Chevese Turner is the founder of the Binge Eating Disorder Association. As someone who has recovered from binge eating disorder (BED), she has a very personal connection to the organization. For Turner, her binge eating episodes began before she started elementary school.
She remembers living in constant distress, worried that someone would stumble upon her secret eating, that she wouldn’t be accepted because of her size, and that these feelings would stop her from living a full and happy life.
Does this sound familiar to you? Are you hiding episodes of binge eating? Are you scared for your loved ones to find out but terrified of not being able to stop if they don’t? If so, you’re not alone. Close to 3 million Americans have BED. It’s the most common eating disorder today.
But more important than any statistic is the fact that recovery from binge eating is possible. Here are tips from three women who’ve been there and found a way out for themselves. You can, too.
1. It’s not about food.
Though food takes center stage in the act of binge eating, the disordered eating practice isn’t about food at its core. BED has very little to do with food, weight, and willpower, says Ellen Shuman, an emotional and binge eating recovery coach and founder of A Weigh Out life coaching programs.
Shuman, who now coaches others to overcome their unhealthy food habits, has a personal history with these same battles herself. Despite successes in many other parts of her life, she couldn’t seem to get a handle on how she saw food for years.
It wasn’t until she realized that she had a behavior addiction and not a food addiction that she was able to overcome that war within her.
“I realized I was turning to food whenever I was anxious, bored, angry, lonely, or wanted to procrastinate,” she says. “But this really wasn’t about food. I had a behavior addiction, and I needed to learn healthier ways to tolerate uncomfortable feelings and to feel comfortable in my own skin, so I could finally stop overusing food.”
2. It’s not about weight.
Just as binging isn’t about food, it’s not about weight or weight loss.
“Like most people with BED, I was constantly in search of the magic diet that would end my weight and body image concerns,” says Turner, who has been in recovery for the past decade.
She finally realized that the key to recovery would never be about weight. Working with trained eating disorders specialists helped her get there.
It’s about healing how you see food and your body. Instead of weight, seek wellness. Instead of thinking about being thin, think about accepting your body at any size.
3. Walk away from diets.
It’s time to retire those dieting ways. This may seem scary, but dieting is likely doing you more harm than good anyway. It could set you up to binge.
“I now know that restricting, or dieting, helped set me up to binge and feel bad about myself,” Turner says. “It caused me to become more obsessed with food and my body size.”
Vania Phitidis, a United Kingdom-based registered Intuitive Eating Counselor and certified Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Training teacher, mirrors those sentiments. Phitidis experienced various disordered eating habits throughout her childhood, including bulimia when she was a teenager. At a transformative life-coaching program she attended at the age of 25, Phitidis learned about various factors that played into her unhealthy relationship with food. Since then, she has used her experience to help others.
Phitidis’ approach considers the mind and spirit in addition to the body. One thing it doesn’t include at all is dieting. “Though my behaviors around food changed over time, it was only when I cottoned onto the fact that diets can actually cause weight gain and food obsession, that things really started to change for me,” says her website.
Her top tip about getting the right relationship with food is to “stop dieting and stop restricting.”
4. Find out what’s behind your binging.
Though food isn’t the core reason you’re binging, there’s a reason. That’s what you need to focus your recovery on figuring out. What problem did those habits solve at the time?
For Turner, the binge itself helped her escape from her feelings. “Over time, it became my go-to for just about everything, even if it was just boredom,” she says.
Once you know what you are fixing with overeating, you can then focus on new ways to solve that problem.
Instead of focusing on food and weight, Shuman helps others to develop healthier skills and tools for improved emotional, physical, nutritional, and spiritual health. “With this new focus on health and well-being, we’re seeing people stop the need for emotional and binge eating and begin to create the life they want,” she says.
5. Find the right support.
Sometimes, medical or health professionals who aren’t experienced with binge eating can give less than helpful advice. Finding an expert who understands how to treat BED can be difficult, but it’s worth the effort. “There were many health care providers and therapists who led me down the wrong road, toward weight loss,” Turner says.
Shuman experienced the same thing. “I dieted and went to therapists,” she says. “I got the usual cookie-cutter advice like, ‘Instead of eating the box of cookies, why not take a walk around the block?’ or, ‘Why not relax in a bubble bath because you’re stress eating?’ I felt like no one understood. Why would I jump into a hot bubble bath and stew in the very feelings I couldn’t tolerate?”
To avoid these same frustrations, turn to a trained eating disorder specialist. To start, look at the Eating Disorder Information and Referral Center for some options local to you.
6. Show some self-love.
Recovery isn’t a switch you turn on one day and then walk away from. It’s a day-to-day process that sometimes can feel minute-to-minute. Beating yourself up about a setback won’t get you to success any faster.
“Be compassionate and kind to yourself and realize that recovery will only come with missteps and setbacks,” Turner says. “Don’t go back to hiding in shame.”
7. Open up to others.
Once you’re on the road to recovery, you may find that telling your story to others can help you as much as it might help other people.
“Take what you’ve learned about yourself and binge eating disorder and be there for other people who are struggling,” Turner says. “The more we talk about it, the more people are going to come out looking for help.”
8. Learn to live in the gray.
There’s no one way to get to a healthier relationship with food. There’s also no reason you can’t start loving your life today, no matter where you are in recovery.
Instead of living life on the sidelines, don’t wait for your perfect weight to enable you to accomplish goals or learn new things.
“Recovery often requires getting in touch with the life we really want to live, now and in the near future,” Shuman says. “Many people, me included, feel we put our lives on hold while the binge eating disorder ran the show. So, in recovery, we get to start dreaming, again. It can be a little scary at first, but then it’s great fun!”
9. It’s worth it.
Recovery certainly isn’t without its stumbles, but the relief it brings is worth all the trials it takes to get there.
“It was like I was carrying this tremendous load that was weighing me down, and now I feel free from that weight,” says Turner, who encourages anyone fighting this same battle to never give up.
“I am still a person of size, but I am at peace with myself,” she says. “My life is filled with connections to people and things that I care about and want to focus on. I no longer hide alone with food as my companion. I get out there and enjoy my life.”