How 10 Days of Silence Cured My Binge Eating Habit

binge eating

Your body is precious. It is your vehicle for awakening. Treat it with care.

Ever since I started blogging in September 2012, I haven’t had a problem sharing my heart and soul with the internet. Sharing deeply personal stories as a way to get my point across was a style of writing that came naturally to me and I never worried about sharing my personal struggles.

I’ve written about the pain of heartbreak, the shame I experienced of not turning up to a coaching call out of fear I wouldn’t be able to help my client, and what it’s like being broke whilst pursuing your dreams.

But there was one thing about all these posts that made it feel OK for me to share them. In each and every case, I had a handle on the situation. Yes, I was torn apart by having my heart broken. Yes, I felt a huge amount of shame about the client I never showed up for. And yes, admitting to my readers that I was struggling financially wasn’t an easy thing to do.

But in all those cases I also knew that they weren’t permanent. I could feel myself getting stronger and changing. I knew somewhere, even if it was deep inside, that heartbreak wouldn’t last forever. I knew myself well enough that having let one client down so badly, I wouldn’t let it happen again. And I knew that I was resourceful enough to earn money when I really needed to.

But there was one thing I never wrote about. There was one thing I wasn’t ready to share with my readers. It was the one thing I didn’t have a handle on.

And that was my relationship with food.

Growing up there was never a problem. I was lucky that my mum was always around to cook and she made sure that we always ate healthy, home-cooked food. I grew up knowing how to make healthy choices and how to cook for myself.

My problems began at university, when I shared a flat with more than one person with unhealthy attitudes towards food. Over time, their remarks and habits began to affect me. I wondered if I was eating too much. I wondered if I should lose a few pounds.

The problem became worse when I moved to France for a year as part of my studies. I spent much of that year feeling very lonely and used eating as a way to make myself feel better. You can imagine that in the land of all-butter croissants and delicious bread, I put on a few pounds.

When I returned to university the following year, I swung the other way and began to severely restrict my eating. My first long-term boyfriend bore the brunt of that period of my life. Moody, never wanting to leave the house, our existence together was often made miserable because of my relationship with my body and food.

But it wasn’t like this all the time. There were periods when I’d feel content and happy and ate pretty normally. And during those periods I thought that was it, I was cured! But sooner or later the problem returned.

After leaving my 9-5 office job in 2012 to explore what I really wanted to do with my life and eventually starting my own business, I thought my struggles with food were over. I thought being happy in my work would change everything.

It didn’t.

There were days when I’d just binge and binge. And then I’d spend the next two days making up for it and severely restricting my food intake. Then it would all start again and I’d just keep going in circles.

I’d eat so much that my head ached, my teeth ached and I went to bed not knowing if I’d make it through the night without being sick. That is something I never wanted. And every time I felt that way, I swore to myself this time was the last. I never wanted to feel like this again.

The Real Change

And then in 2014 I went on a 10-day silent Vipassana meditation course to go deeper into my personal and spiritual development. It didn’t cross my mind for a second that the course might have an effect on my eating habits.

But to my total surprise (and delight), over two months later and I haven’t binged once. Whilst two months may not seem like a long time to the average person, when it comes to my binge eating problem, believe me, it’s an eternity.

And it’s not because I’ve been painfully forcing myself not to eat the things I’m craving; I simply haven’t had the cravings. And since my diet has always been pretty healthy (binge eating aside) I’m beginning to feel like a totally different person.

On the one hand, it seems ridiculous to suggest that a 10-day meditation course could totally eliminate what felt like such a deep-rooted problem. On the other, I’m a firm believer that sometimes our longest standing problems can be solved in the blink of an eye when we stop expecting our rehabilitation to be complicated.

I’m not here to promote Vipassana as a way to cure addiction and I certainly wouldn’t recommend you book yourself on a course in the hope that it will cure you of your problems. But today I’d like to share with you just a few things I took from the course that you can easily put into practice yourself today.  Who knows, perhaps they will really make a difference to you too. I hope so because living a life controlled by eating isn’t so much fun.

3 Tips to Cure a Binge Eating Habit

Here are my 3 tips to cure a binge eating habit based on my experience:

1. Eat Really Slowly

Over the course of the 10 days, breakfast is served at 0630, lunch at 1100 and a piece of fruit and a cup of tea at 1700. Thinking I’d be starving later in the day, I helped myself to a massive bowl of porridge in the morning. But to my amazement, right from day one, I could barely manage it.

