Wednesday, September 24, 2014

On Shame and Guilt for the Binge


Driving to the store, I had the same thoughts as always. Will this be my last binge run? It has to be. I'll *make* it my last binge run. I'll get everything I have been obsessing about, all the things I could want or crave, and I'll eat them, and when they are gone I will never do this again. It has to stop. I can't keep doing this. I'll be 400 pounds in a year if I don't quit this. And this is no way to behave. I'm ashamed of myself. What if I get in a car accident on the way to the grocery store, and die? I will have died for food, for a donut, for a junk run. Even worse... the horror... what if I get in a car wreck *on the way home* from the binge run??? Car filled with hot dogs and Oreos... peanut butter cups and frozen Pizza Rolls scattered across the highway... me being pulled from the wreckage, frosting on my lips, cupcake crumbs on my lap... Coke splashed across the dashboard, mingling with blood... Everyone will know. Everyone will see. "I thought she was on a diet! Wasn't she doing Atkins or something? Why would she have all those bags of chips in her car? Why was she eating a cupcake? She died for a cupcake..."

Irrational thoughts. Fears, not of dying from sugar overload and high cholesterol and morbid obesity, but of being found out. Of getting caught on a binge run. Of people shaking their heads and saying, "Wow, she couldn't even control what she was eating. She couldn't stop eating candy bars even for her own health... her family... her own life!" A funeral full of mourners wondering at the revelation. "I didn't know she was a binge eater, did you?" A banner over the coffin... "Binge Eater." So ashamed. So humiliated.

Those fears drove me to hide the wrappers, to bury them at the bottom of the trash can where no one could see. They drove me to stop at the park after a fast food run so I could dispose of all the evidence in a public garbage can and then drive to school to pick up the children, windows down even in winter, airing out any lingering scent of burger-onions and French Fry grease. They drove me to eat in my bedroom, in the bathroom, sitting in parking lots in my car... alone, unseen. The shame of being "a pig, a glutton, a disgusting fat out-of-control person" eating enough for a whole family was just too much to bear. But I couldn't stop. I couldn't MAKE IT STOP. The constant thoughts, the cravings, the desires were irresistible. I didn't know it was an illness, but it was.

There is research that suggests, and I believe it, that eating disorders are linked to obsessive compulsive disorder, and that both co-exist with anxiety. For me, this is absolutely true! When my anxiety and stress level rose after my divorce, I developed binge eating disorder as a coping mechanism. I also started having panic attacks, and my binges were driven by repeated, obsessive and intrusive thoughts about food. It was always *very* specific, too: I had to have *that exact food item* and nothing else could substitute. My triggers were often visual; I'd see a commercial for McDonald's and then for the rest of the day (or longer) would have unwanted thoughts and cravings for a Big Mac, and I could get no relief from those thoughts until I actually went and ate a Big Mac. Sometimes the trigger would be a picture in a magazine, or a recipe I saw online. Sometimes I would see someone eating something. Sometimes it would just be the mention of a certain food that would be the trigger. I remember once when a friend said in an offhand way, "oh, I really love this brand of chips! They are my guilty pleasure!" Well, I had had those chips before. They were okay. But that mention caused those chips to be stuck in my head. I had thoughts about them for days. I saw them in my mind when I didn't want to. And those thoughts only stopped intruding when I gave in and bought those chips and ate them. Then I was relieved. Then the thoughts stopped. But the relief was short lived, replaced quickly by shame and guilt. I ate them, and now I will stay fat. I cannot succeed on any weight loss plan. I cannot resist the food thoughts. I have no self control at all.

