I have a confession.
I am a Personal Trainer and I have binge issues and eating disorders.
It took me three years to be comfortable with telling this story and most times I was afraid. But I’ve never felt more braver and empowered to tell you this story today.
My intention for this article is to share my experiences, and hopefully give you some hope if you are struggling with binge eating or other eating disorders. While I have successfully dealt with these issues, I want you to know that what helped me in dealing with this might not be the best solution for you.
LET’S GO BACK TO 2010
If you’ve stuck around for a while, then you probably knew about my big weight loss story on how I lost 20 kilos over 8 months. I’ve said it over and over again that losing that much weight has been the best moments in my life. I was proud of myself and it has in fact opened my life up to so many opportunities right now.
I won’t deny it. I’m doing what I’m doing right now and loving every single bit of it because of that.
In fact, losing weight has brought me deep into the realm of fitness, health and exercise. Ever since I lost weight, I’ve been reading more of everything, fitness books, self-development articles, fiction novels and don’t be surprised, textbooks. I still spend afternoons on end reading scientific literature on various topics. Those interests I’ve sparked upon myself have led me to where I am today.
But it isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. In fact, I wish I had done so many things differently when I was losing weight because that journey has caused me massive problems in the years after it, up till this very day.
As much as it wasn’t as bad as The Biggest Loser style type of thing, my way of losing weight in 2010 was quite drastic, so to speak. For eight months, I stuck to a strict 1200-calorie diet. I counted every single calorie I’m taking in. I was even afraid of having a banana because one medium has at least 120 calories. That’ll definitely blow up my snack allowance.
I knew the calories of most food. I still remember when my friends will, jokingly, ask me how much calories that yogurt I’m eating contains, and I will magically have the answer accurate to an error of about 10 calories. I felt like a walking calorie counter, but I was intensely proud of it. On top of that, I adopted several rules of feeding like eating every three hours, five to six times a day. Like a baby, I get absolutely cranky if I don’t get my three-hourly feed.
I made sure I measured up every single thing I’m eating, and I will cut those strawberries so I eat only and exactly 100g. Not even 101g.
I labelled foods as good and bad, and only stuck to eating ‘clean’.
I have a cheat day on Sundays, telling myself I can have whatever I wanted to because I’ve been good the whole week.
And then when Monday comes, the 1200-calorie cycle begins again.
Working out was a whole different story. I exercised, and I exercised for at least an hour a day, six times a week — including Sunday because you know, it’s cheat day. I even had a heart rate monitor that tells me how many calories I’m burning. On my cheat days, I will aim to burn over 1500 calories, so I don’t feel too bad eating more than I usually do. All this repeated itself for at least FORTY weeks.
The results? 20 kilos dead and gone.
Now here’s the thing I didn’t know back then. If you’ve never had any history of yo-yo dieting, you don’t have a history of metabolic conditions, you’re eating 1200 calories a day and you’re exercising every single day like a mad person, then I’ll be straight out honest — you will lose weight. That’s just how it is.
The problem for me was that it took me three years, an eating disorder and a nutrition certificate to get that. I wished someone had told me that losing weight shouldn’t be that restrictive.
POST WEIGHT LOSS
Losing 20 kilos was great. After I finished my very first 10km run in epic timing, I still remembered the very first thought that went through my mind.
Now where do I go from here? I’ve lost the weight, and now I just needed to maintain it right? I can’t just put on all those weight I’ve lost.
Didn’t know any better, I tried maintaining my weight by continuing to eat as I did in the 8 months prior. I still counted my calories, and I still stuck to eating every three hours, and I still have my cheat days on Sunday. Except that, I grew hungrier and hungrier as the day passes by. I felt like the 1200-calorie I was feeding myself was not enough, but I was afraid of increasing my calorie intake, afraid I will put on the weight again. I consulted my brother, the one person I looked up to till this day when it comes to fitness and health and he advised me to eat more.
And that was when my battle with disordered eating started.
Like a snowball, disordered eating does not happen overnight, it is an accumulation of a number of nights.
It all started after I’ve completed my first Personal Training certificate, when I left home for Singapore to start a new career in the fitness industry. On top of my ‘always hungry’ problems, I was going through a whole new change. Moving countries is a big deal, especially when you’re moving to start a new career and a new job. It wasn’t easy to restrict myself by counting calories. Especially when you’re in Singapore.
