I got home from work today and I was fried. My brain was fried, my energy was fried, from working too hard and too much, from not sleeping quite enough, from not having enough time to myself today.
I am so much better at taking care of myself than I used to be. But I’m still not perfect. As so exhausted and fried as I was, I went to the kitchen. And ate a handful of barbeque chips and a piece of chocolate.
DING DING DING DING DING!!
The alarm bells went off in my head. “You are not hungry. You are eating and you are not hungry. You are exhausted and fried. Abort! Abort! DING DING DING DING DING!!!!”
And I knew it. I knew it. As I ate the handful of barbeque chips, I thought to myself, “Oh, bingeing. Oh, hello. I know what’s happening. You feel exhausted but you also feel like you should be “productive.” Well how about we stop pretending like this isn’t happening.”
So I gave myself total permission to be totally unproductive, to numb out intellectually and physically with anything other than food, for as long as it took to get some of my strength back.
After this many years after getting over some really bad compulsive eating issues, the good thing for me is that now all it takes is a handful of barbeque chips, instead of a whole bag of barbeque chips, for me to know that something is wrong (let’s be clear, and I’ll say it again and again: there’s nothing wrong with eating barbeque chips, if you are hungry and it’s what you truly want. The problem is eating them when you’re not hungry and what you really want is to rest and to numb)
I’ve read a lot of “emotional eating guides” that advise that when you’re bingeing, to either “feel your feelings directly” (by journaling it, or talking about it), or “go do something wonderful for yourself, but taking a nice walk or a bubble bath.”
To which I have to say – and I hope I don’t offend anyone – that’s nice, but that’s also bullsh**.
Look, if you have the presence of mind when you are in the middle of a binge to do some journaling or call a friend or take a walk, then definitely do it. I do those things often when I am feeling the same overwhelmed feelings that I used to not fully process (because often many of us don’t consciously think “I’m eating my feelings”), and sometimes when I feel feelings that might lead to a binge, I can do that.
But many, many times, you can’t do those “good for you” things when you are in the middle of a binge. When you are in the middle of a binge, you are in a crisis zone. All of your circuits are activated, and you feel like you are about to explode if you do not consume a large handful of barbeque chips RIGHT NOW (or maybe that’s just me).
So what you need to do right now is deal with the fire at hand. Think of it this way: When there is a fire on a house, you just need to put the fire out. After that you can build the foundation, paint the house again, assess why the fire happened, and plant a beautiful garden.
Sometimes what I really want is to just numb. Good ol’ total unproductivity and an abyss of nothingness. To not have to face the world.
Look, I don’t recommend spending a whole day like this, but if the decision is between stuffing a whole package of oreos down my throat or spending a half hour or an hour or even two on facebook and watching SNL videos on Hulu, at least choose the one that doesn’t actively make your life worse (though, I suppose, that is debatable)
If you truly consulted yourself, yes, probably you would choose something luscious and healing like a long, hot bath, or a manicure. But sometimes, in the crisis moment, an hour of facebooking is all that you can manage to stop from eating.
And that is okay. That is awesome.
So go on facebook for an hour. Or two or three hours. The key here is to figure out the point at which you can emotionally handle a not total-numbing situation.
I would, however, advocate for a three-part binge relief solution.
1. Put out the fire. Do whatever needs to be done to stop eating. This may include watching youtube videos, going on facebook, reading a novel, or curling up in your bed in a ball.
The key here is to not dwell in #1 for longer than you need to, and only you can know how long that is. Maybe it's 20 minutes. Maybe it's an hour, or maybe it's three hours. But there is a point at which numbing on Facebook becomes no longer "safe", and becomes a problem of its own. That's when you transition to the next step.
2. Do something nourishing. This is where the hot baths, gentle walks, wearing soft clothing, and putting mango body butter on my legs come in. Journaling is also very nourishing to me.
3. Do something truthful. Yeah, you gotta face it eventually. Sorry, but it’s true – some kind of journaling or mental replay of the situation and what was going on for you is so important – even if it only lasts 2 minutes.
But the point is that you can’t do it until #1 and #2 are done, and if you don’t feel emotionally calm enough to do it until the next day, so be it. No one is watching. You’re doing this for yourself, not for a grade or a trophy or gold stars. So do it when it is best for you.
And if you are reading this because you are struggling with binges or emotional eating yourself, my heart goes out to you. Please know that you are not to only person who has felt this way.