The Battle with Food


It’s the end of the weekend. You’ve had a great week, got in all your planned workouts, hit a few PRs in your main lifts, ate at your target cals, started seeing some definition in your abs. Just yesterday you were saying to yourself, “2 more weeks and ill be at my target weight”.

Now, come today and you find yourself sitting desperately in disappointment as you pick up a mound of empty chocolate wrappers, crumpling up empty bags of crisps as you scoop up the last remaining spoon of ice cream, wondering….how just one bite of chocolate ended up ruining everything you accomplished this Week.

Now, you sit there in utter shame and disgust asking yourself, why am I so weak?

If you can relate to this, I want you to know that you’re not alone. While I’m not a fan of  labeling things, this can be classified as Binge Eating Disorder (‘BED’), Disordered Eating (Emotional Eating, ‘DE’) or depending on time of occurrence, “Night Eating Syndrome” or “Nocturnal Feeding”

First off, I want to start by making a few things clear. There is a big difference between an “Eating Disorder” and “Disordered Eating”.

An eating disorder is a complex psychological illness, usually misunderstood and undiagnosed for long periods. Eating disorders range from anorexia, bulimia to Binge Eating disorder. The latter vary from Disordered Eating (explained further in the article). For the context of this article, I will be referring to Binge Bating Disorder, nocturnal feeding syndrome and mainly Disordered eating

Binge Eating Disorder

BED was first described as a clinical condition over 50 years ago; however, it has only recently started to be a focus of epidemiologic studies.

The ‘Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders’ (DSM-IV; American Psychiatric Association, 1994) defines Binging as an eating disorder when those episodes involve eating an unusually large amount of food (‘‘objective overeating’’) and a sense of loss of control over the eating episode (‘‘loss of control’’)

BED/DE is more commonly seen in athletes and fitness enthusiasts than in non-gym goers. In my opinion, there are two kinds of people who fall under BED. There are those that have mini binges that reoccur every couple of months. This is less of a problem and as abnormal as it seems, usually occurs in life. More specifically in holidays, vacations and celebrations (Christmas, Eid, Thanksgiving).

There is a big difference between BED and DE. According to a spokesperson for Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous, BEDs’ (Eating disorders in general) is thought to be the result of elevated preoccupation with shape and weight and elevated dietary restraint,” she says, adding that food addiction delves deeper into the idea that the neurobiological and behavioral changes that result from overconsumption of highly processed foods encourage further problematic use.

That’s not what I’m talking about; I’m referring to those who go through frequent episodes of binge eating, usually several times a month. It often happens behind closed doors, almost a secret kept from closest friends and family. It’s then followed by strict and severe dieting and coupled with excessive exercising; which in my opinion just adds more fuel to the fire until the next episode.

Disordered Eating

As opposed to the psychological and biological triggers of eating disorders, disordered eating is an irregular eating habit, generally a result of environmental triggers that do not warrant ALL the mental triggers of eating disorders, like stress, boredom, or anger, causing overconsumption, as is the case with emotional eating.

Disordered eating varies in types. From eliminating complete food groups, to eating only at certain times of the day to nigh-time (awakening from sleep) feeding.

Nocturnal Feeding Syndrome

This is more common with women and involves waking up in the middle of the night with a ravish desire to eat. This falls under two types; nocturnal eating syndrome (NES) and sleep-related eating disorder (SRED). The main difference between the two sleep disorders is that during NES, the person is fully aware of their actions, but with SRED, the person only partially wakes up and then unknowingly begins sleep eating.

This article is more concerned with the former than the latter.

I am no doctor (neither are you)

While I am in no place to diagnose your condition and neither are you (that should be left to medical professionals’), it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that you suffer from a problem. I am writing this article to shed light on this issue and provide ways of counteracting it. BED, an Eating disorder or disordered eating may have different classifications, but the implications are very similar.

