The death of bingeing?

I don’t know what happened precisely, but something did.  Something went off in my head, and I was suddenly able to step outside of that uncontrolleably bingeing version of myself – like a snake shedding  its skin – back into my own body and breathe the fresh air of relative sanity.

It was good to be back.

I think what did the trick was realising that I needed to focus not on the bingeing but on the why I was bingeing.

A few days ago I was watching Queen Victoria’s Children on iplayer (it’s surprisingly interesting) and the observation was made that Bertie, King Edward to be – who had a hopelessly bad relationship with his mother, who blamed him for the death of his father – had rapacious appetites for all things physical including food, and that

“he looked for emotional satisfaction from physical appetites”.

I so recognised myself in that description.

Since last May I’ve been off work, because of my problems with my jaw joint and the trigeminal nerve.  These prevent me doing a great deal of talking and as I talk for a living (I work in the English Department of a high school, working with students with Special Educational Needs either leading interventions, taking groups or working one-to-one) it became impossible to do my job.

I’m single and aside from my very wonderful 18 year old live alone;  and wonderful though he is, and very close though we are, he does of course not spend a great deal of time with me, which is as it should be.  I have no family (aside from my children) within a hundred miles and I couldn’t be social with friends as initially I couldn’t even hold a conversation, and still now have to restrict the amount of talking I do.

What’s more, the heavy medication I was put on (and have significantly reduced on my own initiative, in collaboration with my GP) meant I was off my head for hours a day.

Just when I was suddenly so much alone and so isolated, so frightened about what my medical condition might mean, off my head half the time and in considerable discomfort, I had also to give up nicotine and caffeine.  What else was I going to do but comfort eat?

I already, of course, knew all that.

What I didn’t know, what hadn’t occurred to me, was that due to my extreme isolation (imagine being unable to talk or use sign language;  it’s made me realise how fundamental the ability to express oneself is to being a human being) I wasn’t just confort eating, I had turned to food so passionately as it was now the only thing I could  connect to.  What alerted me to this was recently watching the TED Talk,  Everything You Think You Know About Addiction Is Wrong as a follow on from a recommendation made by Julie Ramage.  In it Johann Hari puts forward the theory that people develop addictions when they feel disconnected from the world around them, and their drug of choice (recreational, nicotine, caffeine, food) is the only thing they feel able to connect to.  I instantly recognised that in the behaviour of people around me whose addictions had got the better of them, and I recognised it in myself.

A few days later I noticed Russell Brand discussing the premise of his latest book, Recovery, which is pretty similar;  and while Russell Brand isn’t someone I’d choose to spend more than 5 minutes watching I do think he’s a phenomenally intelligent man who has a great capacity for analysis and self-analysis;  and I think he’s right. People form addictions when they cannot connect – for whatever reason – with the world around them;  meaning the only real connection, the only real relationship, they can have is with their drug of choice;  which makes it the most important thing in their lives, even when it’s destroying their lives.

Incidentally, I am not the only one who has been in that kind of romantic relationship either, I’m sure.

And when I understood, the spell broke.  I realised I need to find new, positive, healthy things to connect to (How interesting I said ‘things’ and not ‘people’ to connect to – but I’m not going to censor that comment because I think it’s very telling and I want to remember it) to and to strengthen existing connections.

Incidentally, one thing the last nine months of isolation have taught me is how very good I am with my own company, although even I can have a little too much of it.  That’s one good thing that has come out of this episode in my life – I cannot imagine having the level of contact with other people I used to, I don’t think I could tolerate that much interaction with other people anymore, confusing and unsettling as even the best of people can be;  I’ve learned peace in my own company,  which I guess makes me more self-sufficient than I was.

But deprived so brutally of work, routine, other people, my health and plans for the future, and my usual drugs of choice – well, there wasn’t anything left to connect to other than food, was there?

