Weighty Matters

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Why Don’t You Just Stop?

on November 10, 2013

I was having an intelligent conversation with someone today about eating disorders. I was explaining how with binge eating a person can demonstrate different behaviors. The two behaviors with which I’m personally familiar are eating a lot of food spread out over several hours but with very little time in between eating bouts; and eating a large amount of food in one sitting — i.e. not stopping at all until gorged. It is entirely possible that in both cases the same amount of food is ultimately consumed and that amount is humongous. If that sounds a little abstract, here’s a smaller, simple comparison. Picture a large pizza and someone sitting down and eating all eight pieces before leaving the table. Now picture that large pizza and someone eating two pieces, then walking away. They return within an hour and eat another piece, or two. That behavior gets repeated a couple of more times and, ultimately, all eight pieces of pizza are devoured in maybe three hours.

Anyway you slice it, a person without an eating disorder does not consume an entire, large pizza pie.

The explanation made sense to the person with whom I was speaking — to a point. She seemed to take it all in and then asked, “But why don’t you just stop eating?”

That, my friends, is the bazillion dollar question, why can’t you just stop eating? Here’s my brilliant answer: Damned if I know.

The truth is that I don’t know. I don’t know why the compulsion to binge can be so strong that I can’t stop. At my worst, even if I’d eaten enough to feel physically ill — say if I had a batch of homemade, sugary sweet cake frosting and consumed spoonful after spoonful after spoonful — there was seemingly no shut off switch.

I’m sure that there’s some brain connection or physical analysis that links to the emotional or sensory triggers or something. Unfortunately knowing all that doesn’t really help. Once in progress, stopping a binge is incredibly difficult. It might continue until someone eats so much that they vomit, or at least can’t fit in one more bite. Maybe it continues until there simply isn’t any food left around to eat. At least then there is time and distance between the binge eater and more food and they might be able to convince themselves not to go out and forage for more.

Whatever the case, the very best way to prevent a full scale binge isn’t “just stopping”. No, the answer lies in not starting.

My friends and I in OA used to talk a lot about the fact that alcoholics have a choice which is drink or don’t drink. People with eating disorder diseases do not have the choice to eat or not eat. We called it letting the beast out of the cage at least three times a day. Once the beast is out, it can be a challenge to confine it again.

So, we have to eat, but we don’t have to eat in a compulsive manner. We do have the ability to choose what and how we eat. Non-compulsive eating, i.e. eating to a plan no matter what that plan might be, alters the behavior. It is the closest thing to control that we can practice.

2 responses to “Why Don’t You Just Stop?

  1. stopsugarcoatingit says:

    This is such a great insight! Of course it’s impossible not to eat, making it impossible to just “quit cold turkey.” I’ve read so many conflicting things about whether its best to cut out binge foods or have them in moderation, and I agree with you here that the most important thing is having a plan, YOUR plan, and sticking to that. For me, that meant counting calories because it took the power out of food. A reeses cup wasn’t worse than a yogurt wasn’t worse than a grilled cheese because at the end of the day it wasn’t about what I ate or didn’t eat…just how much was consumed. I know this doesn’t work for everyone, but restrictive diets just weren’t working for me. I’m glad you have found a path that works for you. Keep on keeping on!

  2. Skye says:

    I hadn’t really thought of eating disorders as different from other addictions, but of course! We all must eat, and for a compulsive eater, you always have to maintain control. Wow. That makes what you are doing even more amazing! You are demonstrating such a great amount of strength and control and will to achieve what you want and to guide your own health. I am impressed and inspired.

    I think you are doing fabulously.

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