Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Inside Secret Eating

No need to run & hide from disorder, no matter where it lives in your life. As you come to take care of it, just like magic, other things will fall into place".... Elizabeth Bohorquez, RN, C.Ht

As far as writing markets go, one doesn't have to look far to find an emotional or disorderly eater. All I have to do is to look in the mirror, but as I look at myself I'm not really seeing the emotional eating part of me because it is hidden. While we all live behind masks, emotional eaters are especially good at this. Even though I've met thousands of people with this problem, I'm still taken aback by someone who looks "so together" who comes to tell me their unique story.

Take yesterday for instance. A beautiful thiry-something woman, Denise, came to my office to work on "some issues." As we got to know each other, I learned that she is a very successful television producer with a long, impressive resume. I also came to learn her deepest secret, that of being a serious closet binge eater who vomits every night before taking her antidepressant & a sleeping pill, so "they will work faster & take me away from my desire to eat more & more."

Secrets such as these form a big part of the problem, as well as being able to help individuals such as Denise. I remember a publisher telling me that "no one wants to be seen with a book whose cover reveals their secret." And so, the title of your book or audio may or may not speak to the person who needs to benefit from it, but the material must. This is one good thing about mp3's. They are simply downloaded to one's own computer or ipod & no one else but the listener "needs to know." Three of my biggest sellers in mp3 are Managing Bulimia & Emotional or Compulsive Eating. Next on the list comes Skin Picking & Nail Biting, most likely for the same reason.

What about diet books? It's seems to be ok to buy one of those, but for emotional or compulsive eaters, what they need is not going to be found in those books. In fact, some of them tend to make the problem even worse because it is very difficult for the emotional eater to stay with a plan, when the underlying issues are not addressed at the same time. Also, many people with emotional eating are not over-weight & believe because they are not, then it's ok to continue down their unhealthy eating path. Unfortunately, they are very mistaken. Luckily the television producer decided to take the "risk" & to bring her issues out into the open where she could learn to take care of them.


Emotional & compulsive eaters tend to be disorderly in their nutritional & stress management care. If you've been following my blog, you know about the desire for perfection, the rigid thinking, the excessive need for approval, low self-esteem, extremely high expectgations of self & the need to be in control. And while they may bring this to other parts of their life & may even present themselves as "being in super-control of their eating" while others are watching, there is one part of their eating life that is for their eyes only. This is where the emotional release takes place & it is private & personal.

For Julie, another one of my patients, it means getting into her car at the end of a normal stress-filled workday & stopping at her favorite binge supermarket, usually where she is confident that she won't meet up with anyone she knows. What could be worse than having a shopping basket filled with binge foods & meeting up with someone from the office or church? Once she is safely out of the market, Julie repacks the bags in the trunk of her car. On the way out to the car, she grabs a few additional plastic bags, so the stash can be divided into groups & hidden under the seats of the car. That way, her husband will not see them or question her about them. Her husband who is very health-conscious, believes Julie to be the same. According to Julie, he would be horrified & lose all respect for her.

Julie takes one bag of chips to the front of the car. These are designated for the ride home, whatever left going under the seat & out of sight. Julie's ritual includes ripping the bag open with her teeth. Her thoughts & her body sensations are already deep into the "fix". She takes a solitary chip in her mouth before starting the ignition & sucks the salt, enjoying the sensation as much as the taste. Then she shoves a small handful into her mouth, moving them around with her tongue....finally relaxing, the sensation of satisfaction & safety entering her body, as she carefully reviews her stash in her mind. Ahhhh.....feeling so good, but lingering in the back of her mind is the voice of judgment. "What is wrong with you? Why do you do this? Aren't you ashamed of yourself?" Julie pushes the thoughts away, answering with another handful of chips.

Everything will be just fine now.....or will it? Julie knows better. Bingeing in the car presents all sorts of problems including crumbs on her clothing, on the floor of the car & grease on the steering wheel, but this binger is no amateur. She's walked this dangerous road before & was even caught once, or at least there were "suspicions" which of course, Julie flatly denied & then quickly dodges the trouble, by hurrying inside. As she tells it, "that was a close call." Julie pulls the car to the side of the road a few blocks before arriving home. The place is her favorite because it is quite safe. Few neighbors enter her subdivision from this entrance. Making sure she is unnoticed, she steps out, brushes off her clothes, checks the floor & the seat for evidence & then wipes the steering wheel with a packaged cloth she keeps in her purse for "such occasions." Mission accomplished.....so far.

After dinner, while her husband brushes his teeth, Julie moves the stash inside, artfully carrying it past her kids who are doing their homework. Some she places inside her blouse. Her heart pounds but her defiant part laughs as she heads for her carefully chosen hideouts. "It's all worth it....every bit of it."

Julie is a night binger. After everyone in the house is sleeping, including herself, part of Julie wakes her up. She carefully gets out of bed, looking back at her sleeping husband, measuring his breaths. No change.....good. She walks to her hiding places & makes her choices. Tonight it will be salt & crunch first & then sugar. Sitting in her favorite family room chair, she carefully opens each package, still keeping her ears on alert for any footsteps on the stairs, never letting her guard down. "Somehow it's part of the game & enjoy being with this devious part of myself. It's powerful, like some of the girls I knew in high school. No one knows this part of me & I've kept it a secret for as long as I can remember. I don't know if I can ever say good-bye to her."

The attention to detail is very important to the binger. Julie has stored a toothbrush & paste in the guest bathroom to use after her eating ritual. If the binge was big, she may use the toothbrush handle to induce vomiting, but this means be extra careful. No one can hear her & she cannot leave any signs of this; another thing to clean up. "I try not to vomit because of all the complications, but sometimes I know I'll never fall asleep unless I do. I'd truly like to get rid of this part, but then again, it does help me to relax deeply."

Not all binge or emotional eaters are women, nor do all have such complicated rituals as Julie. One of my clients, Harold, is a investment broker. He sought out my services as a clinical hypnotherapist because he had a medical condition called bruxism, meaning he mashes & grinds his teeth. During his assessment, Harold asked me if I could also help him manage an annoying problem. Just about every evening, precisely around 9PM, he would start having mad cravings for soft ice cream. Both Harold & his wife had sworn off sugar years ago & everything about their lifestyle spoke of health.

So, Harold started making up stories about needing to go out for gasoline or back to the office because he forgot something, etc. A good part of his waking time was spent thinking up new ways to get to his "stash." As he was telling me of his plight, I couldn't help but notice how excited he was, rather like a young boy telling me how he goes about fooling his mother.


There are many people who maintain that they have emotional or compulsive eating issues, when what they really have is something I call "disorderly eating." Some eat continually, others having more of a pattern. In order to explain this way of managing their eating life, stress or the label of emotional eating is attached to the behavior. There is no discipline whatsoever; no plans for meals or snacks. I call this living by the seat of your pants & the numbers of people who participate in disorderly eating is huge. Just look around. You don't have to look far.

While all of this is very sad for adults, it is even more so for teens & kids because they are setting lifetime patterns. Their parents are their mentors & so this is seen as "normal." I see many of these children in my practice & sell more mp3's than I'd like to count that address some of the negative outcomes of disorderly eating. These include concentration, focus, sleep issues, early alcohol addiction, early smoking & many others.