As a follow up to my definitions for primary symptoms post, I would like to share how I personally overcame the primary eating disorder symptoms.
Purging - This was a particularly hard symptom to overcome, I often had urges for hours and found it next to impossible to keep food down. The first thing I did was to identify my patterns and interrupt them. I realized that I always purged after coming home from work – I would come in the door, eat something, panic and purge…every day. I started to wait a few minutes after coming in the house to eat something which lowered my anxiety when eating making it easier not to panic and purge.
I noticed that I wouldn’t shower in the morning so that I could shower at night time – this gave me an excuse to be in the bathroom at night after dinner so that I could purge. I started showering in the morning and not having that excuse to be in the bathroom for a prolonged period of time. Not having that easy-access excuse made it more difficult to purge and easier to keep dinner down.
Sometimes the best thing you can do is to delay symptoms and create extra steps in between you and the symptom. I started using the bathroom with the door open – this is difficult obviously for a number of people but in my house with only my husband who was on the computer in the next room, this was extremely helpful. It’s amazing what an open door can do to prevent you from purging.
When I was home alone, I started locking the bathroom door. The door locks from the inside but you can put a quarter in the knob from the outside to open it again. Having the door locked created a barrier between me and my ability to purge – having to get a quarter to open the door put one more step between me and purging which helped me avoid temptation.
Binging - As I described in my defining primary symptoms post, there are 2 different kinds of binges; objective and subjective. I never suffered from objective binges so I cannot speak to overcoming those, but when it comes to subjective binges I found that questioning reality was the best way to reduce panic.
I used to go through life with food literally screaming out to me. It felt like every fast food restaurant, chocolate bar, bag of chips, loaf of bread and other morsel of food was attacking me and I had to eat something to make it stop. When I ate the hamburger, chocolate bar, bowl of chips or piece of toast I felt better now that the food had stopped screaming at me, but the panic would set in. Reminding myself that the amount of food I had eaten was normal helped to reduce the panic associated with eating. This also helped me redefine my “binges” as meals, snacks and normalized my thought patterns around food.
Something I’ve found incredibly helpful actually was normalized eating. When eating a regular and balanced diet and eating every 3-4 hours I found that the pull food had over me diminished. I went through a Halloween and ate only because I wanted the chocolate, not because I needed it to stop screaming at me. I now have bags of chips, cookies and other treats in the house and they barely make a noise, there is no pull to them and they don’t attack me anymore.
Restricting - I used my meal plan from treatment to guide me through this fog, although honestly, it can be still sort of blurry. My meal plan required me to eat certain amounts of certain types of foods at different times during the day. I am required to eat breakfast (8-9am), lunch (12pm), afternoon snack (3pm), dinner (5-6pm) and evening snack (9pm). I took this guideline and applied it to my normal life. Now, I have breakfast (630-7am), morning snack (930-10am), lunch (12-1230pm), afternoon snack (3-430pm) and dinner (6-7pm). On days when the timing is off because I woke up late, had an evening yoga class or a morning appointment I still make sure to eat every 3-4 hours, sometimes having a snack at 3pm another snack at 6pm and a late dinner around 8-9pm.
At each meal or snack, I ask myself how the dieticians from treatment would view my meal or snack. If they would look at my meal or snack and say that I needed more food or just more variety, I would add new foods. I know what I have to do, and I know that any purposeful deviation from the meal plan means that I am restricting, keeping in mind that it is normal to fluctuate in eating habits and add a little more to meals depending on the social situation. It is also helpful to find someone who has normalized eating patterns and eat the same amount they do, this is especially helpful for restaurants, picnics or other social situations.