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    OOLALA53   35,079
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moderation or complete abstinence?


Thursday, July 18, 2013

I know I will be criticized by some for posting this because I do not have at the ready the research that led me to the conclusions I've written about here. So be it. I came across those foundational ideas over the course of years and I didn't document it anywhere but in my memory; not much in the interim has proved me wrong, except for exceptions. If this resonates with you, I'm glad and hope you will take the next step. If not, truly I encourage you to stay where you feel supported and enriched.

Regarding the concept of binge or trigger foods and what to do about them, IF you do not have a health condition now that demands more strictures, the way I see it there are three alternatives besides a lifelong commitment to total abstinence, which, while possibly ideal, is statistically very unlikely:

1) Continue to feel controlled by certain foods and determine that that is okay with you; you will stop fighting it, refuse to feel guilty or terrible about it, and accept the other consequences, such as feeling too full much of the time. That is actually not a bad alternative. You are not obligated to feel crappy about your life choices forever. Feeling guilty and remorseful often reinforces the habits anyway.
2) Continue to be controlled by the foods, and allow yourself to keep feeling guilty and terrible about it in hopes that will make you change your behavior, even though that has never worked for you before and is unlikely to; feel rotten both because of guilt AND from being too full. I think this is the option that most people are unconsciously choosing. I say there is some value in choosing it consciously. It might be the beginning of realizing you aren't actually helpless. You are actually acting according to your highest priorities. It's just that SO FAR, they don't match your conscious ones. Very human. Good reason for quiet, calm reflection but not self-hatred.
3) Accept that you will go through the more difficult process of learning moderation even though it will take longer. Why exactly would you choose this path? BECAUSE YOU RECOGNIZE THAT YOUR CHANCES OF SUCCESS ARE MUCH HIGHER. Did you get that? Your chances of success for reducing bingeing are actually higher by choosing the course that SEEMS harder- at first. If people statistically do not succeed at permanent food abstinence (unlike with alcohol or drugs, where permanent abstinence shows a higher success rate), the logical choice is to go through the process of learning moderation, unless you can come to peace with option 1. THE REAL GOAL SHOULD BE PEACE, NOT WEIGHT LOSS.

Remember that this advice is for those who do not have a real present and impending serious health condition that is food related. If those issues are not incentive enough, I bow to others to guide such people, and I affirm their courage and strength to change their habits soon.

The neurochemical pattern that produces the seemingly uncontrollable urge to eat rarely completely disappears, though it can be moderated. With total abstinence, it goes underground; with exposure, especially after a period of intense restriction, the intensity of the urges will resurface and the desire to binge will be great. THIS is where the crux of the problem is. If a person gives in and binges, the pattern will be STRENGTHENED. (Doesn't that fit your experience so far?) But, if the person resists that urge to overdo it after moderate exposure, over time, THE PATTERN IS WEAKENED. This means the ONLY way to actually weaken the pattern IS to work through moderate exposure. Abstinence alone does not weaken the pattern. It only keeps the pattern of response from being stimulated. Depending on never stimulating the pattern in the stimulus-rich environment of your life is MUCH RISKIER than taking the longer route of weakening the pattern. YOUR ODDS OF LONG TERM REDUCTION ARE BETTER WITH WEAKENING THE PATTERN THAN WITH JUST FORCING IT UNDERGROUND. (I certainly don't advocate this for drugs or alcohol. Moderation there for people with serious overuse is not worth the attempt.) If you want to win, choose behavior reduction and play the odds.

Just keep reminding yourself that it's likely that whatever arguments you bring up are probably examples of EXCEPTIONS- in other words, results extremely unlikely. (Go ahead: look at what the majority of people are doing two years or more after trying to adopt a strict eating program. Not a few days, weeks, or months. That's the honeymoon phase. Two-five years. The results should be sobering.) The exceptions definitely get attention because they are definitely more exciting to start, and the internet has increased their exposure even though it doesn't mean their success ratio is increasing. They come at a price, though: the continued sense that there is something wrong with ME when I end up not being able to implement them permanently. Then we end up with people broken with regard to food AND self. I know which one I pledge my allegiance to, and I maintain that moderation is the best path to both. emoticon
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Member Comments About This Blog Post:
CINDYT63 10/13/2013 5:09PM

