From Binge to Balance – How I found my equilibrium

For those who know me personally, you may know that I haven’t always had a good relationship with food.

Trigger Warning: Today’s blog post is going to be a personal one that involves disordered eating and mental health struggles like depression and anxiety, and body dysmorphia.

This isn’t a topic I bring up much because I no longer feel like this defines me anymore, but in the past, it consumed my life.

Most of my energy went into figuring out what I could and couldn’t eat, how often I needed to workout, and trying to fit into clothes, rather than purchasing clothes that fit ME.

Living this way was exhausting, to say the least. At a certain point, my body and my mind gave in. My restriction of food and socializing (which usually revolved around eating) led me to binge – and the binge was not limited to just food. 

This is the story of how I went from bingeing on all my favorite things in life to listening to my intuition, my mind, and my body in order to fuel myself appropriately and lovingly. If you’ve ever restricted yourself from something, punished yourself for eating too much, or chose to limit social outings to have better control of your calorie intake, you’ll want to keep reading.

I was always an athletic kid. I ate 3 square meals a day and plenty of snacks to fuel my active lifestyle. I never worried about eating the “right” or “wrong” foods, and ate a pretty balanced diet of fruits, veggies, protein, carbs, and fats. My favorite snack at school was Dunkaroos, even though we didn’t get those too often. As a treat, maybe once a month, my grandparents would take my brother and I to McDonalds so we could get our McRib or chicken nugget happy meal. It was rare, but it’s something that has stuck with me. This is a memory I will always have of my grandmother and grandfather.

These positive memories can easily get overcrowded by the negative when you’re in a poor headspace.

Instead of remembering your school lunches or recesses as nostalgic, you may try to stay away from your favoriteapple and measuring tape childhood treats as a way to avoid overindulging. Looking back at McDonalds may not bring up fond memories of your loving grandparents, but instead, might make you think of the damage you could have done to your body as a child considering McDonalds is not the epitome of health food.

This leads to other problems. And they weren’t so obvious at first.

You may start to label foods “good” and “bad” or perhaps you exercise your “better” judgement and don’t go out with friends because you know you won’t have control over what you eat or drink. Maybe you restrict calories until a certain time and consider it fasting, but then you binge in the evening because you’ve been starving all day. Or perhaps you exercise twice as long the next day to work off all the calories you ate the night before.

Many of us have done this at one point or another. The problem with this is that it can become an unhealthy obsession. When you do something enough times, it becomes a habit. And habits can be healthy… unless they aren’t benefitting your body and mind in the longrun

The peak of my unhealthy habits was throughout my 20s. I was a fit person fresh out of university. I knew I enjoyed working out and living a healthy lifestyle, so I decided to become a personal trainer. Little did I know, this would exacerbate the issues I was already experiencing and my health would begin to decline, both physically and mentally.

Now, on top of my own workouts, which were getting more and more advanced, plus my diet, which was much more restrictive, I was also balancing the workouts and diets of my clients. Because I wasn’t feeding myself properly or recovering enough after workouts, I was constantly burned out, and this was just a year or two into my new career as a trainer!

After years of problematic behaviors, I decided to start addressing my health concerns. This wasn’t an option. Unfortunately, it had gotten to the point where if I didn’t address these issues, I would not only lose the small bit of sanity I had left, but also friends, family, and clients. 

Without going too into too much detail, I’ve had experience on both ends of the spectrum. I’ve restricted food and have overeaten to the point of discomfort. I’ve gone weeks without workouts and have also done two workouts a day over the period of a month. Basically, I was living with a very all-or-nothing mentality in every aspect of my life. Not only was I physically destroying my body, but I noticed these things in my every day interactions with people, as well. Things were black or white to me. There didn’t seem to be an in-between. Once I started to walk the middle path and broadening my window of tolerance, I was able to accept things for what they were rather than try to change them.

How I finally found my equilibrium…

My journey to balance was a long one. It took a total of about 8-10 years. Here are the steps I took, what I found helped, and what didn’t. Take all of this with a grain of salt; it’s fair to say that some of these steps did not work for me because I didn’t apply them at the optimal time in my life or I was not fully present or willing to make change. What worked for me only worked because I put in the work, but bare in mind some other factors were likely present, as well.

What worked for me:

