Sunday, September 21, 2008

Eat-It-All Syndrome

There is a pattern in my behavior and thinking that I call "eat-it-all syndrome." I am guessing lots of other fat folks have this syndrome too. It's an overwhelming urge to eat EVERYTHING before calling it quits and trying to be sane in your eating again. This syndrome manifests itself in several ways:

1. You go to the store and buy a lot of stuff. Maybe in a weak moment, you buy a box of 100-calorie snacks, some granola, some chocolate ice cream (low fat of course), and a small bag of chips. You figure you will just have *a little treat* every couple of days and fit this stuff into your calorie plan. You walk in the door, start putting groceries away, and suddenly you are seized with the desire to start opening ALL the stuff and cramming it into your mouth as fast as you can. You blaze through the box of 100-calorie snacks, the granola, the chips and half the ice cream, and then you collapse in a heap on the couch, sick and bloated, cursing yourself for buying that junk in the first place.

2. You go to a restaurant, or a fast food joint, and order a bunch of crap you know isn't good for you. You feel guilty about it, but you want it. When it comes and you take a bite, it tastes okay, or even pretty good. But after a few bites you think, "this is gross, yuck, why did I do this?" but you keep on eating, down to the very last cold burnt french fry, until all that is left is a greasy paper and a bunch of regret.

3. You decide you want to "go on a diet." (Or, "start over," depending on your mindset.) You get up in the morning and realize that you still have leftover pizza in the fridge, a half can of Pringles in the cabinet, some ice cream in the freezer, and some cheesy potato casserole... that yummy kind you just loooove that is full of fat and calories. And of course you cannot start eating healthy until all that stuff is gone, so you HAVE to eat it all. You set about the day cramming pizza, chips, ice cream and casserole into your mouth until you feel like you're going to pop. Only when it's all gone (into your body) do you feel the relief come over you: "whew, it's all GONE! Now I can start fresh!"

Sound familiar? It's a strange thing when you step back and look at it. Where did this compulsive consumption come from? And how do we stop it?

A long time age I read a book by Geneen Roth, called "Breaking Free from Compulsive Eating." In it, she talks about compulsive eating beginning in childhood when your mother tells you, "no you cannot have frozen Milky Way bars" so you get them anyway and hide them in your pajamas. Sneak them to your room and eat them. Well I never did that kind of thing, but I *did* get told no a lot by my mother. She would be eating something totally yummy-looking, I would ask for some, and she would sneer "NO!" at me, her arms curled protectively around her food. (Dysfunctional? Yeah...) In Geneen Roth's book, she says that if you just give yourself permission to eat whatever you want, eventually you get to the point where you realize that there is never a *last time* for any certain food. It is there whenever you want it. So you quit binging. In fact, Geneen took this very literally. Like me, she had a total compulsion about chocolate chip cookie dough. So she decided to eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as much as she wanted, every day. She did it for two weeks. Can you believe? And after 2 weeks of this, she didn't want it anymore. Then she switched to other foods that called to her that way. She ate anything she wanted. She gained 15 pounds in 6 months, and then she lost 30 pounds when her brain kicked in that she COULD eat anything she wanted. She stopped wanting to cram food and inhale the world.

Now THIS was a diet I could follow!! Cookie dough for weeks??? As much as I wanted for as long as I wanted?? YEAH! Following her lead, I whipped up batch after batch of cookie dough. Like Geneen, I ate it raw and baked, day after day, no guilt and no restrictions. But unlike Geneen, I never got sick of it. I still wanted it a month later... 6 months later. And unlike Geneen, I did *not* gain 15 pounds in 6 months. I gained about 40 pounds. So, apparently, Geneen and I are wired differently. If I stuck with that, I would be 600 pounds by now, no joke.

So how do we get out of the "eat-it-all" syndrome? I have some answers.

Scenario 1, the grocery store: Don't buy the stuff. Don't kid yourself into thinking you will spread it out over days. Not gonna happen. You don't need junk every day anyway. If you catch yourself with this junk in your cart, just TAKE IT OUT. All you need is a split second of clarity to grab the junk, set it on any random shelf (do not worry about this, it WILL get back where it needs to be. Your health is more important) and get out of there. If you get home and realize you got junk you shouldn't have bought, either give it away immediately (send it to the neighbor or something) or throw it away. Stop treating your body like a garbage disposal. Use a real trash can and spare yourself.

