A Series on Binge Eating: Part 1
A Series on Binge Eating: Part 2
A Series on Binge Eating: Part 3
A Series on Binge Eating: Part 3 continued
This post (another long one, sorry!) will be the final part in this series. I can always add to it later, if there is something that I didn't cover. In Part 4, I thought it would be helpful to write about getting back on track after a binge, particularly by using a balanced eating approach that has really helped me as far as my binge eating disorder goes.
I remember very clearly a conversation I had with Thomas, my BFF who lives all the way across the country, over the summer. I didn't know it at the time, but the advice he gave me would help me start and continue a long binge-free streak. I had taken my kids to baseball practice, and while I was waiting for their practice to get done, I was thinking about how I'd let the weight gain get out of control and how desperate I was to get back IN control.
I thought of the people I know who have lost weight and don't seem to have a problem keeping it off (there are very few!). Thomas actually lost about 50 pounds several years ago by counting calories. Once he was at his goal weight, he stopped counting, but he's maintained his weight loss ever since. I assumed he was just some anomaly in the weight loss world, but I sent him a text that day in the summer to ask him about how he manages to keep the weight off without counting calories. When I visited him earlier in the year, he indulged in yummy food just like anyone else, so I know he wasn't overly strict. (He, like me, ate whatever he wanted to lose the weight--he just counted the calories in it.)
His response was so very simple--almost too simple--but something I'd never really thought of as a solution before. You ready? Here goes: Balance.
Thomas said that he got a feel for how much he should be eating, and how many calories were in his regular foods, when he was counting calories to lose weight. To maintain his weight loss, he now uses a balanced approach to eating (without counting anything).
Here is what he meant by "balanced": If he ate a big breakfast, he would eat a smaller lunch and dinner that day. If he knew he was going to be eating a big dinner, he would eat a small breakfast and lunch. Likewise, if he had an indulgent day, then the next day, he would keep it minimal.
So simple, right?! When I was counting Weight Watchers Points, that would never work out for me because once I went over my Points for the day, I just said, "Screw it! Might as well start fresh tomorrow, and eat everything in sight today." By having a very particular "cap" on the amount of Points (or calories) I can eat in a day, I am basically saying that anything over that number is failure. (I'm not saying all people have this issue--but it was a big issue for me.) In Thomas's balanced approach to eating, instead of saying "Screw it! Let's eat more!" after overindulging, he does the opposite--he eats lightly for the rest of the day to compensate.
Now, I'm not going to kid myself--I know that I can't go without counting calories. I've tried that in the past, with disastrous consequences (hello, 27 pounds! Good to see you again--not!). So, I use his balanced approach while continuing to count calories. I know generally how many calories I spend on each meal. Breakfast, for example, is usually about 300-350 calories. If I choose to have a higher calorie breakfast one day, like the breakfast we ate on Christmas Eve, that's nearly 600 calories--much higher than normal. So, I eat (and enjoy every bite) of the higher calorie breakfast, but I just plan lighter meals for lunch and dinner.
On Eli's birthday, he chose to go to our favorite Chinese restaurant (for those of you local to me, I'm talking about Hawaiian Island in Trenton--so good!!). I didn't want to order steamed vegetables and rice; I wanted the good stuff! Sweet and sour chicken, egg roll, fried rice, etc. Since I knew we were going there for an early dinner, I ate minimal calories for breakfast and lunch, and I was able to eat what I wanted at the restaurant. I didn't "blow it" by bingeing, or using that high-calorie meal as an excuse to continue to eat when I got home. That meal (eaten at 4:00) was super filling. I ate enough to feel satisfied (slightly full), but I wasn't stuffed when I left the restaurant. I had a tiny piece of Eli's birthday dessert for a treat later that evening, and I was 100% satisfied that day. I didn't feel at all guilty about my choices, and I didn't feel deprived, either.
|Not pictured: the egg roll, and few other pieces of chicken I ate|
In the past, that same situation would probably have gone like this: I would stress out that Eli chose Chinese food for his birthday dinner, and I would try to find something low in Points on the menu. I would get frustrated, and just say, "Well, I'll just get what I really want, but I'll only eat a little bit." Then the food would be so good that I would throw my good intentions away, and stuff myself, saying I'll get back on track tomorrow. And, since I already blew it, I might as well eat extra dessert, too. Logically, I know that sort of thinking gets me into trouble; but if you know anything about me, then you know I'm not always logical ;)
Another example is of a full day of higher calorie eating. Some days, I just feel like eating more than usual, or maybe I go out to dinner with friends and I spend more calories than I planned to. The following day, I don't force myself to stick to a strict calorie count, but I do try to keep it a little lighter, and eat a little less than normal. Just as I don't want to binge, I also don't want to restrict too much (which usually leads to a binge!). I try to stay somewhere in the middle, without going to any extremes.
So, as simple as this whole "balance" concept is, it really works! It has saved me from a binge more times than I can count over the past several months. I know it can be difficult to grasp the idea of having so much freedom in eating (like eating whatever you want, not having a calorie "cap" each day, etc.). I was always very resistant to that kind of freedom, too. I liked cut and dry "rules" to follow, because then I knew if I was on track or not (if I went over my Points, I was off track; if I hit my target, I was on track--very clear).
