When my parents first started leaving me home alone, I would sneak into the pantry and open bags of chocolate chips that my mother used for baking and pour them into my mouth. The real jackpot would be when she would also have peanut butter chips and I would hold both bags up to my mouth and “drink” them, per se. Just like an alcoholic “can’t put the bottle down”, it turned out, I couldn’t put food down, and over the past ten years, using food as a drug became a lifestyle as easy to hide as vodka in a water bottle.
Over 4 million Americans, 60% of them women, suffer from binge-eating disorder. For years, binging has only been associated with bulimia, an eating disorder where one binges on food only to throw it back up again, or purge. No one, however, has addressed the binge-eating dilemma that is happening without the purging, until much more recently.
Let me pose a question to you.
Have you ever gotten out of bed at 7am or earlier on a rainy Thursday and…
(if you’re not a performer) packed your gym bag full of Luna Bars and sneakers, a change of clothes for happy hour, a healthy lunch, and a book you don’t have time to read? And drove to work for a full day of business, meetings, and doing your best to avoid those damn bagels in the break room because you are ABSOLUTELY GOING TO THE FUCKING GYM LATER TODAY. Okay well, forgive me for the specific NY audition references below but I have some real treats for you too, okay? Some reeeeeeeal treats. I would never leave you out of my filthy stories.
OR, if you’re in my biz, have you ever gotten out of bed at 7am or earlier on a rainy Thursday and…
(if you’re a woman) packed your purple polka-dotted roll-behind suitcase full of every dance shoe, two leotards (do they want cleavage? do they not want cleavage?), your book, your dress, your heels, your straightener, a healthy lunch, your makeup, your wallet, gym clothes, sneakers, work clothes, work shoes, and a book to read?
(if you’re a man) packed your bookbag or man-purse full of every dance shoe, three and a half changes of clothes (because you guys get SO SWEATY WHEN YOU DANCE), your book, your dress shoes, your non-wrinkle button down, a protein shake, a jar of peanut butter, your gym clothes, sneakers, work clothes, work shoes, and a book to read?
And you trucked your ass to midtown for a long day of auditions varying from an Ogunquit EPA at Chelsea to a Fireside Dance ECC at Nola? And after all, you get called back every year for both of those theatres so obviously your day is going to be packed and you definitely won’t make it home before work so it’s gonna be a loooooong day.
Until you get cut.
Well, what the fuck? Like, what the fuck. You packed all this shit and now it’s only 2pm and you don’t work til 6pm.
I, personally, don’t want to go to the damn gym at this point. I mean, DEAR LORD, everyone knows I just packed that gym shit to make it look like I’m a good, little, healthy actor. Keyword: little. Well, there I am, just freshly cut from the audition. My best friend got kept. And the boys call just started so I have no one to go to lunch with. So, I guess I’ll go home.
On my way home, I smell pizza. I hear the ice cream truck. I walk by Chipotle. And I have no where to be until 6pm. And now I’m home and I don’t know what to do.
So I binge.
There are two types of people reading this.
- people who have binged before
- people who have never binged before (but probably have friends who have binged and don’t quite understand it.)
Binge-eaters, man, we know how to hide. How to sneak. How to get a pack of Tasty-Kakes down from one stop light to the next. How to devour a brownie while our roommate is in the bathroom for mere seconds. How to stand at the buffet table at our happily married friend’s party for the entire night and manage to eat half of everything displayed while most people fill a small plate and go back to their company.
So, if you’ve never binged but has a friend who might, this entry is for you to understand what’s happening here.
If you’re the binger, I offer you my own treasures below.
I would sit in our apartment on 44th and 9th when Christine was out of town and binge on all the “Weight Watchers” friendly food in the apartment. I was on summer vacation from the musical theatre conservatory I was attending in NYC. It was 2007. On any given Thursday, WHILE reading the Weight Watchers message boards, yep, take that one in for a sec, I could finish off a box of All-Bran Crackers, known as a great snack!!! on Weight Watchers!!!! because of the high fiber content!!!!! with Smucker’s Sugar Free Strawberry Jam. And then three or four Weight Watchers Cookies & Cream Ice Cream Bars. And a bowl of Frosted Flakes with skim milk, topped with a bag of 100 Calorie M&M’s. And a few 100 Calorie string cheese sticks. Oh, wait, I mentioned that I had already eaten a normal breakfast, lunch, and dinner during the day right? Oh. Right. Cuz, I did.
