“The fourth law of the universe is that for every diet, there is an equal and opposite binge. Diets aren’t free. You will rebel, and when you do, you will gain more weight than you lost. — Geneen Roth
When I first saw the above Geneen Roth quote I probably shouted AMEN aloud. I could not agree more. I experienced it for myself over and over again for as long as I could remember. But that was about five (5) years ago, and it is JUST NOW, this year, that I am putting the lessons contained therein into practice in my life.
Why now? Because I am becoming AWARE of my compulsions ~
I recently completed a sugar detox program — Diane Sanfilippo’s 21 Day Sugar Detox (see my posts here and here), and while I wholly endorse that program (for others), it backfired for me, as ANY FOOD RESTRICTION program will for me, specifically because of my “issues” and compulsions — restrict, binge, restrict, binge, repeat. No diet, no matter how healthy, smart and well thought out (as I believe the 21 Day Sugar Detox is), which eliminates certain foods, will ever work for me because I am an ADDICT. I am obsessive, and compulsive with any substance or behavior that I can “use” to “numb feelings” (food, booze, drugs, men, dating, sex, shopping, spending, you name it!). And therefore, the solution for me must go well beyond a “restriction” or “diet,” and instead must involve an entire psychic change.
I am a big fan of the 21 Day Sugar Detox. It is not an “extreme diet,” but a very healthy way to get a break from sugar. I’ve done the program several times in the past 2 years since I’ve been Paleo. I’ve also done a Whole 30, which I also believe is a very healthy program. I’ve also been on the Autoimmune Paleo Protocol, (see my post here) which is obviously Paleo, and one of the most nutritious, clean diets out there, especially for those of us with autoimmune conditions. I have also done some not so healthy restriction programs in the past too — liquid diets, diet pills, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, etc., etc., etc. Although I endorse the 3 post-Paleo “eating plans” (Whole 30, 21 day sugar detox, and the Autoimmune Paleo Protocol), as HEALTHY REAL FOOD diets, I will not be doing any of them anymore.
I am a compulsive overeater (I am also a compulsive overspender, drinker, drugger, smoker, etc., etc., etc., you get the idea), and as such, whenever I RESTRICT my food in any way, shape or form, I find myself in a BINGE shortly after the end of such restriction period, just as described in the above Geneen Roth quote. Whenever I restrict I associate that with “punishing,” and therefore afterwards, I must “reward” myself with a binge.
I’ve written before about my history with compulsive overeating and dieting (see post here), and to sum that up, I’ve either been on a diet or a binge my entire life. There has been almost no “middle ground” or healthy eating period for me. As early as I can remember (6 years old), my eating was being “managed” by my mother, and later by myself, and during the breaks from the restriction (diet) periods, or in secret, I would binge. Always the same cycle: diet (restrict) for a period of time and then binge for a period of time. Lose weight, gain weight, lose weight, gain weight. Always the same routine — the same punishing, nasty routine.
Occasionally, I would get up the nerve to try and look at the emotional issues underlying my dieting and bingeing behavior, but I had such other BIG issues to deal with that I didn’t get far. In fact, it was during one of those “looks” that I first saw that quote above from Geneen Roth. As I said earlier, the quote hit me hard immediately — I KNEW it was true for me — but, I wasn’t well enough to comprehend the meaning and significance of the emotional component of my eating. Instead, I just continued to focus on the physical: another diet, more punishing exercise, classifying food as “bad” or “good,” etc., etc., over and over again. I lost and gained the same 50 pounds over and over again through the years.
It is only now, having recovered from the addictions that were killing me, that I am able to see some of the causes and conditions that sent me down the path of self-destruction to begin with. Most of those were related to FEAR — fear of not being good enough, fear of not being accepted, fear of being vulnerable … so many fears. And with that clarity of mind, I am able to really look at this restriction/binge thing that I have done with food for over 40 years.
It is always interesting to me, that, when I am ready to look at an issue, the circumstances line up just so, that I am really able to see it. In November of 2014, we had a little health scare with my dad and I became OVERWHELMED with feelings and super STRESSED OUT. I had being eating super clean Paleo for 2 years, but when that situation with my dad hit, I found myself turning once again to food for comfort. And not turning to Paleo “treats” or fruit, but turning to the comfort food of my youth — chocolate.
At the time, I was actually unaware of what I was doing. I was numb. I was numbing out with food — specifically numbing out with chocolate candies. I went into a numb trance while bingeing on chocolates and it was an out-of-body experience where I could not connect to what I was doing at the time.