    Oh my goodness, I should have known I would find what I was looking for in your blogs! I do not know how you keep so much information in your head! I have been on this journey for a lifetime and don't know half as much as you seem to know.
When I quit using vomiting as a tool for controlling my weight, and exercise, I went crazy with some foods, well, most foods because previously the only foods allowed to stay in my body were vegetables and whole grains. I knew there was going to be an adjustment period as my body relished the permission for ANYTHING. Nothing was off limits, as is still the case.
As you can well imagine, undoing the non-permission of a 28 year eating disorder -it went on for awhile. Four and a half years. But that was the time I needed to mostly neutralize foods that were too hot to handle for me. And while I still love food, and have to deal with the emotional reasons I overeat or binge, I'm far enough along that I don't want to create any kind of resistance with a food that sets up a polarized relationship to it. I am going to CHOOSE not to need abstinence with sugar, or refined carbs or any other food.
Right now I am choosing better foods most of the time, and if I allow the trend to continue, it will in it's own way without me having to superimpose unneeded
limitations.
it's hard to not fall into the trap of punitive mindset and body punishing that were so familiar in my eating disorder mindset especially in the midst of a bounty of "diet" information, where chastising oneself is an expectation. I just really don't want to be in that space any more. Ever. My body is ready to let go of the extra weight, and it will in it's own time.
Thanks for your blogs. They are endlessly informational! And congrats on your own progress and evolution!


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CINDYT63 10/13/2013 4:38PM

    Oh my goodness, I should have known I would find what I was looking for in your blogs! I do not know how you keep so much information in your head! I have been on this journey for a lifetime and don't know half as much as you seem to know.
When I quit using vomiting as a tool for controlling my weight, and exercise, I went crazy with some foods, well, most foods because previously the only foods allowed to stay in my body were vegetables and whole grains. I knew there was going to be an adjustment period as my body relished the permission for ANYTHING. Nothing was off limits, as is still the case.
As you can well imagine, undoing the non-permission of a 28 year eating disorder -it went on for awhile. Four and a half years. But that was the time I needed to mostly neutralize foods that were too hot to handle for me. And while I still love food, and have to deal with the emotional reasons I overeat or binge, I'm far enough along that I don't want to create any kind of resistance with a food that sets up a polarized relationship to it. I am going to CHOOSE not to need abstinence with sugar, or refined carbs or any other food.
Right now I am choosing better foods most of the time, and if I allow the trend to continue, it will in it's own way without me having to superimpose unneeded
limitations.
it's hard to not fall into the trap of punitive mindset and body punishing that were so familiar in my eating disorder mindset especially in the midst of a bounty of "diet" information, where chastising oneself is an expectation. I just really don't want to be in that space any more. Ever. My body is ready to let go of the extra weight, and it will in it's own time.
Thanks for your blogs. They are endlessly informational! And congrats on your own progress and evolution!


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CANNIE50 8/14/2013 4:09PM

    The depth of your knowledge and wisdom, and willingness to share same, always impresses me. I SO needed to read what you wrote, and to read the responses (and you gracefully handled the negative, argumentative responder). As a person who abstains from many things, i.e. alcohol, drugs, nicotine, I have always rebelled at abstaining from particular foods and from being rigid about food and eating. You have given me a lot to think about, in terms of embracing moderation where food is concerned. I have found myself simply unwilling to add one more HUGE part of life where I have to follow strict abstinence. I happily abstain from alcohol, etc., though I sometimes feels pangs of jealousy when I see people normally, maturely, enjoying a cocktail or glass of wine. I LOVE, love, love your point about addictive substances vs. addictive behaviors. That REALLY got me thinking. You are a sparkly genius, I swear! emoticon

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T21MELISSA 8/13/2013 10:34PM

    Love this blog... I do feel that this is something I need to work on! Slowing down and learning HOW to eat and WHY I am eating. It's mindful eating and something I need to master. Hopefully I will one day! emoticon

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AMBER0406 7/29/2013 12:27PM

    I have tried the no sugar diet before and it worked great... until like someone else said I started to rebel against that diet. I ate all the sugar in sight until I was sick. I still have a problem, but I think I am still kind of rebelling against my strick diet I was on before. Now I am trying to change and learn how to be healthy and maintain my weight loss. I do find myself binging on food, but I need to get down to the root of it all and figure out how to stop the binging. I am tired of feeling not in control when I'm around food. Great post! thank you.

