‘Binge Eating? Come On, Man’

by Bill Brenner on April 23, 2011

Every now and then, someone expresses shock at my classifying a compulsive binge eating disorder as addictive behavior. So it was when an acquaintance in the infosec world contacted me this morning.

Mood music:

[spotify:track:0ydzdWYWIFlGBurhjEXwit]

Rather than run the entire message verbatim, I’m going to address certain chunks. His text is in italics, followed my my responses. First, I want to point out that I like this guy. He does great work in our industry. I also think his observations are perfectly reasonable.

First, he questioned the short “about” blurb you see at the end of each post:

“Welcome to THE OCD DIARIES, the blog that kicks fear, anxiety, depression and addiction in the teeth. It’s written by Bill Brenner, a man who went through hell, saw the light and lived to tell about it.”

To that, he said:

With anxiety and depression I certainly understand, but when I think serious addictions I was thinking some sort of drug abuse – in fact heroin is what popped into my head. Alcohol also a possibility… but binge eating? Come on man. Everyone has a hard time knowing when to say when to junk food, Shit, I gotta throw it in the trash sometimes so I don’t eat it all.

For those who haven’t dealt with food as an addictive substance, his skepticism is understandable. It’s a very common skepticism, which is one of the reasons I blog about it. There are misconceptions to shoot down. So let me explain it this way:

Specifically, I’m addicted to flour and sugar. Like an alcoholic or drug addict, I would feel the itch for it and it would drive me insane until I got my fix.

That didn’t merely involve eating a couple doughnuts and regretting it later. It meant consuming as much as I absolutely could. It reached the point where it severely disrupted my life. In the post “Anatomy of a Binge,” I describe a day in the life of me back when I was in the grip of the spell. When you live from binge to binge, little else in life matters. Work suffers. Family suffers. That’s the difference between destructive, addictive behavior and simply having the tendency to eat a little too much.

I’ve learned to control it the same way more traditional addicts have done it: By doing a 12-Step program.

People are always going to have trouble buying the notion that this is a legitimate addiction. I can’t change everyone’s mind. I only know that this is how it is for me and many other people who I have met, and if someone who compulsively binge eats will find it in them to get help after reading some of this blog, that’s all that matters to me.

One more point about addiction: My personal experience is that the behavior is merely a byproduct of a bigger, more insidious problem. I like to call it the hole in my soul, complicated by a sometimes debilitating mental disorder called OCD.

From my perspective, the OCD — mixed with a history of close friends dying, serious childhood illness and constant tragedy in the family — drove me to my addiction. The combination of all these things is the “hell” I speak of in the “about” blurb.

Everyone has their struggles. Everyone has their own version of hell. This was simply mine. I don’t lament it. I love the life I have today and I’m not the same man I was even five years ago. As far as I’m concerned, I owe it to my maker to share where I’ve been so others know they are not alone or without hope.

Quick question, have you always had your faith — reason I ask is because 2 people I know were so heavily addicted and the bible was how they escaped their addiction. I found it to be one extreme to another.. they became fundamentalist in a way… I felt like I’d lost my “mates” — but on the same token I’m of course stoked that they will continue to walk the earth… I just wish there was a middle ground.

I’ve always believed in God, but my faith has really deepened in recent years. I don’t tell people what they should or should not believe. All I ask of people is that they be kind to others and honest with themselves.

I wholeheartedly agree there are those who take it way too far, to the point that it is just another addictive, compulsive behavior.

Some folks cling to their 12-Step program so tightly that their addictive behavior latches on to the program itself. In my opinion, this can get unhealthy. The same thing applies to religion.

To find recovery in Overeater’s Anonymous, the only requirement is to want to stop eating compulsively. It’s very simple. There is no “OA diet.” But there are a few different food plans people choose from. One is based on a “Dignity of Choice” pamphlet that outlines a few different plans. Then there’s the so-called “Grey Sheet” plan (included among the options in “Dignity of Choice”) a lot of recovering food addicts cling to like a passage from The Bible.

For them (not everyone, but quite a few people), there IS NO OTHER WAY. If you’re not following the food plan outlined there, you are not abstinent. There’s also the mindset that you HAVE TO ABSTAIN FROM FLOUR AND SUGAR and have nothing in between meals to be abstinent. Eat an apple in between lunch and dinner and you break your abstinence and have to start over.

To me, this is an extreme that causes a lot of people to fail. It pisses me off when someone following the strictest plan tells someone they’re not being abstinent if they’re doing their own plan differently.

For the record, I don’t eat flour or sugar, and I don’t eat in between meals. I have to have it this way because the defect in my brain approaches anything in between as an invitation to binge. Flour and sugar, mixed together, had the same effect on me as heroin has on the more traditional junkie.

But not everyone can do it that way. There are many reasons for someone to do it differently. If you have diabetes, for example, following my exact food plan could be bad, maybe even lethal.

I also feel that if an apple between meals keeps you from binge eating, that’s what you do. If the more extreme among us tell you you’re not abstinent if you do that, they’re wrong.

In my view, folks who get that way become addicts of a different sort. The compulsive behavior centers around the program itself.

With faith, all that matters to me is that I have beliefs that sustain me. Everyone must walk their own road on that one.

I hope this was a decent explanation.

Thanks for the feedback.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Eli February 10, 2013 at 7:18 am

Great explanation and great post.

Heather Arlen February 9, 2014 at 9:54 am

Bill, your willingness to be open about what most of us try to hide, even from people close to us, is something I find I’m grateful for…perhaps allowing us all a little leeway. My own desire to be perfect….well, 😉 it demands that I hide it all. This willingness, coupled with your self-awareness, is a gift.

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