What My “Fat” Wants to Tell Me

HowStuffWorks.comDepending on the time of the month, my reading repertoire at the gym expands from my usual subscription magazines I bring from home (Fitness, Shape, Self, Cooking Light, Women’s Health) to magazines I find there, such as Yoga Journal, Body & Soul, Women’s Day and Good Housekeeping.

This morning I came across an article worth sharing in the (now-ancient) March 2008 edition of Good Housekeeping, written by emotional eating expert Geneen Roth, author of seven books and numerous published works.

Titled “The Cookie Burglar: Stop Binge Eating”, the article resonated with me so much that I just had to share it here.

Her premise is that we binge for a reason, and if it was all bad, we wouldn’t do it. In some way or another, we get something positive from bingeing, even if we don’t see it that way.

As Roth says, “… if it weren’t helping you in some fundamental way, you’d stop. Regardless of how it may appear, what we do really does make sense. Our actions — especially with food — are inherently sane. In fact, they are expressions of our brilliance at getting our needs met. ”

So though it sounds counter-intuitive to wanting to lose weight, bingeing sometimes helps us–perhaps it helps us combat boredom, or avoid intimacy (if I’m fat no one will want me). And until we listen to what our “fat” is telling us, how the bingeing is “helping,” she argues, we won’t be able stop the vicious cycle.

This graph really hit home for me. “Emotional eating is a language of its own, like hieroglyphics or braille. Instead of trying to understand it, we’re more likely to try to ignore it or shut it up. But we can’t rid ourselves of emotional eating until we listen to what it has to say. Our relationship with food is expressing a true need, so unless we learn what it’s trying to tell us, permanent weight loss will be impossible. Once we “get it” and understand the needs that food fulfills, emotional eating, having served its purpose, will stop.”

So she asks,
1) How is my apparently crazy eating benefiting me?
2) If I were eating for exquisitely good reasons, what would those reasons be?
3) And finally, if my weight/bingeing could talk, what would it say?

I asked myself, what does my fat have to say?

I realized my crazy eating benefits me because during my “midnight incidents” I am out of control…and it almost feels good to be so “bad”… whereas during all of my waking hours I am always always always IN control. This is clearly indicative of a Type A personality. Maybe if I loosened up a little more during the day–lived a little–I wouldn’t wake at 2 a.m. and “be bad.”

And I think if my bingeing/weight could talk, it would ask me why I work out so hard every day, weigh and measure my food, eat so cleanly, am so “good” all day …. only to undo it at 2 a.m. in a half-awake daze in secret… not even savoring it, like I might if I were sharing dessert with my husband or out having drinks out with friends. That would make more sense. If I am going to “indulge” why not enjoy it and be awake for it?

I’d ask myself, Melissa, would you sleep through a Dave Matthews concert? Sleep through a shopping spree? Sleep through sex? Sleep through The Dark Knight? No., of course not! You enjoy these things, as well you should! So why not enjoy food, too? Why not be awake to enjoy it?!

Perhaps my fat is also telling me to take the stigma off certain foods, to learn to savor them in broad daylight, to live a little and enjoy meals out or social functions so I don’t (subconsciously) wake to enjoy peanut butter, for example, alone, at 2 a.m.

I’ve always enjoyed Roth’s monthly columns, but this one truly hit home. Today, I can actually hear what my fat is telling me. And I’m not happy with myself when I wake up having had an “incident.” It only works against my efforts to ditch these last five pounds (again), and frankly I’d rather be awake for my life, for indulgences small and large. But even more than that, it damages my sense of self.

Listening to my fat, I realize what I need to do–and I’m ready to talk back and turn this cycle around!

How about you? What does your fat tell you?

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30 thoughts on “What My “Fat” Wants to Tell Me

  1. eeks this hits home for sure.

    I binge because I’m so good 90% of the time. I plan my meals, I exercise 5-6 times a week, I eat VERY healthy foods, make wise choices, avoid the dessert trays, say not to dessert out, ask for no dressing and sub in oil and vinegar, cook in most nights…I really could go on and on.

    once every 5 weeks, like clockwork, I lose this momentum. I say eff it and I deserve this. I deserve this ONE day, or ONE meal, or ONE night to eat whatever I want to an uncomfortable extent. I tell myself tomorrow will be a new days, tomorrow I will back on track.

    like you, I binge because I’m in control so much that being out of control feels GOOD.

