Are you stuck in the Diet-Binge Cycle?

Sometimes you feel like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, fluctuating between two identities: the life where you’re a super human eating only the “healthiest” food groups, restricting calories, working out extra hard at the gym, basically going “all out.” Then there’s the other life: the life where you eat less healthy foods or junk foods, and you eat them in excess because “I was so good all week and I’m going to get back on track starting Monday. Soon I won’t be able to ice cream again so I might as well finish off the pint, right?”

Sound familiar?

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My Disordered Eating Story; From The Biggest Loser to Binging to Brene Brown

TG: eating disorder, disordered eating

You don’t have to read self-help books, see a therapist, or do self-work on a regular basis to be familiar with the term “perfectionist” or “perfectionism.”

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t’s not uncommon for someone to refer to themselves as a perfectionist with a sense of pride, however whenever I hear someone use this term to describe themselves, I cringe interally and make a mental note to buy them a copy of the “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brene Brown.

New York Times bestselling author and self-described shame researcher Brene Brown might be most commonly know for her viral 2010 Ted Talk on The Power of Vulnerability. It is one of the top five most viewed TED talks in the world. However, that same year she also released her book, “The Gifts of Imperfection; Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are,” which I can’t recommend enough to anyone who has ever felt like a born failure or struggled with shame and self-loathing. It was the first resource that helped me after I graduated from college, aware that I was engaging in disordered eating and fitness habits, but unsure what to do next.

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It was the first resource that helped me after I graduated from college, aware that I was engaging in disordered eating and fitness habits, but unsure what to do next.

Like many, my disordered eating started young, when I was in high school. I identified as a “chubby kid” in late elementary school and all of middle school. I was bullied, not specifically for my weight, but by the time I reached middle school I’d seen enough images of beautiful women on television and in movies, within the pages of shopping catalogues and on the covers of magazines to know being overweight made me worth less on the totem pole of society. With no “real life” friends, a lot of anger and resentment, and very little self-worth, I was a miserable, angsty teenager who pushed everyone away and found solace only in books, writing fan-fiction, and online role playing games.

Until high school. A time of new beginnings. By that time I knew I liked telling stories, and performing in plays became my main outlet. I began to make friends who shared my interests. To find acceptance. And when I was asked to the prom my sophomore year, I received “the push I needed to finally get fit and lose weight!”

I was fifteen.


It started harmlessly. I really did want to get healthy, to feel good in my body for once. I had never been athletic so I started by going to Curves with my mom. The environment was actually very sweet and supportive, mostly women in their 50s+. Then came counting calories and eating meal replacement bars or weight-loss snacks. I was a devoted follower of the Biggest Loser at this time and devoured each weight-loss tip and trick religiously. We had a treadmill in our house and I would walk on it for an hour a day, watching BL and America’s Next Top Model. When I finally got to a point where I didn’t feel embarrassed to work out in public I started going to the YMCA every morning before school, burning my calories on the elliptical and building muscle on the machines. At my lightest, I lost thirty pounds. People--cool kids--started complimenting me. Other boys started noticing me. Everyone was so proud. I got cast in bigger parts in school plays. I could finally enjoy going shopping for clothes. I became a happier person which in turn made me a friendlier person. I became kinder, soft-spoken and demure. I felt beautiful for the first time since I was a little girl. It was a Cinderella story.

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Until, of course as you all know, I plateaued. I couldn’t cut my calories anymore. I couldn’t ampt up the length of my workouts. I couldn’t keep losing and I couldn’t maintain the weight loss. Enter: binge eating.

“Binge eating disorder (BED) is a severe, life-threatening, and treatable eating disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of eating large quantities of food (often very quickly and to the point of discomfort); a feeling of a loss of control during the binge; experiencing shame, distress or guilt afterwards; and not regularly using unhealthy compensatory measures (e.g., purging) to counter the binge eating. It is the most common eating disorder in the United States.” - www.nationaleatingdisorders.org

I was a regular binge eater from somewhere during my junior year in high school to my second year of college, so just about four years. The cycle was simple: eat as “healthy” (as little and as restrictive) as possible for as long as possible, “fall off the bandwagon,” and then compulsively eat as much food as I could stomach with the promise that tomorrow I would “make up for it” by “cleansing” for a day (only eating fruits and vegetables or something light like cereal.) *Note: I am not saying all cleanses or vegetarians are wrong, just that for me in this time and place it was definitely not a mentally or physically healthy choice.

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One ordinary day, second semester of my junior year of college, I was speaking with a friend about my current calorie restrictions (less than 1000 a day) and she simply pointed out, “That’s not healthy. You can’t live on that.”

Silly as it sounds, I realized she was right. That’s all it took. A little outside perspective. A reality check.

The Hermione Granger in me knew what to do next: visit the library.

