The Hell of Binge Eating

There have been times in my life when I seem to have conquered the demon of Binge Eating.  I’ve eaten normally and moderately for years at a time.  I think I’ve licked it and those dark days are behind me.  And then, quietly at first but with increasing vigour, it reawakes, like the Kraken – and that’s an apt metaphor, because it is a monster.  A raging, furious, insatiable, driven monster.

I’m an intelligent, self-disciplined woman.  I gave up alcohol over a decade ago, and haven’t touched a drop since.  I gave up smoking three years ago and moved to an e-cigarette, which I gave up six months ago.  At the same time I gave up caffeine.  And trust me, no one at the time would have recognised me without a mug  of steaming, darkest black coffee in my hand – and now I don’t even drink decaffeinated tea because of the trace of caffeine in it.  I can exert tremendous willpower when I have to.

I’m aware at the moment that the monster is back and so I’ve put in place various tools and strategies for when he starts his pursuit again, to deflect and then defeat him.  I am prepared.

 

Only the tools and strategies I’m supposed to turn to when the monster wakes don’t so much as not work as fail to exist.  Something happens in my brain and there is simply nothing else but the rage to eat – afterwards I remember my tools and strategies and kick myself for not having turned to them.  But the truth is, the monster has so overwhelmed my brain that I don’t even remember I had any tools or strategies.

And so I go out in the rain and dark to my local Spar, and I come home with a big bag of Milky Buttons and 3 big bags of Maltesers.  The cinema-sized ones.  And I sit and I eat one after the other without pausing.

I don’t feel sick.  I don’t feel full.  What I do feel like is eating more.  I then raid the kitchen and eat anything that will satisfy my urge and I eat it – bread, frozen cherries, cereal, nuts, biscuits.  Then I raid my slightly-concerned 18 year old’s stash for anything resembling sugar or wheat.  Only when everything that fits the bill has been eaten do I stop.  My monster believes in a scorched earth policy.

I don’t sleep well that night because of all the sugar, and the next day I wake and I remember and I groan.  I’ve done it again.  My belly is distended and unhappy.  My whole body feels wretched, toxified, ill.  I’ll have to drag myself around all day, with a stinking food hangover, just waiting for that night when I can get back to bed and sleep it off and feel a bit human again the next day.  That’s all bad – but what’s worse is the self-loathing.  The shame.  That I’ve let myself down – and everyone around me – again.  I am worthless. I am greedy.  I am undisciplined.  I have no self-control.  I wear my shame visibly in the wobble of my thighs.  I know I can’t currently fit into 90% of my wardrobe and I hope I don’t bump into anyone I know outside of immediate family because I don’t want to see their surprised eyebrows when they clock me.  When they see that perenially-slim A has got fat.

That thing in your stomach that says “I’m full now, stop eating’ – I don’t have that.  I have no idea how I can ingest so much in one sitting.  Thousands of calories.  And when I get into that place I can do it every night for a week, a month, three months.

All I can do is try to understand this monster, the better to know how to finally defeat it, once and for all.

Wagons, cliffs, crevices & whips

So I could list any number of reasons why, but the fact remains that yesterday I fell off the diet wagon, tumbled down a cliff and plunged into a deep crevice.  This morning finds me pulling myself back up and out, feeling snowflake-fragile and with a sickening food hangover.  I know that self-loathing is lurking in the shadows just out of sight, and that the instant I turn my back it will pounce and whip me bloody.

Today’s page in my inspirational flipboard (see my post You must be your own best diet buddy) is

‘Stop all and any behaviours that hurt you’

which today I will remind myself means not only refraining from eating and drinking things that will make me feel rubbish, but also refraining from whipping myself bloody with self-loathing.

 

You must never ever go to bed hungry

If you go to bed hungry, you will not sleep properly and if you do not sleep properly, the next day your body will be pumping out cortisol which will store fat.  Further, the exhausted body wants sweet and starchy – and you will be too exhausted to fight it.  You will give in.  You will eat that crap.  And the you will hate yourself.  Again.

Going to bed hungry is an arcane and cruel punishment the bullying parent used to impose on children.

It is certainly not a thing a grown woman should be doing.  If you are hungry at bedtime, have a snack – regardless of whether you have exceeded the calorie or carb restriction you’ve imposed on yourself.

Please.

Carb Curfews

I’ve often seen books that say, for instance, ‘no carbs after 5pm’, and heard many experts espouse similar rules.

I’ve also read a study which says you are most sensitive to carbs in the morning, and so more likely to lay down fat from them eaten then – so it actually makes sense to eat them in the evening when your body can handle them in ways that are less damaging to your fat loss efforts.