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BIKINIBLONDE17 7/25/2013 10:11PM

    I find this blog so fascinating. Now that I think about it, I've actually lived it without realizing. I first started gaining weight in high school due to being on the "dance team" and the mentality of "can't eat that ever." The weight subsequently piled on once I had finished my commitment to the team for that year, as I never wanted to be around those mean girls ever again.
Then came college and a whole new life. I ended up going from a size 24 to size 14 that first school year without even trying...how? Busy school schedule, new surroundings and focus totally off of food. I allowed myself to have whatever I wanted everyday at the dorm cafe but get this, I only ate reasonable portions since that is what we were served. I think I had a scoop of sherbert ice cream everyday–at least, I know I had a single serving dessert everyday since they always had at least one dessert on the line. Friends of mine would comment to me, gosh you've lost weight and I'd just shrug and smile and say, really? I haven't even noticed.
Fast forward to up to recently, I continually repeated the vicious cycle of deny everything and then eat completely out of control. Which has now landed me at size 20 and wanting a different approach. I thought back to those college days and how effortlessly the weight seemed to fall off. Reading your article has just confirmed the approach I'm now taking. So brilliant! It would be really fascinating if there was research out there confirming it. Anyways, thank you so much for sharing this, I am more confident than ever that I'll get back down to a size 8/10! emoticon

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LAVALSEDAMELIE 7/25/2013 12:13PM

    I developed an "addiction" to sugar due to a prior period of strict abstinence from it. This lead to a rebound behavior (I fell sick at around Christmas and ate all the cookies and cakes in sight). I told myself I would abstain again from sugar when the new year begins.

It did not work. And starting from that I gradually developed a serious habit of binge eating: I was able to consume ca. 6000 kcals on a daily basis to the point of physical discomfort and sickness. I quickly went from 52 kgs (114 lbs) to 70 kg (154 lbs). (Note: Before the sugar abstinence my weight was stable at 57 kg/125 lbs). It was a devastating process, both physically and emotionally. Since then, whenever I tried to be very strict, I would fall off the wagon and gain even more weight.

That is when I decided to stop dieting, reintroduce the forbidden food items (cereal, chocolate, ice cream, chips) in moderation and develop a more relaxed relationship with food. I generally eat healthy (veg, lean meat, fruit, whole grains, healthy fats), but now I frequently incorporate small portions of my favorite treats into my diet.

Was this approach a success instantly? No. There have definitely been slip ups, even now there are. But I noticed, I do bounce back quicker from the binge mentality. Before it took me days, sometimes even weeks, but these days it is generally no more than a day or a couple of hours. It is a slow process to recondition my brain, to not send signals (the urges) to binge. But it is happening. Now I can have a small piece of ice cream and not go crazy, like before. It feels incredibly empowering, that the former trigger foods do not control me anymore! :)

So in short: I'm all for moderation. Abstinence is not realistic and makes one obsessed. Plus it sucks big time!

Comment edited on: 7/25/2013 12:22:05 PM

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OOLALA53 7/24/2013 8:40PM

    Thanks for joining in! I'm thrilled for your new life. I actually eat close to the guidelines of what others might call a diet, but it's not to me. I certainly eat a lot fewer refined flour products than I used to but that evolved. These days I just prefer leaving room for more fruit or good fat than starch. I've been including a good amount of protein at meals for about ten years, and about 9 servings a day of freggies. It's just the way I know will leave me feeling best during meals and in between them.

I actually was an idiot on S days for longer than any other longtermers on the main board, but the urges finally let go of me. If I had judged earlier, I would have said it "didn't work," but it was just in the middle of the process! It was working on the inside but just didn't show up in behavior until later. I had to wait it out. It's possible I could have gone faster, but the odds are against it.



