Monthly Archives: June 2015

How to deal with Boredom in Recovery

Boredom and Binge Eating

“God,” she told me, “it’s not that I WANT to keep binge eating, but when I’m not bingeing, I’m just so fucking bored…” 

It’s true, boredom is the enemy of recovery. 

Stella, a new client of mine was explaining to me why she continued to binge each night despite having lots of tools, support and repeated attempts at recovery. I understood what she meant.

The binge was exciting. Although she hated the feeling afterward, she couldn’t resist that desire. She began to feel it at 4pm. She couldn’t wait to get home from work and sit alone in front of the television while digging into a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and a baguette with brie. The idea of going home to nothing, nothing to do, no one to talk to, nothing exciting planned, just watching television or reading and going to sleep without bingeing was stressful for her.  She couldn’t even imagine what it would be like.  Not only was bingeing exciting, but the after effects of bingeing were exciting, planning her next diet, counting all her calories down to a T, keeping her mind occupied. What would it be like if she didn’t have the binge to look forward to? What would it be like if she wasn’t dieting or picking out smaller clothes, or  looking forward to the moment when she would be at her goal weight, what would it be like?  She couldn’t imagine her life. It seemed dreadful. Full of nothing. Nothing to look forward to, not looking forward to food, not looking forward to being skinny. Bingeing gave her life meaning, direction and a path. 

So let’s dissect this for a moment, there are a few different components going on here:

1. Stella’s binges take on a hugely addictive cycle, when Stella thinks about bingeing at 4pm, her nucleus accumbens (pleasure center of the brain) lights up and she becomes excited for the binge. Anyone with a drug or alcohol addiction can tell you the same thing, they start to become aroused and excited even thinking about their drug of choice. For instance, a cocaine addict begins to fantasize about doing cocaine later that evening. Even though they are at work, their brain begins to release dopamine just by thinking about the cocaine.  Imagine that, just by thinking about bingeing, your brain begins to actually pull you into the binge. Now that’s rough. What a let down it would be to make the choice not to binge. 

2. Stella feels that bingeing and restricting give her life meaning, Stella is also a diet addict, so whenever she begins to feel bad about herself, she starts to fantasize about what she’s going to look like when she hits 120 pounds, how her jeans are going to fit, how her body is going to feel, who is going to pay attention to her, who will notice her, who she will start dating and the fun things she is going to do, She keeps thinking about these things but does not initiate any fun into her life because she is waiting to lose weight. This makes her life terribly boring. She refuses to do anything until… which makes bingeing a very compelling pastime. It is her only pastime.

3. She is in a very tricky cycle of deprivation and self loathing. I understand why she wants to binge at night because the alternative is so much more difficult to swallow, being alone with her thoughts. My old supervisor once told me that boredom was actually a coverup for a more difficult emotion that we didn’t want to deal with. In Stella’s case, those emotions are loneliness, a sense of unworthiness, and a deep fear of having nothing ever. She is lonely because she doesn’t want to be around people, she doesn’t want to be around people because she feels that she is “too fat” to be around people, she says that once she loses weight, she will start to spend time with people. Losing weight won’t ultimately change her sense of worthiness. She is a worthy and beautiful human being now. Being skinny won’t change that, it also won’t change the way she feels about herself.  Letting yourself out of the trance of unworthiness is an inside job, not a matter of changing who you are, but about allowing yourself to be who you are now. 

So what should one do here?

1 Remember that boredom is the enemy of recovery, but that boredom won’t kill you. Though  the sense of boredom might be alleviated by bingeing, it is alleviated because it is replaced by a sense of shame, self-disdain, anger, and an uncomfortable feeling in your body. The alternative is certainly not the easier pill to swallow. 

2. Make plans for the evenings — even if you are not leaving the house, even if your plans are something like sitting home and painting your toenails while watching a movie or having a phone date with a good friend, or painting or writing, or doing anything else other than being alone with your wallet or your binge foods. 

3. Notice when the desire to binge comes no matter how early in the day it is and begin to reach out for support.  Send a note to a friend or support person and let them know that you are in the danger zone for later tonight and tell them what your safety plan is for that evening. Have them check in with you later that night. 

4. Recognize that you can have a really nice evening without bingeing. Take note of how much better you feel when you don’t binge than when you do. Breath into that sense, feel it in your bones. 

