Binge

Here’s something you may not know if you are not eating disordered. I’m going to tell you what it’s like to binge eat, and you may be surprised.

A binge is not a delightful overdose of desired foods. It is not an orgasmic indulgence of sweets and treats. It’s really kind of the opposite of that.

During a binge, no food is satisfying. It doesn’t taste great. The food being consumed during a binge is not especially delightful or tasty. First, it’s going in much too quickly. Second, while I’m eating, my mind is saying: this isn’t good enough. Keep eating. Get something more bigger better go go go. And I know that nothing will satisfy me, nothing will be better, and I will keep eating anyway.

What makes a binge compelling is not the food. It is the act of eating, eating, eating.

At some point, mostly because I am too full and cannot stuff in any more, I force myself to stop.  It’s not unusual for me to wait a few hours and then go back for more, same process, stuffing in food that I don’t really want. Eventually, something happens -- say, it’s midnight and time to sleep -- and if I’m lucky, in the morning, I can break the cycle. I’ve had the cycle last for days, though, and it was so sad to see all that marvelous food go down my throat without my enjoying even a bit of it. 

I have binged on salad, eating more and more because it was there and because I could and because I had to. This most recent binge - gosh, I don’t even know how I could have avoided it, what I could have done to slow it down, how I could have removed the charge. It began with dinner, eaten too quickly and without satisfaction. After dinner, I started in on nuts and seeds and goji berries and cacao. I know. It wasn’t chocolate cake. That’s because you still think a binge is about eating forbidden sweet foods. You think a binge is about delight. It’s not. It’s about compulsion. It’s the act of eating, not the food itself, and the food itself barely matters.

As with all parts of my eating journey, I’m a bit fascinated by this. I am both in it and observing it. I can look back through my whole day and see what had been upsetting me and what was beyond my ability to manage. I can see what were my stressors. I can sense the effects of my hormones, my age. All this knowledge, all this awareness, and in the end, the compulsion wins out. 

I was talking on the phone with my daughter in the evening and blah blah blahing about all those stressors. I didn’t mention the one that I think did me in, and it was this. I took a Nia class in the morning, and Julie, our instructor, asked us to dance like 6 year olds, with delight, and that was fine; I could do that. She said, “Remember what it felt like when you danced this way when you were six.” I suddenly remembered. 

I remembered that I didn’t dance with abandon.  I didn’t giggle and bump and rub. I don’t know if I danced at all. I --  just -- oh. To remember that broke my heart. 

There are lots of Nia teachers who say, “Oh, I’ve always been a dancer” or “My mother says I came out of the womb dancing.” I was holding Olivia on Saturday. She’s not quite three weeks old, and she smiles, yes, she really does, and I can see her enjoying being in her body. She is the most embodied, sensuous, happy baby. 

I don’t think I was that baby, though maybe I was. Maybe my mother would say, sure, I always danced, but I couldn’t get myself to ask her. No, the story was that I just talked and talked and talked - can you imagine that? The story is that we were on a long car ride, and I was going on and on until finally my older sister asked, “Doesn’t she ever shut up?” I paused, for a moment, and then I was off again. Who knows what I had to say at that age. 

Being 51 is a peculiar thing. I can’t really even remember being six years old, yet I can feel the strand from then to now, how some things are still carried within me, how some stories still hold their power. Menopause makes me incredibly teary. It affects my energy and I don’t know whether to fight it with every supplement I can find or just surrender to it and figure if I can eat well, move well, and sleep well, eventually I’ll feel better again. It’s a weird trick of menopause that I am reflecting on these strands of my life. I want to un-strangle. I don’t want to go into the next decade still being tethered to whatever fears, unhappinesses, and traumas I have carried with me from then to now. I’m not saying I want to forget. I’m saying I don’t want to be a prisoner.

I’d like to be a normal eater. I’d like to never, ever binge again. I honestly think at this point that the best I can hope for is that I get through more quickly. That instead of bingeing for days it’s just one day. Instead of one day, it’s just one night. Instead of one night, it’s just one meal. 

If you’ve never felt compelled, if you’ve never done something and watched yourself doing it, maybe horrified and unable to stop it in the moment, then you probably can’t imagine the mix of dread and helplessness. I feel lucky. It’s not drugs or alcohol. I feel lucky it’s not 24/7 and that my mix of eating healthful foods most of the time and keeping my body moving means binges are more infrequent than not. 

I feel shame, too, though not enough shame to not publish this (almost, but not quite). I try to convince myself it’s not shameful. It’s just another part of life. It’s just a stupid human trick, and we all have them; we all have something. But the shame isn’t about eating or bingeing or even being out of control (almost, but not quite). The shame is about having been forced to eat someone else’s guilt, and I did, and I made it my own and grew it big. You know what else shames me? I can’t shut up. I just keep talking. The binge flows out instead of in. Here! See me? See me? Listen! Listen! I can’t shut up.