    I’d love to read this article and really try to understand WHY I do this to myself. it’s something I’ve wanted to change for so so so long.

  2. I did try for a while to reintroduce real desserts, real treats, be it shared of in a small, controlled quantity while alone.

    it really did work. until the binge monster came after me again and the cycle started up.

    some day I’ll get there I hope. and then I hope to help others with the wisdom I’ve gained…ha!

  3. That’s exactly it, Cathy…we’re so “good” all the time that it feels “good” to be “bad”–there goes the labeling thing again!!!
    Perhaps if we had balance–and didn’t order so perfectly, etc., we’d be better off?

    I think there is hope!! There has to be. As my husband says, all we have left to lose is hope. And we won’t lose it.

  4. What a great article! I know I binge when I feel empty inside, I want to fill this intense tornado of feeling….the center of it is a vast emptiness. It is getting better. Writing about my feelings, no matter how silly they are is the best thing I can do, because it helps me process them rather than ignore them to such a point that they trigger that need to get those happy receptors in my brain to cry out for sugary/fatty/crunchy food.

  5. I don’t think that Geneen Roth would agree with you about ‘in some sick way.’ I think what she’s saying is that it’s our inner self keeping us sane and trying to make us healthy, because our outer being is not doing it.

  6. Ellie, that is a good point. In my mind it’s a “sick way”… I will make the edit. I think it’s warranted.

  7. Even though I’ve never purged from eating (although sometimes wish I could) I’ve been a binge eater for many years. I finally stopped about 2 years ago, after I started “listening” to my body and trying to figure out why I was doing this to myself. There is definitely comfort from binge eating – it kept me from thinking about loneliness, my job, money issues, etc. It basically was a way for me to escape. I still have moments where I dive into a carton of ice cream for the same reason, but for the most part I’ve learned to control it. It’s still hard though and I have to be concious of it ALL the time. It can be exhausting sometimes.

    I love your posts! I read them every day 🙂

  8. Change made.

    Carolina Girl, that is great that you’ve been able to really listen to your body. I still haven’t gotten there. I mean, during the daytime I can tell myself not to chew-spit; at 3 a.m. though, I still can’t talk myself down yet from eating.

    Thanks for reading!!! 🙂

  9. Oh this is so true for me! How I wish I could just be okay with eating when I’m hungry and only eating until I’m full. Letting food be just, um, food; not a therapist. It sounds so simple – I’m a very capable woman (heck, I used to be a federal agent!), but quite often I let my emotions intimidate me into finding solace in a chocolate chip cookie. Well, one day at a time…

    Thanks Melissa for your posts!

  10. Hi Bethany!! I know exactly what you mean; if food was just food, we’d be ok. But for many of us, it’s more.

    And unlike drugs or alcohol–where you can physically live without it (even in the worst of dependency cases) you cannot live without food, so that only adds to the complexity. Perhaps a topic for later this week! ?

  11. 1) How is my apparently crazy eating benefiting me? My answer would be that the loneliness that comes from divorcing is somehow (incorrectly) being soothed by late night bowls of cereal. That because I have no husband now, Cap’n Crunch is my new lovah.

    2) If I were eating for exquisitely good reasons, what would those reasons be? For fuel and enjoyment. This is one of the things that I had to learn. That I can have some chocolate cake if I’m completely present with the cake. (No, I’m not a fruitloop)…what I mean is that one bite of triple chocolate cake, chewed slowly, noticing textures and smell, that is divine. Inhaling a Ding Dong does nothing for me. I’m allowed to enjoy wonderful foods now. In small doses. Fuel alone is not enough.

    3) And finally, if my weight/bingeing could talk, what would it say? It would say, this is representative of self-pity. You are eating right now because you’re bored, or lonely, or feeling sorry for yourself. My weight would say, “You know, if you actually lost some of me, you might be able to face a whole new world of dating, and MAYBE even dip your toes back into a relationship.”

    Good stuff Lissa.

  12. I can sooo relate. Like many of you, I am “in control” and “good” 90% of the time. I put a lot of time and effort into shopping for and preparing good food. A nutritionist once reviewed a week of meal plans and said she was ashamed because I ate so much healthier than her! I workout 5-6 days a week, often forgo what I truly want at a restaurant and order what is lower calorie, etc while everyone else is getting the pizza, big entrees, etc. But then binge on the “forbidden treats” in secrecy.

