Would Someone Please Explain Why I Can’t Stop Eating? [book excerpt]

Regular readers probably know that my book, Food: The Good Girl’s Drug, came out last Tuesday. For those of you who haven’t had a chance to have a look, I wanted to share an excerpt! So, for the next three days, I’ll be running condensed sections from the first part of the book, focused on understanding what’s going on between you and food.

I love to eat—always have, always will. But in my early teens, eating went from something fun, yummy, and nourishing to something that made me absolutely miserable. My parents had started fighting a lot, and ultimately talking divorce. I was freaking out. That’s when a really puzzling, frenzied pattern of eating started to emerge. I snuck food, stole food, hid food, obsessed about food, loved food, hated food, hated myself. I would shove more food into my belly than I would’ve thought was humanly possible.

What I call my first official binge happened in the ninth grade. Mom and Dad were yelling at each other one night, and I escaped outside and dragged a blanket with me, heading for the roof of our German shepherd’s doghouse so I wouldn’t have to listen to it. Before I scooted out the door, I grabbed a spoon and a can of frozen orange juice concentrate from the freezer. I perched on the roof of that doghouse and cried, scooping the syrupy stuff into my mouth until the can was almost empty. I was in so much pain—but the sweetness of the juice and the mechanical action of moving the spoon up to my mouth over and over again seemed to numb my feelings.

I learned how to binge that night. I didn’t know that’s what it was called, all I knew was that it distracted me from my fear, hurt, and anger at what was going on in my family. So the next time I was hurting, I binged again. Soon I was sneaking into the kitchen almost every night praying my mom wouldn’t hear the wooden floors creak as I tiptoed past her bedroom door. I’d stand at the counter and eat three, four, five pieces of bread with butter, or pour maple syrup into peanut butter and eat it straight out of the jar. If there were cookies, ice cream, or crackers, I’d down those; if we had chips, I’d microwave a huge plate of them with shredded cheddar cheese on top for makeshift nachos. As much as I hated what I was doing with food, I couldn’t stop.

My crazy-fast teenage metabolism kept me slim for a while, but I eventually started putting on pounds. I slowly grew out of my jeans, size by size, and I hated myself for it. Though nowhere near it (yet), I thought I was fat. And “fat” to me meant disgusting, ugly, and weak. I started wearing big, baggy sweaters or sweatshirts over leggings to hide what I thought was an unacceptably big body. My junior year of high school, I was selling candy bars for a school fund-raiser. One day after school, I ate one. Then two. Then three. Then four. I couldn’t stop. I ate half a dozen candy bars that afternoon, and then spent the evening trying to make myself throw them up until my eyes were red and I was drooling into the toilet. But it didn’t work. I couldn’t get rid of the food, and I couldn’t stop eating.

My life became a cycle of out-of-control bingeing, guilt, dieting, and total self-hate that lasted all the way through my midtwenties. I thought about food, weight, and my body constantly: What should I eat? What shouldn’t I eat? When can I eat again? How can I sneak this food into my room without my roommate noticing? Why am I so fat and ugly? Why can’t I just STOP EATING? I felt like I was going insane. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had an eating disorder. It wasn’t anorexia (obviously), it wasn’t bulimia (since I didn’t make myself throw up after I ate); it was binge eating disorder (BED). I had no idea there even was such a thing, or that anyone else in the entire world ate this way. I just thought I was a pig and a freak.

Of course, not everyone who overeats has binge eating disorder. Experts now recognize that there’s a disordered eating spectrum, and that many people who have weird relationships with food move around on that spectrum throughout their lives, sometimes undereating, sometimes overeating, sometimes throwing up or using laxatives or diet pills. There’s even a diagnosis called “eating disorder not otherwise specified” (EDNOS) that includes people who have symptoms of a few or even all of the other disorders.

“Most of the clients I see don’t only use one behavior,” said Jennifer Nardozzi, Psy.D., national training manager of The Renfrew Center eating disorder treatment clinics. “Throughout their lives, they engage in lots of things: dieting, overexercising, taking diet pills, bingeing. I find that even when people are mostly emotional eaters or bingers, they also diet or restrict. They’re often not eating for hours and hours and then the bingeing occurs.”

