Binge Eating or Starving: Why an eating schedule helps
An eating schedule, a regular and reliable timing for providing yourself with life sustaining nourishment is essential for all living beings. For eating disorder recovery to begin and last, the first challenge is to accept yourself as a human being. That may sound obvious and absurd to even mention. But, if you binge eat you must eat. If you starve you must eat. If you purge you must eat. If you want recovery you have to eat.
In the early stages of eating disorder treatment people resist having an eating schedule. They feel they are losing control. They are dismayed by the fact that the human body must be nourished to live and be healthy.
I remember one woman in my office who jumped up and down in a rage, screaming, "I don't want to be human."
She had a tantrum because she could not change her species. Of course, even if she could, she would still have to eat. All species on the planet require nourishment to live. Her frustration at the unalterable fact of her being a living organism is an example of just how far thought distortion can go when the brain is starving.When a person binge eats or starves or alternates between the two her metabolism is thrown off. Her brain doesn't function well. What she believes is her thinking is really her inner tantrum. She is governed by anxiety and uses food to bury that anxiety by bingeing or starving or by fleeing through controlling someone or something or anything else.
Her body can't balance itself. The body needs the mind of the person to create a regular, reliable and trustworthy system of care. The physical, emotional and mental turbulence needs to ease. To do the recovery work she needs more stability. First she needs a reliable eating schedule so her body will be reassured that necessary nourishment will come on a regular basis.
So, in the beginning, when emotions rule the mind and the mind believes the distortions it creates, the task is about eating properly. She will resist this because she's frightened. She may continue to resist this unwanted information until her bingeing and starving creates a dangerous situation in her life that frightenes or shames her more than her eating and starving behaviors.
Reality of Needing Nourishment through an eating schedule can be shocking newsBottom line: We all need fuel throughout the day. We need nourishment at least every four hours. Feeding ourselves on a regular basis allows our bodies to develop a trust and confidence that it is and will be cared for. Our metabolism remains in balance. We have no need to experience a mindless and primitive rush to binge eat or starve. An eating schedule will give us that.
When I say this to my patients they are often shocked.
If you have an eating disorder (and even if you don't) you may believe that you are giving yourself freedom and wiggle room if you skip meals. You think it's great if you are not hungry or if you forget to eat. If you don't eat for hours (or days) you believe you will be okay because you can binge later.Understanding the danger of this kind of thinking is difficult because the brain isn't getting nourished. Often people do not recognize this dangerous thinking until they are honoring an eating schedule and are well into recovery. Then they see that starving or binge eating affected their brain cells. And this causes thinking and perception distortions.
Bizarre rationalizations continue because the starving brain doesn't have the ability to modulate the mind so the person can think clearly and realistically.
Examples of Bizarre thinking of a malnourished brain1. I'm not human. I don't need to follow any rules that humans follow to care for my body.
2. I'll starve, cough up blood, pass out and be okay because this is my normal way of living.
3. This man loves me because he calls me and has sex with me. I don't need to tell him the truth about my life.
4. I owe this man loyalty and kindness because he didn't mean to rape me. He's nice on the phone days later when he wants me to come back.
5. It's fine for me to spend other people's money because I'm special. It's their privilege to support me.
6. No rules exist that apply to me. I'll pretend to follow them as long as it suits me.
7. Other people who question my decisions are weird or stupid.
8. Nothing is really more important than thinking about food and getting what I want when I want it.
9. I can binge eat before I go out to dinner with others so I can pretend to eat normally.
10. I'd rather kill myself than give up my binge eating and starving.
Realty testing is near impossible for a person in this state. She can't rely on her thinking, but she does. Her anxiety rises. She tries to protect herself from her anxiety by binge eating or starving. And she will plunge into dramatic behavior to feel powerful as an antidote to her fears.
- She'll rush to another place, down the street, across the country, to another continent. She is certain she'll be better there.
- She will rush to a menial job she has exaggerated in her mind. She thinks this job will lead her to the fabulous career she deserves.
- She will spend money on items because she is certain will change her life.
- She'll rush into a casual and manipulative relationship because she is comforted by the praise she receives. She does not recognize the bait on the exploitation hook.
Can wild thinking, agonizing anxiety, and dangerous behavior be curbed by eating three meals a day and two snacks?
Yes. When metabolism is disrupted and the brain is starved wild thinking, agonizing anxiety and dangerous behavior erupts. Binge eating and starving creates mental and emotional chaos. The person can't take control because her mind, with great authority, is racing with rationalizations. Her wild emotions and anxieties fuel illogical and dangerous thought processes. With this mind she then makes decisions put her in serious trouble.
Sorting this out and bringing her to a stable reality begins with thinking of food as medicine or thinking of food fuel to keep your vehicle going. Recovery involves eating well and eating appropriate amounts. To avoid setting off the mental and emotional explosions that put her in danger she needs to find stability. She needs to earn the trust of her body. She needs to eat three meals and day and two snacks. She needs to eat every four hours.
This earned metabolic stability gives her a base from which to do her deep recovery work..
If she is committed to eating every four hours - and holding the food in so it can digest and nourish her body - she will think differently and be open to more opportunities to help herself be well.
Joanna Poppink, MFT, private practice psychotherapist, E-mail for free telephone consultation.
Author: Healing Your Hungry Heart: recovering from your eating disorder
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