Comment edited on: 7/24/2013 8:46:12 PM

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VTRICIA 7/24/2013 12:47PM

    I tried the no S diet but you know the addendum "don't be an idiot" - that would be me. I'm currently a DASH diet proponent. I'm able to eat whole grains in moderation but I have abstained from chocolate for... 8 or 9 years not sure. So I guess I'm sort of "all of the above" at this point... granted only 7-8 months post goal. I hit my high weight abstaining from chocolate, but who knows what that high weight may have been if I had been eating chocolate. I don't know what its like to have lost half my size, and I don't know what it's like to be petite (in stature) where maintenance is 1,400 cal/day. Just like I can't judge for my 6'4" husband what he should eat. We're all special snowflakes, though I would venture to say there is usually some element of 6 sided ness.

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WATERMELLEN 7/19/2013 6:14PM

    Very interesting and thoughtful blog which has sparked a great discussion.

Maintenance means that we're in this for the long haul -- and that means that our approach has to be sustainable.



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OOLALA53 7/19/2013 3:38PM

    Ali, there's not doubt that removing the substance can result in a reduction or disappearance of the desires, especially when it's linked to some other compensatory benefit. Yet time and again, in our culture, with so much food available, and usually no real strictures on eating it (unlike your need because of meds- a different motivation), people usually drift back into having the substance. If they don't understand the process, they can spiral out of control again. It's totally logical and likely fixable, if people are willing to go through the process. And given the failure rate of the alternative, the desirability and rationality of going through the process rises and helps support the person through it. Ironically, after a time, she may end up rarely or even never choosing the substance. But it won't be from despair or abject fear, so there will be little drama over it. The less drama, the better. All kinds of life situations can decrease the drama surrounding such changes.It can be a lot harder to create the same pressure from the inside, obviously as we see the results in the lack of success all the time.

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ALIHIKES 7/19/2013 2:58PM

    Thanks for your very interesting blog, and the thoughtful responses posted by everyone. I recently found that I have to cut out certain foods entirely as a result of medication -- I was surprised that the cravings almost disappeared within two weeks. Wow that was an education for me! For myself, with other certain indulgence foods that can trigger binge eating -- if I really want it, I go out and purchase one portion. That is, instead of buying a gallon of ice cream, I'll go out for one scoop; instead of baking wonderful cakes or cookies, I'll eat one serving at a good bakery. Other time I substitute with no problems (i.e., whole fruit popsicle instead of ice cream)

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CHRISTASP 7/19/2013 5:08AM

    What an excellent blog. It makes a lot of sense to me and I'm simply glad to have these thoughts to ponder.
I don't feel I can agree or disagree unless I have found a successful way to be healthy and have a peaceful relationship with food myself. I know you speak from personal experience which makes your words powerful.
I know a few sparkmembers who lost a lot of weight and some who maintained the weight loss, cutting foods out. But - most of those seem pretty obsessed with looks and weight. If it's a 'hobby' or a 'sport' to someone - meaning really that the person may be coming from a place of fear or neurosis with regard to looks and weight - it may be possible to maintain a healthy weight through dieting and/or cutting foods out. Just my thought.
However I can wonder if they are truly having the PEACE you mentioned - with life, with food and their body. Personally I feel that I will probably NOT be able to fuss over what I (do not) eat for longer than a few weeks or months, and I also know that being 'strict' with myself, to 'kick my ass' and to 'tell myself no' might increase my problems not diminish them. I may have developed a binge eating problem exactly because I learned as a child to be hard on myself, and continued to ask too much of myself in many respects.

There's one thing I wonder about. There are indeed research outcomes that state that 97 percent (or thereabout) of people who lose weight on a diet, gain it back later (and sometimes more). I do not know about research that compares cutting foods out vs moderation. And I also don't know if there's research that shows a succesfully maintained weight loss for those who do not diet and do not cut foods out.
It could well be so that stats cannot be found and not be compared. Because it seems to me that you (Oolala) are talking about a whole different PERSPECTIVE of self, food and weight. Not just about yes or no choices like to cut foods out or not, to diet or not.

Then there's the aspect of substance vs behavior. In the case of alcohol and drugs, it is the SUBSTANCE a person is addicted to and cutting out the use of that substance may be effective and crucial in the healing process and in reaching good health. I'm not sure though if that is true also for addictions to BEHAVIORS like with sex and food 'addictions'. I recently read a book in which the author states that with addictions to behaviors, it's best to not try to cut out the behavior entirely and to not focus too much on 'relapses' but on improving the persons self esteem and in doing small mindful deeds to help the person subsitute healthful and useful behaviors for addictive behaviors.

