn’t keep the weight off, I’ve been trying the intuitive eating / mindful eating thing. Essentially it’s not dieting – but in my case, it’s also not bingeing. That’s been difficult for me – given that I seem to only have the two settings (black/white, all/nothing, dieting/bingeing). However, after some weight gain and a lot of unhealthy food, a few months ago I settled into a comfortable stand-off with my binge-eating behaviour.

In fact, in my last session with my life coach, Karen Anderson, I was proudly able to tell her that I hadn’t binged in a couple of months. I’d done my share of over-eating (indeed my mother will tell you that I do so every dinner, which is sadly true), but I’d indulged in no mindless shovelling of food down my gullet until I need to lie down or be sick. Karen was impressed. I was impressed. And happy.

I majored in psychology as an undergraduate, so have constantly been conscious of different (perhaps competing) streams of thought when it comes to the mind and body. Although the memories are very rusty, it always seemed to me that – to get to a normal weight I had two choices: I could either BEHAVE in a way that led to weight loss, making conscious decisions day-in and day-out, restricting certain foods or counting calories and the like; or I could DE-F*CK my mind and become a normal non-binge-eating person. Obviously Freud would cringe at my use of the latter term (or maybe not… he was kinda obsessed with sex?!), but essentially I’m talking about the fact that I’m carrying a lot of mental / emotional baggage about food, dieting, eating and my body.

I’ve seen therapists and tried to understand why I feel the rage and unhappiness that requires me to fill or numb my body with food, or why whatever I have is never ‘enough’. Obviously I haven’t uncovered what led to my anorexia or the plethora of other neuroses from which I undoubtedly suffer (as do many of us).

But… the thing I came to terms with earlier this year is that now that I’m living mindfully – pursuing a life that offers me some contentment and peace – I’m more able to deal with my eating issues. Or so I thought!

My success was predominantly brought about by ignoring the ‘push’ from the weight loss industry and others to follow a strict plan (also ignoring the guilt in response to updates from those on diets and losing weight, or tweets by those completing arduous exercise sessions). Similarly I wasn’t quite able to follow the advice of Geneen Roth and others who suggest that nothing be off limits. The idea of allowing myself endless amounts of chocolate or corn chips was something I tried but had never quite mastered. I’d never gotten to the point you’re supposed to reach when you say, “ENOUGH.”

In the end I did what ‘felt’ right for me. I took chocolate and corn chips (and some other trigger foods) off the table. It wasn’t a strict rule – if I was out at a friends and offered corn chips I would have them, but I just didn’t buy them for me. HOWEVER, I could basically eat whatever else I liked for my meals – hot chips, pasta, takeaway and the like.

Because I was also developing a very antipathetic relationship with exercise, I reined that in as well…. allowing myself to walk for pleasure. Only.

At last my mind and behaviour reached some sort of truce and I fell into a happy place (mentally). Don’t get me wrong, I still struggled with the fact that I’m 30-40kg overweight and would like to be healthier and vaguely attractive to the opposite sex; but… I felt a contentment I’d long desired.

Job well done!

HOWEVER… things started to go awry at Easter. I avoided easter eggs and chocolate which was a huge achievement; but something changed around that time. I struggled again with temptation.

My mother and I made a batch of brownies a couple of weeks ago (which is/was fine), but… although I ate them in several sittings, I became OBSESSED with the notion of brownies. To the point that I lay in my bed for an entire day trying to talk myself out of wanting them, but becoming more and more obsessed. I went and bought chocolate and other crap, before finally succumbing to what I’d wanted all along. Brownie mix.

I made it up and scoffed it. As planned. I grazed a little in that I ate half one night and half the following day.

It was an anomaly I told myself. “I’d be ‘good’ now.” But something was broken. I bought another packet of brownie mix and because – by then – I was feeling guilty I scoffed them all in one sitting (until I was feeling sick), telling myself that the next day I was going to start being healthy. “I’ll restrict carbs at night. I’ll have protein shakes,” I said as I was partaking in (yet another) Last Supper.

The following day as promised I tried to go without carbs at night… which led to much stress and the binge-eating of an entire packet of very boring rice crackers. (I know, not much of a binge in the scheme of things, but it ‘felt’ like one.) Again I was in a ‘state’ – forcing myself to restrict certain foods.

Why oh why do I do this to myself?! Why can others decide to restrict certain things or avoid things without them feeling like it’s the end of the world?!

I’ve angsted* a lot over the past week. I’ve panicked. I’ve promised myself all sorts of weird and wonderful things and I’ve castigated myself mercilessly.

differentiationThere I was, plodding along nicely and feeling like I was finally getting somewhere, when it all came undone. So easily. So quickly.

Yesterday however, I came to another realisation – I can get back there. Not the dieting-strictly there. But the ‘there’ I was earlier this year. I went shopping and looked longingly at the brownie mix. “One more batch,” I told myself. “Then I’ll be good.”

I realise that I’m probably never going to be ‘better’. I’ll just be ‘better than I was yesterday’. And that’s okay. So… I avoided the brownie mix – something I was okay with once I decided I could have mashed potato with my steak at dinner.

I can’t wait until my mind / emotions are ‘de-f*cked’ to start living (HELLO, I’ve spent the last 30 years hoping to get back to ‘normal!’). Nor can I expect that I can completely adjust my behaviour (ie. diet) without my mind thwarting my attempts. So, I’m going to let them again play nicely for a while and re-discover that truce they’d negotiated. No dieting, no NOT dieting; in fact I don’t need words to describe what I’m doing cos – for a change – I’m just living.

* Technical term 😉

Do you feel like you go two steps forward and three steps back?
Do your list of trigger foods continue to grow (as mine seem to!!)?


