Sunday, 21 March 2010

The Anatomy of a Binge - and Why I Need to Get Ill

I once again I have thrown myself to the bottom of the health ladder and am currently clawing my way back from non-Paleo, through pseudo Paleo towards proper Paleo.

Last weekend, it was my friend’s birthday party. We live in society in which celebration is inextricably bound to food and alcohol. The significance of the former is usually signified by the volume of the latter. Accordingly, the itinerary for this party saw the revellers hitting a cocktail bar valiantly early, after which, a few hours later, a restaurant. Then, one of our friends hosted the rest of the night at his house, where the breathtakingly well-stocked drinks cabinet was seemingly incapable of depletion.

The night was a reminder of how social triggers usually precipitate my binges, and how alcohol seems to play a physiological as well as a psychological role; as well as the drunken state eroding will power at the time, the hangover later creates sugar and salt cravings.

Yet the following day it was evening before I was able to muster the energy and stomach space for food. Great – a 24 hour fast, I hear you say; but if my last meal the day before was eaten at midnight, and I continued to drink calorie-crammed alcohol through most of the early hours of the next morning, I suspect I don't qualify for much praise.

Thus, at 8pm, a rag bag trio of casualties (Mrs M, a fellow party-goer and me) summoned the strength of will to attend our local Chinese restaurant – what better way to satiate those hangover urges than with that heady mix of salty and sweet of food.

Before the weekend, I had resolved to eat healthily the night after the party. As we traipsed up the road to Wong’s, I inwardly chuckled at my naivety.

After half a bottle of wine, a crispy duck and a plate of chicken and cashew nuts, I was ready to put the final nail in the coffin. On the way home, as we rolled past the local supermarket, I dodged in to grab a couple of slices of cheesecake. Back at home, these were quickly devoured and I stumbled into bed soon afterwards, where no doubt this grotesque cocktail of poisons slowly fermented in my outraged gut.

The next day started well. Loosely following my
three-day binge recovery plan, I planned to eat low carb, mostly Paleo, but not worry about volume. I would ease my way out of the binge mentality with Paleo treats. I took a couple of fat-laden free-range pork chops out of the freezer, laying the groundwork for a tasty Paleo evening meal.

For breakfast, in spite of not being sure whether I was genuinely hungry, I feasted on coconut cream, fruit, nuts and cocoa powder:

But by lunch, I’d been gripped by the need to indulge. Nut butter, my normal, pseudo Paleo crutch, was somehow not offering what I needed, so I bought a block of cheese, rationalising that
at least it’s low carb and, according to some, the least bad dairy option.

I also bought some smoked mackerel fillets.

Thus, my lunch, eaten semi-hungry, was this:

Make no mistake – this was a lot of food. I could probably have comfortably survived until dinner the next day on this alone; but a couple of hours later I found myself being offered chocolate cake by my friend whose birthday we had celebrated at the weekend. It had to be finished, after all. Two slices later, all hope of having an appetite for the pork chops was gone.

Yet emotionally I was already locked into the pork chops. With Mrs M away that week, dinner in front of the TV was to be the highlight of the evening.

And so, in spite of a complete lack of hunger, I later devoured both pork chops, along with broccoli drowned in melted cheese:

It had been important to finish the cheese so I could eat clean the next day. This is, of course, nonsense - I could have wrapped the cheese up and simply not eaten it the following day. I then finished off with some chocolate eggs Mrs M had left lying around; I had already eaten chocolate cake earlier, so it ‘made no difference.’

I’ve already messed up today anyway


So that I can make a clean start tomorrow

... are two of the most frequently used rationalisations in our house.

The following day, I fasted until lunch, when I was meeting birthday boy. Today was going to be 100% Paleo. From the menu, I selected a half roast chicken; but I forgot to ask them to hold the fries and instead of changing my order, rather slyly convinced myself I would leave the fries on the side of the plate.

When the food arrived, at first I did indeed avoid the fries; but when my friend offered me a breaded onion ring, I obeyed. Then I dipped a piece of chicken into his sour cream dip. I was clearly daring myself to have another day of eating garbage - and before long I’d decimated my fries, half of his fries and a fistful of those frightful sauce sachets, ranging from ketchup to mayonnaise.

From the pub we proceeded directly to the cake shop, where we bought one fruit tartlet each. Mine was gone in seconds. I could have eaten another without blinking, but already birthday boy was balking.

“You’re not even in the same league, are you?” said I, by now resigned to another day of dietary self-destruction.

