Far Too Many People Are Fat Because They Don’t Eat
Update: Since publishing this piece, at least two more Medium articles have been published on this topic. Both of them include copious amounts of information. First, there is How I Learned To Give Dieting the Middle Finger by Jacquie Fuller and the other is The Unquestioned Pursuit of Weight Loss Had Us Eating Wrong For Years by Leigh Alexander.
I’m up early, 5:30 on a Saturday, and I know I will not eat until at least noon. I won’t even feel any hunger pains, so no problem. Not getting to eat. This is a much deserved punishment.
Last night, I gave in to my need to become numb to my emotions. I ate a dozen chocolate chip cookies ordered in pairs from the Burger King menu, and washed it down with what looked to be 30 ounces of Sprite. It took about 20 minutes.
I devoured them one by one, not even taking time to brush the crumbs off my chest. I had no time to savor every bite. The hardened, crunchy shell of the cookie gave way to my teeth. There was a softer cookie inside. If you held these cookies too long, the chocolate melted and you got thick globs of it dripping all over your hands. I’ve always hated having dirty fingers. This was part of the reason I ate too quickly to truly relish each bite. I asked myself, “Why are you doing this, especially after months of treatment for binge eating disorder?”
When you are in recovery from binge eating disorder or I suppose any addictive behavior, there’s a period when you flood yourself with information to try and solve the puzzle of why you got this way, how to fix it, and ways to bypass relapses. I am currently in that period.
For the last year and a half, I have been in intensive treatment for binge eating disorder. The single most important thing I have learned from all the books and professionals is that this problem with mowing down huge amounts of calories in the form of sweets or other well-loved carbs was originally caused by a period of going without enough food.
Even as the family struggled to get enough food when I was a child, I was obsessed with food. Child protection workers specifically mentioned such behavior in their child abuse report when I was in 5th grade. We were asking other children for their leftovers at lunch time. I could immediately see the connection. I didn’t get enough calories, so I got addicted to junk food. From that point on, it was a vicious cycle.
I kept right on eating until other children teased me for the collection of fat under my chin and around my tummy. At that point, I made a genius move to fix the problem. Doing jumping jacks for hours and hours in front of the mirror over the summer before 8th grade. Drinking only Crystal Light and eating only grapefruit. In her article, Leigh Alexander refers to drinking Slim Fast shakes as one of the first widespread diet products. I drank those, too. But, I had a weak stomach, and frankly, I couldn’t manage either the expense or the taste.
That was my terrible pattern cemented in that 8th grade year. Binge — starve — binge — starve. When I did eat, it was always high sugar items like candy bars and cans of pop. The notion of getting any nutrition was lost on me, except I was a bit obsessed with cashews for protein.
I finally escaped binging in my 20s for many years. I learned I had a disorder, called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. It contributes to making women overweight. This could be overcome with yet another diet. This time no carbohydrates. I did well. I lost weight, but I seemed to be getting more nutritious food than I’d gotten in years. At least, I was finally getting enough protein.
The binge cycle came back and pushed my best intentions aside when things got rough. I crumbled. The eating disorder stepped up. It pulled me back to binging and starving. I couldn’t escape from the eating disorder no matter how hard I tried. In fact, the harder I tried, the more entrenched the behaviors became. The weight crept back on, and on, and on. Five years past. Ten years.
Finally, a year ago, I decided the only way to disable the disorder was to get help. I went to the Emily Program. They put me into six months of intensive outpatient treatment, four days a week, three hours a day. In addition to this time, there were also therapy, nutrition, psychiatry, and pain management appointments. See how it consumed my life?
In her book, Brain over Binge, Kathryn Hansen explains our brains in simple terms as being an animal brain and a human brain. The animal brain monitors such things as breathing, food intake, etc., and it has strong survival instincts. It is the animal brain that repeatedly manipulates the human brain into arranging for a binge, because it has surmised that food is scarce. Her solution to the problem is to become aware of what thoughts are being driven by the animal brain and use your human brain to overcome them.
I’ve heard variations on this theme before. In treatment, we do something called Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, described well by another Medium writer, KevinRedmayne. Concepts in DBT map well onto the animal/human brain dichotomy. This therapy talks about reasonable mind versus emotional mind with the goal being to achieve middle ground in something called, Wise Mind.
For the New Year, I am looking forward to using skills I have learned in DBT, like Urge Surfing, which is similar to what Hansen recommends in Brain over Binge. It is using mindfulness to observe your thoughts and feelings during cravings for a binge without acting on them until they have subsided. There are skills involved to help you do this. We are learning these in therapy. I hope this works.