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Binge Eating – My New Xanax

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. Binge eating gently because a part of my life.

By working hard through the educational process and working even harder at my job I lost a lot of my peace. Thankfully, I didn’t get into substance abuse. Instead I developed a more socially acceptable coping mechanism, a binge eating disorder.

 

Binge Eating Started

Binge eating 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.

Low self-esteem combined with a high-achieving lifestyle was the perfect storm for becoming a binge eater. My vanity prevented me from getting fat. I love (love) the attention I would get for being ripped, slender, fit, trim and in good shape.

I had nothing from within that I equated with self-worth so I hang onto every single one of those externally assigned attributes. Food could potentially become my enemy because it could make me chubby, fat and not-so-fit.

 

Food as an Anxiolytic

Food decreases anxiety ever so slightly when consumed in even small quantities. But unless you’ve binged before you really don’t know what a great anxiety killer it is in massive quantities. Or perhaps food just doesn’t stimulate your endorphins like it does for us bingers.

The sense of self-control that you get is incredible. It’s a bizarre but amazing feeling of being completely out of control – you get on a roller coaster ride combined with that warm fresh-out-of-the-dryer comfort feeling.

If you just binge on occasion all you’re gonna get is full and sick to your stomach. When done consistently it can be quite potent. This last bit just read as the perfect ad to recruit more binge eaters. Do it, you’ll love it. 

Just like any self-punishing behavior, binging is followed by either needing/wanting to purge or having to suffer 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 wrong with us and we better not tell anyone or else we are going to be judged.

 

Coping with Binging

It is now so 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.

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 want 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.

I have come to terms with it.

It’s no longer shameful and I am no longer mad at myself for binging and I don’t label it as that in my head. Right before the urge to binge comes over me I am usually stressed or overly tired or anxious about something coming up the next day. The next thought creeps in as to 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 in that I binge eat but it’s also different in that it’s okay. I sit with the thought and feeling of wanting to binge, not denying it, not labeling it.

I 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. Fighting it makes the urge 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”.

Maybe because of this mind shift I have started binging on much healthier foods. The image of me binging on a bunch of fruits and veggies is comedy. I still smirk when I think of it.

Don’t get me wrong, I still binge on pizza, I binge on chocolate, cake etc. but it’s rare and the urge isn’t as strong.

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.

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 and it starts fading.

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 I was meant to move to Portland or something cosmic like that. 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 and habits. But that’s all it is, a hiatus. 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.

 

3 Years Later

It’s been 3 years since I first wrote this post. I am even less judgmental of myself but I continue to binge. I continue to mostly binge on healthy stuff.

Alcohol has been a big trigger for me to binge especially when my life is hectic. The more balls I have in the air, the more underlying anxiety I have, the more likely it is that I will binge.

If I pay attention to my life so that things are balanced then my binging urges are drastically diminished.

Even though I’m a physician I don’t do well with stress, at all. And change… shit, anytime there is change in the air my anxiety level goes through the roof.

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