I’ve already had the great opportunity to speak with many women about their recovery from eating disorders and emotional eating (you can find the interviews here). I hope to regularly feature Q&As with individuals who’ve recovered from eating disorders, binge eating, negative body image or any kind of disordered eating. If you’d like to share your story of recovery, I’d love to hear from you! You can email me at [email protected].

In part two of my interview with writer and health coach Eleanor Kohlsaat, she talks more about her recovery from binge eating. Specifically, she discusses her “rude awakening,” why she doesn’t feel guilty anymore, how families can help their loved one, why “experts” aren’t always right and more.

Whether you’ve also struggled with binge eating, poor body image, yo-yo dieting or another form of disordered eating, I think you’ll find some valuable words of wisdom and insight in this interview.

If you haven’t read part one, check it out here.

7. What has been the toughest part about overcoming binge eating?

The hardest part was discovering that, contrary to what I once believed, losing weight doesn’t mean everything else in your life falls into place. Our culture teaches us that thin equals happy. False advertising, as it turns out. In fact, once you deal with your food issues, your other problems rise to the surface and demand to be addressed. You begin to see why binge eating was so seductive in the first place — as a distraction.

It was a rude awakening, but it’s been great to be able to focus on what’s important in my life, rather than wasting my energy struggling with food. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that within a year of quitting binge eating, I began writing a novel. That’s something I’d always wanted to do, but I didn’t have the attention span to do it. My food obsession had essentially squelched my creativity. Once I wasn’t preoccupied with food anymore, I discovered I had a lot of creative energy.

8. Do you still struggle with the urge to binge? If so, how do you deal with it?

There are times when I want to eat more than I have room for — at Thanksgiving, for example, or if I go out to a nice restaurant and the food is really good. And occasionally, I do eat more than my body wants. Then I begin to feel uncomfortably full, so I stop. Before, I would have ignored that full feeling and kept eating in a desperate sort of way, feeling guilty and horrible, knowing I was going to redouble my efforts at weight loss in the future, so I might as well cram in as much as I could.

The difference is that now when I overeat, I don’t feel guilty. Food is just food. If I eat too much, I may get indigestion or feel sluggish. If I don’t eat enough, I get hungry and lightheaded. The consequences I care about are physical ones, not moral ones.

Every once in a while, when I feel depressed, bored, or anxious, I still think about food. It’s sort of a knee-jerk reaction. At those times, I just pause and remember that food doesn’t solve any of those problems. Of course, if I’m hungry, I eat what my body is asking for. If I’m not hungry, I do something else, like read a book, take a nap, practice yoga, or go for a walk, and the urge to binge goes away.

9. Any misconceptions that you’ve run into about binge eating?

I think the biggest misconception is that binge eating is 100 percent emotional. My clients often label themselves emotional eaters. So I’ll ask them: When are you most susceptible to emotional eating? They reply: When I get home from work, after I’ve been good all day. Well, being “good” can mean different things. It can mean doing what’s expected of you, and it can also mean sticking to a restrictive diet. For a lot of women, those two things are connected. I think in those cases, a binge can be every bit as physical as it is emotional.

There are definitely emotional components involved in binge eating, but you can spend forever analyzing your emotional hunger without getting anywhere unless you address your biological hunger as well.

And deprivation doesn’t just mean calorie restriction. You can eat thousands and thousands of calories and still be malnourished. Or you can follow a diet that looks perfect on paper, but if there’s something you need that you’re not getting, you’ll still want to keep eating.

10. What insights have you taken away from your struggles and recovery?

As I mentioned earlier, in my experience, most people with food issues tend to really care a lot about what other people think. That’s something I’ve had to overcome — not entirely, but to a certain extent.

There’s so much pressure in our society — from friends, parents, popular culture — to act a certain way, look a certain way, be the person others expect you to be. You have to learn to be true to yourself and do what’s right for you, in your diet and in your life.

11. What can families do to help a loved one who’s struggling with binge eating?

That’s a tough one. It’s frustrating to watch someone struggling with a food problem and nothing you say or do seems to help. The most important thing, in my view, is to demonstrate that you love and accept that person as they are right now, independent of them behaving a certain way or meeting your qualifications. You value them just for being themselves.

Clamping down on a binge eater is the worst thing you can do. The second worst thing you can do is make comments, either negative or positive, about what they eat or how much. Most binge eaters are highly sensitive to being judged, and trust me, they’re already acutely aware of everything they put into their mouth.

If you’re a parent or someone else responsible for bringing food into the home, try to create an atmosphere of healthy abundance. Make sure there’s always food available, but real food that needs to be prepared, not processed food that can just be scarfed out of the package. Don’t place an undue emphasis on serving sizes. We all need to figure out for ourselves what constitutes an appropriate portion and to make mistakes and learn from them.

12. I absolutely love your tagline for your blog, Make Friends With Food: “In pursuit of healthy eating…without getting too crazy about it.” Can you elaborate on what this tagline means?

Nutrition is very important, of course, but so is moderation. People with food problems tend to see things in black and white. We view foods as either good or bad, and ourselves as good or bad for having eaten them. And we love diet rules: don’t eat carbs, avoid saturated fat, stay under a certain number of calories or points. Embracing rules somebody else made up, and then feeling like a failure when you don’t follow them, can definitely drive a person over the edge.

In my blog, I encourage people to take responsibility for their own eating habits. Learn everything you can about healthy eating, and remember that just because nutrition information comes from an “expert” doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for you.

Trust your body and feel free to experiment and figure out for yourself what you need. If you make choices that aren’t perfect, cut yourself a little slack. Just make a mental note of what works and what doesn’t, and proceed from there.

13Anything else you’d like readers to know about binge eating, your story or a related topic?

One thing that can help is to find an activity that allows you to tune into your body’s voice, like yoga, meditation, dancing, painting, or writing. We’re so inundated with messages about weight loss and nutrition. Food manufacturers are trying to sell us their products, diet purveyors are trying to sell us theirs. I really think recovery means learning to distinguish your own physical reality from all that noise out there.

One last note for people who think they’re too busy to take care of themselves. It’s not selfish to prioritize your own health and well-being! You need a strong foundation of health before you can contribute your gifts to the world. I just wish I could convince everyone struggling with body image problems that they have so much more to offer.

Thanks for spending time with me! If you’d like to read more about having a healthy relationship with food, please visit my blog Make Friends With Food.

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A big thank-you to Eleanor for graciously sharing her story, a story that so many of us are all too familiar with. If you do struggle with eating issues, remember that you aren’t alone, and you can get better, regardless of how many years you’ve been struggling. After a 15-year battle with binge eating, Eleanor was able to recover and develop a healthy relationship with food – and herself. Like Eleanor said, you “have so much more to offer.”