PS.  my most recent scans have revealed that I have a lipoma, a benign tumour,  in my shoulder mere inches away from my jaw joint, and it is that which has been causing my medical problems.  Hopefully it will soon be surgically removed and my jaw and nerve can heal.

Declaration of Hostilities

So last night descended into another binge (sorry, Julie Ramage but I didn’t see your very helpful advice until after the event, so didn’t document it).  It was pretty nasty.

Nonetheless, I got on the scales this morning and discovered I am now 3lbs heavier than when I began trying to lose weight.

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The weird thing is, I wasn’t angry with myself.  I felt sorry for myself, like a friend stood next to myself wanting to give comfort.

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I think that’s really positive.

It was though a real lightbulb moment. It made me really take seriously how much trouble I’m in.

I think I have two problems – sugar addiction and binge eating disorder.  I think they’ve happened through a complex blend of physical and psychological factors – physically, I think my gut is over-run with sugar-loving microbes (see my post Guts, Ice Cream & Love) and the only possible response to that is

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I’m gonna torch the little b*stards.  We’re talking a scorched earth policy here.  I refuse to feed them their candy anymore and if they start complaining, the bear gets busy until every last little one is a charred cinder.  One day, when all this is long behind me and it’s safe, I’ll let 85% dark chocolate and fruit back into my life.  But that’s it.  No more sugar, ever.

As to the psychological, writing my post yesterday Poisons & Plan B really brought home to me, in a real face-palm moment, that the seeds of my binge eating were sown in my childhood.  Sometimes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and categorically refusing to let a child have the edible jewels that other children routinely enjoy makes them glitter all the more brilliantly.

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As Middle Aged Warrior pointed out to me, society really skews our relationship with food, endowing it with qualities of celebration, love and approval.  From childhood, we are rewarded with food.

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As to the binge eating, I replied to a comment by Julie Ramage yesterday and it really made me think – she asked how I felt when I was bingeing.  I replied that, amongst other things, it was great to be feeding unfettered whatever it was inside me that was so hungry.

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And that’s a question I really need to answer.  What is it inside me that is so hungry?

I think also that once again, I was taken in by the flirtatious winking of a celebrity diet.  Every modern woman is surrounded and serenaded by the host of celebrity diets that prop up this billion dollar industry, and which flaunt their charms to us to seduce us;  like sirens luring us close with their soft song, secretly smiling when we break ourselves on their rocks, because that means their billion dollar industry still stands safe, because we’ll need it to fix us even more badly now.

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I had given alot of thought to my dietary life, behaviours and experiences, and put together a plan that covered as wide a range of foods as possible – because I knew I had a propensity to binge, which had lain dormant for a decade but which I sensed was reawakening.  I reckoned that if I fed myself a very wide range of foods the sense of deprivation wouldn’t be sufficient to properly awaken the Bingemonster, and he might decide to just roll over and go back to sleep.   However, I found myself distracted by the shiny promise of surefire weight loss (see my post Elle Macpherson made me do it, Miss) rather than trusting in my own wisdom about my own body.  I sleepwalked into the worst thing for a binger – a diet that discourages a whole family of foods (pretty much all animal products).  Exactly what I had been intending to avoid.  So I’m abandoning my Alkaline Experiment, and going back to the diet I’d worked out for myself:  Defatting: The Principles (and why your body will always win in the end).

How prescient of me that bracketed subtitle was.

I’m going to arm myself with as many psychological weapons as I can while I’m unravelling the strands of my sugar addiction & disordered eating.  The first new addition to my arsenal will be watching the TED talk Julie Ramage very helpfully recommended to me, Judson Brewer’s  A Simple Way to Break a Bad Habit  because that might just be the Kalashnikov I’ve needed.

Lock ‘n’ load, Ladies, lock ‘n’ load.

