My Battle With Binge Eating

Binge eating is a tremendous and diabolical battle for some people. I am one of them. I battle with binge eating. Delicious, depressing, horrifying, comforting, frustrating binge eating.

Louis C.K. describes it so succinctly and perfectly: “The meal isn’t over when I’m full. The meal is over when I hate myself.”

I do pretty well. I exercise, I cook my own food, I have healthy options in the fridge, I track both my calories and my nutritional information in what I eat (i.e. protein, sugar, vitamins A + C, Calcium, Iron, potassium and so forth.) There is a great app, by the way, that makes this very easy.

Doing these things helps curb binge eating. But when it happens – and for me it’s usually triggered by an emotional episode – I lose all control. I once read in a magazine something a nutritionist said about binge eating. To paraphrase: “If you got a flat tire, you wouldn’t get a gun and shoot out the remaining three tires. And that’s what you’re doing when you eat and think, oh well, it’s too late, I’ll just keep eating.” I wish that stuck with me, but now what I do is imagine myself shooting tires with every extra pizza slice.

As National Nutrition Month comes to a close, which coincidentally is the month I began exercising regularly, I’ve been reflecting on my own habits and became curious about others. TIME Magazine posted an article about nutrition, asking experts in the field their thoughts on food and what they actually eat. I chose some of them to highlight here.

David Kirchhoff, CEO of Weight Watchers International.
He eats “vegetables, fruits (lots!), seafood and whole grains.” His indulgence foods are cheese (oh man, I hear you there, buddy) and ice cream.

On healthy eating and avoiding binging he says,

“I actually think the notion of willpower can be destructive…It never works. Rather, my view is that this is one place where I get to stack the deck in my favor. By managing my environment so that I’m not tempted, I don’t have to exert nearly as much willpower.”

Fitness Trainer Michael Olajide.
He describes himself as an “omnivore. Nothing is off the menu with the exception of fast foods and hormone injected food.” His indulgence food is also ice cream, along with Coca-Cola.

He said something about eating that I found interesting:

Have unconventional eating habits. Treat food as fuel, and don’t eat out of habit.

Jess Kolko, registered Dietitian for Whole Foods Market.
She eats, “80% vegan, 10% sushi. Her indulgence food is “super dark chocolate, 80%.” Her tips on eating well are:

Focusing on foods in their whole, natural forms and making it the norm and to cook simply with seasonal ingredients is the best way to stop battling your plate. Make friends with whole, minimally processed food like fruits and veggies, whole grains, beans and legumes and the rest will take care of itself.

Tricia Williams, executive chef and founder of Food Matters NYC.
What she eats, or doesn’t: “No gluten, dairy or sugar; and low grains and high greens.” Her indulgence food is “Anything chocolate – chocolate anything.”

On healthy eating, she says,

“I go by the 80/20 rule. 80% plant-based and 20% animal protein. I’ve seen a lot of clients have success following a paleo-based diet (which focuses on foods our ancestors ate, including fresh meats, fish, fruits, vegetables and nuts), particularly the more athletic clients who have specific goals in mind.”

These people have great advice, but seeing their faces on my laptop screen, I just want to look them in their digital eyes and say, “Oh screw you. It must be so nice being so perfect. Using your intelligence and brains and stuff and not eating an entire bag of salt and vinegar chips for dinner with half a bottle of wine and then some dark chocolate, because after that you need a little something sweet, that’s just science, and then hating yourself for the rest of the night.”

This takes time, practice and patience. I know I can get there. I want to stop using food as a drug. When I’m stressed or depressed or feel like I’m losing control, I fix that with McDonald’s. Or Del Taco. Or whatever is closest to me. I medicate myself with it. I do not intend to lessen anyone with drug addictions, and in no way am I saying that a fast food addiction is as dangerous as a cocaine or heroin addiction. How GREAT would it be if I had a legitimate drug addiction? Imagine sitting in a circle at a meeting with everyone bravely telling their stories, and maybe someone talks about how meth tore apart his family and he doesn’t get to see his kid Emily anymore because he was so high he ruined her birthday party by punching the clown, and someone else tells a story about how alcoholism ruined her marriage, but she’ll fight like hell to win David’s trust back, because David was the first person who ever believed in her yarn boutique business, and then it turns to me and I’m like, “Hi, I had Del Taco for lunch and McDonald’s for dinner.”