Scenario 2, the restaurant/fast food place: as soon as you realize you do not want this food, STOP EATING IT. Find a way to remove it from your sight. Call over the waitress to take it (don't even have her box it up, just get it gone). If you are sitting in your car with a Big Mac meal, smash it all down into the bag it came in and look around you til you spot a trash can. Get it over there and throw it out. Do not put one more bite of that crap into your body! You have to take a step to break the habit, and this is how it starts. Maybe next time, you will remember how it got "wasted" and won't buy it at all.

Scenario 3, cramming for a diet: Look, you have to understand that this food in your house is not just there for YOU to inhale like a vacuum cleaner. It is there for your nourishment, or for other people's enjoyment (unless you live alone). You have to get it into your head that you do not have to eat every unhealthy thing in your pantry in order to start eating healthy. But until you understand that, clear the stuff out. If there is leftover pizza or casserole, freeze it. If the freezer food will call to you too much, give it away. Offer it to a neighbor. Ask your kids to eat it today for lunch. Or just throw it out. But do not keep cramming it into your body or you are going to look like a very out-of-shape linebacker for the rest of your life.

Let it go. You don't have to eat EVERYTHING. If it helps, instead of thinking "goodbye forever" to the cheesecake, or "I can never have those again" to the potato chips, just tell yourself, "not today." It's easier, somehow, to drive past McDonald's if I think, "not today" instead of, "no no no no, it is so bad for you, you can't eat that stuff, it's horrible, no don't do it!!" Just.... "not today." And move on.

We don't have to eat it all. Knowledge is power. I feel like "seeing" these behaviors in ourselves is a great piece of knowledge. When we awaken to reality, then we can change it. We can get the results we want. Of this I am sure!


Loen said...

I relate to you on so many levels.

I love reading your blog every day and look forward to your posts.

I'm a recovering alcoholic who has turned to food.

Anonymous said...

Great timing for this post. I just wanted to get up and make some fried bred for myself (I've allready finshed a box of cookies). After reading the post I am saying to myself "not today" and I'll go and take some grapes instead. I am reading yours and other blogs for inspiration, making small steps and preparing for a big change. Lyn I have to say that I love you and you are such a great inspiration.

Leslie said...

Lyn, everytime I read your blog (which is everyday!) I think, *god this woman is eloquent and should write a book*... and then I realize you ARE writing a book... and it's better than any diet/lifestyle change book I've ever read... because I can TOTALLY relate to you. Everything you write, I think *that's me* - and obviously a whack of other people think the same thing!!!

Although I'm a rather selfish lurker, I HAD to comment on this post because it just resonated so deeply. It just rings so true, and if it wasn't so sad, it would be funny. I sabotage myself with these 3 eat-everything-now methods almost daily.

Such secretive torture we put ourselves through.

Thanks for your blog. It's a daily reality check for me and I appreciate you immensely.


Ranaesheart said...

In the beginning, found it most useful to avoid bringing those 'trigger' foods into the house, low calorie or otherwise. Also deliberately avoided television commercials, billboards, and advertisements .. all driven to entice us to eat.

After weight loss success and building confidence using every tool available .. support of friends, internet community, inspirational videos and quotes .. was able to implement some items that I could control .. like 100-calorie popcorn (it is not a trigger food for me).

Following additional successes and more time and knowledge, was eventually able to implement mindful and purposeful eating .. like Geneen Roth .. but not at first.

Learning "not today" and realizing we can eat in moderation and enjoy "a little" "every so often" (not never) .. sure helps. Thanks for bringing that point to the forefront!!! Great job! ((Hugs)) Ranae

Leanna said...

That was a great book. I read it years ago too on the suggestion of the therapist I was seeing to try and lose weight.

After I finshed the book the therapist started telling me to list all the foods I binged on and that I was not to eat them ever again. I was perplexed. Then it dawned on me - HE never read the book. HE didn't know jack about helping someone get to the root of binge eating. It was my last session with the idiot.

Thanks to portion control and Paul McKenna's techniques I have lost 35 lbs.

Love your blog!

TrickieMickie said...

I felt like you were talking directly to me. Thanks for keeping it real and thanks for being so inspiring! You always give me a lot to think about. Have a great week.

LissaLee said...

I relate to everything you just wrote. I think that every reason you mentioned to eat it all, I have drawn from. I liked best what you wrote about the grocery store and have, darn it, you should use a real garbage bag instead of your stomach. Very insightful!

Girl on a Mission... said...

You share my same thoughts....
Congrats on your weight loss so far!

Kathleen said...

I think that there it is not surprising that in 12 step progams the drug of choice is described as "cunning, baffling and powerful". It is hard to understand why we can't eat like other people do or have the same results for the things we try. It is hard to accept that we are different.

