Battle of the Binge (Part 2)
Last week I wrote about how I have, at various times in my life, struggled with “food addiction”, better known as binge eating –something that as many as 4 million Americans suffer from (Women’s Health Magazine).
The response I’ve gotten from that post has been overwhelming, inspiring, and empowering. What was intended more as a way to work through my own struggle with food and fitness and to “keep it real” in the process, in turn, inspired several other people to share their stories, struggles, and journeys with me and I so thankful for that.
One email from a blog reader sharing her story with me made me realize there are so many people of all shapes, sizes, and walks of life who have worked to overcome as the reader explains “binge eating and detoxing and hating myself.”
My struggle with binge eating began perhaps as early as I started eating solid foods… I loved to eat and would often eat when I wasn’t hungry, at times even past the point of being stuffed. I remember being at my friend Eboni’s birthday party in 3rd or 4th grade and eating so much cake that I made myself sick and almost called my mom to come and pick me up. I felt embarrassed because of my lack of self-control. I felt powerless. I remember as a kid thinking that I needed to eat more because I was big — that it’s just something that overweight people like me did.
Sheet cake and brownies have always been and probably always will be my kryptonite. For the longest time I found myself vacillating between avoiding them all together and giving into them. “Moderation” (my ultimate goal) seemed to elude me. As a teenager and even now as an adult friends would say, “Oh come on you can have a little bit — it’s OK in moderation!”
Only what if you can’t do moderation?
Eydie, my former fitness coach and now expert contributor to Body Consciousness, put it to me this way in one of our early sessions. As someone who had overcome a battle with unhealthy eating and obesity she would respond to well-intentioned friends pressuring her to enjoy unhealthy foods in moderation by saying, “Would you say that to an alcoholic? Some people have unhealthy relationships with alcohol; I have an unhealthy relationship with food.”
Am I saying that occasional binge eaters are doomed to a life of alcoholism-like addiction unless they adopt a strictly cold-turkey zero tolerance policy for sweets or fatty foods? No.
My old life coach Tom told me a Native American folk story one time when we were meeting in his office many years ago. The story goes:
ONE EVENING, AN ELDERLY
CHEROKEE BRAVE TOLD HIS
GRANDSON ABOUT A BATTLE THAT
GOES ON INSIDE PEOPLE.
HE SAID “MY SON, THE BATTLE IS
BETWEEN TWO ‘WOLVES’ INSIDE US ALL.
ONE IS EVIL. IT IS ANGER,
ENVY, JEALOUSY, SORROW,
REGRET, GREED, ARROGANCE,
SELF-PITY, GUILT, RESENTMENT,
INFERIORITY, LIES, FALSE PRIDE,
SUPERIORITY, AND EGO.
THE OTHER IS GOOD.
IT IS JOY, PEACE LOVE, HOPE SERENITY,
HUMILITY, KINDNESS, BENEVOLENCE,
TRUTH, COMPASSION AND FAITH.”
THE GRANDSON THOUGH ABOUT
IT FOR A MINUTE AND THEN ASKED
“WHICH WOLF WINS?…”
Tom repeated the grandson’s question to me, “So, which one do you think wins?” he smiled. I replied I didn’t know. He read the last line: THE OLD CHEROKEE SIMPLY REPLIED, “THE ONE THAT YOU FEED.”
I try to look at my body and the cells that make it up like those two wolves — fat cells and muscle cells. I’m not trying to kill the “bad wolf” because your body needs fat to survive. But I am mindful of which cells I feed and allow to multiply and I now have the information to understand how my body works — the feeling of powerlessness is gone. (Knowledge is power!)
The fat cells I fed with unhealthy eating and lack of exercise as a child and teen will unfortunately always be in my body. Fat cells do not disappear. As explained in a CNN Health article, “The size of the cells shrinks, but the capacity to expand is always there. Liposuction can remove fat cells, but this procedure is ideally for people who are not obese. […] Despite the extraction of fat cells [during liposuction], the ones remaining can always get bigger or smaller depending on a person’s diet and fitness.”
When I returned home from my binge-week/beach-week the scale said I had gained twelve pounds. No seriously. Twelve. While I chalked a few of those up to “water weight” there were still undoubtedly 8-10 lbs to contend with. I’m 5’1″. That’s a significant gain on a small frame. Besides not being able to comfortably fit in my jeans I felt awful. Sluggish. Lethargic. Bloated. Achy.
How could I go from being comfortable in my loose-fitting size 4 jeans to a bulging beach-week belly that only fit “comfortably” into sweatpants*? After all, I’d been exercising every day I was away on vacation.
The answer is simple — you can’t out-exercise a poor diet.
First, the triple whammy of salt (bloating), alcohol (bloating), and late-night carbs (bloating) had led my stomach to swell as I’m sure it thought to itself “What the hell are you putting in me!?!“. Secondly, those pesky fat cells in my body that I’d been starving and forcing to shrink were delighting in the fact that they were being fed and starting to expand.
Luckily for me, I strength train quite a bit. Somewhere underneath all that bloat there were actually muscles. Muscles require more calories to maintain than fat, which means if I cut the fat and “woke up” my muscles there may just be a light at the end of this binge-eating-beach-week tunnel.
To get myself back on track this past week I didn’t turn to a cleanse that involved some sort of all-liquid diet. I didn’t starve myself. I ate a lot. A lot of greens (kale, collards, spinach) and fresh local produce (summer squash, green beans). I ate veggie burgers on whole wheat buns. I ate lean pan-seared chicken seasoned with my beloved Penzey spices. I ate grilled salmon. I ate a lot of food that I prepared myself with typically fewer than 5 ingredients (typically garlic, olive oil, pepper and other salt-free seasoning). I didn’t eat dairy (because I’m lactose intolerant), chips or other fatty foods, or sugar (both added sugar and fruit which has natural sugar), or alcohol. And the funny thing is I didn’t feel deprived — I felt GREAT.
Beyond getting back to my normal healthy diet I hit the gym. I hit the weights hard for lower and upper body on separate days. I amped up my cardio doing 2-3 days of HIIT. I got in my steps and walked 2 plus miles after heart-pumping cardio and circuit training routines. And I took my ass to bed early or on-time, logging 7 hours of sleep each night.
The result? Ten pounds down in five days and working on the last two*. Chiseled muscle tone returning to arms, legs, and hip flexors. The abs are coming along but they’ll be last — they’re always last for me.
(*Results not typical for all bodies. My body was returning to what it now considers “normal” since I’ve been at a weight of 120-122 lbs for more than a year and strength train on the regular. Once healthy eating and exercise become a part of your normal routine your body will recognize what it wants — to be slimmer and be nourished by good foods — and may respond more quickly.)
So what have I learned from all of this?
1. With surprisingly little effort (and a pan of M&M brownies) my body can gain weight, grow fat, and add inches.
2. With considerable and consistent physical effort and eating right my body can shrink fat, build lean muscle, and lose inches.
Which body type will prevail?
Simple — the one that I feed.