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Treating food as ‘substance’ key to stopping binge eating
Wednesday, 27 August 2008 - 4:07pm
With the growing demand on people to meet a certain standard with their body and their image because of the media, more and more people are finding themselves falling into the traps of anorexia and bulimia, two eating disorders now classified as mental illnesses.
However, the flipside to this obsessive nature of controlling food and becoming thin is the danger of binge eating and obesity—a growing pandemic where people use food as a substance, much like using a narcotic.
The two sides seem to be opposite of each other, but in truth, both sides have a problem that Paul Murphy, a recovering male binge eater out of Thunder Bay would call an “unhealthy marriage with food.”
Murphy, after receiving treatment for binge eating, decided to put himself out there as a model of the illness in hopes that people with this problem will be able to recognize it as such and, with the proper tools, find a solution.
Part of his campaign is to label food as a “substance”—a substance with the potential for issues equal with alcohol or drug use.
He emphasized that in the case of a binge eater, food is something that numbs them.
“For some people alcohol takes them, or numbs them, or triggers them, or does something—but for some alcohol doesn’t do it but food does,” he remarked.
His campaign is gaining speed and with the help of his Youtube videos under “Obesity Thunder Bay” and his own efforts, Murphy has accumulated the support of Thunder Bay/Rainy River MP Ken Boshcoff, Thunder Bay-Superior North MPP Michael Gravelle, and a few more and has been endorsed by Gravelle who wrote letters to the Health Minister as well as Premier Dalton McGuinty.
“The hope is that our region is going to be at the front of this change,” enthused Murphy. “[We are looking to create a] shift to move people into inspiration instead of discrimination because people have to understand that obesity is just a by-product from something else.”
In setting out his purpose, he did make it clear that obesity is not the whole problem here. While obesity does present many health related problems, the main issue here is the use of food for something other than nourishment.
Further, in treating someone who binges, the desired outcome should not be a focus on weight loss but rather re-gaining that balance with food—finding a healthy relationship with food instead of abusing it.
Murphy outlined that in his life he has always been pre-occupied with food and has thought about food literally 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
He recalled that before treatment, oftentimes he would find himself sitting down before supper and talking about what they should be eating the next night.
This preoccupation with food still did not indicate to Murphy that there may be a problem with his eating habits. It was only with the guidance of a friend that he eventually sought out help.
“I didn’t know what I was dealing with,” he announced.
“I guess it would be like having a monster in your closet,” said Murphy. “There’s no way of knowing the size of the monster but there’s no way you are going to open up the door to check, so you carry it and it becomes a part of you.”
He explained that it is easy to have a problem but to not be able to see it because you don’t recognize it for what it is.
Murphy noted that he knew what anorexia and bulimia were but he didn’t see binging as being part of that string of eating disorders.
He identified his problem as coming from his childhood.
“For me, we were living in poverty and our basic needs as children were not met so I never really had the opportunity to create a healthy relationship with food,” he described, recalling the feelings he had in his youth, “It was always feast or famine and I didn’t understand that that was going to manifest itself into something further.
“You know as a child I went to bed hungry many nights and as an adult I refused to go to bed hungry.
“I would have tomorrow’s breakfast tonight at around 8:30 and that’s just how I rationalized. I rationalize like that all the time,” he revealed.
Murphy noted that this is something he deals with all the time and even after two years of being trained in mechanized eating—that is, eating proper meals when you are hungry, not eating when you desire food for ulterior reasons—he is finally able to come to grips with his illness.
“It’s been two years,” he added. “Am I out of the woods? No, I don’t think I’m out of the woods, but I do know that I am more self-aware.”
And that, he said, is the key. Being self-aware and realizing that what you are doing is unhealthy and a result of some other problem, you are able to be sated with food, taste your food, and move towards a more healthy relationship with food.
He offered an example of having a cookie on your desk.
Murphy described that before treatment he would not budge for just one cookie. Unless there was a whole roll of cookies he would not even be tempted.
“There is a word called ‘sated’ and I could never understand what that word meant,” Murphy admitted. “‘Sated’ meaning that one cookie at your desk is satisfying enough and it fills that little craving and it’s a little snack that you can enjoy.”
But he posed the question, “But if you can’t taste it, then how can that happen?”
And that was another issue he had. He would starve himself all day in order that he could justify eating all he wanted at the end of the day. He would be so hungry and so thirsty that he would just eat and eat and drink and drink to satisfy his urges without a thought to what it tasted like.
When binging, Murphy reported eating until he was in severe pain.
Much like someone over-indulges during a Thanksgiving or Christmas meal, Murphy would indulge daily in his food—not tasting it but shovelling it in to satisfy whatever feelings he had.
The issue that needed to be addressed the most in his life was balance.
He explained that if your balance is off-kilter because to you balance is drinking a case of beer a day or eating 5,000 calories in a day you need to filter your mind-set to achieve that balance again.
“That filter needs to be adjusted,” he emphasized. “It needs to be clarified and that’s where treatment comes in and that’s where you need to be able to recognize that what you’re feeling you need is wrong.”
Murphy also addressed the issue that eating disorders often do affect men but the socialization in our society disregards man as being the one who sometimes needs help.
The man who works with Murphy, John Eposti of the Smith Clinic in Thunder Bay, presented the idea that women are able to seek help more readily in the face of a problem as there is no social stigma for a woman to reach for help. Whereas in the psyche of a male, they insist that there is nothing wrong in order to evade coming off looking as if they have weakness.
But regardless, male or female everyone can reach out for help and should reach out for help because families and loved ones are affected by people who do not ask for help when they need it.
Murphy stressed that seeing someone you love doing something like that to themselves can put trauma in their own lives as well and that is not good to do to them.
“Obesity is such a personal issue and for many it is embarrassing . . . I can’t hide my obesity. Where am I going to hide it?” asked Murphy.
“I wanted to take myself and put myself at risk [of being in the spotlight] and by putting myself at risk I’m hoping that others will feel more comfortable talking about it.”
When it comes down to it, Murphy just wants everyone to examine themselves and think about the question, “Am I using food as a substance?” If you can answer “yes” to that question then he encourages you to seek help from a mental health professional.
He added that the fight here is against obesity but not the obese person, so in realizing the problem may exist you can take steps to create your own intervention.
If you think that you may be suffering from an “unhealthy marriage with food” in any way, you can go to the Riverside Community Counselling Services in Fort Frances to find help.
For a closer look at Paul Murphy’s campaign or his personal battle with binge eating you can check out “Obesity Thunder Bay” at Youtube.com and you can also visit his own YouTube channel to see more footage from the Rudd Centre out of Yale University.
The goal is to promote the conversation of obesity,or OBE$ITY. We want to challenge the Fault Based Model,Blaming Fails to create the Community Based Intervention needed. Our Model is called,SHARED ACCOUNTABILITY.