I wanted a cupcake. I think someone at a meeting mentioned bringing cupcakes to a gathering, and then I had cupcakes stuck in my head. I put the thoughts aside, I got busy with something else. I ignored it, I fought it, but in a split second when I wasn't busy with other things, the cupcakes would pop back in... unbidden, unwanted, a vision of sugar and fat, fluffy and white and perfect, calling to me, bidding me to take a bite and slip into that food-induced calm it would bring. The cupcake kept popping back into my head, interrupting other thoughts, over and over until I set my work aside. I'd go on a cupcake run. I couldn't take the repeated, distracting cupcake thoughts anymore. I knew how to stop them, and I needed some peace. I got in the car... would I get in a wreck? I drove very carefully to the supermarket. I'd buy ONE cupcake, I'd eat it in the car. I'd get rid of the evidence. But when I got the the store, they only had cupcakes by the half dozen. I stared at the clamshell with the six perfect, white cupcakes topped with fluffy frosting and sprinkles. It was the cupcake from my brain! I had to have it. But no, you can't buy just one. I walked around the store some more. I thought about it. My kids knew I was on a low carb plan. I'd told them I was not eating any sugary food. I couldn't bring home a package of cupcakes with one missing! They'd know I'd eaten it... they'd know I was a failure. I bought it anyway. I sat in the parking lot, covered in anticipation and happiness and a little bit of shame leaking in... eating my cupcake. I stared at the rest. I could throw them all away. I would find a place so no one would know and I could pretend I was still eating the "right" foods. I drove towards home. I started thinking about saving one of those cupcakes and coming up with ways to get it into the house so I could hide it somewhere and eat it later... tonight, not tomorrow, because tomorrow I was going to eat all the "right," healthy foods. It would be my Day 1 again. But tonight I might regret throwing away all these cupcakes. But I couldn't risk bringing them in the house... getting caught.

This is the life of a person with an eating disorder... with obsessive food thoughts. It is a life I never want to go back to. A long time ago I stopped with the binge runs, but I do remember a day I wanted a cupcake so badly that I drove to the cupcake shop and sat in the parking lot and cried. That was a breakthrough moment for me, because although I had the intrusive food thoughts and could not stop myself from making the "run," I did stop myself from acting on it further. I stopped myself from buying the cupcake, eating the cupcake, and FEELING THE GUILT from eating the cupcake. I drove home without one. I drove home without shame.

Breaking this cycle is *hard.* For me, getting off sugar was one of the most important choices I made that allowed me to experience a lack of physical cravings for junk. Once my carb level was low enough and I stopped eating things like donuts and super-sweet or salty junk, my body was in line for healthier eating without as many cravings. But my brain, my mind, took longer. It takes a lot of time to learn how to stop obsessive behaviors. I *still* have obsessive food thoughts sometimes, but it's a mere fraction of the number of thoughts I used to have when I was actively binge eating. And now, they are weaker. Instead of harassing me constantly until I give in to them, these thoughts just annoy me for a short time. If I do not act on them or dwell on them, eventually they go away. And because of that, my resolve gets stronger each time I have these thoughts and succeed at letting them die off on their own. The less you feed them, the weaker they become.

The one thing that I appreciate the most out of this process is that I am finally letting go of the guilt and shame. Yes I had a binge eating disorder. But it was not "my fault." It was not a sign of my gluttony, laziness, or lack of worth as a human being. And neither is it a moral compass or a measure of my worth if I have one obsessive food thought in a day, or five, or thirty. I am no more guilty, more sinful, less good or kind or intelligent if I give in to one of those thoughts and, say, eat a potato chip... or a bowl of potato chips... than I am if I resist. And I am not a morally better person for having one chip and stopping than I would be by making that binge run and eating a whole bag of chips, a pie, and a pizza. But I am happier resisting. I am healthier by getting away from those foods. I will be able to meet my own goals and fulfill the purposes I have set for myself if I do not stay enslaved to the food and the thoughts. I have less anxiety, the guilt is gone, and I am not ashamed.