 

 

Poisons & Plan B

I’ve long noticed that everybody has their poison, their thing that will kill them if they don’t keep it in check – be it alcohol, nicotine, drugs or food.  I’ve never known anyone who doesn’t – except, curiously, my father.  He gave up smoking 40 a day the first time of trying, cold turkey.  I’ve rarely seen him drink, the idea of him on drugs is like Donald Trump doing Modern Dance and he was an astonishingly healthy eater way before there was such a thing.

I was born in 1964 and throughout my childhood we were not allowed fizzy drinks, chips, white bread or sugar.  WTF?  I grew up in the UK into the 1970s.  Those things were the national diet!  Believe me, I felt it keenly.  Occasionally when he was absent, my mother would bring a sliced white loaf home and we five children would each squirrel away a few slices.  I used to hide mine under my pillow and steal mouthfuls of bliss over the next couple of days.  The only exception to the no-junk rule were birthdays, Easter and Christmas;   and I looked forward far more to the opening of the solitary tin of Quality Street than to my present.  To this day, Christmas to me is a tin of Quality Street.

It might or might not be that being forbidden these foods is the reason why all his children have become overeaters;  except for me, who didn’t struggle with my weight – until now that is.

It is almost certainly the reason that I have never had a filling;  but I don’t think the consolation of never having had a filling is sufficient prize to make up for a childhood devoid of  pleasure.

My Dad would always keep a packet of digestive biscuits in the cupboard and we knew never, ever to touch them.  For his birthday, we were allowed to buy him a bar of dark chocolate, which it would take him a fortnight or so to consume in disinterested squares.

A few years ago I commented in passing that he didn’t have a sweet tooth.  He erupted, not with anger but with feeling.  He had a terrible sweet tooth.  That’s why he never touched sugar, except to allow himself 2 digestive biscuits every day;   and what’s more, he savoured every square of that delicious dark chocolate to make it last as long as possible.  He didn’t start with the sugar because he knew if he did, he’d never stop.

So it turns out that even my father has his poison.

My mother was a huge overeater, and consequently obese, though not morbidly.  She was on a permanent diet but never lost a pound.  She would deprive herself and then binge.  Sound familiar?  She was addicted particularly to sugar, and consistent with her genetic inheritance (her family is riddled with Type 2 Diabetes) she developed the T2D that killed her at the age of 64.  She didn’t really drink and she never smoked a cigarette in her life.  Her poison was food.

My eldest brother was killed by his alcoholism.  He was quite ludicrously beloved by the Gods, 6.2″ tall with blue-grey eyes and sunkissed blonde hair.  He fufilled his ambition of being a navy pilot (he flew jets off aircraft carriers) by coming top of his intake at training college in 3 out of 4 areas, and so at his passing out was invited to sit at the top table with Princess Anne.  He was married to a beautiful solicitor.  And then he began drinking.  Fifteen years later he died alone, single, unemployed in a council flat and it was a few weeks before anyone realised.  Alcohol was his poison.

It broke my heart in a way that it will never unbreak, and I have been teetotal ever since.  If I’m being honest though, I was never a big drinker and it was no particular hardship to walk away from alcohol.  That was not my poison.

Despite being a student in Manchester from 1984 – 1987 (UK readers will remember that as Madchester, which makes what I’m about to say all the more astonishing) I never touched drugs.  I had absolutely no interest in them, not then, not now, not never.  I moved in the same circles as people whose names you’d know and drugs were all around me.  I was offered them continually and continually refused them.  I just didn’t want to know.   Drugs were simply not my poison either.

And yet from a very young age, I fell in love with nicotine and – except for when I was pregnant – smoked heavily and continuously.  I’ll be honest.  I loved smoking.  I loved every mouthful of every cigarette.  Never was a cigarette smoked unloved.  I loved the ritual, the taste, the sensation, the action.  But, recognising that I’d had a good run with my beloved tobacco but it couldn’t last for ever, I gave up cigarettes for an ecigarette 3 years ago with minimal discomfort and actually came to prefer it.  It was, it turned out, not the delivery vehicle that was important to me;  I didn’t care how I got my nicotine, so long as I got it.  Nicotine was my poison.

