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Sunday, 10 May 2009

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Binge Wolf?

Reading a few painful posts recently about living with binge tendencies makes me both very sad and very scared.

I have lived through the pain of eating until I made myself sick and being unable to stop. I have watched my body get bloated and soft and I have been unable to fit into my clothes. I have called in sick to work because getting dressed in the morning has reduced me to tears, I have missed Blogger get-togethers and seeing my friends because I felt fat and a failure. Seeing other people go through the same things makes me sad.

It also frightens me enormously. Although I have only binged twice in the last six months, I am secretly scared that the only thing keeping me from reverting to old habits is my public commitment to competing in 7 days time. As I said to Mr Katie yesterday [when he was feeling bad for eating a hot cheese and bacon roll from the bakery in front of me] "I can't do anything now that will cause damage because there is no time left for damage control".

Here is why this time it will be different. I am processing my thoughts for myself and if they help anyone else, so much the better.

Body Image
Every time I have gotten to a FLWE [final lowest weight ever], even before competing, I didn't really like my body. I wanted to be lean, but I ended up feeling [and looking] small and skinny. I didn't ever like what I saw in the mirror. There were no good bits I could identify, only bad bits that were beyond my control - like stretch marks and loose skin. It felt like all the hard work wasn't worth it, so why bother?

Nowadays, I love my new body and I want to keep it for as long as possible ever. I have defined muscles, abs peaking through, a gap between my thighs, a wee booty and a rather nice V taper (even if I say so myself LOL). In reality I am probably nowhere near lean enough to be a figure competition contender, but for my head space and history, this is a good thing. No-one tells me I'm looking ill this time around. My bones are visible but so are my obliques near my hipbones, my pectorals sit on top of my breast bones and my intercostals (?) over the top of my ribs. I don't look like a skeleton so I have a much stronger motivation to stay at this weight.

Dieting Strategy

I have cycled my calories/carbs and have re-feed days. When only having one re-feed day in 4 triggered 'last supper' binging, I found a strategy that would give me 3 days of relaxed eating instead of just one. I cannot contemplate endless days of sticking to the same calorie count - even with the promise of a 'free meal' occasionally. I need variety and the opportunity to have a few days in a row when I don't feel like I'm on a diet.

Within my dieting plan, I have kept all the things I love to eat. I am proud of the fact that I eat low calorie/carb pancakes, chocolate, ice cream, cheese, peanut butter and real caramello koalas almost every day. I don't need to binge on these foods at least because they are always on hand.

I also refuse to eat anything I don't like - even if it is good for me. No more canned tuna, no more giant spinach salads, and no more cabbage and cauliflower. I never drink a protein shake. I enjoy eating and look forward to my meals.

Speed of Weight Loss
I have taken 6 months to lose 6 kilos - the slowest weight loss I have ever undertaken, and the longest diet compliance as well. That first kilo I lost has now stayed off for 6 months, so I am confident that my body is getting used to being smaller by gently shaving away the fat, not dropping it in a short amount of time.

Even when I was in danger of not being ready in time for the May comp, I resisted [and boy it took a great deal of effort] doing a classic clean 'lose a kilo a week' type diet. I knew that I would just be setting myself up for a major binge rebound and that I would have trouble convincing my body that the rapid fat loss should be permanent. I also suspect that losing so very very slowly has meant that I have not lost too much muscle this time around. Losing muscle along with fat just makes you skinny - see Body Image above!

It's All in Your Head
When my eating was out of control and I couldn't find a way back to any kind of eating sanity I thought I had a psychological eating disorder. I read all the books and even sought the help of a psychiatrist. What I discovered was that the part that was in my head was just wonky thinking and not a mental disease, and that a great deal of it was biological.

My perception was that I just wanted to be 'normal'. I thought that I should have a 'healthy' relationship with food, where I could eat moderate amounts of clean, good, food - you know, like normal people. What I figured out was that food and I will always walk the fine line between pleasure and abuse and that if I have to log and weigh my food for the rest of my life to keep it under my control, then 'normal' doesn't matter. I can't let down my guard, my instincts are broken. Doesn't matter why or how I got this way ... childhood, low self esteem, whatever ... can't change it, can't fix it so I just need to accept that this is me and get on with it.

I also realised that my body doesn't want to be the same weight I want it to be. It will fight me by making me crave things and making me hungry. It is a biological certainty. I just have to accept this fact and work with it. Again, re-feeds help reset my hormones, and really hungry days are bearable when I know there is relief just around the corner. I am not wanting to jam raisin toast down my throat because I have no discipline, self respect or willpower, it is because I have chemical messages in my body screaming at my brain that it needs food. Somehow knowing that it is not my fault makes it easier to manage.

Don't Try to Do Two Things at Once

If you want to get stronger in the gym, lift increasingly heavy weights and have enough energy to bounce of the walls, then don't cut your calories and/or don't cut your carbs. You can't reach your full training potential while you have no fuel in your tank. Don't expect to grow muscle without eating more than maintenance calories.

I inadvertently gained muscle after competing last year by making sure I used every binge as an opportunity to smash myself in the gym [can you say punish yourself?]. Not a great strategy but proof that excess calories can be used to gain muscle size.

I now have a training program that is tailored to my eating cycle. The morning after a high carb/calorie day I do my hardest, most intense workout in the gym followed by interval cardio. If I am lucky, the extra calories I ate the day before go into building muscle, or at least stop me losing it.

At the start of the fat loss/restricting phase I do fasted depletion workouts [light weights, high reps] to empty my muscles of the stored glycogen. As I get more depleted I just do fasted cardio. On the morning of my re-feed, I have a high carb pre-workout meal and use the brief shot of energy to do a moderate intensity workout priming my body for the incoming carbs and excess/maintenance calories over the next few days. I am tailoring my training to suit my nutrition - taking advantage of the fuel when I've got it, and easing off when I'm spent.

Trying to maintain an intense training regime while trying to lose fat will end in tears, exhaustion and even injury.

This has turned into an epic post so I will leave it for another day to explain my 'maintenance' strategy. I warn you that it is just as complicated as my fat loss one, but as you now know, I need structure and variety to keep things under control.


  1. Hey Katie,

    Great post :)
    You have worked out the strategy that works best for you and I really enjoyed reading it - I am actually thinking that I might give your theories a go come next comp season! I think you are spot on - if you are prone to binging then you are less likely to go overboard when you know you can have the stuff you like/crave frequently, and don't feel like you are constantly 'dieting'.

    Can't wait to see how you come up!


  2. That is great advice Katie. especially the part about trying to do two things at once.

  3. You write brilliantly!

  4. Great Post! Thanks so much for your email and support!

  5. Great post Kastie- everything you say makes sense and it seems like you are in such a great head space! All the best for the coming week.


  6. You know Katie, you should be writing a book and making some money out of all this advice and experience you offer to us.