Why?

Because for 10 days there is complete silence; for 10 days you don’t look at anyone, you don’t smile at anyone, you don’t speak to anyone; for 10 days you don’t check your phone, write notes (although I actually did do that), listen to music, dance or take any form of exercise other than a gentle walk. So when it came to breakfast, it was just me, my bowl of porridge and 45 minutes to kill.

I have never eaten so slowly. I have never taken such great care over chewing my food. I have never eaten so consciously. Without the distractions of my computer and phone (which I’m ashamed to admit I’m normally tinkering with whilst I eat) I simply realised when I was full.

If you don’t already, I highly recommend making sure you make meal times just for eating. Clear your table of everything else and just eat. Whilst this is so simple, it was absolutely mind-blowing to me. Give it a try.

2. Be Silent

Vipassana teaches that all suffering comes from craving and aversion. We want something to happen and it doesn’t, so we suffer. We don’t want something to happen and it does, so we suffer. And this is essentially how most of us live our lives; wanting and not wanting things, reacting when they don’t or do happen and suffering as a result.

The technique of Vipassana meditation takes you into the physical sensations of your body and asks you to observe whatever is going on there with total neutrality. That is, whether a sensation is pleasant or unpleasant, you simply observe it with the understanding that every sensation impermanent; it cannot last forever. Observing sensations with neutrality essentially means that you have no attachment. And when there is no attachment, there is no craving or aversion.

Nothing could make up for the detailed teaching you experience on a 10-day course, but you can start today to become more aware of your body and sensations.

Simply sit for a period of time in silence with your eyes closed and move your attention slowly from your head to your feet, noticing any physical sensations. As you notice the sensations, don’t react to them. If there is an unpleasant sensation, simply observe it. It will not last forever. If there is a pleasant sensation, observe that too and realize that it too, will eventually disappear.

You can find a wealth of information online about practising Vipassana.

3. Let Go of Shame

This is the hardest story I’ve ever written to be published on the internet. I have felt so ashamed for so long that I wasn’t able to sort this problem out on my own.

I’m sharing it now because I know how common eating disorders are amongst both men and women. And because there’s so much shame in admitting something like this, we each feel that we have to struggle with it alone.

If you have an eating disorder or unhealthy relationship with food, please let go of your shame and seek to talk to someone about it. Whilst I’m always grateful for whatever life gives me and the lessons I learn along the way, I know life might have been very different these last few years if I’d have sought help sooner.

Are you struggling with, or have you overcome, an eating disorder? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below this post. 

Photo by danielle tineke

binge eating

Recommended Resources

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25 thoughts on “How 10 Days of Silence Cured My Binge Eating Habit”

  1. Wow. I hardly know where to start but as I’m writing this tears are welling up. So profoundly candid, interesting, informative and beautifully written. Thank you.x

  2. Thank you for writing this Leah. I am interested in silence meditation and that’s why I started reading the post, but by the end I was touched by your story. Please keep writing to help others.

    1. Hi Tim,
      Thank you for the kind comment. The 10 days of silent meditation was powerful for me but I know it’s a very different experience for everyone. I’d love to hear your experience if you ever decide to try it out. Love, Leah.

  3. Thank you thank you thank you. More than anything else, this disorder makes me feel lonely and isolated from people with “normal” relationships to food. The more people who speak out, the more help and hope is given to those of us who are still in the process of healing. Your words make a difference. Thank you.

    1. Hi Co,

      You’re welcome. I’m glad this piece spoke to you. I’m sure there are many people going through something similar thinking that they are alone. They are not. You are not. Be good to yourself. With love, Leah.

  4. Thank you for sharing – not easy to do so publicly.

    Am so glad you were introduced to Vipassana practice – I have been extolling its virtues for decades. It’s all so personal but ten days is quite an undertaking so please accept my warmest regards. (I’m trying not to sound patronising but ten days of silence would be quite alien for many people).

    I also read your suggestion for a gratitude jar – what a really nice and effective idea.

    Thank you and I look forward to reading more of your posts.