I’ve tried eating carbs at all times of day – and find the time I’ve eaten them makes no difference at all to my weight.

If I find that changes during this Defatting experiment, I’ll alert you.

To sweeten or not to sweeten

This is such a huge issue.

Sometimes I think, ‘It’d be easier to give up sugar altogether’, so I resolve to do that.  And I mean it.  And I last a week and I’m proud and I’m going strong and then I’m out shopping and I’ve bought and am eating a block of Dairy Milk.

Recently there’s been a brigade claiming you can cut sugar out of your life without actually giving up sweet things.  What they actually mean is you quit processed white sugar and fructose.

Fructose cannot be processed by the body except by the liver, and what happens to it there is not good.

According to Giuila Enders’s great book ‘Gut’, a third of Germans are fructose intolerant. Did you even know that fructose intolerance was a thing?

Of course, fructose is found naturally in fruit but not many would suggest you quit fruit altogether. Just be aware that the fruits on offer today have been bred to be bigger, juicier and sweeter than our ancestors would have known. Crab apple anybody? Also, fruit is available to us all year round now – and that is a very recent and unnatural development.

So. You’ve quit sugar and replaced it with any number of ‘natural’ sweeteners – Agave, Stevia, Date Syrup, Maple Syrup.  And you’re offered an array of tempting recipes in which to use them and told these treats are healthy.

Agave syrup was the darling of the natural sweetener world for a few years there – until it was realised it was high in fructose.  How embarrassing for all those healthy cookbooks claiming you could use it freely without repercussions.

Hmmmmmmm.

It may be that some sugars are less damaging than others.  Some do contain less fructose  than others.  Some are less processed than others. However, they are all sweeteners and no matter which way you look at it they will not do your body any good.  And if you’re me, once you’ve started on something sweet and sticky it’\s very hard to stop, no matter how natural the sweetener.

There does seem to be an innate human desire for sugar.  If you don’t believe me, just look at this photo, taken 250ft above ground:

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The honey hunters of Nepal may be the most famous (and the most fearless) but you’ll find similar trials being endured to secure sweetness around the world.

Humans love sweet and with good reason.  It’s incredibly calore dense, long lasting, easy to store and will provide an intense burst of energy – and in our hunter-gatherer past that would have made it fantastically useful for, say, catching that deer.

However, our difficulty is that desire for sugar is still there – only in a world where sugar is everywhere, freely available, cheap and you don’t need to scale a 250ft cliff to get it.  Our appetite for it is then no longer kept in check by limited availability, and the more we eat of it, the more we want it.  Sugar in all its forms is as addictive as hell.

I watched my mother being destroyed by Type 2 Diabetes, but no matter how sick it made her, she would still put honey on her toast.  She knew … and yet she couldn’t help herself.  She had never smoked a cigarette in her life – it was sugar that killed her at 64.  Never doubt the addictiveness of sugar.

I read Susie Orbach’s ‘On Eating’ a while back,  and I’m thinking yes, this Intuitive Eating lark sounds great. I just eat whatever I want and in the end I will stop seeing some foods as bad and will stop craving them;  but then I get to the bit where it says, ‘However, if you know a food is a trigger food, avoid it’.  Ah.  I see.  So I can’t actually eat whatever I want whenever I want.

So what’s the answer?

I find I can give up sugar for about a week – and then the craving for it seems to silently and seamlessly take over the controls, and guide my body into obtaining and devouring precisely what it wanted all along.

So I’m thinking there should be a sugar hit built into each 3-day-cycle of my Defatting programme – that way, every few days the craving for sugar is pleasurably satisfied and hopefully kept under control, thus averting the craving sending me out in the driving rain at 10.55pm before the local Spar shuts.

Perhaps a measurable and controllable sugar hit is the answer.

I love the Co-op’s own 85% Dark Chocolate, eaten with almonds.  The mixture of the two just does it for me.  Now obviously, that’s not too dangerous a combination, and gives me my sugar hit regularly in a way that isn’t damaging.

Also, low glycemic fruits like berries and cherries (both of which I’m going to keep in the freezer) can make appearances in smoothies – like my Berry Smoothie (still to be posted) or my Instant Cherry Pie. The only sweetener I will use is Whole Earth, Sweet Granules with Stevia, which will make an appearance in my Protein Chocolate Bark.  It sweetens convincingly without leaving a nasty aftertaste or spiking my blood sugar.  I make no scientific claims for it – you may prefer, and your body may prefer, another or none.

Sweetness really is an inexhaustible topic and it has now exhausted me so I’m going to close this post, but I will make further posts about it when I come across interesting developments that might be useful.