However, when I injured my jaw joint and trigeminal nerve last year, taking in nicotine caused the nerve to jolt and send my scalp and facial muscles into spasm;  which was both painful and frightening.  It was as if someone had applied a very powerful hoover to my head and was trying to suck my face off.  Under the circumstances, giving up nicotine was not so hard.

I am now realising though that while nicotine was my poison of choice, I always had a back up plan, a Plan B.  Another available poison.  Another way to kill myself.

Food.

 

Putting Myself Into Special Measures

In the UK, when a school is found to be continuously failing, it is put into Special Measures.

I am putting myself into Special Measures.  I simply don’t know what to do anymore.  I’ve woken feeling sick and self-loathing from yet another binge.  I don’t know why I am bingeing so badly, so continuously.  There are many factors in my life right now I could attribute it to, but I think it’s something deeper.

Anyway, I have drawn up a 2 week meal plan and my Special Measures dictate that I will eat what is on the plan and nothing else.  I must not – yes, must not – deviate from it.  Clearly, there is nothing with sugar or wheat on it, just healthy meals I love.  The plan is that not having to think about food, because it’s all laid out for me, will allow me to stop obsessing about food and get on with my life;  and that when the urge to binge or eat those trigger foods comes, I’ll say to myself

untitled-1_0 ‘You cannot eat it because it’s not on the plan’.

Of course, I’m sure I will often rebel against myself, but I intend to suppress rebellion with draconian measures if need be.  I do not want to have to turn myself into an Academy (little joke only UK readers will get there).

But joking aside, this really can’t go on.  I cannot go on feeling this sick, this defeated, this hopeless, this trapped, this horrible.

I’ll post every day as to how I’m getting on, and frankly I’ll welcome all the support I can get.

Guts, Ice Cream & Love

Guts are, I’ve noticed, the upcoming Heroes of weight loss.  The theory is that your microbiome (the mixture of bacteria in your intestines) can massively affect your physical and even your mental health;  and also prevent or encourage weight loss.  Essentially in the field of your intestines (think of yourself as a farmer and your beneficial bacteria to be your crops, and your disruptive bacteria to be your weeds), you want to be cultivating beneficial bacteria and eliminating disruptive bacteria.

Apparently, amongst other things, your intestinal bacteria will even affect how many calories you take from certain foods.  If you have unwittingly cultivated sugar-loving bacteria, they will hassle you to feed them sugar, draw – as they are designed to do – maximum calories from it and so flourish. They will then scream ever more loudly for sugar, you will be ever more inclined to give it to them, they will grow ever more powerful and take over ever more of your intestinal wall.  It’s a bit like a superhero movie with you as the Batfarmer trying to defeat the Sugarjoker.

Think about that.  So two people eat a doughnut and one person takes 450 calories from it and the other 350 calories.  How unfair is that?

Anyway, there’s alot more to be learned and understood about guts and how they affect us, so as an intrepid nutritional explorer I’ve been reading Eve Kalinik’s ‘Be Good To Your Gut’, which is mercifully free of Gloopish silliness and full of good sense.

She sets out a Weed, Seed and Feed programme – the Weed phase eliminates the disruptive bacteria and gives your gut a well-earned rest;  the Seed phase feeds your intestines with the kinds of bacteria you want in there and the Feed phase provides them with what they need to flourish to triumph over the disruptive bacteria.

So I’m adding her wisdom to my alkaline, low glycemic, time-restricted eating diet.  I’m also adding ice cream.

Now here’s a thing.  I don’t particularly like ice cream.  There have been times in my life it has been a pleasant garnish to a warm apple pie, but it really isn’t something that calls to me.  I can’t remember the last time I ate it and I have never bought any for myself.  However, I recently watched on Channel 4 an episode of How To Lose Weight Well in which a woman pleasurably lost almost 3 stone on the Ice Cream Diet.  The idea of the Ice Cream Diet is that a daily scoop of ice cream is a compulsory part of your 1500 calories per day.  This will apparently help banish cravings and feelings of deprivation, enabling you to stick to it for the long haul.