The way I've been eating since August, I've gotten past that mentality, and it has really helped me! My only real food "rule" is that I log my food every single day, even if I have to guesstimate the calories at times. Even on days when I plan to have high calorie foods, or splurge on dinner out, I log everything. I had tried calorie counting before, but trying to keep the calorie count to a certain number is always what threw me off in the long run. The first time that I went over my allotted calorie amount, I would think of it as "blowing it". Now, I think a range, or an "approximate" calorie count is more manageable, and helps so much to get rid of the binge mentality. (Personally, I just try to keep my calories "reasonable"--to me, that means roughly anywhere from 1200-1800 ish on a normal day, usually falling at around 1500-1600.)
|My birthday dinner at El Camino Real, who doesn't provide nutrition info;|
I had to guesstimate, but I still logged it!
Aside from the whole balanced approach to eating, let's say that a binge does happen. It's not the end of the world! You can move past it and reach your weight loss/maintenance goals. When I was losing the weight in 2009-2010, I went 365 days without a binge. On Day 366, I binged... can you imagine how different my life would be if I'd just given up that day? Instead of quitting, I kept trying--day after day--to start and maintain a new streak.
I haven't had a streak that long since, but I'm doing really well right now (today is Day 181). I have had many, many binges between then and now, but I never truly gave up on myself. I have picked up a few tips along the way that may help in getting back on track after a binge, so I'll share those here in case they may help someone else.
Immediately after a binge
Going for a walk (as awful as it may sound at the time) always makes me feel much better. It helps the food move along so I don't feel as full, and even though I don't put a dent in the calories I just ate, it does help me feel better mentally when I get in a little exercise.
I put away all the food for the day/night. If there is something that is beckoning me to continue to eat, I'll either throw it away or put it in my Kitchen Safe.
I come up with something to do that keeps my mind occupied. Bonus if it keeps my hands occupied as well. (My current favorite is working on a jigsaw puzzle, and I usually sip seltzer water or diet tonic while I do it.)
I always tend to feel gross after a binge, so taking a shower and brushing my teeth helps me to feel a little fresher.
The following day
I drink a ton of water the next day. Aside from all the sodium and bloat going on, I want to move that food through my system as quickly as possible.
I plan out my food in advance for the day after a binge, and I don't get too restrictive. Restricting too much just leads to another binge, and at that point, it's still very easy to say, "Well, I'll just have one more day, and then I'll start over tomorrow." Planning out the food ahead of time makes getting back on track less stressful.
I try to stay as busy as possible, because of that "One more day" phrase that sneaks into my mind. Getting out of the house helps a lot, so I might run some errands or meet up with a friend for a walk or coffee.
I make it a goal to get through just this one day without another binge. I don't think ahead to tomorrow, or the next day, or next week or next month. That gets really overwhelming! I just focus on today, and see if I can make it all day without another binge.
Two days and beyond
The first week of staying binge-free is the hardest, in my opinion. I don't have enough of a streak going that it motivates me to keep it up, and it's so easy to just tell myself that I'll start over tomorrow. But, I know from experience that if I can get through that first week, it gets much easier after that! It's fun to keep a streak calendar where I check off each day that I remain binge-free, and I can see all the binge-free days in a row.
|This app is simply called "Streaks" by Fanzter|
Finally, I try to recognize patterns and behaviors that lead up to binge eating episodes, so that I can catch it early and hopefully prevent a binge before it happens. Once I find myself starting to think about a binge, I know that I have to do something to avoid thinking about it. Lately, I've been grabbing Joey's leash and taking him for a quick walk around the neighborhood. If not that, then I'll start a project that will keep me busy--cleaning out a closet, doing laundry, cleaning out the refrigerator, etc. My goal isn't to "prevent a binge forever", but rather to just get to the next meal without a binge. That makes it seem much more manageable.
Note: I not sure if it's noticeable, but I deliberately use "I" and "me" when I write tips about things that may help for binge eating, weight loss, or diet. I do that because I want to avoid preaching by saying this is what "you" should do. I don't know you! Therefore, I don't know what is best for you. By sharing all that I have in the past four days, my hope is to just give you some ideas to try that MAY work for you. But as I always say, it's important to find your own way and do what's best for YOU.
To recap what has worked for me:
- I count my calories every single day--even in maintenance, and even when I overindulge. If I was to break my binge-free streak, I would log my binge as well.
- I don't have a calorie "limit" each day. I just try to keep the total reasonable, or what I suspect a "normal" person might eat.
- I eat whatever I want. No exceptions.
- I eat on a schedule--breakfast, lunch, dinner, and treat, roughly four hours apart.
- I try to keep my calories balanced out for the most part, as I described in this post above.
And that's pretty much it! I have grown and evolved so much over the last several years, but this is what is working well for me in the present. In the past, I had tried various combinations of several of these ideas, and they didn't work then. I discovered that it's this particular combination of methods that works for me now. The only real way to find that out was by experimenting and discovering all the things that didn't work ;)
Anyway, that wraps up A Series on Binge Eating. I have high hopes that the current binge-free streak I am on will be my "forever streak", but there is no way of knowing that--I just take it a day at a time! I really hope that you may have gotten something useful out of the posts, even if it just helps a tiny bit. And likewise, if you have any tips you want to share with me or others, please feel free! I've learned quite a bit from the comments and emails I've received from readers, and I thank you for that :)