I used to have a tendency to go overboard. An all-or-nothing mindset. I was a perfectionist and an "overachiever". I'd always been into sports, but when I started Karate in 2007, I took it pretty seriously. A few years later, I broke my toe in a fight. I finished the fight, I even kept training very hard on it for the next few weeks until I graded to the next belt. After that, I stopped. I suddenly lost all my confidence in fighting; in myself.
I needed to rest my injury, but after a week or so of doing nothing, decided I needed to do some sort of exercise. So I started doing my own high-intensity interval training. This was a good way for me to train around my injury but, inevitably, I became obsessed with that style of training, instead.
I decided to get in the best shape of my life. I wanted to be fit and strong. I became obsessed with having visible abs. So I trained hard, at high intensity every day, without fail, and I started restricting my intake. I cut out sugar and carbohydrates completely. Actually, I barely ate anything. And my weight plummeted from 55kg to 42kg in a matter of weeks. Without realising it myself at the time, I began to look fairly skeletal, and my eyes were rocking that "malnourished" look:
I stabilised at 42kg for a fair while, but then I started eating more and my weight crept back up. I hated this. I didn't realise what I was doing to myself: I kept restricting in order to punish my starving body for wanting to eat. I wouldn't allow myself to go to restaurants. My social life became non-existent. I had struggled with depression most of my life, and when I moved to a city where I didn't know anybody (to start my Ph.D.), I felt completely isolated and alone; I became depressed again.
At this point I hired a personal trainer to try to become motivated again. I started training for strength in the gym and I gained some muscle. After a few months, my weight had crept back up to around 48kg, but I was still very lean.
The personal trainer I hired believes in the paleo diet which meant - by following his advice - I was continuing to restrict myself specific food groups. Moreover, I was so desperate to get visible abs, I ended up restricting myself to eating only white fish and green leaves. After years of restriction, this final restrictive behaviour lasted about five days before I basically "blew up".
The next thing I knew, I was binge eating. Unstoppable, crazy, bingeing. I had no idea where my "willpower" had disappeared to. I had no idea what was happening to me. I felt insane. How could I be putting all this food in my body when it was what the direct opposite of the goals I'd put in so many hours working for? It was highly illogical. But it continued and, in response, I would try to starve myself. It was a cycle of bingeing and starvation - and I didn't know how to stop.
(For reference, Ancel Keys's Minnesota Starvation Experiment gives pretty overwhelming evidence that bingeing in this way is a normal response to this kind of restriction, but at the time, I assumed it was a flaw in myself, and the associated feelings of guilt and disgust only helped to ingrain the pattern.)
I ended up weighing 63kg in just a couple months. By this point, my training had changed. I had met some powerlifters - massive, 100kg+ guys - at the gym and they took me under their wing. They made me realise that I wasn't "strong". I remember one of them said that "almost anyone can get fit in a few months - but real strength, that takes ten years or more of consistent, hard training". I was impressed by their attitudes, commitment and their strength. I was sold. So I decided to concentrate on the weight on the bar going up, rather than my body weight going down. I made sure - no matter what - that I trained consistently. I'd go to the gym if I had binged, or felt excruciatingly unhappy. I made it the most important thing to me.
Of course, I also noticed my performance in the gym was related to my nutrition so this helped me get on track a little bit, but my entire mentality had changed:
I also sought nutritional help from an online coach. Unfortunately, I was made to measure and weigh every morsel of food that went into my mouth. This was OK on the days I stuck to it, but I still was bingeing several times a week. I now know that I couldn't stick to it because the last thing I needed in my life at that time was another diet, but at the time I really couldn't understand what had happened to my self-control. I realised the online coaching wasn't working. I tried looking for help elsewhere - in person around the area - but nothing, and no one seemed to be helping me. It was Christmas 2011 - after a particularly bad binge - that I decided to turn my life around.
As I explain in more depth in that article, I slowly began to heal emotionally. My disordered eating was getting a lot better by not even dealing with it directly. By learning to be kinder to myself, I was automatically giving myself the nourishment my body needed. However, I was still bingeing at least once a fortnight and finally I found out about AskGeorgie.com.
If you are suffering from problematic eating, please go check out that website. Not only is it full of practical advice, articles and recipes but Georgie and her team (Roland, Brandice and Kara) are just about the loveliest people you could ever get to know. They genuinely care about your wellbeing and they use habit-based learning to slowly change behaviours. Together you analyse what happened on the lead up towards the binge so you can learn why you did it. This testimonial I wrote sums up my feelings:
After suffering from anorexia/orthorexia for a few years, I began a cycle of binge eating and starving. Initially I sought help online from various coaches who asked me to count calories, weigh my food, or set me up with “rules” I couldn’t stick to. I ended up struggling on my own for a while. The problem was I didn’t need another diet - what I really needed was to heal emotionally, form a better relationship with food, and with myself. Enter Brandice. She really took the time to listen to my story and we began looking at the baby steps I could take to move forward. Breaking things down into manageable tasks took away the scariness of the overwhelming “I must stop bingeing” mission. Unlimited emails and bi-weekly Skype calls with Brandice - someone who’s been there herself - meant I never felt alone during this part of my journey. In concentrating on small habits, on the triggers and emotions surrounding a binge, and on loving (and forgiving) myself no matter what, meant I was able to rebuild a healthy, positive relationship with food. I finally feel comfortable (infact, very happy!) in my own skin. Finding peace around food can only come from within, but Georgie and her team will listen, guide, and - above all - really care about you on your journey. I have found their support invaluable.
Seeking help from AskGeorgie was the final nail in the coffin for my problematic eating and personally, I've never been happier, or stronger.