I “Train“ vs. “Workout”

I like to think that there are two kinds of people who workout. One kind are the “I workout” kind of people and they get themselves to the gym for the purpose of habit, aspiration and a means of fitting in to the general consensus of being normal. Others are People who “train”. These people are the few that have an unconditional devotion and passion to working out. These are the ones that are often looked down upon by the general public (labeled as obsessed), yet secretly admired and often envied. We are the rare breed that fall in love with training; we are addicted to the euphoric feel of pushing ourselves beyond our limits to an extent that we develop an almost sadistic relationship, enjoying the pain, the sweat and the tears of training.

The former group is less at risk of developing BED whereas; the latter group is at most risk. This relationship is a dangerous one and one that often leads to developing a dysfunctional link with food. We’ve seen it before, many athletes, once pioneers in their sport end up being overweight, unfit and unhealthy in a very short span of time.

Ronaldo Before & After

If you are one of these people, you very well know that to see results, diet is first and foremost. While that seems simple enough, we stress ourselves beyond normal measures; day in and day out. Every meal is a pre calculated check in a long list of macronutrient-targets. Food is no longer a social activity or a tool for survival, but a quantitative and statistical means to an end.

The relationship becomes an emotional one, the more you eat, the more you fixate and the deeper the link gets. It’s often preceded with denial, followed by depression and eventually at the point of realization, you feel helpless, falling through a bottomless pit.

You say to yourself, “get your shit together!! Starting tomorrow, this WILL not happen again”, yet again, taken by surprise, you find yourself at a deja vu moment a week later.

The constant stressing and fixation is what causes this link to start. Further on, food becomes our vent, our comfort and fallback. Depending on how your day goes, dictates how you will eat for the rest of the day. The smallest hiccup will ignite the start of the binge, from a bad workout or a bad day at work to a personal issue like an argument with your spouse. A dependency on food is created where binges are justified in an attempt to make u feel better; where in fact, it only makes it worse.

Even though, at the time during your binge, you know you should stop, and you know you’ll regret this, there is an overwhelming presence of guilt and anger driving you to eat more and more to a point of being sick. Then the cycle starts. You wake up the next day, bloated from all the water retention and you say to yourself you NEED to fix yesterdays mess. You add to your usual exercise routine, u starve yourself for the next coming days only to mess up once more 5 days down the line. This becomes a constant cycle.

Now that we know what it is, let’s start tackling this issue by taking a look at some factors that cause this relationship to happen (the following will more specifically focus on disordered eating)

–  Lack of knowledge

A great step towards being healthy, fit or taking the step to better your health is making that choice. While the determination and motivation is there, sometimes more often than none, ‘how’ you get there may be lacking. Even though you’ve made the decision, you lack the know-how and end up spinning your wheels, leading to anxiety and frustration that can lead to resorting to food for comfort. If you are new to working out, make sure you educate yourself and learn to avoid falling into this pitfall. Learn from friends, read, hire a trainer etc.

–  Over-ambitious goals

Humans are impatient. Some more than others. In essence, we at times, place a lot of stress on ourselves. I’ve heard it many times:

“ I want to lose 10 kilos by the end of the month”,” ill get abs for the summer” when summer is 2 months away and they have 30 kilos to lose and never stepped foot in the gym.

I’ve outlined proper goal setting in my previous articles and i’ll say it again; two words, SMART Goals;

–  Personal issues

More often than not, an emotional trigger relating to personal issues causes disordered eating. Some of the more common factors are:

  • Stress / Loneliness / Anger  / Boredom

Loneliness causes a person to become withdrawn from society and can eventually lead to depression. The frustration and sadness of not having someone in today’s superficial world can be a very stressful situation. The body’s chemical reaction to stress is the same as anger. As food releases Dopamine [happy hormones] in those with food dependencies, you can see how resorting to food alleviates those feelings. The more issues and pressure life throws at you, the stronger the dependency becomes.

As is the case with boredom. Food is easy to come by, the process of eating serves as an activity in itself. People with a lot of free time on their hands will be more inclined to resort to food to keep themselves pre occupied.

