Okay, I’m going to go way off on a limb here, and say some wild stuff.
First of all, I am a person who has dealt with anorexia nervosa and binge eating since 1980, that is, before Karen Carpenter died, and when I first got this disease, I had certainly never, ever in my life heard of eating disorders. Why did I go on a diet? I did it because I thought losing weight (yes, losing is spelled with one “O,” all you folks out there in WeightWatchers land, I do get very tired of the typos, in fact, you will never lose weight if you spell it wrong) would make me closer to God. Yes, 22-year old me, quite secretly went on a diet and really never told anyone. It’s only in my journal. And in my memory of being very, very cold and alone with my dog, Hoofy, on this very secret mission. I got what I wanted, covered myself in winter clothes, my periods stopped, and no one even knew.
I was terribly malnutritioned. And yes, I do recall the day the binge eating started. Some binge eaters do not recall their first binge. I do. Afterward, I said to myself, “Hey, what was this?” It was like something animal had come over me, something Other. It was not my head that had done this, but my body’s desperation. No, not hunger, but specific nutrients that my body was craving, right at that moment.
Most binge eaters do not start binge eating just off the bat. There is a prelude to it. There is some diet first. Their bodies are initially lacking in nutrients. This, my friends, is key. You binge because your body is telling you something. Binge eating is a body thing, not a mind thing.
Have you heard of the disease pica? Binge eating is just like it. I’d like to propose, in fact, that it is very, very much like pica. Only binge eaters eat real food, and folks with pica eat stuff that I guess doesn’t fall into the food category, such as pieces of the wall, or stones, or chalk. I guess there are the classic stories of pregnant women who are starved for calcium and doctors wonder why they are eating non-food items like animals. Is it a good idea to therapize these unfortunate pregnant women? Or rather, perhaps they are better off with maybe some financial and practical assistance if they need it, some help managing their other children if they need that, and most importantly, some immediate help getting calcium to themselves and so they can bear healthy children when the time comes.
So say you are a binge eater. I would like to propose that you are just like this starved, pregnant woman. Yes, you are starved. I don’t care if you weigh 90 pounds like I weighed in my teensy apartment back in August of 1980, or maybe if you now weigh 300 pounds and you have been on a binge for the past three days. You are starved.
Your body, not your mind, is talking to you, crying out to you. The pregnant woman has no clue why she turns into an animal and goes after the wall and grabs it and shoves pieces of it into her mouth. It is knee-jerk behavior. It is her body crying out to her. Of course, we binge eaters know this behavior very, very well. We ourselves turn into animals. We try so hard to stop it, but we can’t. It simply happens to us, often late at night. We have the best of intentions. We aren’t even hungry. We have followed our meal plans or been on our best behavior, but we snap all the sudden and bam! We’re off.
Yes, we’re off. Maybe it’s that extra bite of something, or we’re in a store and we see something. Or, “Okay, I’ll put on my other coat now,” and off we go. Or we eat what we have at home, we eat the house out. There’s the whole ordeal with the cashiers, and if you drive, there’s the driving nightmare. Yes, you hide the trash, I’ve been through that, too. You hide the food, you hide the evidence, you hide the fact that you are eating, you hide all the evidence.
See, I know. I’ve been through it, and I myself know how it goes. And yes, I’ve had all sorts of therapists try to “help” me with it and therapy has been the least helpful solution of anything I’ve tried.
If your insurance will pay for it, I would suggest trying a nutritional approach. Problem is, just about every nutritionist on the planet has no clue about binge eating. They only know the very, very basics about the food pyramid or diabetes or something. Find one that does not put you on the exact same stock meal plan as they put everyone else on, the one they learned in school or copied off the Internet or ripped a page out of their textbooks. You might even find one who was inspired to go into the field because they themselves used to have an eating disorder and got better. Be very careful because some of these folks charge gigantic fees and ask first how much the charge is and make sure they are totally upfront about future charges and how much you will have to pay out-of-pocket. Really lay it on the line with these people. I went to one person and had to cancel the initial appointment at the last minute because suddenly I found out the fee…$300! For one session? And yes, it would be charged to my credit card. I was so stupid, I had given them the credit card number, and had to make sure that it was perfectly clear over and over that I was not coming I had given plenty of notice, I am a low-income person, this is totally ridiculous and there would be absolutely no charge on my card. I guess you live and learn. I was not charged, and breathed a sigh of relief. Anyway, if you can find someone like this, go to them, but not for an arm and a leg.
I told you that binge eating is, in fact, a form of pica. So your body is talking to you, forcing you to do something you don’t ordinarily do and don’t want to do in a million years because it desperately needs a nutrient or group of nutrients. This nutrient might be anything. Who knows what you have, over the years, deprived yourself of. It might be a longstanding nutritional issue. You might be dehydrated. Dehydration means your body is deprived of a nutrient: water. There are so many things it could be and the body is immensely complicated. You might have a food allergy. As a matter of fact, you may be binge eating on a food that you are allergic to and making yourself miserable.
