Overcoming Binge Eating Disorder: What Worked and What Didn’t

My thoughts in January 2010 matched the cold and harsh winter weather on my college campus in Davenport, Iowa. I felt as blah as the dead trees I passed on the way to class. There was no sign of new life around me.

I couldn’t keep living like this. I was eager to get back to being my weird Princess Michelle self.

But it seemed impossible.

What helped me overcome binge eating disorder

I shared my experience with Binge Eating Disorder (BED) and depression last week on the blog if you’d like to check out that post first. Today I’m sharing what helped me get through that tough time – and what hurt my progress. If you have any type of eating disorder – or know someone who does – please give this a read before you click over to another distracting weight-loss headline.

Here are the things that worked for me, a few that didn’t, and my recommendations for your own recovery process.

Things that Worked: Talking to Someone

If I can point to one thing that I know for sure helped me during binge eating disorder and depression, it was the communication I had with my mom. I talked to her about everything. She knew the struggle and did all she could to help. Although she couldn’t understand it, she never judged me, which was why I willingly shared everything with her. Thank God for moms.

What helped me overcome binge eating disorder

If you have someone in your life who you feel you can talk to about anything, I highly recommend confiding in them. But don’t open up to just anyone – it has to be someone you can trust, who you know won’t pass judgment, and who loves you unconditionally. Whether it’s a good friend, family member, partner, or old man you walk with every day, let someone in on your struggles. Your head is too dark of a place to be alone in – don’t close it off from someone else’s light.

It’s nice to hear a voice that doesn’t sound like your negative thoughts. Your own head is too dark of a place to be alone in during this time – don’t close it off from someone else’s light.

Therapy is invaluable

Mom encouraged me to see a counselor on campus, and I went to see her every week of spring semester. In the 2.5 years I’d been at St. Ambrose University, I had no idea they offered FREE counseling sessions to students. What an awesome service!

I would love to go to a therapist now (if it was still free) because I see so much value in talking to someone about all the crap that clutters your mind. But then, at 20 years old trying to be “cool,” I had serious shame about it. I never told my roommates where I was going, and I hoped no one saw me walk in the counselor’s office. Just like my binges, counseling was my dirty little secret.

Overcoming Binge Eating Disorder and Depression: What helped me and what didn't

I cried through almost every appointment, until the last session in May, when I seemed to be magically all better. My counselor herself seemed surprised that I got better so instantly.

Well, I didn’t tell her that I went to a psychologist over spring break and got on anti-depressants. I was ashamed of that too.

What was happening was that my counseling sessions were bringing up all of the hurt and negative emotions that originally led me to my loss in confidence and dieting and bingeing. And while talking about it was necessary, I wasn’t strong enough to work through it. I had all these wounds reopened and my response was to freak out instead of taking a step back and doing the things my counselor had recommended.

With the pills, I eventually no longer felt depressed and I no longer binged. But a year later when I went off them (I was too ashamed to ask my new doctor for a refill), I noticed how easily those underlying feelings and emotions came back with certain comments or triggers.

The anti-depressants were a quick fix, a band-aid – and you know what, they may have even been a good solution to help me get through one more year of college. But they weren’t a solution for life, not for me anyway. I’d still have to learn to deal with the negativity that was waiting for its next chance to pounce.

New beginnings and getting out of your element

It’s funny how much weather plays a part in your mood – I learned the meaning of “winter blues” that year. As spring came, I got outside a lot more, got some sunshine and went for walks. With the colors and light of the new season, I seemed to find more pep in my step.

I’ve remembered this over the years whenever winter comes. Even if you’re snowed in, bundle up and go outside with the single intention of letting the sun touch your skin. You need that vitamin D for your mood!

What helped me overcome binge eating disorder and depression

That spring semester was also unique in that it forced me to get out of my comfort zone. I was enrolled in a Theater in London class, in which I’d go abroad to London for two weeks at the end of the school year. I had been looking forward to the trip for the past year, but the class had been paralyzing to me once I was in it and going through all my stuff.

But it was everything I needed.

