Anatomy of a Binge

I’ve been thinking about posting this for a while.  Eventually it may find its way over onto a permanent page, a la “About Me” and that sort of thing.  Or not.  I haven’t decided.  But since I’m feeling self-indulgent and self-centered and all the other negative adjectives that begin with “self-” I’m posting it now.  LOL.    It’s not entirely self-centered, I don’t think.  But I think that often Binge Eating is one of those things that make people say, “Just stop eating!” as though it were a viable option.  That always cracks me up, especially when those same people wouldn’t DREAM of telling an anorexic to “Just eat!” because they know there’s more to it than that.  (I actually don’t think any of those people read this blog, but my inner demons are up and running, and THEY echo things I’ve heard other people say like that.  So I’m purging.  So to speak.  Sorry you’re on the other end of it.  LOL.)

Here’s the thing: I genuinely like food.  I like the smell, I like the taste, I like the texture.  I like the way ice cream is cold and slippery and the way garlic makes the whole house smell like a home when it’s cooking.  I like all those things so much that I can sort of escape into them.  Focusing on food is simultaneously a way back to the present moment and a way out of it.  I can become so focused on the food that I don’t have to think about anything else.

And of course there’s a biochemical factor to food, too.  Eating sugar really DOES lift your mood, if only temporarily.  Warm milk really can make you sleepy.  Giant plates of pasta act like sugar in your brain, simultaneously lifting your mood and sedating you.  Alcohol?  More sugar.  (Are you seeing a theme here?  I don’t know many folks who binge on lettuce, I have to admit.)

Several years ago, I was living in San Diego, California.  It’s a beautiful city.  I’d live there again if the movie industry was down there.  I hated my job.  I had gained 50 pounds over the last year or two, since I’d quit dancing.  I was barely making ends meet financially.  I didn’t like the people I worked with, and was completely broke, so I didn’t socialize particularly.  My life consisted of getting up, going to work, coming home, eating dinner, watching TV and going to bed.  Weekends were the same, except that I ran errands and cleaned the house instead of going to work.  I went home to my parents’ house as much as possible, and cried every Sunday when I had to go back to my apartment.  (The apartment was the big bright spot in my life: I’d found a townhouse in a nice area for less than studios were going for in the rest of the city.  I LOVED that townhouse.)

One Saturday I’d made a major grocery shopping trip.  I’d spent most of my monthly budget on that big trip, buying a lot of frozen chicken, dried pasta and that sort of thing to get me through the month.  The kitchen was stocked, and I didn’t have to worry.

That night I was watching Law & Order (some things never change, LOL), and eating ice cream.  (I have a habit of eating ice cream straight from the carton because as a rule, I eat a lot LESS of it that way.  If I have a cup full of ice cream, I’ll eat it all, but if I have a carton, I only eat 2 or 3 spoonfuls, as a general rule.)  Anyway.  This ice cream had a peanut butter swirl in it (or maybe it was chocolate – I can’t remember), and I found myself trying to eat JUST the swirl out of the middle.  After a while it was sort of hypnotic: I wasn’t paying attention to the TV, to how stressed I was, to how late it was.  I was just curious to see if I could get all the swirl out.  But of course, as I ate downward, the swirl would swirl under the ice cream, so I’d have to dig out the ice cream to get to the next part of the swirl.  After a while I had so much extra ice cream in the carton, that I started eating it to get it out of the way, while I continued looking for that swirl.

I don’t remember what happened after that.

I was standing in my kitchen, and according to the clock, I’d lost 3 and a half hours.  Just gone.  Law & Order was long since over, and the TV was airing some paid programming infomercial.  The kitchen was a wreck.  There was food everywhere.  EVERYWHERE.  Empty bags of bread, 2 dozen eggs (a dozen bought that day) gone, a jar of peanut butter gone.  I’d cooked: there was a pot that had held pasta (now empty) and 2 jars of pasta sauce (also empty).  (When I later took stock, I realized I was “missing” 2 full pounds of pasta.)  The sugar and flour were out on the counter, along with the rolling pin, and a lone biscuit sat on a baking sheet, where I could see the faint grease outlines of at least a dozen other biscuits, all gone.  The frozen chicken I’d bought that day?  Gone.  The rest of that half-gallon of ice cream?  DEFINITELY gone, along with another entire other half-gallon that was in the freezer.  Three or four “diet” TV dinners, all microwaved, all gone.  Cans of soup, jars of jam, at least 2 pounds of butter (probably more, but I couldn’t remember how many I’d had in the freezer), bags of frozen vegetables, packages of hot dogs, everything, everything, gone.

