What is the binge/starve cycle eating disorder?
I always thought there were only two eating disorders; anorexia or bulimia. And although I came close to anorexia in my 20s it wasn’t until my official diagnosis of clinical depression at 32 that this eating disorder situation got more serious unbeknownst to me at the time.
It is actually only since I declared myself fully recovered in 2016 of depression that I now recognize how serious my eating disorder was and of course now we have an official label. I don’t recall back in the 00’s (when I was at my worst) the term binge/starve cycle being used but that was exactly my reality. Goes hand in hand with my binge drinking party girl lifestyle that I had adopted but as I was eating more than I was in my 20s, weighed more and I wasn’t purging it never occurred to me I had an eating disorder until now!
Circa 2004 is when my issues escalated on the binge drinking scene and in turn the food challenges. I started working in the finance industry and the rumors are all true regarding the lavish lifestyle of investment bankers and with all my issues I was primed to join the corporate, drinking, party scene. It was a place I could block out my pain, run away from myself, dull the growing panic that I was aging and did not have the picket fence, get attention from men (albeit the wrong kind), attempt to fill the widening void inside me and of course meet a man… The desperate, drunk, single girl is an oh so attractive look!
Free alcohol is provided every Friday sometimes more often in the investment banking world. Expectations are VERY high and the hours are long even for “back office” employees. My Friday night binge drinking escapades would begin at 4pm when the fridge was unlocked with Jane eagerly waiting to set up the free drinks & nibbles to load up prior to heading out on the town. I was usually well oiled before I had even left the office around 6-7pm to find my perch at one of the many bars in the finance district in the heart of Sydney.
But the food binging had started well before the nights activities to prepare myself for the excess alcohol. My Friday breakfast was Turkish bread toasted with extra butter and vegemite, followed by a huge lunch of pasta or pizza with a bottle of coca cola and followed by chocolate. Nibbles were also provided with the free drinks which was usually chips & cheezels (I LOVE cheezels!) so my calorie intake for food alone for a Friday would have easily been close to 5,000!
This would all now be considered a “cheat” meal for me and as I have eliminated sugar & alcohol from my diet when I do indulge I can physically feel the charge of sugar, agitation and adrenalin as my blood sugar level soars. No wonder I had so much stamina to work all week and then party to the wee hours on Fridays!
It was not uncommon for me to drink from 4pm to 1-2am…… another thousand odd liquid calories consumed and then to top it off a detour to McDonalds or Hungry Jacks on the way home.. gotta soak up the alcohol somehow right? And I had skipped dinner was my logic..
I would catch a cab home and often not remember the trip, pass out usually with clothes & make up still on and contact lenses still in. I would wake up a few hours later with my eyes stuck together and throbbing feet (not often head) having worn high heels for up to 15 hours straight.. Would you believe I rarely suffered a hangover?! (although clearly I was shady…) And I would then drag my ass to the gym as punishment for the binge! Jumping up and down like a crazy woman to burn off the calories and the terror I felt that the binge would result in weight gain. My ultimate nightmare. How could I possibly find a man if I put on weight??!!!
Afternoon nap and then it would all start again on Saturday night only this time drinks & nibbles were at home while I was getting ready. No dinner again and no carb load during the day like Fridays so I was drunk before even stepping out of the house. I was lonely, desperate, depressed, miserable and needed the alcohol hit to even find the courage to go out and put on that fake happy, bubbly, sociable persona. But staying home alone was also not an option and even if I did I still would have been drinking.
Saturday nights were generally my “pick up” night (yes I was also a slut!) so if I did happen to score the late night fast food binge was diverted. Giving my body away cheaply was another method I used to try and fill the gaping void in my soul.
Waking up Sunday morning was never a pretty affair! Who is this “boy” in my bed! Think they call this being a cougar..? They were usually more than 10 years younger… After I extract myself from this awkward situation the day was spent trying to get my shit together for the work week ahead. Life admin, zombie in front of the TV, early night.
With Monday comes the crash back to reality and the need to hide my shame of the weekend but more importantly punishment for the calories and self-destructive behavior. The terror that gripped me that I would wake up fat on Monday would see me analyze my body in the mirror weighing myself every Monday. The number would determine the severity of punishment I would inflect on my poor body.
The restrictions commencing Monday would involve limited calories; breakfast was a smoothie with just fruit & ice, lunch was salad with minimal or no protein, no carbs at all and my specialty double group exercise classes a day. Monday was always back to back after work. Tuesday to Thursday were lunchtime with a night time class at least once and more if I could find the energy.
Diet during this period also included limited water, I actually had cordial in my water at home.. I rationalized this with “diet” cordial so less calories… 4-5 cups a day of black tea with milk & 3 sugars… I would often skip dinner but Lean Cuisine was a staple for the evening meal; isn’t this healthy diet food…? Seems funny to me now but how I was I to know? We are not taught nutrition at school??!
I have fluctuated with my night outs over the years. Sometimes Thursday night was a big one in the city and I went through a period of time of going out on Sunday night… generally it would only be 2 nights a week but was always up for more if it was on offer! And there was never a night that I went out and didn't get drunk. It was the only way I could handle being out!
The other destructive habit I had during this period was the strongest over the counter pain killers I could get my hands on (codeine & ibuprofen) These were used on the non-binge nights to sleep. Sleeping was always very difficult for me; when you spend 24/7 trying to run away from the enemy in your head you will take anything to get some relief from the constant hurtful, destructive, depressing stream of thoughts.
This little vice turned into an addiction and actually saw me do damage to my bladder that resulted in an operation. It is also no surprise to me now that I suffered gut issues as these tablets were often taken on an empty stomach. My poor body… Thankfully I have resolved most of these issues now.
This lifestyle seems so foreign me to me today but it is only 6 years ago this was my reality. Even when I started bodybuilding I was still going out on Saturday night only to the wee hours and doing the fast food binge on the way home. I think I took my cheat meal to the extreme… I was terrified my new fitness friends & coaches would find out about my issues and forbade my party friends from posting anything on social media! Containing it to only Saturday night however was a HUGE step forward for me. And eventually it was eliminated altogether.
The really sad thing about eating disorders is although I am fully recovered from all my emotional issues I still have trouble with food when I have do a full “shred” as we bodybuilders call it. All 5 times I have gone down that lean after the comp or photo shoot I battle with food and fall back into anorexic type behavior. Eating disorders and food challenges run very, very deep for us women! It takes three of the professionals supporting me to provide a well-deserved lecture, all with a different angle depending on their expertise, to pull me back out to normal eating.
Eating disorders are epidemic in society and it breaks my heart that there are not more effective treatments. Nor is there education in school around nutrition, nourishment & respect of our bodies. Eating disorders, in my opinion, are no different to depression, anxiety or any other mental health challenge. All these issues start and end in our minds. Change your mind, change your lifestyle and you WILL change your life!
Please, please, PLEASE! reach out for help if any of this resonates with you. I know it feels shameful to be in this situation but if I can pull myself out you can too! And I would LOVE to support you to feel as AWESOME as I now do!
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"The best way to defy the eating disorder is to pick up your fork and NOURISH your body"