Back in the cake shop, I acquired a blackberry and apple turnover...

... and finally, some chocolates to finish:

That evening I ate homemade soup. Even I have my limits, and no amount of rationalisation would have convinced me to shovel any more crap on top of the mound of filth now festering in my intestines.

For the rest of the week I was pretty good, though I still hadn’t yet got my moderation mojo back. I was eating Paleo meals that were too big then binging on nuts.

Finally, on Friday, I pulled a perfect Paleo day out of the bag. These were the highlights:

- 9 minutes intense interval training
- 60 seconds of very cold shower
- Fasted all day until dinner
- Drank only water and herbal tea
- Organic chicken with roasted vegetables for evening meal

Then, last night, just as I was about to escape the orbit of planet binge - engine trouble. One too many wines, and I lost the plot. The primary rationalisations this time were

well I haven’t really recovered from the last binge, so layering another day on top will make little difference

I can start afresh next week

I think the photos speak for themselves.

I have become finely tuned to the effects of eating bad food, so had no trouble connecting the post-binge puffy eyes, lack of alertness, uncomfortable guts and morning grogginess with the non-Paleo lapses of the last 18 months; but apparently these consequences are not enough to deter me.

That’s why I need to get ill. I think this would put me off – or at least reduce the frequency.

Since the start of last year, I have not had so much as a cold. Is it the vitamin D supplementation? Or perhaps the post-binge super-Paleo days like Friday? Maybe it’s the Paleo eating I do the rest of the time. Maybe all of them. Whatever the reason, it seems too easy. I need to be taught a lesson.


guy said...


due to large amount of small children my opportunities to binge via night outs are slim. However these small children are not fed paleo, and there are inordinate amounts of sweets/biscuits/cakes/icecream permanently lying round the house. And like you once I start I can quickly move from a packet of hula hoops -> aplate of nachos and melted cheese ->a wholepacket of haribos -> a magnum ice cream or 2 ->half a pack of digestives

I love reading about your binges M, not only do they make me giggle but they serve to ease my own guilt :-)

Unknown said...

Chortle (mixed with rueful recognition). I loved reading this. I particularly enjoy the way you meticulously pause to photograph each item before you scarf it down. When I get my binge on the food goes from plate to mouth with the speed of light! No time to photograph it!

Like you, I haven't had so much as a sniffle since I "went Primal" a year ago.

Jenny said...

I feel like I could have written this binge story myself! Thanks for this honest post -- we'll all do a bit better the next time...

Tony said...

I’m new to paleo but already I know exactly what you’re talking about here. My weaknessed are cheese, peanut butter and chocolate ice cream. I try not to beat myself up, I just get back up and carry on the next day. (The whole “I’ll just finish this off so it won’t be here tomorrow” thing sure rings a bell with me - damn I like cheese!)

Digya blog!

Drs. Cynthia and David said...

Hilarious! I bet you are fun at a party too! I think you have binging down to an art form. The amazing thing is that you can tolerate it without it ruining your waistline.

It is intriguing that binging leads to more binging. Why is that? I think it's because the stomach enjoys it (and hence the rest of the body does too). Real paleo peoples would have binged too if they could have. But they would have run out of material to binge on a lot sooner than we do.

I was hunting today for leftover chestnuts for PaleoPrincess (who's doing a HG challenge for 3 months), and it was pretty bleak this far from harvest. If I had to eke out a meal on them alone, I would have gone quite hungry today. So enjoy your paleo binges along with your paleo fasts. It's all part of the game isn't it?


Shel said...

I understand your need to get ill. I was there. I got ill. And then used it as an excuse to just keep eating crap because I was feeling like crap already. It took looking back over 2 months of my diary to realize how my binges developed and how long they kept me sick. I realized that I had an addiction and treated certain foods as such. I'm now almost 6 weeks free. I need a pin or something. Anyways, I hope you find a way to break free. The one bad thing about going paleo/primal is that binges have a far greater affect on your body than before.

c wiss said...

I'm with Shel -- the getting sick thing doesn't work very well as a deterrent...

I'll eat a day of Paleo, still have digestive issues the next AM, and then use that as an excuse for why "it doesn't matter" if I eat clean that day. "The Paleo didn't make a difference, I'm already sick, who cares?"

When in reality, it's gonna take more than one day of clean eating to fix my gut.

Methuselah said...

Thanks for your comments everyone.