The peak of my eating disorder happened when all I could think of was food, from the moment I woke up to the moment I fall asleep. After settling in the new country, I tried increasing my daily calorie intake to 1500 but I couldn’t keep up because I felt bad. I’ll wake up and have a calorie-controlled breakfast, only to stop calorie counting at lunch because I don’t see the point anymore. I’m not exaggerating but every thought every single day revolves around negative self-talk, and I was literally beating myself up for not being able to limit myself to the 1200-calorie diet I used to be so good at.
Once I put food into my mouth, I lose control. It’s as though my body could not sense when I’m full and I will keep eating until it was too late.
The worse of it all? Pretending I haven’t had dinner before meeting my friends, only to have eaten beforehand.
As a result of frequent binge eatings, my weight got up to 68kg (150lbs) and my body fat increased by 10%. For someone who has successfully lost weight to a final 62 kilos (136lbs) and a body fat of 23%, that was one of the most horrific moments of my life.
It wasn’t until I weighed myself and hated the way I looked did I try methods in reversing these binge eating episodes. I tried self-inducing vomiting, although it didn’t work (I just couldn’t make myself puke). I tried calorie-cycling, where I have days where I go to as low as 900 calories, only to have three or four times more calories the next day. I tried juicing and detoxing, that made me feel lighter for a while but it didn’t last.
I tried pretty much everything. And I was depressed.
LIFE AS A PERSONAL TRAINER
If you think that being a Personal Trainer will make me more naturally inclined in dealing with this then you’re wrong. Eating disorders can happen, and they can happen to anyone. My life as a personal trainer in my early years just made things worse. For a moment, I felt like I was living a double life. There I was giving fitness and nutrition advice to my clients and yet I come home to binge eating episodes every night. Who knew right? No one. Because I was hiding it.
I have personally helped my clients, I was supposed to know what I’m doing and yet I can’t apply them to myself. That’s sadness, right there.
(Note: Personal Trainers, as far as I’m concerned are not technically qualified to give nutrition advice. Most of them give advice out of their own experience, as I did from my weight loss experience. Unless of course, they acquired a nutrition specific certificate. That said, some PTs gives amazing nutrition advice. I’m not here to spark a debate on this, I’m just merely sharing my own experience.)
EXERCISING A LOT
Working in a gym gave me a lot of time to exercise. At that time, I was working at least 12-15 hour days, serving up to 8 clients a day. I was tired, but because I can’t induce vomiting, I pushed myself to train. Sometimes even twice a day, on top of doing HIIT several times a week. I will religiously keep track of how much calories I’ve burned and secretly hope it will burn out all the food I’m consuming. I was trying every single day “to undo the damage” I’ve brought to myself.
Making things even worse, some of my colleagues who train intensely applauded me — most of them were athletes. They commended me for working hard. Little did they know I was battling hard instead.
OTHER CONFLICTING EMOTIONAL ISSUES
Living in Singapore did not make things easier too. In case you’ve never been there, Singapore is well known for it’s food, food and you guessed it… food. Local foods are cheap, delicious and they’re everywhere. Food is the common denominator when it comes to social events and it feels like Thanksgiving every time I go out with friends. On top of that, whole foods are not readily available especially if you live in the ‘suburbs’ and they’re not particularly affordable. (Don’t get me wrong, I love Singaporean foods… I just didn’t know how to deal with them in the past.)
Living alone makes my binge eating episodes worse too. There were days where I come home with packets of food enough to feed an entire town in a third world country and I ate them all alone. I ate loaves of bread, often wholemeal and justify to myself that it is healthier than white bread so it made me feel better.
I was young, I didn’t have a good physical support network and I was tired from work, all the time. All those things, plus my eating disorders went hand in hand, and it wasn’t a good thing.
Thinking about it, I realised that handling those emotional issues myself made my eating disorders worse. The only time when I didn’t feel lonely or sad and emotional is when I’m eating. I eat to make myself feel better and it felt good.
The bottom line? I was a complete mess, both emotionally and physically.
TWO YEARS ON…
How can someone who’ve lost 20 kilos over 8 months suddenly becomes depressed, unmotivated and messed up? Well it happens. And it had to come to a stop.
