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how to stop overeating by stefani

Binge/Restrict:The Most Common Pattern of Overeating, and How to Stop (with Love!)

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This post is going to be timely!  I had not anticipated it working out this way, but this post is going up on the same day I am recording a podcast  focusing on disordered eating over with the amazing women at the Balanced Bites podcast.  If you are coming to my site from that podcast, you can find in the rest of my writing information on women’s hormones, PCOS and hypothalamic amenorrhea, weight loss, feminism, and body image / disordered eating.   I like to spit fire at society and to inspire women, too, which can be accessed by the “self-love-spiration” category tab.

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My work in women’s health began as an eating disorder counselor. These two issues are, in my opinion, intrinsically linked. Disordered eating in my own case led to poor physiological health. I would argue that this is the case for a large proportion of reproductively hindered and unhealthy women.

Sometimes the problems are treatable separately. Sometimes they are not. If I had to choose which I deem more important, it is a woman’s relationship with food first and foremost, hands down. Reproductive health does not eat away at the soul the way psychological health does. It does not follow us with all of our actions and behaviors. It does not have the immense power to cripple us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. At least most of the time.

So I have been counseling people on their relationships with food for several years now. I have become familiar with the important trends and issues. We disordered eaters generally fall into a few of broad categories. One of the largest, and the most prevalent in the paleosphere, is that of bingeing/restricting. The one question I get asked over and over again is: How do I stop overeating?

While there are dozens, if not thousands, of separate motivators for bingeing, and I cannot possibly address all of them at once, I can still speak to a more general and popular trend.   Most of us who struggle with overeating do so because we are in a constant battle with our bodies and our self-esteem.

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Having a negative self-esteem, particularly with regard to body image, generates a vicious cycle, which often proceeds as follows:

A) Negative self-esteem and self-talk, ie: “I want to lose weight / I don’t have chiseled abs / I am not pretty enough / I am not enough.”

B) Decision to eat less / exercise more.

C) A state of both physiological and psychological deprivation.

D) Overeating.

E) Increased negative self-talk.

F) Increased restrictive behaviors.

G) Increased severity and frequency of overeating behavior.

H) Increased desperation, negativity, and restriction.

I) Ad nauseum.

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The thing is is that most disordered eaters are well aware of the surface problem.  We have an inordinate desire to eat all of the time. Or we cannot stop eating once we start. Or both. And it adds even more frustration to our weight loss efforts because it makes us binge, and therefore stops us from losing weight as we would like to. This we understand well. Few of us understand truly, however–because it is such a difficult and deeply-rooted notion to confront–that the true problem, the real root of it all, is our lack of positive self-esteem, body-acceptance and self-love.

When we decide to restrict ourselves, we enter into states of both physiological and psychological deprivation. Our bodies become starved– depending on our behavior, for example, if we are fasting, or not, or eating very-low-carbohydrate, or not, or exercising too much, or not– and this manifests itself in several different hunger-inducing mechanisms: one example is a decrease in micronutrient stores, or another is simple sluggishness of satiation signals.    In sum, when we restrict our energy intake, we become hungrier beings.  We try to live in energy deficits, and for some reason we think it is going to be totally okay, yet it is impossible to trick the body out of knowing and responding to that fact.

One biological mechanism by which this increased need to eat occurs, among many, is the activity of neuropeptide Y, about which I have written before. If it is detecting lowered leptin (and other hormone) levels in the blood, it does several things: it up-regulates hunger signalling, it emphasizes sweet foods in doing so (partly why so many disordered eaters struggle with carbohydrates in particular), and it sends activation signals to hypocretin neurons. Hypocretin neurons, about which I have also written before, up-regulate wakefulness and the stress response. Hence why many women on restrictive diets have a difficult time resting and sleeping well.

The psychological deprivation may be worse. It puts us in a state of hyper-awareness about food.   The decision to restrict induces a constant struggle to eat less and exercise more, and it makes it nearly crucial for a woman to constantly check herself against her desires, lest her stock-piled hunger pick her up and shove her head-first into the overeating rabbit hole.  The more a person thinks about food, the more he doesn’t want to think about food, but the more he ends up emphasizing it in his brain and thinking about it anyway.   Then the more he messes up, and the more guilt he has, and the more negative he feels, the more strongly he needs to eat.    So deprivation is one huge psychological factor.  And so is the need to medicate against negative self-talk.  Food is a powerful, powerful drug.   And this whole process, a vicious, vicious cycle.

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Moreover, many women approach meals with the mentality: “how little can I eat?” which is perhaps the most fucked thing about many Americans’ relationships with food.  Then they (we) approach exercise with the mentality: “how many calories can I burn?” and each day with: “how am I going to get into an energy deficit, in order to make sure I get or stay lean?”  Yikes.  JS of gnolls.org has called this in personal correspondence with me the female half of the population’s desperate attempt to live at a “misery set-point.”   Far too many of us challenge ourselves, and then congratulate ourselves for, eating as little as possible.

We often, in fact, fall into cycles of under-eating early in the day and over-eating later in the day.  There are many physiological mechanisms behind this, but there is also a potent emotional factor.   In America today, it is generally better–hell, it is even more moral –to eat less rather than more.  So we wake up in the mornings, and we do not eat much.  And this is great all day, we get to feel great!   By the end of the day, however, our willpower (a real and limited resource) has met its end, and we over-eat.   We feel guilty.  The good thing is, however, that in the long run, we get to spend more time being self-congratulatory than feeling guilty because we typically spend most of the day in an energy deficit.  This is as good of an emotional satisfaction that we can achieve when we have this kind of behavior.   Still, though, it is a far cry from happiness.  And it continually begets itself as guilt and the counterbalances we have in place to mitigate that guilt’s crushing weight become increasingly extreme.

If it hasn’t become clear on its own yet, I’ll state it outright, and many times over:

The restriction that comes of negative self-talk necessarily begets overeating.

Necessarily.

And when you overeat, it is not. your. fault. It is not. It happens to you.

As awful as that is, however, the most wonderful thing in the world still follows.  It is that you can gradually shrug off these demons perched on your shoulders.  They attack you, but you can build up an arsenal of nourishment and love, and then the demons have lost their grip on you.

