MORTY: Hi, this is Morty Lefkoe. I am very pleased today to have as our guest, Meryl Beck. Meryl Beck is a licensed counselor. She specializes in twelve-step recovering and eating disorders and actually created her own successful outpatient Food Abuse Treatment Week. She also uses energy techniques, which I’m really interested in finding out more about, and she has a book, Stop Eating Your Heart Out: The 21-Day Program to Free Yourself from Emotional Eating. She tells her story of binge eating and she gives us her ideas on the source of the problem and what can be done to stop it.
Today, we’re going to have a conversation and see if Meryl can give us all some of her wisdom and see if maybe something we hear can make a difference for us.
Meryl, thank you so much for being here with us.
MERYL: Thanks, Morty! It’s my pleasure.
MORTY: If you won’t mind starting out telling us just a little bit about your background, and how you got interested in the field of emotional eating. That might be a good way to get started.
MERYL: Well, I write about it because I have both personal and professional experience with it. At very young age I discovered I could use food to numb feelings that were uncomfortable. What happened was I started using food as if it were a drug. I became a binge-eater and I actually had a binge-eating disorder even though I didn’t realize that I actually had an eating disorder for many years, probably from the first thirty years of my life.
MORTY: When you say binge eating, do you mean bulimia?
MERYL: No. Binge eating does not have a vomiting component to it.
MORTY: I got it. Okay. It’s binge eating but just eating.
MERYL: Right. Uncontrollable eating, urges to eat. I was the secret-eater. I was a public dieter and a binge-eater in private. I just felt so much shame around that because nobody knew who I really was, or what I was really doing with my life, especially in terms of food.
When I was a kid, I was only about 12 years old, I saw the teleplay “Days of Wine and Roses.” It tells a story of a man who was really in the deep trenches of alcoholism, and how it’s ruining his life, and how he gets helped with Alcoholics Anonymous.
I’m only in elementary school. At that time, in my own brain, I said to myself, “Wow, I wish there was a place like that for me because I must be a foodaholic. Once I start eating, I can’t stop.”
Fast forward, I’m 29, almost 30 years old, a friend says to me, “Oh, I went to this program. It’s a 12-step recovery program like Alcoholics Anonymous, but it’s about food.” I went, “Ah, there really is such a place?” That became my first step in learning how to deal with my food addiction or my food compulsion.
Some people do emotional eating and it’s not a food addiction for them. For me, it was because I really did use food the same way the alcoholic uses alcohol, the drug addict uses his drugs. It was a way of comforting me, and taking away pain, and anesthetizing myself, and making the world disappear for a moment. But, because of that, it was such a vicious cycle. So, I’d feel bad about something and I’d eat over it. Then, I’d have guilt and shame and remorse, and because I had all those yucky feelings, I got to eat some more. And then, I feel more guilt and more shame and remorse.
One of the things I do is I teach how to break that cycle. That’s what I do in the book and that’s what I’ve done with my work.
For me, the first step was getting into 12-step recovery. I know there’s a lot of people who are listening or that are reading this, that have tried 12-step recovery, and it wasn’t for them. And, that’s fine. You don’t have to go that route. It was just my way of doing it.
MORTY: What was the difference between your version of the 12-step recovery and the 12-step that you took yourself?
MERYL: I’m not quite sure I’m understanding because it’s not my version of 12-step recovery. I went to different meetings because there’s Overeaters Anonymous meetings, and Food Addicts Anonymous, and Co-dependency Anonymous… There’s lots of different 12-Steps that are all based on the original 12-steps of AA.
MERYL: The steps are basically the same. The first one is different because it depends on whether you’re working with food or alcohol and drugs, or sex, or whatever the addiction is. But, they’re the same 12 steps. They’re just modified for whatever the individual’s particular addiction or problem is.
MORTY: Okay. You basically use the 12-step program that you took yourself as a patient many years ago.
MORTY: That’s what you teach today.
MERYL: Right, and that’s what I started with, and I wasn’t a patient because it’s a fellowship, and it’s very anonymous that’s why I worked it out in public and say I was a member of a particular 12-step program. I just say in general, the 12-step recovery programs that I went to. I did go to many different ones.
What that taught me is I learned a lot of things there. I had physical recovery. It has taught me what a portion size was. I had no idea that eating a one-pound rib steak for dinner was a larger portion that most people wouldn’t need.
I learned that, I learned what portion sizes were. Then my daughte,r who was a young little girl, and I would go out in the store and buy a steak, a three-quarter pound rib steak, and she and I would split it, and that was fine. So, I learned portion sizes.
I learned about emotions. I grew up in a “looking good” family and we were a very positive family. That sounds great, but when you’re in a very positive family, sometimes there’s no room for the feelings that aren’t positive. If I felt sadness or anger, or any of those feelings that were feeling yucky, I knew that it wasn’t okay to talk about it, so I pushed it down with food.