  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): This worked, but it took me about 6 years to realize that this was the type of therapy that would work best for me and my learning curve. This is a form of psychotherapy/talk therapy with greater focus on emotional and social aspects. It is geared toward those who deal with extreme or unstable emotions and harmful behaviors. It is an evidence-based approach to help those who have trouble regulating their emotions. It is based on Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), but focuses more on validating your experiences, acceptance, and relationships. I was able to narrow in on why I was behaving the way I was with practical tips from my therapist, rather than writing down my emotions on a sheet, which I did not find helpful.
  • Accepting my body: Body dysmorphia is a mind-melter. You could look at someone and think their body is #goals, but perhaps they feel the complete opposite about their appearance. Having people tell me they thought I was so athletic and “fit” made me pursue that even more. As a trainer, I felt I always needed to look and act a certain way. In fact, this is what led me to stop training clients in the last few years and pursue a regular 9-5 job. The only thing I wanted to continue teaching was Yoga. I wanted to get out of the gym setting where I frequently heard trainers and clients talk about body appearance rather than strength. It’s the main reason the yoga I teach has a more meditative and strengthening component.
  • Understanding my eating disorder (ED): Usually the word “disorder” scares people off. Don’t let it frighten you. Knowing whether or not you have a healthy or unhealthy relationship with food (or anything for that matter) is the first step. Getting it diagnosed isn’t entirely necessary, but working on the root cause is crucial! I ate (or didn’t eat) to look a certain way and be seen a certain way. For example, I would restrict my food to fit into clothing I bought years ago, but other times, I would binge on snacks to impress my friends. I would then follow up the binge with a 42-km Trail Race. This pattern was hard to break out of. I learned I needed to go “All-in“, gain a bit of weight, and learn how to maintain a HEALTHY bodyweight for my frame. I then relearned healthier eating habits, such as Intuitive Eating, timing my meals around my workouts, and appropriate supplementation for my specific needs (both mental and physical). Learning how to eat healthily without going overboard (in either direction) will be an ongoing, lifelong endeavor.

What didn’t work for me:  

  • Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT): Like I said earlier, CBT didn’t help much. Whether it was the format or my mentality at the time, I was unable to get this form of therapy to improve my situation(s). CBT is effective for a range of problems including depression, anxiety disorders, alcohol and drug use problems, marital problems, eating disorders, and severe mental illness. That being said, it did not work for me. Do not give up on finding a method or therapist that works for you. Perhaps you don’t go to 1-on-1 therapy, but you go to an AA group, instead. I believe finding a like-minded community can be just as effective as finding an effective therapist.
    • Although CBT was not the right choice for me at the time (maybe because I did not have the right therapist), it’s still an amazing tool. CBT helps you with the following, according to the American Psychological Association:
      • Learning to recognize one’s distortions in thinking that are creating problems, and then to reevaluate them in light of reality.
      • Gaining a better understanding of the behavior and motivation of others.
      • Using problem-solving skills to cope with difficult situations.
      • Learning to develop a greater sense of confidence in one’s own abilities.
    • Changing behavioural patterns:
      • Facing one’s fears instead of avoiding them.
      • Using role playing to prepare for potentially problematic interactions with others.
      • Learning to calm one’s mind and relax one’s body.
  • Judgement: Whether I was judging myself or someone else, it always led me to the same place. I was constantly comparing myself to others, thinking I was too far behind and needed to catch up. There are no short-cuts to get to the finish line. You’re on your own journey, so focus on taking it one step at a time, without judgement. 
  • More = Better: I always thought that more training would lead to a stronger me. I would reach for the stars and then some. I didn’t think I could overdo it because I was over-confident. If you want an example, think of the Icarus Myth. I would fluctuate between doing too much and doing too little. This lead me down a 10-year journey of finding my perfect balance. Here’s the best thing I’ve learned: I still don’t have perfect balance! And I’m completely at ease knowing that I may never find it. Some days I’ll train too hard, but I won’t binge on snacks as a reward. Some days, I will need rest when I’ve planned a workout, and I will give myself the rest until I’m ready to hit the gym again. There is no point in throwing myself into something and not considering all the other factors that could potentially come up.

This leads me to my conclusion…

This has be a long and difficult journey. My equilibrium is not perfect. Some days the scales will tip in one direction, while other days it will tip in the other direction.

I’ve learned to become more compassionate/forgiving (to myself and those around me), to take things one day at a time (instead of punishing myself for past mistakes – like a binge), and to constantly work on the skills that have worked for me (DBT, acceptance, learning more about myself), even when I’m having a good day.

What worked for me may not work for you. What matters is that you start your journey as soon as possible! Don’t wait any longer to work on the things that have been hindering your success. Whether that be success in the gym or in your relationships, you will be thankful you took the leap and showed yourself self-love. This is the self-care people don’t talk about because it isn’t sexy and flashy. That being said, I could not be prouder of my 10-year journey and where it’s taken me. I’m honored to be able to share this story with you and break the stigma around mental health, eating disorders, and feelings of innadequacy.

What are you doing to help #breakthestigma? If you feel like you haven’t done anything yet, what can you do to get started? It can be as little as reaching out to a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while, sharing something vulnerable with a parent, guardian, or loved one, or even donating to a cause you care about. 

Thanks for giving this a read. It means a lot that you’re here!

Alexia Palmeri

Alexia Palmeri is a 28-year-old personal development enthusiast! She looks at life experiences as an opportunity to always learn and grow. Alexia is also a broadcast journalism graduate with a passion and knack for communications and media. She is always on the lookout for new trends on social media and keeps up to date with what's happening in the world. In her free time, Alexia enjoys socializing with family and loved ones, being in nature, cooking nourishing meals, and discovering new places to dine and adventure!

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