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Many women who binge and restrict would like to stop bingeing before they stop restricting. They think that they will lose whatever progress they have achieved, in terms of caloric deficits, if they stop restricting first. They anticipate continuing to over-eat, even while they are not restricting. This is an understandable fear — and trust me when I say that I understand how powerful fear can be as a human being in this precarious state.   However: this is impossible.  Deliberate restriction necessarily begets bingeing behavior.  Necessarily.  Restriction must be phased out of our lives before we can stop over-eating.  Willpower does not do the trick.  Hard-lined restriction does not win.   Love does.

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We fear weight-gain. We fear failure. We fear our bodies. Because we have always been at war with our bodies, and because we are probably frustrated with our bodies because of particular health struggles, we do not trust our bodies.   What motivation have we so far, honestly?   We do not know what powerful and beautiful partners they can be. We do not remember what it is like to eat intuitively.   We do not really know how.   Because of this, we fear letting go of our strict cognitive monitoring and control.  Without it, we may fail.

But leap we must.   This is why:

The only long-term solution to overeating is to stop restricting ourselves out of a need for self-worth.

This solution, I understand, can require a Herculean effort.   I have done it.  So I know.   The effort requires trust, it requires letting go of a bit of control, and it requires a bit of a leap of faith. The thing is, however, that it does not have to happen overnight. We can ease into intuitive eating gradually. We can let go of a few of our controls, slowly, over time, and we can watch the trust and power of our bodies come to life.  This process is a longer journey towards physiological health than a wholesale “forget it, I’m going to eat a lot all the time until I no longer want to,” but it enables us to work on our self-love continually while we are easing into the style of intuitive eating. These two facets will end up playing off of each other beautifully. The more we love and nourish our bodies, rather than restrict them, the more they respond to us, and the more we can love and cherish them. It’s a phenomenally beautiful and harmonious thing. It really, really, really is.

All we have to do is inch into that trust.

All of which is to say that it is scary, but it should also be exciting to embark on this journey.  And liberating. And beautifying. The more we love ourselves, the more free we are from our obsessions, and the more self-confidence and happiness we can garner. Letting go of social norms and of negative self-talk– this is a long journey. But it is a beautiful one of progress and self-exploration and growth, and for that reason I would not have it any other way.

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It is 100 percent possible to be beautiful and non-restrictive. In fact, I would argue exactly the contrary, that the less restrictive a woman is, the more self-love she can have, and the more empowerment and pride and health, and therefore the sexier she is. I believe this fully, I really, really do.

Additionally, as a final note, there is a way to restrict and to do so healthfully. This is important. I want all of us to achieve healthy weights. I believe this is achievable by entering into relationships with our bodies that are not based on warfare, but rather on partnership. We need to stop inflicting things on our bodies, and forcing it to do things it does not want to do. Instead, we can love ourselves, and treat ourselves gently, and move forward in productive partnership. We can approach a meal and say: “Do I feel satisfied at this point? Will I happily make it to my next meal if I do not eat more, knowing that I can always eat more if I feel the need to?” And we can approach exercise as: “Would you, my body, like to go for a run today? It could be fun and healthy for both of us.” And we can approach every day of our lives with nourishment, healing, and health primarily in our minds. Instead of forcing our bodies to become shapes they are not ready for, we can try to nourish them back into a healthy hormonal state that will become the real, powerful foundation off of which we achieve and maintain healthy body weights. This is good for our bodies, and it is good for our souls.

 

To read another perspective on the binge-restrict cycle, visit Dr Dea Robert’s blog on restrict/rebound.

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Managing director of Paleo for Women and author of Sexy by Nature.

82 Comments

  1. I am a guy, so I know I won’t get a lot of this, but…

    A lot of what you’re writing about resonates. When I started eating Paleo, I lived in a constant state of war with my body and my food. I was terrified that anything I put in my mouth was somehow bad for me and that eating even a single piece of bread would lead me to lose my precious 6 pack. I was always, always, always hungry, much to everyone’s frustration, since as long as something was 100% Paleo, I ate a ton of food most of the time. Every two weeks or so, I’d feel bad and try to cut back. I even totally fasted for 3 days in an attempt to stop worrying about food for just a little while because it was taking over my life.

    I thought that I wasn’t healthy enough, ever, unless I was perfect, which I never was and could never be. So I was beating myself up in order to be healthy, which is stupid.

    I finally came around to the belief that all things I did for my health were basically motivated by self-love, and the self-hatred therefore didn’t make sense. Oddly, this attitude did not go over well with my gym buddies…

    Now, I try to emphasize that health is an expression of self-love. It should be motivated by compassion. But women are always the hardest to win over because they seem so used to the idea that is is okay/natural to suffer in order to be beautiful and acceptable. Even my girlfriend deals with this. Beauty for so many women seems to have nothing to do with their own happiness.

    • Of course men are valid!!!! I just know this affects more women than men. Of course.

      I am so sorry, but so happy for your journey, Khaled. I like compassion. You are right. One more thing we must have for ourselves.

      • ” I just know this affects more women than men.”

        I don’t think this is really true. There’s just such a cultural imperative against men showing weakness in our culture that you do not hear about it as much. Most men doing paleo do want to look like Mark Sission when they’re fifty, but you would never get them to admit it.

        Khaled’s comment about gym buddies is very telling. Body builders are usually so insecure that they’re trying to hide themselves from the outside world with their armour of muscles. “Muscle” by Sam Fussell is a book I read as a teenager and boy does he rip open that world’s neuroses:

        http://www.bennadel.com/blog/1314-Muscle-Confessions-Of-An-Unlikely-Bodybuilder-By-Samuel-Wilson-Fussell.htm

        • Holy crap, of course this affects men, I would not be caught dead saying otherwise. And it can be hugely painful– just as painful as for women. Absolutely. As a matter of fact, body dysmorphia is often a disease more of men than of women. And that is the issue that Fussell is addressing in his book– a constant fear and belittling surroudning muscle mass. It’s horrible. All that being said, most statistics show that women suffer eating disorders at higher rates (and higher rates of the more severe disorders) than men. Perhaps that is an issue of skewed self-reporting, but I am not sure. Moreover, the whole weight loss phenomenon affects women differently. It is more difficult for women to lose weight, and once women do, it is often accompanied by hormonal dysregulation, which may involve mental health disorders.

