Monthly Archives: April 2011

Using Alcohol to Keep you From Eating- When the Solution Becomes The Problem

drinking wine instead of eatingEver use wine to cure your binge  eating? If so, you’re not alone.

Something that I see a lot of is people using alcohol to help mitigate binge eating symptoms. Many use  a couple of glasses at wine at night helps to keep their eating at bay.  For some it works, it relaxes them enough to not need to use food in the same way. For many it doesn’t though.

Here’s the pattern: Get home from a long day of work feeling hungry, tired, and TERRIFIED that you’re going to binge eat. Decide to nip it in the bud by pouring a glass of wine- substitute food for wine. Drink the wine on an empty stomach and instantly feel relaxed.  Drink more wine and get drunk. Do one of two things- either pass out without having eaten or succumb to a ravenous appetite and begin to eat whatever you can get your hands on.  Neither situation is a good one. Passing out without eating will cause you to wake up in the middle of the night or in the morning sick, headachy, uncomfortable, and starving causing you then to binge on comfort food.

Using wine to keep you from eating is like using heroin to keep you from smoking pot. You’re swapping out one harmful behavior for another harmful behavior. Drinking wine unto itself is not inherently a bad thing. However, using wine to make yourself feel better can be a slippery slope. Like binge eating, after you drink, the problem that caused you to drink/eat is still there. It’s about working through the problem. Drinking and eating are coping mechanisms. But coping mechanisms don’t have to be harmful. If you absolutely can’t sit with your feelings that night and just need to avoid (which is fine– you can’t be processing and working through constantly!) utilizing coping mechanisms which are not harmful is another way to bypass the binge and the drink.

First off, when you come home from work– EAT! Don’t drink wine on an empty stomach. Eat a cup of yogurt, or a handful of almonds, or some cheese with a tiny bit of fruit or anything that has  protein in it to help you from falling prey to low blood sugar which can cause you to be anxious, crabby, tired, and depressed.  The low blood sugar can make you feel lonely, sad and moody and think that you need alcohol to fix it. You don’t. You need to nourish yourself.  After you’ve eaten a sane snack, you can begin to think about dinner, what your body needs, what to cook, when to eat. If you then still want wine, have it with your dinner. Not before.

Wine is not a solution to binge eating, it can just become a new problem.


Friday Q&A — This Guy at My work Steals Food

This question comes to us from Chloe in Manhattan.

Q. I’m not sure what I should do here. There is this guy at my office, and he’s always stealing food from out of the refrigerator. He has stolen my lunch more than once, and I know it’s him because I’ve walked into the kitchen and caught him. He steals other people’s lunches too. Many of us have caught him in our lunches. He also scavenges food, so if there’s anything in the kitchen that’s there for the whole team, he’ll sneak in and just take humungous portions of it and hoards it in his desk. He raids kitchens on other floors and brings back food to his desk and hides it inside drawers. It smells really bad near his work station. Like rotting food. And everyone notices it.  And a few people have actually seen him eating food out of the garbage. He’s actually a really nice guy and I feel bad but I don’t know what to do, I don’t really feel comfortable confronting him, I don’t know him very well, but I’m starting to get annoyed! I’m afraid to bring my lunch to work! Help!

A. Hi Chloe,

First off thank you for your kind and compassionate question. You’re obviously correct in assuming that your co-worker has some sort of eating disorder and/or obsession with food. If you don’t know him and you don’t feel comfortable talking to him about that, you might want to head to your HR department and express your concern. They are trained to handle situations such as this.

Your might also want to offer the HR some literature such as:

This is probably a very stressful situation for your co-worker and no doubt puts stress on everyone involved. I understand how people in your office are probably feeling confused,  angry and disgusted. However, your co-worker is dealing with a very difficult disease and needs understanding and compassion to recover. This doesn’t mean that you’re in charge of fixing him. The only thing that you can do is  help him get the help he needs by talking to someone who can help him.  It’s also important that if you see him in your lunch again, that you set boundaries and tell him that it’s not okay for him to eat your lunch. This is not you being cruel, but it’s you taking care of yourself and defending your property. Often, for someone who is so entrenched in the behaviors, they are unable to pull themselves out without some kind of external stimuli to pull them out of that loop of compulsive behavior that they get stuck in.

I hope this helps.



trying to reach a goal weightThis is a more personal post, but a story that I think is important to tell.

My Mom was an amazing woman. She was smart, beautiful, kind, and cared about everyone she came into contact with. She was a dedicated junior high school teacher in the South Bronx in New York City and spent an incredible amount of her time taking care of her kids. She called all her students her kids. She loved them and they loved her. She was just an awesome person.