Twenty-five-year-old Razieh told me that she went from one extreme to the other. “My story with eating disorders started when I was nineteen. I was anorexic and an overexerciser for about a year and a half. Then I think my body just gave out one day and I reached for a granola bar that, at the time, was not on my structured ‘eating plan.’ Well, let’s just say that one granola bar turned into about two hours of bingeing in the kitchen. From then on, my life revolved around eating—-bingeing alone—and working out to make up for it.” Eighteen-year-old Kendra used to binge and purge like a bulimic, but stopped throwing up when she read about some of the scary possible health effects of eating disorders, like infertility. “I quit purging, but unfortunately the bingeing part was more difficult to kick,” she said.

Tune in tomorrow for more from Food: The Good Girl’s Drug. In the meantime, do you relate to any of the descriptions of emotional overeating, BED, or EDNOS here? Where do you think you fall on the eating spectrum? xo…Sunny

8 Responses to Would Someone Please Explain Why I Can’t Stop Eating? [book excerpt]

  1. Lauren says:

    Wow, thank you so much for posting this. I definitely identify with the last part of post where you mention the spectrum of eating disorders. I’m 20 and I spent most of my teenage years on some sort of diet or another (even though I was slim and had absolutely no need to lose any weight). Once I started college, my dieting turned into anorexia and over-exercising, and then bulimia when I just couldn’t restrict anymore. I have since stopped throwing up, but now I binge. I over-exercise and restrict in an attempt to make up for it, but I desperately want to quit bingeing for good so that I wouldn’t have to resort to other disordered behaviors. It’s just so frustrating that I can’t seem to eat normally! As sad as it makes me feel to know that there are others who also struggle with an eating disorder, it helps in a way to know that I’m not alone.

  2. I realized several years ago that I had BED. I had no idea that this was an “official” eating disorder but with a lot of self examination I realized that my eating was certainly not “normal.” There was the triggered bingeing after eating one thing “off plan” or being alone or uncomfortable about something. I truly believe that one can work through these things though. But you have to get behind the hood and learn to deal with discomfort without food. It’s really difficult after many years of this coping mechanism.

  3. Samantha says:

    This book is incredible! I ordered it on Amazon the moment I saw it advertised in Glamour because I felt such a strong connection to the article, and wished to find out more. While I’m only currently about halfway through the book, I must say, it’s been an amazing tool in rehabilitating my view of food and also my perspective of myself. I know acknowledge that I have had binge eating disorder since around the age of 10 (I’m 18 now). It spiraled out of control in high school, but has gotten better since I started college in the fall. I hope that with the help of this book, I can learn to completely control my binges and finally become a healthier and happier version of myself. My deepest thanks to you, Sunny, for sharing your story.

  4. Paige says:

    I was in treatment last fall for EDNOS. I do purge, but not often enough to be considered clinically bulimic. I have gotten the purging much more under control, but the overeating persists. I’m reading your book right now, and I relate to a lot of what you write.

  5. sam says:

    I have binge eating disorder. I guess I first realized it in high school health class, when my gym teacher gave an eating disorders power point and briefly mentioned BED. At the time, my bingeing was at its worst after a very strict diet and I was gaining weight like you wouldn’t believe. I remember sitting there mortified- ashamed, and afraid people could tell I was sick. (or less sympathetically, “a pig and a freak”, as that phrase really resonates with how I felt about myself at the time).

    When I was younger I tried to purge, first by vomiting (didn’t work), and then with exercise (too exhausting to stick with). I found fasting to be easiest, but sometimes it would lead to another binge by evening.

    I wish I knew more about BED when I was younger. I’m very glad there are more resources for young girls with disordered eating now. So they can stop feeling (or never have to feel) like pigs and freaks, and begin to heal.

  6. [...] Sunny Sea Gold, Woodhull AlumnaOriginally posted to healthygirl.org on April [...]

  7. i am so thankful to have been directed to this post! the words “why can’t i stop eating?” give me pause because i think them. all the time. the last two years i’ve run up and down the eating spectrum. i’ve balanced in the middle, i’ve undereaten, i’ve binged, purged, over exercised. currently i am struggling with controlling my binges and my impulses to restrict and over exercise following the binges. the deeper i get into binge eating (it only seems to be getting worse), the more appealing extreme measures start to look (i.e: going back to undereating, taking appetite suppressants). i definitely think i am affected by BED and ENDOS. it’s not glamours, it’s torturous. your book might be my life saver!

  8. [...] want to—hey, that’s OK), you can read most of the first chapter in these excerpts here, here and here. Just to recap, each Friday for the next several weeks, I’m going to choose [...]

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