Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Analyze this

For anyone who is weary of my tendency to lapse into AA truisms, go to another site now because one is coming and may be the theme of this post. The saying came to mind from 2 sources: 1) I binged last night; 2) the most recent 2 posts of this blogger, Merry Perennial . I hadn't been to her site for a couple of weeks but went this morning and read her 1/12/10 post, which she noted was more on the subject of her 1/8/10 post. Please check them out, as they are very thought-provoking, well-written and extremely relevant for me.

Basically she's pondering something that a highly esteemed, educated and obese Food Science and Technology professor said back when Merry Perennial was in college. The class was going to talk about obesity, and the professor mentioned that occasionally people asked her why she allowed herself to stay obese given her extensive knowledge and available resources about nutrition and health. Her answer was essentially that the limiting of food caused her more anxiety and pain than being obese did. This answer really made an impression on Merry Perennial, and her 1/8/10 post was about her recollection of it and the fear that it raised in MP's own life regarding her eating behavior today.

Well. If you've zipped over and read the 2 entries, you'll see why they resonated so powerfully for me, esp. if you've read my blog for a few months. I've struggled with bingeing every few days forever, but most notably since I've begun this most recent and last weight loss effort back in June. I've lost weight (25+ pounds of 60 I need to lose); I've had many more binge-free days than binge days; and the binges have lessened in intensity and duration significantly over time. But still I can't seem to get more than 4-5 days together without a 2-3 hour feeding frenzy one evening that is invariably followed by remorse, a gain of a couple of pounds, and then very clean eating for 4-5 days....rinse and repeat. This behavior has absolutely slowed if nop stopped my progression down the scale to my desired weight.

What MP brought up is the psychology of this, particularly in relation to the statement her professor made back when she was in college. The question arises: Do I have to stop bingeing in order to know what's triggering me to binge? Or do I need to identify the issues and deal with them in order to stop the bingeing? A "which came first - chicken or egg?" conundrum. Only I know the least the answer I know in my gut is true for me, and this is where the AA slogan comes in:

"You can't stop drinking by drinking."

How brilliant is that? Sounds simple, but an alcoholic can convince themselves when they're in throngs of a bad hangover that a drink will settle things down and make them feel better, and then they'll stop drinking. "Just one." "This'll be the last time." "The last drink." Only once an alcoholic has just one, the judgement goes out the window; the body responds by feeling better because it's used to a certain blood alcohol level; and it's off to the races again. A bad alcoholic who maintenance drinks (definition: drinking to stave off withdrawal - very dangerous condition that I thankfully never experienced) absolutely cannot stop without serious and potentially life-threatening results. But that's not what I'm talking about. It's the morning drink to feel better that works and helps one move through a horrible hangover and have a productive non-drinking day. Do that many times, and a very bad pattern gets established. The hair of the dog that bit you is not a good remedy.

So. Can I stop bingeing by bingeing? "Come on - just one more time. This time will be different. I'll get it out of my system once and for all. My mind won't stop thinking about it unless I do it." This is utter bullshit, and very addictive thinking. But I face the anxiety and extreme uncomfortable-ness of a mental obsession to binge every few days. Giving in to it gives me some wash of relief and quiets the voice in my head that keeps saying, "do it". I knew last night when I had a piece of Colby-Jack reduced fat string cheese that wasn't on my plan for the day that I was going to keep going. Once the first "wrong" bite was on board, the binge was almost inevitable. There are plenty of folks for whom this isn't the case. For now, I'm not one of them.

I'm getting that in order for me to not binge, I have to not eat the first compulsive bite, which is a standard nugget of wisdom from another 12 step program, Overeaters Anonymous. I prove it to myself over and over. Once in awhile I can be sane and normal, but there is no way to predict when "normal' will temporarily descend upon me, enabling me to have one piece of cheese, or one cookie, or one piece of cake. At some point in not responding to the obsession of an addictive thought, there will be a period of extreme angst, depression, unhappiness, and feelings of deprivation. One doesn't die from these. With alcohol one CAN die from attempting withdrawal without medical supervision if they've been drinking daily for a long time. Withdrawing from binge behavior can be really hard (I have done it for 3-4 months before), but it isn't dangerous.

And the big question - Does one have to figure out "what's eating at her" in order to stop eating? Figure out the issues and successfully deal with them? My strong sense is no - in fact as long as the addictive behavior continues, even if it isn't happening every day, the deep issues are held at bay - stuffed down by the binge du jours on the days they happen. I know this to be true because it happened with my drinking. Once I stopped, I gradually came to recognize and understand issues and truths about myself I didn't even know existed beneath my crusty surface. Over time - lots of time, in fact it still happens on occasion - things surface and come into consciousness that I'd forgotten or didn't know were in there, that effect me in an emotional way. How much more is buried within that has been tamped down over years of insane eating? Those deepest issue are stamped "access denied" by my stuffing food down again and again. Access can only be gained by sustaining an absence of bingeing, a day at a time, for awhile. Maybe a long while, like the rest of my life. Or maybe for just a time.