You know what I mean?

Because it is so, so embarrassing to admit to anyone that I binge and I use Big Macs as drugs. It doesn’t feel like a “real addiction.” But the thing is, the thing that I have to accept, that I think a lot of people have to accept, is that it is a real addiction. It is for many people.

  • Gina Vaynshteyn

    Almie! I totally feel you. I’m a pretty healthy person, but sometimes, I just want to freaking eat EVERYTHING in sight. Like yesterday, I was so hungry and tired and stressed, I ate a foot long Subway sandwich, Doritos, and then some Cadbury eggs (for dessert, obviously) and then I looked around me like a monster realizing what they have destroyed! And all these health mags are like, “Oh, if you’re hungry, have a handful of nuts!” and I’m like, YEAH RIGHT, I could eat a car right now. Anyway, love your article, totally relatable.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=678570898 Heather Kitterman

    Hi Almie, I totally hear you and I must say that the only thing that really helped me (after decades of battling this) was going to DBT therapy. It has worked wonders with trying to manage emotions without become self-destructive. My heart goes out to anyone struggling with this issue. I also agree that it is like a drug addiction, except with drugs you don’t need it to live. I applaud your bravery for speaking about this, and I hope that you (any others who struggle) can find peace!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1560450036 Shelbi Lyn Bacon

    Thank you so much for writing this – I wish more people were brave enough to talk about this struggle! I’ve just recently been gaining the courage to talk about it openly with people, and this was inspiring :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1110211761 Jennifer Law

    Amen to you for writing this! I’ve always been active, but only recently have tried to clean up my diet. I found that by making foods appear ‘bad’ to me I only ended up craving them more then feeling guilty when I eat them and I don’t feel like it should be normal for food and guilt to go hand in hand. Then there are days where I eat healthily, but I eat far too much of it and I feel guilty again. Glad to know that there are other people who have as confusing a relationship with food as I do.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001006701566 Shanna Hamilton

    There is an Over Eater’s Anonymous, but I just found it wasn’t for me. It’s very religious. My distaste for it isn’t even due to my atheism, it’s mainly due to accountability. In the end there’s no other person or entity that controls my compulsion. God’s not putting that cupcake in my mouth at midnight when I’m so full my stomach hurts, and neither are my friends or my parents… It’s ME. So steps about accepting you can’t control certain circumstances and having trust in outside help… For me, personally, they’re not going to help me. I managed to lose 18 pounds over the last couple months. Well currently it’s a little less than that, but my binges have kicked back in and it is SO HARD to get back on the bike and “not shoot out the remaining tires.” What works best for me is routine, even though a lot of experts say variety helps in dieting. When I was specifically eating the same thing every day at the same time, except for dinner, I was doing great because I didn’t have all these options to overwhelm me. When I tried to switch it up I was just overwhelmed by all the choices and wanted everything. I have also found a great help is using apps to track everything, to have a visual of “look kid, this is what you did.” If I go back and read one day I had half a pack of cookies I’m less likely to eat like that for a while.

    • Gina Vaynshteyn

      What app is that??

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=840393 Dana Maria

    Thanks for writing, Almie! I’ve found what works for me is understanding that I can’t be regimented, that instead I need to listen to what my body tells me and go with the flow. For instance, sometimes I’ll be feeling vulnerable/fragile and need to use an app to monitor my food intake. And that’s fine. But sometimes I feel like tracking everything stresses me out and tempts me to overindulge, so I back off a little and will delete the app from my phone for a few weeks until I feel comfortable having it back in my life again. I try to do what feels right, not try to stick to one thing (tracking everything) or the other (not tracking at all) all the time.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=119100197 Jennifer Dinsmore

