Nutrition Woes: Eating Disorder

I struggle with a problem and feel it’s closely related to my training, so I decided to share it with the community: I slowly come to accept that I may have an eating disorder. Binge eating.

Let me back up a bit and give some context.
Almost 12 month ago I started to really get into triathlon training, healthy eating and changing my lifestyle for the better.
One of my goals was to improve my physique, which also meant loosing some weight along the way. With a bit of experience from my past I decided that counting calories was the way to go.
I followed my plan to the T. Over the course of the last year I went from 85 kg down to 70 kg. Even though I was almost always living in a deficit I saw huge gains in my cardio- and strength performance (call it noob gains, if you will).

My approach was heavily dependent on technology. I logged all my food and all my exercise, every step and every training session. I added my “active calories” on top of my daily goal, which meant that I could eat a lot more on an active day than on a rest day.
My energy levels and steady progress gave me no reason to overthink this method during all the month. It simply worked — for me.

After a few months I went from training 2 or 3 times a week to a more ambitious schedule. Along the way I discovered sufferfest and already improved a lot of my knowledge and skills.
All of a sudden I could eat and eat and eat and still maintain my goals, because my body used so much of my nutrition intake as fuel.
On a particularly “big” Sunday I could easily train for three orfour hours and afterwards throw down a few thousand calories. I never felt too full and my body never really signaled me to stop.
Or maybe I should better say: I couldn’t hear any fullness signals anymore and my body was confused. My hormones probably a bit out of whack.

Without noticing it my small meal portions got bigger and bigger. My scale was still happy, I felt good, my muscle mass seemed to do ok.
I got compliments. I felt unbeatable at times. All was good. Lots of food became a reward after lots of training.
My (for normal people) excessive training lead to excessive eating. Binge training -> Binge eating. They were canceling each other out.

I didn’t know that I was slowly steering towards a real problem.

It’s really tough to explain. I have a pretty stressful job, a newborn son, don’t get enough sleep many days, started a tough training routine — but I loved every part of it.
All of this just lead to this whole experience. Sometimes my mind just wants to stop thinking about anything. Food “helps”.
Quite a few times I ended up eating much more than I needed, especially on the evenings or weekends. I called it “refueling”. My body “needed” it. I was lying to myself.
If I went a bit over my calories I thought to myself: “The day is already ruined, might as well get everything in now…”.

It all exploded big time in June 2020 when I started my first proper vacation in a long time.
Since I only planned to spend time at home and with my family it was no problem to keep up with my training schedule.
But after a week my motivation started slipping away a bit. I decided that a small break in counting my calories and controlling my food will be ok.
If I’m honest to myself now, it was just an excuse to start eating everything I could find. Much more that I needed.
I don’t know why and how but I kept going into the kitchen. “One more small snack”, “Just a piece of cake”, “a spoon full of peanut butter”…
Many days I felt sick. Many times I swore to myself it was the last day. Somehow it wasn’t.

During my exercises I feel absolutely strong-willed — I can put mind over body.
But when it comes to food, I now feel a bit helpless.

I gained back a bit of weight and lost a lot of my positive body feeling — even knowing it’s only temporary and feel like a hamster in a wheel doing the same stuff all over again. This behavior is unhealthy and I will try my best to overcome this.

My solution:
Starting right now I change my way of eating quite a bit, again. I still count calories, but I am doing heavy meal prep in advance. Higher intake every day, but without eating back active calories.
And I’m not trying to be too strict with myself. I still have goals, but I am not too fixated on the outcome anymore.
My dialed my training volume back and will start with a new beginner plan this week.

Slow. Mindful. Hopeful.

Anyway… I thought I’d share this. Maybe to get a conversation going.
Maybe just to get it out there into the world — for myself.

When I write all of this down I even feel a bit silly. How can I be so fit and unhealthy at the same time? Is it even a real problem?

Do you have any experience with binge eating? Or Problems like this?
Maybe a few tips and tricks up your sleeve?

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Ouch.
Only one word to share - ditto.
I sorted all this out 10 years ago, using tech, tracking, running improved amazingly… year on year the weight dropped off.
Last few years have been terrible … tech no longer helps, work ‘stress’ and so on seem to have for me in to a ‘can’t live without lots of rubbish’ habit that I haven’t succeeded in kicking for years (it’s like alcohol (which I can bin for months at a time easily though) stories … I shouldn’t buy the rubbish food but I do …

The only success I’ve had is having someone ‘watching’ me - sad, but I seem to need that almost ‘coach’ at my back. That only lasted a month though. But a longer term coaching arrgt that includes things like this is my single ‘tip’.

Thank you @Sir_Martin for the reply.

My wife is supporting me as best as she can. But I do work shifts and many evenings she is already asleep. This leaves me on my own and is a recipe for trouble.

It’s almost funny: I have absolutely no problem staying away from alcohol and other vices. Doing it for many years. But food, that’s a whole other story now…

I tried techniques I found in podcasts, meditation, books and try to distract myself with other hobbies and activities. Sometimes it works for a few days but in the end the binge is happening.

One day at a time, I guess.

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Yup :japanese_ogre::japanese_ogre:

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@P.Weikamp thanks for sharing. I deal with something similar myself. I follow a pretty well balanced plan, but it all hinges on a great amount of exercise to maintain the portions that make me happy. However, two months ago I broke my collarbone and had to stop exercising completely.

The adaptation was not easy and gave me quite a bit of stress. I have been talking to my nutritionist dial back on food amounts in proportion, however, there will be changes and it is ok. Still to this day I’m still on a recovery stage, so the process is still ongoing.

I think we have to be disciplined, but also be kind to ourselves. It’ll be ok!

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I’m another one with a food issue. Not quite like yours but I think many issues like these have small variances.

