Patricia Redlich

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Male And Binge Eating

25th October, 2009


I'm a man, aged 33, and have an eating disorder. I'm trying to do battle with it, but am finding it harder and harder to do, because I get up every day and am surrounded by people living their lives. Let me try and explain.

I've had this night-time binge eating for about 15 years. My family life as a child was filled with abuse and neglect. My mother frequently beat us and my father was absent a lot. When he was home, they fought like cats and dogs. I know it sounds as though I'm making excuses for my binge eating - and I suppose that's what I am doing. I also know I sound like I'm playing the victim, which may have been true in the past, but I'm aware of it now and try hard not to let it control me.

I've always felt lost and tried several career paths, but each time just wasn't happy so I packed them in. The most recent was a return to college, which I quit after a year. The eating disorder was ever-present, I felt out of control, so I took a step back and left the course, determined to finally sort out my binge-eating. I started seeing a therapist. That was 18 months ago, and I've made a lot of progress.

As part of my eating disorder, I exercise excessively in order to compensate. To look at me you'd never guess I eat too much at night. I look quite lean and fit. Somewhere along the line I also began to compete in athletic competitions and really enjoy them a lot. At this point, all my focus and energy is put into training and preparing for races. I love competing. At the same time, I'm beginning to look around and see what others have, and I have not. I still live at home, have no car or career, just a part-time job that's going nowhere. I have no girlfriend, never had, and it would be nice to have someone other than my therapist to talk to, just somebody who knows I'm alive. I have few, if any friends, to go out with. A lot of the time I end up at the cinema on a Saturday night on my own, surrounded by couples and groups of people. In short, I'm surrounded by people who are living their lives.

I know the source of my pain is comparing myself to others, and I try to be happy with what I have. But it's a constant battle. I'll come across a situation which triggers negative feelings within me, work hard at discovering their root cause as my therapist has taught me, and then I feel better. But it's a non-stop effort. I feel very tired from training, and from fighting my binge-eating. Is this how it is with eating problems? Do I need to just hold on and be tough? I'm so exhausted.

An elderly practitioner of complementary medicine was asked by a friend of mine a few years ago what, in his experience, made the difference in terms of whether a patient healed himself or not. 'Courage', the physician replied. That is true. He could have added 'energy', but then he was an acupuncturist, so he dealt in the business of helping people mobilise their energy, and put it to good use.

Stop being so hard on yourself. You are not playing the victim. Nor are you making excuses for yourself. You do indeed binge eat because of past emotional damage. That's not an excuse, or a dodge, that's the truth. Unconscious creative elements in your despairing heart sought to make you safe, tried to grapple with the terrifying emotional anarchy with which your parents surrounded you. Yes, of course the use of food was misplaced, borne of the limited room for emotional manoeuvring you had as a child. You now understand that food is a symbol for all kinds of control issues. But you are still very vulnerable, so it's a huge battle. Relinquishing the comfort blanket, while still full of fear, is hard.

Could I make two suggestions? Why not just enjoy the athletics? Yes, I know you took up running to compensate for binge eating, but sometimes good things are chosen for dodgy reasons - and they are still good. Count it as a plus, with no negative connotations. And secondly, would you look for additional help, at a physical level, just to ease the exhaustion?

My promise: As you slowly feel psychologically safer, with the help of therapy, food will loose its symbolic power. Try being more gentle and kind with yourself, while still holding onto your resolve. Battles such as yours are heroic. Why not applaud that heroism?
Irish based professional therapist and journalist. Website By : Deise Design