Friday, February 11, 2011

What's the Payoff?

Binge eating disorder is no fun. It's really not. Sometimes I glorify the Binge in my head; I remember and imagine it to be something amazing, spectacular, and transcendent. I've written before about the absolute high... the almost out-of-body experience I'd get at 278 pounds from eating a bowl of brownie batter. And it *was* like that, sometimes. But not all binges are. In fact, very few are.

It's like gambling. You go to the slot machine. You put in your coins, pull the arm, and wait. You hope you win something... maybe the jackpot. You imagine all the things you would do with the money: a new house, a new car, a trip to Hawaii... it would change your life! You get carried away in the fantasy, putting money in over and over and pulling that lever. But how long will you stay at that machine if you never, EVER got anything from it? Usually, people get annoyed and move on to some other machine. But if they get a "win"... BINGO!!! Their drive to continue 'playing' is stoked. They usually put all $50 or $100 they 'won' right back into the machine, trying for the Big One. And they go home with nothing, or less.

Why? Why do people do that? Keep putting their time, money, and attention into a dumb machine that ends up COSTING them money? Well, because those little 'wins' are the random, irregular payoff they need to keep believing they can and will win a jackpot. It's hard to stop. And binge eating is the same way.

You step up to the plate. You are excited. You take a few bites. Meh. It is not that great. It is okay, but not as good as you thought it would be, but maybe the next bite will be THE ONE that is fantastic, amazing, delicious! So you eat the whole burger or whatever. Then you imagine cheesecake. You run out and buy cheesecake, take a bite, meh. It is not that good, kind of icky. But you *remember* delicious, amazing, out-of-body cheesecake! Maybe the next bite will be the one! You eat it all. How disappointing. But oh! Wouldn't a bag of chips be GREAT? Maybe *that* will be the jackpot! You buy them, you eat them, meh. Not so great... well, the crunch is great! Maybe if I focus on the crunch and not the greasy lack of flavor I will get that *hit* I am seeking! No? That's okay, how about a Snickers bar? Hmmm, no luck, how about some M&M's? BINGO!! The smooth cool hardness yielding to warm melty chocolateyness is a payoff! It tastes good, it feels good, it is the *experience* you wanted! Not FANTASTIC, not BROWNIE BATTER, mind you, but oh it is a good payoff, maybe a $50 win! And so you "won" and now your desire to binge is fueled yet again.

If every bite was fantastic, it would get old and we'd eat less. I've tried making every bite fantastic, but it's pretty unreasonable to do that on a daily basis. A poached chicken breast is not going to be fantastic, nor is a plate of steamed broccoli. They can be *good*, made properly and perhaps seasoned, but they are not going to give a high like sugar does. Tasty food is a nice way to live... strawberries and fresh peaches and yummy oatmeal are great! But for the binge eater, there is that casino of junk food right around the corner, calling for your time and investment.

The payoff in a binge is NOT the taste or flavor of the food, usually. This is a revelation I only recently discovered. I *thought* I binged because I wanted yummy food... because all the things I'd eat on a binge tasted great to me. But that is not true. Sometimes the first bite or two tastes great, and then it goes downhill. Sometimes the first bite is a huge disappointment but I keep eating it anyway, or go on seeking something *better.* If there is a 'next time' you binge or even eat junk that is off plan, pay attention. I mean REALLY pay attention. Does the food taste that good? As good as you imagined it would? How do you feel? I have found that the vast majority of foods I have binged on don't even taste that good. In fact, I have a secret list on my computer of foods I want to eat. Yeah, it started out long ago as a sort of binge shopping list, so that while I was staying on plan if I had a food obsession, I could put that food on The List so that when I DID go off plan, I could just go buy ALL those foods I had wanted over the past several weeks or months. And then, the list turned into something useful. I made a couple of 'sub-lists' called "worth it" and "not as good as I thought it would be." Whenever I actually ate something on the Binge List, I'd move it to one sub-list or the other. You want to know what that list looks like now?

 There are 25+ foods on the "not as good as I thought" list, and 3 foods on the "worth it" list. This has been VERY helpful to me. It has helped me *remember reality* and not glorify the binge. When I see the list, I remember that the Brucci's cheese steak I had was gristly and flavorless... that it did not measure up to my cheese steak fantasy. I remember that last time I bought crunchy Cheetos, they tasted so nasty that I threw out tho whole bag after eating about 6 Cheetos. The list breaks apart the fantasy and reminds me that "oh yeah, I tried that last time and it was gross." It also reminds me of which (very few) foods I went off plan for were actually very tasty and good. You might think that is a BAD idea, because won't I buy those foods next time I go off plan? Well, maybe, but not likely. There is something missing in the payoff when the food is always exactly what you imagined. In fact, there is a calmness about eating them that seems almost abnormal to me. Knowing the ONE kind of ice cream I truly love, that was *worth it* to me, is SUCH a blessing because now I do not have to buy 6 different tubs of ice cream and eat huge portions of each kind trying to find 'the one.' I KNOW what 'the one' is, and I could, in fact, eat one serving of it because the frantic search is no longer there. It doesn't trip me like the others did. Every bite is what I wanted. And even if I ate the whole pint, which I doubt I would do, that is a far cry better than 6 tubs of not-very-good ice creams. Reality, not fantasy, yields satisfaction.