    I know what you mean! I too eat pretty healthy, exercise almost every day and have mastered portion control for meals. But then dessert comes and I eat a sleeve of cookies or down a bag of candy. Or I indulge in a few too many glasses of wine. I hate myself for it after but at the time all I can think is “Relax, you are a healthy person. This is okay… It’s only ‘once in awhile’.” But it’s not because then I get down on myself and then I get sad and just want to eat more. It’s a bad cycle. I have realized very recently that I do not have any willpower when I am down or stressed out and this is when I eat so much I feel sick. Just knowing your triggers is the first step in getting it under control. Sometimes, if I feel like I need something really bad but can still rationalize that it’s not a great idea I’ll have a spoonful of peanut butter. It’s something that is slightly sugary and it usually takes me long enough to “chew” that I have enough time to think “Okay, I’ve had something. I do NOT need anymore.” Water also helps. Thanks for sharing!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=749494003 Nabilah Mohammed

    This article rings so true for me! Thanks for writing it. It really is depressing to be an emotional eater, I did need some tips on how to control the ways I eat and respond to my food. Thanks :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1568019877 Barthel Zieba

    Sorry Almie, but the drug example is completely wrong. You look perfectly healthy to me, so going on a binge sometimes is no big deal. Other people get wasted when they’re stressed and doing this sometimes is not the same as being an alcoholic. Maybe it’s such a big issue for you, because you control your food intake so much and can’t stand that it gets out of control sometimes. A real drug addict loses control every day. I don’t think that would be something you would rather have then going to McD every other month…

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=542800296 Jordan Hill

      You’ve totally just judge how she looks with how she is doing on the inside. Just because someone looks “perfectly healthy” does not mean that they are on the inside. I suffer from binge eating and depression, and there are days when I am a complete wreck on the inside, but you wouldn’t know it to look at me. To say binge eating is a form of addiction is wrong! You may not get wrecked on it every day, but you still have to consume food, which is the very thing you’re addicted too. And I’m sorry, but there are people who binge eat every single day. Addiction is not a black and white issue, you can not set one standard that defines all addictions.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=542800296 Jordan Hill

        I meant to say “To say binge eating ISN’T a form of addiction is wrong.” silly me, typing to fast.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1568019877 Barthel Zieba

          Jordan she isn’t talking about binge eating every day. If you do it every day, you get obese or you have bulimia. In fact, it is characteristic for binge eating as a medical condition, that you gain weight.

          Almie eats when she gets stressed and feels bad about it. That’s not a good thing. I have weight problems too and envy everybody who just eats without thinking about it and has a healthy body. But this is not the same level as alcohol or heroin addiction. I bet Almie won’t die because of her condition, but an aunt of mine did because of alcoholism. So sorry, but it’s not ok for me to say that you’d rather have a “proper” drug addiction then eating a bag of potato chips too much once or twice a month.

          People don’t feel bad because they are addicted to drugs, they die because of it. So if your binge eating isn’t on a level where it would threaten your life, please don’t compare it to drug abuse and please don’t say you’d rather have a drug addiction, because that’s a slap in the face of every drug addict.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1573620064 Taylor Spotswood

      I disagree with your statement. My father is an alcoholic and while it is something that will always be part of him, he has been able to avoid consuming alcohol for 10 years. I on the other hand binge eat, while I do not binge every day, it is very hard to control when I have to eat food every single day in order to survive. I am not able to avoid my problem substance like drug and alcohol abusers. And your statement that binge eaters are either fat or bulimic is false, some binge eaters may have fast metabolisms or also have a problem with binge exercising. I don’t think anyone should be able to minimize anyone’s substance abuse problem just because it does not have as high of a death count or isn’t as widely talked about.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=732601688 Joy Pici

    I agree that food definitely functions like a drug. A former counselor of mine, a binge eater herself, said that when you have a binge eating disorder, it’s like having to not abuse a drug you’re addicted to, but that you still need to take in every day to live. An eating disorder can be just as destructive as a drug addiction and, because you can’t quit food altogether, is always there to tempt. I have struggled with it pretty much all my life, and although it is much more controlled now, there are days (ok, maybe weeks) when I still get that “out-of-control” feeling and I know there is just no way I’m going to be able to eat anything without going overboard. Exercise, water, and a lot of therapy have helped and now when I get these bouts they don’t seem as severe. Identifying and avoiding triggers you can control is key. Also, avoiding looking at pictures of food on Pinterest can make such a difference. It sounds crazy but it helps. I look at the pretty clothes and home decor instead. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1152823426 Megan Hartley