I'm starting to know at my core that I have a much worse case of food addiction than I had of alcoholism. You guys who've read this talk from me about bingeing before are probably saying, "Ya think?" But I have to accept this if I'm going to be able to do something about it. I'm actually starting to consider going to the 12 step program for food again, even though I don't like it. When I've had that support in the past, it's helped a lot. And as they say in AA, you have to be willing to go to any lengths to get better. Am I willing?

One of the comments on MP's post was from Chris at A Deliberate Life, where she linked (as I just did) to a post she wrote awhile back about her psychological recalibration related to the self sabotage of food thoughts and bingeing. It's excellent also, and helped me with my own thoughts here, as Chris' blog often does.

Finally, on a much lighter and happier note, yesterday I did the bike at work for 15 minutes, and then did a 30 minute walk with the dog. I felt great getting that much exercise, but also realize how mushy and out of condition I've become since the knee injury. It'll be a while before I get back to doing 5 miles at Ridley Creek State Park, but it'll happen eventually if I work for it.


  1. I've been reading Beth's posts with interest too... I have a friend who INSISTS she's overweight simply because food tastes good and it's what she "has."

    Come on over to my blog and pick up your award when you have time.

  2. I really hope the 12 step support program helps you with this... I do know (sort of!) where you're coming from with the binge-devil in your brain! First, there's the intrusive thought you try to push aside, then it gets stronger and stronger until you can't ignore it any more... And then there's the overwhelming relief when you decide to give in to it, only to experience the shame, self-hatred and remorse when the binge is over... :o(

    I hope this doesn't sound trite, but could you consider mentioning your bingeing to your accupuncturist? She might have some tricks up her sleeve to help with it?

  3. What an insightful post. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  4. This is very though provoking. You talked about things I have never thought about.
    I love Chris's blog too. She rocks.

  5. might be a stupid question - that everyone else knows the answer to but me -

    are the 'reasons' behind the eating disorder any different than the 'reasons' behind the alcoholism?

    Didn't it just moved from one reaction response to another?

    Is the eating disordering really worse than the alcholism -

    or is it that you are closer to your inner truth or the heart of it all -

    and the 'addict' is digging in, hanging on tight -

    because you are close to 'clean'?

  6. Vickie's question reminds me of a common phenomen in reverse: many people who have gastric bypass surgery, and do not deal with the mind/emotional issues involved become alcoholics or drug addicts.

    And then, what you were talking about reminded me of something I wrote down that Dr. Barbara Berkley said in an interview I saw: "food actually starts responses in your body that are very primal." I think that is such an interesting statement, and I was going to include it in a blog sometime. Dr. Berkley blogs over on

  7. "The class was going to talk about obesity, and the professor mentioned that occasionally people asked her why she allowed herself to stay obese given her extensive knowledge and available resources about nutrition and health. Her answer was essentially that the limiting of food caused her more anxiety and pain than being obese did."

    When I read this I wondered if this professor had ever in her life (other than when she was very young, of course) been at a healthy weight and had a normal relationship with food. It seems to me that being able to do all the things you can't do when you're obese, having good health, knowing that you are in control of food not the food controlling you, etc., are all much better things to experience than the way food tastes. And that's another thing: to be thin doesn't mean you have to give up good food, it just means you don't eat more of it than your body needs. Well anyway, I'm glad you don't share the mindset of that professor and that you are looking to change. Good luck with whatever you think will help you. :)

  8. I have an award for you.... :o)

  9. Hi Leslie, really good post. I am grateful that I have not had to fight food addiction AND alcoholism. I am adopted and there was lots of alcoholism in my birth father's family, including my birth father. Funny, I rarely drink, just don't like the stuff (except for sweet drinks). Don't like beer, wine or the hard stuff. I much prefer diet coke. BUT, I have for many years felt that I got my birth father's addiction as a food addiction instead. A really bad food addiction.

    I work so hard with the head part of this journey/fight. I feel I am working very hard on this journey, but sometimes I wonder if pursuit of the mental answer at some point becomes wasted effort. I don't really believe that...but still, sometimes I wonder. I think I am hoping that when I discover the right "truth", that suddenly everything will become easy. Maybe I keep working on the mental aspects because even though I believe all the answers I have found, none of them provide an easy enough solution to satisfy me.

    So, in that way, I feel like I could quit the mental work and just go with what I've learned and concentrate my efforts on the actual "doing a plan" instead. Like, I spent a lot of time on blogs and other weight-related stuff. I COULD be exercising during that time; and only rarely do I choose to use the exercise bike WHILE I'm on the internet. Which just shows that I'm WAY more willing to do the easy stuff (sit on the computer and do research) than I am the hard stuff (sit on the bike and do the research).

    Bottom line, I sometimes wonder if I'm fooling myself about how hard I am actually working.