    1. Hi Zarayna,

      Oh no, you don’t sound patronising at all. The 10 days was certainly a powerful experience for me and I’m so glad of the opportunity to experience it. I’m looking forward to going deeper in my practice. How did you first come to practice Vipassana?

      Glad you liked the post about the gratitude jar too. I have mine sitting by my living room window. It’s a nice visual reminder of the many wonderful things in my life.

      With love,
      Leah

      1. Hello again,
        So glad you have so many positive comments. It’s strange in life, we all tend to think that the problems we have are unique to us or that we shouldn’t admit to them and then we find that there are many of us out there in exactly the same boat! And that in itself, is so liberating. Nothing new under the sun.
        I was most fortunate in being introduced to Buddhism, and hence Vipassana, in the early 1970s – a lifesaver indeed. It has widened my appreciation of all the main religions, philosophies and sciences so my gratitude jar (if I had one) would be monumental!
        I won’t rattle on but I do wish you well and thank you again for bringing up the topic.
        Kindest, Zara.

        1. Hi Zara,
          Yes, that is so much the problem. So scared to share our truth with others for fear that we will be judged and yet so many of us going through similar things and unable to help each other through it because of our fears of what people might think. You need an industrial-sized gratitude jar, Zara! With love, Leah.

  5. Thanks for sharing your story here, Leah. I’m glad you were able to find Vipassana meditation and it has helped you. I’ve never heard of Vipassana before, but I’ll certainly look into it. I practice Zen meditation and it has changed my life in many profound ways.

    1. Hi Lovelyn,
      I likewise don’t know anything about Zen meditation – I’ll have to look it up. Really, I think any form of being in silence is of great benefit. Not easy to put a ‘time-out’ on our busy lives though and recognise that slowing down actually helps us achieve more. Love, Leah

  6. Thank you for this post. I have been struggling with bulimia for the past 7 years. It began in highschool where I found myself surrounded by girls who were comparing themselves to one another and always trying to look the best. Growing up I was very sporty and active and blessed with a fast metabolism I had a really great figure. As high school became more intense, there was less time for all the sport and furthermore I was in an all-girls high school where most of the girls already knew each other from a young age. I felt an outsider most of my life and grew up in a bit of a broken family set up with a very unhealthy relationship to my family members and a father who was rather abusive. I craved attention and love which was absent in my childhood and not visible between my mother and father. We were not a close knit family and not much was shared. I was always the more emotional, philosophical one if you can say that, and often found myself analysing and questioning relationships or the state of it and why or how it was possible to be so dysfunctional. I found myself alone in these thoughts and wondered what was wrong with me, I found myself isolated and frustrated in my confusion. I went through different ways of self afflicted pain. There was the phase of cutting where I sought release from all the emotions I could not manage to share with anyone and then one day in highschool I found myself surrounded by girls having all sorts of diets and eating disorders and dropping weight and getting positive feedback. I was annoyed by this and then remembering also how my sister was always the most beautiful, the model and what not and how she would tease me innocently when I was young about my manly body and flat chest, this all seemed to stay with me. One day the cutting stopped and I found myself in a downward spiral with food. I restricted and counted calories and then when I felt I had one too many I would just binge until I couldn’t anymore because I was going to throw it up anyway I thought I would make it count. This quickly became my escape every time there was some sort of emotional swing I could not release normally, I turned to food and still do… I have tried for years to stop, I eventually shared it with people, but then I saw how they reacted and treated me differently and so I ended up more frustrated and angry, hiding it even more carefully and then denying that I still had the problem… I wanted to go to clinics but my family has no money for that. I wanted to keep a diary, but it didn’t work for me. I went to psychologists and psychiatrists and spoke all I could but nothing changed. I now go through periods where it happens three times a day most days when I find a moment where noone is around. I am not so sure how to do it anymore… My teeth have suffered, I have had stomach ulcers, my tongue has been ripped to shreds, I had a blood bubble on my oesophagus before… All of this is really tiring and worrying and burdensome. I found my school work suffering, relationships ending and I am really tired of giving this thing so much power over my life. REading your story has motivated me to not give up and funny enough someone suggested a vipassana course to me whilst I was looking into it myself a while back. Like you said, it is not that I believe it is a cure, but I wanted to get back in touch with myself and where I am going in my life because I have been lost for so long and as I am at university now, in a foreign country on another continent for the last three years, I really feel the need to take control of my life and put the right foot forward into my future. I want to enjoy life and I want to treat my body with the respect and love it deserves. I want to love myself so that I can share true love with others around me. Anyway, thank you for sharing your story. You have awoken my desire to try again

