“It’s not my fault. You should have more willpower! I shouldn’t have to give up what I want because you can’t control yourself!” – My friend rehashed her conversation with animation and frustration.
These unfortunate words from a fight between a friend and her husband after a package of candy disappeared overnight due to compulsive/binge eating were a sharp reminder of how often people think willpower is the only key to weight loss and eating heatlhy.
The assumption that overweight people lack will power is very common. A lot of people think you just have to tell yourself no. Eat less calories. Skip desserts. Only eat one of those cookies in your cookie jar. Tell yourself no and your diet will fall into place and you’ll lose weight and life will be grand. Suck it up buttercup and get some more willpower!
I think this type of thinking is hugely detrimental to people that have disordered eating habits and actual eating disorders. Clearly a lot of us have more to deal with than just saying no.
I spent and hour talking with my friend about the idea of willpower, compulsive thoughts, and binge eating disorder.
She had made her husband feel terrible about his binge episodes because she didn’t understand what could compell him to go back after dinner and eat 2 chicken breasts, a serving of carrots, a serving of onions, soup, a full bag of Halloween candy, and more food. How could he eat all the food she had prepared for them for the next day?
I explained that it’s very likely he has a problem with binge eating and is displaying a lot of binge eating signs. Obviously I’m not a doctor but as someone who has had my own binge eating experiences and therapy for it, I felt she should understand he probably doesn’t want to be doing that.
Compulsive eating, binge eating, isn’t fun and it’s not just about willpower.
Leting Go Of Shame
Eating disorders are secretive and insidious – over time they start to consume and control you without help.
For many years I struggled with the shame of my struggles with binge eating and compulsive eating. I didn’t want anyone to know what I did. I tried to hide my habits. I cried when my roommate found out and got mad at me for eating her food during a binge. I didn’t know why I was so broken or why I couldn’t control myself like other people could.
It didn’t matter that these disordered eating habits developed to help me through having an abusive parent. It didn’t matter that they made sense in my situation… all I felt was shame from not being able to be a normal weight or eat like a normal person. I felt shame because people around me didn’t understand. My mom didn’t understand, my roommates didn’t understand, some people still don’t understand.
People who have never struggled with an eating disorder struggle to understand the pain it can cause. They say things like “you need more willpower” and “why can’t you control yourself?” The confusion and misunderstanding causes more pain and shame and is counterproductive when someone struggles with binge eating.
Going to therapy and writing this blog have helped a lot with the shame I used to feel over this. I learned that people close to me and around the world suffered from similar problems. There is no shame in having these types of struggles. The only shame is in not getting help and getting to a healthier place.
Help Getting Started
For the beginning of weight loss it’s often a lot easier to control the types of food around you. Having your “trigger” foods in the house can lead to a binge quickly. The friend mentioned earlier opened the candy bad for one fun-size snickers. That one candy bar led to a out-of-control binge eating episode. Perhaps keeping candy out of the house might have prevented it.
Personally I’ve learned to not keep certain foods at home. There are some foods I can’t keep at home like cereal and candy. While it’s easier now than it was in the beginning, I’ve found it’s simply easier and doesn’t take as much control and thought to just keep these things away from my kitchen. Keeping these foods out of my house is my own form of self-control and self-discipline.
Willpower and self-control is something that can be learned and improved over time. But if you are suffering from an untreated eating disorder then the first step is getting some professional help. I highly recommended my friend find a therapist to help with binge eating and would recommend it to anyone that is suffering. The people immediately around you might not understand what you are dealing with but a trained therapist will. It will help, I promise!
I’m not saying that willpower doesn’t exist and some people will never have it. In the beginning, when you are deep in bad habits and disordered eating habits, sometimes developing the strength to say no can be difficult. It’s even more difficult when you are staring the problem right in the face, with candy right under your nose.
You can learn self-discipline, which is what willpower really is. You won’t immediately be able to look at a box of chocolates and say no but over time you’ll learn and grow and be able to determine how to make the best choices for yourself.
Those foods engineered to make you crave more can be left of the shelf easier than they can be turned down when they are within arm’s reach. Keeping things that are tested and made to make you want more, to crave more, to not be able to stop eating are very common among processed foods. Keeping these in the house when you have trouble with binge eating is often a recipe for disaster.
Starting to exercise your willpower at the grocery store and getting help with this from those you live with is a great first step when you are struggling with compulsive eating habits. Over time leaving these foods at the store and saying no can help you build confidence and pride in your ability to say no and avoid temptations.
There is no end game with food. You’ll be eating food for the rest of your life.
Making peace with it sooner rather than later is something we should all work towards. Building willpower and healthy eating habits might not happen overnight but it’s worth working on rather than struggling through disordered eating forever.
Just give yourself and those around you a little compassion when dealing with these types of problems because it can be an area full of shame, confusion, frustration, and a whole mess of negative emotions. Building willpower over time is possible but screaming “You should have more willpower!” at someone doesn’t achieve anything useful at all.