It feels incredibly cool to be able to title my post like this.
I don't binge anymore.
For years and years and years, I was all-or-nothing kind of person, and a very serious one. This all-or-nothing or black-and-white trait of my personality started to show especially around the age of 21, when I started my weight loss journey in the Weight Watchers group.
The Perfect Weight Watcher
I realized that I need to lose weight after I had put on about 30 pounds during the first couple of years into college. It happened mostly because of these reasons: I didn't walk that much anymore but drove to all the places instead, I had to study more and had less time to work out, and I was homesick, so I ate tons of chocolate to relieve that. Working at the restaurant in the weekends didn't help either, because I was constantly snacking and tasting whatever was made in the kitchen.
I joined the Weight Watchers and started out awesome. I quickly became the “superstar” of our group.
In every meeting we had our weigh-ins to see how much we had lost during the week. I lost weight every single week, being the only one in our group who was able to do it. Everybody admired me, I got a lot of attention and I was proud of myself. I was the Miss Perfect of our group.
But then I slowly started taking the whole weight loss to extremes. Weight Watchers had a points system, where every food gave you a certain amount of points. I could eat 20 points a day. But because I couldn't measure and calculate the foods that I ate outside of my home, I started skipping social events and avoiding eating out at any cost, because I couldn't control how many “points” I ate.
When I was at home, I would stand right next to my mom when she was cooking meals, to be sure that she doesn't put any cream or fat in the food.
I didn't see much problem about it back then, because getting skinny was my number one priority. But looking back to it, it was far from healthy behavior.
What Do You Want More, Food or Skinny Waistline?
In our weekly gatherings with the support group, I never understood when people said: “I couldn't say no to that cheese plate!” Or “There was a birthday and I had to taste all the great food, and it all ruined my plan!” or “There was no way I could have said no to happy hour with my coworkers!”
I simply didn't get how those people had no self control whatsoever. I, on the other hand, wanted to lose weight so badly that there was even no room for second thoughts. I wanted to ask those people, what matters them more, skinny waistline or a treat?
For me, there was no question about it. Skinny waistline any time!
Does Better Body Make You Happier?
Such a strong will may be very useful in some areas in our lives. But it can also start doing more harm than good to you. My on-or-off, black-or-white mentality grew stronger all the time while I was on that journey of losing weight. Because I had a goal. I had to get skinny.
There are many people that say that we don't need to lose weight in order to be happy or build confidence. They say that once you achieve your dream body, you may realize that this, surprisingly, isn't making you happy. I agree and disagree with that. Our happiness and self worth shouldn't be based on how our body looks. But I don't think anybody can say that looking good doesn't make us feel more comfortable in our own skin and make us more confident.
It sure made me a little more confident. I liked what I saw in the mirror, I liked buying smaller clothes and I liked the compliments.
But it all came with the price and finally lead me to constant dieting and bingeing cycle.
A Good Girl's Diet
I don't remember exactly when my first binge happened. I guess it was probably couple of months into the program. The reason why I failed was simply that: I restricted myself so much that at one point, I couldn't control myself anymore and gave up.
I never really starved myself or refused to eat. But I'd only eat foods that gave me as few “points” as possible. I would make sure to always eat less than my points would allow me, to make my weight loss faster.
My meals consisted mostly of veggies and different grains, like oatmeal, pasta and bread, because I was a runner and figured that I have to eat a lot of carbs to be able to perform. Side note: “perform” meant, back then, running as much as possible, without paying attention to the quality of the runs. My goal wasn't to get faster, my goal was to be skinny.
I would also make sure to run off all I ate, so my body was “clean”. When my daily points were 20, I would eat 17-18 and then run to earn my “bonus” points. After burning off the bonuses, I was often left with around 10 points, or roughly 1000-1200 calories.
Do yourself a favor don't ever try to eat under 1000 calories a day. If you read a new quick fix diet book that suggests to do so, throw that book away. If someone gives you advice like this, run away as fast as you can.