    • Ditto, thank you for your comment Khaled, my experience is similar, i do tend to be a bit of Paleo Nazi on myself, and just recently began to let go a bit in terms of policing my food intake. I wish you all the best in your training.
      I found that when i do not restrict my food and eat intuitively, my crossfit training is fun and my times are awesome, but when i start obsessing, my body just shuts down and my sports performance is completely rubbish as well as training motivation. Great blog, this one. i just found it through Mark Sisson’s advice. will keep reading more!

  2. Great post. Have you been to Gwyneth Olwyn’s blog? http://www.gwynetholwyn.com/blog/

    She writes a lot on the same topics you do: eating disorder recovery, eating enough, fertility, bingeing, etc.. It’s a good resource. Would love to hear your thoughts on some of her ideas (specifically 1 – that recovered ED patients need 2500+ calories a day, basically forever? and 2 – bingeing is not actually bingeing when you are in recovery). I’ve been recovered weight-wise for a while but to me 2500 calories a day seems daunting and I am not sure I agree with all her thoughts on bingeing either (though they are interesting).

  3. Wonderful, wonderful article! Have you heard about Matt Stone’s Diet Recovery protocol? Many people have been helped by this.

    http://180degreehealth.com/2012/01/diet-recovery

  4. Great post. I would love to see a follow up with a more detailed plan for getting to a place of self-love. I find it both sad and telling that there are thousands of books outlining step-by-step plans for following a diet, but either none (or very few) outlining a step-by-step guide to learning to love oneself!

    • Ditto! I would love to know how to get to a point where you love yourself. I hate hating me.

      • Comment

        • My first suggestion would be look yourself in the mirror and tell yourself that you love and accept yourself unconditionally at this moment. My second suggestion would be to sit and thank your body for all it does for you, even if you go one organ at a time. Focusing on those areas makes look at the whole from the inside out rather what we perceive to be socially acceptable/sexy. My experience is that as I thank each body part I feel lighter and more loving towards myself and it becomes more and more loving every day.

      • My first suggestion would be look yourself in the mirror and tell yourself that you love and accept yourself unconditionally at this moment. My second suggestion would be to sit and thank your body for all it does for you, even if you go one organ at a time. Focusing on those areas makes look at the whole from the inside out rather what we perceive to be socially acceptable/sexy. My experience is that as I thank each body part I feel lighter and more loving towards myself and it becomes more and more loving every day.Learning to love yourself is such a personal journey and will not be the same road for all. Be kind to yourself and speak to yourself as you would speak to others.

  5. Such a necessary post and a hard one to write. Loved Khaled’s comments too. I used to think the self-love stuff was hooey, but the older I get, the more I realize that self loathing isn’t productive at all. It’s strange that we have to try so hard to get ourselves to like ourselves – it’s the last thing I’ve had on my list after trying to control food, exercise and other habits first. Btw, you should post your **** society and deprivation post on paleo pepper. That’s classic to me! A lot of us find it hard to come around to self love just because our freaking culture has trained us to feel so insecure and deprived – hey, it’s great for capitalism … Unless you think about how much money is going into health care these days ….

  6. This is a really interesting post. So much to think about. I certainly agree that women (men too, but especially women) are less healthy as a result of trying to maintain this “misery set point” (love that!) And after reading The Beauty Myth many years ago, I’ve come to think that this doesn’t just affect INDIVIDUAL women, but women as a whole — keeping them weaker, unhealthy, preoccupied, etc.

    My PROBLEM with the idea of intuitive eating (and I sort of feel that’s what this post is espousing, even though I’m not sure you used those words exactly) is that they seem to overlook what I consider to be the truly addictive properties of certain foods. For me, the only time I’ve felt even a moderately normal relationship with food was after cutting out sugar and processed carbs. It was like the clouds were parting — suddenly all those years of fighting seemed ridiculous. (Of course, it starts up again as soon as I start eating those foods again…) I don’t know, to me you couldn’t tell an alcoholic to simply stop restricting themselves. Without finding a way around the dopamine reactions or the reward response or whatever’s happening, I don’t know if the intuitive piece can work.

    • No, I agree- I do not ascribe to HAES or intuitive eaters that advocate eating whatever feels right all the time. I advocate intuitive eating within the scope of whole foods. I do believe it is possible. Not with toxins, but with real food and with positive self-talk and love.

      • I agree – this is totally the key – take out hyper-palatable foods and highly refined foods that mess up our brain / appetite regulation. Eat real food as if one had a restriction (as per huter gatherer) and eating to satiety just works.

        Without these factory foods IMO – there would be very little problem eating

    • It’s intuitive eating hitched to common sense.

    • I think there is a lot of `clutter` in our food system, like refined flour, sugar, packaged goods, etc. Once I made the choice to cut out fake foods and eat only whole foods, I was able to come into intuitive eating naturally. My body craves vegetables, salads, and healthy carbs like sweet potatoes. I also crave good fats like coconut and avocado, and I have no qualms about nourishing my body with those. When my brain was addicted to sugar and other unnatural, non-whole foods, it was simply smothering my body’s natural desire for nourishing, real food. Connecting to the emotional component, as Stefani advocates, is also crucial for a healthy body/mind holistic relationship.

  7. I have never thought of myself as being “eating disordered” but as I read this, every point rang eerily true… :( *sigh* It’s hard to balance loving myself (which I’m none to good at) and making the diet/lifestyle changes necessary to improve my health.

    I’m hoping you have a follow-up post on how to get off the restrict / overeat cycle. Every time I have tried to let up on the diet, my blood sugar and health suffers.

  8. Stefani, I love how positive your energy is.

    This post reminds me of a point in the second Bridget Jones book where she’s telling her gay male friend about how few calories she’s gotten down to, proud, and he says “I thought you needed 2000 calories a day minimum just to live.” That was a real shocker for me. (I’m guessing he was using some sort of UN statistic.) It also brought home to me that you need a minimum amount of money to live on, too. (I’d been trying to live on as little as possible for a long time because of being disabled on welfare – nothing like being taught to apologize for taking up any space in society whatsoever.)

    Personally I love binging on healthy food, but the only foods that don’t give me indigestion are meat and eggs, and I simply cannot afford to eat only that (especially since I think I reached my lifetime limit on eggs some time ago). The one year I did eat nothing but healthy I was in heaven, but then my savings ran out, and it’s been binge/struggle ever since.

  9. Excellent slant on this topic. The psychological aspects of health and diet are not addressed nearly enough, and emotion is tied so strongly to our food that there will rarely be any progress without working on those issues as well. Thank you for your insights.

