Blurry Newman 311.
(photo credit: MCT)
I was and still am an avid Seinfeld fan. In one episode called “The Muffin Tops,”
Elaine convinces her ex-boss, Mr. Littman, to sell muffins with the
stumps removed. Elaine must get rid of the muffin stumps. The homeless agency
refuses to accept muffins without their tops. Elaine next turns to Kramer for
help. No luck. Not even the sanitation department will accept them.
Elaine, there is only one solution. She hires the “cleaner,” Newman. Jerry
Seinfeld’s hefty nemesis shows up with his equipment – an enormous appetite,
cartons of milk and his favorite activity, binge eating.
also called compulsive overeating, is characterized by eating large amounts of
food while experiencing a loss of control over the amount consumed. This
perceived loss of control is an essential feature of compulsive
Binge eaters often begin eating when they are not hungry, and
then continue to eat past the point of physical fullness. They typically eat
very rapidly and may eat alone due to embarrassment about the quantity of food
they are consuming. During the eating episode, some individuals describe feeling
distracted, numb or in a trance-like state. Afterward, most experience
self-loathing, shame and guilt.
Binge eaters are often caught in the
vicious cycle of binge eating and a multitude of stressors.
their lives, they have learned to turn to food as a way of comforting painful
emotional states or just to alleviate tension, anxiety, boredom and, for some,
being alone. There is a difference between the binge eating that occurs in
compulsive overeating and binge eating in bulimia. Bulimics binge eat and then
purge – self-induced vomiting. Non-bulimic binge eaters do not
Binge eating meets all the criteria of an addiction – loss of
control, compulsive use of food and the inability to cut back on this behavior
even when the individual is risking potential health problems such as heart
disease, diabetes, stroke, hypertension and impotence.
addictions, once a person learns to use food in such a compulsive and
overindulgent manner, compulsive overeating becomes conditioned or associated
with all types of situations, people and places where the behavior takes place.
These subtle and not-so-subtle cues trigger the impulsive eating
One can see that regardless of the origins of the use of food to
deal with emotions, the behavioral pattern has a life of its own. For example,
many compulsive overeaters cannot refrain from binge eating when they are in the
kitchen. The kitchen triggers an all-or-nothing perception of food that doesn’t
allow the individual to set limits and control his/her eating.
someone else, a negative emotional state such as having a marital fight can
trigger a full-scale overeating episode.
It is not uncommon for binge
eaters to eat normally or even restrictively in front of others and then make up
for eating less by compulsively overeating in private. Compulsive overeating
late at night when others are asleep is very common.
The bottom line is
that somehow eating has been chosen as the preferred way to handle negative
emotions. This psychological pattern makes you fall off the diet wagon time and
Help A person with a binge eating disorder has to be ready
and motivated to change. This often happens because of fear of illness or
compromising one’s responsibilities as a parent, spouse, student or worker or
just being sick and tired of being out of control.
therapy, which teaches clients to identify and modify irrational thoughts and
learn new behavior, is at the core of treatment. Motivational enhancement,
regular exercise, nutritional guidance and support from others, such as
attending a 12-step program like Overeaters Anonymous, all aim to help the
individual achieve the goal of losing weight and maintaining the
Shortly after the Seinfeld series ended, the real life actor who
played Newman, Wayne Knight, a self-confessed binge eater, heeded the warning of
his cardiologist that unless he got his 327 lb.
(148 kg.) weight down, he
was heading toward either a stroke or early death. This was enough to get Knight
motivated and a combination of a 1,500-calorie-a-day diet with regular workouts
and a lot of persistence and determination plus loads of emotional support
gradually helped him get his weight down to under 200 lb.
His advice to
others is to be persistent and don’t give up. “It’s like you’re climbing a
mountain,” he says. “Look down, look how far you’ve come, wow!” (48 Hours
interview, CBS, September 3, 2004) 12-step meetings in Israel can be found at
the following sites.
Dr. Gropper is a marital, child and adult psychotherapist practicing
in Jerusalem and Ra’anana. firstname.lastname@example.org