“What is a binge?”
I’m sure there’s a clinical, medically approved definition out there – of which I’m too lazy to Google – but here’s my definition: A binge is an alien invasion.
An alien invasion could happen on any given day, but let’s just say for the sake of this discussion, it’s a work day.
I’m minding my own business, doing my work, when all of a sudden an alien descends upon my brain. It starts whispering in my ear.
“You should have some of that work cake.” Its voice is lilting, slithery. “You won’t binge. You’ll have one piece and then stop. I swear.”
I recognize the voice. This isn’t my first invasion. “Knock it off,” I say. “I’ve never, ever been able to have one piece of cake in my entire life.”
Nothing Bundt trouble.
To prove my point, I mentally run through a lifetime of futile attempts to eat just one piece of cake. The specifics don’t matter. It could be the work cake, Bundt cake, Hostess cupcake … as long as the word “cake” in the description, I have no defense against it.
The work cake, however, is the worst possible of all cake situations. A work cake is a public cake. A work cake brings witnesses.
Let’s say, again for the sake of this discussion, a coworker is having a birthday and we’re celebrating with a full-sheet cake covered in frosting roses.
Harmless enough, right?
I follow the crowd into the break room, sing badly to the embarrassed celebrant, smile politely.
Let’s say I accept the passed-out slice of cake on a paper plate with the fork sticking out like an umbrella in a drink.
I tell myself I am just going to have one piece and I completely mean this. I take the dainty plastic fork, inert it into the cake, and take a calm bite.
It’s good. I’m not a picky cake eater so I enjoy whatever flavor I’m eating.
I take a second bite, and then a third. As I enjoy the sweet taste, I wonder why I make such a big deal out of all this. Why all the fuss?
And then the sugar hits my system and I turn into an animal.
On the outside I am completely normal. I smile. I nod. I listen politely.
On the inside, I am shoving aside my coworkers like Moses parting the Red Sea and diving head first into the cake, like Al Pacino into a pile of cocaine in Scarface.
I keep it together until my coworkers return to their desks and the work cake is alone in the break room, defenseless.
I wait until the coast is clear and then move with velocity. Time is of the essence. With a plastic fork, I harpoon chunks of leftover cake and shove them into my mouth, while swiping frosting of my chin and shoving crumbs off my pants.
There can be no evidence.
I eat as much as I can, as fast as I can, until the tap-tap-tap of my coworkers’ heels approach the kitchen.
Panicking, I dump handfuls of cake onto a plate, cover it with a napkin, and dash off into the bathroom. I find an empty stall and devour the remaining cake standing next to the toilet.
“Look, Alien,” I say returning to the present. “I’ve gained twenty pounds. I’m not eating cake. Most of my pants don’t fit anymore.”
“Oh, but you can’t be deprived!” it insists. “One piece of cake won’t hurt you. This time will be different.”
“No, it won’t.” I know better.
“Yes, it will.”
At some point I realize I am outgunned and I attempt call for backup. But the alien is too fast.
I reach for the phone, but it puts its hand over mine. It tells me not to bother; I’m going to binge anyway.
I grab a pen, but it snatches it out of my hand; I’m “too far gone” to write away my feelings.
Perhaps sensing threat, the alien ups its game. It breaks out a slideshow.
The alien begins showing me images of all the Hostess products that are, inexplicably, my favorite binge foods: Ding Dongs, Ho Ho’s, Suzy Q’s … they show up in vivid color with extra attention given to my favorite, the Twinkie.
The alien knows me well. It knows better than to show me Sno Balls, because even I can’t eat that gelatinous concoction of desiccated coconut-and-marshmallow they call frosting.
Everything else, however, is fair game.
After the Hostess slides end, the alien breaks out new ones. It shows me the food I was denied – but desperately wanted – as a child: ice cream covered in the syrup that hardens into a solid sheet of frozen chocolate deliciousness (“Magic Shell” they used to call it), lemon-filled jelly donuts, and – again, my binging sensibilities make no sense – whole grain breakfast cereal.
And if all that doesn’t work, the alien will then dig deep and pull out the Big Gun. The one that always gets me to cave.
“You’ll start again tomorrow,” the alien says. “Tomorrow will be Day 1. After tonight, you’ll never binge again. I promise.”