    I like that you wrote this article. I have weight problems and a definite food addiction. Food is my drug. I eat or don’t eat emotionally. It is such a difficult subject because people just don’t understand. It isn’t that I am lazy and don’t want to be healthier, but that I have a legitimate problem. I’m currently trying The Fast Diet. it is actually quite easy. I have always had the constant worry that I would fall off the wagon the next day after counting my calories perfectly. That isn’t an issue with this lifestyle choice. I may not lose weight as fast as some other diets, but this is a lifestyle I can get behind. I have also noticed that I don’t want to binge as much. Thanks again for this article. As a fat girl it helps to know that fat people aren’t the only ones that suffer from self hate after a binge. Peace

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=7905233 Jess Pendleton

    I’m glad I stumbled across this article. As someone who has struggled with different forms of addiction for many years now, it’s interesting to look at binge eating, or just unhealthy eating, as an addiction. It kind of puts it all in more manageable terms. Thanks!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=740833905 Rachael Rose

    Hi Almie,

    Thank you for writing this! I have struggled with Binge Eating Disorder for almost two years, and didn’t tell anyone about it for over a year. I understand the embarrassment that you feel about your binges. I remember before I first told my family about my eating disorder, I was so ashamed because it wasn’t the typical eating disorder or battle with addiction. I was afraid that they would laugh at me or not take my disease seriously. It’s scary to open up about because you never know what people’s reactions will be.

    It is very inspiring that you posted this article. It always helps me to know that I’m not alone in my binge eating disorder, no matter how lonely it may seem.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=593230350 Andee Dominguez

    This article is amazing! Just last week I came to the conclusion that I binge eat every time I get an anxiety attack. I realized it when I ate an entire bag of popcorn and M&M’s in about 3 minutes, then hating myself for it. I am a love of food, and that will never change, but I what I was doing late at night wasn’t loving food, it was binge eating. I totally agree that emotional stress and anxiety is what triggers binge eating.
    It feels great that you came out and wrote this, and so many women are right there with you (including myself).

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100005587082762 Luna Park

    I was a compulsive eater for about 20 years, and I can say with certainty that it IS an addiction, just like any other. What makes it worse when you are trying to recover is that you have to eat food. You can’t cut it out completely, like drug and alcohol addicts can. What broke the cycle for me was therapy. There were very clear-cut reasons for my eating, but it took a long time to really get to the root of them. I struggled because I thought I had an ok childhood, so didn’t understand what was wrong and why I found it so hard to love myself. But how we were raised and nurtured as kids is really the clue. It’s not so much what your parents DID, but who they WERE as people and how sure they were of themselves. A parent who is emotionally unavailable (probably because of their own childhood) will leave a child unsure of how to manage their emotions. And food is a great way to suppress emotions that you don’t know what to do with. I am now almost 7 months ‘sober’, and I still find it hard to give myself a break – it turns out that even though I am eating super healthy (because I FINALLY want to be good to myself) I am still very critical of what goes in my body. It takes time and you absolutely need support from someone you can trust who can help you navigate the experiences you have had in the past.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1257897868 Kerri Norman

    Hi Almie,
    Your story is touching and such a common experience for many of us. Me included. Have you discovered the work of Geneen Roth or Josie Spinardi? If not, please listen. You are experiencing the very normal and predictable results of dieting and food restriction. There’s nothing unexpected about a binge response; it is a normal physiological and psychological reaction to deprivation. And while you may not consider yourself a dieter, to count calories and monitor food intake in the way you describe is a form of dieting. Anyhow, ‘nuf said. Listen to Josie especially for the research info on this topic. And if nothing else, you’ll get another perspective. Best wishes.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1552610068 Elizabeth Cusick Martinez

    A common problem and I love your wit!

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