Must...stop...eating. (Oh, and shopping, too.)
January 16, 2008 12:12 PM   Subscribe

I've come to the conclusion that I might have an eating disorder. Or an addiction problem. Or perhaps ADHD. Or is it OCD (minus the C). Help me make sense of this.

I know you are not a doctor. And I am going to make some calls in the next 24 hours to some therapists in my insurance plan. However, I need a little guidance here. (Apologies for the length of the post, I'm trying to sort through a bunch of stuff...)

I believe I have a problem with food -- I overeat, binge (no purging), sneak food, etc. I am obsessed with it, always thinking about my next meal. I also am a total foodie (food snob, says my DH), organic everything, love to cook and go out to eat, read about food, "food is love" is my mantra, etc. Good food lifts my mood, and so I eat too much, especially when I feel lonely, tired, sad, stressed, etc. And then I feel like shit for eating too much (you know the drill). I have dieted on and off my whole adult life, and had the horrid body image issues that many women of my generation contend with.

In my 20s I was obsessed with natural health and eating properly and was thin and healthy looking, although I was fairly miserable at the same time -- insecure and unhappy. And I did binge and eat in secret, although not as frequently as I do now. Annnnd I was a smoker (so healthy!). Late in my 20s I got treatment for longstanding depression and mild anxiety, and over the next few years became a happier person. Since then I got married, had babies, had a few relapses with depression along the way, but got past them with meds and therapy.

Although true obesity has not been an issue for me, since getting married (and becoming happier?) the weight has crept on, and my pregnancies did me in. I should lose 15 pounds, I'd love to lose 30. Stress of raising young kids and a complete change in lifestyle over the last few years (going from working full-time and child-free to 100% stay-at-home mom in a now-single-income household) has led me to more binge eating I think. Plus, now I have kids and the whole "food as love" thing kicks in.

Anyway, I always thought my issue was one of willpower and that I just needed to buckle down. I have been in and out of therapy for several years, attending when I would go through a rough patch, and never have food issues come up. Nor can I determine what in my past could be making me do this to myself -- I know of the whole "filling the void" theory, but I don't know what void it is that I could be trying to fill. I consider myself a pretty self-aware person, and I'm pretty happy at this point in my life. And yet I continue the food-related self-destructive behaviors. I'm kinda stumped.

I do the same thing with spending money. I have done this as long as I have earned a paycheck (and of course, I don't get a paycheck anymore since I'm a SAHM) - if there is money in my account, I spend it. I could shop all day and all night. I have done a pretty good job of keeping my spending in check since my kids were born, but I feel a need deep down to spend spend spend. This is an issue, since my husband is very conservative financially, and like I said, we're single income and definitely live paycheck to paycheck. One therapist told me I am a "maximizer" and DH is a "satisfier" -- whatever, I need to get this in check.

The last tidbit I'll share is that I have wondered if I might have mild ADHD (or ADD). I've never been diagnosed, but my doctor has suggested that some of the ADD drugs might be beneficial to me as I am eternally distracted and have scattered thoughts, and I don't finish anything I start. I usually just say that I have "mommy brain", but I'm beginning to wonder...

I'm not looking for an online diagnosis here, just some insight from others who might have experienced similar things. And I'm not sure what kind of therapist I should look for -- CBT? Eating disorder specialist? Something else? Any guidance would be much, much appreciated. I've had a few therapists who weren't a good fit, so I know I need to ask questions up front to get the right help.

And if you got this far, thanks for reading :)
posted by missuswayne to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
You are doing the most important first step in addressing your problem with food: you are identifying and admitting to it. My suggestion is to not give up trying to find a good therapist. There are many out there. I suggest finding a licensed clinical psychologist, and make your first appointment. I believe that is the one type of professional who is going to give you the best opinion out there. (On a side note, it is very, very hard to deal with body image especially when you've got kids. There are many pressures out there for parents who do not work outside the home. They are often seen as "not working", even though they do enormous amounts of labor daily quite often without breaks. It doesn't exactly help in the confidence department.) I hope my suggestion helps you. Good luck.
posted by mamaraks at 12:24 PM on January 16, 2008

Anyway, I always thought my issue was one of willpower and that I just needed to buckle down.