I have wondered if maybe sugar is an addictive substance to me. I do not know. Also if it is, I have not been succesful in cutting it out completely, so far, for a longer period of time (longer than a few months). And, also if sugar is addictive, my binge eating definitely has to do with many more factors that 'just' sugar. Like emotional and psychological aspects. As long as these issues aren't dealt with, I suspect that 'just' cutting sugar out will not bring a lasting solution.
I know that you're a proponant of the No S Diet. It seems to me that following the No S Diet in itself , helps to 'normalize' a persons attitude and behaviors regarding food. so even though it does not focus on psychological / emotional aspects, offering a set of clear rules may work for those struggling with binge eating.

Lastly. I think that a discussion of the things you mentioned may get blurred unless we realize that you were specifically talking about binge eating, as in 'disordered eating'. Not about 'bingeing' as in the person who basically has a steady attitude regarding food but who on occasion may go overboard with a bag of chips or a box of cookies. There's a difference.

Sorry this got so long. Thank you for posting this blog entry. The thoughts you unfold so eloquently are VERY useful for me.


Comment edited on: 7/19/2013 5:23:29 AM

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POPSY190 7/19/2013 3:28AM

    Good information. Fits in with what I remember about habits: you can't get rid of a bad habit, you can only replace it with a new habit and you have to keep strengthening the new habit through use otherwise the old ways will return in force.

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PATRICIAAK 7/18/2013 7:55PM

    as you alluded, there is no 'perfect' solution that will fit for everyone.

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OOLALA53 7/18/2013 6:50PM

    As you wish.

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LIVE_AMAZINGLY 7/18/2013 6:45PM

    Discussion may involve disagreeing, but to draw someone into a 'discussion', when only one opinion is considered 'correct' and 'allowed', well that is not a discussion. So, I will no longer be participating in any of these 'discussions'.

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OOLALA53 7/18/2013 6:39PM

    Discussion often involves disagreeing, as well as defining the terms used. Sorry if my answer sounded like more than that.

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LIVE_AMAZINGLY 7/18/2013 6:26PM

    Sorry. I thought you were inviting a discussion of thoughts; not that only one train of thought was acceptable. Considering that I will withdraw my reply about my opinions, feelings, and life experiences.

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OOLALA53 7/18/2013 6:06PM

    I gently protest against saying that I or anyone else wasn't an addict simply because we have been able to moderate our binge foods. If that's the definition, there are a lot fewer addicts than claimed. The majority of people who are successful at long term reduction in eating do not succeed by completely abstaining from any particular food, though they may eat a LOT less of it, and much more of less manufactured, highly palatable foods. Individual cases don't change that.

In his book "Willpower, along with coauthor John Tierney, Roy F. Baumeister, after examining countless studies conducted over decades on weight loss, makes three hard and fast rules:
1. Never go on a diet.
2. Never vow to give up chocolate or any other food.
3. Whether judging yourself or judging others, never equate being overweight with have weak willpower. pp. 214-215

Does this mean no one has succeeded using these tactics? Of course not. It just means these strategies have a high failure rate that hasn't changed much in all the years since the late 1800's. If that doesn't invite another inroad, I don't know what does.

It's hard to imagine that many of the people in the studies he and his team examined were not food "addicts" who recovered- and that may not mean abstinence- without using the former strategies.

I am on a maintenance team. I'm pretty sure many of those members at one point considered themselves out of control with food and rather hopeless, yet they changed. And few of them have completely eliminated any particular food, though they don't eat much anymore of many of their old favorites. But even they represent "man who" statistics. (I know a man who....).

There are many rooms in my father's mansion. It's just that a lot of them are on fire! Not much safety there. emoticon





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LIVE_AMAZINGLY 7/18/2013 5:01PM

    Joyinky may not be a truly addictive person, and thus able to do that. True addicts can't.

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OOLALA53 7/18/2013 4:28PM

    I appreciate such quick and thorough responses, and do not deny anyone her chosen path. Nothing changes the stats, though.

One of my friends didn't make many new ones when he arrived at a Texas medical school and answered queries regarding his reason for attending there instead of in another state: "I'm here to raise the grade point average." And he did. But a lot of people still resented his statement.