I’ll shake my head.
“Day 1,” it insists.
My mind goes blank except for one thought: Day 1.
I can start again on Day 1. And tonight I can eat all the food that is now ingrained in my mind because, starting tomorrow I’ll never eat them again.
The drill sergeant.
Once I agree to a binge, it’s no more Mr. Nice Alien.
“Get food!” it barks. “Get it on your way home from work. Besides, you have no life. Nobody likes you anyway.”
Sometimes I have plans and I remind the alien of the evening beach walk, AA meeting, or Pilates class, but the alien looks at me like I’m stupid and orders me to cancel.
“Lie,” it demands. “Say you’re sick. Stomach problems.”
I do. I follow orders. I lie. I cancel via text or phone call. I say I’m coming down with a cold or, as instructed, having stomach problems.
I apologize profusely. I tell the people who care about me how much I hate being a flake, and I mean every word. I am drenched in shame. I assure them I’ll never cancel last minute again, but I know they don’t believe me. I’ve said it too many times before.
At 5:00 pm, I say goodbye to my coworkers, calmly walk out the door and to my car.
Immediately I drive to whatever is the closest food-selling establishment, Whole Foods or a gas station mini-mart, at this point it doesn’t matter. Food is food.
Sometimes I lie to the person behind the counter. Sometimes I say I’m babysitting or just have a sweet tooth. I don’t know why I care what he or she thinks, but I do.
I watch, dying inside, as the Hostess products, Haagen-Dazs quarts, and candy bars ding as they cross the scanner and drop down into the waiting brown paper bag.
Once inside my car, I tear open the first wrapper I can get my hands on and shovel food into my mouth. If I run out of food before home, I stop again and reload, piling more plastic-wrapped items onto the passenger’s seat, and eat while I drive.
Adulting. Kind of.
I must say, I do have two binging advantages.
One is that I am fiscally responsible. Thanks to my penchant for cheap food, my compulsive eating does not cause me financial hardship. This is indeed fortunate as each binge could easily add up to over a hundred dollars due to the sheer volume of purchase.
The second is that I am very neat. I organize my binge foods on the counter, wash my hands and face, and put any ice cream I’m not going to eat right away in the freezer. I take out my bowls and utensils and set the table.
I then sit down with a napkin next to me and methodically lay out a magazine and beverage, turn off my phone and proceed to eat with abandon. I eat quickly but neatly, wiping up the sprinkles, coconut flakes, and frosting drips as I go.
The alien returns.
The alien has been silent this whole time, letting me do my thing without interruption.
But when it returns, it do so with precision. It times its first whisper to the direct moment I notice my stomach hurts.
“Look at what you’ve done,” it hisses. “You’re such a pig.”
I keep eating.
“So worthless. Such a piece of shit.”
I don’t argue. I know it’s right.
“You’re such a piece of wasted human space. You deserve to die.”
And I want to die. By this time the binging isn’t fun anymore. I’ve eaten to the point where my stomach is extended to the point where I look pregnant and the pain borders on unbearable.
“You never should have been born. Maybe you’ll die this time. Save us all some trouble.”
But I don’t die. I eat until my body won’t let me take one more bite. And then I lurch from the table, collapse onto the living room floor, and take shallow breaths.
Sometimes in the middle of the night, if there’s still food left, I get up and eat more.
The day after.
I wake up the next day, usually still in the clothes I wore to work, sometimes on the living room floor, but always sick, parched and disgusted.
The alien waits for me in the kitchen; it has been awake for hours.
“Well you’re a big fat cows,” it greets me.
“I know,” I say. Coffee. I need coffee.
“You’re never going to get better,” it sneers.
The alien berates me for about twenty minutes while I drink cup after cup, wondering how I’m ever going to make it into work today. What lies can I tell my boss? How can I hide the bloat?
“Everyone’s talking about how fat you are,” it taunts.
Finally I’ve had enough.
I slam down my coffee cup and from the pit of my swollen, abused stomach, a voice breaks out. My voice.
“Why don’t you go fuck yourself?”
I proceed to tell the alien that no matter how long it takes, I will never stop trying. I tell it that no matter how many times I fall, I will always get up. This foreign, unwelcome creature may have won the battle but it will never win the war.
And then I do what I always do.
I begin again.
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