Only after reading up on the various types of eating disorders, disordered eating, and unhealthy behaviors related to weight loss did I realize I needed to make some changes to my lifestyle.

All of this to say, once I finally got to a place where I could start trying to work through my issues surrounding food, fitness, and body image, it became apparent one main cause for my disordered eating was perfectionism.

“Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgement, and shame. It’s a shield. It’s a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from flight.” -Brene Brown

Perfectionism. For me perfection was about feeling like I belonged. That friendless pre-teen “loser” was still living inside me and she was terrified. I wanted to feel worthy, to be well-liked. To know I was good enough, without question. This meant getting outside validation, because it sure as hell wasn’t coming from the inside.

In college it meant being within the top ten percent of my class. Always being prepared--studying the material backwards and forward so that I would never be caught not knowing an answer, for not knowing would mean I was failing.

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In regards to my body and disordered eating, my perfectionism manifested in this way:
- feeling superior for eating “clean,” “safe,” “good” foods
- feeling like a failure after eating (or binging) on “bad” “unclean” foods
- eating as little as possible for days at a time to make up for eating “bad” foods
- binging after these periods of starvation - most often on junk food  
- sometimes taking laxatives to try and manage this cycle
- hating my body, constantly scrutinizing it, anxious about how others perceived it
- scrutinizing other people’s bodies, comparing myself to theirs, seeing their body as a marker of their worth
- spending a large chunk of my time obsessed with food, exercise, weight loss, and my body when I could have been making memories and trying new things
- feeling worthless, disgusting, like I was born wrong
- feeling that I didn’t belong and was unworthy of love
- suicidal thoughts* (I never intended to kill myself. I fantasized about it but never wanted to die)

So. How did I get from there to here?

A lot of damn hard work, that’s how. Work that included reading “The Gifts of Imperfection,” and “Rising Strong,” another one by Brene Brown, THERAPY, sharing my story with a select number of supportive friends, bawling my eyes out, growing up. Honestly, I’ll have to write a completely separate post to go into more detail because it’s been (and still is) a long road.

But the good news is I’m here now, past the worst of it, and I haven’t had a binge like the kind I used to have in over five years (if my memory is accurate)!

I’ve decided to share this story NOT because I want sympathy or attention, but because it gives some context as to why I am the person I am today and why I want to dedicate this blog in part to figuring out how to live a normal healthy lifestyle, without dieting.

I’ll close by leaving you with Brene Brown’s Ten Guideposts to Whole Hearted Living. It’s not quite the same unless you’ve read the book, but I love this bomb ass poster made by Leonie Dawson. You can actually download the poster, print it, and color it in yourself if you like.

New Year, No Diet

Do you remember the person you were five years ago?

Ten?
Fifteen?
Twenty?

Twenty years ago I was six years old. I don’t remember much about that time, but I know I was happy. I had a loving family, a safe home, and plenty of space to be a child.

But I wasn’t a happy person fifteen years ago, or ten, or five. Maybe not even two years ago.

There were definitely moments of triumph, achievements I’m proud of, and relationships I’m eternally thankful for, but no manner of professional or personal success can make up for a lack of emotional well-being. No manner of outside validation can make up for a lack of self-worth.


Hi, my name is Emma and I struggle with disordered eating.


Or I used to. For years now I thought I’d moved past it, but it’s January 1st, 2019 and after eleven years of diet and exercise regime experimentation, after eleven years of bouncing from Weight Watchers to calorie counting to dairy-free, gluten-free, sugar-free, paleo, vegetarian, juice cleanses, diet teas, and back again I still haven’t managed to reach and maintain the body of my dreams.

And I’m tired.


So this year, instead of kicking off my year with the traditional hard core diet and exercise regimen, I’ve decided I’m just going to...not diet.

Instead of dieting I’m going to try and tackle what should be the easiest thing in the world but in our society today seems apparently impossible for the vast majority:

I’m going to figure out how to eat like a normal person.

A healthy normal person, yes, but one who enjoys treats in moderation, without feeling like she’s “breaking rules.” A normal person who can enjoy eating out with friends, instead of seeing it as a “cheat meal” or something to “make up for later.”

A healthy normal person who happens to eat all the food groups. No shade intended towards vegetarians, vegans or anyone with a food allergy. I just happen to enjoy meat and dairy as well as fruits, vegetables and grains, and they don’t make me sick, so I’m going to choose them for myself.

Some of you might be saying to yourself, “whoop-dee-freakin’-doo, Emma.” And that’s ok. Others might be offended by what I’m saying, or feel like I’m attacking their choice to engage in restrictive dieting, and I apologize if it comes off that way. Above all, I respect every human’s right to do whatever they want with their body. You know your body better than anyone, and you know what’s right for you.

