The reasons we binge are countless. The four I've listed above are just a few of the reasons I could think of off the top of my head for my years and years of binge-eating, denying myself nothing (food-wise), raiding the pantry every time I was alone in the house. I think about the way I used to eat - and the way I still could eat if I let myself - and it's rather unbelievable.
I was out of control. Me stopping at one row of chocolate was unheard of, it just never happened. Me stopping at one potato chip was laughable, I might stop once I'd made my way to the crumbs at the bottom, and even then you'd have had to restrain me from licking the salty flecks off the packet.
When I was alone, either at my own place or at my parents' place, the first thing I would do would be head straight to the pantry and feast on whatever goodies happened to be there. And it wouldn't just be one or two, it would be the whole lot. Regardless of how much I'd eaten that day, or whether I was only an hour or so away from having a proper meal, or whatever. It was just eating for the sake of eating. Joc wrote in her post:
"I am not hungry, and I know that there will be good food tonight, so I want to have enough space to enjoy it. I am not feeling sad, or stressed or anything else like that. The only thing is this, I am at home alone, and I feel like I should head straight to the pantry!"
Since I started my journey to a healthier me, both weight-wise and emotionally, nearly two years ago, there's been a lot of "a-ha!" and penny drop moments when I realised why I behaved in a certain way, why food had such a hold on me, why I used it to smother other problems and feelings that I wasn't prepared to deal with, or moments where I actually became conscious of what I was doing, and why I was doing it. Brooke wrote something on her blog last week or the week before, inspired by Fat is a Feminist Issue, that her being overweight is not the cause of her misery, rather a symptom of it. I agree - my situation was the same. I was not unhappy because I was overweight (although that was what I thought at the time), I was overweight because I was unhappy.
But getting to Goal weight doesn't guarantee you happiness, unfortunately. As I have discovered, unless you're prepared to keep on top of the issues that got you to 103.5kg in the first place, you're in for a rude shock.
Even though I can eat and drink now with a delightful (and mostly guiltless) abandon that I've never experienced before in my life, there are moments where I am susceptible to being a pantry raider. This might be because I am ravenously hungry, like yesterday. All I could think about on the drive home from work was coming home to an empty house and eating. And most likely it would be the remainder of my Haigh's peppermint truffle bar that I'd got with Mum on the weekend. The me of two years ago would not have even thought twice about it, and then probably (seeing she was alone in the house) sniffed around in the fridge, freezer and pantry to see what else she could find.
But instead, I thought about it. I wanted to go for a run in about an hour's time, and so decided to have something that would give me energy and make me feel good while I was running. I've discovered that running after eating a burger and chips and running after eating something wholesome like a bowl of porridge or something produces two very different feelings. And I know which one I prefer.
So having acknowledged my feelings, and discovering I was in fact hungry, not just bored or upset, I went to the freezer and got out a piece of nine grain bread, toasted it and put natural peanut butter and organic loganberry jam on top. Man, it was good. And then I went for a run with my new iPod and felt even more good. The peppermint truffle bar stayed in the fridge.
But my pantry raiding habits occasionally might come up because I'm feeling bored, alone, unwanted, sad.... all those horrible feelings that until a few years ago I never acknowledged within myself and have only really allowed myself to feel over the past year or so. A few weeks ago, I sat in bed alone one Saturday night, watching (of all things) Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, eating a 2 litre tub of choc-mint icecream and roasted almonds. I wasn't eating those things because I was hungry, or because I genuinely felt like treating myself. I was eating them because I was upset. And didn't want to acknowledge it.
The next day I felt like doing the same thing, but Wise Phil insisted on taking Needy Phil for a walk down at Elwood Beach instead. "That was a very loving, kind thing to do for Needy Phil," my counsellor said. "Needy Phil doesn't really need chocolate. She needs to be listened to."
Having pondered on this whole pantry raiding thing this afternoon, I've derived something that is particularly meaningful for me: the idea of going straight to the pantry when I'm alone is fuelled by my desire to eat in secret and not have people know what I'm eating, or even that I'm eating, full stop. That was always an issue for me. Hiding food. Eating where no one could see me. Being scared of eating in public. Sometimes in high school I would go into the toilets, lock myself in and eat in there, just so I could be alone and no one would laugh at me, or draw attention to what I was eating, as was often the case when I ate with my family. But even when I was thin, dangerously thin, in Year 12, I would do the same thing.
In so many ways it is about feeling in control (ironically). My mother maintained a veneer of "you can have anything you want, you just have to ask", but whenever I did ask she would come out with "you don't need that", "no, you can wait until tea time" or "if you're really hungry you can have an apple (or something else that I didn't want)"...... we were always served at dinner as well, there was rarely any self service, so my portions were controlled. If I wanted seconds, I would have to eat quickly, seeing there were six of us. I remember as a child occasionally helping myself to something in the pantry and then having my mother or father discover it - the shame, the humiliation....my cheeks still burn thinking about it. Hence, if I did sneak food out of the pantry 1) I would have to be quick so no one would catch me in the act and 2) I would have to hide it and eat it in secret so no one could see me.