I'm not sure why you don't think that now.

Although true obesity has not been an issue for me, since getting married (and becoming happier?) the weight has crept on, and my pregnancies did me in. I should lose 15 pounds, I'd love to lose 30. Stress of raising young kids and a complete change in lifestyle over the last few years (going from working full-time and child-free to 100% stay-at-home mom in a now-single-income household) has led me to more binge eating I think. Plus, now I have kids and the whole "food as love" thing kicks in.

This sounds totally normal. I don't think you have an eating disorder. If you want to see a therapist, go for it, but from my armchair it sound like you need one specializing in eating disorders.
posted by amro at 12:30 PM on January 16, 2008

it doesn't sound like
posted by amro at 12:30 PM on January 16, 2008

From what you wrote, it seems to me that, yes, you have food issues, but I don't think you've a disorder. Talking to a therapist may help you find out why you feel the way you do towards food and meal-time, but you've essentially described every other normal person on the planet - there are comfort foods, and occasionally we tend to gravitate towards them more and more when life becomes stressful.

The main concern here is your binging and your feelings about it - how often? How much? What do you binge on? Do you feel out of control when you binge? Do you binge even when you are not hungry? Do you overeat to the point of being physically uncomfortable? What (if anything) do you think of during these times? Ask yourself these questions and let your therapist know your answers. He/she can tell you better than I if you simply have a habit of overeating or have binge eating disorder.

You've already done the hardest part, which is to look at yourself and see that there is a problem, and talk about it and ask for help. You might also want to look into Overeaters Anonymous for support. Good luck.
posted by sephira at 12:54 PM on January 16, 2008

I have (med corrected) depression and an eating disorder. It is all about how you relate to food, not what you do or do not eat.

I overeat, binge (no purging), sneak food, etc. I am obsessed with it, always thinking about my next meal

Big red flag. Questions to determine of you have an eating disorder:
1.Do you eat when you're not hungry?
2. Do you go on eating binges for no apparent reason?
3.Do you have feelings of guilt and remorse after overeating?
4.Do you give too much time and thought to food?
5.Do you look forward with pleasure and anticipation to the time when you can eat alone?
6.Do you plan these secret binges ahead of time?
7.Do you eat sensibly before others and make up for it alone?
8.Is your weight affecting the way you live your life?
9.Have you tried to diet for a week (or longer), only to fall short of your goal?
10.Do you resent others telling you to "use a little willpower" to stop overeating?
11. Despite evidence to the contrary, have you continued to assert that you can diet "on your own" whenever you wish?
12. Do you crave to eat at a definite time, day or night, other than mealtime?
13.Do you eat to escape from worries or trouble?
14.Have you ever been treated for obesity or a food-related condition?
15. Does your eating behavior make you or others unhappy?

Good luck - this is a tough one because you have to eat to survive - you do not have face other additions several times a day to survive.

PS the questions are from the site of Overeaters Anon.
posted by shaarog at 12:56 PM on January 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

I feel the same way as you. You can try Overeaters Anonymous, or CBT (which I did), but I still to this day will do things like buy a candy bar and eat it on the way home from the gym and throw away the wrapper before I get home. I just occasionally will eat something I shouldn't when I'm out (cheeseburger! entire bag of jelly bellies!), but refuse to keep it in the house. It helps slow down the eat-until-I'm-nauseous monster.

Look, what you have to do is NEVER keep food in the house that you can or will binge eat. Ever. Always go to the store with your partner or a child so you can't secretly eat at the store; make a list and don't deviate from it; begin a regular workout plan with a friend, even if it's only walking for an hour a day with the kids in the park. Kids seeing you be active is great encouragement for them to have an active life as well and it will be bonding time with them.