I have a problem with portion control - to me, a sensible lunch is 4 slices of bread with 2 tins of tuna and a little light mayo. I think most people would have half this. Beans on toast? Whole tin on 4 slices. Light snack? 6 oatcakes with 60g cheese… Let’s not get into cake and chocolate, or entire packets of biscuits.
I think much of this stems from my teenage passion of bodybuilding, where rampant teen hormones mixed with heavy weights meant insatiable appetite that just fuelled growth without disadvantage. Add 35 years and slowing metabolism and I can’t eat the same now, or at least I shouldn’t!
I use calorie counting to help keep me in touch, but like you did I still eat more on active days when I’ve ‘earned’ the extra. I guess I could take the average of the last month or two in terms of daily calorie expenditure and eat that every day then not add in extra on training days, but that wuld require planning. I still might - won’t take much to put together a spreadsheet to work it out, and I have years of training to look back on if I need to :slight_smile:

Recently I’ve started intermittent fasting, where I generally fast 16hrs between last night’s evening meal and the first one today, but still eat my usual daily allowance plus training calories, just in a smaller window. It apparently helps burn fat. I’ve lost about 5kg in the last 2 months this way and feel ok, but don’t know whether I’m losing fat or muscle or both. I have FF on Sunday so I guess I’ll find out.

I’ve lost reasonable amounts of weight before, and in order to stay sane I’ve usually employed some form of weekly reward, where I’d eat a particularly calorific meal (in my case KFC - how’s that for nasty? lol) once per week as my ‘treat’. I’d make sure I stayed within my calorie target for the whole week by eating below it most days to ‘save’ calories for this meal. It worked for me and helped keep me motivated.
This time I’m not doing that, instead I have a small bar of chocolate after dinner every night, and that’s it. If I’m feeling tired ot really hungry I’ll splurge (did this yesterday and gained 900g overnigt), but I know it’s going to happen and I’m ok with it because I also know I can get back on track after it and weight will come down again.

I suspect this is a similar pattern to others, just the details vary. I know I have a food issue and I love to feel full after every meal, so add me to your list of athletes with an unhealthy relationship with food!

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Thank you, all for sharing. As a doc I believe that this is a problem at all levels in sports (particularly endurance sports) and consistently under recognised - your raising your personal experience is invaluable.

For further perspective here’s a pro account of something similar https://cyclingtips.com/2020/05/harsh-realities-of-womens-cycling-part-three-eating-disorders/

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I’m right there with you - weeks of being really strict with myself, followed by inhaling everything. I’ve been much better since I stopped training so much, but I still have an unhealthy obsession with peanut butter.

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Don’t get me started on peanut butter. :slight_smile:
I can eat it in so many variations it’s mind boggling.
The best: Straight out of the jar. How can something be so good and so bad at the same time?

As a small update to this thread: Thank you all for sharing. It’s really nice to see that I am not alone on this one.

I am working hard to „be good“ this month. And I feel like it’s working so far. Three days may seem like a little - but is already huge for me.

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Brilliant phrase - that about sums it up … I am impressed though … you can do weeks at a time - that’s progress !!

May I ask, why are you so strict with yourself in the first place? Maybe this could be part of the problem?

I am asking because I want - nay, need - to learn about these kind of things. There is the idea of intuitive eating, where you never restrict and therefore never feel the need to „over regulate“ by inhaling everything. :slight_smile:
It‘s all just theory to me.

I do exactly the same: I am strict to loose weight and reach my fitness goals. Until I am …not. At the end, it‘s a vicious cycle.

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Because I thought skinny = fast, and I’m vain and don’t like the way I look in a tri suit.

Right now, I’m just letting my body be whatever composition it wants, and trying to just eat well 80-90% of the time, while staying somewhat active.

My big goal now is being active and enjoying it for the long haul.

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80/90% is a tall order. I am rooting for you.

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Nutrition is the one thing I’ve never got my head around at all. At the moment I’m mostly training late evening around 10pm for 1-2 hours. I’m tired and I won’t have eaten for 5 hours so food is my reward. So I have something unhealthy like nachos or oatcakes and a lot of cheese then find myself reaching for some chocolate and it’s never just a tiny bit. I feel like it’s a bad choice but if I didn’t I wouldn’t recover properly. Weight isn’t really an issue for me but I have put a few kilos on not doing longer outdoor rides this summer and it’s kinda ridiculous given my body type and training volume.

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Just a quick update on my situation: I’m doing pretty well right now. I had a minor set back (binge) on the 2nd of this month, otherwise I’m staying strong.

I’m trying to take it slow. Responsible. Most importantly: I’m trying to be aware that a setback could be around every corner - and that it won’t be the end of the world.
I’ve got my goal in mind. I’m in it for the long run.

Posting it here in the forum gives me - at least - some kind of accountability.

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Good job @P.Weikamp! Love the calendar with the checks and such. Is this a custom made thingy?

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Thank you very much.

It’s a screenshot out of a nutrition app. I use it to log all of my progress.

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Arg, last week I was so proud of my progress. But slowly exhaustion was creeping in. A hard week at work and exercising in the heat made for a weird weekend.

I ate a bit more on saturday, binged all out on sunday and couldn’t control myself yesterday evening either.
Sometimes I could scream.

Back to square one. Today is a new day.
I can’t seem to break my pattern. Yet…

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My challenge is that I link post ride food to recovery, so why not recover a bit more, mid evening, legs still ache, energy not high, so obviously another snack is needed, only 1 snack away from recovering. While non sportspeople consider me thin, I am heavy for a cyclist and could certainly do with dropping a few kilo

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Ah, the justification game. :slight_smile: I understand this too well. Our minds can’t be trusted when it comes to this. Sadly, I have no good resolution.

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