  13. Thanks for sharing, Ms. V!! I hope those answers continue to play in your head–you’re worth it, we all are!

    Lara, that’s exactly it…but in way, I’m thinking I more admire the girl who is out and eats dessert and wine with her friends as opposed to me, who abstains and “looks” virtuous but then, as you said, eats forbidden foods in secrecy.

    I think I’d rather be more honest…maybe a new rule: no treats in private, only in public?

  14. ha, I tried the not treats in private only in public thing. it’s a fine rule to have until you I that one thing I really want…..and if I’ve been virtuous all week, there won’t be anything stopping me.

  15. I’ve been reading your blog for about a week now, and I just want to say that it’s been incredibly helpful. With every entry I think “that is me”. I have been eating completely “normally” for the last two days and I feel amazing. Baby steps, I guess. Anyway, thanks for being an inspiration 🙂 I think I know exactly what you’re going through.

  16. This has been me too. Warning: this post is long, but I have to get this out.

    I have admitted to a few people that my eating really was disordered when I lost 60 pounds and made it to down to a tiny 100 pounds at 5’4″. However, I have never told anyone how I gained every one of those pounds back in about a year and a half-binge eating. Everyone told me to eat, eat, eat when I was so thin, and for a while I stuck with my calorie counting–I FORCED myself to eat at least 2000 calories a day(it was a lot more than 700.) This meant eating a lot of food because I was still eating “healthy.” Then, I realized that I could have the “bad” foods and still fit them into the 2000 calorie budget. Eventually, I started eating all of the bad foods at night when no one was looking because I had preached “healthy food” for so long. I ate so “good” during the day and when my family went to bed I would stay up and eat everything that I wanted just because it was there, I could, and it did feel good to be bad. Yes, I am a type A perfectionist too. It became a habit that I felt dependent on and I tried to stop many times, but I thought that it would stop when I went to college in the fall. I tried to just eat like a normal person, and make healthy choices. My roommates, however, ate everything they wanted. I made myself out to be the health nut again, who exercised every day and ate lean cuisines for dinner every night. I think that eating their junk food and, I’m ashamed to say this, eating their take out leftovers from the trash can, were a mix of a way to be bad and a way to fight the homesickness that I didn’t even realize existed until now. I kept trying to quit, but I couldn’t stop. Sneaking downstairs to eat at night was like a drug I couldn’t give up. I felt so bad about myself, it showed, and I pushed my new friends away. I told my boyfriend that I was gaining weight because of my birth control (he still doesn’t know about the binges.) He told me that he didn’t look at me differently, but I really wanted to be the 125 pound girl that he met. By May, I had had enough. I went to the doctor, where I found my weight at 165, switched my birth control, and started some prescription diet pills to suppress my appetite and give me energy. They did what they were supposed to and taught me to eat 5 small meals a day–which is EXTREMELY helpful in combatting nighttime hunger pains. I thought that I jumped a mental hurdle when I said enough is enough in May. I stopped taking the pills at the beginning of July, and I haven’t binged since–probably because I am staying with my boyfriend. I have thought about it though, and I feel like if I wouldn’t have found this blog and that article that I might have fallen back into my habit in the fall. I now feel like I know WHY I was so addicted to my binges, and I hope that I can stay at the healthy 135 that I am at now. I have to keep the balance of not letting my OCD take over to make me a skeleton, and of not letting my emotions and my longing to be bad take over and lead to bingeing.
    I really find comfort in this blog, and I hope that I can just stay on the right track.

    1. First of all I would like to congratulate Melissa on her blog. I have read through the first monates and every single part makes me stronger and more faithfull when I’m thinking about my past and my future.Even if my English is poor, it seems to me that all these emotions and thoughts Melissa puts in word puzzles exactly my own inner situation. Since two years I’ve fought against my anorexia, last year I brought only73lbs on the scale and by now I’m proud of gaining till 104lbs, but just as Liz I have problems with eating at night when nobody can see me, I’m so ashamed, I don’t really know why,and sometimes I chew the “bad” things and spit it.So I’ve read Melissas blog and started to realize that my attitude to food isn’t good. I also feel that I can’t loose control, being afraid of letting go in every meaning. I tend to think that I always have to do some things to be good enough to have some good stuff, and I can’t afford myself to be just lazy or eat something just because I wanna to. And then I wake upp at night and let all me feelings go out of me. Food is something I appreciate and deny at the same time. I hope that I can solve all these problems in the future, I’ve already made a couple of very important and hard steps forward, but just the thought that there are people that feel very similar makes me feel more faithfull , thank You Melissa for making me clear that I’m not alone, thank You for putting my soul into these beautiful words you write, it means a lot for me! I wish You all the best!