If you have to go to the store every 2 days to buy food for meals and snacks for your kids, fine. It's better to do that than buy $200 worth of food and overeat because it's there, staring at you when you're bored, weak, or sad. If I have a sugar-binge urge at 11 pm at night, my only options now are raw honey and preserves, both of which are too sweet to eat a lot of and fairly healthy, so I can stop myself from going into a sugar coma.

Going shopping? Draw out cash for exactly as much as you think you need to spend, no more, and leave everything in the trunk of your car except your keys, the cash, and your ID. Don't take credit cards, checks or debit cards in with you. Then, you don't have the power to overspend.

Once you start to do things to make yourself accountable and have a regular workout schedule, your body will start naturally changing slowly and as you see that change, it will encourage you to stick to your resolve.

Self-hypnosis is also helpful if you can find a therapist to give you this skill.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 1:00 PM on January 16, 2008

Start taking your kids on long walks. This will get you into shape so you don't have to worry about your eating, it will take up time that you might normally spend shopping, and it will teach your kids to appreciate exercise and the outdoors. This seems trite, I know, but it seems to be good advice to deal with the core issues.
posted by rhizome at 1:22 PM on January 16, 2008

It could be just that you're getting older and your metabolism is changing. Once I hit thirty I realized that I couldn't eat just whatever I wanted anymore with no weight gain consequences. Also, having kids around means lots of leftover kid food that is available to eat.

It sounds like you constantly need endorphins. I'd suggest shifting your mood pick-me-up away from food to something else like exercise, music, video games, anything that you like.

Are you happy just sitting quietly by yourself or do you need a *thing* to make you happy? If it's the latter, therapy might help.
posted by red_lotus at 1:56 PM on January 16, 2008

The food issues do not sound anything like ADD to me (my only qualification for saying so is that I have ADD and have read a lot of books about living with it). If you have ADD I highly doubt it's related to the food problems. I wouldn't recommend going on "ADD drugs" (by this I assume you mean amphetimines, since ADD is often treated with antidepressants) unless you were diagnosed with the disorder. If you don't have ADD the drugs won't have the intended effect, and may have negative effects.

CBT, I believe, is good for anyone. IMO it sounds like a good route for you.
posted by loiseau at 2:20 PM on January 16, 2008

I know this is possibly not a popular opinion here but this sounds like classic carb-addiction to me. The whole weight loss industry has brainwashed us into thinking that losing weight is merely a question of sufficient willpower. I have had considerable success in losing weight and I know of several others as well simply by reducing the amounts of carbohydrates that I take in. When the body takes in regular doses of carbohydrates, your insulin levels go up and down along with it, and with a time lag your blood glucose levels. Low blood glucose levels = irresistible cravings. Do yourself a favour and read some articles by people like Gary Taubes -- for example this one.
Losing weight is not merely a question of willpower -- it is hormonal and you should not feel guilty for craving foods. This is not a moral issue. Also read some of the low carb bulletin boards online like and look at the experiences of people. I was skeptical at first but the results have to be seen to be believed.
posted by peacheater at 2:32 PM on January 16, 2008

Best answer: Anyway, I always thought my issue was one of willpower and that I just needed to buckle down.

I'm not sure why you don't think that now.

This is where the fine line lies. Speaking as a person who has had both depression and eating disorder issues, I can say that the above argument is kind of like asking a depressed person if getting out of bed isn't a matter of will power. In some cases, it *can* be ... but for a depressed person, sometimes it is simply not possible. And it's the same with eating disorders: not eating is just not a possibility. And if the OP hasn't been able to get it under control for *years*, it's probably a little more than being weak willed.

My depression and eating issues have always been linked. To explain what I've gone through and relate it to what you're going through would take pages so I won't do that. But I'll say that from what you've described, you do have a problem. You're pretty much describing exactly what I feel/felt, except I'm not at all a food snob and I don't generally cook my food; the fastest, most easily obtained or prepared edible item is what does it for me. The strong interest in cooking/preparing in itself isn't the problem (I know plenty of people who love cooking and who have no food issues), but the eating behavior is.