  10. first off, you are so amazing! I don’t suffer from binge eating disorder but definitely have been struggling with restricting eating for years. I read on your “about me” page that you gained 10 pounds. I’m actually trying to gain a bit of weight myself and would love to hear how you did it! I host my own blog over at

    http://www.peanutbutterjenny.com/

    and was wondering if there was any chance that you’d like to write a guest post about your weight gain recovery. I think there’s a LOT info on the internet about weight loss, but rarely anything how how to gain weight after restricting eating. I have a lot of readers with eating disorders and I think they could really benefit from your wisdom and insight!

    If you’re interested, please shoot me an email. If you’re not interested – I’d love to chat anyway. You sound like my kind of gal!

    http://www.peanutbutterjenny.com/contact/

    Thank you so much for being such an inspiration!

  11. I love LOVE your articles- it’s like you have a direct link to my (and millions of other women’s) brain! So I am currently seeking therapy (again) for this exact problem- I used to have no problem restricting for long periods of time but now I am having a lot of problem doing so and have compulsive overeating sessions more frequently. I am just tired of being that ball of self-loathing and literal stomach pain from eating too much food- all paleo approved, low carb, sugar-free of course!- food. But to be honest I can’t look in the mirror and like much less love what I see. I just tell myself I’ll get down to where I want and THEN when i finally feel comfortable in my body again I’ll work on loving myself- of course, I’ve gotten down before with the same theory and still managed to gain weight back. I’ve been gaining and losing the last 10# for YEARS now. I am not obese and never was, but is it really that bad to want to look fit and feel healthy? To not feel disgusting in a bikini (FYI it IS summer now and I live on a vacation island) or be constantly seeing how you compare to other women because I don’t feel at home in my own body? The thing is, every time I get down to where I want and am happy I STILL lose it and it is NOT from going back to eating SAD- I have done all this while only eating Paleo and low carb. NO carb binges, NO sugar binges- I don’t crave carbs I crave fat and fatty meats and nut butter and coconut butter…etc, etc so this isn’t an insulin ride- mine isn’t even discernible on a lab test. This is obviously a purely psychological thing and for the life of my I don’t see how i can get out of it- i am petrified to relax my current regime because I had tried and I still overate…I just feel so lost and the only time i don’t is when eat a very restricted PSMF paleo diet which obviously isn’t helping my problems.

    But it is comforting to see blogs like your where at least I don’t feel SO crazy.

    • OMG! I’m so glad that I come accross your comment! This really resonates with me although you are way ahead of me in terms of paleo eating. I haven’t succeeded yet to switch to paleo eating. Also my instincts said that I can eat the healthiest way possible but as long as my disordered eating doesnt go away (and why would it?) I will always end up feeling miserable and frustrated with my eating. If I say I don’t want to be fit (as with full of energy plus owning a hot body), I’m lying but most importantly what I want is to stop this unreasonable behaviour (binge eating) that leads to me gaining and losing the same 3-5kg for years.
      You say that you are currently seeking a therapist AGAIN…If you don’t mind me asking: what went wrong (I presume) the first time? Why did therapy not work for you? And for how long have you had therapy for? The reason why I’m asking all these questions because I started therapy this week (had the first assesment a couple of days ago). My counsellor is a psychologist with a special interest in eating disorder. I don’t have a binge eating disorder but I’m heading down that path (was a lot worse 2 years ago when I was also diagnosed with mild depression). I apologise if my writing doesn’t make sense (hope it does tho) but english is my second language. Thanks in advance for your answer.

      • Bluesky:

        I am happy you are seeking outside help- probably one of the biggest challenges I faced many years ago was admitting I needed help 6 years ago and seeking it. So it isn’t that therapy didn’t help me- it actually helped a LOT but I was also suffering from severe depression as well and went to in-patient treatment for my ED and depression. I was a LOT worse off then I am now and could hardly function on the inside although I appeared to be doing fine. I never had a textbook ED- rather my issue was and is obsessive thinking and behaviors that for me translated to food and exercise as opposed to alcohol/drugs/gambling/etc. so therapy- really intense in-patient and then out patient like you are doing therapy helped me to change my thinking and dig me out of my hole. Unfortunately, food and exercise is what I turn to when my life feels not in my control and I have trouble identifying and owning my emotions so it is sort of a barometer for my emotional health if you will.

        That’s why I say that for me the overeating seems to have nothing to do with carb or sugar cravings as i have had no problem with them and have been free of all forms of sugar including fruit for the most part for over 15 months. The issue isn’t the entirely the food or diet, per say, although I will say going paleo and then finally giving all sugar the boot has been tremendous and I should give myself more credit than I do for it. My issues are psychological and most certainly chemical and hormonal from all the years of disordered behavior and that is where therapy has helped me and why I am seeking it out now. This disease, for me at least, is so tied up with me being too self involved internally oriented that I really need that external awareness to get me grounded again. I hope that you have found a therapist you can connect with and feel comfortable muddling through these issues with!

        • Hi JAS, thank you so much for answering my questions; you gave me hope that there is a way out of this. I always wondered back then which one of my issues came first? Binge eating or depression? I used to say a lot as a joke that I’m a bit OCD…not as if it was that funny to be obsessed with food and exercise later on, but initially all that madness calorie counting business didn’t seem to be an issue, I even enjoyed dieting then. I think I started it out of boredom, to kill the time,after I split up with my boyfriend. If someone then told me that I would end up having disordered eating I wouldn’t believe them. I think part of the problem is that somehow I’m still stucked in diet mentality although “officially” I’m not on any diet anymore just looking to sort out my issues with good nutrition as a way of fixing myself. Gosh, sometimes I’m tired of thinking! Anyway, adding to this, I stopped contraception pill in December after about 10 years taking it,and since then I don’t have my period:-(. I’m going for a blood test at the end of this month to find out what’s going on? Maybe my body is taking revenge on me (mental health) for abusing it for so long.

          • Also I wanted to recommend you a book from Sally Brampton: Shoot the damn dog (a memoir of depression).

    • JAS, it is like we are the same person, that’s crazy!! I too first lost weight through healthy changes and Paleo, and I don’t crave carbs at all: I crave fatty meats (particularly fish) and nuts, and when I binge, I binge on these foods. I’ve gotten so frustrated that what worked in the past has made me gain weight now, and I binge often but I have a hard time finding articles that resonate with me because most people talk about bingeing on sugary foods but everything I binge on is “healthy”.