  • Relationships

Being in a relationship has a direct influence on your eating habits. Being romantically involved with someone, especially in the early phase of a relationship involves going out on dates, which often involve eating/dining out. You are more inclined to eat foods you normally wouldn’t. This phase usually subsides to become less occasional; however, the longer you are in a relationship, the more the “kind” of relationship affects how you eat. Being in a happy, healthy relationship allows you to go back to your normal eating habits. Nonetheless, if you are too comfortable, you may start to lose sight of looking good and tend to let yourself go. On the other side of things, being unhappy can have he same effect, if not worse. Being unhappy often leads to resorting to food to temporarily run away from that feeling. We use food to fill that gap of dissatisfaction our partner is unable to fill.

Rather than drown your problems with cupcakes and pizza, man/women up!! and fix it.

Unhappy relationships in my opinion have a linear link with weight gain. Especially in unhappy marriages. You see couples balloon as more and more problems arise. Food becomes a distraction from the problems they face and a social activity which they need to keep sane. Take food out of the equation and they have to face reality, which many lack the courage to do.

  • Dissatisfaction with life

Others will use food to comfort their dissatisfaction with where they are in life. Some may be unhappy; lost, with no ambition or goal to work towards. Rather than try to find their purpose in life, it’s easier to distance themselves with every bite they take. Life isn’t what we’ve all thought it would be and yes, sometimes, we cant be what we want to be but that’s no reason to stop trying or find something else that we can be good at.

–  Injury & Exercise dependency

For those who have a dedication towards fitness, more specifically body composition sports such as powerlifting, bodybuilding, cross-fit and the like know that food is make or break when it comes to seeing progress. Food can be your best friend; helping you progress and reach your goals while providing you with the fuel you need to power those workouts and aid in recovery. In some cases though, some more severe than others, we develop a dysfunctional relationship with food. Instead of it being a medium to help us reach our goals, it becomes the one obstacle keeping us from serving it. While some will say, just get over it and stop eating; it’s not that easy.

I’ve already highlighted exercise dependency and the people who fall under the category of being in love with training. This also applies to athletes. For us, our worst nightmare is being injured and suffering from an injury that prevents us from our training. This hits home with me as I write this with one hand due to undergoing surgery to treat a condition that has prevented me from training for close to a year now. It has been a hard 10 months, unable to lift weights and a 6-month recovery period ahead. The anger and anguish of not able to do the one thing you love is unexplainable. Many athletes are hit with the hard realization of being unable to train. This frustration and anger can at times lead to a self-destructive behavior. As we have the already distorted relationship with food, we resort to it as a means of comfort.

If this goes on for too long it can mean an end to ones career and/or a downward spiral that can lead to drastic dependency with food and at times, clinical depression.

Another issue is Exercise addiction (aka exercise dependency). Here’s a study conducted on rats to look at exercise addiction, It’s an interesting read, but you can skip it and see my summary;

It was concluded that addiction to exercise is reacted to in the same way a drug addict reacts to drug withdrawal. If someone is addicted to exercise, once he/she stops exercising, they experience withdrawal symptoms. Taking this topic further and in retrospect to BED, in many cases, food becomes the tool of choice to alleviate these symptoms and that’s where this dependency can happen.

People who become addicted to exercise cannot picture their life without it. Their whole life becomes unorganized and falls apart. Some will feel the lack of reason to eat, starting with extreme dieting, followed by frequent bouts of over eating.

–  Domino-Effect Foods

Some foods are more susceptible to portion abuse like nuts, chips, cookies, candy etc. Having just one serving tends to be hard and creates a domino effect of more and more servings. Everyone has that one food that once they start eating, it becomes very hard to stop.

For me, its almonds. Identify those foods and when you would like to have them, place a serving in a plate/bowl rather than eat out of the bag, walk away and don’t have a second helping.

–  Poor Food Choices

If you’ve been following my posts, by now you know that I have some beef with most food companies as they tend to be misleading in their claims and there is a huge controversy of business ethics and manipulation in the industry [end mini rant].