You mentioned that you feel happy now and can't identify why you'd still be having this problem. It's probably because you're used to it. It's kind of become a part of who you are. And you enjoy it. You know that it makes you feel bad afterwards, but you like how it feels during. It's amazing that I *know* how bad eating a box of sugar cookies will make me feel, but damned if I don't *love* to do it. I don't think I'll ever give that up, and I can't imagine doing so. Even if I feel great about myself, if I'm in great shape and have been eating healthy food, there are just times when I want to do that again, and I guarantee you it will happen. You know what Robert Downey Jr. said about having the barrel of the gun in his mouth and liking the taste of the metal? It's like that. Except luckily, eating disorders are usually less dangerous than drug addictions, which is one reason why they aren't taken as seriously (in my opinion).

Anyway, those are my reactions to what you said. I think if you're going to continue with therapy again, *definitely* bring up the food issues! Therapists who deal with depression and anxiety and all that stuff can definitely deal with this. Though one-on-one therapy has never helped me because I want to be talking with people who understand what I'm feeling, so I always thought if I went back into therapy I'd look for a group that focuses on eating disorders. (I found one once, but never went.)
posted by iguanapolitico at 3:00 PM on January 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

The point by peacheater is good, too. The whole eating disorder cycle really can be vicious because some foods do trigger people to eat *more* food. You know the "Snickers really satisfies" commercials? All my life I've recognized that I never want to eat more than I want to eat *right* after I've had a Snickers bar. Sugar consumption begets sugar cravings. (And for me, sugar = any carb, and if carbs aren't available, then whatever's available will do.)
posted by iguanapolitico at 3:10 PM on January 16, 2008

Yeah, I recommend Taubes's Good Calories, Bad Calories for a book length treatment, but here's an online article that explains the basics:
posted by Furious Fitness at 3:58 PM on January 16, 2008

Here's a book that deals with the less extreme food behaviors you engage in (no binging, no starving, not obese). Might give you a little insight into your own motivations.
posted by clh at 5:51 PM on January 16, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the responses, I really appreciate the diversity of opinions. I'm going to sleep on it and check out several of your suggestions in the morning...
posted by missuswayne at 7:20 PM on January 16, 2008

Best answer: clh's book recommendation reminded me of something else. My eating problem started at a time in my life when I suddenly had a lot of strange stuff going on, and coincidentally, I was also in the middle of a big diet. Before that time, I never had any body image issues beyond the issues that 99% of the human population has. And during the diet, I was still body-image-normal; I just wanted to lose some pounds, like everybody else. It was after the strange stuff went down and I stopped the diet (again, coincidentally) that I suddenly developed my problems (and gained 30 pounds in 3 months) and for the next several years I was *constantly* dieting, trying to take it off. My main focus in my personal development was to lose the weight. I thought my problem was that I just couldn't stick to a healthy diet/exercise plan. I blamed that diet for causing all problems I was having in my personal and professional life (depression/anxiety issues) because I thought it was too restrictive, and that my behavior was all a part of rebelling against those dietary restrictions that I kept myself to for six weeks. After I gained the weight, I blamed my appearance and my lack of dieting will power for my despair. My reflection in the mirror sometimes brought me to tears. I was convinced that all the problems that I had in the rest of my life were caused by my inability to conform to some unrealistic standard of beauty, by my lack of will, and by that damn diet.

I had a therapist at one point who told me that my problems were not caused by a six week diet, but I didn't believe her.

But at some point along the way, I stopped getting upset when I saw a bulge in the mirror that shouldn't be there. I became able to accept that, OK, I gained about 8 pounds over the past couple months, because I became aware that it wasn't the dieting failure itself, or my body itself, that was causing my problems. I learned that there were underlying issues that were causing me to overeat, etc., and that I had to address them instead of crying over fat. I still haven't learned exactly how to conquer every issue (have any of us?), but I did learn how to forgive myself for not looking like a supermodel, or for overeating one day, or five, etc. The chronic dieting that I was doing had little to do with dieting (if that makes sense; I don't know how to say it any other way) or even with looking like a supermodel and more to do with other things. And it became easier to address the other things when I started to *feel* that was the case. The therapist told me years ago that was the case but I didn't believe her; books told me that was the case in later years so I started to believe it on paper, but not in my mind. But at whatever point the switch flipped in my head and I started to feel that to be true, it got easier. I'm still accustomed to that behavior (in my case, eating when I'm stressed, anxious, depressed, or procrastinating, among other things) but it's a hell of a lot easier to deal with that behavior now that I know that *eating* isn't the problem I need to be focusing on. It's the other stuff that's the problem. So I can look at the situation and say, OK, let's figure out what the story is here and make the ending happier than the direction it's going.

