Bodybuilding, Binge Eating, & Black

  • image descriptionKori Propst, MS
  • image descriptionJune 1st, 2011
Bodybuilding, Binge Eating, & Black

Sitting amongst friends at a table strewn with half-eaten quesadillas and crispy tri-colored tortilla strips layered with cheese, inch-thick gooey cookies topped with creamy vanilla bean ice cream, pillowy dumplings stuffed with sautéed pork and crunchy vegetables dunked in puckering ponzu sauce, my body ached with gut-wrenching disgust. Yet I continued to stuff food into my face. The pizza sized pan of brownies almost licked clean, I dove into the juicy little burgers nestled between flaky, buttery croissants spread with chunky tomato aioli. My heart pounding like a background bass, rattling the windows of my soul, I wanted to slink beneath the table and disappear. But not until I finished the fluffy potato boats sprinkled with bacon, savory chives, and a ranchy sour cream dip. I needed to feel full. More. I couldn’t stop. Voices around me clamored in a dissonant, cacophonic collision of shrieking, brain piercing criticisms. “You idiot. How could you do this?” So weak. You said you wouldn’t, and here you are.”

My binge. The one incident I recall vividly following a contest in which I lost control. After one of the most monumental wins of my figure career, having dieted for 6 months and with the World Championships five weeks away, I crumbled into an emotional puddle of zero resolve. My desire to relax flooded past the dam of willpower and awareness and planning into the deep end of a pool of self-loathing.

I’m approached with questions, stories, cries for guidance, demands for answers, and desperate requests for fixing food related struggles and binge eating behaviors constantly. The settings, food choices, triggers, and stimuli vary from person to person and depend also upon the physiological environment. For example, binging can occur more easily, of course, in a state of food deprivation. In fact, dieting increases the risk of disordered eating from 5-18 times.

But couple dieting with a learned mechanism of self-protection that involves food, and the risks of binging increases tremendously.

"I’ve pretty much been on an emotional spiral… haven’t been tracking my macros... haven’t gone out to buy food... haven’t been to the gym... I’m pretty much in super low depression... I need to get out of this funk... but I’m worried about a million things." This from a client who could not express well the emotion he was experiencing but through the behaviors he described painted his picture of lostness, lack of direction, and anxiety. Clearly uncomfortable, he explained how he was constantly eating and felt out of control and unable to stop despite hearing those words in his head.

Not realizing it, he was attempting to take care of himself.

Christa Black, a singer, song-writer, musical poet, author, blogger, and most importantly survivor, details her experience with disordered eating in her book “God Loves Ugly.” Enduring trauma early in her life she learned to believe that she was not worth loving, that she was disconnected from anything meaningful, and that every negative experience she endured was confirmation of this.

She writes in captive detail of her binges spurred by a feeling of disgust and shame. "I ran to the goodie cabinet in the kitchen filled with all sorts of treats: fruit roll-ups, cheese puffs, and Little Debbie snack cakes. I tore into a new box of Zebra cakes and ate two, three, shoving in four—eventually devouring all five packs. I saw there…in the darkness of the night with an empty box and plastic wrappers littering the yellow linoleum floor. As I stuffed my face in secret, a euphoria-like control comforted me like never before. It felt incredible, like I was actually holding the reins for once in my life. It was an odd, displaced peace, but one I hoped would never go away. To my dismay, the moment my stomach couldn’t take another bite, the ugly aftermath began."

Her binges cradled her in peace and freedom, and wrapped her in a cloak of comfort.

Until she was done.

Binge eating is not about food. Emotional eating is not about food. Food addiction is not about food. Any addiction is not about the substance or the action. Born in the action of eating outside of normal physiological hunger and getting lost in a flurry of chaotic eating, is incentive. A symptom of a need for something unrelated to food, but without the awareness or skill to discern what this might be, the binge eater will eat out of avoidance. "Any time I use anything to escape or medicate my soul, heart, or emotion that is a temporary solution to a bigger problem," Christa explains, "I am a slave to that substance, whatever it is."

Christa ate to avoid the ugliness she felt was inside her. She crammed her way to temporary relief of the self-hatred she was consumed by. "It wasn’t ever about food," she says. "The problem wasn’t external. My heart was severely wounded and because I wasn’t completely healed, I always needed to find ways to numb the pain."

