binge eating

This question comes to us from someone who prefers to remain anonymous.

Q: I hate myself so much. I buy food all the time then I eat some and then I get rid of it by throwing it out so I don’t eat anymore, and then later I go through the garbage can to get it. I’ve even tried pouring coffee grounds or cigarette ashes on top. It doesn’t matter, I’ll eat it anyway.  And I’ve even eaten a half eaten slice of pizza out of the garbage that was in the street. I’m disgusting. I’m not poor and I’m not homeless. I’m just gross. I hate myself so much. I can’t believe I do this. I don’t eat off the street very often, just a couple of times, but I’ve eaten out of my garbage, out of my parents garbage, and when I was in college, out of the dorm garbage. I don’t know what is wrong with me. I’m a mess. Can you help me?

A: I am so, so very sorry to hear that you are going through such a tough time. First off, I’m so happy that you reached out for support. What I want you to know is that eating out of the garbage is not uncommon for someone with an eating disorder. You are not alone. I can tell that you are feeling a lot of shame and guilt. This is not a character flaw, this does not make you a bad person, this does not make you disgusting, this does not make you worthy of self hatred. This is a very intense addiction and compulsion that you are dealing with. I would encourage you to get help from a therapist as well as doing some group therapy. I would also encourage you to join a group such as OA or CEAHOW or EDA.  You will find others who have acted compulsively with food, whether it be shoplifting food, eating out of the garbage, scavenging or stealing food, or any other type of way that people tend to act on their compulsive desires around food. So many people who deal with these kinds of issues feel so isolated and alone, as though they’re the only person who’s ever done this. However, as I said before, this kind of behavior is very, very common amongst people dealing with an eating disorder. Working to heal your shame and change these behaviors will take active work on your part, however, I think that as you begin to tell your story, you will find hope and healing.

If anyone has any other answers, suggestions, experience, strength or hope,  please do feel free to contribute in the comments.

Do you have a question about binge eating, bulimia, anorexia, or anything associated with eating disorders? Send an email to bingeeatingtherapy  at gmail dot com. All questions will be kept confidential. Include your first name or the name you want to be referred to as and your location.

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5 comments on “Friday Q&A– I eat out of the Garbage Can

  1. Ashley

    I do the same thing. I eat out of garbage cans to my school, in my sorority house, off the street-anywhere. I like to think I do it because I hate to waste food, but it has become an addiction. I will almost never eat if I do not retrieve the food from the trash. It is nice to know that I am not alone in this experience.

  2. Maria Morales

    Could you give some suggestions about how to deal/help a senior citizen who takes food out of trash cans. Can this be a compulsion? Ordinarily he seems to be fine, but sometimes he exhibits this behavior.

    1. Leora Fulvio Post author

      Hi Maria, I don’t know that this is an eating disorder such as compulsive eating or scavenging specifically, unless it’s an old behavior. If it’s a fairly new compulsion, you might be dealing with dementia. I would definitely call in a social worker or therapist who specializes in working with elderly populations for an assessment. You could google “Adult Protective Services” in your county and call them to find a case worker.

    2. Sarah

      Maria, I feel your pain. I’m going through this with my elderly father. It’s not a new problem, he used to do things like this when he was younger…as a teen I remember him taking used tissues out of the bin and reusing them. He does things like this behind our backs, in a sneaky way….retrieving food from the garbage bin and sometimes even hiding it in places where we will find it (eg among clean plates or in the pantry). Alternatively, he’ll hide it in his closet (we found a block of butter from the garbage bin among his pj’s one day!) Sometimes he even serves thrown out food to guests, when we’re not around.

      He admits to having issues with saving things (he grew up during the Depression but was born to a wealthy family). But no amount of trying to explain the health hazards get through to him and he doesn’t seem to care about the family tension it causes. I have a health condition that makes his behavior dangerous to be around, so it can get overwhelming and exhausting trying to keep track of things he’s doing. He has also admitted that it’s a vindictive / control issue. Because in my father’s case this is not a dementia related behavior I’m not sure what we can do about it.

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