My mother however was not perfect- none of us are. She had an obsessive relationship with her body and a rigid relationship with food. Her meals and her diet were macrobiotic vegan and she was unwilling to waver and eat a piece of cake or drink a glass of wine or eat nachos or anything not considered healthy once in a while.

She also had an obsession with a number. The number.

A very petite 5’2″ and 112 pounds, my mother believed that she should weigh 108 pounds.  For as long as I can remember, every morning she would wake up, pull the scale out from under her armoire, step on it, curse and kick it back under. She hated that scale. She hated being 112 pounds. And so she obsessed. She did everything she possibly could to lose those 4 pounds. She ordered Sweatin to the Oldies, the Abdominizer, the Gazelle, Oxycise and other things that I forget and probably never knew about. And keep in mind, we had a small apartment in NYC, not a lot of room for these devises and contraptions. But she was a woman obsessed and the elusive 108 lbs was the object of her desire.

I remember her routine of  cursing and kicking the scale  as early as age 4. She did this for my whole life. By the time I was 28, my Mom became ill. Very ill in fact. Not from her food issues, but from a random autoimmune disease that life threw her way.  She lost a lot of weight very quickly. Her whole body deflated. She was nothing more than bones with skin hanging on it. I think that her final weight in her hospital bed was 68 pounds.   But that number, 108, it haunted her for most of her life. She was never quite satisfied with what she had because she was fighting so arduously for 108. But then, at 54 years old, her life was over. And she never got to her “goal weight.”

What the hell is a “goal weight?” It makes me so mad. It makes me SO mad. Because it makes me think of my mother and her obsession with her goal weight, and her inability to be happy with a body that worked. A goal weight is an arbitrary number that’s not grounded in reality. Who tells you what your goal weight should be? How is that realistic?

If you are a normal weight, and your body holds onto it, despite what you do to it,  you have to know that this is a healthy response from a healthy body. You are blessed. A healthy body wants to maintain the homeostasis.

You can run millions of miles, you can binge, you can starve, you can purge, you can diet, you can use laxatives, but no matter how much you abuse your body, a healthy body will do what it can to maintain the homeostasis.

So throw out your scale. Throw out your goal weight. Your goal should be health. Your goal should be a long healthy life with love, with adventure, with fun, with pain, with sorrow, with self love, with self criticism, with anger, with sadness, with joy, with excitement, with ups, with downs. But your goals should have nothing to do with sizes and numbers.

If you are healthy, your body will do what it can to get to its healthy number, and that might have nothing to do with what the BMI says, or with what Hollywood says or with what Met Life height and weight chart says.  When your body is healthy, it knows where it should go. All you have to do is treat it with love and respect. Feed it, exercise it, water it. Give it lots of fruit, lots of veggies, lots of protein, and even let it have a piece of cake or slice of pizza or a glass of wine every now and again.

I know it’s not this simple. It wasn’t for my Mom, nor for many, many people.  But it’s your one life. Take just one day or even one week if it’s doable to let go of your number and embrace health.

Life Is Hard

you are not alone

“Life is Difficult.

This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths.  It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it.  Once we truly see that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult.  Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.

Most do not fully see this truth that life is difficult.  Instead they moan more or less incessantly, noisily or subtly about the enormity of their problems, their burdens, and their difficulties as if life were generally easy, as if life should be easy.  They voice their belief, noisily or subtly, that their difficulties represent a unique kind of affliction that should not be and that has somehow been especially visited upon them, or else their families, their tribe, their class, their nation, their race or even their species, and not upon others.  I know about this moaning because I have done my share…” M. Scott Peck –The Road Less Traveled

I think something that is hard to remember is that life is not necessarily supposed to be easy. It’s pretty hard. It’s hard for everyone because we all have to deal with life, death, pain and suffering on some level.    Sure, there are some people who seem to have it easier than others, but of course it’s all relative.  A client of mine was once discussing how awful it was for him to have depression when people in third world countries were suffering without food, clothes, and water. It’s true, but of course they’re not suffering existential crises. We all suffer, though we all suffer differently. It’s the first noble truth- Life means Suffering.

But that’s okay, because we don’t suffer alone. We all deal with the very human dilemma of being human.

I bring this all up because I’ve noticed in the past few years,  how many of my clients get really depressed about Facebook. “Everyone is so happy. They have all their pictures up of their dogs and their boyfriends and their girlfriends and they look so good and their status updates sound so exciting…” But they’re suffering.  Most people don’t update their facebook profile with:

Lulu Smith feels like crap this morning because she woke up with a horrible hangover, a gigantic pimple on her nose, hasn’t had a date in 7 months and her favorite pair of jeans are too tight and ripped in the crotch last night while at a bar with her 4 gorgeous co-workers who got hit on while she was ignored the whole night.

