The Shame a Binge Eater Feels

by Bill Brenner on January 7, 2013

As a recovering binge eater, I don’t necessarily see my own habits reflected in a recently released University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) study about the weird concoctions food addicts ingest. But I relate to the emotions study participants describes all too well.

Mood music:

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The study says food concocting — making strange food mixtures like mashed potatoes and Oreo cookies; frozen vegetables mixed with mayonnaise; and chips with lemon, pork rinds, Italian dressing and salt — is common among binge eaters. The full study was published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, but here’s an excerpt from the UAB site:

According to the study, people who concoct are more likely to binge eat than those who overeat without bingeing. Those who concoct reported the same emotions as drug users during the act; they also reported later feelings of shame and disgust, which could fuel an existing disorder.

Mary Boggiano, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Psychology and primary investigator of the study, said study participants self-reported their emotions while concocting. The answers revealed a vast majority felt “excited” and “anxious” during the process.

“While they are food concocting and binge eating they report being excited, in a frenzy, and high, but afterwards they feel awful about themselves,” said Boggiano.

I never thought of the junk I craved as weird concoctions, but I also never made the kind of mixtures described in the study. I went for the traditional junk, the sweet stuff. I’d go in a gas station and buy a mix of Hostess cake products and a variety of candy, particularly Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Twix. In the same binge, I’d go for the salty stuff, including chips and fast food.

I always considered those choices normal. In hindsight, I guess eating all those things in one sitting fit the concocting mold. In fact, some of the mixtures described in the UAB report sound healthier than what I would consume.

One thing is for certain: The excitement and shame study participants described fit me perfectly. There was always a certain thrill in hunting down and obtaining my fix. I’d feel a short period of intoxication during the act of eating. Then it would all be followed by intense, even debilitating feelings of shame.

Not because I ate a massive quantity of weird shit, but because I had thoroughly lost control of my mind and actions. I let an invisible demon possess my mind and body, too weak to do anything to stop it.

Read more about what the process is like in “Anatomy of a Binge.”

I eventually did gather up the strength to stop binging. Doing Overeater’s Anonymous and treating the behavior like the addictive impulse it is helped a lot. Giving up flour and sugar and measuring all my food has also helped.

But a recovering binge eater is always one bite away from being reclaimed by the demon, and I’ve had my share of close calls in the last four years.

All you can do is fight it one day at a time.
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