The small class was made up of fearless theater students and a few reserved English students (me). I was amazed by how confident the theater students were – they were loud and expressive, loving and fun, and accepting of everybody. They were all shapes and sizes and showed no reserve or insecurities whatsoever.

Their confidence was intimidating at first. But as the antidepressants kicked in and the sunshine did its thing on my mood, I got to a much better mental state by May. Getting out of the country, then, was the final push I didn’t know I needed to help me finally stop tracking food.

Because who in their right mind analyzes calories when they’re in the amazement of a different country for the first time?

London!

Even I knew better than that. I had so much fun on that trip. The theater students brought out the Michelle-ness that had been buried under Weight Watchers points and diet books for the past 3 years. Binge eating disorder and depression were no longer holding me back.

Other Things That Helped

Most of my memories of this time are sad and dark, but some bright moments stand out that I’m grateful for. Between my counselor’s suggestions, my roommates’ efforts and my family’s support, they all provided their own unique rays of sunshine that got me out of my head.

Here’s what I remember having a positive impact on my progress:

  • Coloring: My counselor had recommended doing something with my hands to keep me busy. Knitting was her original recommendation. I bought the yarn and all that crap, but found coloring to be way easier…and more fun with princess coloring books!
  • Animal shelter: Did you know that petting a dog’s head releases serotonin and oxytocin, the feel-good chemicals in our brains? If you want an activity that doesn’t involve food, go visit some pups. I bet you can’t go there without smiling!
  • Dancing: I credit my roommates with this one. I remember one awful weekend day, I had just eaten some crap and was crying on my bed, and all three of them came and jumped on me. They weren’t going to let me be upset. Instead, they turned on some Whitney Houston and we danced in the living room for like an hour. Best day of depression ever!
  • Music: Music is incredibly powerful for your mood. I also used it to help me sleep at night, cause that was a big problem during all of this. This site even has eating disorder playlists for songs to help improve your mood.
  • Yoga: My counselor taught a free yoga class on campus. It wasn’t hard or sweat-inducing, really, but more about getting in tune with your body and thoughts. Her guidance helped get me out of my negative mindset with my body and, instead, become more mindful of what my body could actually do.
  • Visiting friends and family: I made more trips home to visit my parents and event went to see my high school friends at their universities. It was helpful to be around the friends who had always been there for me in the past. We didn’t even talk about the food stuff; simply being around them helped me to remember my old self.

What Did NOT Help

At first, I bought dieting book after dieting book, each time thinking this would be the motivation I needed to finally stop bingeing. Once bingeing became an even bigger problem, I bought books on overeating specifically. I remember looking for titles that included “the end of overeating,” “intuitive eating,” “eat when you’re hungry,” “mindful eating,” etc., and they weren’t at all what I needed.

I realize now why they didn’t help – those topics didn’t target the root cause of why I was overeating. They simply offered methods on how to eat. I wasn’t seeking out the right information to understand the cause of my binge eating.

Books on food were only furthering my obsession with food. I needed distance from the topic, which of course isn’t easy since eating is something you need to do every day.

My Takeaway

An eating disorder is too serious of a situation to try and fix all by yourself. Talk to someone close to you and talk to a professional. Work with both of them to understand the real reason that brought you to where you are.

Don’t pick up another book or read another article that has anything to do with food. Instead, look for more resources that address the root cause of your eating disorder or dieting obsession. Avoid anti-depressants if you can, and address the problem head on.

Remember that this negative emotion is going to show up again in your life. The goal is to learn how to manage it and respond to it rather than defeat it. Eating (or not eating) may be your response to the emotion now, but down the road it could be gambling, drinking, drugs or any other addiction.

Or, your response could be to accept the emotion and grow stronger around it. The beauty is that you have the power to decide how you respond to it. But you first have to do the work to uncover and recognize that root feeling.

The beauty is that you have the power to decide how you respond. But you first have to do the work to uncover and recognize that root feeling.

It has taken me about 10 years to realize mine, and I’m not about to waste another minute letting it hold me back. It’s focusing on self-discovery that eventually leads to recovery.




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