Currently I’m doing lots of different things to help me try to manage my emotions. To help combat bad thoughts, painful emotions, and to help reduce destructive behaviour.
Most of these things are things that I’m doing of my own initiative. Mostly things I’m figuring out myself. I’m taking the approach that I know myself best and using that knowledge to try to figure out what will work best for me.
I’m starting therapy, yes, and it means I’ll have some support to work through stuff – but I know that in itself will bring up a lot of difficult stuff. So I feel like alongside therapy I need to do some work in managing the stuff that it brings up.
Something that I’ve been struggling with more and more lately is binge eating. It’s always been a mild problem at best, but it’s been more and more noticeable lately, and it’s something that I want to change. But I’m aware that it’s about emotions more than it’s about food, and that what needs to primarily change is the bad emotions that lie behind binge eating.
Which is just one of the things that I hope therapy will help with.
Because I’m building up lots of different tools that may help in different situations, I wanted something that might help when I want to binge. So I decided to write a letter to myself. A letter that hopefully I will read when I want to binge. A letter that will hopefully help.
I printed it out, put it in my toolbox, but then figured it might be worth sharing here in case it might help someone.
But firstly, a note… this is not me giving advice to anyone else. I am not an expert in this by any means, and I am only just trying to tackle this myself.
It’s primarily nothing more than a letter to myself. It’s not intended to be advice to any other person.
Only time will tell if it is any help to me. And I’ve no idea if anything in it would be of help to anyone else. But might be worth sharing in any case…
So you want to binge again to make yourself feel better…? I know this has become quite a regular habit lately, but I want you to know that you can take control of this.
And it is only you that can take control.
You can swing it either way. You can let binging control you, or you can control it.
Part of the problem is that you do it without thinking – just do it almost instinctively.
You know it’s bad, but in that moment, you don’t really care. Because you just want to feel better.
But it’s become quite a big problem – literally ::) You’ve put on over half a stone in just a few weeks. So physically quite a problem – but emotionally it causes a lot of problems too.
One thing that I need to remember is that when you binge ‘to make yourself feel better – that’s exactly what you don’t do. You don’t make yourself feel better. You think you do… but ultimately you make yourself feel a lot, lot worse.
Actually, let’s make that clearer, as maybe in a moment of haste you might just skim this letter.
When you binge ‘to make yourself feel better’ you don’t make yourself feel better. You make yourself feel a lot worse, but emotionally and physically.
This has to be the basis of you taking control. If food really did ultimately make you feel better then this wouldn’t be a problem, you could binge all you want. But it’s a destructive behaviour which is making you feel bad in a lot of ways, and this is why it needs to change.
So how does it make you feel bad?
- Weight: Weight wise, yes, it is negative. Earlier this year you had an obese BMI, then you got down to ‘overweight’. I want you to get down to the upper end of a healthy BMI range, or even just slightly overweight. Why? Because of the health risks associated with being quite overweight, but as much as that, about how it makes you feel mentally. The bigger you get, the worse you feel about yourself. When you were taking control of your weight, you were feeling better about yourself – but the past several weeks when you’ve been overeating and binging constantly, as a result you’re been feeling the extreme opposite of feeling better about yourself. Weight for you isn’t about a number. It’s about how you feel about yourself. The bigger you get, the worse you feel. When you can’t fit into your clothes you feel disgusting. It affects your self-esteem and so much more.
- Mentally: Even the weight aspect was mostly about emotional impacts rather than physical impacts… but the weight impact is slightly more long-term. When you actually overeat / binge, what is the impact mentally? You give yourself a hard time about it afterwards. If you binge now, do you need yet another reason to give yourself a hard time? You feel weak, disgusting, guilty and ashamed. And probably more. You started out wanting to binge because you felt bad feelings… all you are doing is giving yourself even more bad feelings on top, and probably without even acknowledging them, and they build up and build up to more bad feelings, and then you need to pig out again. It’s a vicious circle without you even realising it. Stop letting food have that power over your emotions. Take control. You can do this.
But you know it’s not as simple as just reading this letter to yourself and then not binging. It’s not that simple. This letter is designed to ground you.
But if it grounds you, the bad feelings that make you want to binge are still there. That’s the problem. So you don’t just read this letter and say ‘ok, fine, I won’t do it.’ Because the bad feelings are still there.
You’ll need to take care of those bad feelings. As well as possibly finding physical ways to manage those cravings and wanting to overeat.
I’ve some ideas for you, but they’re just that… ideas.
Ideas based on what I know of you. But also ideas on research I’ve done on what lies behind binge eating and what might help. I’m not an expert on this, but I’m the best expert on you, so this is worth a try, right?
Some of these ideas might work. Some not. Some on some occasions and not others. Only you can figure that out over time.
But firstly, I want you to know that while I want you to develop a healthy relationship with food, I don’t want you to become obsessive about it. I don’t believe that you will. For a few months at the start of this year, you did great. It came naturally. That’s what I want for you.
But… what you need to remember most of all – this isn’t about food, it’s about emotions.
So the primary focus isn’t on food, it’s about your emotions and dealing with them.
So you want to binge right now?
- You can say no. Only you can take control. But right now, you can take control. Say out loud if you need to. ‘No. I refuse to binge right now. I refuse to deal with my negative emotions by binging. I deserve better than that. I deserve to treat myself better. I am saying no and I am taking control.” Say that out loud right now. Several times if you need to.
