Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Compulsive Overeating Disorder: The Something's gotta give lifestyle

Image compliments of
The fact that writing these words brings up sensations of nausea means it is real.  Too real.

I've struggled with Compulsive Overeating Disorder (COE) and Binge Eating Disorder (BED) for as long as I can remember.  For most of the time, I didn't know it was an eating disorder.  I just thought I was a terrible dieter (and person).  

When I first read about the OTHER eating disorders (not anorexia or bulimia but COE and BED) I was on top of the world.  There's a name for this!  There's a treatment strategy (therapy).  There are other people like me!  I thought it might be one of those nice, linear experiences of healing one fantasizes about.  I did read that it takes 7-10 years to recover from an eating disorder, but I never thought that would be me.  Let's see... that was October 2007, and here I am, April of 2015.  Time and Date tells me that it's been 7 years, six months, and 15 days since I had my big "problem solving" epiphany.

Let's take a look at Wikipedia on COE and BED:
Individuals suffering from compulsive overeating are obsessed with food and typically eat when they are not hungry. They devote excessive amounts of time and thought to food and secretly plan to eat or fantasize about doing so. Compulsive overeaters engage in frequent episodes of uncontrolled eating, or binge eating. The term binge eating means eating an abundance of food while feeling that one's sense of control has been lost.[2] People who engage in binge eating may feel frenzied, consuming between 5,000 and 15,000 calories in one binge. As a result, some will cancel their plans for the next day because they "feel fat".[3] Bingeing in this way is generally followed by feelings of guilt and depression.[4]
Unlike individuals with bulimia nervosa, compulsive overeaters do not attempt to compensate for their bingeing with purging behaviors, such as fasting, laxative use, or vomiting. When compulsive overeaters overeat primarily through bingeing and experience feelings of guilt after their binges, they can be said to have binge eating disorder (BED).[2]
In addition to binge eating, compulsive overeaters may also engage in grazing behavior, during which they return to pick at food throughout the day.[2] These actions result in an excessive overall number of calories consumed, even if the quantities eaten at any one time may be small.
Fantastic summary.  This talks about the what of it.  Not the why, of course.  That's much more complicated.

First thing to work on was bingeing.  I remember it clearly - having stopped at the store while my husband was away on business to pick up a few things (pretzels and ice cream?) to take home "for dinner..." and then I sat on the couch and ate them in the thundering silence of our cabin on the mountain.  It dawned on me mid bite, "Oh this is a BINGE."

I legalized all foods and went through some of the quality literature on the subject:
When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies
Geneen Roth's Breaking Free from Emotional Eating
Intuitive Eating

I am happy to say that I was able to stop binging after a year or two of therapy.  In the above example, I was eating to avoid loneliness or boredom.

I still suffer from the last part of that definition above - I eat emotionally, and I take in more food than I need throughout the day which results in a bodyweight that is too heavy for my liking, and for my function in the world.

I've used mindfulness training and have gotten to the point where I can see that I'm about to eat when I'm not hungry.  Sometimes I can stop it.  Sometimes I don't stop it... so there's awareness and then a "diving into" the compulsion anyway.

I've recently started having some success with the wonderful book Lean Habits by Georgie Fear.  I plan to document my journey through these next few months/years becoming a competent eater... I consider this blog to be the beginning of the Patient Zero series where I work openly with my yoga practice - which is transcending these compulsive behaviors, resulting from compulsive thoughts, resulting from complete identification with my emotions... attachment... ego... etc.

The past few days I was at a business conference, at the end of a stressful month where strep throat ripped through my house, I sprained my ankle, had lots of turmoil at home, and was WAY overbooked with job 1/job 2/job 3 and oh yeah my family my health my sanity...  So as much as I was trying to stick with the practice of eating 3 meals a day and feeling hunger before each meal...  I pretty much tanked.  I've had some success with these new habits, but the stress of traveling and everything else caused me to lose touch with my power.  Something's gotta give... and so I'll eat for pleasure.

I find that I eat for almost every emotion!  Tired?  Food.  Happy?  Gotta celebrate by filling up.  Sad, lonely, bored - well that's a no-brainer right?  I mean I jest here... to lighten the reality that I've been eating every emotion on the spectrum for way too long.

So here I am, in wonder and awe and observance of the human condition... laying it all bare and sharing my story in the hopes that others will see themselves and feel a feeling that does not require a food to accompany it.


Marlana Nichols said...

Thank you for sharing. I feel like I suffer from some form of compulsive overeating, although, I don't have the typical frenzy eating and don't purge my food, I do overeat, eat emotionally (for every emotion) and think about eating at all times. I have eaten myself into poor health and really don't know where to turn. I really don't think many doctors take you seriously when you say your addicted to food. I will be having weightloss surgery in a few months but would like to deal with the emotional/addiction part of eating. Again, thank you for posting. I understand what a struggle it is. Marlana

Anna Van Fleet said...

Hey Marlana - thanks for stopping by. Food is almost the worst addiction because you can't give it up. Alcohol is second worst because it's legal and it's everywhere... but food - you HAVE to eat! And the advertising is so in our faces. I'm not a fan of overeating anonymous either. You know therapy has really helped me. It doesn't solve all my problems but it's sort of like that Einstein quote - the mind that got you into the mess is not the mind that's going to get you out of it or something like that. Therapy has helped me sort through how I feel about things and other appropriate responses to feelings than eating - such as speaking one's truth. That kind of thing can land you in couples counseling or a new career (ha ha!) Anyway feel free to be in touch with me as you get closer to your surgery. Much love and hugs. - Anna