Sunday, September 28, 2014

Two Kinds of Binges

The other day I wrote about how it looks like there may be a connection between obsessive-compulsive disorder and binge eating disorders... about how anxiety is common to both and how obsessive thoughts can lead to the binge. It's like other incarnations of OCD in that a specific thought gets stuck in your head, rotating, playing over and over and over, and one feels compelled to act on it. The trigger may be the sight of a certain food or even just the mention of it, and it doesn't even have to be a food that one particularly craves or likes. But that idea of a specific food just gets stuck. And it repeats and intrudes and gets in the way of other things you are trying to concentrate on. And it becomes so compelling or annoying and distressing that eventually, you feel desperate to make it stop. You can't think of anything else but The Food. And you KNOW that it is going to bother you and nag you and present itself in your head over and over until you give in and go get that food and eat it. That alone will give you relief and you'll no longer have that obsessive thought in your head. Relief, until you get another obsessive food thought. And if this goes on intensely enough, for long enough, and IF you don't purge, you end up morbidly obese.

But you know, sometimes, it's funny... sometimes it is just the giving in sensation itself that can make the obsession go away. I didn't understand this for a really long time... years. Every once in awhile I would have this constant nagging thought of some specific food, say, a bag of Lay's chips and some dip. And I didn't want to go off my diet plan, and I didn't want to eat more calories than I allotted for the day, and I didn't want to be weak and give in and eat it. So I'd ignore it and fight it and say no no no... until finally I was worn out from the obsessive thought pestering me and I got in the car and drove to the store and bought the chips and dip. And then I would get in the car, look at the bag, and NOT WANT THEM. It was actually really maddening. Frustrating. Because here I finally said okay and was all ready to go home and feel the sweet relief of eating these much-desired foods... and poof. The desire was gone. The superthought that I *could not resist* was gone. And I was left sitting in the parking lot with chips and dip I didn't really want anymore. Or sometimes it would be some restaurant food I had to have, or a fast food meal, or an ice cream sundae. And once it was in my hot little hands in the car... suddenly, it didn't matter anymore. Instead of the relief from the obsessive thought coming when I *ate* the food, it sometimes would happen when I *bought* the food. But you know what? I was all "I drove all this way and wanted this food so badly and by gosh I am going to eat it, because I wanted it so badly I was in a tizzy to go get it. And I am not going to throw away a burger, fries, soda and ice cream I just spent $8 on!" So I'd go home, or to the park, or sit in the car there and eat it all anyway. And then I'd feel repulsed and disgusted.

The key with this realization is that once you figure out that what you are doing is trying to stop OCD food thoughts... you don't HAVE to "go all the way" with the food! If you buy it and suddenly realize the OCD thoughts are gone, and you have relief, then *throw the stuff away* and go home. Eventually, there were times I would give in, get in the car to go buy the food, and then in the store before I bought it I'd notice the thought was gone and I already had relief, so I'd leave the store and go home. Sometimes, I'd find that the food thought dissipated while I was driving to the store to get the binge food. Then I was free to turn around and drive home. And in later stages of healing, often when I'd have those trigger thoughts, I could actually ride them out. Sometimes I could even trick them out by saying "okay, if I really need this food I will go get it." I grab my purse and keys, then I reassess. Often, the food thoughts would already be gone or much weaker. It seems just the action of *starting* to give in to the obsessive thought can sometimes be enough to make it go away and get relief.

There is another kind of binge, though, that has nothing to do with being triggered by seeing or smelling or thinking of a specific food. This kind of binge is more desperate... more scary. It is triggered by emotion. It can come on like a tsunami as a mixture of sadness or stress and food... it is comfort eating on steroids. We all know what comfort eating is. You get too tired, too upset about something, maybe just sick or PMS-ey or feeling down, and you have a mug of hot chocolate or maybe some chips or a donut and then you feel better. Well, with the emotional distress type of binge, the emotions are very strong and the eating is over-the-top. I mentioned my worst case of this type of binge when my mother passed away and I ate and ate and ate. I am amazed I didn't hurt myself with the sheer volume of food I ingested. This type of binge is trying to fill yourself up when you are empty, or trying to drown and stuff down very unpleasant emotions you do not want to feel. One way you can tell if this is the type of binge you're on is that it doesn't matter WHAT you are eating. You don't give a crap about going out and buying specific foods. You just throw open the cabinets and eat bowl after bowl of cereal or boxes of crackers or whatever happens to be there. I have binged on bags of chocolate chips, containers of frosting, bread and butter, cheese, jars of peanut butter, leftovers, anything that I could find. You know you are on this kind of binge when you take a can of raw biscuit dough and fry it and eat it all. You know you are on this kind of binge when you pour powdered sugar, cocoa, and butter in a bowl and mix it and eat it. You don't even taste it after the first 2 bites. You just go on autopilot, zone out and eat until your stomach hurts.

