Confession time: I did something dumb. I went grocery shopping while I was hungry, when I knew I was craving sugar. I walked in to the store with the intention of getting two glazed croissants, very specific donuts that are only made at Zehrs. Only, they didn't have any on that day.
For most people, that would be the end of it. Or, they would just choose another kind of donut from the full rack. But there are some foods which, once they're in my head, I need to either have or replace with something similar. See, I'm pretty specific when it comes to cravings and binge eating and what I can and can't say no to. I'm learning what items are the dangerous ones that signify the start of the spiral, and that if I can just avoid THOSE, I might be okay. With the donuts, I thought "if I can just have one or two and get out of there, it's bad but it's not over-the-top bad, and the icing/sugar craving will be satisfied and go away."
I am able to walk away from every other kind of donut they have in their bakery, except these glazed croissants, so I didn't put anything into the paper bag. But the sugar craving was still there, and the seed of a binge had been planted, and I knew I was in trouble. Heart rate increases. Face gets warm. I keep shopping, though, because I need groceries, especially the good stuff that will sustain me, like fruits and vegetables and cottage cheese and eggs. Aisle after aisle, I look at items that are on my mental binge-trigger "bad" list. I walk away from the cookies. I walk past the ice cream. I pause but keep moving past the chocolate bars, especially the Aero Bubbly mint ones. There are some aisles I do not even go down. With every item I say no to, my heart rate goes up, so by now I'm actually sweating. I know what it is I want. I try to talk myself out of it. It's like there are two voices in my head, and I honestly don't know which one is stronger. When I get like this, it's a little like being in a trance. I see it happening from far away, there is still a voice in my head trying to rationalize and argue why I should walk out of the store, but my body doesn't listen. It turns back towards the bakery.
In the end, I fall back on a very old habit. I buy a single-layer vanilla celebration cake and a jar of cream-cheese flavoured icing, because what's on the cake itself is not enough.
I haven't talked very much about the specifics of Binge Eating Disorder because, frankly, it is humiliating. I've alluded to it a bit, but never described it or admitted to what I do when I binge. Normal people don't consume an entire cake by themselves. But, there I was, with no explanation as to why I was lapsing. It's been awhile since I've had a true binge. I can't honestly say what started this one, since I've been happy, on track, and doing well lately. I just woke up craving sugar and couldn't shake it, I went to the grocery store hungry, and I fell into an old vice.
Bear with me; there is a silver lining to this story. Because I ended up throwing most of the cake out.
After putting the entire jar of icing on the cake, licking the knife, and having a few frantic bites - one never binges slowly, it is always urgent - I checked my watch. It was close to the time that Group Core was meant to start, and I had said I would be there. Decision time. Go and work out, or stay and eat? I had a few more bites of cake, got dressed, and went. The craving had been temporarily addressed, and I knew the cake would be waiting for me when I got back. So, I went and worked out.
I have never been able to interrupt a binge, once begun. I am getting better at talking myself out of starting, of exercising some degree of willpower and not putting myself into dangerous situations in the first place, but I've never, ever stopped mid-binge. Once the dam of willpower breaks, the food flood leads to a feeding frenzy. Except for this time. When I got home, after Group Core class, I felt different. Sweaty. Tired. Good. Maybe it was the endorphins. Maybe it was just the interruption itself. But the workout worked. And I put the cake into a garbage bag and took it directly to the dumpster.
That same afternoon, one of the fitness week-in-review emails that I subscribe to linked to an article arguing whether we are really exercising less than a few decades ago. It's a great example of how science can easily be misinterpreted, and data manipulated, but the argument is that we are not actually moving much less than ever and still we collectively continue to grow. The conclusion is that exercise has little impact on weight loss or weight management.
The longer I work at this weight thing, the more I am coming to accept that fat is all about food, and exercise correlates to strength and health. At least , the way I do it, it seems to. If I really want to lose the belly, lose the weight, ever hope to be skinny-ish, it's going to be from even more major changes to eating than I've already made. I wanted to believe that if I just worked hard enough, if I exercised often enough, long enough, intensely enough, I could make the 'calories in, calories out' sum work. I wish it worked that way. It really doesn't. It's all so much more complex than that.
But exercise does have an impact on my weight. It may not be from thermodynamics, burning off more than I consume. The mental influence a workout has on losing weight is harder to measure scientifically, yet for me it can't be underestimated. Even when working out and getting sweaty leaves me hungrier, it also helps me to make better choices because I know how hard I've worked and I don't want to undo that. The endorphins lift my mood. I create energy which then doesn't leave me tired, in need of a quick sugar fix. I get out of my apartment, around other people, and physically interrupt the binge pattern when I walk in to the Y or step onto a hiking trail. I don't feel quite so bad about myself after working out, and in the absence of guilt or self-loathing, the power of binge eating is reduced. Most importantly, exercise helps me to think more clearly.
I don't know if I will always be able to interrupt a binge. This is new territory for me. The fact that I've done it once gives me hope, though. It's one more tool in the arsenal.
When in doubt, I'll go work out.