If you see yourself in these posts, if you feel burdened and enslaved by intrusive, obsessive food thoughts, junk runs, and binge eating, I would like to tell you it *can* get better. You can heal from this. It takes time, it takes a lot of work. My work is not done, still. Please, if you see yourself here, if you are sad, if you feel alone and ashamed. know you can reach out and get help. Help for the behavior, for the thoughts and the anxiety. You can work on this, you can break free. I know you can! Know it, believe it. I am on your side. Life without the shame, it is so much better. It is my deepest wish that we will heal completely from the scars and sadness of binge eating and be free to fully enjoy all that life has to offer... without the guilt.

13 comments:

Susan Calderon said...

I have a step daughter who suffers from this. Thank you for explaining it in a way I could understand it. You may save a life with what you wrote today.

I think something you wrote back last June/July about gluten issues saved my life. I was in so much pain w/o insurance to go to a dr. so after reading that I pulled gluten/wheat from my diet. It was a MIRACLE the next day my symptom's disappeared for good.
Anyway, I just wanted to say thank you for all that you share here I know it can't be easy.

Sharon said...

I have been following your posts for some time now and have never commented before. You always amaze me with your insight. Reading this, I could feel your anxiety and then, finally, your peace at heart. I am pulling for you all the way. I feel like you are finally "near the light at the end of a very long tunnel. You certainly are not a quitter.

Anonymous said...

That first paragraph sounds like someone who doesn't know that she IS ENOUGH just because her heart beats. She is enough because she exists. She doesn't need to be perfect to be loved by herself or others. Such a hard lesson.
My therapist taught me that the way for me to get rid of the discomfort was to simply sit in it. Feel it. Then it gets smaller and less jarring each time.
Allison

Ahkenaten Kor said...

Excellent post, and a great blog altogether. I think most people who binge eat will read that first couple of paragraphs and either laugh or cry in shame. For me, binge eating is something I used to do everyday (6 Big Macs in one sitting, or a large pepperoni pizza pie with 20 wings in a sitting). Once I made the switch to cooking and eating food at home, it changed everything. I'm sure I'll get the urge every once in a while, and I may even indulge in it. But feeling guilty gets everyone nowhere. I feel good that it's once every 6 months or once a year that I get those urges, so if it happens it happens. With a brain trained to eat from home, simply reducing the urge to binge is a better way to live than to fight it when it comes.

Excellent post...

Holly from 300 Pounds Down said...

I completely relate. I could have written this myself! I can't believe how much I relate to what you talk about!

Anonymous said...

I've been reading your blog for a long time, and have not commented before.

Boy, do these last two posts resonate with me. Thank you so much. BED is such a horrible ordeal. Are you doing something very specific to break out of it behaviorally? I've been investigating the use of SMART Recovery for BED, but have not gotten very far into yet. It seems very helpful though.

Connie C. said...

I've been there, too. Thank you for putting it into words. I'm going to show this post to my husband so he understands better what I have had to deal with.

Michelle Himes said...

Oh, been there/done that! I never heard anyone describe it before. LOL! I've put all that in the past and am within 2 pounds of my goal weight now. Haven't binged in a long time, but it was a tough fight, and I still have those food urges from time to time. You are never really "cured", but the longer you resist the stronger you get.

Anonymous said...

THANK_YOU

Anonymous said...

I didn't know other people also did this sort of thing and felt like this. I thought it was all just me. And yeah, guilt is pretty large. If only I was good enough, if only I was stronger, if only I had more willpower, if only, if only...

Gives me something to think about.

David Dane said...

Lynn, why are you ashamed of yourself????????? I don't get it.. Put the train back on the tracks and ride... Did you enjoy yourself? Halleluiah, isn't great we live in a country where we can do that stuff.... !!!!!!!

Kyarra Keele said...

Wow...Haven't been on your blog in a few weeks, but just read your last 3 posts. I hope you & your daughter have recovered from your colds. This post was really powerful. Thank you for sharing.

Betsey C. said...

Thanks for this post and for your honesty, Lyn. You really are able to put our struggles into words. Hope you are doing well these days.