      I too kept thinking that I would love myself once I got down to a certain size, but even when I reached new low weights, I could only celebrate for a moment…and then I would find another flaw that I wish could be a *little* thinner. Now, I have gained 10 pounds in 2 months and cannot stand it, keep telling myself I will diet, that I will swear off certain foods (even Paleo foods), but then I give in and binge on them later that week, worse than ever before.

      Because of all of this, I have menstrual amenorrhea for the past 3 years, hypothyroidism, very very very low FSH and LH, fatigue, severe indigestion, and extreme depression and anxiety attacks.

      I know that my affliction is psychological. I’m seeking holistic medicine that pays attention to not only medication but also overall mental and spiritual wellness. My doctor wants me to seek therapy and to add back more carbs, which I’m still so afraid of, to not exercise so much (even when I have the time; normally the only time I skip workouts are if I’m so tired/have such bad acid reflux that I am unable to), and to laugh more. I have not laughed for so long. It’s so hard. I want to love myself, but it’s not easy. There is still so much fear in the way.

      • The best part is, Joanne, that you’ve done the hardest part already: recognized that you have a bit of a problem, and reaching out for help. You’re doing great so far, and it’s only progress from here on out. I can attest to that. I was mired in restriction and body image issues as well. More than that, however, I have battled anxiety, and I know intimately the overwhelming power our brains have when they start running in “fear” mode.

        Know that there is hope, and it does get easier with time. What it requires is accepting where you are, and not beating yourself up for it, and letting everything that happens to you and that is in you just settle. And love it, and appreciate that whatever in you that is hurting is only trying to protect you. Add in the good foods–like carbs–over time and learn that they aren’t bad at all. Exercise less more and more over time. Walk more. Be free. If you start to panic because it feels like you’ve given up too much control, relax into that space as much as you can and take the reigns back for a time. Then let go again. It comes slowly, but it does come, so long as you move forward with love and patience and positivity. Know, too, that people like me have been there and are with you every step of the way.

    • Everything you wrote is what I struggle with. I started to restrict calories 6 years ago and did really really well. then I wanted more and more results, extreme exercise and more restricting and more “supplements”… before I knew it I had made myself really sick (adnemyosis, endometriosis, no estrodial or progesterone and hypothyroidism) and I started to gain weight and fat! It did not help that I started to have horrible cravings and binging moments – mainly on things like popcorn or peanut butter or even just plain butter. I finally got myself diagnosed about 3 weeks ago with NON PURGE Bulimia. But now I am trying to understand what is the right amount of food to eat. I was eating every 2 hours, but my digestion is so messed up that I have been instructed to eat only every 4 hours. I feel like I meals are HUGE, but if I don’t eat about 500 calories per meal then I cannot make it the 4 hours. Not to mention the fear of weight gain… I already have rolls appearing that have not been there in 3 years – I have been told that women need these fat storages to actually function… My body does not allow me to exercise the way that I used to, I have hit a big wall. I did find a new “diet” that allowed me to eat Fat (I was on a no fat, low carb diet for 4 years) – and I love to eat fat, but still afraid I am eating to much. Like waiting for the other shoe to drop, the anxiety and tension around meal times is incredibly paralyzing at times….

  12. Wow. I’m feeling kind of desperate so wrote you an email, and then came over here to get your address… and found this, which is about everything I had written you, so now I already have what I need for right now and don’t need to send it.

    It’s hard, though.

    • I, and we, are here for you, always.

  13. Have you ever read “Made to Crave” by Lysa Terkeurst? It answers most if not all of the questions/comments above. I highly recommend it. They also have a FB page that leaves great encouragement for those of us who have/are struggling with eating issues.

  14. Hey, I’m not sure if you are aware of this but the little RSS feed icon up the top of the homepage leads to your comments feed not your blog posts feed.

    • Yea– that’s something I’m not sure I can fix, I think it’s built into the theme. You can get normal RSS at the bottom of the righthand column :)

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  16. I’m also a guy who just happened to stumble onto this article, and I’m really glad I did. I don’t like to admit this but I cried as I read the article. What’s described here is how I’ve felt my whole life. I can’t remember it not being like this, and I don’t know how to stop.

    • For me, it helped a lot to be angry at the society that made me feel and act that way. That in turn enabled me to direct that indignation into unapologetic pride in my health and my natural body. Love, of course, too. And forgiveness. And the recognition that it is not your fault, and that you are going to be okay. And progress, and patience.

      :) Glad to be with you, AG.

  17. Great post! Thanks! I used to count calories and I actually found that counting really helped me not binge eat, but I was miserable and exhausted. I really enjoy eating Paleo now, and I find that I don’t worry too much about my weight anymore. I have one vice though. It’s a natural food, but when I eat it and ask my body “Am I satisfied?” The answer will always be “No I want more!” Potatoes. I know that carb heavy foods can be addictive, but it’s a natural, nutritious food that I don’t want to cut out. Any advice? It doesn’t feel like its coming from a place of self-loathing, but that is how I feel afterwards.

  18. Hi Stefani! i really liked what you wrote here. As a teenager (I´m 32 now) i had some experience with eating-disorders, and a lot of what you write here really resonates with me. I have a question tough, that i have been thinking about for a while now. And that is: Do you think that there is an intrensic problem with an in the paleo movement that it is a MOVEMENT ™? That is to say, for an outside onlooker it is in many ways probably indistinguishably from any other diet or so called “life style” that is beeing promoted as the latest fix to the individual and the worlds problems. Here lies to me perhaps a big problem, namely that for someone who is going into paleo, the focus on weightloss, IF and what you shouldn´t eat (Ahhh, the restrictions, always the restrictions….) gets a newcomer to A. put their focus on the wrong things, and B. perhaps gets the person into paleo for the wrong reasons. What is your opinion about this? (Btw, sorry if my syntax and grammar does´nt really add up, im Swedish so english is not my first language)

    • I suppose this somewhat touches upon what you written about women and IF.

  19. The paleo way of eating is restrictive which ends up leading to pretty intense carb/ sugar cravings & eventual binge (at least in my experience) & over-eating that would not have occurred had I not been trying to eat paleo. It is inspiring to hear about women who are able to do the paleo thing as part of their journey out of binge/ restrict & negative body image. But… for me it just seems like another form of restriction.

