Oprah, You Can Stop Binging!
After reading an online article about Oprah’s binge eating thirty pounds of mac and cheese, I couldn’t stop thinking about her pain and the many people out there suffering from compulsions to eat.
“Emotional eating” and “emotional triggers” are terms bandied about by weight-loss psychologists. Emotional eating refers to binging in an attempt to assuage one’s emotions. Emotional triggers are upsetting events or experiences that instigate emotional eating. Psychologists focus on emotional trauma as a way of treating craving/binging. I believe that to focus only on the emotional reasons for overeating is to miss the larger picture.
Your brain is hardwired for survival. When it doesn’t get what it needs, you’ll have problems, guaranteed. Let’s look at two factors of deprivation that create unhealthy brains: lack of nourishment and famine.
Nutrition matters because our body and brain break down and rebuild on a cellular level 24/7/365. This intricate replacement process requires that we eat the same biochemicals that we’re made up of—plant and animal foods. You want to provide your body and brain with the best-quality building materials available. If you don’t eat a balanced diet of real, living food, but instead eat and drink soy products or other factory-produced foods and drinks—or even a diet comprised of nothing but veggies—it’s like remodeling your house with deficient, inferior materials. If you choose to remodel your body year upon year with deficient or inferior materials, your metabolism will begin to falter. Your body and brain will break down more than they will rebuild, and you’ll be speeding toward accelerated aging, including brain aging.
A diet of factory food like mac and cheese also does not provide the nutrients necessary for the body to make what I call “happy” neurotransmitters. Brains made up of unhealthy building materials and deprived of happy neurotransmitters understandably go haywire, and one unfortunate outcome is binge eating. We know this to be true because of studies that were done the end of World War II. The Minnesota Semi Starvation Study beautifully demonstrated how malnutrition launches abnormal psychological responses. In that study, researchers wanted to understand how to deal with starvation victims after the war ended. They recruited men aged 23 to 33 who were conscientious objectors but wanted to help the war effort. After six months of semi-starvation, the men entered a three-month nutritional rehabilitation program. But even when the researchers provided them with unrestricted amounts of food, the volunteers remained agitated, nervous, withdrawn, impatient, and self-critical. They demonstrated distorted images of their bodies, along with extremely aberrant eating behaviors, such as voracious appetites followed by large and rapid food intake. In addition, they exhibited lack of control and distress over amounts eaten; they complained of hunger despite huge meals; they believed that eating “triggered” hunger; they suffered from cravings and obsession with food, as well as secrecy and defensiveness over food; they became newly preoccupied with body shape and weight; they scavenged or ate from garbage containers; they stole, hid, hoarded and manipulated others for food; they made bizarre mixtures of food; they ate unpalatable and inappropriate food (raw meat, scraps); they used excessive spicing and flavoring; they exhibited poor table manners (licking knives and bottle lids, collecting crumbs, gnawing at bones); they preferred to eat in isolation; they induced vomiting or ate until they vomited; they suffered self-loathing; they took drastic measures to resist binges; and they relapsed into binge eating despite their rehabilitation efforts. What’s more, they became morose and obsessive.
As much as someone might hate themselves for binge eating, it’s not the result of a weak will. It’s a normal physiological response to malnutrition and famine caused by an imbalanced diet that’s heavily weighted with sugar and highly refined carbs, like mac and cheese.
Now, I’m not completely discounting the emotional aspect of binge eating. Emotional triggers are the result of “conditioned response.” The classic study of conditioning was conducted by Russian physiologist and experimental psychologist Ivan Petrovich Pavlov, who discovered the conditioned response. Pavlov began by ringing a bell (conditioned stimulus) and presenting his dogs with food. At first, the dogs salivated at the sight and scent of the food (unconditioned response). But after a number of trials the dogs salivated as soon as the bell was rung (conditioned response), even without the presentation of food. It took a very short time for Pavlov to detect the conditioning of his dogs to the bell.
Reinforced conditioning for sugary factory-food products begins in infancy and continues through childhood and adulthood. For many, eating sugar is associated with alleviating (however fleetingly) any type of pain. Because many brains lack happy neurotransmitters, these individuals feel pain a lot. They crave, feel insecure, unconfident, tired, cranky, depressed, obsessive, and so on. And because some have conditioned their brains to associate a temporary sugar high with feeling better, that Pavlovian bell is always ringing. Thus we are an unnaturally hungry society that’s “conditioned” to knee-jerk react to any type of pain by ingesting horrendously unhealthy junk.
Binge eating should be addressed first by eating real, living food so that, cell by cell, a new, healthy brain can form. At the same time, real, living food will replenish happy brain neurotransmitters. Purging our culture of sugary factory-food products and making real, living food abundant, affordable, and convenient (including organically produced protein, fats, and cholesterol) would stop the cycle of so-called emotional eating for most people.
We may not have a personal chef, like Oprah, who will whip up thirty pounds of mac and cheese at our command (and really, I’m appalled that any chef would do that for anyone, even Oprah). But consider that the majority of Americans aren’t gestated or raised on real, living food, which would provide them with the nutrients crucial for brain and body development. Many pregnant women consume soft drinks and eat chemicalized, HFCS-laden factory-food products. They don’t breastfeed long enough or at all, and then they feed their children sugary, synthetic, dead factory products. Consequently, we’re a nation that doesn’t have the healthy brains we’re genetically predisposed to have. On top of that, we don’t give our unhealthy brains the nutrients necessary to produce happy neurotransmitters. People with neurotransmitter imbalances tend to act out—cutting themselves, smoking cigarettes, abusing drugs, being sexually promiscuous, and generally directing their pain toward themselves. Some neurotransmitter-imbalanced people project their pain outward, and their rage lands them in prison, where their chemical imbalances are further agitated by a diet of the cheapest, most noxious substances in the American food supply. And then some people, like Oprah, self-medicate on factory-food products, living their lives in desperation, dreading the next binge and the self-loathing that follows.
The way to stop binging is to rid your life of factory-produced food. Resolve with your family and friends (so no one makes you that mac and cheese) to eat only real, living food, which will provide you with amino acids, essential fatty acids, cholesterol, and other nutrients necessary to build a healthy brain that is flooded with happy neurotransmitters. Real foods are foods that could be picked, gathered, milked, hunted, or fished, have been grown or raised in a clean environment, and have not undergone any science fiction processing.
Start today, and those binges will become fewer and farther in between. Pretty soon, you’ll be on the most exciting ride of your life: Getting healthy, sexy, and happy.