Eh, I just went crazy with the typing and don't know how much of this applies to you, and it's probably a big "duhh" to most people, but it's harder to see when you're in it. I kind of wish I had gone to group therapy back in the day, because I always feel better after talking about it. You don't talk about this stuff with people who don't get it. So yeah, thanks. ;) And good luck.
posted by iguanapolitico at 8:53 PM on January 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Sorry, yet one more thing, about prescribed drugs. I went on Wellbutrin once (prescribed for depression/anxiety), which is the same as Zyban (prescribed to others to help quit smoking). It helped me stay focused, and someone I knew who took Zyban for smoking cessation agreed that it helped him stay focused. It helped us stay focused on whatever we were doing, so our minds didn't go to our eating/smoking distractions. So if you think that some focus might help you, then you might want to try something along those lines. (I don't know offhand what drugs are prescribed for adult ADHD.)

Every antidepressant drug I've taken has lost effectiveness within a few months, so I just don't take any drugs anymore. The mixing, the upping the dosage, just isn't what I want to mess with. Exercise, though, does WONDERS. :) I guess I might be a bit endorphin dependent.
posted by iguanapolitico at 9:06 PM on January 16, 2008

Ahem, sorry again. These are the two books I've read on the subject that helped me a little, back in the day:

The Art of the Inner Meal
The Zen of Eating

I'm neither religious nor a practicing Buddhist or anything like that, but I've always "gotten" what Buddhists have to say. If I recall, of the two I favored The Zen of Eating. Art of the Inner Meal has since come out in a revised, expanded edition which is not the edition I read. You can read the descriptions, but they're basically about letting go of behaviors that you don't need anymore.
posted by iguanapolitico at 7:58 AM on January 17, 2008

Response by poster: Yeah, so I answered YES to 10 of the 15 OA questions that shaarog posted. Um, well...ok then. Good times.

The good news is I think just posting my concerns yesterday made me feel better all around -- I guess this is why journaling is recommended by many therapists. I've never been much of a journal-keeper, but maybe I should start.

The other thing that I feel better about is that I had no trigger-ish foods in the house to consume last night (a prime bingeing time is after the kids are in bed). I finished all the ice cream and granola the night before... there was no breakfast cereal, no muffins or cookies at all... I had nothing to binge on. And although I felt true anxiety at not having my dessert fix, I survived.

iguanapolitico - Your posts here are really helpful. I do realize it's not the eating that's the problem, there's some underlying thing that's driving me to eat. I just have to sort out what that is. And actually most of what you talked about is pretty relevant to my issues as well. You brought up group therapy -- I never thought about it, but I imagine that might be a better fit for me also. I never feel quite myself when talking to a therapist -- there's the whole "stand-off" thing (I don't know if that happens to other people) and in general I just feel... weird about talking one-on-one with someone about my problems. It's so much easier to talk to the entire Internet. ;)
posted by missuswayne at 6:11 PM on January 17, 2008

Response by poster: Oh, and I have been on Wellbutrin in the past... and I'm hoping to add it into the mix after I finish nursing (I have a 9 month old) as I did well on it before.

As far as ADD drugs go, before my last pregnancy I did actually take one (methylphenidate, the generic for Ritalin) briefly and although it did initially increase my focus and seemed to be a good fit, over a 4-6 week period the side effects became too annoying, so I stopped. My dr has suggested I consider trying another of this type of med, but I'm a little reluctant. I think in my case exercise would have the same effect or better.
posted by missuswayne at 6:19 PM on January 17, 2008

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