  20. Thanks for writing this blog. It couldn’t be more timely for me as I’ve finally come to the realization within the last few weeks that I, in fact, am a full blown binger and have been for many, many years. I’ve been Paleo for about 4 months now have done very well with the basics, no wheat, dairy, legumes, lots of meat and veggies. However, when I’ve tried to get really restrictive on fruit or cutting out all paleo “treats”, I go off the deep end, either bingeing on paleo “treats” or just straight back to cake and doughnuts. I had kept this behavior a secret for probably 15+ years, hiding the evidence, eating in my car, etc. I finally told my BFF and husband who were a little surprised, but very supportive. Now I’m focused on just eating what I feel like will be satisfying (within a Paleo framework), but not over-restricting or doing any “challenges” or sugar detoxes, which completely ties in with your article. Thanks again.

    • That makes me so glad, Sheila. Welcome, and thank you enormously for opening up to us. :)

  21. Thanks for another great article….these are words I want everyone to hear. There is so much self-loathing out there, and that only leads to self-abuse. The most healing thing I have done for my body is to chase pleasure….feeling how great I feel when I eat well, moving my body in pleasing ways, and accept where I am. Its all about the pleasure of being alive in this womans body. I am middle-aged. I will not chase the skinny-fairy around anymore. That is not pleasurable. That does not make me whole, healthy, juicy or vital. My body is the precious home to my soul, and I have made a firm commitment not to abuse it in the name of looking “better”. Its all about the love!

  22. When you overeat it’s not your fault? Really? Seriously? Did I read that right?

    Yes, a paleo diet will end food cravings… but whatever happened to ownership of what you put in your mouth? Some degree of self-discipline is always going to be necessary, whether it’s with diet, exercise, lifestyle, or whatever. The first step in fixing your food issues is to throw away the psychological crutches and take some responsibility.

    • This comment makes ALOT of sense.

  23. Amazing how perfectly timed this blog entry was. My friend Jenn from Thewholejenny.com shared on her blog. This is a reminder to me about my struggle, that it is truly an Eating Disorder, and I am not alone. Thank you.

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  25. This is a fantastic article. I know that you’re not openly doing any one-on-one sessions anymore, but I could really use some help. My life is completely controlled by binge eating and I don’t know how to stop.

    • I could perhaps take you on as a client in the upcoming weeks, but it’s just not in the cards for right now (I have five jobs). Perhaps in the meantime you could go to “the podcast” link and check out the women. Lex Covucci in particular has wrestled with binge eating and is currently training to become a disordered eating nutrition coach if you would like to speak with someone who can empathize and speak with you. additionally, if you think you need serious, weekly, daily help, perhaps you could consider seeing a therapist.

      • I really appreciate your reply. Thanks.

  26. i am in love with this new paradigm, i am dealing with old situations where in the past i would have felt as though i was “failing” but am now enlightened to my own thought patterns and behavior that lead to a downward spiral and able to deal with my emotions in a constructive and forward thinking manner. thank you thank you, your posts continue to mirror and enforce my growth and i really appreciate it

  27. How did I find this? Thank you. My stuffed up relationship with food has been my horrible secret for so long. I realised I was really starving myself of food and everything else to meet my ‘perfect’ goals. Then bingeing in order to bring myself back down. This article clarified so much for me. Again, thank you.

  28. Great post and very timely for me! It was my question that was answered in Balanced Bite’s podcast #45. I heard it over the weekend while I was out of town and was s surprised and relieved at the same time to get that response. It feels good also to know that I’m not alone.
    I’m for the most part good at eating healthy… But because I have a restrictive mind, so I cut off all fruit, all treats for a good amount of time, try to be perfect as I keep track of every bite I take… Until the day I decide to eat a treat or fruit n then I over do it, sometimes for a couple of days I’m keep eating the treats. In the big scheme of things it may not seem bad, but I feel out of control… I restrict so I become a spring that when set lose I go crazy and Overeat. I also can Overeat at a regular meal just cause it tastes good and can sometimes decide “well why no, I don’t want to be restrictive” and I go and stuff myself. Great, the guilt cycle starts again.
    My wish: to not be worried about every bite I eat, to eat intuitively, to eat what my boy needs, and to feel confidence in my ability to make healthfull choices for myself, to trust myself.
    I’ll read this post again and actually ordered the book Diane mentioned in the podcast, Diet Cures. I need I need to grow my self-love and trust and I can only do this by taking that leap of faith, so I’ll stop tracking my every bite, I’ll pay attention to my body signals, and I’ll sleep.
    In the last 3 months we did a paleo challenge at the box and my tests reveal my being neurotic about blood brought me almost no results. My friends that don’t worry about food but do eat real food, eat fruits and the occasional treats, but I know are not food obsessed snd i know dont overeat and get enough rest got great reults… So obviously my approach needs to change.
    I’m ready for the journey and to not feel obsessed anymore.
    Sorry for dumping my thoughts on here! I thought maybe sorobe else might be feling the same and they could get some encouragement.

    So, leap of faith… Here we go! Hey, any other tips that can help e out are welcome! And thank you Stefani! I’m very comforted by your article. Its amazing that self-love, something that should come naturally can be so tough to gain! I’m realizing the opposite doesn’t work so I have to kick it to the curve! Thanks again for this post!

    • Thank you for sharing, Jenny, you are right that it is so helpful. You might enjoy our Live Love Eat podcasts– all about women struggling to love their bodies and have proper relationships with food. If that doesn’t give you a sense of camaraderie and community, I’m not sure what will. :) We do what we can, in any case.

      • I came back to the post today becaus ei needed the loving guidance today. Afer i decided to let go of the control i’ve come back to it. One part of my mind wants to control as a method to assure me success, but the other part can’t handle the stress of thinking about this all the time. Ex; I decided to try IF. I’ve read lots about it. i follow the primal blue print and i’m fat adapted, so even if i’m hungry i feel ok, but my mind won’t shut up about it, IF or not. Even if physically i could handle IF, is this one more restrictive behavior i’m inflicting on myself? I have a feeling maybe letting go of all control and just eating when i’m hungry, no restriction, letting go and trusting and seeing results, without stressing myself is what i should do, but i would love your opinion. If i decide to try IF and i eat during the IF period, i end up feeling like a failure… not right. I’ve decided to contact a therapist.
        Thanks Stefani!

