Sunday, October 2, 2011

Finding balance, but still having extremes

These days, I'm so incredibly busy that I have little time to write about things which I believe are important to note on this blog. One of the things I hadn't had time to talk about was the recurrence over successive weeks of one evening of binge eating. I've written before that I had stopped binge eating for the most part, and when I did do so, it was nothing like before. However, I developed an almost routine return to compulsive eating over the past month or so. This situation, which has now abated, is important to remark upon because I want people to know that progress is not a straight line, and that this was not the end of the world or the beginning of the end of my ability to manage my relationship with food.

The fact that this occurred at all is no surprise. As I've written before, it is a biological impulse to gorge when stressed. All animals have this desire and it's one of the reasons that people often turn to food in modern life. We deal more with stress that cannot be relieved than ever before. Unlike the past when we could fight or run, we often have little choice but to stand and take it.

In my case, the stress has been brought on by various life changes. My husband has taken on more professional training work so he is around less. In the past, his commitment to these activities set off a rather scary disconnected binge incident, but this time I felt much better prepared to cope with his absence. And, honestly, I have been coping much better with it and feel less emotionally dependent on him than I have been in a very long time. However, all change is hard, and beyond his absence (which is a loss of a strong positive influence), I've been working a lot more and it has upset the schedule I have lived for awhile now. I am "catching up", so to speak, with the adjustments, but sometimes it feels like I'm tied to the back of a car and running as fast as I can as it pulls me along just a little faster than I can manage at my top speed. Occasionally, I fall (compulsive eat) and get dragged along the ground for awhile until I can scramble back up again (return to form the next day).

The "binges" I had were on Thursday evenings, one of the two nights when my husband comes home quite late due to the work he's doing. I would eat up to around 2500 calories, which isn't a monstrous binge, but often what I'd do is eat according to my usual plan and habits to around 1500-1700 calories, then binge a further 800-1000 on things like pretzels, animal crackers, lean ham or chicken, and cheese. I felt like I just couldn't manage feeling hungry at the end of the day on such days, and just gave in and ate and ate to a point of fullness (not simply satiety). The thing is, I knew what I was doing and I did it anyway. This wasn't like the aforementioned incident where I was mentally split from my actions. I knowingly did this as a pressure release valve. It was the equivalent of people cutting themselves and knowing it is destructive but desiring the release enough to do it anyway. I knew it would set me back a day or two in losing weight, but the relief was so emotionally necessary that I did it anyway.

I decided after the second time that I needed to take control of the pattern that was emerging, but it had nothing to do with losing weight or fear that I was going to set off a new pattern of behavior in which I'd habitually overeat on a daily basis. Mainly, I was concerned with using food in this manner and creating a stronger psychological link between stress and eating. The actions weren't really the problem, but the repetition of them and the way in which they would reinforce and condition future compulsive eating patterns was.

To be perfectly honest, there is a bit of success that I took away from all of this, and, no, it was not that I stopped the pattern, though I did do that. The success was that I didn't freak out or think that I was going to gain weight because of this. It is an immense triumph to me that I was able to, for the most part, objectify the experience and treat it as a behavioral condition to be handled rather than lapse into an "oh my God, it's the end of the world" mentality. I knew that if I did it one day a week, I wasn't going to do it again for at least another week. I knew this wasn't going to be everyday, and I was confident that I could eventually get it under control. I also know that flagellating myself for this behavior or panicking would only make it harder to deal with.

The truth is that I'd be shocked if this pattern didn't re-emerge in the future from time to time, and I'm okay with that. It's not because I think compulsive moderate overeating in times of stress is a "good" thing which is to be blithely disregarded, but rather because I know it is a natural thing which many people do. It's not a cause for panic unless it becomes absolutely habitual, excessive, or overly frequent. If overeating is the one and only "solution", then it is a problem. If it is an occasional stress release valve, then it is natural animal behavior.

A big part of "balance" in all things is knowing that excess is as much a part of finding it as minimalism. Sometimes, you're going to do as little as possible and sometimes as much. Most of the time, you are going to stick around a range in the middle. That's what I'm looking for, not hitting some particular mark every single day under every conceivable circumstance. So, one of these days, I'm going to get into a stressful situation again and may find that I'm using food as a release valve. Some people get drunk. Some people get mad and scream at their loved ones who don't deserve such behavior. Some people sleep with strangers. Some people smoke pot. None of these things are "good" things, but if you expect to be "good" all of the time, then you're fooling yourself and setting a standard which most ordinary people cannot live up to. We're none of us paragons, and part of striking a reasonable balance in life is knowing that.


Val said...

(Appreciate your insightful comments on NewMe's blog)
Morbid obesity runs on the paternal side of my family; my own tendency to (easily) gain weight is complicated by my thyroidectomy.
I gained back the 10+ lbs I had laboriously peeled off last year, seemingly in the blink of an eye when I lost my precious little dog in an unexpected tragic accident this summer. Not so much by intensive binging, just steadily overeating for a couple of weeks.

screaming fatgirl said...

Thank you, Val. Morbid obesity also runs on my father's side, though obesity in general runs on both sides.

I think steadily overeating is often the most common way of gaining weight. Binging tends to be more related to emotional issues (which I have) and I think is often brought on by caloric restriction (as it allows you to release a lot of pent up stress from under-eating regularly).

I'm sorry about your dog, and your thyroid situation (which I've read about on your blog).