When I moved out of my parents house, one of the greatest joys I had was having full control over the food. My partner at the time seemed to be oblivious to my food habits - he knew I had a big appetite, but then so did he. It was only in the year before we left Hobart that he started noticing how much I ate - particularly chocolate. He would make comments every now and then, not malicious ones, but just things like "you don't have to eat the whole lot at once" or some such.
I remember eating two family blocks of Dove White chocolate one wintry night while reading, and shoving the empty wrappers down the back of the couch so he wouldn't find them and admonish me for my lack of control. I remember we went on a Cadbury factory tour a few months later and bought a 5kg box of chocolates, among many other things. He left a note in the top of the box when he went out for the day, leaving me alone in the house. "Don't eat too many of these, Miss Piggy!" Of course there were kisses and smiley faces after it, but the nagging, shameful feeling in my stomach that accompanied it of course made me eat all the more.
Whenever he went out for the evening or for the day, I would let loose. And I'd plan it ahead of time too, it wouldn't just be whatever I could find in the cupboard. I'd usually go to the supermarket on the way home from work and get a whole tub of icecream, a whole block of chocolate and a bag of frozen chips or wedges to accompany my Lean Cuisine.
Who was I fooling? But more to the point, who I was I hurting? Myself. Only myself.
Once I started becoming more aware of myself and how my self esteem was so inextricably linked to my eating habits, that was when things started to change. I find that I don't binge after being with certain people any more - certainly not around Mum anyway. And even though I haven't seen my ex for six months, I don't think that I would rush up to Koko Black after an encounter with him. Because I don't feel controlled by either of those people any more. I feel free.
I also don't have as much self consciousness about eating that I used to. The very act of it used to repulse me. I couldn't bare having other people watch me eat, feeling like any moment I would become the object of someone's scorn or disbelief. I wrote this post in October 2005, when I was about ten kilos away from my goal weight. That was the very first time in my life that I could remember eating in public and not caring. From that day on, the self consciousness has slowly been disappearing. I still worry about it occasionally, but these days I eat a piece of toast while running for the train or up to Brooke's in the morning, and I stand at the Heidelberg Road lights where I can literally see people looking at me in their cars, but I'm chomping away and it doesn't bother me!
So, theoretically, I should have this whole pantry bingeing thing under control, yes? Well, for the most part I do. I know that eating for reasons other than hunger is not a good idea, and I challenge myself when I find myself doing that. I try to listen to myself and what it is I'm really wanting. And if, after I've been for a run and listened to Needy Phil and everything she has to say, and I still want that peppermint truffle bar, I'll have it. Because I've made the conscious choice to eat it, after considering all the alternatives, I haven't just wolfed it down without thinking about it. But after I've been for a run, or done something good for myself that makes me feel awake and refreshed and alive, it's the last thing I want, nine times out of ten.
But I am human. I regress to the old habits every now and then. I'm a reformed pantry raider, but I don't know if I'll ever be fully cured. I do know, however, that food doesn't make you feel better, not in the long term anyway. You might feel good while you're eating it, but once you're holding that empty icecream tub (and thinking how you can sneak it out to the recycling bin without anyone seeing!) you're right back where you started. But it's not the end of the world if that happens every now and then. The important thing is that you can recognise it, deal with it, think of how you could manage it better next time, and move on.
One of the people who commented on Joc's post about pantry raiding asked the very important question - "We know we do this. What can we do about it?" So, to conclude, these are a few things that have worked for me over the past two years, and continue to work for me when my pantry-raider alert comes on:
• Stop for a minute. Breathe. Take a few moments to think. Ask yourself - "Am I really hungry, or am I looking for something to do? What is something I could do instead? Or if I am hungry and need some food, is there something I would really like to have, rather than just shovel in whatever I can find? Is there a healthy alternative?"
• If you find you're alone in your house and are gravitating towards that pantry, find other things to do. Ask that vulnerable part of yourself who wants to eat what they really want. Are you feeling sad because it seems like everyone else has somewhere to go and somewhere to be but you? Do you feel rejected because you know your friends are all busy that night and haven't asked you along to anything they're doing? Would you ordinarily take yourself off to the movies or something but with your $260 phone bill this month you just can't afford it (don't laugh, that's my situation at the moment!)? Maybe you need to work on being ok with solitude, with being alone.
• If you're using the food as a distraction, find something else to distract you, like knitting, reading, cleaning out a wardrobe. Better yet, figure out what you're trying to distract yourself from. Surely dealing with the problem is going to be better for you in the long run?
And finally, I don't know if the others who've been thinking about this today would agree with me, but I have found that the very act of realisation and the acknowledgement of my behaviour is enough to snap me out of it. That penny-drop moment. Once we've had that, we can't very well follow through with it, because we know what we're doing, we're conscious of it. The minute I become conscious of it, I'm finding that I can summon the will to stop it. Most of the time :)