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Anne-Sophie Reinhardt Headshot

Is It Possible to Break Free From Emotional Eating?

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This winter, I made a commitment to myself: I'd finally stop my emotional/compulsive eating cycle.

I had lost a lot of weight after separating from my husband and then gained it all back (plus a few pounds) in a few short weeks. Hello, law of emotional eating!

But there was one evening, one moment when I had enough. I was sick and tired of feeling "stuffed," "sick," "fat," and out of breath. I wanted to break free and live my life fully again.

And for a few months, I was fine -- doing fabulously, even. I was eating healthfully, stopping when I felt satiated and never overeating because I was bored, frustrated or lonely. Yet then, I did it again. I was on vacation, so surely, I was allowed to indulge, right? Surely, this feeling of being so full I could hardly walk was OK?! It's just one of those things you do when you relax, isn't it?

Well, no. It's not.

It's a sick way of handling food and life. It's a way of stuffing down emotions that you don't want to acknowledge and feelings that you don't want to feel. It's a way of ruining your days and life and a surefire way to feel out of control.

And yes, we know all that, don't we? But in the moment, those times when you just WANT to binge and WANT to eat those barrels of ice cream with Baileys as topping and cookies on the side, it's hard to remember it and to actually put the fork down, breathe and divert your thoughts.

So, is breaking free from overeating and binging just a myth? Is it actually possible?

My honest answer: It absolutely is.

Here's why: My starving-binging cycle used to be dramatic. I'd starve for weeks and then binge and starve myself again and then binge, literally like a vacuum cleaner soaking up food all day long. I'd prepare my binges for days, buying all the forbidden food I longed for but never ate. I'd wake up on my day of celebration, usually a Saturday, and ravenously ate my way through breakfast, lunch, dinner and a billion "snacks" in between. The Very Hungry Caterpillar was eating like a mouse compared to me on those voracious days.

Now, though still annoying, my binges have reduced to one or two every six weeks or so and they're far less severe. I don't plan them anymore. I don't buy ahead chocolate, ice cream, peanut butter or chips anymore, and I don't get triggered by certain foods. When I binge, it happens mostly at night and, what's most important, I don't get angry or feel ashamed anymore.

This, to me, means progress, big time.

Here's the thing: Healing from eating disorders isn't easy and it surely doesn't happen over night. It'd be nice, wouldn't it?

I started my recovery more than two years ago, and while I have had a healthy weight most of the time and kept up my healthy eating patterns as much as possible, there have been times when I felt like I was relapsing, struggling and slipping. However, I never gave up. Yes, the thoughts were there. Yes, the temptation was certainly lurking on many street corners, but my wish to recover and be free was stronger.

Now, more than ever before, I catch myself when I'm about to go on a binge or begin to restrict and I consciously decide which direction I want to go: the healthy one or the more destructive one. Sometimes, I walk down the familiar road, because it feels comforting, homey and healing in that moment. Yes, I know that it's just an illusion, but sometimes that's the way I want to go. Other times, and that happens more often than not, I begin to write, go for a walk, call a friend or color a mandala while listening to an audio book. These tools I learned in therapy and over the years truly help and always help to take off the edge.

Healing is possible. Healing is real. It may not happen tomorrow, but if you continue to learn new tools, experiment with the resources that help, be compassionate with yourself and believe in yourself, you'll get there soon enough.

Just don't give up hope.

For more by Anne-Sophie Reinhardt, click here.

For more on eating disorders, click here.

If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.

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