From 24th February - 2nd March 2014 is Eating Disorders Awareness Week
Today I would like to share my story which relates to binge eating. Later on in the week I will be sharing strategies which have helped myself and others to overcome eating disorders like binge eating.
Binge eating disorders are characterised by episodes of compulsive overeating. The triggers for overeating are often rooted at a subconscious level.
Binge Eating Cycle
During my childhood, teens and early adult years, I experienced periods of binge eating which helped to comfort low feelings and calm stress within my life. For years I felt trapped and unable to break this vicious cycle.
In our society people who binge eat are often seen as greedy, weak-willed individuals with no self-control! I would like to challenge this belief by sharing my insights.
Firstly it's not about the food but more that food is being used as a distraction or to ease an inner level of emotional turmoil. In other words, food is being used as a comfort to relieve some underlying feelings of stress and anxiety!
Feelings of being unloved, not being able to cope, having an empty life, boredom and low self-esteem may be the type of issues being comforted by food.
Why food is the chosen means of self-medication is a good question. Food nurtures and sustains the body. For many binge eaters it is this aspect of food which makes it desirable especially when comfort, love and nurturing is required.
In traditional Chinese Medicine the emotions are believed to affect the physical body. Negative emotions weaken the body whereas positive emotions strengthen. So for example the emotion of worry and over-thinking things, weakens the stomach, spleen and pancreas. Over-time, a weakened pancreas from worrying and over-thinking will not be able to correctly manage blood sugar. This insight from traditional Chinese medicine could also explain why some binge eating may have issues with blood sugar management.
During my teens I felt a lot of pressure to study and achieve academically, which often left me feeling there was little fun in my life. During intense periods of study I felt brain-drained. Sweet foods for me were a way of having fun. They helped me to feel better and brought my mood an energy levels up. Unfortunately, this comfort from food, was only short-lived. The types of foods I chose often raised my blood sugar too quickly resulting in it crashing. This was usually felt as a massive emotional low requiring the need for another fix!
At the same time there were also digestive and nutritional imbalances, which aggravated the mechanisms for blood sugar management. Low levels of the essential fatty acids, zinc and magnesium in particular were affecting my body's ability to balance blood sugar and to make prostaglandins (these are hormone-like substances involved with healing from injury/infection). This biochemical imbalance from within triggered my body's stress pathways, which was felt as anxiety and the need for a fix, usually a sweet-fix!
Mental health issues like eating disorders often manifest during the teens. During puberty, the brain and sexual organs require the presence and correct amounts of essential nutrients. Unfortunately in many teens, the key nutrients required to transition the body to an adult become low and/or deficient. This may be due hectic lifestyles during this stage of life and the many opportunities for stress to manifest. The body instinctively doesn't feel right. If you have lived with teenagers you will know what I am talking about! The use of stimulants like sugar, alcohol, cigarettes or drugs becomes more attractive as they help in part to correct this feeling.
After I had completed my university degree and started working, my eating patterns started to normalise. Probably due to my body had transitioned from puberty and that I wasn't studying as much.
However the birth of my children, triggered another period of binge eating. Pregnancy depletes the body further if steps are not taken to first address nutritional imbalances. A lot of women feel low after the birth. This is often partly due to in the absence of dietary essential fatty acids, which the developing baby then takes from the mother's brain!
After the birth of my children, my nutritional imbalances had intensified and when combined with the stress felt from the demands of motherhood triggered another period of binge eating.
By recognising my triggers and becoming aware of them, I was able to change my behaviour and attitude to food and no longer use it to relieve stress. The important steps of correcting my blood sugar levels, improving my digestion, detoxifying and clearing my elimination pathways all helped me to successfully treat and recover from binge eating.
I hope my story helps you to understand that the underlying issues to eating disorders are complex and that recovery is possible with the right support. Later on this week I will share the stategies I used for overcoming eating disorders.