Community Stories

Sara: Free from the Binge/Restrict Cycle

Over time, my desire to binge eat died down. Still, I struggled with eating in unfamiliar situations and continued the cycle of overeating/undereating for several years.

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I’ve always had an eating disorder. When I was seven, I remember going to my grandmother’s house and stuffing myself to the point of feeling sick. Sometimes, I would make myself throw up just so that I could eat more. Food was my everything: comfort when I was feeling sad, a way to celebrate when life was good, something to do when I was bored. I ate in response to nearly every feeling I experienced.

Food was my best friend when I was a kid and became my worst enemy as a teen, but there has always been a common denominator: food was something I controlled in any given situation, a way to make myself feel better.

When I was young, it meant binge eating to distract myself from whatever uncomfortable feelings I didn’t know how to deal with. In my young adult years, I restricted food to give myself a sense of accomplishment and control.

For 25 years, I cycled between eating too much and not eating enough, never once stopping to ask my body “What do you want? What do you need?”

I was convinced I couldn’t be trusted around food and needed an outside source to tell me what to eat and when. I was certain if I ate according to genuine hunger and fullness, I would be overweight and unhappy.

Not surprisingly, relying on an outside source to tell me how to nourish myself always backfired.

I led a life of extremes, going up and down on the scale. At one point I became so thin that my nutrition therapist threatened to have me hospitalized; a few years later, I grew so heavy I didn’t want to leave the house for days.

My life was a constant battle with the scale, and the number staring back at me every morning from between my toes determined if I was going to have a good day or an awful one.

At my thinnest: dry, brittle hair. Protruding bones. Thin, splitting nails. My skin was covered in goose bumps because I was always freezing. I skipped out on friends, family, and fun.

I wasn’t living life, all for the sake of eating my carefully measured “allowed” meals, which were timed perfectly with the ticking of the clock. I ate my meals bland because I was afraid salt would make me “fat”. I stopped using Chapstick on my peeling, cracked lips because I was afraid I’d consume calories from the oils it contained. My weight was in the double digits and plummeting.

I was alone, lost and afraid.

At my heaviest: My pants would never button. As soon as I’d buy a bigger size, I’d outgrow them within a matter of weeks. A subconscious screw you to all those years of deprivation, all I did was eat, all day long. I ate out of fear. I ate because I had no control. I ate because I didn’t know what else to do. I couldn’t go back to restricting my intake, and I didn’t know how else to live.

The skin on my stomach ached from stretching so rapidly. I gained over 100 pounds in six months. I was alone, lost and afraid.

Over time, my desire to binge eat died down. Still, I struggled with eating in unfamiliar situations and continued the cycle of overeating/undereating for several years.

I remember first being introduced to the concept of Intuitive Eating in 2002.

I read every book I could get my hands on and fantasized about living a life without food rules, one where I wasn’t thinking about food 24 hours a day, but I wasn’t fully ready to let go and trust in the process until late 2013.

What finally gave me the push I needed was stumbling upon Lauren Bersaglio’s blog. Some points that really resonated with me:

Our bodies want to be at a healthy weight.

Not too big, not too small, but just right for us. That’s not something we can control, but it’s something we can honour by listening to our internal signals and acting accordingly.

Let your body be your guide. I knew I had settled at a good weight for me when my cycle finally regulated, my energy levels increased significantly and I started living a life that didn’t revolve around food every minute of the day!

Our natural healthy weight is probably not the same as what society wants us to believe we should look like.

Real bodies have dimples and blemishes, stretch marks and veins, freckles and age spots. They take up space in a world where we are made to feel like we should be disappearing. When I finally embraced my natural shape – curvy, with an ample bust and seat – it was like the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders.

How would you treat a loved one if you found out they were struggling with an eating disorder? Would you think they were weak, a failure, or undeserving of love and happiness?

Certainly not, and a big step in my recovery was learning to treat myself with this same love, compassion, understanding, and kindness.

Instead of being angry that my disordered eating tendencies will forever be lurking in the darkest corners of my mind, I’ve found they can actually be used as a tool to help me navigate through rough times. If restrictive thoughts start creeping in or I get the urge to binge eat, I’ll pause and step outside myself for a few minutes to gain an understanding of what might be going on with me to prompt these impulses.

With time and practice, I’ve adopted healthier ways of coping with my feelings.

My worth is no longer determined by the scale. I am no longer afraid of food. Those disordered thoughts have faded, drowned out by the inner wisdom growing louder every day because I finally learned how to listen.

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In October 2007, after 20 years of starving, binging and everything in between, Sara promised herself she would never diet again. Intrigued by the notion of Intuitive Eating, she applied different principles to her life but wasn’t fully ready to let go and trust the process until late 2013. Mom to two young boys, Sara now strives to set a strong, healthy example for her kids. She enjoys yoga, the great outdoors, red wine, and being a Mom, and reminds herself frequently that happiness is not contingent upon the size of her pants.

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