5. When you feel that tingly feeling of dopamine being released into your body when you think about bingeing, try to slow yourself down and tell yourself that you don’t need to binge – that you don’t have to follow this urge and desire– just because it has initiated, doesn’t mean that you have to follow it, you can choose not to. The good news is that after a few weeks of not following that dopamine initiation, the urges decrease quite a bit as does the desire to binge. 

Further Resources

Radical Acceptance– a cure of the trance of unworthiness

OA online– to find support folks

Eating Disorders Anonymous– to find support folks

 

 

 

 

Q&A Friday- My family is causing me to binge eat!

My family is causing me to binge eatThis one comes from L in the UK.
Question: 
Dear Leora,
Thank you so much for your book and emails. Could you help me with a problem?
I had just started the first few chapters of your book and felt that I was making progress with my Binge Eating Disorder. I only had to cook for myself, I had no binge foods in the house and because I have just retired my life was calm and I felt in control. 
BUT … then family members from overseas, whom I love dearly, came to stay with me for 3 months while they do some work here.
Now I am cooking for 6 people, looking after and home schooling an 8 year old boy most days and feeling as though my life is frantic. My family are binge eaters so there are lots of sweets and chocolates in the house.
I feel so helpless and powerless to know how to tackle the problem. I have given up and have gone back to binging every day.
Can you give me an idea about how to stop binging when I am living with other bingers? Is there a particular part of your book I should read if I get a spare moment to myself?
Thank you very much for your support.
Answer:
I’m glad you wrote. There is a section in the book where I talk about binge eating with family members- how it’s possible to feel that you are not part of the family if you decide not to engage in unhealthy habits with them (Step 27). How you might even feel guilty, as though you are letting them down or even survivor guilt, that you are going toward a healthier life in recovery but leaving them behind in their binge eating and dysfunction.  Is that part of what might be going on for you? Do you feel that you must engage with them as to stay “part” of the family? It might be an interesting experiment for you to try to get back to your non-bingeing and see how they react. Some family members might use you as an example to slow down. Others might feel threatened (unconsciously) and try to re-engage you in bingeing again. Remember that when you make an effort to take care of yourself first and foremost, you actually wind up taking care of people around you. You are more available to them, more solid, and they learn from your self-loving example. 
What do you think? 

Do you have a question about binge eating, bulimia, anorexia, or anything associated with eating? 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. Are you interested in online therapy or coaching to deal with your eating disorder? Please contact me to discuss getting started. 

Thoughts on Suicide

be-kindIt’s been many weeks since I’ve written a blog post or sent out a newsletter. Oh, it’s not that I have nothing to talk to or that I’m not thinking about you guys or my clients or that I’m not still out there crusading against eating disorders and working to help people find self acceptance and self love, that’s all still going on. It’s not that I don’t have new to anything to tell you. It’s just that I’ve been tripped up. Stuck.

Something happened and I felt like I had to talk about it before I continued my regularly scheduled blogging. But it’s been hard to discuss and I haven’t known how to present it. You see, a friend of mine committed suicide five weeks ago. He wasn’t a super close friend. He was my husband’s friend. His wife and I were pregnant both times at the same time and our kids are the same age. We lived down the street from each other in San Francisco before we all had to up and move out of the city because baby #2 came along and our tiny one bedroom apartments would no longer hold our broods.

My friend’s suicide hit everyone who even remotely knew him extremely hard. Because it was so damn unexpected. Not that suicide is ever expected. But there are signs. Someone is depressed for a long time, their life looks hopeless, even from the outside, terrible and unthinkable things happened to them, they are heavy users of drugs and/or alcohol… suicide isn’t always a huge surprise. We know that someone had been suffering. And we just hope that they are finally free from suffering, that they’ve found peace. But this guy, I’m going to call him Jonathan- he seemed to have it all. A calm peaceful demeanor, a smile on his face, he was easy to be around, lovely really. He had a beautiful wife, and two beautiful children and a big beautiful house that he owned. He was at the top of his game at work. Just an all around enviable life. From the outside. But inside, something else was going on. Something that he didn’t talk about and something that was undetectable, even by his wife and friends. I think that’s the level of depression where you feel trapped. Hopeless. Like you are powerless to change anything around you. And no matter what,  you see the world through crap colored glasses. You can be successful, wealthy, devastatingly handsome, but you are deeply wounded and everything around you feels painful. There is no why, no reason,  your life and being in it feels like a jail sentence. Feels like there is no way out. Your mind cages you into a horrific bleak world of despair. A dark, dark place.