But I’m guessing if you’ve gotten this far, a number of you might be feeling the same way I’ve been feeling. Maybe you have a similar relationship to food regardless of your food preferences. And if you do, I invite you to join me this year as I explore the intersection between wanting to feel good and look good (by my own standards), without sacrificing my mental health in the process.

I have a lot of territory I want to explore and questions to ask.

“Is it possible for those recovering from an eating disorder or disordered eating to lose weight in a “healthy way” without falling back into unhealthy behaviors and cycles?”

“How can we say, ‘All bodies are beautiful,’ and love our friends and family no matter their size but then turn around and judge our own bodies?”

“How do I even cook food that isn’t “diet” food?”


If you’re game to participate in the conversation, thank you. If not, that’s cool too. I wish everyone the best in your journey to “making peace” with food and your body in our body-image warping society.

My next post will include a little background on my own struggles with food, body image, and perfectionism. If you care to hear where I’m coming from, click this link, and if not stay tuned for future posts in which I’ll share videos and articles, and pose and try to answer questions about food, body-image, exercise, and the pressures of society that keep us in a constant state of feeling like we’re not enough.

Until then, I’ll leave you with this #truthbomb by Danielle LaPorte.

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DAY SEVEN - 1/4 of the way there!

Avocado Toast

Phew. One week down!

So here’s the scoop: I’ve done pretty damn good this week if I do say so myself. My two “slips” were both unintentional. I asked for fruit instead of dessert at a work-related gala, and the server DID bring me a beautiful bowl of berries, but they just so happened to be coated in a light, sweet syrup. (I was not going to let a bowl of fresh berries go to waste because of a little sweetener.) Then just this morning I ordered a tea with milk hold the sugar and—you guessed it—they did not hold the sugar. And I’m the sort who feels uncomfortable sending things back.

On day three I felt sluggish. Hungry but also not hungry. Thirsty. Kind of anxious. Had a little bit of a headache. To be fair I also woke up at 5:30am and stayed awake until about 7:00am, then went back to sleep for another hour or so. My friend Kathleen suggested more protein to help with sugar cravings. On day four I started my period. lol. This could have had a lot to do with my symptoms from the day before. By day five I was feeling pretty good! Javier and I went out for dinner and had some delicious Mexican food (although we avoided the salsa for fear it might contain hidden sugars.) Then on day six I took a turn. Was feeling low emotionally, sort of stressed, angry, hopeless, self-conscious, depressed, and I realllllyyy just wanted to eat some chocolate, but I didn’t. I don’t think this mental/emotional low was due to a lack of sugar, but that I sought sugar out as a comfort during this emotional low.

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Today is day SEVEN and so far I feel pretty ok. No horrible cravings or withdrawal symptoms. I haven’t noticed any significant changes in my skin, mood, or physical state. I also haven’t had horrible, all consuming cravings. So far this reduction has been much easier than when I gave up sugar, gluten, and dairy all at once.

Javier and I had quinoa pasta, zoodles & meatballs with a low-sugar sauce for dinner, and Javier even brought me a sparkling water with a little bit of artificial sweetener in it. (Again, I think wiggle room is important.) Both of us admitted to missing dessert. Javier is longing for birthday cake and myself some dark chocolate.

To distract my brain from missing sugar I’ve been drinking one or two decaf chais a day, plus other teas if I like. Breakfasts and snacks this week have mostly consisted of oatmeal with fruit, nuts and greek yogurt, hard boiled eggs on avocado toast, as pictured here. My goals for next week are to drink more water, and consume more protein and vegetables. More pictures to come…

xoxo
Emma

DAY TWO: Emma learns about Erythritol

Day Two - So far so good. I’m using PurAqua Bell Vie (offbrand Aldi LaCroix) to help curb cravings for something sweet, and eating meals without much sugar has been pretty easy so far. Today looked something like*:

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B: a peach with plain greek yogurt and plain oatmeal
L: Salmon with caesar salad (1 tbsp dressing) and vegan pesto with quinoa/brown rice pasta
D: Javier made delicious enchiladas for dinner with beef, beans, cheese, and a green sauce.
A: An apple. Some popcorn. PB on rice cakes with strawberries.

I finished my day with a decaf spiced Chai to help curb sweet cravings (no Stevia, mind you). Javier and I also tried some Bai sparkling water because according to the can it contained only 1g of sugar. Now I know what you’re thinking. “Emma! The whole point is to not consume sugar!” and yeah, it is, but I’ve been a fan of Bai products for awhile now and was curious as to whether this product would qualify as something I could sip on during this sugar reduction, since it claimed to contain only 1g of sugar. I immediately checked out the ingredients list. One of the very first ingredients on the bottle is listed as “Erythritol,” and I’m going to be honest I didn’t know exactly what Erythritol was, but I knew it had to be a sweetener. So, I visited Bai’s website for more information and this is what I learned:

What is Erythritol?

