Food Feels: The Restrict-Binge Cycle-How it Begins and How to End It!
Unfortunately, I know a lot about rules.
I’m a complete and utter control freak, type A queen, and most importantly, I LOVE having structure and control.
I’m the first one to organize and the last one to go to bed with a messy desk. I love a clean space, mind, and body and everything has a place in my book. I’ve never missed a deadline and tend to work on projects about 2 months in advance. Procrastination is my biggest fear and honestly, I just find joy in ‘doing’ and ‘organizing,’ having a goal, and …. controlling.
Now, by this point you may be thinking, “Goodness! This girl would not be fun to be around!” Maybe ;) Or maybe, this is an integral part of who I am and what makes me me. But, what happens when even our own integral parts backfire on us?
I know this about myself and my personality. It’s an incredible tool and gift that I have... most of the time! I never fell behind on my assignments in college, I could keep track of about 18 different ‘to do lists’ and somehow complete them all before noon and I was always the one who could carry the team and keep everyone and everything in its place and on track.
Until my desire to control and have structure turned into an intense obsession with my food.
I think more often than not, people with disorderly eating or a bad relationship with food have similar personality profiles to myself.
We love control.
We love structure.
We love certainty.
We love accomplishments.
We love doing.
We love feeling enough.
It went something like this for me:
I’ve always loved being a busy bee--which, turned into me taking on a lot of projects, responsibilities, etc.--I found joy and VALIDATION in completing tasks--the more I could achieve, the more I was recognized for it--I began to love controlling my life through outer validation--I could tackle anything and since I didn’t have my own solid self-esteem, I needed others to fill that space--AND I could do it all perfectly. I was organized, successful, and… perfect? -- What else could I control and what else could I get better at?
For me, food restrictions and rules were a way to cope with my anxiety and my intense need to control, plan, organize, analyze and become more perfect. I wanted to look the part that I believed would bring me joy. I wanted to be slim and successful and pretty and adored and loved. I wanted to be enough.
I saw it as an accomplishment in a way; an opportunity to test my own willpower. And each time I succeeded, each time I made a new rule and ate less or cut out this or that, meant I lost weight and meant I was more perfect.
To someone who has never struggled with food relationships, this all may seem a bit confusing, however, I hope it can at least shed some light on the ‘why’ or ‘where’ a lot of disorderly eating patterns and bad food relationships begin especially the restrict-binge cycle.
I saw it as an opportunity to continue with my mission of outer validation. I would have a better, cleaner, healthier, smaller diet. Whatever it may be! I kept making rules on what I could and could not eat, how much or how little, what was healthy and unhealthy, good and bad, feared and allowed, etc. And my lists continued.
Remember, I was very good at commitment, control, and structure.
My diet got more and more limited as time went on. Before I even realized what was happening, I was only eating lettuce, turkey, and yogurt and had lost a lot of weight.
In the blink of an eye, I had made a complete regulated and regimented diet for myself all stemming from a lack of self-confidence, self-love and self-acceptance. I saw it as my ticket to happiness! Accomplishments had always brought me a sincere feeling of acceptance and approval in the past, so by making more and more rules, by making my plate smaller and smaller, I was sure to guarantee myself ultimate happiness, beauty, success, fame, fortune, you name it! I had always seen skinny and beautiful girls online living the life I wanted, so if I could control my food the way they could, I would reap the rewards for being a regimented eater, right?
Okay, maybe not all that! But, I had completely fallen down the rabbit hole only to realize at the bottom was still all of my insecurities, fears, self-doubts, and worries still waiting for me.
Only now, they had been masked for so long with the distraction of restriction and starvation, that the intensity had escalated.
The second half of this story takes a turn in the opposite direction.
After days, weeks, years of restriction I found myself in the worst war I’ve ever known: my body versus my brain.
See when you restrict for so long, you lose touch with how to eat, when to eat, what to eat. Your sense of intuition is missing completely when it comes to food, especially food you’ve restricted for such a long time.
Many women wonder why they cannot get themselves out of the restrict-binge cycle. I’m here to tell you why.
Because most women, me included for a very long time, didn’t want to deal with half the cycle.
I wanted to still restrict. I wanted to still follow my rules. I wanted to keep my control and continue chasing what I believed would bring me happiness, which was being strict with what I ate.