A few hours later I would help myself to a small bowl of Sugar-Free Jello – my favorite flavor was the strawberry, man, I loved that shit – and it was 10 calories, but zero Weight Watchers points. So I would throw on a dollop or four of Fat Free Cool Whip (also 0 points…per serving…which is a tablespoon…which is about half the size of a…dollop…) And then I would have another bowl. And another.
And sometimes we also made sugar free pudding and that would be in the fridge for when the Jell-O ran out.
So no one was starving in the Hell’s Kitchen apartment okay?
Point being, roomie – gone. Me – alone. Binging – perfectly secret.
It was secret, and no one knew about it, so it was comforting. It was mine to have. No teacher, parent, or auditioner could take it away from me.
The best part is, every night, I’d sit on the WeightWatchers.com message boards reading about NEW recipes for low calorie versions of high calorie things and NEW products with double the fiber that would make the Weight Watchers points lower. WHILE EATING THIS SHIT. And I would vow to start counting points again the next day.
I would even put the cereal bowl down long enough to post about how I had made an apple in the microwave earlier that day with cinnamon and it was like fat free apple pie! And people would praise my ideas. Mushing up a banana and putting it on a rice cake with cinnamon. How creative! They loved me, loveableditz711. Don’t be jealous of that username okay?
And so, a summer went by full of “good” days and “bad” days. My weight ranged from 148 – 160 during any two week period.
There’s the teeniest, tiniest, most minuscule possibility that perhaps that wasn’t the healthiest thing for my body to go through.
You might be nodding right now. You might be disgusted right now. You might be nodding while being disgusted right now.
Listen, I mean when I put it out there like that, it makes me nod and be disgusted too.
See, I told you that you wouldn’t feel alone while you’re here.
Let’s go for a note of positivity here shall we?
I beat it.
Oh, shit. Just typing that made me well up with tears.
YO. I BEAT THAT SHIT.
Actually, I’m beating it. Present tense. Slowly, but surely.
And I want to share with you how I’m doing it. While I’m doing it.
You deserve a life loaded with full, rich moments that have nothing to do with food and calories and what a roll of cookie dough will do to your thighs.
You deserve to go to Broadway Bares, as I did last night (a strip-a-thon we hold in NYC to benefit BROADWAY CARES/EQUITY FIGHTS AIDS) and be totally okay with where you are right now regardless of if you would look good in pasties at the moment.
And so do I.
And maybe by the time I complete MY journey, this journey I’M taking to break free from bingeing and self-loathing, pasties will be able to shoot laser beams out of them. And the Second Avenue subway will be done. Well, at least from 96th St. to 77th St. But I say, better late than never baby.
On my journey, I’ve learned so much already. Give me a few days here and I have a book list coming for you. Diets I’ve tried. Men I’ve dated and how it’s affected me. How growing up in a dance studio has affected me. Things most of you can relate to. And what it all really comes down to. IT’S NOT ABOUT THE FOOD, DUDE. IT’S NOT.
It’s about what we’re using the food to do – fill in empty space, comfort ourselves, forget bad things.
It’s not. About. The food.
After my first date with my ex-boyfriend, I went home and ate an entire 13oz jar of Nutella because he didn’t kiss me when we said goodnight.
The jar wasn’t even mine. That was last August.
In high school, there were these chocolate chip cookies the size of paper plates that they sold in the cafe for $1.50. We always chopped them up with a fork and poured chocolate milk on them. On certain days, I sat with the cheerleaders who dated seniors. I would shovel my cookie into my mouth at 57 miles per hour and then finish everyone else’s off as they picked at their nachos with their square acrylic nails and talked about the first time they had sex on birth control. I was 17.
When I went to prom as a sophomore, I ate exactly two and a half saltines and three noodles all day. I felt so proud that I got by on such little food all day. You see, there was a pool at the after party and I had a black and white bikini that only looked good from about 9am-10am before I had breakfast. So I knew I did good with my eating choices that day if I wanted to go swimming at 11pm that night. I was a size 4. That was 2003.
In my lifetime, I have gained and lost over 650 pounds. When you add losses and gains of five, ten, twenty, thirty-two pounds over the course of ten years, you end up with a three digit number such as that. For real.