Naturally found erythritol is a sugar alcohol made from simple sugars derived from plant starches. It looks and tastes like table sugar, though it is about 30% less sweet…Erythritol is the largest ingredient in Bai Proprietary Sweetener Blend by weight, and is used as an ingredient to provide bulk and the sugar-like crystalline appearance and texture in Bai Proprietary Sweetener Blend. The erythritol used in Bai Proprietary Sweetener Blend is produced through a natural fermentation process…In the case of erythritol, a natural yeast digests the simple sugars such as dextrose and other nutrients and produces erythritol. After fermentation, the erythritol is filtered and dried into crystals. Erythritol is small; found naturally in a variety of fruits, such as grapes and pears, as well as in mushrooms, and certain fermented foods such as soy sauce and wine.

Is it true that the stevia leaf extract and erythritol in Bai Proprietary Sweetener Blend are highly processed or made with toxic chemicals?

As with almost all finished food products, the journey from field to table involves some processing. The sweet components of the stevia leaf need to be extracted from the leaf, like vanilla needs to be extracted from vanilla beans. The erythritol in Bai Proprietary Sweetener Blend is made from a natural fermentation process. Like in other finished foods, including table sugar, processing aids suitable for use in food are used in the production of both stevia leaf extract and erythritol. These aids help either extract, isolate or purify components of the ingredients. Under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations, our processing aids are not subject to labeling requirements because they do not have a technical or functional effect in the finished food and because they are either not present or are present at insignificant levels in the finished product.

Now, I’m not here to determine if Bai products are “good” or “bad” or “safe” or “dangerous.” It’s juice. It’s tea. It’s sparkling water, and I’m probably not going to drink it every day, but I think having one every now and then isn’t going to kill me or put this sugar reduction in horrible jeopardy. But I’ll save it for when I really need it.

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*FYI I will not be tallying calories or describing in detail exactly how much I eat. I’m embracing intuitive eating right now. Like most people, I’ve had an unhealthy relationship with food in the past. Sometimes counting calories is a helpful tool, other times it turns into a harmful one. Or I just get tired of counting them!

Also disclaimer: Please know I’m not trying to convince you what to eat or not eat. I don’t mean to promote any particular products (except maybe Aldi b/c I just love that store). I’m not being paid to do this, I’m not even trying to promote my own brand. I’m just documenting an experiment.

See you on day three!

30 Day Sugar ~Reduction~ Day ONE

I know you’ve seen this all before...

“I Quit Sugar for 30 Days and THIS is What Happened!”
“5 Things I Learned from 30 Days Without Sugar”
“I did the 30 Day No Sugar Challenge and lost 15lb!”

And now it’s my turn. But let me make you this promise: I will not bullshit you. If I don’t feel better after giving up sugar for 30 days, I will say so. If the cravings never really go away, I will say so. I’m not interested in being another “giving up sugar really transformed my life—and it can for YOU too!” blog. No one is paying me to do this. I’m not pushing a diet or a diet plan. I’m just chronicling my journey.

5 Things You Need To Know…

1) My boyfriend Javier is doing this with me. I find any kind of restrictive diet change is easier when you have a buddy.

2) My goal: To reduce my overall cravings for sugar and lose 3-5lb.

3) Our perimeters:

  • we will enjoy fruit in it’s natural form, we will choose to pass on fruit drinks and dried fruit

  • we will choose to pass on all added sugars, even honey and maple syrup BUT I can choose to have a dash of Stevia and he some sugar-free gelatin when we wish.

  • We are allowing ourselves some wiggle room when it comes to prepackaged foods like pasta sauces. As long as a serving contains less than 5g of sugar, we’re good. This way we don’t have to give up all convenience.

These sugar cookies from Virgin closing night were out of this WORLD. #extravirgin

These sugar cookies from Virgin closing night were out of this WORLD. #extravirgin

4) According to this NYT article from 2016, no more than 50g a day is the recommended level of sugar intake and 25g is even healthier, so I’m going to aim to consume less than 50g a day.

5) I do not think sugar is evil. I used to, but now I happily, openly love sugary treats. I love donuts, waffles, dark chocolate, ice cream, chocolate chip cookies, sugar cookies, Oreos, sour patch kids, pumpkin bread, rice pudding, the list goes on! But I also believe (for me) everything in moderation is key.

I’ve done variations of a “no sugar” or “less sugar” detox/cleanse many times now. My last 30 days without sugar also included 30 days without gluten and dairy, and I’m interested to see if I see different or similar results from that detox.

So there you have it. Today is day one and so far I’ve had half a peach mixed with plain greek yogurt and oatmeal for breakfast. We’ll see how I feel by the end of the day! Stay tuned for updates. Also, Javier mentioned he might do some vlogs to document the experience from his perspective, so I may be sharing those as well!

As always, much love.

xoxo