I stood in the kitchen, not fully comprehending.  Finally I thought, “I must be dreaming.  I can’t have eaten all that, I don’t even feel sick, and I would; I WOULD FEEL SICK IF I HAD EATEN ALL THAT, I’M DREAMING.”  So I went upstairs to bed, half in shock, half terrified that I wasn’t dreaming.  I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth, and realized that I HAD been sick, and probably more than once.  (It was a miracle the toilet didn’t back up with undigested food when I flushed it.)  I went back downstairs and surveyed the kitchen again.  Only then did I really start to think that this happened, this was REAL.  I stood in the kitchen, and tried to remember baking biscuits, wondering how I’d had the presence of mind to turn the oven off afterward (thank God), tried to remember fixing eggs, pasta, soup, frozen dinners, ANYTHING. 

Nothing.

The only thing I ever remembered, all I can remember even now, was a quick image, a flash, of standing over the sink eating a peanut butter sandwich as fast as I could.  That’s it.  That’s all I’ve got, even now, 7? 8? years later.  Even though the evidence was clear that I’d been cooking and eating for more than 3 hours.

I stood in the kitchen, and started cleaning and crying.  An hour and a half later I went to bed, the kitchen cleaned, still crying, and wondering not only where the time went and what the hell happened, but how I was going to buy groceries for the rest of the month, since I had eaten them all.  I think I ended up buying a bunch of ramen noodles and living on that for a month.  My mom would have given me the money, but I was too embarrassed to ask – too embarrassed to explain WHY I didn’t have the money; or rather, why I didn’t have the FOOD.

That was by FAR the worst binge I ever had: that was the only one where I lost time and never regained it.  That was the only one where I cooked and couldn’t remember it.  I don’t want you to think that it was always that bad, but I can’t help remembering that night when I hear people say, “Just stop eating!”  I can’t help remembering that night, and thinking, “I WOULD STOP IF I KNEW HOW, YOU DIPSHIT.”

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27 responses to “Anatomy of a Binge

  1. This is such an important post, and not self indulgent at all. It’s a winner for Saturday’s FTBOLS, and I think you should absolutely give it’s own page. People don’t realise just how terrifying time loss is in context of a binge. I did it today. £40s worth of shopping evaporated, not a second of memory, just coming to amongst packets and dirty dishes. Well written Marste

    Lola xxxx

  2. That was so immensely brave of you to share, and as someone who’s just inhaled a weekend’s worth of food, food bought with the express purpose of eating in abundance over a three day weekend which didn’t last the night -a fact that I was fully intending on never disclosing to another soul -I want to thank you for sharing.

    Gosh Marste, honestly sometimes I think we’re frightfully alike…I wonder have our cycles synced, maybe? If you didn’t live a million miles away I’d insist upon becoming your bff, or at the very least your devoted stalker.

  3. Oh, Lola. I’m sorry you’re having that experience, too. It is probably the worst, most horrible, suckiest thing I’ve ever experienced. *HUGS*

  4. Cara! We posted at just the same time!

    I think more of us experience this than we’d like to think. It’s horrifying, though, isn’t it? And it does seem to be something that many people truly don’t “get.” It’s . . . well, like I said to Lola, it’s just freakin’ horrible.

  5. Wow. I guess I never really knew what a binge was. I am so sorry that you, that anyone, goes through this. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  6. thank you for your honesty.

  7. I’ve had binge blackouts before. Certain foods, in my experience, can be used exactly like drugs and alcohol. No difference whatsoever.

    It was painful even to read this post. I know the despair that a binge brings on. It’s pure hell.

  8. ***hugs***
    (and you know I never do that, say that, write that—whatever it would be)

    painful to read because I care about you.
    painful to write Id imagine.
    brave of you to share
    and HELPING COUNTLESS others Im certain.

  9. That was so amazingly written. So powerful. I don’t know what to say. I’m angry that you had to feel that way, I’m proud because you wrote about it so brilliantly and how hard you’ve fought to get to the point where you could. I’ve read about binge blackouts before but I’ve never TRULY understood the hows and the whys and the emotions behind it. Now I feel like I’m right there with you.

    I keep writing things and deleting them because I can’t get out anything that will say what I want to apart from I THINK YOU’RE AMAZING MARSTE and thankyou for doing this, for helping so many people, articulating yourself so brilliantly and just being you.

    TA x

  10. Thanks for the support, guys. Every time I post something that I’m worried about, I wind up crying in relief at all the support people offer. You guys are amazing.

    I have to reiterate that that was the worst one I ever experienced, though that doesn’t make the lesser times any more fun. *wry smile*

    Mostly it helps get it out of my head if I write it down, you know?

