My Relationship With My Binge Eating
As a kid I never had any problems with food and I wasn’t a very picky eater. Like many high achievers, however, I tried to exert control on every part of my life to make up for the control I was losing in the spiritual aspect. I don’t mean religious, by spiritual I am referring to the state of being. By working hard through the educational process and working even harder at my job I lost a lot of my peacefulness. Thankfully, I wasn’t into substance use. Instead I developed a binge eating disorder.
When It Started
Binge eating for me started in college, right when I realized that studying and concentrating did not come natural to me. In order to overcome it I really had to torture myself because back then I wasn’t mature enough to know how to just accept and come to terms with the stresses of school and life. With low self-esteem combined with what is considered good-looking features I was the perfect candidate for becoming a binge eater. I liked the attention I would get for being ripped, slender, fit, trim and in good shape. I really had nothing from within that I equated with self-worth so I hang on to every single one of those description. Food could potentially become my enemy because it could make me chubby, fat and not-so-fit.
Food as an Anxiolytic
Food decreases anxiety even when eaten in small quantities. But unless you’ve binged before you really don’t know what a great anxiety killer it is when consumed in massive quantities. The sense of self-control that you get is incredible. It’s a bizarre but amazing feeling of being completely out of control like you are on a roller coaster ride combined with being that warm fresh-out-of-the-dryer comfort blanket. I should add that if you just binge on occasion well all you’re gonna get is full and sick to your stomach. When done consistently it can be quite potent. Yes, I realize this last bit just read as the perfect ad to recruit more binge eaters.
Just like any self-punishing behavior, binging is followed by either needing/wanting to purge or suffering the middle of the night palpitations, the indigestion symptoms and that bloated feeling that takes 2 days to resolve.
Up until a couple of years ago, I always thought I was the only one. Back in the 90’s anorexia and bulimia were well-recognized and legitimate diseases. A binge eater was just… a glutton. Not that I was looking for someone to feel sorry for me but we tend to fuel our negative behaviors by telling ourselves we are the only ones like this, something must be terribly wrong with us and we better not tell anyone or else we are going to be judged.
Coping with Binge Eating
It is now so much easier for me to recognize patients and colleagues and even friends who have the same … disorder. I don’t like calling such things disorders. It gives it a certain power by calling it that. I think binge eating is more of a coping mechanism and often times a stepping stone. It’s when we start to categorize it and label it that we start to mind identify with it. Once we identify with it then it becomes part of our ego and we actually start to protect it. We don’t tell others about it because it’s embarrassing. We do it in secret because it’s so shameful. We either beat ourselves up for it terribly the next morning or we just try to completely deny that it even happened.
Instead, I have come to terms with it. It’s no longer shameful, I no longer am mad at myself for doing it and I don’t label it. Right before the urge to binge comes over me I am usually a bit stressed or overly tired or anxious about something coming up the next day. Then the thought creeps in on what I can binge on, whatever I might be craving (usually something that’s also unhealthy even in small quantities). Then I start planning for it by either not eating anything for most of the day or trying to get out of work early enough to hit up the place I need to hit up.
In the past I would just scarf things down until I literally had no more room in my stomach. Then I would just be disgusted with myself but manage to somehow completely forget about it until sometime the next day when I would see the pizza box or whatever wrapper/container that was left over from the crime.
Binge Eating Triggers
And now, it’s sort of similar but very different. Again, usually something triggers the urge to binge. I then sit with it, not denying it, not labeling it, do some breathing techniques and many times the urge passes which is very interesting. Other times it stays and I don’t put any effort at all in trying to get it out of my mind, that usually makes the urge much stronger. I realize that it’s there to stay and I will go through the motions. I will binge on whatever I am craving. However, I no longer beat myself up. I don’t judge myself or come down hard on myself and try to “stop it”. Interestingly, I have now started binging on much healthier foods. Believe me, the image of me binging on a bunch of fruits and veggies is actually comic. Don’t get me wrong, I still binge on pizza, I binge on chocolate, cake etc.
I have realized that not just with binge eating, but even with other undesirable behaviors, the urge and thought is more destructive than the action. When I don’t empower the thought and when I observe it then it starts losing power. It’s like the homeless guy that’s shouting at you and getting angry. When you feel attacked and on the defense your heart races, you get agitated and you think about what you could or should do to that person for sometimes hours after the encounter. Instead, when you just accept the situation for what it is without judging it or the person behind it then you don’t identify with it, you don’t get mad or upset. You can of course rationalize that this person probably has a lot of emotional pain, may be addicted to substances, or may have had a very unbearable life with a lot of emotional pain.
The only time since age 19 that I haven’t binged for several consecutive months was when I first moved to Portland. I didn’t binge for nearly 6 months. I don’t think it was because ‘all the stars were aligned’ or that ‘I was meant to move to Portland’. Instead, sometimes in life we experience new things, and these events distract us for a while. The energy and excitement of these new life changes hibernate certain of our behaviors or negative habits. But that’s all it is, hibernation. I don’t think it’s healthy to assume that my move to Portland or my lifestyle those initial few months was why I stopped binging and that I must have done something right during that time.
This is how bad relationships are created. You meet a person who can ‘keep you in check’ or who ‘accepts your flaws’ and you make that person your saint. And once those flaws come back out of hibernation you of course will blame that person because they obviously must have changed and are no longer that great savior that helped you ‘get rid’ of those negative behaviors.
Hi, my name is Dr. Mo, and I binge eat… and it’s okay. It’s simply something I do and it’s not who I am. I doubt I’ll do it for much longer because of the healthy relationship I have developed with it. But if I do, it’s still okay.