By the age of 20 my obsessive exercising and anorexic eating habits had shifted to full swing bulimia. That completely mind altering, out of body experience, that accompanies a binge has been present for much of my adult life, up until about 2 years ago. The bingeing stayed long after the purging subsided.
I notice when I am under extreme stress, have a lot of self doubt, or am just feeling down, I tend to lean back into the sweets and overeating as a means to cope. The last few weeks, I have seen some of those very old patterns resurface as I have been challenged with some stressful situations in my life.
Food, my old companion, never fails to be present when I am in need of something familiar to fall back on. But, as I felt that urge to use food to soothe in the last few weeks, I also noticed some other new things:
Although that feeling of anxiety and emptiness is there initially as I begin the binge, the quality and quantity of the food has completely changed. Yes, last week I felt helpless and scared and binged on a cupcake. But it was just one! And after that, I was completely done with the binge. I had no desire to go any further. I didn’t get in my car and drive to get more cupcakes, or drive from store to store. I didn’t search my cupboards to find anything to put in my mouth. I was complete. I was complete because I let myself binge CONSCIOUSLY and LOVED MYSELF THROUGH IT.
Secondly, I noticed it had been weeks since I had a desire to binge. My binges at one time were several times a week, if not per day, and I am now going weeks without the need to use that as a way to cope. That’s freakin’ awesome in my book! And they aren’t even full binges. I may eat two or three Luna bars and that’s the binge. Or one cupcake. That anxious energy would be present, but it would subside relatively quick.
So how did I come to this place?
Well, my approach is much different than most: I loved the shit out of myself and binged consciously as much as I could.
There is a common piece of advice in the spiritual world when you have an addiction. It is said, “Love your addiction.” For example, if you are going to smoke a cigarette, love every second of it and do it consciously. Love the cigarette. Love yourself. Love the process of inhaling and exhaling. Love the smoke. Introduce love into every aspect of your experience.
Many would think that this would just perpetuate the cycle, right?
Here’s the thing. We aren’t told to love it to make an excuse for staying in that addictive cycle. We are encouraged to put a loving energy into ourselves and the pattern because the lack of that loving energy is what got us to that addictive state in the first place.
When you begin to love every aspect of yourself, even all the “bad” parts, you are:
It won’t happen immediately, but putting that loving energy into yourself will start to shift what you crave and desire. Over time, if you love yourself through your addiction, you will start to naturally choose things that feel better.
About two years ago I started loving myself through my binges. I knew I couldn’t continue to abandon myself at my lowest moments. I was bingeing because I was hurting. Then I was further hurting myself by making myself feel guilty, weak, or ashamed for the initial hurt of being in a binging state.
Let’s use another example. A little boy falls and skins his knee and is crying because he’s hurt. You walk up to him and start yelling at the him for being so weak, for feeling or showing emotion, for being dumb for getting hurt in the first place, etc, etc. What you are creating is compounded emotions. All of a sudden that child is simultaneously:
Unfortunately, this is not uncommon behavior in parenting practices. But that’s also what occurs with the self talk when you are in an addictive pattern or don't love yourself. Most likely because someone did that to you in some capacity when you were growing up.
Literally I began talking to myself through my binges. I would tell myself “I’m there for you,” “I’m not going to leave you,” “I am completely by your side right now,” “I’m so sorry you’re hurting,” “I’m so sorry you are in pain and need to binge, I know this isn’t fun for you,” etc. etc.
Taking away the binge gave me horrible anxiety and I could only handle not bingeing for so long. So, I took a different approach. If I was going to binge I was going to support myself through it instead of abandon or condemn myself. I needed to stand by myself in a way that I hadn’t before.
And you know what?!?! The bingeing slowed down. It wasn’t immediate. And even still it creeps up on me and those tendencies resurface. And sometimes I completely forget to help myself through it. I worry about how fat I might get, how powerless I feel, how I “shouldn’t” have this issue when I’m trying to help others or after I’ve done so much work on myself… But there is such a drastic and noticeable difference from how I once was. And I did it, not through force, but through self love.
I loved myself for believing all the thoughts I had about what I “should” be. I loved myself for feeling so bad. I loved myself for bingeing. I loved myself for hurting. I loved myself for not knowing how to stop in the moment. I found the words that were most soothing to me. I stood by myself. I supported myself in whatever I was feeling.
There is an adjustment period here. This may not feel normal or even good at first. For me, it felt soothing to be present and stand by myself, so to speak. But the words didn’t always feel true, or real. Sometimes they made me irritated or sad. The loving things I said to myself brought up all the reasons I thought I wasn’t lovable. So I had to find words, actions, and ways of being with myself that felt authentic in those moments. Sometimes one thing wouldn’t feel good and I’d have to try something else. And sometimes nothing I said to myself felt good, and I just had to be with myself as I cried or binged.
But the binges started to shift. They naturally became less intense, less frequent, and I consumed less. My eating habits continued to improve. This took time. But I wasn’t fighting myself the whole time. I was loving myself.
And now, I still have some residual body image issues I struggle with, and I’m not the perfect health food advocate. I still have areas that I struggle with, I still eat more sugar than I “should” and cake is like my favorite thing ever. But I very rarely get that manic feeling of desperation, anxiety, fear, and self loathing around eating any more. I don’t obsess about food all of the time. I don’t have to talk myself out of a binge every time I eat something sugary.
As I continue to work with self love on deeper levels of myself, I trust that those other pieces will fall into place. There are so many layers to this process. But I know one thing. I’ve got my back. And that’s one thing I went a LONG time without.