  17. I finally decided to really put down my thoughts into words and now I can fully understand about how writing not just about the parts of my life that I love, but the difficult parts like disordered eating really helps out. Thanks Lissa for sharing your journey too! ♥

  18. Liz…wow. wow. Thank you so much for sharing your story, and congrats on all the wonderful progress you’ve been making-it’s commendable for sure!! So glad you’re enjoying the blog, too!

    Tiffany, isn’t writing the most amazing form of therapy?! Truly, it is. Best wishes to you!

  19. Thank You(to every1) for helping me realize i am not alone.. I am suffering from binge eaiing disorder and I can relate in so many ways to these post that it gives me chills. About a year ago I went vegan after having my baby then i started working out doing kick boxing, lifting weights, and eventualy running 7+ miles 3 days a week i was so commited o cut a lot of fat and carbs out of my diet and preached to others how great it is to be vegan and how beneficial excirsize is, For a few month I ate health about 1600 cals a day since i did so much high impact cardio and wieght training. Then i started becoming afraid of food. Waking up early and running miles without eating. I liked the results, seeing my pants falling off and all my clothes becoming to big i started buying and eating only food with very low calories and doing things like counting out 20 almonds to put in my salad and chewing and spitting food. I still worked out like crazy but since i started eating around 700cals or less a day working out and just functioning and concentratinfg at work was getting hard. I got smaller than i had ever been in my life not skin and bones but i was so used to being fat i felt wierd and i loved but hated the attention i wasnt readly to handle it.. I loved how i looked even though i did lose a lot of body fat in the chest and hips so i didnt have the curves i wanted. But i didnt ware i loved the decresing number on the scale. then one stressfull day at work(office manger a doctor office) all i could think about was eating, every minute that was about october 3rd of 08 i was about 135 (5’8″) i had a lot of muscle but i was pretty thin, since then i have been bingeing daily hiding in bathroooms and stealing and haording food. pretending like i eat the same healthy foods and bingeing on garbage like choccolate, pretzels, ridiculous ab=mounts of saltine town house and club crackers, bread, cashews, almonds, kashi cerals, peanut butter, vegan cookies, oatmeal, bananas, vegan mac and chees i hide and eat stuff that people in my family throw out that i pretend i dont like Now i am arond 200lbd, my hair is falling out, i am extremly depressed and feel worthless i know this disorder has underlying issues , I have so much going on ..at work many look at me in disgust and sigh some try to hide how shocked they are but they see my distended stomach, ny huge thighs my shoes can hardly fit , my hair loss, my loss of confidence, and baggy clothes, lack of enthusiasm…this is not me i have an athlete inside dying to get out but i lost too much weght too fast and even had ammorhea (no period) from the intense excircise.. I need help I am breaking out and i even have a hard time goingup the stairs and playing eith my daughter. even walking down the block is hard i am devstated by what i have dont to myself size 4 to 16 in 3 months ..unbelievable and dangerous

  20. Hi Dalia and thank you so much for writing. One of the biggest steps is admitting we have a problem and it sounds like you are on that path toward making real progress with your admission of your drastic weight changes (down and then up). I am so sorry you’re going through this; I feel bad sometimes whining about 10 lbs when I know for most people the weight gain is usually a lot more before they get concerned. Best wishes to you and your family — I hope you find a healthy balance (in mind and body) for you, and for your daughter — you deserve it! 🙂

  21. Thankyou for replying to my message lisa and happy holidays…My best wishes to anyone struggling with binge eating disorder it really can be overcome…I am on my way back to being healthy….the bad self image issues really lead me to my binge eating episodes and sometimes loneliness…even when i was normal weight i felt ridiculously fat…I am going to have more respect for myself

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