    (And Miz – thanks for the hugs – I know that’s not SOP for you! :D)

  11. Wow. This post made me cry, because I can relate. I’ve never had a binge black-out, but I’ve had binges just like that. People who haven’t been through it don’t get it. It’s awful.

    I still struggle with it. I used to binge and purge, binge and purge, and my weight stayed fairly low as a result. Now I just binge. I don’t know if I will ever be able to have a normal relationship with food. I really envy people who do.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  12. Sue, I’m SO sorry you went through this too. It’s honestly a state of mind I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, you know?

    *hugs*

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  14. Wow, this just gave me chills. So powerfully written Marste! Thank you so much for sharing this – I linked you on my blog – and for helping me to discover your writing. I can’t imagine how awful this experience was for you and I am deeply grateful to you for having the courage to tell us about it!

  15. Thank you, thank you.

    I once had the exact same thing of losing time….except…oh wow….out with it….instead of throwing up….I found myself in my kitchen crumpled in a heap and I had pooped myself…seriously. Thing of it is, I appear very thin. If people only knew. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’d love to hear more about your getting over this.

  16. Thanks, Charlotte. One of the things I love about the “Fitosphere” is that we’ve ALL been pretty courageous in sharing our stories. It’s made me really proud to be part of the community, you know?

    Anon, I can’t imagine how hard that was for you. *hugs* (Is it weird that I just virtual-hugged you? And I don’t even know you? Hope not.) Welcome to the courageous club. Some days I think it’s overrated. 😉 But it really can get better. I’m no longer bingeing like crazy or starving myself the way I was, and I’m not suicidal. Hang out for a while. Read through some of the ED blogs over in the sidebar. There’s definitely hope out there.

  17. I got here via The Great Fitness Experiment. Thank you so much for this post. Thank you for opening up and sharing this experience.

  18. wow. Typing and deleting. I want to say that I appreciate the sharing. I have food issues, mild in comparison but as they are mine, they are large in my world. The telling of stories really does make the world feel a little less intimidating. Thanks everyone. A little step forward every day and we can’t help but get somewhere. kate.

  19. Hi Maggie – welcome, and thanks for visiting. It’s always nice to “see” new “faces!” 😉

    Hi Kate – You know, I totally get the “mild in comparison, but . . . large in my world.” I think of it this way: if the worst pain person A ever experienced was a sprained ankle, and the worst pain person B ever experienced was a body-shattering car accident, in some ways they’re still the same – because for each individual, that was the worst pain they’ve ever experienced. Does that sort of make sense? The worst is the worst, no matter how it seems to compare with anyone else’s. I’ve met a lot of people who had things WAY worse off than I did, but it didn’t really make my crap any easier, if that makes sense.

    Um. I think I’m rambling. I do that more than I’d like to admit. 😉 I’m glad you stopped by, and I totally agree with your point; hearing others’ experiences really does make a difference. 🙂

  20. JustAnotherBinger

    You’re a really good writer, I could honestly feel your suffering. I’m writing this following a binge, the second binge in one day. I used to feel so depressed, hopeless and ashamed of it, but now I don’t feel bad for doing it anymore, cause I know it can’t be stopped once it has started. I realize the way out of it is to prevent it in the first place, and it actually worked for a while. I loved reading your story, and I’m glad you’ve improved. Wish you all the best, and a binge-free life 🙂

  21. JustAnother, thanks for the kind words. I thing the observation that it can’t be stopped once started is a good one, and I hadn’t really considered it in quite that way, though I know it to be true from personal experience. But even though you’ve had a bad day twice-over, at least you know what method will get you out in the end. It’s always a 2-steps-forward, 1-step-back sort of deal, you know? It will take a while to rewire neural pathways, but they can definitely be rewired. 🙂

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  23. I got knots in my stomach while reading this….

    My mom is a recovering from a binge eating disorder and has lost over 150 pounds (I say recovering because while she has it under control, no one is ever “recovered”). I used to come home from school and she would be passed out in a food coma with empty bags of bagels, tubs of butter, pound bags of M&M’s etc to be found.

    The knots stem from the realization that I have inherited her binge tendancies. Thankfully it hasn’t prgressed to her level, and I have never been overweight in my life (due to hibeing very athletic and active) but that “out of control” feeling scares the sh*t out of me! I tallied the calories from a binge once–4500 in a sitting….

    Thank you so much for sharing.

  24. Oh man, Therese, I’m sorry about your mom. Well, I’m glad that she’s better, but sorry that you both had to go through that. (I’m out to prove the idea that we never recover wrong, though. It’s too hopeless otherwise. ;))

  25. Wow. This story amazes me.

  26. Hey! Thanks for stopping by, peggynature. I love your new site, “Fat Nutritionist.’ LOVE.

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