I’ll tell you a very, very funny story. It happened a long time ago and it only goes to show how silly folks can be. My dad was an only child, and for a while, he kept getting sick. His mom kept him home from school and gave him chocolate milk, thinking this would make him well. She wondered why he got sicker and sicker. So she took him to the doctor. The doctor made scratch marks on my dad’s arm, and a few days later, said to my dad’s mom, “Your son is allergic to chocolate and peas. If you keep giving him chocolate milk, he will get sicker, not well. Stop giving him chocolate milk, and he will get well.” Sure enough, this was the case, and my dad was back in school within days.
Of course, this happens all over the world. We do stuff that doesn’t work, and in fact does the opposite, and we keep doing it, and we get sicker, and wonder why. Not that it was my grandmother’s fault. Of course it wasn’t, and it wasn’t a moral issue. She didn’t know. She thought she was doing the right thing. But of course looking from the outside in, we can see that what she was doing, giving my dad chocolate milk was not going to work and once her eyes were opened, it was a non-issue once again and everyone was happy.
So, you, too, want and need your eyes to be opened, so just like my grandmother, this binge eating problem can be put behind you once and for all, and it can be a non-issue in your life and you can, yes, move on. Just like my dad and his chocolate allergy, you won’t be sick anymore and you can go back to school and actually have a life. My dad graduated top of his high school class and I’m damned proud of my dad.
I have been in therapy and had, get this: a total of 20 therapists. Of these, I’d say three, or maybe four have been decent, but two of the four were temporary ones. None of these were “eating disorders specialists.” My very best therapist told me one day that she felt she wished she knew more about eating disorders and felt that someone else might be a better person for me. At that point, I told her that she was the best therapist I’d ever had, and in no way had she ever been inadequate. This was so long ago. Unfortunately, this excellent therapist was being laid off. She then handed me over to an “eating disorders specialist” who I swear knew not a thing about eating disorders, and the next five years were a complete joke. I’ve had one good one briefly, but a lot of horrible ones too, and I’m happy to be therapy-free right now.
Okay, here’s where I go off on a limb. They tried to therapize gay people to make them not gay anymore. Or do this moral thing, throw (pardon me) Jesus at them. Tell them Jesus will turn them into straight people and convince them to be straight and make them stop “sinning.” Now we all know that this in fact is an absolutely horrible thing. Therapizing a gay person will not make them not be gay anymore. This is 2013 and fact is, therapists and preachers are still doing this all over the world. This, to me…I don’t know, it’s genocide. It kills people. It kills their spirit. And it leads to massive suicides. We don’t even know the numbers over the many years that these practices have been done. I am bisexual I am quite surprised that I have escaped it all, but then again, I live in Massachusetts, not the Bible Belt.
So where is my parallel? Can you therapize a binge eater out of binge eating when the cause is physical and not mental, not, in fact, “poor coping,” but the binge eater’s body’s desperate nutritional need, a form of pica? Of course not. So the binge eater continues to be told, over and over, “You need to learn better ways to cope. Hold onto a frozen orange!” and the binge eater, of course, binges on the frozen orange instead one late, late night, and then goes on to buy a tub or two of ice cream. Do frozen oranges work? Do they solve your body’s need for, say, calcium? No. Do they solve your body’s need for water? No. You will feel rotten and no coping skill will work, and that therapist will tell you how poorly you are coping, and how badly you followed their advice. Maybe they will tell you you have a personality disorder, or that you are binge eating to manipulate others. Wow, that will really make you feel great. If you lose a friend, they will tell you you have terrible social skills, that you need to go to day treatment, and now you are stuck in some “program.” Oh lordy, you will get more addicted.
So the therapist will tell you, and now, of course, it’s therapists plural, a whole group of them hammering it into you, that you need to sit around talking about your problems day in day out. But you don’t. I am telling you, you are starving. Go get off the merry-go-round. Go feed yourself.
Meds do help, and I’m telling you why they help. Binge eating is a body thing, but the brain tells the body to do the pica behavior. There is a necessary link. Something has to be there so that the body will do this necessary knee-jerk behavior, so that the pregnant woman will get the wall or chalk material into herself and the necessary calcium she desperately seeks. Of course, science hasn’t caught up with all this yet, and they don’t really know which meds to use on people yet. Honestly, the research is so new. They were doing stuff in the 1980’s and everyone poo-pooed it and knocked it down. I honestly can’t remember her name who said using meds was anti-feminist. That exercise yoga lady who supposedly “recovered.” Anyway, be careful, ask questions, and know what you are getting yourself into. Meds can be a lifesaver.
Yes, I am going to go out on a limb again and suggest that not only you get tested for allergies but look into brain allergies. Yes, brain allergies. This wacko, crazy research done at the Brain Bio Center and other places like it. Folks think these guys are nuts but I am telling you, they are not. They are dead-on. A simple dietary change can radically fix a behavioral problem or “mental illness” better than “meds” if the cause is a brain allergy. All you have to do is go to their site and read what they have to say. Do just this, and that enlightenment alone may help you radically. It did for me.
So anyway, you are not “not listening to your therapist well enough” or “not following Jesus well enough” or “not being a good enough wife” or any of that. You are plenty good enough. You have tried and tried and tried and trust me, you are doing those things just fine but they won’t help binge eating. They will tell you how awful you are and you will only feel guilty and horrible about yourself. It’s time to get free. Find the key, and open the door.