As I've said before, though people are fond of saying that people are different. it turns out that failure is not that different. All the successes from traditional diets (this includes calorie limits and substance-eliminating programs) stiil add up to the same success rate at actually reducing overall food intake- less than 10% over five or more years, even with all their variety. I maintain that we need an alternative, and that many more will be served by it. But even it has no guarantee. In fact, the real guarantee is that, honestly, the majority will continue to fail. I'd just like to see the rate go up, as it is in countries that have moderate eating habits.

Joyinky, your version is actually closer to what I mean. Over time, many previous binge foods for me have so little pleasure in comparison with their possible costs that they are not often, if ever, included even in moderation. But they have dropped away after probably hundreds of dissatisfying, but calmly observed, experiences. I realize that many people won't hang on that long, but I believe it still has a better prognosis than its alternatives.

Joyful eating to all, in whatever form that takes!



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LIVE_AMAZINGLY 7/18/2013 3:47PM

    -----

Comment edited on: 7/18/2013 6:27:36 PM

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JOYINKY 7/18/2013 3:35PM

    I have a 4th option that has served me well for years now. I know my trigger foods; I don't abstain from anything unless I just don't care for it. I do not keep the trigger foods in my home though; I enjoy them out where exposure and portions are automatically limited. Occasionally, I will buy a small portion when grocery shopping to bring home for a treat. This does not cause me to return to the store. I have binged on bananas, never binged on apples. I only buy 1-2 bananas when shopping. I will enjoy an ice cream when out with my grandkids and a serving of birthday cake or other dessert at a party. That said, I do count the calories and work it into my day. In time some things are just not worth the calories, which is a resulting slow change in behavior that's guilt free. I enjoyed your insights.

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ZERO2HERO 7/18/2013 3:34PM

    I had this very internal struggle today. I typically abstain for the same reasons FEBSHOWERS does, but have been slowly adopting the small serving to remedy the brain request and simultaneously learn to live like a normal, healthy adult. I'm trying to attain number 3.

Thanks for the honesty.

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SPROUTLET 7/18/2013 3:07PM

    I can't thank you enough for posting this. I think I would quite like to change your name to GURU-OOLALA53, in my mind's eye at least.
I was what could be described as an abstinent and restrictive eater for 5 years after reaching (what was then) my ideal weight and body shape. But then the urge to binge crept out from underground and has remained strong ever since.
Yasmina

Comment edited on: 7/18/2013 3:27:18 PM

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FEB_SHOWERS16 7/18/2013 2:54PM

    Whether I have genuine physiological food intolerances/allergies that cause the "binge trigger" or whether the entire issue altogether is wholly psychological is completely irrelevant. The only way I've been able to overcome my Binge Eating Disorder is to completely abstain from the foods and behaviors that will lead to the destructive behavior (at least for now). Maybe someday this will change... I don't know. Only time will tell. I am aware that not everyone is like me, though. I see people all the time who can engage in certain behaviors that cause complete chaos for me. I see people (healthy people) eating foods that would trigger chaos for myself. It's confusing. But I've only been able to experience peace since I decided to accept these things.

There are plenty of people who have other addictions that come with strange triggers. These people need to avoid certain things in their own lives that other people (and even their own selves) may not understand. And that's ok. Sometimes our situations are beyond our own comprehensions.

Ultimately, I need to function. I need to be safe. I need health. The binging that I was engaging in up until just this past year was holding me back. And I'm still fighting the battle to learn to live peacefully. But I do believe I'm making some progress!! For me, however, that peace has come with a price. I simply cannot tolerate certain foods--- whether it's physiological, neurological, psychological... I don't know! But if I am going to enjoy peace, then by God... I must not bring Cinnamon Toast Crunch into the house!

It might seen neurotic or obsessive or eating disordered to someone else. But I am going to do what I NEED to do to survive and function. The food and binge chaos simply HAD to stop. I would never tell an alcoholic to try to enjoy his favorite drinks in moderation. I would never tell one of my sex-addicted patients to enjoy one of her favorite 'hook-ups' in moderation. Sometimes we just have to cut off certain substances.

I hope someday I can be "normal" but for right now, I'm practicing abstinence... at least from certain things that I know will cause me harm or bring disaster.

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SLIMMERJESSE 7/18/2013 2:27PM

    #3 has been my path. I love your blogs - so honest.

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