Love and sex agony uncle Dan Savage recently compared coming out as gay to being fired from a job you hate. Savage says that publicly owning your true sexuality is often as hard as being sacked in the short term, but in the long term it is a huge liberation in the same way as leaving a loathsome job is.
Binge Eating is almost the same.
How can I compare compulsive eating to coming out? Coming out of the closet is a good thing. Binge eating is not.
Well…no. And yes.
Let me explain.
Binge eating is a coping mechanism. Not the best (I have a far more effective toolkit for you) but one that millions use. If we can understand its function, we are then equipped to find a better coping mechanism.
How Bingeing Is A Coping Mechanism
Every time you binge eat you are doing it in reaction to something. It may be overwhelming emotions you cannot process, or a juice fast that sends your mood swings into overdrive, or the deprivation of a strict detox or diet.
We can reframe whatever triggered the binge as a job you hate.
Dealing with emotions you cannot process is like doing a job you hate because who would enjoy doing a job they are completely unskilled to do?
The juice fast or strict detox are like jobs that seem brilliant for the first few days, as you dive into the deprivation with the fervour of someone living entirely in a fantasy future where resistance has been wiped out. You are high on the promise of a ‘perfect diet’ that only a robot could fulfil. (Even if the regime is temporary, you are 110% convinced that afterwards you will eat 100% happily ever after).
Then reality comes to call. You have mistakenly assumed that different food is the answer to your excess weight or eating issues, rather than than developing the ability to choose different foods (and there is a massive difference between the two).
So you start to rebel against your strict food choices, and binge eating is the weapon of choice you turn on yourself.
Your emotions or bodily needs simply will not put up with you ignoring them. They know that the suppressed rage or the juice fast is a like a hateful job. Whether it is your anger saying ‘Process me and let me leave your system’ or your body screaming ‘give me nutrients!’, your emotions or your body WILL rebel.
And because you do not understand the nature of this rebellion, it overwhelms you. It wins. You feel guilty and inadequate.
Yes but Harriet, I still don’t get how this is like being fired from a job I hate.
Your future perfect eating plans lie in pieces on the floor, but the fact is that dealing with your anger and/or being fed properly is a more important job than fulfilling that future fantasy. You are asking your physical and psychological systems to do a job they are not equipped to do.
And now you know this, you have a chance to do something that is ultimately as liberating as the gay person coming out and finding acceptance from family and friends (or at least making new friends). You have just fired yourself from a terrible job, one with only temporary perks and unpaid guilt overtime.
Newsflash: you have a chance to STOP relying on binge eating as the crappy coping mechanism it is. You can find other ways to deal with your anger, experiment with ways of eating that feed rather than deprive you. Of course, you miss out on the temporary relief of stuffing your anger down or the temporary inspirational high of the detox. But there are far more effective ways to feel good about yourself, reframes that re-engineer your defects into fuel for change – and all free from wishy-washy positive thinking. No need to ‘just love yourself’ – when I was binge eating, my self-loathing was far too powerful for such platitudes.