I have had a problem with both types of binges, and it's been a very hard thing to get away from. It's taken years and I am still not over the obsessive thoughts, although now they are weaker and far less frequent. I rarely act on them and never binge. The nice thing is, if you can find a way to stop the volume binge eating for several months, your stomach ought to shrink down enough that you cannot eat that volume of food anymore. Heck, I used to be able to put away a whole pizza plus some other junk and soda all at once. Now, I am full on one slice and stuffed on two. I was able to stop binge eating and get my stomach to a more manageable state by doing low carb shakes and very small volume meals (on Medifast) for 8+ months. I know I could stretch my stomach back out, and I probably have to some degree just by eating larger portions now than I did back then, but still I am not able to eat anywhere near the volume I did when I was bingeing. As for the emotional-type bingeing, it helped me to find other ways to deal with stress: writing, talking, counseling, friends, hobbies, self care, etc. It also helped me a lot to "shrink down" the volume of my comfort eating, and not do it *at all* if I am *really* upset or distressed (because it is hard to moderate your eating when your feelings are out of control). I sometimes just go off by myself and just cry until I feel better. But you know, for me, if I am just tired or crabby or annoyed and a cup of hot tea or a piece of on-plan "comfort food" helps me feel soothed, I am okay with that. So I think in terms of "shrinking down" both the emotions and the amount eaten, if that makes sense.

I'm far from an expert on eating disorders, but I *am* an expert on me. I hope by sharing my experiences and how I have begun to heal from binge eating it might help others know they are not alone and there IS hope, and there can be healing for you, too.


Karen said...

I find it common when a binge urge strikes that I feel the pain of what ever non food triggers there are (Alen Standish uses HALT-B- hungry, angry, lonely, tired, bored in his inexpensive app "Before I Eat"). Tired is mine about 90% of the time.

If I either can't shake it OR if I know it's something terrible ( my dad died last year, I knew he was dying but did not know when the end would be), then that's where I summons my support group and talk it out. That way I know people are checking on me.

I also pick one person (preferably in real life, but sometimes online , who I tell (XYZ is going on but there's now way in HE-double tooth picks I'm going to binge eat over it). I don't pick someone who is going to pat me on the back and tell me to eat a cookie, or moderate some junk food, or to loosen up a bit. I pick someone who knows I abstain from processed sugar and grains.

I hope you are able to lean on your support group. I still have binge urges 3+ years out from being my version of "food sober". It became life threatening ( high hs-CRP, nearly a diabetic). I manage that part of my life like my thyroid disease. I treat my recovery as a life long chronic disease. Not my fault, but something I deal with (not think about, just respect with my choices) every single meal, every single time I eat- for the rest of my life.

Good luck and use your support group a lot at the start along with your counselor. Binging is a serious matter. Many recover and are in long term remission. Many do not and binge or worse... Only you can decide when, where and how you get well again. Karen P.

Lyn said...

I found that app on Amazon and put it on my Kindle (no smart phone here yet!) I think that will be a neat tool, thanks!

Karen said...

Glad you did, Lyn. Alen's voice is very soothing. It can replace other "voices" in your head that are not.

Also, you can record your own voice or your kids voice in self made messages.

Sometimes just seeing the app on my phone is enough to bring me back to my senses. Good luck. Karen P

Anonymous said...

I feel as though the past few posts have been talking about mental disorders which are "outside" of your control.
I hope you finally are able to take control and understand that your mind is your own, and not an entity that is "outside" of you.

LHA said...

Very impressive post. I had never thought about some of these ideas concerning food addiction and binge eating. It all makes sense, and I thank you for sharing it.

Do you think that stress actually causes the obsessive thoughts about food? In my experience, I often get an obsessive food thought that I cannot get out of my head as stress is mounting. It seems as though this is the early stage of a full blown emotional eating binge.

I appreciate you listing some of the ways you are working to avoid binges to find other sources of relief for stress. That is a difficult task for me. Sometimes I just accept that I am going to feel miserable since I am not going to eat obsessively to deal with the feelings, but that is kind of a sad state of affairs. Not much of a way to live your life actually. I will try some of the things you mentioned. Thanks to Karen also for her suggested app for the phone. What an interesting use of technology.

Betsey C. said...

Thanks so much for another great post, Lyn. I can't tell you how much your honest portrayal of this illness helps me. I see myself in your posts, and reading them gives me hope.

Lyn said...


OCD, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, etc are indeed mental disorders that can be outside of one's control. If a person is suffering from these things, which are real and not imaginary, it can be difficult if not impossible to just 'take control.' I think it's important to understand that someone who, say, has obsessive thoughts about hand washing cannot just 'take control' and stop doing it or thinking it; often, it takes therapy and/or medication and lots of time and work to be able to manage that. Obsessive food thoughts can be the same way... very similar to, if not the same as, other OCD thoughts and behaviors.

I mention this because people who suffer from these disorders cannot just 'stop it' with willpower, anymore than a person with depression can just 'cheer up and stop being sad.' It has taken me *years* to work through these issues, and that is why I am sharing them. I want people to know they can get help for these issues, and binge eating disorder is not a sign of weakness, gluttony, or sloth. It is a sign, in many cases, of underlying mental health issues such as anxiety.


I think stress can be a trigger, yes. I have been doing more research on OCD and anxiety and how obsessive thoughts and actions are 'turned on' and while I *have* had calm, happy periods where I had obsessive food thoughts, in my experience the thoughts are more frequent and intense during times of stress.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your honesty

Anonymous said...

I don't know what to say other than thank you. These kinds of posts are as insightful as they are rare and they make me feel so much less alone in my struggle.