A couple of weeks ago I found myself scootering to a mini mart on a desperate mission. I bought a white chocolate Magnum, a dark chocolate Magnum and a Snickers bar, then went back to my bungalow and ate them all in secret.
And then I felt sick.
And then I did the same thing the next day. And again a week later.
I had been 100% strictly following a sugar-fruit-grain-refined-carb free diet (the Candida diet) for the four months before (to heal my digestive tract after two years of drinking excessively and eating peanut M&Ms daily while superyachting), yet suddenly I found myself swinging to the other end of the scale; 100% hell bent on undoing my four months of good work.
All-or-nothing is my middle name.
For someone who has been so “healthy” for so long, and who coaches people on mindfulness and emotions (so that we aren’t driven by unconscious triggers), I was pretty shocked to find myself bingeing and seriously not giving a flying feck, nor able or willing to stop myself. And with Bloody Good Chap not around to watch me, I felt seriously out of control.
This all preceded a week long detox retreat in Bali where we drank 2 green juices a day plus a few herbs, and nothing else. I think I thought that if I binge ate sugar all week, it would be ok because the Detox would somehow fix the damage.
They say that long distance relationships give you clarity on the health of the relationship. If you’re in a bad relationship, you often don’t realise it until you take some space away and see things that you couldn’t see while wrapped up in the other person. Or in a plate of nachos, which, incidentally, I dreamed about for the entire 7 day detox retreat.
The long distance with BGC made me realise how awesome our relationship is.
The long distance with food made me realise that we may have more of an abusive relationship than I realised. I’d never considered it before now; food and I were too closely entwined for me to see it.
The day after the detox retreat I was feeling great again – energetic, light, clear headed.
They warned us not to eat any fats for a couple of days after the retreat to give our digestive tract a chance to get its shit together again, pun not intended. So the day after I went and ate half a (gluten-free) pizza. And, as I’d been warned, my stomach was not impressed, and it made me throw it up.
I couldn’t believe the ridiculousness of my behaviour, yet the next day, I tested out my body again and ate the second half of the pizza. What the hell?! Luckily my body handled it the second time.
In recent years I’d thought that I had a really healthy attitude to food,
I’ve cleaned up my diet entirely since my toast-two-minute-noodle days and eat a mostly paleo diet, with mostly organic produce, and almost no processed stuff at all.
I eat healthy, but I eat A LOT, and in the process of the last few months and the retreat I’ve realised I’ve got some work to do on my relationship with food.
As a coeliac, it has been very common in the past for me to go out to dinner or to a BBQ and end up not able to eat much or anything because everything was covered in some form of gluteny marinade or cooked by someone who doesn’t understand contamination. Or because some dude inevitably pours beer over the barbie and dips bread in all the gluten free dips.
I also have this odd thing (a vasovagal response) where my blood pressure suddenly drops in response to certain triggers and I have to lie on the ground to stop myself from fainting. It makes my heart feel weird and my limbs all shaky, so I avoid it at all costs.
One of my triggers for this is hunger.
So, naturally, I have developed a fear of being hungry. Like I’m in a famine or something if I can’t eat some nut butter every hour.
Which has lead me to a sort of frantic style of eating, I eat rapidly, and all the bloody time. I hate not having control over when I can eat, so I eat always, just in case.
Before I go out for dinner, I’ll eat. When I get home from an event, I’ll eat, even if it’s really late and I’m about to go to bed, because I know that if I wake up hungry in the morning, I’ll often get the shaky, nauseating response. When I’m cooking dinner, I’ll eat other random things, like nut butter, or a carrot, and then even though I’m not hungry by then, I’ll eat dinner too.
I hadn’t realised it til now – I use eating as a control strategy to avoid my fear of hunger.
I’m feeding my fear, not my hunger.
As we learnt during my health coaching training, over or under-eating is never much to do with the food itself. It’s almost always about some underlying emotion we’re trying to avoid. This was a big revelation to me when I learnt it, but I always thought it applied to other people, not me!
Of course, the cocaine-like addictiveness of sugar is a whole other kettle of fish that I won’t start ranting about just yet.
(ps. this is me eating the best gelato in the world in Florence, pre-coeliacism. OMG.)
I decided to write this post even though I’m embarrassed about it to open up the discussion around these ‘secret’ behaviours that so many of us have.
How many of us are doing things in secret? Things that we’d never let others see us do, not even our partners or parents? Things that we’d never tell anyone? We hide our behaviours, we feel guilty about our lack of self-control, we berate ourselves, and then the guilt and shame lead us to feel shite and hopeless, and so we do it again.
Rather than hiding my ridiculous eating habits of late, like I have in the past, I’ve decided to announce it to a few of my friends and BGC. It made me feel way better.
Many of them were shocked as they know me as this super healthy-eating, sugar-free person (for the last four months, anyway), but many more of them nodded knowingly and contributed their own stories of random binge eating, and I’ve started to realise that this is way, way more common than most of us would ever admit.
[bctt tweet=”Coaching has shown me loud and clear that almost all of us think that we’re alone in our struggles with our mind” via=”no”]
we think that no one else could behave as self-destructively and illogically as we do.
Many of my clients say that they’re super relieved to read that I stay up scrolling instagram and eating Magnums and picking pointless fights with my boyfriends too, it’s a relief to know that they’re not the only one. And that it’s possible (and normal) to still have ridiculous self-destructive habits and still live a bloody good life.
So if you find yourself secretly eating an entire packet of Coles gluten free chocolate chip biscuits and throwing away the packet before you get home, or making late night trips to McDonald’s alone for an M&M’s McFlurry with caramel sauce, (or any other behaviours that you don’t let anyone else see), I hope that it will help at least remove the guilt to know that you’re not alone, it’s just your mind playing tricks on you, and it is totally solvable.
It’s not something wrong with you, just a sign that there is some work to be done on an area of your life that is bringing up random subconscious emotions that you’re trying to escape by shoving food in your mouth.
Or not shoving enough food in your mouth.
What I’ve taken most out of this whole experience is how much our emotions affect our behaviours without us realising.
We think we’re really in control of our lives and that we make choices rationally and of our own free will, but actually, in almost all areas of our lives, we’re actually being driven by an emotion that we don’t know how to see or feel.
This is where mindfulness comes in bloody handy. Once you can see your patterns, you start to become aware of the emotions that are causing you to behave reactively rather than through conscious choice. When you become aware of what your mind and emotions are up to; rather than acting on autopilot and being bashed around by whatever turbulence comes your way, you start to have a choice in where you steer the plane.