        • Yes, hoooray! And just EAT MORE. I don’t know how to say this to women enough:

          EAT MORE! ALL OF THE TIME, IF YOU HAVE TO.

          Really, it’s more than okay. It’s important.

          :)

          • Thanks Stefi… you area cool girl!!! it’s tough realizing that whatever i want to do… it’s OK, just do it, try it out… no harm there, as long as it’s something good for me. I’ll seek a therapist to help me with my self-love… cause girl.. i want that self trust! :) It will help me in all avenues of life, from my health goals, to being able to improve my performance at crossfit (i struggled with cleans yesterday, i beat mentally bean myself afterwards, i’m still trying to shake it off) i’m learning that whatever i have not been able to accomplish isn’t because i suck at it, so i’m tired of feeling sorry for myself, of thinking that i can’t do what i want to do, that i’m not supposed to succeed, that i’m not supposed to be free of fear and anxiety, i’m realizing my own power. Wow, it’s taking a long time, but i see progress every day. Next meal, i will approach with love, next goal (clean and jerks!) i will approach with no fear, i will give my best! Oh, i’m also making myself go to bed on time :)
            ooof! Thanks for letting let go of all that through this forum! You rock! :)

            • You rock, Jenny. I’m so. excited. for you. Progress and love and baby steps and love are the names of the game.

          • You say to “EAT MORE” but how much is too much!? I have been restricting and rebelling against my restricting for 4 years now. I know when I am super hungry, or when I am over full but never the “right” amount. I freak out about eating way too much all the time, but love my new found freedom in eating foods again that I am afraid it is going to be taken away from me. So how much is too much!? I have been eating the Trim Healthy Mama way ;)

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  30. Excellent article and insights! For those just getting into a more paleo style of nutrition, I highly recommend checking out Metabolic Effect’s blog and book. I really like their input on doing your own detective work to find just exactly what works for you (since we are all unique), as well as their “starch bites” approach to finding your carb tipping point.

    Many, many hugs to each and every person who feels somehow “less” for not being “perfect” (whatever that is). “Practice makes progress”, not perfect, ’cause perfection is just another unattainable illusion. Be 100%, wonderfully YOU! That’s pretty damn “perfect”! <3

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  32. Hi,

    I am currently having trouble with this. I’ve stopped restricting and now I go through bursts of overeating. I understand it’s just my bodies reaction but I’m wondering will it ever stop?

    • Yes, that is the whole point of the post. :) It stops, but with time and forgiveness and patience.

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  34. This is a wonderful article, and it speaks to my struggle and patterns so plainly. I’ve re-read it several times, and along with your podcasts, it serves as a clear reminder to be kind to myself.

    So much writing about disordered eating focuses on only the emotional aspect of the behavior. Thank you for addressing this topic so comprehensively, and for explaining it on a chemical level.

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  37. Beautifully written. This is exactly what I’ve been going through for the past year and a half. Safe to say my obsessing over my body and food intake has made 2012 a very depressing year.

    As women we are always unhappy about our bodies. I have yet to meet a girl that is not insecure about the way she looks.

    I’ve always been wanting to lose 5-10 pounds, even from when I was about 12/13 (reading through past journal entries, it made me cry). When I was about 13/14, my dad had access to some sports medicine lab and wanted to do some body composition tests on me for his research. I had about 20 percent bodyfat although I had yet to lose my “baby fat”. I’ve always been active, dancing and doing karate since I was 4. I thought I was chubby.

    Finally succeeded in losing the weight I wished was gone for so long. Went from a lean ~17 percent with abs (but it was always my thighs that were the problem!) to a likely 12% in 2 months (these percentages are an estimate based off earlier body fat levels and what I looked like back then). I was ripped. My eczema was terrible. I stop menstruating for 2 years. My hair was falling out. I was restrictive. I was depressed. But I didn’t want to stop counting my calories and exercising daily.

    University rolled around. Stressed out and depressed, I alternated between bingeing and restriction. Probably gained about 30 pounds. Period is back. Hit rock bottom.

    8 months later, I’m realizing the damage I did. I’m starting to appreciate my body more. I’m trying to eat intuitively. I’m never going to look like a model, nor should I. That isn’t healthy for me. What’s healthy for me is being happy, eating whole foods when hungry, laughing, feeling great after awesome workouts, and feeling great in clothes. It’s a mindset. I’m much sexier in a size 8/10 than I ever was in a child’s 14 with an 8 pack.

    You HAVE to recognize your restriction and STOP if you want any progress to be made. The road won’t be perfect, binges will happen. But even if I don’t lose the weight, I’ll be much happier with working hormones, a full head of hair, no eczema, smiles, and a happy tummy.

    My life and self-worth shouldn’t revolve around the size of my thighs.

  38. Really interesting post. I don’t know if it’s so much about self-love, but just being happy with yourself (and not just your body). Just chillin’ understanding that being skinny won’t make you happy. Filling your life with lots of other hobbies etc, not worrying about it so much.

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  41. I’m not sure where you are getting your info, but great topic. I needs to spend some time learning more or understanding more. Thanks for excellent info I was looking for this info for my mission.

  42. Would you have any advice for a college athlete struggling with binge eating disorder?
    For years I’ve struggled with disordered eating, however this past summer I thought I’d finally gotten it under control. I worked 60 hours a week and ran whenever I could in between jobs, so my meals were scheduled into particular times. I ate almost completely primal, and for the first time since freshman year of high school, lost 20 pounds effortlessly (10 lbs past my goal weight)! I felt great.. energetic, confident, sexy! When I was tired, I slept. I didn’t eat unless I was hungry and for the first time in my life, would sometimes get full before finishing my whole plate!
    I came into the fall cross country season and PR’d by almost 4 minutes. The success I was having in sports, and the pride I felt in myself and my accomplishments was almost enough.. but then the stress of school, scheduled practices, work, and lack of sleep started taking its toll on me. I became quickly overwhelmed with everything I was trying to juggle and turned to less-than-optimal food choices and portions.
    I am unhappy to say this is the hole I have spent my entire last semester in. I made only very slight progress in running which I think is directly related to my binging/restricting habits. The scariest part is how un-noticeable it is to the public or to my family. With all the activity I participate in, combined with periods of restriction, I maintain a fairly low weight. My family knows I suffer from severe stomach/digestive issues, but think it is all related to food intolerance or sensitivity.
    I need help. I find it a struggle to get through each day with my swings in depression and anxiety. I feel like a failure to my family who boasts about me and my drive and success in running. What used to be enthusiasm and love for the sport has changed. Most days it feels like an obligation, or even worse, a punishment- to make up for all the food I’ve consumed. What once served as a treatment for my anxiety has become what triggers it. For the first time ever, I had an anxiety attack WHILE on a run the other day. It was miserable and caused me to break into tears.

