“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.
Radical Acceptance– a cure of the trance of unworthiness
OA online– to find support folks
Eating Disorders Anonymous– to find support folks