When I went to the 12-step recovery meetings, I discovered what feelings were all about, and I had no labels for them. I would sit on the back of the room and I’d say to someone, “I’m feeling something and I don’t know what it is.” That person might say, “Well, describe what’s going on in your life,” and I did, and I’ve been able to label the feeling for myself. Oh, that’s jealousy. Oh, that’s grief. Oh, that’s sadness, or whatever the feeling was because I didn’t have the labels. That was the emotional recovery.
The third really big piece is that I had spiritual recovery as a result of going to 12-step meetings because for me, growing up, I always had a belief in God. The God I believed in was a God that punishes you. I knew that this God was keeping track of all my bads. My bads, thank you very much, were not all very big bads. I didn’t really hurt anybody outright, or kill anybody or anything.
But, I did a lot of judgments and there were judgments in my head. So, I might say to somebody, “Wow, that’s a beautiful dress!” And in my head I add something. In my head, I go, “Where did they get that? In the bargain basement?”
I was doing all these judging and acting. I got two faces on. I had my public face and the internal thoughts were very different, and the God that I believed in was keeping track. He was the Santa Claus, “who knows when you’ve been good or bad, so be good for goodness sakes.” This God, in my belief, was keeping track. “Oh, another bad, mark it down. Oh, another bad, mark it down.”
I really believed that someday, all these bads, I would be punished for. The punishment was really, really terrifying for me. Deep inside I thought something would happen to one of my children, that I would get up one morning and find out that they had an incurable illness because that’s how God would punish me because I saw myself as being such a fraud, and I deserved that kind of punishment.
It’s a huge turning point for me when I was able to open up to–and I couldn’t say “God” for many, many years–I said, “Higher Power,” and to learn that this Higher Power, this God from my understanding, loves me no matter what. I didn’t have to be good to earn the love. It was huge for me.
The illness is mental, physical, and emotional, and spiritual. I had recovery in all areas.
MORTY: Here’s the question I’ve always had about 12-steps, so maybe I can get an answer for me and other people with a similar question. Does the problem actually go away, or do you learn how to cope with, deal with, or manage the problem?
MERYL: A person who is in 12-steps will get up and identify themselves and say, “I am a recovered compulsive overeater. I am an alcoholic. I am recovered binge-eater.” Sometimes, they’ll use the word “recovered,” sometimes, they don’t. But, they continue to identify with that because the belief is that if we go back to the old behaviors, or we can have a slip and it’ll take us back to the old behaviors, so the problem is not gone. We have a reprieve on a daily basis. We take it one day at a time, and sometimes, one minute at a time.
MORTY: I believe that the source of binge eating is triggers and beliefs. With the 12 step programs the triggers and beliefs are still there, urging you to eat, you’ve just found a way to overcome the urges.
MERYL: Right. I gave up sugar for six weeks for the whole summer once, and nothing changed. But, some people do and when they get off the substance that they’re really addicted to, their life will change because they’re no longer eating that. Sometimes, it’s not about the beliefs, the underlying beliefs. Sometimes, it really is physiological and sometimes, it is biochemical.
I do agree though. A lot of times, it’s about the underlying beliefs. The underlying beliefs come because as children, we try to make sense of the world. So that, when the event happens, and we all know that very often when parents get divorced, and the children are young, the child will say to himself or herself, “I have been a bad little girl, or bad little boy back when that happened.” So, they personalize it, and make it their fault.
In my case, my dad started to travel when I was four, and the little girl that I was couldn’t understand why he would leave me. So, the way I made sense of it was, “I must not be enough. I’m not good enough or he wouldn’t be travelling like he is.”
That was a belief that I held for years and years and years, and therefore it attracted to me people that would affirm that belief, who would say, “Yes, you’re not very good,” and they would be critical. “You’re not enough.” I understand exactly if you’re saying about the underlying beliefs because we have to take a look at what’s going on, and what’s driving our train, and the train that we are particularly riding in, is what the taste is right to the food.
MORTY: Yes. Basically then, it’s not a question of eliminating the compulsive need to eat. You basically have found a way through the 12-Step program to enable people to cope with the urges, with the need to binge eat, to emotionally eat, and to be able to refrain through the support system.
MERYL: Yes and no, because if you take a look at my book, it’s divided into 21 days. Each day, there’s a different tool and a different assignment, and it begins with having people write their eating history. Because so many of us, we’re in denial. We’re not even conscious of what we’re eating. We have no idea that there is an issue.
What just came into my mind is an image of my cousin and I, something they photographed. We each have our hands ready to eat a whole pie, and I remember the picture, but I also remember that I wished I could really do it, that I wasn’t just posing for a photo.
With that kind of memory, I would have written that in an eating history, that I wasn’t eating it, but it was a, “wish I could eat it.” The other thing would have been in my eating history was when I was eating something that gave me a lot of pleasure. For instance, for me, I was very conditioned that ice cream would give me pleasure. That started when I had my tonsils out at age six. So that, that conditioning, and that need for ice cream was there for a long time.
As a little kid, we would sometimes go get an ice cream at a local place in the neighborhood, and I remember ordering a mint chocolate with ice cream cone and that was my favorite. But, instead of getting the pleasure, I was already into sadness, because I knew in a minute it would be gone.
MORTY: Oh, boy.
