Last week, when I was at a gas station filling the tank, washing my windshield, checking the oil, and adding little whooshes of air to my tires, I noticed a woman in the car next to me eating a piece of pizza. And then another. And then the entire pizza. After that, she ate a box of donuts and a carton of ice cream. I wanted to walk over to her and say, "Oh, honey, tell me what's going on...." Then I remembered that when I was bingeing, I would have run down anything that stood between me and food. So I decided to preserve my life and not interrupt the Binge Trance. Still, I couldn't get her out of my mind for the rest of the day.
Bingeing used to thrill me. From the moment I decided to binge, to the hunting and gathering of the food that would be its centerpiece, through the eating (um, inhaling) of those foods, I would be heart-pounding, eyes-gleaming enthralled.
A binge had the power to stop time. To stop everything that was disturbing me: the worries, the nitty-gritty tasks I was avoiding, the arguments I was having with a friend or family member. Bingeing was a way to sidestep my life and enter a world in which nothing existed but me and food. It was, as I've called it in my books, "a plunge into oblivion."
The hardest part of bingeing was, natch, when I reached the end. The last bite would be taken, and I'd be surrounded by the evidence of my romp (which was really more like a rampage) through the grocery store: empty cans, crumpled cellophane packages, torn cardboard boxes. I'd end a binge feeling unbearably full - and incredibly empty. Only now I had added another layer of pain to my list of pre-binge worries: my seemingly out-of-control relationship to food and my ever-increasing body size. The truth was that rather than take any of my pain away, I'd just doubled it by bingeing, and the resulting desperation was almost unbearable.
Having paid close attention to my many binges, and having been asked countless binge questions over the years, I think I've gleaned some wisdom that's worth sharing.
First, we all need to have built-in plunges into oblivion. We need to give ourselves permission to check out from the frantic, overwhelming pace of our lives. If you watch small children, you'll see that they race around madly and then collapse. They put out huge amounts of energy, and then they need to rest. We're like that, too, but we've forgotten about the downtime part.
We think we can be on the run endlessly and be fine.
The rhythm of exertion needs to be followed by rest. There is a time to run around and a time to plunge into oblivion. If we don't build the latter into our lives, we suffer. Either we become utterly exhausted or we sneak a plunge on the sly, sometimes while sitting in a car at a gas station. We grab time for ourselves by bingeing, and because we don't feel we're allowed the luxury of downtime, we end up hurting ourselves.
Downtime is not a luxury; it's a necessity. The food-free version could include reading, knitting, even watching soap operas. But if you are so tired that you can't imagine doing one more thing, what you should do is simple: nothing. Even for five minutes a day. If it's too outlandish to consider resting and either doing nothing or doing what you love, then it's time to take a second look at how you've constructed a life that includes everyone but you.
I also have some advice on what you can do when you find yourself knee-deep in the Binge Trance. Try to become aware of the part of you that is separate from the activity, the part that is witnessing what you are doing and saying, "Wow, I am sitting in my car at a gas station by myself surrounded by $50 worth of pizza and donuts - I wonder what's going on?" Pay attention to that voice at least as much as you are paying attention to the next bite. Be curious about what you are doing.
And at the very least, taste the food you are eating. My experience in bingeing - whether it's on two cookies or an entire cake - is that I am so caught up in getting the food in my mouth, I forget to taste it, to enjoy it. And as long as you are eating, you might as well enjoy it. If bingeing is the only time you give yourself permission to eat your favorite foods, why let the moment pass you by without noticing the crunch of those foods? Since binges are a way to give yourself something, let yourself receive it. The positive by-product of this awareness is that compulsion and mindfulness cannot coexist. Once you become aware of what you are doing, it's harder to continue with the same momentum.
What if you finish every last bite or drop? What do you say to yourself, how do you treat yourself? I have a three-word directive for coming off a binge: Be unspeakably kind. In the empty fullness left after bingeing, the "I can't believe you did this again, what's the matter with you, you are a failure now and forevermore" voices sense a place to step in. And when they do, they roar.
Don't let them. If they threaten to overtake you, imagine them, as a therapist friend of mine says, as teeny screeching mice the size of your thumbnail. Imagine putting them in a jar and covering it with a very strong lid. Since their squawking can't hurt you now, treat yourself as if you were doing your very best. Live as if you deserve to be here, regardless of what you have just eaten. And know that every time you remind yourself that you belong here, regardless of what you weigh, you are speaking the truth.
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