    1. Hello Simone,
      So very glad you have come forward and shared your story. Excellent! Leah is good, isn’t she? Her retreat has certainly done her the world of good enabling her to come forward and suggest wise ways for us.
      I just wonder if you might consider creating a little oasis for yourself that doesn’t revolve around your health? When I was going through tough times two things helped. I did voluntary work for those worse off than me – the more you look, the more there are – and I absorbed myself (mind and body) by writing short stories whose endings got progressively happier as I healed. It might be worth considering helping out with animals simply because they don’t judge you and, (if you feed them!) my, how they love you. It seems that we don’t have to do too much just to be really
      useful to someone. Needless to say, there is a tendency to get more back from those we set out to help than we give them.
      Hope, I haven’t confused you. The idea is to ring-fence a certain portion of your time and within that space, to occupy yourself with anything positive that suits you and is separate from your disorder (as much as you can). Hence, no nagging from yourself or others. I am sure you have a whole list of exciting and useful things you can develop and it will be fun discovering them. And then sharing with us!
      Keep in touch, won’t you?
      Love and kindest, Zara.

      1. Hi there Zara,

        Thanks for the follow up and sharing your ideas with me. I am currently going through all of this that I wrote and that which I have read from both you and Leah. I will definitely keep you posted and if there is anything more you would like to share with me on this I would appreciate it and loved to hear more. I think what I missed was support. The right kind. And the problem was I couldn’t really say for myself what exactly that was. I guess it was easier to recognise what it was not when it occurred if you know what I mean. Anyhow, since I replied to this post, I do feel this is right and I would like to continue exploring and hearing and sharing and trying things so once again I thank you and appreciate any further sharing from you. All the best and I shall keep you updated here. Simone

  7. Hi Simone,
    Thank you so, so much for sharing so openly your own story with me and the other members of this community. I hear everything you’re saying and I am so happy if the simple sharing of my story has given you the desire to look again for a way to come out of it. I lived, at a later time than in this story, with someone with bulimia too and so I know just a little about it. I think your experience is probably the experience of many – to try so many different things to end it that haven’t worked for you. If you feel drawn to trying Vipassana, then yes, give it a go. Like I say, I think it would be wrong to go with any sort of expectation that it might change anything, but at the very least it’s a powerful experience of just being with yourself in silence. That in itself can do so much good. I saw some people at the course going through what looked like quite painful emotional experiences. I think it can be really tough. But everyone’s experience is different. All I know is, there is a way out so please keep moving forward and don’t lose hope. With love, Leah.

    1. Hi Simone,
      How lovely to hear from you again. I guess you have now figured out that you have developed a bit of a problem in part due to a lack of support, validation and inspiration from those who are supposed to offer those qualities. You know, we are a social species and we need each other. Amongst the worst punishments is the isolation of solitary confinement. Of course, what you have also probably realised is that these people are not bad, just simply inadequate. And inadequate people seldom admit to the fact; they tend to cover it up by scapegoating or bullying others. Or to put it another way, you have depths, sensitivities and insight (or are developing them) which they are incapable of. After you fully recover, you will be able to really serve those who deserve and can appreciate your understanding.
      In the meantime, vipassana or mindfulness is so useful because it simply teaches us to focus on being aware. Thus all of our experiences are material to be used to learn from and by learning and understanding our fears and anxieties tend to diminish. Just washing dishes becomes therapeutic – no room to get caught up in our tyrannical thoughts. Simply walking in the mall or in the countryside becomes an insightful exploration of the world whilst being aware that our nagging thoughts are just that and can be allowed to fade away without reacting to them.
      I was also thinking that as you are of a sporty disposition I wonder if you might consider joining a dance class? I am thinking of activities you can adopt that allow you to get away from your disorder for a while and which are emotionally neutral. And with dancing it can be fun and a skill and also social. Another thing you might like to investigate are Meetup groups if they are available where you are. Maybe public speaking, or a writing group or any hobby you fancy that doesn’t put a strain on you. I have a friend who has a cheap hobby of going round junk and charity shops and trying to buy cheap jewellery pieces – something interesting and pretty and rewarding. It will be so nice if and when you can find people who actually want to get on and make a contribution to the world instead of all those boring, negative people you have been exposed to. Interesting people will want to elevate you; charlatans want to control you.
      Hope I haven’t confused you. It’s such an interesting world with so many treasures (as well as pitfalls) and you will know that we all tend to take two steps forward and one back but that is all OK. You are doing all right and will be doing better.
      Anyway, I wish you well and am sending out kind thoughts towards you.
      Love and kindest thoughts, Zara.