  • Char
    May 2, 2013

    I read this and remember a time in my life where I was exactly where you were with food. I treated it like the enemy. It wasn’t there to nourish my body, it was there to satisfy some other need that I had and couldn’t quite work out. I remember looking at my mother once as she ate morning tea and thinking that I couldn’t do that. Yet I could eat half a tub of ice cream – all by myself so no one could see my failings.

    I have such a different attitude to food now but there are still a few scars that linger. There are still foods that I don’t eat because they’re not on my list of approved foods (which was made up by me and exists only in my head). And I still like to indulge in ‘naughty’ foods in private. I don’t know if that will ever change. But at least the binging has stopped.

    • Debbish
      May 2, 2013

      Char, I’ve almost always lived alone as an adult, so there no one around to hear me screen… (oops, I mean, see me eat). That’s probably a bad thing. Others have often complained about eating out and its impact on their diets but I’m always fine out in public.

      I hope I get to where you are sometime (sooner rather than later preferably!).


  • Jo Tracey
    May 2, 2013

    Just living- I like that.

    • Debbish
      May 2, 2013

      Yes… it popped out as I was writing – I worried it sounded a bit wanky but left it in…

  • Danielle
    May 2, 2013

    This whole post really rang true for me. I constantly struggle with binge eating but have been good for the last few weeks (finally!!!) after reading a blog post at called “When you just don’t feel like it – 7 step process to push pass the resistance”. It is specifically about exercise but I have found the 7 steps work really well when I make eye contact with a caramello koala. I have never found a process that really worked for me, but so far so good with this one! I should also note that I have had a horrible week at work dealing with a crazy co-worker. This sort of stress is usually a sure fire trigger for me to binge and I haven’t done so once. So I hope this helps.

    Also I notice I just dont have the self-control to just have one. Once I have one biscuit (or anything that falls under the “bad food” banner) it seems to open the flood gates. It’s almost likes the suger causes a black-out in my brain so I all I do is mindlessly eat! I keep this in mind now when I go to have one biscuit – and know that it really means ten!

    Lastly, this is the first time ive commented but have been reading for the last 6 months and just wanted to say thankyou for all your wonderful posts!

    • Debbish
      May 2, 2013

      Hi Danielle

      Thanks SO much for your comment and lovely words. I sometimes feel a bit stale and it’s wonderful to know that someone can relate to what I’m saying.

      Will check out the prolific living blog – thanks for the tip. I’m obviously the same as you re biscuits etc.


  • Beth M.
    May 4, 2013

    Unfortunately, I can totally relate to the 2 steps forward, 3 steps back problem. I’d be ok if it were the other way around, still a struggle, but with forward progress.
    Like you, I’ve found the G.Roth approach of permissiveness to be counter-productive – my body never told me what it really wanted was a nice green salad, and if I ever got to the point of “enough” with cake, there was always the next thing to start eating too much of! So, I’ve been trying to find a balance between elimination, moderation, and substitution, and lately it feels like my tries have mostly been failures, but I’m not giving up hope.

    • Debbish
      May 4, 2013

      Hi Beth… Yes, the lack of forward progress can be disheartening and I’m SO with you on the cravings. I suspect I could eat my favourite foods for weeks on end without getting sick of them and then I’d move onto something equally unhealthy!

      I like the words / concepts you are using: elimination, moderation and substitution. Very true.

      I’m also trying the combination of things… from the psychological viewpoint. I need to adjust ‘some’ of my behaviour while NOT making that my focus. Gretchin Rubin (The Happiness Project) talks about moderators and abstainers. I need to be an abstainer!


  • KCLAnderson (Karen)
    May 5, 2013

    Here’s what I’ve told myself: it’s not about never bingeing again, it’s about bingeing less often. Or maybe it’s about eating less the next time I binge. Or about stopping myself in the midst of a binge. And it’s also about reframing “two steps back” as “every step is a step in the right direction, even if it doesn’t feel like it.”

    It’s taken me several years but I can say that it’s been a damned long time (over a year?) since I’ve had what I’d consider to be a binge…and the last one I remember (shortly after my grandmother fell and I became responsible for her) was nothing like the binges I had, oh say, 10 years ago.

    In any case, I love the fact that you’ve chosen not to define what it is you’re doing (except living). 🙂

    • Debbish
      May 5, 2013

      Thanks Karen. Will have to remember your comment about every step being one in the right direction.

      • Eating as a Path to Yoga
        May 15, 2013

        I had to start Mindfully Binge Eating. Strange, but true!

        • Debbish
          May 16, 2013

          Hmmm…. I’m reminded of a therapist I saw years ago (she specialised in working with people with eating disorders) and she told me to make a big deal out of my binge (icing/frosting on biscuits was my big thing back then I recall). She told me to make it even more of an ‘event’ that I was already doing (setting it up in front of the tv). She suggested good crockery and the like. Suspect that was to keep me in the moment rather than having me just shovel the food in.

  • Kek
    May 7, 2013

    I think, when you’re aiming to improve an entrenched behaviour of any kind, that accepting that your path is going to meander a bit is helpful. It’s never likely to be a point A to point B straight line; there’s always some backsliding. And that’s OK – it’s not quitting or failing, it’s just part of your progress.

    I like your approach to figuring out what works (and what doesn’t) for you personally and making your own rules. If some foods have to be avoided for a while, it’s not the end of the world …as long as there’s mashed potato with your steak. 🙂

    • Debbish
      May 8, 2013

      Oh absolutely. After I’d decided that I ‘could’ have pasta with my bolognese sauce and mashed potato with my steak, the need for food-I-should-try-to-avoid, diminishes. I’m happy to wait because I know I’m not being deprived!

I'd love to hear your thoughts