Because binge eating is something I struggle with I thought, what if I used that technique to break the deprivation-binge-deprivation cycle I’m stuck in?  So I’ve started adding a small compulsory treat to my daily diet and, actually, I think it is helping keep the Bingemonster at bay.

Or it could be that writing my post on here The Hell of Binge Eating made a difference. Maybe writing about my shame and sense of defeat so nakedly drew the venom from the Bingemonster’s fangs.

But whichever it is, I’m feeling all warm ‘n’ slushy so I just wanted to say – thank you everybody!

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First Week, Flu & Bingeing

So my first week is done and despite my catastrophic plunge off the wagon I’ve lost 2lbs.  That’s not great for a first week, when there’s the water and post-binge weight to be lost, but it’s still better than nothing.

I’m not feeling very articulate as I seem to have come down with flu, or some other lurgy that means I’ve spent the last few days bedridden and bingeing on fruit smoothies.

That’s my New Year’s Resolution.  If you’re gonna binge, binge healthy.

Defatting: The Principles (and why your body will always win in the end)

So, Defatting: this is the diet I’ve worked out for myself – and yes, I am calling it a diet.  I find the current fad for insisting ‘it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle change!’ somewhat disingenous.  The lifestyle change they’re talking about is changing your nutrition and exercise to lose weight.  Isn’t that just a diet?  Spades and spades, please honey.

Over the years, I have tried pretty much every diet, sorry ‘lifestyle change’, going and for family reasons I’ve done a great deal of research into nutrition, human biology and exercise;  so I’ve sat and thought, and explored and distilled everything I have read and learned and experienced into one nutritional programme – this diet is intended to induce fat loss and exchange a healthy amount of it for muscle.  The look and feel I’m aiming for with my body is long,  lean and lithe.  I want to love my body again.

I’m not going to try to justify here any choice I make with science, because science is doing its best but doesn’t yet know everything;  and for every ‘expert’ using science to prove it’s day another will be using it to prove that it’s night.  I am far from anti-science (my eldest is in fact a Scientist and through his eyes I’ve come to see the world in new and dazzling ways):  but I am anti-people-twisting-science-to-their-own-ends.  I make no claims to be a medical or nutritional expert, just an informed layperson wanting to take back my own errant body.

So.  The Principles of Defatting.  It goes like this –

On Day 1, I eat a starch-based diet – we’re talking buckwheat, pulses, fruit and both starchy and non-starchy vegetables, with some protein.  This is the day I’ll fit in a low-glycemic sugar hit.  I’ll be generous but not stupid with the amount of food I take in, while being a little careful of the Easy Extras it’s too simple to blow a diet with, such as Butter On Everything.  If you need to give it a calorie count, let’s call it 1500 calories.

On Day 2, I eat a high protein, high fat, low carb diet.  I’ll have a bit of fun with fat.  I’ll be melting some butter on those vegetables.  If I was a vegetarian, it’d be a day for tofu rather than pulses.  Carbs will be limited to non-starchy vegetables.  If you need to think calories, let’s think 2000.

On Day 3, I eat as little as it takes to fuel me for the day without my being hungry.  This will mean limited protein, limited fat and alot of vegetables, with a protein-enhanced fruit smoothie.  If you have to give this a calorie count, 1200 should do it.

I’ll be repeating this cycle twice a week – and on the spare day inbetween the two cycles I’ll pick whichever day I most feel like doing.

I’ve worked out these principles because I know elimiination diets are tough and in the end I’ll crack, and will fling myself right off that diet wagon, with catastrophic results – so I’m planning to take in as wide a range of foods as possible, so I’m not missing or craving anything.  I also feel instinctively that’s the best way to keep myself healthy, and now that I’m moving into this stage of my life I think that’s more vital than ever.  If my body is to escape the commonplace vagaries of ageing, it needs all the help it can get!

