Thursday, February 16, 2012

A binge by any other name

The good news is that my Valentine's Day lingerie went over well.

The bad news is that I pretty much binged on Valentine's Day. It may not have been a classic binge, but it was very, very close to one. I'm not sure what to call it, besides "disturbing."

A few things came together to make this happen:

1. I had a casual attitude since it was a holiday. Thought it'd be ok to indulge a little more than usual.
2. I was experiencing PMS and having cravings.
3. I ate a piece of candy in the morning, which is never a good idea for me. The earlier in the day I have something like candy, the more I want to graze on it the remainder of the day. Plus, eating sweets first thing in the morning reminds me of my old binging days, when I would eat whatever was left over from the previous night's binge as my breakfast. So there's a pattern ingrained in me of start the day with cookies/candy/ice cream/donuts-->the day is ruined, so fuck it-->spend the rest of the day binging.
4. I think I was miffed that my husband didn't buy me any chocolates or the like this year, so I resentfully attempted to treat myself. (Again, with the general moodiness that can come with PMS, I'm not entirely sure how resentful I truly was.)
5. The contents of my recent post on eating sweets, in which I talk about experimenting with periods of complete abstinence, made me panic on some level. Even though I hadn't decided when or how long I would undertake such an experiment, telling myself something like that was coming triggered my old issues and weird thinking.
6. I didn't disassociate from my urges to eat one thing after another as the day progressed. It's as if I forgot to view those urges as nonsense; I forgot what I learned in "Brain Over Binge." That lack of mindfulness, of awareness, is the scariest thing of all to me.

So, which one of my binge patterns was displayed on Valentine's Day? Number 3. From a previous post:

"The third kind of binge involves day-long overeating and non-stop grazing on sugary, junky foods. I grab different treats as I go about my day. It's very mindless and scattered, but there's deceit involved, too. [For example,] I eat 2 cupcakes privately and then later eat 3 cookies in front of another person...'s more helpful to note the way I went about eating multiple things. Did I lie to or mislead anyone? Do I feel guilty, paranoid, or ashamed--or did I thoroughly enjoy it?"

It was my mindset that surprised and troubled me even more than the specific things I ate. My memory of how paranoid and hostile I used to feel in binge mode had faded a bit, but there it was again.

Here's what happened.

In the morning and early afternoon, I ate a few pieces of chocolate candy from the bag of chocolate-caramel-cashew clusters I had bought my husband as a Valentine's Day gift. A bag that had been in the house for about 2 weeks without me thinking about it. All was fine.

Later in the afternoon, I went to Trader Joe's for regular grocery shopping. There are these donut holes covered in powdered sugar in the bakery section that I've been noticing (and passing up) for months. I grabbed them and vowed to try them mindfully in the car instead of stuffing them in my face on the drive home. Hey, a little Valentine's Day treat! No secrets! My husband can also enjoy them, and I bet we can even keep the leftovers in the house with no problem and have the rest another day. Cool.

I get in the car and note the serving size is four donut holes, so that's how many I'm going to eat. After the first one or two, a voice pipes up and cries: EAT THEM ALL! EVERY LAST ONE! I ignore it. The donut holes are ok, but nothing great. I haven't eaten sweets in the car for a month and a half now, but I used to do it all the time in the Old Binge Days. And just like in those days, I find myself looking about and feeling agitated by the potential "witnesses" around me--people parking near me, passing my vehicle with their shopping cart, etc. I try to make it less obvious that I'm eating, and as a result, can't focus on the experience of eating. My embarrassment is overpowering my intention to be mindful. I eat a total of five, and even though five donut holes isn't a binge, something weird is happening in my head.

I drive home and unload my groceries. As I place the donut holes on the counter along with everything else, I tell my husband that I bought them because he didn't get me anything special in terms of food/chocolate, that they weren't that good, and that I was disappointed I had eaten some. He says we can throw them away and go out for something more enjoyable. I agree, and into the trash they go.

There's a Starbucks inside a local Barnes & Noble and that's where I want to go. I like their cupcakes, and it's been months since I've gotten anything there. My husband expresses disapproval because he doesn't like Starbucks--yet he doesn't want anything to eat or drink himself, so there's no reason for him to choose our destination. I snap at him that this kind of arguing with me and policing me on what and where I eat contributes to my issues and makes me want to eat secretly behind his back, just so I don't have to listen to him nag. He capitulates, we go to Starbucks, and I feel irritated and defensive.

And once in front of the bakery case, I fully felt like my old dysfunctional self again. I COULD NOT decide between the vanilla and the chocolate cupcake. I felt desperate to have both. I thought about getting the vanilla one and then eating all the chocolate chips stored in the pantry at home later. I end up ordering the vanilla and also buying 2 little chocolate-covered graham crackers to have with it--something I don't care about and would NEVER buy, even back in the day.