  8. Leah,
    Thank you for an inspiring story.
    I had the same problem for a few years, constantly fighting against myself. And here I am, after another evening binge, trying to find some help online. I have read many websites, offering various solutions, but I love your spiritual approach. It feels right and true to me.
    It’s sad that every time I try to speak to someone about it, I feel so ashamed. Sometimes people say it is ‘not a real problem’ or that I am slim, nothing is wrong with me, but I feel so useless and worthless after every binge, that it has become not only physical, but psychological issue.
    I will try my best to follow your advice.
    All the best,
    Gabby

  9. Hi Gabby,

    Just wanted to say hello and congratulate you on sharing your story. Hang in there and eventually you will find a way through – life is never easy and even just accepting that can be calming.
    Don’t forget some of the people that you approached were defensive simply because they don’t know how to help and thus feel pretty inadequate and find any old excuse not to even try (protecting our self-image is a huge and silly problem we all have from time to time and sometimes permanently).
    Allow me to wish you well. As I may have said before, once you begin to find a way to close the door on your ‘problems’ other doors will open onto a bright and bountiful world (but still with some problems!)
    Thinking of you and sending good vibes.

  10. Firstly Leah, thankyou <3
    Like Gabby, I am currently experiencing a horrible binge period. It seems to have lasted weeks. And it's really showing. I'd come back to UK from australia after being too tired to continue travelling (chronic fatigue) and sought to get help here. This hasnt happened and after looking pretty healthy and feeling positive, after 3 months I have deteriorated and look puffy, pale, chubby and depressed.
    I haven't left the house in 3 weeks. No one really knows I exist anymore.
    The interesting part is how I have a (seemingly) loving family. But all completely ignore the issue. Big smiles and bravado and like to make out it isn't really serious, which makes me feel like I'm dramatic, attention seeking etc.
    But when I look at it from an outsiders perspective and imagine knowing someone who at 28 has had this disorder for 15 years and still has the same behaviour as at 18 I would take it pretty seriously.
    It is that families like to bury their head in the sand? Deny any problem because its too painful?
    My mother is back from holiday (she left me for a month in the house, alone, to look after my 100 yr old granny and her holiday letting business, knowing that when im at home, alone I self destruct and knowing that I have crippling social anxiety) in 2 days and I'm ashamed of her seeing me. I haven't stopped bingeing and can barely do any exercise.
    She, as always, will list all the things I haven't done and after I awkwardly try to explain to her how my mental health has been and how diffcult ive found things, she will be slightly sypathetic but walk off and not want to talk about it.
    When I was in Australia, a lot of people suggested I do a Vipassana. They didnt know about my problems but obviously were getting a certain energy from me. So reading this has really helped me gain some clarity through this sludgy fogg.
    Along those lines, I think a spiritual path may be the way to go. So I have been looking for Ashrams/ retreats to stay in to learn new habits and learn self love. almost like a budget recovery centre!
    I am looking at Thailand at the moment but have been searching for the right place for weeks and its making bulimia worse with the anxiety!
    Can't wait to find appropriate place.
    I'm glad I came across this post, it has given me hope. Especially when one feels so utterly lonely and desperate.
    Thanks again Leah and good luck Simone, and anyone else working through similar problems. We are not alone <3

    Tash

    1. I can totally relate to everything that you are saying Natasha. Don’t feel alone. I wonder how you went with your Vipassana as this post was from some time ago. I am booked in to go in June this year, hopeful, yet trying not to have too much expectation, or put too many conditions on the process. I’ve suffered 20 years of disordered eating though, and am desperate to to find and end to it all and to be able to enjoy life to the fullest.

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