The true payoff of binge eating is:
feeling nauseous/upset stomach
heartburn
being unable to sleep well
self loathing
hyperfocus on the binge rather than on other issues in life that should be addressed
weight gain
money down the drain
drop in self esteem
pants that are tight
regret

Stop letting the mental image and glorified memories of food drive you to gamble on your life. Reality is better.


27 comments:

aec5940 said...

Awesome post. The casino metaphor is spot-on. I also find that the binge food isn't usually as fabulous as I thought it would be. I think this is because most of my binge fantasy foods are highly processed (think Cheese Nips, Ho-Hos, mac and cheese out of a box), and I've gotten so used to the good flavor of more natural foods, that the binge fantasy foods end up tasting salty, and...well...processed. No doubt you have experienced this as well.

I have to say, your posts have always been good, but you have had some amazing posts recently!

Ex Yo-Yo Dieter Debbie said...

For me, the "payoff" is numbing out, being irresponsible and rebellious, having an imagined outlet for anger/frustration/resentment/bad feelings. Combine that with a physical sugar-high, followed by the sleep-inducing crash - the pay-off can feel pretty powerful...until you realize it's a sham. Nothing gets "fixed" and the true result is the list you posted.

Many of us romanticize the idea of bingeing - it's all snarled up with the idea or memories of happier times. Childhood. Safety.

Time to make the list of pay-offs of a healthy lifestyle and dealing with crummy emotions in a healthy way. Those pay-offs are real.

Hanlie said...

Light bulb moment! It's funny, when I buy binge food, I buy lots of different things. I've never really wondered why... but this explains why. And usually only one of those things would be The One, but I would eat all of the rest too.

Great post!

LN said...

"hyperfocus on the binge rather than on other issues in life that should be "

For me, this rings a big, loud bell. It is THE main benefit of overeating for me - focus on the food and the process of bingeing and the thoughts I have about it and me and I can avoid the other stuff that is really bugging me.

Kerri said...

WOW! Well said...thank you for sharing!!!

Kathy said...

Binging is strange that way...I think I'm having what I want but before I even finish it I am already thinking about what I will have next. Trying to find that one thing that will satify that craving, but to tell the truth....I never do.
Great post!!!

Lori said...

Wow! I had a real 'aha' moment reading this. I've often wondered why I keep eating something, that doesn't taste good. Now I know. I'd never thought of it in that way before.

BTW, I have a list of cheat foods too. It has been a great help to me too for just the reasons you described. Plus, if I tell myself I can have the food later, it somehow loses the obsession factor.
Lori

Jenn @ watchmybuttshrinking.com said...

When I binge, it has nothing to do with taste, really. I'm looking to fill a void...be it boredom or stress, the food numbs me (for about 5 minutes). So I'm never really satisfied, because I'm not even looking for a specific taste, you know?

Mandy said...

Wow, you have hit the nail on the head. I can obsess endlessly about a certain restaurant's nachos and then buy them and think, "Ugh, these are gross, but I just spent 10 bucks on them, I should eat them." Or it's a quest to find that perfect amount of cheese sour cream flavor on that perfect chip, and you keep searching and searching, while inhaling the whole bag. And all it leads to is disappointment and feeling sick. I love the casino metaphor. That is exactly what it is. A gamble to find that high again. And it rarely pays off.

A list of "reality check" foods is a great idea. I'm going to start doing that. Thanks for this great post!

Britt ♥ said...

Awesome post, I just discovered your blog and it is so insightful! I have definitely felt all the things you describe, but I had never really thought about it the way you have. You get so used to the "amazing" flavor of foods that your brain just imagines it will be the same, but after a while, it really doesn't. My boyfriend's face about dropped last night when he offered me ice cream, and I said, eh...no. It just didn't appeal to me, which is not the norm!

Thanks for your great post!

Courtney said...

Great post Lyn! I have bitten into my binge food a number of times, and thought "this tastes like straight corn-syrup, gross!"... but I kept eating it. And I've continued purchasing it when stressed. Why? because I keep hoping to hit the jackpot I guess.

Big White Granny Panties said...

what a wonderful, wonderful and insightful post. you know, that intermittent reinforcement schedule that people get, whether it's from a slot machine, or from a bad relationship that is sometimes sortof good - or from binge foods - it's all quite powerful until you can get inside of your own head with it. ty ty ty

Erin said...