Every alcoholic wishes they could just be like other normal people and just "go have a couple drinks", but there comes a point where they know that they simply can't do that. They accept it in a very deep place within them and go from there. It sounds like you are in a place where you are beginning to accept your differences and make choices based on who you are, and are beginning to accept what your true reality with food is. That is actually quite a success.You aren't like others, but that is just fine.

Another integral part is that you realize that your new life is often much better than the way of living you must leave behind. I wish you well on your journey and I know that despite any setbacks you are on a great path.

Sarah said...

Lyn you continue to amaze me with your insight.

Heather said...

oh I used to do eveyrhting that you wrote about. needless to say, I got no where. but I also used to have that mentality too that it would be the "last time" that I have any of those foods and so I just kept eating them, having one more "last time". While I have gotten over that, I am like you, I cannot keep my old "fav" foods around because I will eat them. so I have learned how to enjoy things that I do love, but have also changed what I enjoy so those foods are no longer the things that I want anyways.

PaulaM said...

What is up with that whole "I'm going to stuff myself all weekend so I can start fresh on Monday?" Why can't we realize that come Monday we'd have less to lose if we hadn't eaten all weekend? Everything you say is so true. My husband is going away for a week soon and I'm already thinking oh boy I can eat whatever I want while he's gone (he eats super healthily all the time!). Why can't I tell myself that would be a perfect time to really watch what I'm eating since I can cook very small amounts? - and maybe pretend to have a spa week and do beauty treatments and buy some new clothes? I used to tell myself that I only ate a lot since I love food so much, but after reading your blog I'm starting to think maybe there is a lot more to it psychologically. See there Lynn, you did something that even Oprah couldn't do for me!

Anonymous said...

Oh boy, I totally do this. Wow. Just spot on, Lyn. You amaze me...
~Bethany said...

I've been reading Intuitive Eating and doing a lot of self-talk around deprivation and scarcity. It's not going to be the last time is my mantra ;-)

Jill said...

I like the "whew, it's all gone I can start fresh". That's so me! Or, I might as well just eat the rest, I already ate half the bag! I'm new to the blog world and enjoying yours.


venusenvy23 said...

Wow. I am working on this thing right now. Some days I do great, telling myself, I don't have to have this hamburger right now. I can always have it tomorrow, but I don't need it right now. Other days... I don't even try to fight with myself. But like you have said in other posts... weightloss/healthy lifestyle is an accumulation of days upon days and eventually, I hope to get to the point where I don't have to talk myself out of the hamburger, because I'll have already made a better decision. Thanks Lyn, for sharing and letting us share.

April Joy said...


I can SO relate... my mom raised me up right to be a FINISH ALL YOUR FOOD kind of girl. It didn't start doing to me what it did to her until after I had kids, fortunately.

But it gets worse.

My husband and I have changed roles. He took early retirement several years ago when I got a transfer and promotion and could make enough to support us. He has been doing the at home dad thing with our kids since they were just starting school. Both are in high school now.

He cooks dinner. A lot of dinner most days and very often all of it doesn't get eaten and he gets very upset if it doesn't get eaten. "Here, Finish this" is often the cry of the day. I eat, probably more than I acutally should, before he tries to foist off whatever is left in the pan on me.

He got mad at me yesterday becuase I told him no, I weigh entirely too much and won't eat it just to finish off the pan and keep from having left overs in the fridge.

It felt a lot like not only enabling me to overeat but encouraging me to over eat.

I stuck to my guns, but I felt guilty all night.

Keep up the great blogging. I love to be running to catch up!

Hanlie said...

I can certainly relate to this post. I also suffer from the "eat-it-while-I-still-can" syndrome, but have made great progress these last few months. I am teaching myself to enjoy and crave the healthy stuff and find that I have no desire to binge anymore. There are some things, like fries, that I simply can't face anymore. Instead of fries, I opt for rice or baked potatoe in a restaurant.

One thing I've learned is that we have to remove the feeling of deprivation. There are so many foods that are delicious and GOOD for us!

Alissa said...

I'm yet another lurker, but I have to say, your post had perfect timing for me today. After two days of mindful eating, I found myself at the grocery store this morning wanting to inhale everything, "just this once". Thank you for reminding me of Geenen Roth's wonderful work. You are both absolutely right-- I can eat that junk whenever I want, but what's more important is treating myself kindly, making healthy decisions because that is what truly feels good to me. I'm learning to take care of myself in a different, more fulfilling way than I have in the past, and your blog keeps me motivated, inspired and aware. Many, many thanks.

MizFit said...