    I want to love running again.
    I want to love and appreciate food.
    I want to love and respect my body.
    I want to be able to spend time with friends and family without thinking about food.
    I want to have the motivation and confidence to go out rather than stay in and hide.

    All thoughts are appreciated <3

    • I’m a big believer in the fact that identity and purpose are the most important aspects of health. Don’t make yourself do something you don’t love. Let it go. If it comes back into your life, it comes back. It’ll be hard to let go, but if that’s what you need to feel psychologically and physically well, that’s what you need. And pursue whatever makes your heart sing. I’m not being flippant– just honest. Be true to yourself, and I promise your body and heart will love you for it.

  43. Very inspirational read! I myself struggle with low self esteem and negative self talk. I will most definitely try this approach! Thank you!

  44. Thank you for this article. It’s really crazy to realize how many other people are struggle. I think the hardest thing for me is ‘wanting to stop’. I’m aware that restricting and bingeing is a completely unhealthy and unmaintainable way to live, so i convince myself that I could stop at any point. but it doesn’t really change anything. anytime i do eat when I’m around people, I always fear that i’m the one eating way too much. that they’ll notice me bingeing and think less of me. It’s so hard to prevent the insane bingeing sessions, and it just causes me to ‘make it up’ the next day by not eating anything. I started out last year by learning to eat healthier and once I started counting calories it has just escalated from there. I want to stop, but I also want to get to that ‘dream’ size first, which is pretty much unattainable if i really thought about it. I don’t really know what i’m saying anymore but yeah. thanks for writing this. thanks for speaking about something that is so real to so many people.

  45. I found this post on a search for chemical/scientific answers this morning, feeling guilty and physically sick after yet another nighttime sugar binge like some cocaine or sex addict. Hugely insightful. Love IS the key, to EVERYTHING. Easier said than done as Buddha would say.

    I’ve been eating natural, simple, unrefined food for many years before this paleo thing got hot. Paleo helped me steer even closer to the mark. I eat like a cave man, which are the foods I have the healthy cravings for anyway; Animals, greens, and roots. My woman LOVES to watch her man eat at all-you-can-eat steak joints in Japan, and loves my body any which way.

    But, as Lyle McDonald explains, I have a lousy P-Ratio; I gain well more fat than muscle on a heavy lifting-eating cycle, and the reverse on a leaning cycle. I’ve always been tall and hard pressed to gain an ounce of muscle, with a skinny-fat belly. I have hated my body all my life.

    I happen to be great at my sport of rock and mountain climbing. Lean light bodies are what works. But I cannot stand having a fatty belly with such a tall and small muscled frame. The ONLY way to get rid of it has been Paleo foods on Leangains protocol. It WORKS. But it is HARD.

    I used it to get super lean and healthy. Whole, real foods, equal lunch and dinner, low cal low carb moderate fat rest days, moderate cal moderate carb low fat training days, . I naturally prefer the 16/8 intermittent fast; my mind and body feel the most amazing until noon when I break it.

    But I am here to tell you that nothing trumps the laws of thermodynamics; No amount of love overcomes calories in-out. And skinny boy that I am, I can out eat any football team at any moment. Intuitive eating does not make one lean. You must have a plan, a food scale, and stick to it.

    For example, I was relatively lean while on a 6 month rock climbing sabbatical in Spain and Nepal, and was attempting to get leaner. Ridiculous (fun)exercise. Intuitive eating with boundries: reasonable lunch, dinner, meat, fish, greens, fruit, tubers. Rock climb daily. No job. Sleep on the ground. Super happy hunter-paleo-man-life. Yet, surprise, I neither gained nor lost a single ounce or inch. Nada. And I was TRYING to get lean. With a gram scale and excel, planned restrictive leangains had me lean as hell in 3 months.

    Now, to the addiction and self-love-self-hate-binge-guilt-repeat. After not eating any sugar or sweets for 15 years, at the end of a leangains cycle a year ago where I got super fit, I had the bright idea to eat an ice cream reward after steak dinner on my birthday. My friends fell out of their chairs. I ate 8 pints at Baskin Robins.

    Since then, I do my best to stay with the same healthy foods, and don’t even measure. I 16/8, 2 meals a day, as I love, with CBL style carby tubers at night after training, and start leaning out nicely. And every few days for the past YEAR, the callings overwhelm me.

    There was an old 80’s Chicago underground band, Big Black, with a song about a sex addict called Bad Houses:

    “Lately I have been frequenting bad houses
    Places no respectable man would be seen
    I hate myself for my weakness
    My past sickens me
    I tell myself I will not go
    Even as I drive there
    I hate myself for my weakness
    My past sickens me”

    Yeah.

    The desire to eat shit carby sweets of the worst kind overwhelms my mind and soul. Even as I walk to the 7-11 I tell myself I will not go. I rationalize.

    I remember how sugar is poison, especially to me, how my mood will rise and crash to sickening depths, how I will awaken at 3am with my adrenaline pumping and heart racing, how I will not sleep and get up in the morning with a headache and feeling nauseous all day.

    I remember how I will eat 5000cal and get fatter instantly.

    I remember how this behavior is not real, that fat-sugar cravings are chemical, just like a dopamine-craving cocaine addiction in the mind, and its not my moral fault. I remember that when I eat these things, the intake:satiety ratio is inverse, the opposite of real food; the more I eat the more I will crave and the emptier I will feel.

    I remember that when I eat these things, NOTHING good will happen, that I will neither feel reward mentally/emotionally nor do my body any physical good, at all. And while thinking these things I walk to the store and buy them greedily, and I eat uncontrollably the worst shit imaginable until I get sick. And the guilt, discipline, collapse cycle escalates.

    Three things are certain: 1) the more disciplined I become, the worse the capitulation, 2) intuitive eating doesn’t change my body at all, and 3) love is not finding any happy medium.

  46. This is exactly how I feel, I just can’t figure out how to get out of this hole. How?

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