Dealing with the eating disorders wasn’t easy. I tried opening up to my closest friends, but none of them believed I suffered from those issues because apparently, Personal Trainers are just not supposed to have them. I tried talking to counsellors and yet nothing seemed to work. Things got worse to a point where I questioned my whole life and my entire reason for being. It was that bad.
And then it happened. I took a walk one day, and went into a bookstore. Yes, a bookstore. Instead of walking towards the ‘Self-Help’ section or even the ‘Fitness and Nutrition’ section, I walked over to the ‘Business’ section. There I was, browsing through several business books and I picked one up by Ian Sanders titled ‘Leap! Ditch Your Job, Start Your Own Business & Set Yourself Free.’
I read the back cover, intrigued by the title and went on to purchase it. From then on, I was reading books about business and personal growth. The next thing I knew? I made a drastic life change in an attempt to deal with my binge eating disorder. I needed to start over and begin life a new, forgetting about my past glories.
In other words, I took control of my life and made a complete halt in letting everything take over me, food included.
I quit my job at the gym, started my own bootcamp business, and started studying nutrition with one of the world’s best — Precision Nutrition.
These life changes did not completely turn my eating disorders around, but it is the turning point in my life and most importantly, it started the healing process for my binge eating issues. Once I started to pick up new knowledge in business and nutrition, rebuild my foundation, rediscover who I was and what I wanted to be, made new goals in life, and where I am heading to in the future did my problems with food start to take control.
Remember when I said being a Personal Trainer made things worse for me in dealing with my binge eating issues? Life as a Personal Trainer however, made it easier for me to go through the healing process.
Finishing the nutrition certificate last year has empowered me to change the way I look at food for good. It has allowed me to apply those skills to my clients and myself today, especially those who have eating disorders. If I could turn back time, I will never ever ever advise my clients in my early years to restrict their calorie intake. But today I am looking forward in giving the best recommendations to my clients, based on science, personal experience and of course, my clients themselves.
Today I don’t tell people what to eat. I teach people how to eat so when they lose weight, they can go out there and apply all these skills they’ve used when they’re losing weight.
Today I don’t write meal plans, I give meal recommendations, and the rest are all teachings.
Today I make it easy for my clients and myself because I have the future in mind – the future where we have successfully attained our fitness goals.
TODAY, RIGHT NOW
It has been about a year and a half since I started the healing process in dealing with my eating disorders, and about a year since I can confidently say I feel so much better. Today, I am thankful with what I have, I’m surrounded by the people I love, who loves me the way I am, and I’m doing things I love, writing for you and building several other start-ups.
My relationship with food has improved, tremendously. In the simplest of all terms, I am the happiest I’ve ever been in my life today than I’ve ever been before. I am still making changes every day to make sure I don’t go back to those dark years of my life because I know that I’ll never be completely ‘cured’ (and you probably know this if you suffered from something similar), but I am more conscious of making progress and getting ahead.
Most importantly, I will make sure my clients do not have to go through all this just to have their own success story because my own personal success and battles have taught me so.
On a side note, disordered eating habits happen, and they can happen to anyone, Personal Trainers included. It took me three years just to come out there and publicly declare this to all of you when all this while, no one, and I literally mean no one ever had a clue about this. That is why today, I refrain from counting calories. I refrain from eating at set times. And I listen to my body and hunger cues more than anything else when it comes to food. I’ll make sure eating is something I enjoy along with consuming food that nourishes me every single day. It took me a while to get this, and you can too.
That said, I sincerely hope if you are personally battling with eating disorders you remember that you are not alone. I sincerely wish too that you have received some hope from this article and that you know that someone here feels what you are feeling right now.
I’m a Personal Trainer and a Fitness and Nutrition Coach. I still have eating disorders because I don’t think this can ever be truly ‘cured’ but I won the battle by dealing with it.
And you can too.
What are your thoughts about binge eating? Have you dealt with it yourself? Share with the Pretty Awesomes by leaving a comment below. :)
If you need advise or help in dealing with your eating disorders in a highly confidential setting, please don’t be shy and send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you don’t want to tell me who you are, you can also leave an anonymous comment below (with a fake name and email address if you so prefer) and I will definitely respond to you. While I am not qualified to give medical advise on treating eating disorders, I hope too that you know that there is hope in dealing with binge eating issues. It’s a tough battle but it can be won.
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