Confessions of a Borderline Binge Eater
Hunger vs. Head Games
My eating issues defy traditional psychoanalysis: I had no traumatic food experiences early on in which hateful parents withheld dessert as punishment. I never dealt with anger by consuming an extra-large stuffed-crust pizza. I was a happy kid; most of the time, I'm a happy adult. I ask Binks what he thinks causes bingeing behaviors. "Hunger," he says.
"Among other reasons, people who restrict their diets set themselves up for bingeing," Binks says. "Shoot for three meals, high-fiber foods, and snacks every three to four hours. Planning what you'll eat in advance makes you less likely to give in to a sudden craving."
Fair enough. But what about those times when I've eaten steadily all day and I still feel the need to have third helpings at dinner? Surely it's not hunger driving those binges. I dial the number for therapist Judith Matz, director of the Chicago Center for Overcoming Overeating and coauthor of The Diet Survivor's Handbook, for her thoughts. Our conversation goes like this.
Me: "Here's my problem: I binge, but not enough to be diagnosed with BED."
Matz: "Does overeating make you feel guilty?"
Matz: "Why do you think that is?"
Me: "Because I shouldn't do it."
Matz: "Why do you think that is?"
Me: "Because I'll get fat."
Matz: "So the issue is really your fear of getting fat."
Me: "Um...(to self: Is it?...) I guess so. But why would I binge eat if I didn't want to get fat? That doesn't sound very smart."
Matz goes on to tell me that we live in a culture of fat phobia, where women deny themselves "bad" foods, which backfires when we can no longer stand the deprivation. It echoes what Binks was saying: If your body feels hungry, you'll eat more than you should. And then..."Food is how we were comforted as children," Matz says. (Ha! I knew the childhood stuff was coming.) "So it makes sense that we find it comforting as adults. Give me an example of when you've eaten out of emotions and not hunger." I think for a minute, then tell her that when my boyfriend and I were in a long-distance relationship, I would occasionally binge after we'd had a weekend together, and sometimes I wondered if it was because I missed him.
"Perhaps loneliness was an emotion you weren't comfortable with, so you looked for a way to distract yourself," she says. "You turned to food, but as you were bingeing you were probably telling yourself how fat it was going to make you and how you'd better work out all week and eat only 'good' foods..." (How does she know that?!) "...but guess what? In doing that, you took the focus off your loneliness."
Wow. Bingeing so I can stress about being fat instead of stressing about being lonely. That's messed up -- but quite possible. I'm exhausted from all this analysis (now I know why people lie on those couches), yet I'm curious about what Matz thinks is the best way to break the cycle. "Next time you reach for food, ask yourself, 'Am I hungry?'" she says. "If the answer is no, it's still okay to eat, but know you're doing it for comfort and stop the internal scolding. Once you give yourself permission to eat, you won't have anything to divert your attention from the feeling you're trying to escape." Eventually, she says, bingeing will lose its appeal. Maybe.
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