Here's how my diet and exercise looked like:
- Wake up, 7-14 miles run.
- Hitting the scale immediately after the run, not having had any water or breakfast, to see the lowest number possible.
- Breakfast: Oatmeal made with water and drizzled with some honey (that yield to about 300 kcal. Notice that I probably had burnt at least 500 kcal on my run). Coffee with sweetener, no cream, obv.
- For lunch, I would eat some sort of a pasta dish. Usually it was spaghetti in tomato sauce and very rarely, a bit of the lowest fat cheese sprinkled on top.
- For dinner, I would have steamed veggies and a couple of tablespoons of canned tuna or chicken. Sometimes added a slice of bread topped with no fat cream cheese. (I still love fresh homemade dark rye bread that's very common in Estonia. It's irresistible with butter, but I wasn't going to “ruin” my diet with butter!!)
- I never, ever used any oil or cooking fat in my food.
- I never had any unplanned sweets or treats.
When you know even just a little bit about nutrition, you see that there was something extremely wrong in this picture.
Where were the fats? Where was the protein? Where were the calories that would fuel my runs?
But the calories came later… in the form of bingeing.
On the Rollercoaster of Dieting and Bingeing
I was able to be “good” for a week or two, following the same pattern every day. Then I turned “bad”…
After being “good” for a week or two, of the sudden, my willpower would let me down. I would have a piece of candy and then, I would not stop. The trigger was pulled. I figured that because I had one candy, I had failed so bad that I might as well have more. And more and more, until I felt really uncomfortable.
I would go as far as going out in the middle of the night to get more candy. I told myself that it would be just one day, the only day when I could eat what I actually wanted, and took it as a right to binge my face off.
Because the next day, I was going to eat “clean” and within my “points” again. This cheat day was supposed to be the last one.
However, it never ended up being the last. Those times became common, making their appearance every 1-2 weeks. The pattern was always the same: Eating clean for about a week, not touching anything that was “bad” or “not allowed” to me, then break and give up and eat like there was no tomorrow.
Black and white, all or nothing.
Perfectionism Sucks, Moderation Works
I used to have sort of a condescending attitude toward people who were having treats on a regular basis. How could they be so weak? Don't they want to be lean? They were complaining for not having the body they wanted. But how could they ever achieve that if they kept eating chocolate every day?
I, instead, would be eating as few calories as possible and run them all off. Easy as that. I had the key to success. How were those people so weak and not able to do the same?
I thought that they had a problem, but at the end of the day, I was the one who ended up being totally messed up.
I got so stuck in my dieting-bingeing cycle that I couldn't think about anything else but food.
I didn't eat food, I ate weight watcher's points.
I was a walking calculator, knowing the point values of every single food item.
I would freak out if I had to eat out. I didn't know how many points was in the food, so how could I possibly eat it? Instead of focusing on the conversation with the person I was eating with, I was calculating my points…
Can you see how that was not healthy at all?
Today, I know many people who have their treat every single day and are perfectly fit and healthy. I'm one of them. The key is eating in moderation. But back then, I thought that moderation sucks, because the only way to get results would be to be perfect.
Now I know that when it comes to diet, perfectionism sucks and moderation works.
For example, for me, eating in moderation means having three squares of chocolate every night if I want to, instead of depriving myself for five days and eat thousands of calories worth of treats on the sixth.
When I tried to be perfect, I always fell back into the bingeing cycle. I wouldn't eat only my favorite candy or chocolate, but also the foods that I didn't like that much. Simply because it was that day.
How I Eat Now
I'm doing so much better today. I am not trying to be perfect. I'm not avoiding foods. I am simply choosing smarter.
I choose to eat veggies, meat, chicken and fish and reasonable amount of starchy carbohydrates like potatos and rice. I have couple of glasses of wine and some sweets here and there.
I prefer not to have gluten and I choose my dairy carefully. That doesn't mean that I say no to fresh baked bread or sourdough, but I have them maybe once a month. And I love cheese, but I stay away from sugar loaded yoghurts. It's about making compromises.