Jonathan is not the first person I’ve ever seen do this. The last one was Michael. A friend of the family. He took his own life 15 years ago. He was kind, loving, caring, so much fun to be around, so handsome, so funny. But what I remember most about Michael is that he was so comfortable to be around. He was the kind of person who just allowed you to let your guard down and relax and not worry about what you looked like or if you said something stupid. I was 19 when I first met him, and so I was very hyper sensitive to how I might be perceived, but with Michael, he just made me and everyone he met feel comfortable. Even my brother who was six at the time. He was just  pleasure to be around. You could let down all your inhibitions and be you.  A rare personality to have. Michael was also successful. Both financially and careerwise. He’d made brilliant career moves and could have retired at the age of 30 had he wanted to. But he ended his own life, which was devastating for everyone who knew him, anyone who had even had the honor of spending an afternoon with him. He must have been in pain. In lots of pain.

So I chose to write about this particular suicide first because it’s at the top of my mind. I’m having trouble thinking about much else a lot of the time. Add despite the fact that I’m still going to work and talking to my clients every day and thinking about them and food and eating and bingeing and under eating and everything else that I think about all the time, I need to get this all off my chest before I write anything else.  I feel that as a mental health provider that it is my responsibility to acknowledge and discuss these things.

The very first thing I need to remind you of here is that you never know what is going on under the surface. Jonathan and his wife had what I would call an enviable life. He was an architect at the top of his game, he was handsome, he had two healthy children, a big gorgeous house and a smart and “super hot” wife.  I’m imagining that there were lots of people who could have looked at them and felt jealous or wished that they had their lives. But we can’t compare our backends to anybody else’s front end. That is, we can’t compare what we are feeling about ourselves to what other people present to the world. Everyone has a significant battle to fight. You are not alone.

And then of course there’s the suicide. There’s something about suicide that make people so angry and ashamed. There’s this way that people think that suicide is selfish, that leaving your family and your friends is selfish. And though it can be perceived as such, remember that we all have the inherent drive to live, no matter what the circumstances around us are. So if someone is suddenly feeling the opposite, the urge to die, especially when their circumstances seem fine,  well then we have to understand that their brain is sick.  They actually believe that the world would be better off without them. That their children would be better off without them. Their beliefs are completely distorted, some kind of zombie brain (depression) is taking over their brain, like their reality is being seen through a funhouse mirror, but they believe that they are stuck in that funhouse forever. Like a Twilight Zone episode. When someone is feeling suicidal, they see the world through depressed colored glasses. Successes don’t feel exciting, they feel tired, they feel hopeless, they feel trapped, they feel like nothing around them is good. They feel powerless to change their circumstances. The thing is, in many cases that it’s not about the circumstances outside of them, it’s about the way they are looking at the world. I’ve seen people lose their children, their spouses, all their money, their homes and not commit suicide. Life can be extraordinarily difficult for everyone, yet suicide tends to only be an option for some people. Because we are born with the will and the drive to survive.

So if you come to a place where you don’t want to live anymore, when you are seriously choosing to take your own life,  please forgive  yourself for having those thoughts and remember that your brain is playing tricks on you. What you are seeing is not real, it’s just your perception of what’s real. And you can get help for that. You can get out of this without committing suicide. You aren’t trapped by your circumstances, you are trapped by your own mind. But you’re not really trapped. There is a path and a way out, one that’s different than suicide and you just need to ask for help, for someone to help lead you on this path.

If you are considering suicide, please get help. Please talk to a doctor, psychiatrist, therapist, peer counselor, friend or call the suicide hotline. You will get the help you need. Suicide is not the way out.

Suicide Hotline: 1 (800) 273-8255

National Suicide Hotlines 

Now, as it goes, soon I’ll be back to my regularly scheduled topics. I just…. really had to get that out.

P.S. If you would like to donate to the family who lost their father please email me privately and I will send you the link.