But, I didn’t want the other side of the circle. I didn’t want to binge or emotional eat or fall into the waves of ups and downs that followed my eating disorder years after.
It’s a circle.
You cannot continue your food restriction and not have breaking points.
No one likes to be told what you can and cannot have. No one likes to be strict, rigid, structured always and forever. No one likes constantly chasing unrealistic expectations and stressing about something as simple as food truly is. No one likes not enjoying life or indulging from time to time. No one likes to be starved or deprived or hungry or hangry.
I surely didn’t and my brain had had enough! After my years of restriction, my body and brain began to turn on one another! I was never full! Not even kind of! I had NO control around food! I would eat thousands of calories in one sitting in the blink of an eye. I constantly craved anything chocolate, sweet, salty or savory! Every second of every day, I lived in fear of food. I would try my HARDEST to restrict and eat clean, only to find myself almost every night alone in my room binging on bags of food long after I was full and crying. A lot of crying. Waking up feeling shameful, guilty, fat, ugly, you name it and it pushed me then to start a brand-new diet almost every AM.
I had lost ALL my control.
This was new to me. Remember, I was the girl who never failed. Never stopped doing or achieving or pleasing or praising! I was perfect and never let my guard down. I didn’t need help. I didn’t need support. I was a control freak and I could control this again. I had once! Or had it controlled me…?
No, no I could control my food again.
Over time, it only got worse. I would stuff myself to the point of feeling sick because I was so insatiable. I’d been hungry for so long and had deprived myself for so long, that the moment I broke, I really broke.
I would try to restrict. Binge. I would wake up and restrict harder. Binge. I constantly went through this cycle for years until I realized something… the cycle could only be broken FROM BOTH SIDES!
I was trying to keep the ‘good’ and not deal with the bad of my own circle of food. I had experienced that restriction and excessive food control *no matter how long this part of the cycle lasted* led to binging and overeating and emotional eating.
And losing complete touch with myself and my relationship with food.
It was a cause-effect situation.
The only way to get rid of the effect.. you guessed it… stop restricting.
Now, this sounds like this should be the end of the story.
Duh! Okay, awesome! Let’s do that!
However, I’m here to tell you that the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done in my entire life is decide to get better.
But, it was also the most rewarding and life-changing, tear jerking, growing moment of my entire life and will always be the most pivotal point of my time on this Earth.
Sounds excessive? It is and it’s true.
I knew my life would be better without my eating disorder. I knew my life had more meaning and purpose than the way I was spending my energy worrying and battling with food. I knew that there was a brighter light on the other side. I knew.
However, I also knew that the only way to experience those good things…. full circle.
I had to let my eating disorder identity go! I had to change the cause. I had to fix my restrictions and let my food rules go! I had to rewrite how I saw food; what I made it mean to me; what I was allowed and not allowed to have.
I had to stop fighting and I had been accustomed for so long believing that I controlled my eating disorder rather than the other way around.
That sounded fucking terrifying!
I had to give up my rules.
I had to give up my restrictions.
I had to give up my goal and desire to be perfect.
I had to give up my control.
But, once I did that, and it took a long time, I began to heal.
It’s something I still work on to this day.
Once I did that and began to remove the food restrictions I had followed religiously for so long… the circle continues remember?
I began to love life again. I began to think about food less. I binged less. I emotionally ate less. I worried less. I tracked less. I enjoyed more. I could have one cookie and feel totally wonderful and move on! I could go out for dinner and not have to starve the entire day leading up to it and plan the meal four hours before I went only to usually come home and binge that night alone in my room.
I lost my fear. I lost my food guilt. I lost my food shame.
And I gained a life of true food freedom.
I gained a life of self-confidence and love and self-acceptance.
And isn’t it funny? Isn’t it so weird?
By letting go, I gained the life I had always wished and wanted and hoped and desired in the first place. The life I thought my eating disorder would bring me.
By not restricting my diet, I no longer restricted my life. I no longer restricted my own abilities or beauty or self-beliefs or worthiness.
By releasing my food restrictions, I made room for the emotions and experiences and confidence and love I always wanted. For myself, from myself.
You only have so much space and so much energy. Take it back from food and let’s fill it with freedom.
Sincerely, XO Emily