Saturday, January 23, 2016

Secret Confessions of a Binge Eater





Mmm...cupcakes. You can't just eat one. Or is that just me?



The Great Blizzard of ’16 is upon us. A soft, pristine blanket of snow surrounds our home, and I’ve spent the past few days at home snuggling with my kids, wondering when I’ll return to school again.

 I’ve also spent this time trying to talk myself out of wanting to binge eat. 

I’m doing a program called the Whole 30. Since eating plans and whatnot are pretty much the most boring and horrible things in the world to read about, I’ll keep the description simple. Basically, for 30 days, I’m avoiding processed foods, alcohol, dairy, grains, sweeteners of any sort, and other assorted items. I did this once before and was amazed at how I felt: totally energetic, 100% devoid of asthma, body-ache-free, mentally calm. It was obvious that a lot of the foods I typically eat are mostly just terrible for my body. This time, because of the ample snow on the ground, I’m also forced to confront how much of my life I’ve used binge-eating to cope with boredom, as well as pretty much any strong emotion you can think of.

I’ve never been the kind of person who binge eats on a consistent basis. In fact, for much of my adult life, I’ve been quite the healthy eater. But there are times when all I want to do is shove my face full of food – usually food with little to no nutritional value. This is one of those times my friends.

And yes, I know this does not make me unique. In fact, I firmly believe that overdoing it from time to time does not have to be this horribly dire lifestyle choice. Stuffing ourselves on Thanksgiving or at a Superbowl party or even to pass the time during a blizzard is part of the American experience. But I’m starting to realize, much to my chagrin, that there’s been a pattern of binge-eating in my own life – a pattern of avoidance and mismanagement of emotions and now, at the age of 40, I should probably consider breaking it.

And, just to make this as horribly politically incorrect as possible, I must admit that I relish those times, I remember them fondly. I’m not supposed to, just like an alcoholic shouldn’t remember his drunken past with love, but I do.
 
That summer I ate my weight in strawberry shortcakes.

The blizzard when my sister and I chowed on Cadbury mini-eggs while watching midnight movies.

That time I obsessed over powdered donuts while simultaneously obsessing over my first boyfriend.

That summer that I was all about the hot fudge sundae.

When I first moved to NYC and discovered what pizza is supposed to taste like.

That limited edition Haagen Daaz flavor with the brownies and caramel that my local bodega carried specifically for me (ah, I miss New York bodegas).
 
The containers of Nutella that saw me through my 3rd trimester with Stella.

The large bags of Smart Food cheesy popcorn and Ritter Sport chocolate bars I ate in front of Netflix on nights when Dave had to work late.

Yes, my friends, as I typed that, I longed for each and every flavor – the processed, the sugary, the devoid of nutrition and filled with things that actively harm me. I want it all. 

But more than that, I crave that immediate feeling of numbness and relief that washes over me when I begin automatically eating bite after bite after bite. 

Because for every food I binge ate, there was some emotion that preceded it. An emotion that was too strong for me to handle. An emotion that scared me.

That summer I ate my weight in strawberry shortcakes, I was depressed because my parents went on a vacation without me and my siblings, and left without telling us.

The blizzard when my sister and I chowed on Cadbury mini-eggs, my abusive dad was trapped in an airport in Las Vegas and I was riddled with guilt for hoping he’d never make it home.

That time I obsessed over powdered donuts, I was terrified of actually kissing my 7th grade boyfriend, then later devastated when he broke up with me.

That summer that I was all about the hot fudge sundae, it was years later and I was finally dating again, but still terrified of men - especially a man who was REALLY, REALLY in to me. (Yes, this seems like a weird problem to have, but I was legitimately terrified of men.)

When I first moved to NYC and discovered what pizza is supposed to taste like – it was incredible! So I ordered a large pie with a garlic knots and ate it all on the floor in my unfurnished apartment, drowning in loneliness and fear that I’d make a huge mistake by moving to the country’s most challenging city with no money, no contacts, no job.

That limited edition Haagen Daaz flavor with the brownies and caramel that my local bodega carried specifically for me? It numbed the lingering pain of witnessing September 11th from my front stoop, and it saw me through severely lonely nights as I watched my roommate romp around with her boyfriend. I eventually became so embarrassed that they carried the ice cream specifically for me and were so used to seeing me buy it with such regularity that I walked blocks and blocks away to find another store that carried it.

The containers of Nutella that saw me through my 3rd trimester with Stella, Nutella that I’d put on bananas and whole grain bread and eventually just a spoon while I tried to push the rampant anxiety from my mind about why she hadn’t kicked in an hour or would I be able to survive the pain of childbirth or would she be born with irregularities that I wouldn’t be prepared for because I’d stubbornly refused prenatal testing or would we be the worst parents in the history of the world.

The large bags of Smart Food cheesy popcorn and Ritter Sport chocolate bars I ate in front of Netflix on nights when Dave had to work late - a meager attempt to convince myself that he was actually at a work event and not lying to me. Trying to believe that someone could actually love me and want to be with me, that his absence from me wouldn’t remind him how much better off he was before he met me so then he’d just never return. Trying desperately not to believe that I’d actually end up alone the way I always knew I would, the way I deserved to be.

OK. So now that food doesn’t seem so sweet anymore. And I realize that I’m very nakedly revealing the inner workings of a mind that’s had to do A LOT of work over the years.

So, then, why do I want to binge eat now? Why do I have moments where I would saw off my left arm for batch of no-bake cookies or some chips and salsa or a pint of ice cream? Because I feel guilty for how frustrated I get when Sam is in these very typical 2 year-old moods and throws fits and kicks me during diaper changes and stubbornly refuses to put on his shoes. I feel guilty for how annoyed I get with Stella for only wanting to eat the same 2 foods and still needing so much of my attention at her age and doing things that she knows will cause Sam to scream and cry, like taking his toys. I feel guilty because, on Monday, should school be back in session, I’ll worry like crazy about those two kids, afraid some gun-nutty idiot will decide to murder some children and that he’ll choose one of their schools. I also feel stressed out and pulled in a hundred different directions – from my job that requires a lot of time and mental energy, to my two wonderful kids, to my marriage which – after ten years – is at its best but stays that way only through attention and love, to my spirituality lying abandoned and unfed in the corner, all the way my poor artistic life, suffering like crazy because I always seem to put myself last. I feel downtrodden because I haven’t won the Moth StorySlam in a long time. I know I need to exercise but I struggle to find the time. I know I need to write, but doing so requires preparation and letting at least one kid veg out in front of the TV.

Wow. This has been great. I really feel like I should pay you for this session.

So, anyway, I’m working on this. My goal is not to lose weight or be a certain size. I’m happy with how I look. But I want to not turn to food to cope with tough things, I want to have the peace of mind and strength to know that I can handle it on my own. To actually work on the parts of my life that cause me distress and not just bury them under a sea of donuts and popcorn.

And, someday, I’d like to be the kind of person who can eat too many mini-quiches at your party because it’s fun, not because I’m hiding from something.