I would wake up in the morning with chocolate candy wrappers on the bed and floor all around me. I wasn’t “sleep eating,” I remembered starting the chocolate binge, but there would come a point during it, where I would totally “check out” and all emotions and stress and feelings of being overwhelmed would get stuffed. LITERALLY! The next day, amid chocolate wrappers, I would be filled with shame and regret about the binge. I would vow not to do it again, and then the next night, be in the same situation.
You see, I lack the appropriate “coping mechanisms” for dealing with any kind of intense feelings. As a small child, food was my first way of coping with feelings that overwhelmed me. Once I would start a binge, whatever intense emotion I had been feeling would be gone. There would always be some shame and guilt afterwards as a result of the binge, but those feelings I could handle. Eventually, I discovered alcohol and that became my new way to go “numb.” 29 years later, when I got sober from the booze, I once again would revert to food (specifically CHOCOLATE) to numb when feeling overwhelmed.
A few days after Christmas, I “woke up” from yet another chocolate “trance,” and knew I needed to get my “sugar thing” under control, and therefore, I went on a 21 Day Sugar Detox. It was difficult, but I felt fantastic — just as I had in the past, when I had done it. I have nothing bad to say about that program. The problem is ME. And the problem was that when I finished that Detox, I went on another binge. But, this time, I saw it happening. I recognized that this was not about “being hungry” or even just having a “craving.” This was about NUMBING – about killing feelings — checking out. This was about punishment and reward. This was about me seeing the detox as a restriction and therefore punishment. And when it was over, allowing myself to be rewarded with a binge. Even though a binge is never a reward. But in the twisted synapses in my mind, I have somehow convinced myself that it is.
This was the same thing I would do with booze and drugs and spending and just about any other activity or substance that causes a change in body chemistry. That’s what I do. I am compulsive about so many things, and that compulsion is related to FEAR. It is not about this food or that food or this behavior or that or the booze or the drugs, because I will use ANYTHING to check out when I get overwhelmed. It is about FEELINGS. It is about the fact that feelings scare me, and that too many feelings REALLY scare me to the point of needing to NUMB out.
So, what’s the solution?
Well, I’m continuing to read books like Geneen Roth’s — this time with a clear mind, so I can actually retain the information — listen to podcasts, and generally SEEK information about compulsive behaviors in general. Through those sources, I’m learning a lot about myself and about changing my mindset around food.
One of the things that I have learned is that I cannot do eating restriction programs — also known as DIETS. I cannot restrict my eating, because then I will binge, and bingeing makes me feel terrible. It makes me physically ill and it makes me feel terrible about myself emotionally. I cannot afford to let that happen.
Instead, I am now learning about INTUITIVE EATING. It is a VERY NEW concept for me, so I will report more later about it for you guys.
BUT, one thing I have learned, so far, is that I feel PHYSICALLY ILL when I eat GLUTEN and processed foods. I do not want to feel physically ill. Therefore, I do not eat gluten or processed food “products.” I am not restricting food, however. There is a difference between restriction because food is “bad” or will make me gain weight, and CHOOSING not to eat food that makes me feel physically sick. That is the only distinction I make about food today — how will this food make me feel physically? Will it increase or decrease my energy levels? How will it affect my digestion? These are the questions I ask when deciding WHAT to eat (not when or how much, just WHAT). I do not ask whether the food is “good” or “bad.” There are no good or bad foods. Food is just food. It does not have moral character.
Also, I try to stick to three meals per day. When I’m skipping meals, it is a sign I’m “playing games” again — restricting, which will eventually find me knee-deep in a binge – probably with chocolate. I am far from perfect, here.
When I DO find myself with a package of four Cadbury Eggs in my hands (which happened recently), I see that as a SIGN that something is up with me, and I see it as a sign that it is time to STOP and ask myself: what am I feeling? Happy? Sad? Mad? Lonely? Afraid? Overwhelmed? What is that feeling all about? I check in with myself. That package of Cadbury Eggs in my hands is a SIGN TO CHECK IN WITH MYSELF. On some nights, I turn to my journal and write about what I’m feeling. Today I know that I can handle intense feelings — that they will not overwhelm me — that they are temporary and will pass. I write in my journal and usually end up walking away from the chocolate and sparing myself the pain of a binge.
And on some other nights? I eat the Cadbury Eggs. All 4 of them.