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Being in Recovery from Binge-Eating Disorder
A guest blog by Dustin LindenSmith
I’m a 47-year-old married man with three kids living in Atlantic Canada and I self-diagnosed with Binge-Eating Disorder about five years ago. I first discovered how to use food for emotional comfort as a young child, but an alcoholic and abusive step-parent pushed me to turn towards heavy binge-eating in my early teens. I would consume vast quantities of food in secret—I could never seem to get “enough”—and then I’d go on a diet to lose the weight I had gained. In this way, I “dieted my way up” to over 300 pounds in college, and I repeated that cycle several more times in my life. I estimate that I’ve gained and lost over 850 pounds since the age of 10.
Binge-Eating Disorder is often described as a chronic and compulsive binge-diet cycle, but to me, it felt more like a shame spiral that fed on the world’s countless reminders that I take up too much space as a fat person. The tight fit of my clothes; the feeling of my thighs spilling over the edges of a chair; the stricken looks on the faces of the other plane passengers who were afraid I was about to sit next to them: all of it made me burn with shame, failure and self-loathing. Habitually, these feelings would push me towards trying yet another new diet, which would then invariably lead to yet another binge. And then another. And another.
After years of this maddening pattern, I finally had to ask myself: Is weight loss actually my ultimate goal here? Or, instead, would I rather learn how to stop obsessing over my past and how to fix my self-destructive relationship with food? What about learning how to be truly grateful for the life and family I have now? Years of marinating in toxic diet culture had convinced me that all of my problems could be solved by losing weight, but I had proved that to be wrong for 30 years in a row. Had a single one of the diets ever taught me how to treat myself or my body with appreciation or respect?
I first stumbled into recovery by reading the books of Geneen Roth and Karen R. Koenig. Their stories showed me the importance of “radical self-acceptance” by teaching me to forgive myself for the ways I’d been misusing food for so long. I recognized how chronic dieting and my childhood experiences had influenced my eating habits, insecurities, and negative self-beliefs. This helped me to overcome the lifelong shame I had about my past behaviours and my body size, which in turn helped me to accept that I had to learn how to stop dieting before I could ever stop bingeing. I resolved to set aside the goal of losing weight for its own sake. As a lifelong yo-yo dieter who had spent decades on an unending quest to lose weight, this required a massive shift in attention for me.
I broke my binge-diet cycle for the first time simply by not starting a new diet and by refusing to step onto the scale anymore. With the patient support of my wife and family, I sought psychotherapy to start working through my troubled childhood. I learned about intuitive eating principles and the harm reduction approach, and I worked on dismantling the all-or-nothing, healthy-vs-unhealthy mindset with which I judged myself and every food that I ate. After joining a local eating disorders support group, I discovered that I existed somewhere on the very same continuum as all of these wise and wonderful women who were their own successful ED recovery. That was when I self-diagnosed with BED and considered myself to be on Step One of a recovery process.
Since giving up dieting, I have rediscovered my love for meditation, yoga, and writing, in addition to activities like hiking, biking, boxing, and lifting weights. Without chronically being on a diet to crash out of, my habitual urges to overeat have mostly dissipated on their own. I’ve learned to reframe my own negative self-talk by inwardly celebrating my successes, instead of obsessing over my setbacks. I’ve stopped dreaming about having a body that isn’t the one I already have. I’m learning how to trust my own judgment around food and exercise, and I’m overcoming my lifelong habit of seeing myself as a powerless victim of my own circumstances. Now I make it a practice to eat “normally” in response to my own internal cues for hunger and satisfaction, and I try to choose physical activities that I enjoy doing every day.
I still consider myself to be relatively early in my recovery, and occasionally notice the urge to lose weight or to start a new diet. However, there’s a big difference now: the urge is not triggered by “throwing in the towel” and going through three drive-thrus in one night. Today, I appreciate my life and my family. Today, I no longer need to overfeed myself to calm my nerves. I’m ready to be free from obsessing over food, my weight, and my past. And while I recognize and appreciate all the comfort that food has given me throughout my life, I simply don’t need to use it that way anymore.
Finally, I can truly say that I have had “enough.”
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