And then, suddenly, I feel hostile towards everyone around me. I feel like people are looking at me and judging me as I walk about in search of an empty table. In my head I'm saying "fuck you, fuck you, and fuuuuck you" complete strangers. Just like in the car earlier, I can't focus on the treat in front of me because I'm too busy scanning my surroundings and feeling ashamed. I'm worried that my husband will come back from browsing books and see that I've bought two things and that he'll be disappointed in me. I don't even taste the second half of my cupcake. (Meaning: I ate it but barely noticed what I was putting in my mouth.)

We go out for dinner afterwards--nothing fancy, just Chinese--and I eat my entire entree even though I'm not hungry at all and there's no need to do so. And that was Valentine's Day.

It wasn't like my old binges, in the sense that it involved less sneaking around behind my husband's back. Those stupid graham crackers were the only thing that I wanted to hide. Everything else was out in the open. Also, the amount of food I ate at any one time wasn't that much. In the past, I could have easily eaten all the donut holes, then stopped somewhere on the way home to discard the box (the evidence)...and STILL insisted on going out for a treat. Sad but true. When we returned home after dinner in the evening, I didn't attack the chocolate chips or the candy I bought my husband or anything like that.

But the paranoia, embarrassment, guilt, stress, and hostility towards others was like a binge. That's what I really need to look out for, because it indicates something has gone haywire and tells me that I need to get quiet and figure out what it is. Those emotions indicate that my lower brain--the animal brain that has been threatened by my lack of binging--has momentarily gained control and is trying to run wild while it can. And it's afraid someone is going to take away its prize.

Takeaway lessons:

1. Pay attention to emotions. Hostility is a major red flag.
2. Be aware of old environmental triggers, like the car. Eating privately at home is better; I can relax enough to focus on the food, and then I feel satisfied with less.
3. Don't involve my husband in the decision-making process when it comes to sweets. It's an old sore spot. I've got to answer to myself and do this for me.
4. I'm not working on periods of total abstention anytime soon. Clearly, the thought of that makes me panic. I think a little something every day/most days is the skill to master right now.
5. Slip ups happen. This isn't proof that I will always be a hopeless binge eater. It's evidence I have more to learn, and that is all.


  1. Hi again, just a few more thoughts on this. Kathryn wrote how she had a binge (or was it two?) after she read the book in May, so yes please make point #5 your mantra!
    In addition to your own thoughts on this, mine are that you had here an unfortunate combination of events - Valentine's Day disappointment, your post that you'd written about sugar, and not the least the PMS. All of this was overload for your animal brain which has been so used to getting the binge it wanted in these circumstances previously.
    You probably know this already but I've found that magnesium supplements can help with PMS.
    To recap, from reading your post I want you to remember, as you said, this is a slip up. Think about the progress you've made this past month.
    And thanks for your honesty in this post.


    1. Hi Helen,

      Thanks so much for the encouragement and for the helpful information--I actually did not know that about magnesium supplements! I'll read up on the proper dosage and purchase some.

      I agree with you that Valentine's Day was the perfect storm and that #5 should be my mantra. I couldn't write about all this until two days after it happened because I was embarrassed and distraught, but you thanking me for being honest really takes the sting out. It helps me remember that honest is best.

      Thanks again!

  2. Hello :) I stopped by because I liked what you had to say over at Lyn's blog the other day.

    I applaud you on your honesty regarding Valentine's Day. The hostility perspective is unfamiliar to me and much appreciated as I'm struggling with how to help a child in my family.

    Vanessa Joy

    1. Hi Vanessa Joy!

      Thanks for the feedback. My heart goes out to the child that you are trying to help. The kind of hostility I'm talking about was something I experienced even as a kid. Being afraid of the judgments and comments of others, worrying someone would snatch away the food I enjoyed so much because "I shouldn't be having it"...after awhile the fear and worry morphs into hostility. I think it's a defensive/protective mechanism. ("If you're gonna attack me, I'm gonna attack you" -or- "I'm gonna attack you before you even get the chance to attack me.")

      The child you are talking about is fortunate to have a caring adult in the family like yourself! Best wishes to you both.

  3. I have been meaning to read this post forever because in my blog skimming it kept popping out at me and today as I read it, it was as if I could have written it myself. From the hiding the food, to the indecisiveness of what and how much to eat, to falling into a food coma and not enjoying anything you eat because you're too worried/ashamed by it, to the hostility toward anyone who might be judging you. (In reality I have learned I am only projecting my own self judgment on to others to have someone other than myself to blame for the judgment)
    Thank you for this post. Sometimes it's nice to see your own thoughts and feelings written out by someone else to know you are not alone in the struggle and on the journey. :)

    1. Absolutely! So glad it resonated with you.

      You are totally correct about the projection of self judgment onto others. In hindsight, I know that's what I'm doing...but in the moment, I lack that kind of insight and invent all sorts of nonsense about other people. If anything, innocent bystanders are probably wondering "why the hell is this lady scowling at me?"

      Kind of makes me laugh to picture myself glaring at old ladies in the bookstore while I carry my cupcake around. Ridiculous!