Here’s the thing though. If I was a second grade teacher, maybe that weight fluctuation would be less noticeable. In a corporate office setting, having a closet stocked with six different sizes of blouses and pencil skirts wouldn’t be so terrible. It would be more acceptable to jump from 148 lbs to 165 lbs in ten days if I was a waitress. Or a stay-at-home mom. Or a novelist.
But I’m a performer. So it’s a huge fucking problem.
Moreover, I’m just one of the thousands of women who have moved to New York City to pursue a dream of performing for a living. And there’s a lot more of us with weight issues and eating fears than you think. And no one’s talking about it.
There are books written on eating disorders that have literally saved my life. There are blogs with quotes about beauty no matter what size you are. There are men who love curvy women. Thank goodness.
But there are also costumes already sewn to fit a size 4 for the next replacement for Nice Work If You Can Get It. There are camera angles that will add not just ten, but fifteen pounds. And there huge consequences for gaining weight in this business.
All of a sudden, we are staying home from White Christmas dance calls that we know by heart because we are fifteen pounds heavier than the last time we danced for famous tap choreographer, Randy Skinner. All of a sudden, we are taking the rejection of our business home with us. Into bed. Into our relationships. Into our heads. Letting it take a permanent position in our lives. And we are allowing what we do for a living to define our version of beauty, acceptance, and health.
So maybe it’s time to talk about it. Maybe it’s time to figure out how to live a healthy, happy life while still pursuing the hardest job path we possibly could have picked. After all, like my best friend Melissa says, “we are the idiots who made our hobbies into our careers.”
PAUSE. I just need to take a second to shout out to my readers who have nothing to do with the performing arts. Listen. You’ll still relate to a lot of the shit I have to share. Dancers and singers aren’t the only bingers out there. You’re welcome here too. Just, BYOB. I’ll provide snacks and stories.
I can’t tell you that I’ve found the answers yet. But in my own self-guided therapy, I’ve learned that empathy is a priceless thing. So while I continue my journey to overcoming a food addiction, maybe I can share with you that you’re not alone when you skip the gym to eat a Domino’s pizza because no one’s home to judge you while you stand at the kitchen sink and devour all eight pieces before your roommate comes home and sees you. Maybe I can share with you how I figured out how to stop hating myself for doing that. Or more importantly, how we can stop hating ourselves for WANTING to do that.
Maybe you just want to read that you’re not the only one that wants to punch a non-industry friend in the face who chooses to remind you that “in any other business, being a size 10 is perfectly acceptable.”
You’re not in any other business. So that’s not helpful.
Maybe you want to know that someone else also finds it infuriating that our healthy, nutritionist friends want to preach about GMO’s when some of us can barely make it through our day without eating the entire bag of dorito’s in your roommate’s cabinet.
Friend, I cannot focus on how bad soy lecithin is for me when I have one week to lose the seven pounds I gained after I stress-ate during the Merry-Go-Round callbacks.
Maybe you need to be reminded that just because you didn’t have a “fucked up childhood” doesn’t mean your parents didn’t influence your body image, eating patterns, or self-esteem.
Just because my parents are still happily married does not mean that they didn’t embarrass me when I ate fried chicken in front of my twelfth grade boyfriend.
Maybe you just need to know that there’s more than three of us in this business who CAN’T eat whatever we want and still be able to wear a two piece to the Chicago audition.
Also, how do we get over hating those who can eat a bagel before doing “All That Jazz” for the casting intern for Chicago.
Because I know that up until now, I didn’t have anything like that to help me, and I sure as hell could have used it for the past ten years.
So I think the best way to help us right now — and I say “us” because we are all in this together — is to put all the ugly, dirty stuff out there on a blog so you know you’re not alone. For once, in this very competitive business, there is no competition here: a whole lot of us have issues with our eating habits. Everyone has their shit.
And I don’t know about you, but I am exhausted from all of this waiting. Waiting until I’m the perfect “Broadway-size” to start living my life. I don’t even know what that size is.
Last summer, I left one of my dearest friend’s ballroom dance competition in New Jersey three hours early so that I could come back to an empty apartment and order two burgers and two milkshakes from BareBurger to binge before anyone got home.
I don’t want to miss out on living my life anymore because of the way food has taken over it.
If you can relate, this is the safe place you can come for some real talk. Maybe some advice. Maybe some suggestions. Maybe a story that is so hideously embarrassing but so similar to one you have that you’ll realize you’re not alone.
Someone has to start talking about it. So here we fucking go y’all.