Binge eating does not stem always from trauma. As you saw from my example, I was depleted physically, had not eaten decadent food in over 6 months, was surrounded by others who were not concerned about their intake, and my resolve dissipated quickly in that environment! What I needed was a plan, and a plan BEFORE I walked into that restaurant. The plan required some thought about what my triggers were going to be. Could I have a drink and expect to control my food intake? Could I have one bite of the cookie pizza and restrain myself from eating the whole thing? The answers must be honest if you expect the plan to be effective. What were my goals in the coming weeks? Keeping these at the forefront and reminding myself of them frequently would give me more perspective and the ability to see past the nachos! Finally, had I secured support? Did I have a team that I was relying on to hold me accountable, check in with me about my plan, and help ensure that I was taking steps congruent with my goals?

Binge eating in a broad sense manifests as a result of a lack of emotional intelligence—the ability to assess, identify, and manage emotion effectively. You can see how this played a role in my scenario. Is it a surprise that when you are feeling lonely, empty, anxious, or depressed that you want to run as far and as fast as you can? Is it a surprise that as I thought, “I just want to relax. I haven’t eaten this stuff in so long. I deserve this,” that I crumbled? Of course not. In a state of equilibrium we are balanced, in control, feel like we’re “in the zone”.

If you suffer from binge eating, how often does a binge occur when you’re feeling empowered and "on top of the world"? Christa speaks of how food had become her "coping mechanism for pretty much everything: fear, apprehension, worry, nerves, anxiety, and depression.” She “binged before tests…before the first day of school, during school…because she felt bad about binging…"

Temporary. In a state of desperation to feel different, we impulsively reach for what can quickly relieve us of discomfort. Through the food, the monsters with their chokeholds on us reluctantly loosen their grip and sloth away into the shadows. On the back end of the binge, however, suddenly the whirring and the roaring and the bared teeth emerge again, the force of which is almost incapacitating, and it is here when realism escapes, when rigidity abounds, and we stab and cling and claw our way to safety.

This in a string of four consecutive emails from a competitor:

  • If things don’t start to change soon I fear I will go on a binge again - why bother putting all this time and effort in for nothing.
  • I hope you respond with answers/solutions soon otherwise a binge is on its way - feeling extremely discouraged!! I’m going to do 3 hours of cardio today!
  • Binge happened!
  • I am not eating or training until I hear back from you.

Christa would do similar things, her diary entries ripe with harsh and demanding expectations for change dropped squarely on her shoulders, without a drop of realism and overflowing with distorted cognitions. “I will never binge like that again. Ever. I will get up early and work out for 2 hours. At least. I will only eat 1000 calories tomorrow.” You see the dichotomous, black and white thinking that leaves no room for flexibility and forgiveness.

What we do not recognize in our haste to change the feeling is the message it is trying to send us. Our bodies react according to our thoughts. Thoughts become feelings, and feelings become actions. But when we eat, use drugs, drink alcohol, overspend, or engage in any other addictive behavior, we medicate the pain away and miss an opportunity to be transparent with ourselves.

We can, in what feels like the dark, find the light, the courage, and the strength to become whole again. And we have to if we expect to find relief, true relief, from the dissonance that binging suffocates away. The choking breaths suffered before and after a binge won’t end without a willingness to dig to the roots of your discomfort, uncoil them, and dismantle them.

Listen up, guys. As competitors, we are forcing a dichotomy. We focus on our outward appearances. The sinewy, striated, tight, lean muscle, we covet. Our normal physiological cues, we often ignore. It should be obvious now that if you do suffer from binge eating and you are working to compete, the quagmire in which you might find yourself. By taking steps toward becoming more emotionally attuned and taking time to develop a plan with built-in support, however, you can learn to be in your skin, in your head, with your feelings, no matter how broken they may seem. You can achieve your goals and do so in a more balanced way, free from needing food to cover up your failures. Recognize that bodybuilding and the physique you bring to the stage does not define you.

Christa Black’s book, "God Loves Ugly", can be acquired at

Kori Propst holds a BS in Exercise Physiology, an MS in Counseling, and is pursuing her PhD in Health Psychology and Behavioral Medicine. She is a WNBF Pro in bodybuilding, figure, and fit body. As the Wellness Director for the Diet Doc she created the Mental Edge Program to aid individuals in developing individualized strategies for optimal performance in their lives and for competing. She can be contacted at