An Honest Conversation With a Binge Eater

On November 2nd, I received an email from a self-described binge eater who was soon to be married and seeking fat loss advice:

My wedding is in 4.5 months and I have 5kg’s to lose (and I promise you no, it’s not an unrealistic goal I’m clinging to- I went to see a professional nutritionist).

Can I trust the process? Do I need to bite the bullet and do a pre wedding cleanse (let’s call a spade a spade- diet) to lose the weight (and risk triggering binge cycles) or do I just keep at my intuitive eating thing? Will I lose weight fast enough? Eeeeeek!”

As you know, I read and reply to every email I receive. Here was my (edited for length) response:

“I know how exciting of a time this must be for you, but also a stressful time with big changes ahead. Add to that, the desire to lose 10 pounds (5 kg) in the upcoming 4+ months and you have a lot of pressure on you.

Just a few questions, and please don’t be offended by my direct approach, I merely want you to stop and truly think about the motivating factors behind this weight loss for your wedding day.

How will it make you more beautiful?

Will your family respect you more?

Will it make you more successful in your job?

Will your fiancé’ love you more?

If you were alone on a deserted island, would you still have this same goal of losing the 10 pounds? Where is this pressure stemming from?

Listen, there is no right or wrong answer here. We all have our motives for doing what we do. And personally, I’m fine with a little vanity. Feeling good and confident in our bodies is exactly how we should strive to feel, but do you really think abusing your body with extreme dieting is the best way to achieve this goal?

You and your body are a team that have to work together in unison. If you’re forcing it do so something it doesn’t want to do, it will behave like a toddler who isn’t getting its way — it will scream, fight, kick and do anything necessary to protect itself.

Let’s say you only lose 5 pounds (2.5 kg), what happens? Are you a failure? Do your parents love you any less? Do your guests look at you critically and think if, “You know, she would have been such a beautiful bride if she had only lost that remaining 2.5 kg.”

Of course not!

Which leads me to my next point: I understand the stress and pressure you’ve placed on yourself to achieve this goal for your wedding. It’s a big deal. I assume it consumes a lot of your thoughts — perhaps even bordering on obsession. But here’s the thing — by doing some kind of crazy crash diet, the inevitable will happen:

1. your metabolism will suffer, so in the future, fat loss will only become harder

2. you’ll be reinforcing negative habits instead of building a healthier relationship with food

3. you’ll lose your sanity and likely be miserable due to food/exericse obsession and binge eating episodes

4. you’ll rebound after your wedding. Meaning, you’ll get to start this fat loss process all over again because you didn’t learn the necessary skills to create a sustainable diet you can stick with for the long haul.

There are more downfalls, but I think you get the point. I don’t promote quick-fix diets, because they don’t work. Not for the long-term anyway. I’m more interested in helping people lose 10 pounds forever, not just for their wedding day. Personally, I’d rather be 10 pounds overweight and feel happy about my progress in my relationship with food than fighting to lose those last 5 pounds and be miserable. But that’s just me. Ultimately, the choice is yours.”

After 28 days of radio silence, I received this email in response:

I didn’t respond was because even though I knew you were right- I didn’t want to accept the possibility of being 2.5 kgs overweight AND happy on my wedding day. I knew that even though your words resonated with me- I still knew my mind will lead me to do and think and feel otherwise.

So since then I have restricted…lost 2kg’s and of course binged..and gained 3kgs. How predictable am I?? I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I am so stuck.

I tried to have no rules. To allow myself the cookie. To create habits that foster a life long healthy lifestyle. But every other day I find myself so weak minded and without motivation or will power and in that negative self loathing spiral you talk about. I binge. I know better. But still…I do it. With the wedding date creeping closer and closer I am beside myself with panic. I am leaving myself with no other option than to restrict- and to pray that I don’t fall off the wagon- before the wedding day. I stupidly tell myself I’ll deal with it all properly after the wedding.

I KNOW how I sound. To me it sounds so pathetic that I feel I should mention that I actually am a medical doctor…made it through med school and all of the rest with confidence and success and every cliche a med student needs to complete that marathon. And yet I can’t do THIS.?!?!? How is it even possible.

I feel that success and freedom in the binge/restrict world is perhaps just not for me. Do you have ANY advice? Pointers? Baby steps?”

My email response:

“Your story is one I know all too well. We always feel as though we’ll be able to fix it ‘next time’ or that our situation is somehow special or unique to anyone else’s (it’s not — this is just an another excuse to avoid doing the work). And that suddenly all of the unhelpful behaviors that got us into this mess have somehow disappeared overnight as if we’re magically equipped to handle them after a few hours of sleep.

Unfortunately, as you’ve experienced, having the hopes and dreams of transforming your relationship with food is not actually the same thing as developing the necessary skills to do so. Creating a healthier relationship with food is like studying for a big test. You don’t try and memorize the whole book at once. You break it up into pieces and tackle it one piece at a time. In other words, it’s a process. And you have to be prepared and willing to do the work.

If you’re hung up on the end result instead of learning the tools that will make you successful for the long-term, you will fail. Repeatedly, as you have learned.

My advice for you hasn’t changed because the principles are still the same. What needs to be changed is how you think, act, and behave around food. And that is an inside job. It will take as long as it takes. You can’t put a timeline on it.

You’re binge eating because your diet is too restrictive and you feel deprived. Plain and simple. You may have experimented a little with adding some ‘bad’ foods here and there, but it was a half-assed attempt because right now fat loss is more important to you than your mental health. You’re in survival mode, not thrive mode. You haven’t given yourself the freedom and space to learn and grow from these experiences. There has been no patience or self-compassion with yourself with this looming wedding date around the corner.

Body transformations don’t happen from a place of self-loathing. They happen when we operate from a place of self-care. Hating your body is not an effective fat loss strategy. If it were, you’d already be in your dream body by now.

When you turn your self-improvement inward instead of obsessing over the exterior, you will be more open to not only reading my emails, but putting them into action, too. :)”

As you were reading along, which emails did you see yourself in: the bride-to-be or my own? Which perspective could you relate to more? If it was the bride, what’s your plan of action for change? You don’t stumble your way into success — you have to have a plan.

Successful people don’t just wing it. Michael Phelps didn’t fall into the swimming pool and win 28 Olympic medals. He didn’t wait until he felt motivated to practice his swimming — he hired coaches, had a detailed plan for progress, stay committed to his schedule, and made a habit out of improving himself day after day. And through this practice, he became so damn good at mastering his daily process that he’s now the world’s most decorated Olympic athlete. He didn’t just wake up one morning and have all of the answers. He put in the time, energy, and resources to learn how to become a world class athlete.

What are three things you can do this week to bring you one step closer to your goal?

Starting today, not tomorrow.

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