- Just not today: Note, you said that you refuse to binge ‘right now’. The nature of wanting to binge is that it needs to be done right now, but remember that with trying to manage all destructive behaviours / desires, something that you’ve long found helpful is the ‘just not today’ tactic. ‘I’m not saying I won’t ever do it, just not today’. It works for you, so try it now.
- Is it actual hunger? You’re taking control and saying no, but remember you’re not saying no to food, you’re saying no to binging. Food is healthy and necessary. I want you to have a healthy relationship with food. But think – is it that you are actually physically hungry, and it’s showing as wanting to binge. When was the last time you ate? I think you struggle to tell the difference between emotional and physical hunger, so there’s a really good document I found online at the end of this pack. Refer to it if needed. And if you’ve gotten things mixed up, and it is actually physical hunger, then go and eat something. Something at home. Something safe.
- Can you trick your mind a little bit? Yes, this is about emotions, not food. But can you trick your mind a little. Presuming at this point you’ve established this is emotional hunger not physical hunger… can you have something small anyhow… like a piece of fruit or a yoghurt. In the past I think that this has sometimes work. Your mind feels a little satisfied and a little comforted. Maybe try it and see if it works.
- The feelings: I’ve no idea in reality if any of what I’ve suggested so far is going to help, but I hope that it will ground you a little, and may even make you feel better in itself. But it’s not going to be enough. Bad feelings were present to make you want to binge. Most of those bad feelings are still there, so know that those feelings need to be taken care of. How are you going to do that?
- Acknowledge the feelings: Would it be helpful to write down the feelings? Write down what is happening to make you want to binge? I don’t know. Only you in this moment when you are feeling whatever you are feeling can know that. But my thinking is that by binging you are ignoring the negative emotions… but they will still be there. So maybe do the opposite of that. Try writing about them if in this moment you think that will help. Or maybe ring someone – maybe a helpline like the Samaritans. Don’t know what to say? Ring them and say these words ‘I want to binge, and I know there’s bad feelings behind it, so I wanted to talk to someone about that, as a way of managing those feelings’.
- Could it be boredom? Thinking about all of this, I know that almost always it’s likely bad feelings lying behind a proper binge. But could it be boredom? Could it be habit? Could it be just what you’re used to doing? If it’s boredom / habit, what can you do? I think maybe something that really focuses your attention. Reading, housework, puzzles, jigsaw, a dance DVD, anything… I’m thinking though that going out for a walk might be risky, as it’s too easy to then go into the shops for the junk food, although simple solution… if going out for a walk is what you do, then maybe don’t bring money with you. No money with you = inability to buy the food in the first place.
- Replace bad feelings with good feelings: Back to the bad feelings. Acknowledging them, by writing or talking about them might help. But what else? Well, I’m figuring that in order to challenge the bad feelings, it might be helpful to do things that bring good feelings. So, what makes you feel good? At the back of this pack, there’s some pages which ask you to list out things that might make you feel good. Write some out, then try them. Here’s some ideas.
- A bit of pampering – a shower / bath (very dependent on reasons behind bad feelings), body lotion, paint nails etc
- A comedy dvd for some laughs
- some happy dancy music (and maybe even dance around the room)
- write down things that you do like about yourself / that are good about you
- put fresh sheets on the bed
- spray room and linen spray
- cuddle a teddy (again very dependent on reasons behind bad feelings)
- light some scented candles.
- Is there anything in your toolbox that will help?
They’re just some ideas. I’m sure you can think of loads more. What is most likely to work is what feels most right for you in this moment.
So, what now? I don’t know.
Can’t you tell that I’m making all this shit up as I go along? :)
Nah, in reality, I am yet I’m not. I’m saying this based on what I know about you. And given that this is a letter to yourself, and I know myself best, I hope that you found something in it that works.
You can pull up so many pieces of advice from the internet, books etc, or advice from other people… but this is advice to yourself cos you know yourself best.
I hope that as therapy progresses, as you learn and understand more and start to heal, as the bad feelings decrease, as the distress decreases generally, this will be less of an issue.
But in the meantime, I hope that there might have been something in this letter that helps.
I know you also have the ‘dealing with distress’ booklet, and you’re planning to work though that, so hope that you will get new ideas and tactics from that – not just on dealing with the want to binge, but ideas in general on coping.
I have written this letter with the best of intentions. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t it doesn’t. But… if you read it when you have that desire to binge, and you realise something in it that really doesn’t help, or realise something that would work better if it was changed… then change it… You have the electronic copy, change it and re-print it… make it what works for you.
Oh and here’s another idea, time permitting… if you wanted to binge, have read this letter, and found something helpful in it, and managed not to binge:
- Highlight what it was that helped you. It’ll make it easier to spot next time.
- Again, time permitting, write about how you feel now that you have not binged. Do you still feel bad? Do you feel better? I’m hoping that you will feel a little better for resisting, and that whatever you write about how you feel now will be something that could help ground you in future.
Finally… find a reward for yourself tomorrow. A non-food reward.
Ideally this is a reward for resisting binging. But either way, if you read this, if you engaged in some of the stuff you thought might help – even if you did binge in the end, you still tried not to, and you did your best… so you deserve a reward.
Not food, and doesn’t have to be something that costs money. Even just taking some time to do something nice for yourself. Believe that you are worth it.
You’re doing great!