It might look something more like this: Lulu Smith thinks raisin bran is a pretty awesome way to start the day. Two Scoops! Woot! Awesome night with my girls last night 🙂

No matter how Lulu looks or feels, she probably won’t post a picture of herself looking tired, with her hair unruly and gigantic nose pimple and the rip in her crotch. We somehow want people to see us at our best. Even when we aren’t there, even when we’re not in the vicinity. This causes each and every one of us to forget that we are not suffering alone. So many of us feel so isolated in our pain because we feel as though we are the only ones who are having a crappy day (or week or month or year)!

One of the things to remember is that you are not the only person who is suffering. You are not alone. When you feel as though everyone is the world is happy, doing great and you’re the only one who is struggling with food, with work, with money, with a relationship (or lack thereof), with lack of confidence… whatever it is, someone very close to you is suffering as well. It might be the person who seems to have it all, the perfect relationship, perfect body, perfect skin, hair teeth,  tons of money, tons of friends… but each one of us suffers uniquely. It can be so isolating to feel as though you are the only one with problems, but next time you are feeling sad and alone, pick up the phone and call someone you love and trust. They might not be suffering at the same time as you, but trust me, they’ve suffered at some time in their life and want to give you love and support.

Isolation is a huge part of eating disorders, in recovery, one of the best ways to break out of the cycle is to reach out for human contact. You don’t have to be alone with your thoughts, your fears, your problems and food.


gestalt therapy and eating disordersA patient of mine, who I’ll refer to as Allison, came into my office in tears today.  After several months of being clean from binge eating, she’d spent the past two weeks knee deep in pastries. As we spoke, she told me about how she’d been betrayed by her employer and how angry she was. Her response was to binge eat.  Gestalt therapy would call this retroflection.  Being angry at someone else, and hurting yourself in response.  Allison was terribly hurt and angry by the actions of her boss, but rather than say something to him, she acted out by hurting herself. She came into the session incredibly angry at herself for her relapse. All of her anger toward her boss was completely ignored because she internalized it and responded to the hurt by  harming herself.

Do you ever notice this happening? Have you ever felt so angry at someone and wound up in the middle of a binge? It’s incredible how we can often hurt ourselves when we really want to hurt someone else. Of course hurting anyone is never the answer or the correct response, but punishing yourself after someone has hurt you is devastating and the last thing you need. You’ve already been beaten up enough, you don’t need to join in. It can lead  you become isolated, lonely, and unsupported.

Next time you find yourself feeling helpless because someone hurt you, either intentionally or unintentionally, notice what your instinct is. Do you feel the urge to take it out on yourself by doing something self destructive like binge eating, drinking, smoking, cutting, self harming, or using drugs?  Try to take an inventory of who and what you are angry at. It might not be safe to talk to the person that you’re angry at, in which case it’s great to discuss what’s going on with a friend or co-worker or spouse or someone else close to you.  Be conscious of your urges to hurt yourself when you are feeling helpless against someone else’s inconsiderateness or downright meanness.  You don’t have to join with them to hurt yourself more. This is the time that you need to be supported and loved. This is your choice. It might feel like someone is driving you to binge eat, but of course you can make the decision as to how you want to react. Reacting by being kind to yourself and taking care of yourself will always be a better choice and help you to recover from someone else’s betrayal.

Friday Q & A How do I deal with the Anxiety that triggers my Binge Eating?

anxiety and eating disordersThis question comes from reader/forum contributor Sunshine.

Q: I have anxiety, I take meds for it. How do I control my anxiety without using food? Because I use food to numb my mind. Thanks!

A: This is a good question. And one that many people deal with. Anxiety is certainly underneath many cases of bulimia and binge eating as well as compulsive exercise and anorexia. Anxiety can feel very “sharp,” and doing things like eating (or drinking alcohol) can dull it down a bit.  In order to stop using food to deal with anxiety, you must make a decision to actually try to deal with the anxiety.

First off, what is anxiety? Anxiety is usually fear based in “what ifs” it’s an alternative reality filled with horrible things that might happen that plagues our minds. FEAR (False Evidence Appearing Real) is the thing that keeps us up at night and begs to be shut down and quieted because fear is, well, it’s scary! Being scared is no fun and food is a great distraction. However, if you can begin to debunk the anxiety, give it less power, you might regain some power over it so that you can be in charge rather than the anxiety.

