A great, insightful Q from HealthyGirl.org reader Marina, who just turned 20. Hope her situation helps shed some light on your own…and as always, feel free to weigh in with your own experience and tips, guys!
Q: Hi Sunny,
I’m going through a downwards spiral with my bingeing at the moment after a stable few months. I was wondering how you eventually came to that stable place where you are in control of what you eat? I have tried to have counseling, but found it unhelpful. I always seem to be OK when I have a lot going on; it’s free time that scares me as I have free reign to binge and generally indulge. Thank you so much for your website, it really is a savior to girls like me. —Marina
A. First, let me say that I’m sorry you feel like you’re in a downward spiral right now. It can feel really hopeless when you’re in that space; but it’s not. By reaching out and asking for help you’re doing the first thing you need to to get yourself on a healthier, happier path.
About therapy: I did find it helped me. It’s not that it directly helped me stop bingeing, but over a period of a few years (yep, I said year!), it got me to a point where I had a ton of self esteem. Once I built up that confidence, self esteem and inner strength I was able to finally really tackle the bingeing.
Like you, “free time” used to be a big binge trigger for me. It was really based in fear of the unknown. If I didn’t have any plans, or a schedule, I’d get super anxious and want to eat. Here’s a detailed description of what I did to get better, but in short, I started going to weekly binge-eating support meetings (here’s how to find one of your own) and even did a little bit of cognitive behavorial therapy, in which you focus on what false thoughts and beliefs you have that help cause your unhealthy behaviors.
Those things helped me realize the warning signs that I was about to binge, and I started instituting healthier behaviors that could take the place of eating. Each time I’d make the happy, healthy choice and do something like read or go for a walk, or write about my feelings instead of sticking my face in a bag of peanut butter M&Ms I felt stronger and my self esteem grew even more.
I still sometimes get worked up and restless when I have nothing to do. So the last time it happened I did this exercise called the “ladder of higher meaning” that I read about in The Worry Cure, by Robert Leahy, Ph.D.:
1). You start by writing down what the situation is that’s making you uncomfortable. For me, it was having this few hours of free, unstructured time.
2). Then you identify what emotions you’re having. Mine were fear and anxiety—I was anxious because I wasn’t doing anything and felt like I should be busy, busy, busy.
3). Then you sort of connect some dots until you find out what positive characteristic of yours these feelings are linked to. My process went a little like this:
• I’m anxious because I’m not doing anything.
• Why? Because I feel in control and effective and successful when I’m doing things. It makes me feel accomplished.
• Feeling accomplished is important to me because I am an ambitious and hardworking woman.
Ta-da! I wasn’t anxious and fearful because I’m a wimpy scaredy kat, but because I’m smart, ambitious and success-oriented! That made me feel good about myself. The fear dissipated and I decided that I deserved a break. So, I “planned” a three hour period of…nothing! I literally laid on my bed while my husband took a nap next to me and just read, flipped through a magazine, relaxed. (Yeah, it was awesome.)
Recovery has been a long process for me. But I am saner about food today than I ever imagined I could be. There’s hope! And you’re on your way, Marina.
One last suggestion: Why don’t you join the HealthyGirl.org Book Club and read Crave with us? It’s a great book that will really give you a better understanding of what’s going on. We’re going to start that up next week, so stay tuned. No matter what, stay in touch and let me know how you’re doing!