I haven’t written about eating disorders in a while now, like a year. It’s probably because I’m doing pretty well.
On of the tools that is used to combat eating disorders is the Food Log. I have a sample on my Eating Disorder Worksheets page. In my last group meeting, my psychologist asked for our help in figuring out why Food Logs are so hard for us, where us = those aflicted with an eating disorder, to deal with. The psychologist would really like to start a binge eating group, but she doesn’t see it as something that would be successful until she can overcome the resistance to Food Logs. I’m not sure that I what I had t say was helpful. While I am obese and I have, and still do, eat for emotional reasons, I am a failed anorexic. I had bulimia where I would eat as little as possible for as long as possible until I was STARVING, so I’d binge followed by purging. My goal was to be toothpick thin; I didn’t eat because, not being toothpick thin, I had already eaten enough, so no eating was allowed. That disordered thinking is still problematic for me but I now recognise it as disordered thinking.
So I’m not sure that what I had to say was helpful to the psychologist who wants to help binge eaters. Binge eaters binging is more tied to soothing emotions. The ones that I know from group also restrict, so that hunger is also a contributing factor, but their primary trigger is emotional. For bulimics, the primary trigger is hunger where emotional issues are contributing. You probably wonder why I draw this distinction. It matters in that when a bulimic starts eating regularly, binges stop (mostly)*. That isn’t true for a binge eater. Binge eaters may or may not be eating regularly, but they aren’t binging because they are hungry, so removing hunger as a trigger is not as effective.
So what does this have to do with Food Logs? Well, like the reasons for binging are different, the things that get in the way of food logs are different. And if you take a look at my template for a Food Log, you will see that food is not the only thing that can be recorded on them. However, eating regularly is the most important thing in the early stages of treating an eating disorder, so the emphasis is on food.
So what gets in the way of doing the Food Logs for me:
- It’s another chore. Sure, it’s taking care of me, like doing my laundry is taking care of me. Sure, it’s a loving act, like making sure that I have clean clothes to wear when I go out, is a loving act.
- It must be perfect.
- It must perfectly capture all that passed my lips.
- It must be based on the perfect Food Plan (what ever that is).
- It must perfectly follow the perfect Food Plan.
- Privacy – I really don’t want any one to ask, “Hey, what are you doing there?” when I pull out my Food Log at my niece’s wedding.
- Fears – Because I’m fat, people assume that I must be trying to lose weight. Regardless of whether or not I am trying, talking about losing weight is a huge trigger. My experience has been: I’m fat + I’m doing a food log = people assume that I am trying to lose weight. I don’t want to talk about losing weight. I don’t want to judge myself for talking about losing weight and then NOT losing weight.
- Shame – Eating disorders are shame based. Recording my food used to make me stare straight at my behaviours, of which I was ashamed. I was self-shamed to be eating when “I’d already eaten enough”. I was self-shamed that that I hadn’t lost weight. I was self-shamed that the Food Log was inperfect.
That being said, Food Logs are a very valuable tool. For the therapists, eating logs are a road map of the individual disease. They help find the triggers. Is it hunger? Is it an emotional response to something, a weekly phone call to a family member, an abusive person at your job, an uncontrolled situation like an ill child, etc, etc, etc. Is it habit?
I remember that I was doing so well, and then bammo, I binged and purged one weekend. Well, said my therapist, what happened? Were you eating? Yes. Did something happen at work? No. Did something happen at home? No. I was able to answer those questions because I had my Food Logs. Okay, chain analysis time: so when did you start thinking about the binge? I was driving home from work, and I knew that I was going eat whatever-food-it-was (chocolate bars, I think). What else? My husband was going away with the kids and I would be alone, free to eat. I would be able to get the high that I used to get from the binge / purge cycle, and no one would know. The thing is that I didn’t get any sort of high out of it. No anticipatory high, no gorged somnolent high, no purged relieving high. So you would think that I wouldn’t do it again. But I did. The next time he went away.
The therapist thinks that those alone time binge/purge episodes were rooted in habitual behavior and the brain pathways that accompany habitual behavior. That is, alone = binge/purge was as true for me as i the power of 4 + i to the power of 4 = 2. She also thinks that without my food logs, we would not have been able to tease out the triggers. But since we were able to tease out the triggers, I was able to stop the cycle.
It seems so simple to figure out. One little paragraph about obvious behavoirs, but it’s not obvious when you are in the middle of it, and the shame that arises about every aspect of the situation is enormous. That shame keeps you stuck in the eating disorder.
So what helped me do Food Logs? Letting go of perfectionism. I feel so half-assed that I have half filled out Food Logs. Did I mention that I’m trying to stop the harsh self-judgement? Letting go of the details of the Food Log. Telling myself that half filled out logs are better than no logs. Learning the value of the Food Logs. Being more and more able to pay attention to my needs (a topic that requires a lot of posts to explain).
*I decided to put my faith in my therapists. They told me that if I ate 3 meals and 2 snacks (or a reasonable variation there of) that I would stop binging. If I stopped binging, I would stop purging. After about a year of successfully eating regularly, I realized that my binging and purging has stopped. Sure, I had other things going on too, like therapy, and support to stick to the program. So, truly, it’s not that simple. But it’s not that complicated either. Once I stopped the life-threatening behaviors and got my brain back on board, I was able to address (with outside help and continued support) the reasons for the behaviors, and dealing with said reasons, ultimately, if I can work them out, will free me from the eating disorder.