How to do this:

1.)Do a reality check. Question the anxiety. For example. What am I anxious about?

Answer: I am anxious about this party that I am going to tomorrow, I am scared that everyone will think that I’m dumb or that I have nothing to say.

Now question it. Will everyone really think you’re dumb? Do people have time to stand around and judge you when everyone is mostly trying to enjoy themselves or even deal with there own insecurities. What if people do think I’m dumb. Will that change who I am?

2.)What can you control in this situation? You can control whether or not you go to the party, who or who you choose not to talk to, and what you choose to or not to say. However, you cannot control what other people are thinking. Whatever you cannot control, try to let go of it. It’s out of your hands.

3.)If your anxiety doesn’t have a root cause, if it’s free floating anxiety, try to sit down and write it out: I am anxious because…

Do this at least once a day. Often, just the exercise of looking at your feelings can help you release them.

4.)Practice deep breathing and meditation.

5.)Do Yoga!

6.)Do progressive muscle relaxation

7.)Put signs on your refrigerator or pantry that say STOP- REMEMBER TO BREATH. That way, when you are in the grips of anxiety, you might have a chance of letting go and relaxing. When you do, breathe in through your nose to the count of 5, then exhale to the count of 5. Do this ten times. It will relax your body and mind enough for you to actively decide whether or not you want to binge.

I also wrote a post on this about 4 years ago, if you want to check it out as well.

I hope that this is helpful! Keep asking questions!

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.

Friday Q & A- How do I deal with the Emotions that Trigger a Binge?

sneak eatingQ: How do you even begin to get your mind off of the binge when the emotions to eat are soooo strong?

A: That’s an excellent question. What you are saying here is that the “emotions to eat” are very strong. However, there is actually not an emotion to eat.  There is an urge to eat, but usually the emotion UNDER the urge has nothing to do with food. So, what I’m saying here is that there is often a totally different emotion, such as anger, sadness, fear, anxiety, stress, happiness, or disappointment that is first triggered.  What then immediately happens is that the urge to eat comes on.

For example. You have had a hard day at work. Your clothes feel tight. You went shopping after work and nothing looked right. You feel tired, you feel depressed, you feel hopeless. You come home from work and all of a sudden, all you want to do is eat. It FEELS like the need to eat is actually an emotion. But it’s not. It’s an urge that covers up the emotion. Eating makes the bad feelings go away (at least temporarily). So, knowing that, your brain tricks you into believing that you want, that you need food so that you don’t have deal with or feel the other feelings that are there.

Of course, as you state in your question,  that drive to eat (and to just feel better) can be so strong that you can’t seem to do anything else when the urge comes on. How do you deal with that?

It’s hard at the beginning, but here are some things that you can do.

1.)Put notes on your refrigerator, your desk at work, the cabinets, the pantry, etc, anywhere you usually go that say something like “STOP…. For just 5 minutes,  think about what you’re feeling…” then when you go to eat, the notes can break the unconscious compulsion and you might be able to take a few moments to choose a different behavior.

2.)During this time, set a timer for 20 minutes and tell yourself that you can eat if you want to in a bit, but you’re going to wait a bit and do something different. Print out some of the various do something different lists on this blog (here or here or here)or create your own and post it in a conspicuous place so that when you are in a bingeing mode, you don’t have to stop and think about what you want to do next, there is a list right there for you.

3.)See what would happen if you let yourself sit with the feeling of want. Just because you want it, doesn’t mean you have to have it. Remind yourself that you won’t die from an urge, and that you are stronger and more powerful than the urge to binge. As you continue to do this, you will actually become stronger and eventually, the urges to binge will decrease and eventually die.

4.)Write down all the negative consequences. Start with “If I eat this cookie, then…” and go through what might happen.

ie: If I eat this cookie, then I will eat another, and another, I will not be satisfied and I will want chips, which I will eat, and then I will go for the ice cream and the bread… I will pass out feeling exhausted and angry at myself. I will wake up in the morning feeling nauseous and uncomfortable.

5.)Write down what might happen if you don’t eat. “If I don’t eat this cookie, then…”

If I don’t eat this cookie, then I will be angry grumpy, upset and I will be craving it all night long. I might not be able to fall asleep at night and I will be up all night dealing with my anxiety.

Then, weigh the pros and the cons. Would I rather be up all night dealing with my anxiety or would I rather binge all night and pass out?  Neither of these options seems ideal, but which would be more beneficial in the long term? Can I learn to increase my tolerance for uncomfortable feelings without food? Am I willing to try?

I hope that this is helpful. Please don’t hesitate to ask more questions!

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.