I’d like to share some about my journey to a healthier me, but first I must tell you why I’m not already healthy. Comfort food and overeating are, unfortunately, the definition of “love” in my family. In American culture it’s common to see people not only eating more than the recommended serving size but binging on comfort foods. While I haven’t been officially diagnosed with binge eating disorder, my mother has. For my part, I experience symptoms of both food addiction and binge eating disorder.
Mental Health First Aid USA defines binge-eating disorder as “when a person has recurrent episodes of eating an unusually large amount of food in a short period of time beyond the point of feeling comfortably full. These binges occur at least twice per week over 6 months or more.” Food addiction, on the other hand, can mean different things to different people. Chevese Turner, chief policy and strategy officer for the National Eating Disorder Association, explains that, “Food addiction is not universally recognized by medical professionals, but there are individual practitioners who believe, based on their view of current research, that it is a concept that has utility.” While still controversial, it’s generally agreed upon that certain foods, such as processed foods that are high in sugar or fat contain the greatest addictive potential. Also, food addiction can be a symptom of binge eating disorder.
The foods that I’m most susceptible to overeating are hot wings and pasta. To be honest, I’m still figuring it out why I overeat. I think it’s part learned behavior and part mental disorder. Many people who have a binge eating disorder—or another eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia—also have family members with an eating disorder. There are lots of other reasons why someone may develop an eating disorder, including life experiences such as home conflicts, comments from others about eating, or traumatic events.
For me, part of it definitely has to do with the way I grew up. The words “comfort food” make me picture something either covered in gooey cheese or otherwise rich; they make me picture something I grew up eating that always brings back good memories. Our senses are amazing that way. You can smell a certain smell or taste a certain taste, and you are transported back in time to when you first had it. That feeling of euphoria is part of what pushes me to eat more than I really want to, and I’m guessing that my mom feels some of that too.
If anything goes wrong in my mother’s life, she eats. My mom knows how to make healthy meals. She’s made some great salads and unbelievable grilled salmon that were memorable. But she has a sweet tooth, and claims that it runs in the family. I didn’t inherit the Scott sweet tooth, but that does not negate the fact I overeat savory foods. My kryptonite, as I mentioned before, is hot wings. I worry that my future will include having high blood pressure. I can see myself having a heart attack in the midst of a binge session, but for some reason that doesn’t stop me from wanting to eat my weight in hot wings. Ironically, often while binge eating, I will be watching a reality TV show about obesity.
In my attempt to treat this problem, I have run into so many snags and difficulties. I’ve tried drinking water every time I have a craving, because water is supposed to balance out your urge to overeat. My mother has tried to stop too, but it hasn’t worked for her either. We’ve tried to create fond memories around healthier foods, to stop cold turkey, to gradually change, to instill new habits–and none of it has worked so far. My mother read somewhere on the internet that it only takes about 21 days to form a habit, whether it’s good or bad. So of course, I tried the 21-day thing this past New Year, thinking that I’ll be a whole new person by January 21st. Boy was I wrong! I started doing my own research and found out that Dr. Maxwell Maltz is the man behind this misconception. Sure, for some people it may not even take the whole 21 days, but for most people, any deep-rooted bad habits need to be avoided at least 66 days on average to make any noticeable changes. It’s sometimes hard to know what to do. I’m learning that CBT, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, is one of the most effective treatments out there for binge eating disorder.
Like with any other eating disorders or substance use disorders, it’s important to get help for dealing with binge eating or food addiction. Often we struggle alone and are our own biggest critics. For me, bullying myself or being hard on myself often fuels the desire to overeat, and it becomes a difficult cycle. If you’re struggling with binge eating, food addiction, or another eating disorder, I encourage you to get help. I’m right here with you on the same journey, and I know we can do this.