MERYL: Yes. All those kinds of things would be in my eating history. I would start getting “Aha moments” because we can’t really fix things that we’re not aware of. We have to bring them to consciousness.
When people start out by using my book, that’s the first place for starters, becoming conscious of some of the ways we’re using food, becoming conscious of, why is our eating out of balance? That continues because the next day, people will rise, start eating and writing in their food mood journals, and for most people, there’s a huge disconnect. I have no idea why I just grabbed all those potato chips. I have no idea. Then, little by little, they go, “Oh yes, that’s when my daughter talked back to me, and I ran and grab the potato chips.” They see that there’s a stimulus in a response. They see that there’s a condition to their eating. Then, they start getting an awareness around that, because later on, I’ll teach the tool on how to break that.
MORTY: What are some of the tools you use? You say you use energy techniques. How does that fit in?
MERYL: Energy psychology, are you familiar with it?
MORTY: A little bit. I’ve done some reading.
MERYL: Okay. Energy psychology is a fairly new field, and it is based on oriental medicine. EFT is one of the important ones, the so-called Emotional Freedom Technique. It’s using acupressure techniques to release physical and emotional pain, and also the food cravings.
We tap on points and they’re the same points that acupuncturists have used for thousands of years to let go of pain and discomfort, to get our energy running smoothly again, so that it is not blocked. Instead of using needles we just tap on these acupressure points.
I learned how to do this in the end of the 1990s. It’s made a huge difference in my life and in the lives of people I work with, it’s mostly women, but some men, because instead of having anxiety reaching for the food, if I’m feeling anxious, I know that I can do the tapping and the food won’t be a big issue anymore because I won’t eat it and then, I will feel okay.
MORTY: Are you able to stop, not through willpower, but because you stop the desire to binge eat?
MERYL: Right because you can use it, now I could tell you. What we do is when I teach it, we use a scale of 0 as in you’re not feeling or not craving it, 10 is having intense craving. If you’re already at a 9 or 10, you’re not going to want to stop and do the tapping. You have to catch it at an earlier stage before this binge is such a huge compulsion where there’s no stopping it, like this train that’s already on a track that’s going 100 miles an hour. You better stop at when it’s 50 miles an hour, you can cope with it. We can tap away the craving. But, where it gets too big, we won’t be able to do that.
It’s also the awareness of paying attention to, when you start having the craving, what’s going on? Is there a feeling… you tap for the feeling, and if not, you can tap directly for the craving.
EFT, I mentioned, was Gary Craig’s method that’s done by thousands and thousands worldwide, and there’s lot of researches being done with that now. There’s a similar technique that I use and talk about in my book called, RITT, Rapidly Integrated Transformation Technique, that my colleague rapid trainer, Macy and I put together. We did this because our clients loved this tapping that the angry 12-step recovery folks, they wanted to find a spiritual component. So, that’s what we do with this one. We ask the God, or Light, or Higher Power, constantly with us to release the cravings or to release the feelings.
MORTY: You basically created your own integration of 12-step and energy and EFT.
MERYL: Right. Yes, well, it’s not really integration of 12-step, but it does bring in the spiritual component.
MORTY: Yes, I get you, the spiritual element and 12-step.
MERYL: Correct. I wanted your listeners and readers to know that I describe both EFT and RITT in a free eBook that they can get by going out to my website, which is called http://stopeatingyourheartout.com. All they do is sign up and they get the free eBook. It’s called, Acupressure Techniques for Weight Control, but it can be used for lots of things besides weight control.
MORTY: Let’s do that again. It’s stopeatingyourheartout.com (without any spaces).
MORTY: You can get Meryl’s free eBook, and you can order obviously her Stop Eating Your Heart Out book, and I assume that there’s other information there, or ways to sign up for information?
MERYL: Correct, correct.
MORTY: Well, thank you so, so much. I really do appreciate you taking the time to talk to our listeners here, and ultimately our readers. This is a whole new approach compared to anything we’ve ever put up here before, and what I find particularly interesting is your ability to add the EFT, which enables people to actually stop the cravings rather than just having to find a way to overcome the cravings, or not give in to the cravings, with support. But, if you can actually stop the cravings at the moment, that’s even better.
MERYL: Right. The other really interesting thing is that the book is written for people with emotional eating, but it can be used for anyone to change or break any habit or behavior. People have already told me that they are using it for procrastination, or to let go of judgments because you could follow. So, instead of writing your eating history, you’re writing your history of judgments.
And so, it can be adapted to change anything in here the person wants, or doesn’t want the person wants to change.
MORTY: Well, this is great. Anybody who is interested in finding out about Meryl’s book, or her free eBook, or other information about the work she does, or the energy technique that she’s devised, which is her own unique approach that integrates the spiritual technique, please go to stopeatingyourheartout.com (no spaces, no underscores, no dashes, just turn that into one word). You will be able to get more information about Meryl.
Thank you so much, Meryl for taking the time, and I am sure that the readers and listeners to this will find your material interesting, and hopefully, a lot of them will pursue it and get some more information.
MERYL: Thank you, Morty. Thanks for all the important work you’re doing.
MORTY: Thank you.