The Cookie Burglar: How to Stop Binge Eating
I hear stories like this every day from people who tell me they are longing to feel better about themselves and that the extra weight they are carrying is ruining their lives. And then, like the Cookie Burglar, they spend most of their free time planning a binge, bingeing and feeling awful afterward. (You probably have your own version of binge burglary.)
At some point, you have to ask yourself what's going on when it seems as if you'd give your right arm to lose weight and then find yourself breaking locks at 3 in the morning to get to the coffee cake.
Clue: The answer is not that you are crazy, lacking in willpower or forever doomed to having thunder thighs. Despite all evidence to the contrary, there are always exquisitely good reasons you turn to food when you're not hungry.
Take a moment right now. Consider these three questions:
- How is my apparently crazy eating benefiting me?
- If I were eating for exquisitely good reasons, what would those reasons be?
- And finally, if my weight/bingeing could talk, what would it say?
Regardless of how it may appear, what we do really does make sense. Our actions—especially with food—are inherently sane. In fact, they are expressions of our brilliance at getting our needs met.
Emotional eating is a language of its own, like hieroglyphics or Braille. Instead of trying to understand it, we're more likely to try to ignore it or shut it up. But we can't rid ourselves of emotional eating until we listen to what it has to say. Our relationship with food is expressing a true need, so unless we learn what it's trying to tell us, permanent weight loss will be impossible. Once we "get it" and understand the needs that food fulfills, emotional eating, having served its purpose, will stop.
How your fat can actually help you
It was like writing a play for two characters: Me and Fat. I started out by asking my fat what it wanted from me. It rambled on about wanting my attention, then ended up telling me something that forever changed my life: It told me that as long as I was thin, I would be flinging myself at someone who lived across the country, didn't love me or was otherwise unsuitable. When those words came unsuspectingly out of my pen, I was stunned. I was also nailed.
It turns out that ol' Fat knew exactly what it was doing. I was single then, a penniless upstart who had the bad habit of getting involved with unavailable men and then making it my life's work to convince them to love me. Not exactly a promising occupation. My fat seemed to have found the perfect way—being overweight—for me to concentrate on what I needed to be doing: writing, establishing a career and supporting myself. When I was fat, I felt so unattractive that I kept to myself and concentrated on my work. Being fat was a brilliant, unconscious maneuver that allowed me to make enough money to pay the rent. I could have lost weight 900 times, but I would have gained it back 901 times until I understood the message I couldn't seem to hear any other way.
Within a short time after writing that dialogue, I resolved to devote my attention to writing and teaching instead of flinging and convincing. I stopped needing the suffering of bingeing and extra weight to get my attention and I started losing weight. And buying clothes with real waists. My friend, the Cookie Burglar, upon asking herself how her bingeing was helping her, discovered how bored she was in her life. Her kids had gone to college, she didn't have a job. "I am like the Energizer Bunny without a direction," she said. "At least breaking those locks is a challenge, and when I finally accomplish it, I feel victorious." I asked her to name what she would do if she could do anything in the world. "I would sing," she said. "I would get up onstage and belt out some Supremes songs." I encouraged her to, at the very least, get a home karaoke machine, stand on a table, and croon at the top of her lungs. Take lessons, I said. Make a home CD. Check out local choirs or clubs or singing groups. I urged her to stop—bingeing—in the name of love and take the direct route to her heart's desire.
Ask yourself now what your weight might want you to know that you have been ignoring. Write a fat dialogue. Discover how your fat is helping you. Learn the language your body has been speaking for years. Take a chance that you are more brilliant than you've ever imagined in designing this thing you call your weight problem. You have nothing to lose except your suffering. Every last ounce of it.
Geneen Roth's books were among the first to link compulsive eating and perpetual dieting with deeply personal and spiritual issues that go far beyond food, weight and body image. She believes that we eat the way we live and that our relationships to food, money and love are exact reflections of our deeply held beliefs about ourselves and the amount of joy, abundance, pain and scarcity we believe we have (or are allowed) to have in our lives.
Geneen has appeared on many national television shows, including The Oprah Winfrey Show, 20/20, The NBC Nightly News, The View and Good Morning America. Articles about Geneen and her work have appeared in numerous publications, including O, The Oprah Magazine, Cosmopolitan, Time, Elle, The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune and The Philadelphia Inquirer. She has written a monthly column in Good Housekeeping magazine since 2007. Roth is the author of eight books, including The New York Times best-seller When Food Is Love and a memoir about love and loss, The Craggy Hole in My Heart. Women, Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything is her newest book.
Read More from Geneen Roth:
How to eat less and enjoy it more
Worrying about your weight doesn't help you lose it
What your cravings really mean
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