Guy - Mrs M has a habit of keeping things around the house too, as she is a more frequent, but more minor lapser than me. This means that when I do lapse, I have the same sort of problem with access that you do!

Judith - I think it's since I realised the cathartic benefits of confession that I started taking photos of the bad food as well as good. The more detailed the confession the better I feel.

Tony - thanks. You should try nut butter instead of peanut butter - at least then it's pseudo-Paleo. probably not quite as nice though...

Cynthia - yes, it's all part of the game and I think you've hit the nail on the head in that we're programmed to binge because scarcity would formerly have protected us from it's happening too often and to too great an extent.

Shel / c wiss - for me, being ill is the ultimate driver to eat healthily. I understand the point though, because Mrs M also eats worse when she's not well. I get so angry with myself when I am ill that I live like a monk.

Matthew C. Baldwin said...

This makes me feel SO much better about myself.

I also had a binge over the weekend. And I also have had a hard time trimming back to non-binge levels of caloric intake. I binge and then keep eating 3500+ calories per day. And I also find that I have kept on eating certain non-paleo bingey food items for a couple of days after my binge (specifically, potatoes and heavy cream).

Yet, my troubles returning to normal eating pale in comparison with yours! Thanks for making my day brighter. :-P

On a more serious note, I think you already see that it's the alcohol. Time for a break?

Methuselah said...

Hi Matthew - yep, it's the booze alright. Would be interesting to examine the dynamics of a boozeless binge - it's just that I never want to binge except when I have been drinking. Or rather, I have the self control not to, which includes not wanting to do it even for an experiment! Been a clean week since Sunday though - not even any nuts!

Matthew C. Baldwin said...

Methuselah, well, if you want an account of a boozeless binge, check out my last blog post, at:

Methuselah said...

Matthew - I will do. Will be nice to read about someone else's binging for change!

Anonymous said...

Thank you immensely for posting! I had no idea that there was someone out there with as similar thoughts as I. I know the feeling! Totally. The feeling of "oh what the hell, the day is botched already" and the sweet clean feeling of a perfect day. Not to mention I do interval trainin followed by cold showers as well ; )


Valda Redfern said...

I think my weight would have doubled if I'd had a week like that.

I'm with you on needing to feel ill in order to get put off. When I started smoking, I was so cautious that I never felt ill at all, and soon developed a thirty-a-day habit. After I 'stopped', though, I had occasional lapses during which I would buy a pack of ten cigarettes and then smoke five of them one after another. Those episodes made me feel so sick that three or four of them were enough to kill the habit for good.

Methuselah said...

Anon - I have a feeling there might be a few of us about. I am starting to wonder whether we do just because we can. We have the tools with which to heal ourselves, so we act with corresponding recklessness!

Valda - my weight did shoot up... but I think only a little of it was fat. Clean eating, fasting and intense exercise seem to clean a lot of it out in a matter of days, leaving just a pound or two of fat. Glad you kicked the smoking for good. Sugar and junk food are definately a tougher one to beat!

Grokette said...

Getting ill can help. Kept me off of praline turtles to this day (and it was a pre-primal binge a couple decades ago).

This is the exact reason why I am trying to get my husband to stop buying the candy and sodas to have laying around the house, because if they're there, I eat. If they're not, I'm happy not doing so.

Methuselah said...

Grokette - I have the misfortune to live very close to a bakery that sells good cakes and a supermarket that sells just about everything you could ever want to binge on. This is arguably worse than just having a few things in the house. One too many wines and it's a stone's throw to Aladdin's cave...

Deanna said...

This made me laugh out loud. I've been there, but my binges have rarely been alcohol-related.

For me, it always starts with something chocolatey, especially if it's a chocolate chip cookie. It's never just one chocolate chip cookie, it ALWAYS turns into 8. Then I want the bag of Hershey's Bliss. Then I want chips, usually barbecue with ranch or French Onion dip, then my body starts craving "real" food so hubby and I order a large pizza with cheesy sticks. Yes, I have my binge down to a science!

Anonymous said...

Ate 3 giant choc chip cookies today. Don't know why yet. Two hours later felt as if hit by truck had to take nap I was so tired. Felt like crap rest of evening. Back to apple tomorrow. Not worth it to binge.

Methuselah said...

Sandy, I am starting to get that way myself - you know you're in trouble when you have regular binge foods. For me it's cheesecake from the local supermarket :-(

Anon - agreed, it's not worth it. Yet still we do it.

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