I am not imposing any Carb Curfews because in my experience it makes no difference whatsoever when I eat what.

I think completely eliminating all forms of sugar is highly desirable and totally unrealistic – see my blog post To sweeten or not to sweeten – so I’m introducing sweetness with 85% dark chocolate (I’m a massive fan of the Co-op’s own), low glycemic fruits like berries and sweet dark cherries (both of which I buy frozen),  the very occasional use of Clark’s Carob Fruit Syrup and Whole Earth’s Sweet Granules With Stevia.  Powdered Carob may also make a very occasional appearance.  Again, see the above post for more information as to why I decided on these particular things.

The Sweet Rule though is this – no sweetness at all on a high fat/high protein day.  This is because, as you probably know by now, sugar stimulates the production of insulin.  Insulin is necessary for fat storage.  Without the presence of insulin, fat cannot be stored.  So on days when you’re stimulating insulin, you don’t want to offer it unlimited calories to drag out of your bloodstream to the nearest fat cell for storage.  I have no scientific study to state that it’s a good idea to keep high levels of insulin away from high levels of calorie, but it makes sense to me and can’t do any harm.

I think those high protein/high fat days are, though, especially important to we menopausal women, because we will now be losing muscle at an increased rate and we do not want to exacerbate that.

I am also very wary of a low calorie diet as a menopausal woman for the same reason – that your calorie-deprived body will feast on your muscle as well as your fat;  and because my hormones are already all out of whack;  and I don’t want to distress my body –  and I believe depriving my body of the energy it needs to function too brutally, too often or for too long will do that.  Remember, we no longer have oestrogen to control our cortisol – see my post on Menopause and how it relates to weight – so we want to keep our bodies calm and happy.

The calorie argument is, I think, pretty much discredited anyway and on its last legs – see my post Calories (Oh bloody hell) for my reasons for saying this – so while I think 2 or 3 lowcal days a week might generate some weight loss, I don’t want it to be my main weight loss strategy.  I know from research and personal experience that a body deprived of sufficient calories for too long will rebel and prevent further weight loss.

I included starch days because they’re great fun – sweetish, stodgyish and comfortably filling.  They’re also great for gut health and the role of the gut in fat gain and loss is increasingly being revealed as pivotal.  If you haven’t read Giuila Enders’s ‘Gut’ yet, I would recommend you do and quick – it’s fascinating and charming at the same time, a rare thing in a science book.

As to exercise –  I personally have never found that exercise enhances my weight loss.  In fact, I’ve found if I overdo it the exact opposite happens – my body refuses to release weight.  There are good reasons for this, which I’ve discussed in How and when to exercise.  So  I will be exercising – as in still walking daily but for no more than an hour;  and doing rhythmic stretching sequences followed by muscle toning with light weights – but this will be for my mental and physical health, not as a calorie-burning strategy.  However, I do want to rebuild and maintain muscle to protect my skeleto-muscular frame, because we are coming into an era in our lives when it can so easily be damaged, leading to chronic conditions and their attendant pain.  When she was only a little older than I am now, my mother had to have both her knees replaced.  Ouch!

As muscle also burns more calories than fat, it may also be that rebuilding muscle speeds my metabolism back up, burning more calories and generally keeping my body humming happily.

So those are all the reasons I put together Defatting in the form I have.  We are omnivores, meant to take in as wide a variety of foods as possible.   My body talks to me when I don’t feed it properly, in the form of cravings and if I don’t listen and comply healthily, it will eventually force me into extreme action and I will binge again.

Frankly, you will never beat your body.  Your body will win every time.  If you’ve ever been strictly Low Carbing and found yourself, suddenly, with a Mars Bar in your hand, you’ll know exactly what I mean.