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.
Monday Babble and Dhammapada
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