Some foods are purposely made to be addictive. Yes, that’s right! They are purposely made to get you hooked and want more. That’s why I always recommend having a diet mostly consisting of natural foods with the least processing. If you think I’m just one of those hippie tree huggers, check out the video below (forward to minute 3:00 and hear them admit how they create flavors with the sole intention of forming an addiction).

Food like bread, donuts, twinkies, commercial granola bars, etc. are laden with processed ingredients and simple sugars. These ingredients spike your insulin too fast and cause you to crave more of these foods. The more you have, the more you’ll be hooked.

Oh and here’s Jessica Biel talking about binge episodes when dieting for a movie:

Try to avoid processed foods and foods high in simple carbs and your cravings will subside.

Right!! Now that wave identified a few factors that are susceptible to making you develop a food dependency, lets tackle some ways to kick that addiction

Follow these steps to kick that habit

1-     Acceptance

As cliché as this sounds, first and foremost you need to accept that you have a problem. Not oh, just sometimes I don’t feel like dieting. Binging is not normal. Accept it!

2-     Make the choice, make it loud !

Now that you have accepted it, you need to make a choice you change your ways. While very few will publicly announce they have disordered eating, make it known that you are going to diet down and eat healthier from now on. Having accountability will make you more likely to stick to your choice

3-     Experiment with different ways to help kick the addiction:

Depending on the triggers outlined above, figure out what you need to do to get over the habit

  • Paleo-esque

While having someone with disordered switch to paleo eating may be too extreme at first, one thing you should do is incorporate what i like to call a paleo-esque diet (yes, i just made that up). i.e. you are allowed one / two processed foods per day. Ever heard someone binge on chicken breasts and broccoli? I doubt it.

Limit your intake to natural whole foods. A good thing about this is that you seldom need to count calories. For some reason, taking in the same calories with a diet emphasizing on real foods will bring on body composition results without changing a thing. What more do you want? You get to kick a habit and at the same time, lean out without the need to count calories.

  • Intermittent fasting.

I spoke about intermittent fasting here. The great thing about intermittent fasting is that it helps you realize the difference between hunger and the eating for the habit of eating. Incorporating IF will also raise your insulin sensitivity, allowing you to be more resistant to those cravings. If you suffer from Nocturnal feeding syndrome, its best to incorporate a night fast

  • Shake diet

While this can make things worse for someone with an eating disorder, sometimes it’ll help if any sort of eating triggers a binge. Try this with caution not to further develop another eating disorder. Do it sparingly for 2 days and see how you feel. Switch your meals with shakes. In doing so make sure they are wholesome in nutrients and vitamins. Add in whey protein to get your Daily protein intake.

If you like, you can purchase some MRPs’ since they tend to have added vitamins and are created to be a balanced meal.

  • Extra activities

If you tend to eat out of boredom, take up new activities to keep you busy, better yet, take up a hobby that keeps you active. Join a runners club, yoga group or even a book club. Whatever floats your boat as long as it keeps you busy and happi-er

  • Clear out trigger foods

Now that you have accepted your problem and made a choice to change it, there is no need to have those foods that you used to binge on. Clear out all of those foods and only keep healthy foods around the house. If you live with family, you can make it a family affair to become healthier as a family. Ask family members not to bring those foods into the house. If they still choose to do so, ask them to be keep em’ out of sight. Your family will not judge you.

–  Reach out, Get help

If you think you are not strong enough to beat this on your own, reach out to a friend who suffers from it, maybe someone who got over it. Better yet, seek professional help. There’s no shame in it. You are not alone. Many people suffer from these cases.

Wrap up

I’m pretty sure this will hit home with many readers on different levels. I know many that suffer from it on different degrees. I want you to know, its ok! The only person that will be able to overcome this is YOU. With a strong mind, nothing is impossible.

While many of you will shy to comment or share your experience, if there’s anything I can do, feel free to contact me. Inbox me on facebook (FB profile) or drop me an email on thefitnessgrail@gmail.com . You have my word; I will treat it in utmost confidentiality.

One thought on “The Battle with Food

  1. Pingback: Attempting the Shake Diet | Dalia's Training Lab

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