Ice-cream: The Final Frontier

I’ve been practising intuitive eating for a good two or three years now. I’ve discovered I’m not particularly a biscuit person, I’m not addicted to chocolate, stale crisps are not nice, mature cheeses are too strong, and I feel better in myself when I add in gentle nutrition.

Photo by Herlina Widyastuti on

So why was I still struggling with ice-cream?

I couldn’t figure it out. I’d made peace with so many of my former binge foods, but I still struggled to recognise when I’d eaten enough ice-cream, and before I knew it, the whole tub was gone. I knew it was THE most significant one for me, the first I used to reach for, the most comforting, the one tied up in childhood memories. But I’d made peace with pretty much every other food I used to abuse myself all those decades. What was it about this particular one?

I began to despair that I would never be free. I would never feel safe. What was wrong with me that I couldn’t make peace with that amazing sweet, frozen, comforting tub of dairy?

Then, one day I realised.

I was still restricting it.

Not in the same way as all those other foods, but restriction all the same.

My freezer was always full. There was very little space. So I could only ever buy one small tub of ice-cream at a time. That would get eaten quickly, then there would be no ice-cream available until my next food shop a week or so later. The lack of space meant ice-cream was always a scarcity, and that scarcity meant a scarcity mindset, more cravings, and the potential for more binges.


And there was such an easy fix: make space. And that’s what I’ve done. I decluttered my freezer and ice-cream now has a permanent space in my freezer. And now I can finally start to make peace with it.

Making space. Making peace. They’re both so essential to recovery. Making space to grow, to feel, for everything other than constant thoughts about food. Making peace with yourself, the you who was entwined with the eating disorder, the one who lied. Making peace with the loss the eating disorder caused, the wasted time, energy, brainpower. Making peace with the physical damage caused, too.

And so I face this final frontier. Yet again, I find myself making space, and making peace, to recover from this illness which has taken so much.

It’s been a year!

On 24th July, 2021, I wrote the post “I binged today. Here’s what I learned.”

At the time, it didn’t cross my mind that I’d go a whole year without a full-on, painful, BED-style binge.

Yet here we are, in August 2022, and I haven’t binged like that since. There were so many points where it could have, and previously would have happened, and yet somehow it hasn’t. And I’m not even sure why.

I’ve certainly come very close. I’ve planned binges, bought binge foods, then put them away. I’ve had days when I just wanted not to feel, to numb myself, but used other ways to cope. And I’ve had days when I’ve eaten past fullness, just to take the edge off.

I’ve had plenty of days when I’ve hated my body, wanted to shrink it, trade it in for one that works properly and doesn’t hurt. When I’ve blamed it when something went wrong. I spent every day at my parents’ home in oversized and black clothes because when I packed, I was taking my anxiety about travelling out on myself.

I’ve delayed eating until lunchtime, even dinnertime some days. I’ve eaten nothing but binge foods every meal for days at a time until my body has screamed for something green.

I’ve eaten mindlessly. I’ve gone for weeks at a time without moving my body. I’ve had days when I’ve eaten nothing at all thanks to migraine induced nausea, and days where I’ve done nothing but graze.

But what I haven’t done is fall into such a pit of self-loathing that my only response is to binge until my stomach is so bloated and painful I could cry.

Why am I telling you all this? Because recovery isn’t about being perfect. Aiming for perfection can contribute to an eating disorder in itself. No, recovery is messy. It’s one step at a time, then sometimes three back. It’s learning as you go along: learning from mistakes, as well as successes. And it can look different every single day.

You take each challenge, each new experience as it comes. Leaping into the unknown, sometimes curious, sometimes terrified, holding onto the knowledge that whatever you face it won’t be as bad as before, when you were in the depths of the disorder, unable to see a way out.

Then little by little, the good days start to outnumber the bad. You face challenges, and change, and upset, and disappointment, and don’t automatically default to those old eating disorder coping strategies: bingeing, purging or restriction.

And one day, seemingly from nowhere, you realise that the eating disorder is no longer in control. It’s not screaming anymore. It’s a whisper, sometimes so quiet you can barely hear it. Sometimes it’s not even there at all.

It’s been a year since I last binged. My eating disorder is no longer in control. I’m in recovery. And I couldn’t be more proud.

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Am I addicted to sugar?

This week, Richard Osman opened up about what he referred to as food addiction, and it got me thinking: am I a sugar addict?

There have been times is my life when I’ve wondered if I’m addicted to sugar. Pretty much every binge I’ve ever had contained at least a sweet component, anything from cereal or bread and jam to cakes, chocolate and ice cream. And there are so many “experts” who claim that sugar addiction is real.

The thing is, I followed the conventional advice and tried to “detox” time and time again, and yet I still craved, still binged, still hated and punished myself for my inability to control myself around sweet foods. Even after diagnosis and treatment for Binge Eating Disorder, I still didn’t feel safe around sugar. I continued to binge on sweet foods.

By this point I had finally managed to give up smoking, and I had been a heavy and committed smoker for a very long time. The addictive properties of nicotine are well documented. Yet in a matter of weeks, the cigarette cravings paled into insignificance compared to the all-consuming need to binge on sweet foods.

I went online looking for a solution, and this is where I first saw the term intuitive eating. I learned more about the concept of restriction causing cravings, and finally things started to make sense.

I had been inadvertently taught that sugar was bad from an early age. I remembered my mother telling me how she’d been annoyed at my Nan for putting sugar in my tea. And at my granddad for sending me home with bags of treats.

Don’t get me wrong, we had sweet food at home. But there were comments if I tried to eat too much. And then there was the pre-Christmas diet. Of course, I didn’t really know back then that money was tight and my mother was trying to stretch it further. So I internalised a different message.

And yet some of my fondest memories of childhood involved sweet food. Baking with my mother on weekends. Her teaching me to make pastry and cakes. Going to the sweet shop with my granddad and being allowed an ice-cream cone to eat on the way back. My great aunt’s home baked cherry cakes when she looked after us in the school holidays.

Sugar became a source of comfort, yet forbidden. It made me feel good, yet bad. And it became wrapped up in those emotions and more as my bingeing took hold.

But was I addicted? I haven’t been able to find anything conclusive to indicate that sugar is physically addictive in the same way that nicotine and opiates are. And when I look at the physical impact of bingeing, it wasn’t about a “sugar high” for me. I didn’t want to feel anything. I was trying to stuff down my emotions. And usually after a binge I felt awful, in physical pain and full of self-loathing.

But there is a seductive power in the forbidden. Human beings have always wanted what they are told they can’t have. Countless legends have been built around it. Wars have been waged over it. And society is very clear that sugar is bad for you and should be restricted, if not avoided altogether. So it makes sense that’s what I wanted. Savoury food never held that same power over me because that was “allowed”.

And this is why I think that intuitive eating is the key to full recovery for me. It is the only thing I have ever tried that has loosened sugar’s grip on me. It is a long and very gradual process, but I am reaching the point where snacks are left in the cupboard, where I can open a packet of biscuits without finishing them, where I am discovering that there are some sweet foods I don’t even like very much.

It is by removing its power that I am healing, not through detox. By allowing sugar unconditionally, not through abstinence. And there is an increasing body of research in support of this.

So am I addicted to sugar? No, I don’t think so. But I have definitely felt like I was at times. And so I am not discounting food addiction as a concept entirely. And I am all for everyone expressing themselves and their difficulties in the way that they feel best describes them.

Richard Osman has done a brave and wonderful thing in sharing a little of his story this week, and I am sure there are many who feel less alone as a result.