I love geneen as well.

and cant believe it took me until LAST WEEK to remember that and return and reread this weekend.

love this post. as always you articulate and pull it all together so CLEARLY.

and make us (the royal us) think.


Roxie said...

More great stuff from you, Lyn. Your ability to articulate the issues that many of us share is amazing. You are very talented. And considering I'm reading this on Monday after spending ten days "out", your timing is also perfect.

Wishing you the best.

Vonavie said...

I do allow myself anything I want. I'm not on a diet. I'm am making healthier choices. So when I am at a store and feel like a treat I will buy one small bag of peanut m&m's. If I buy an individual portion of what I want I'm OK. But if I buy a Sam's club package of candy to have in the house for when I get a craving forget it!

Sheri said...

And the crowd cheers! That was awesome. I have been working on that new mindset, all those points you describe. It's amazing how we can think and know these truths and yet we still struggle to stop doing all those things we know we shouldn't do in the first place. Not going to buy anymore Dorittos, no more junk food, and yet its still getting into the house. That is my fault alone. Not going to eat in the evenings any more...yet it still happens.

Too bad there wasn't a deadbolted, quadruple chained room in our head that would trap all the bad habits and thoughts..... One day at a time....

ryry the adventurous said...

I totally used to suffer from eat it all syndrome. And if my better half convinced me to buy something bad at the store, I'd plan out eating ot over days... and then it would be gone in an hour.

Such days... so glad they are behind me.

Another most awesome blog from the most awesome Lyn. Always makes my day. :)

new*me said...

I think the secret to my success so far is keeping stuff out of the house.....period! If it's a special occasion, we will eat it as a family and be done with it. Now and then we go to a family function and I eat things like cake and ice cream but just smaller amounts. It helps me to be around loved ones who constantly boost me with compliments ;) I think I was a compulsive eater in the past but I am pretty sure that "me" is gone.

Ceres said...

Ha, I definitely have the eat-it-all syndrome! Even now, I'm finding it really unnatural to not finish my food in a restaurant. It's the way I was raised, I suppose... And before my period, there's always one day during which I just want to go to a nice pastry shop and eat everything (and then start afresh)!
I think that realizing that you CAN have all that food if you really want to, and letting your brain get used to that idea is actually part of the solution. Because I was fat as a kid, my mom never wanted me to eat sweet stuff, but then I just felt it was a challenge to manage and sneak these things in my mouth, and the more I ate, the greater the mischief and subsequent enjoyment. It wasn't about food, it was about breaking the rules :-) Telling myself "ok, you can have a whole cheesecake if you want to, but do you really want to?" is a first good step to controlling myself these days. And the "not today" deal with yourself is even better. I actually do that a lot. Sometimes when I really crave ice-cream, I will tell myself "not today, let it go, keep the urge for some other day", instead of "oh, you can never have that stuff again, you know you lose control over it and it's bad for you!". It works much better with me :-)
Great post!

Anonymous said...

Oh yes...a lifetime of eat it all. I still have that in me. I was thinking about how careful I have tried to be with my eating the last two weeks and then thought about how my vet sent us a box of chocolates last Christmas. If those chocolates arrived today would I be able to say no? No. :( Maybe someday...but not today. You had some amazing suggestions though and I am certainly going to follow them.
Karen in Tennessee (who is so happy to be able to join you in healthy eating!)

Weight Loss Journey said...

What a totally awesome post! This is me, this is the exact behavior I'm trying to give up. Thanks...I needed that. :)

Anonymous said...

This post spoke so much to me Lyn, I am exactly the same as you in terms of the 'quick eat it all!!' syndrome. I have to build up my resolve every day, and I know if I buy it I will eat it - all in one go. People think I am mad when I walk around the supermarket muttering to myself 'If you buy it you'll eat it all', hehe.

Love the progress pics too - I havent checked in for awhile, you are looking H-O-T!!

Jen said...

Thank you for this post. I am glad I am not the only one. I read that book too. I can't believe I took it seriously.

I am an emotional eater who is addicted to food. Telling me to eat whenever I want and whatever I want is like telling a drug addict he can have as much cocaine as he can take.

The end results are the same. Addiction is addiction is addiction.

kilax said...

Sorry to be commenting SO LATE. I just discovered your blog and am having a blast reading through your old posts!

In college, I would drive to the store, and buy ANYTHING that sounded remotely good. I would get home, open everything and take bites of this and that... never feeling satisfied, but always ending up feeling stuffed.

Telling yourself that NO food is off limits IS the way to start tackling this. I haven't been doing this anymore, but sometimes, I relapse. And it is a fight against "someone telling me no." I hate that.