Amazing post...thank you so much for the clarity. I have found the longer I go without certain foods, the more the first taste reveals they taste horrible...then I wonder why I was eating horrible tasting food? Like the first poster, I realize that I've completely lost my taste for processed foods. Without the semi-satisfaction, the binge is definitely not worthwhile...no payoff.

JennieM said...

Very insighful and helpful post. REALLY made me stop and think about myself. Thank you.

~ Darla ~ said...

Bravo! I agree.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes if I just need a taste of something chocolate or salty or whatever seems to be calling my name, instead of diving in I take a bite and chew it, taste it, feel the texture in my mouth while thinking "boy, once this hits my throat all of the enjoyable sensations will cease and so I...spit it in the trash". I know, yuck. But it gets it out of my system pretty quickly to really think before swallowing. I do that about once a month or less..when the mood strikes. I am always happier when I realize I don't need it and spit it out before any real damage is done. Susan b

Kerri said...

I posted earlier but I have to tell you...this post is haunting me...in a positive way. It helped me NOT binge today. Thank you sooooo much! Everyone needs to read this post.

Beth said...

What a great post, it's so true, I've had a couple of relapses and bought the sacred foods only to find that they weren't so divine as I thought.

I have read that the release of dopamine (the pleasure "high" inducing chemical in our brains) is the highest when we finally let ourselves think that we are going to binge and at the point of actually eating, the dopamine is not as high as it was when we "thought" of eating the forbidden foods. The rush of power and relaxation that comes with the idea of "ok, I'm finally giving in and going to eat xx" is that surge of dopamine...

Anyway, thanks for the continued motivation.

Lynna said...

Drug addicted friends have described to me how they "chase the high". The amount of drug to induce the high grew increasingly higher, and even unto a point where they could never achieve the same high as that initial experience. Something about the way you described this resonated with that "chasing the high" they described.

Anonymous said...

Beth and Lynna's comments, above, are spot on. As recovering addict, I recall the so-called high (surge of neurotransmitters) actually began before the drugs actually hit my system. Same with process addictions and EDs. Just thinking about carbs, planning to eat them, also causes a surge in insulin, especially for formerly obese folks...and as we know, insulin increases the other hormones that create hunger...

Just thinking about eating carbs, even if it is at some future time, or simply remembering past carb binges, can cause ACTUAL hunger increases, not just imagined "urges" to binge.

Also, loved your awareness that a binge gives one a way to focus on something other than things needing to be dealt with...often things that are difficult or painful. Sometimes a binge might be a rational choice, I suppose, but by the time it gets as far as the action being carried out, it is questionable whether, THEN, it is still a choice. There are many little steps leading up...other choices might be better if only we can recognize what those might be, and have the courage to try them. (Such as calling a trusted friend.)

Great post Lyn. As always.

Robin

Anna Down Under said...

Excellent post, and it so resonated with me because I was feeling all of that last night. I eat so much healthier these days, so when I do binge it tends to be on something totally not healthy like caramel slice, because it's thick and gooey and sweet and chocolatey and I like the mouthfeel of it as much as the taste. I keep eating it even though it's starting to make me feel sick, and even though whatever is compelling me to eat is still not satisfied.

LessLacie said...

So not only are you an amazing writer, but also a mind reader! Wow! It was like you were in my head. This is my first visit to your blog and already can't wait to read more of what you write. I spent 5 weeks at a clinic for binge eating a year ago and your post totaly brought it all back for me. I'm off the wagon at the moment...You gave me food (haha) for thought tonight...thank you.
I just starting writing again myself mine is LessLacie.blogspot.com. You are an inspiration to me!

Claudia said...

Agree with you Lyn, and very good points Ex Yo-Yo Dieter.

Also, Anonymous, I find myself doing that as well. Eating just to taste and then spitting it out. I dunno if that's good or bad though? :-S

Cathy said...

Oh my gosh! I haven't checked your blog in awhile-- you look amazing!!! Seriously. Way to go; keep it up-- you're such an inspiration.

Jessica said...

Yours is the only blog I follow, Lyn. Thanks for another great post.

Jes

Dinahsoar said...

Great post Lyn--what you've said is the same experience I've had.

Amy said...

I think I love you. LOL! Came to your blog from a link regarding medifast recipies. Then decided I wanted to see where you were in your weight loss so checked out your blog. I was touched by your post about feeling inadequate. But your post on the payoff - I could have wrote myself - except for the part of the worth it, not worth it list...that makes so much sense to me. I think that will help me so much. When I first started the program in Oct. 2010 as binge thoughts came into my head I was able to reason them away with the mantra "you cant have it today or this month but you will have it again some day" and that worked for a while. Since xmas time its been difficult but I went fully back on program last week and lost 5lbs (yay). But now I am going to use your idea of the binge list...so that when I do go off plan eventually I will know what I really want to try and then I will make note of how I really felt about it when I do. Was it worth it? Then I will know for the next time after that. Anyway, thanks so much for your blog.