Three Powerful Strategies To Overcome Binge Eating Disorder: Sandy's Story
In this article, we once again sat down with Sandy to find out how she has been able to overcome her eating disorder. Here she shares three powerful strategies that she learned while in outpatient treatment that have helped transform her relationship with food, and herself.
"I was apprehensive going to my first counseling session," says Sandy. "I had never been to a nutritionist before and expected her to create some really strict eating plan for me to follow because I had such a problem controlling my food intake. But nothing could have been further from the truth. I was really surprised how gentle and kind my nutritionist was with me."
Strategy Number 1: Sense Hunger
The first strategy Sandy's nutritionist had her employ was simply to monitor her hunger. Sandy explained that because she had been binging so long, her body was completely unregulated. In fact, she couldn't even remember the last time she had been truly hungry.
"Really, it might have been years since I'd experienced a genuine hunger pang. I'd eat for all sorts of reasons, but never a physiological one, so my nutritionist basically started from ground zero with me, and to be honest, I felt kind of like a loser. I mean, who doesn't know how to eat? But when I look back on the process, it was really something I needed. And it has made a big difference for me in discerning the difference between being truly hungry in my body versus feeling the urge to eat because I'm emotionally upset. Believe it or not, I couldn't tell the difference when I walked into her office back then."
The nutritionist gave Sandy a piece of paper with a scale of 1 to 10. The only thing she had to do was to circle the number that represented the intensity of her hunger before she ate, and then circle the number that represented how full she felt after eating.
"The goal was to be a "3" before eating and a "5" or "6" after eating. It sounded simple. But as the week progressed, just because I was being aware of how my body felt before and after I ate, I realized that I didn't really know what a "3" or a "5" was. Plus, I wanted to eat to an "8" but then I'd feel bad after the fact. It took discipline to stop before I was entirely full, but it got easier over time. Also, I had to learn to tolerate being hungry, feeling my stomach rumble and not eating at the first sign of hunger. I was instructed to wait until the hunger came and went a few times, until it was strong enough to bring my attention to the fact that I really did need to eat."
"It was quite a switch for me to do this," says Sandy, "but honestly it has been one of the most simple and effective strategies I've used to overcome my eating disorder. In the past I'd binge late at night, stuff myself to maybe an "11" and then wake up and skip breakfast to try to counteract all the calories I consumed. I had to re-learn how much to eat, when to eat, and when to stop. But this brought me to my next challenge. The second strategy that has helped me overcome my eating disorder is eating breakfast."
Strategy Number 2: Eat Breakfast
Sandy explained that her nutritionist told her that when she would binge at night but then skip eating in the morning it effectively gave her body hormonal signals to go into a starvation mode and made it more likely that she would put on weight. In addition, it set her up to consume more calories later on in the day when her hunger got out of control.
"They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and for me," says Sandy, "it truly is. I never skip it anymore. Every once in a while I used to fall back into my old patterns, but those were the days I'd do worse with my eating. I'd have a more difficult time knowing when I was truly hungry, and have an even harder time stopping once I started. The days I skipped breakfast were the days I was more likely to engage in binge eating. I don't do that to myself anymore. I make sure to eat breakfast every day, even if I don't feel like it, and weird as it sounds, this has been a big part of my recovery process."
Strategy Number 3: Slow Down
But Sandy's nutritionist still had more in store for her. "The last thing that really helped me overcome my eating disorder was to take longer to eat. My nutritionist made me promise I'd take at least 15 minutes per meal and that I wouldn't watch television or be in my car while I ate. Man did that feel foreign at first. I ate a lot in front of the idiot box and while driving. Suddenly I really had to pay attention to my food. It was so quiet. I didn't care for it at first and I had to really slow myself down. I went from eating a foot long sandwich in 5 minutes or less to having to triple the time it took. But you know what, it worked! It gave my body time to feel the food in my stomach and to signal that I had eaten enough. I found myself not finishing my entire meal. Actually, that was one other strategy my nutritionist gave me. The deal was that I had to leave at least one bite of every meal left on my plate. I could leave more, but I had to leave at least one bite. Boy do I like to clear my plate! But slowing down, and consciously planning to leave some food uneaten have really changed my relationship with eating."
After speaking with Sandy, I believe there is one more thing that helped her overcome her eating disorder. She was willing to take these challenges on. She was willing to be uncomfortable and make the changes necessary to overcome her eating disorder. Without her willingness to obey the instructions of her nutritionist and follow through with them, she would never have gotten to where she is today.
"Yeah, not all of that was fun. And like I mentioned before, it seems like such rudimentary stuff. But the proof is in the pudding, as they say. I did it, even when I didn't like it, and I'm doing so much better."
Sandy is living proof that a person can overcome their eating disorder. Of course different disorders will require different strategies, but the important thing to remember is that help is available and there is always hope for recovery.