I don't add sugar in my meals. That doesn't mean that I wouldn't have ice cream, chocolate or a protein bar every now and then.
I don't eat fast food or other processed foods. And that's where I don't have any “that-doesn't-means”. I simply don't like fast food, never have liked.
This kind of diet is not too restrictive to me. I know that I still have the freedom and right to have what I want to, but eating a nourishing diet for most of the time, keeps the weird cravings at bay. I also know that I need to get a good sleep, because I tend to eat worse when I'm tired.
Depriving Doesn't Work
I would never advise anyone who wants to lose fat, restrict their food intake to minimum calories.
I would also never encourage anyone to try out the next hot diet that makes them eat in an extreme way.
Anything that makes us restrict certain foods and reduce the calories to a minimum, will first make us deprive and then binge. Our bodies will miss important nutrients and our minds the enjoyment of eating things that we desire. This will set anyone up for failure.
Some time ago, someone asked my to recommend her a diet that would help her to get rid of ten pounds as quickly as possible. She wanted me to give her exact a plan with what to eat and what not. She was ready to do anything for quick results.
Sure, I could have done it. I'm convinced that she could have lost those pounds in relatively short time following the similar diet that I used to have.
But do I want it? Do I want to see another failure, another messed up mind, another messed up body? Do I want to take responsibility for that?
To explain my approach, I actually tried to tell her why I think another quick fix diet is not a solution to her problem. I suggested that we started with focusing on eating real, home cooked, nutrient dense meals and practicing moderation around treats and sweets. She wouldn't lose the weight as quickly as with another quick fix diet, but the results would be long lasting and she would actually able to stick with this diet.
My suggestion was gently rejected. She wasn't interested.
But I can't do anything I don't believe in.
Any kind of depriving will eventually lead to bingeing. And that's not anything I want to encourage anyone to do.
Should You Have Cheat Days?
I don't believe in “cheat days” or “planning your cheat”. Cheat is a stupid word to begin with.
The word “cheat” refers to dishonesty, fraud, mislead, fool. But in my opinion, a piece of chocolate or donut here and there is a part of a healthy diet. And most importantly, having it when you really want it, while keeping moderation in mind, may save you from falling into this dieting and bingeing cycle later.
Second, I want to eat intuitively. That means that I eat what my body is telling me to eat, which, in most time, is healthy home cooked meals, lots of veggies and good meats. But if I want to eat intuitively, then how can I plan my treats? That's nothing but intuitive. I don't want to live for this one day, driving myself crazy with dreaming about chocolate.
And what if I don't want it when it's the “cheat day” is there? What if I want to have my “cheat” earlier? Then I grind and grind, and when the day is there, you know what happens…
Here is what I'd love you to take away from this piece: DON'T RESTRICT FOOD unless you have a serious reason to do so (allergy or food sensitivity).
Having a square of chocolate, a glass of wine, slice of bread is way better and way healthier than depriving and restricting yourself every day. Depriving leads us to eventually lose control and over eating to the point where we feel literally sick.
I wish I had known all this before. But we all have to learn our lessons.
It hasn't been easy to break free from this cycle. Nia Shanks‘ and Jill Coleman's writings and Nia's podcasts have helped me a ton in finding moderation and learning to eat intuitively. Please check out their resources if you are struggling with similar issues.
There are still days when I eat more than my body actually needs, and it happens mostly with sweets. But it's not even close to what it used to be.
I haven't felt that terrible, stuffed feeling in a long time. I no longer wake up the next day feeling like crap, face covered with pimples (typical reaction to excess sugar), body filled with all the junk and mind with shame and regret.
I can move on with my life without spending the whole day thinking how badly I treated my body the day before. Because I don't treat it that way anymore.
I'm on my way to finding moderation. I'm definitely getting there! And you know what, it feels awesome. I feel strong and I can control myself. I may be 5-6 pounds heavier than in my early twenties, but I'm also ten times happier.