Oprah on Overeating: Why We Do It
I’ve got an eating disorder. I admitted it to myself a couple of years ago. It’s not just that I love food (although I do). What I love is the comfort that eating food brings me. I'm a 33 year old man.
It’s like nothing else; not like sleep, drugs, sex, shopping, or any of those other “feel good” things. But like all those other things, I can’t stop binge overeating. At least, not without help. When I saw Oprah’s show on her own episodes of binging, I could hardly believe that someone as famous as she is has the same problems as I have. The only difference between us is that I’m a 33 year-old man.
Oprah said that when her movie Beloved failed at the box office in 1998 and, at the same time, her TV show came under fire from critics who said it was too “New Age” in content, she told her chef to make her huge amounts of bread pudding and mac and cheese. Oprah ate her way through about 30 pounds of comfort food during this binge.
Oprah and I aren't the only binge overeaters; I read a study by Harvard Medical School psychiatrists who said that binge overeating disorder may not be an “official” diagnosis yet like anorexia and bulimia, but it’s more common than either of them, affecting 3.5% of women and 2% of men.
Mental health experts want people like me and Oprah to understand that binge eaters aren’t just about pigging out at the holiday buffet or snatching an extra dessert here and there. We can really put it away, like eating an entire large pizza and a carton or two of Ben and Jerry’s. You won’t find me in the buffet line because I eat alone.
I hate myself when I binge, so nobody ever sees me do it. Like Oprah, my weight goes up and down because I go through periods of trying to control my eating but this doesn’t last long before I’m back on the cupcakes. What’s weird is that it’s not about the cupcakes, although they taste pretty good. It’s about the bad feelings that I’m using the cupcakes to hide from. When I feel sad, or lonely, or angry, or afraid (all of these, most of the time), binge overeating numbs those feelings. I can’t control them, so I just make them numb.
Oprah talked about what we binge overeaters can do to help ourselves stop this endless cycle before it starts to wreck our health and our relationships:
- Realize that we can change and recover. It’s not hopeless!
- Identify the emotional distress that’s connected to our eating disorder. What exactly are we feeling when we binge? Name it and claim it.
- When we think about binging, remind ourselves why we’re thinking about it. Tell ourselves that it’s not about the food; it’s about what feelings we’re trying to deny.
- Once we’ve identified these feelings, we can ask ourselves if our feelings are realistic, or if we’re blowing things out of proportion
- Go ahead and feel the feelings. I’m a little nervous about flying, but I don’t need to eat all the snacks on the plane to hide it.
I was terribly sad when my father died last year, but I didn’t need to feel instantly afraid I’d be fired when my boss asked to see me in her office. Turns out that she praised my work.
I bet that I’m not the only one who still remembers 9/11/2001 whenever we board an airliner!
Tonight I’m going to my fifth Overeaters Anonymous meeting. Next week I have an appointment with my doctor to talk about my problem. Ellen Shuman, vice president of the Binge Eating Disorder Association, says that self-help programs like OA and Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous give valuable support to people like me and Oprah. If my doctor thinks I need medication or in-patient treatment,
I’ll strongly consider these options. What is no longer an option for me is continuing to mask my feelings with food. I’ve learned that what feels good at the moment isn’t good for me at all in the long run. And I’m committed to my life for the long run!