Enjoying a night out and once again frequenting the bar scene with her girlfriends, Sarah, a tall, attractive, athletic-looking 30-year-old marketing executive, decided that it was time to put herself “out there” once more.

While she and Ryan, her ex-boyfriend of one year, had broken up six months ago after discovering that he had been cheating on her, it still felt like yesterday to Sarah. Devastated by the betrayal, she was slow to heal—after all, she was sure Ryan was the one. Now she can look back and see that she chose to ignore his flirtiness with other women and his “checking out” women while they were together, not to mention, his being critical of her body.

But then she was used to the critical eye having grown up with parents to whom appearance was paramount. And yet, here she was again, single and 30.

Ending #1

As the evening wore on, Jack, an old friend of Ryan’s, arrived and in the midst of their conversation, he casually mentioned that he heard Ryan was getting married. To add insult to injury, it was to the woman with whom he had cheated. Having already had a number of drinks and feeling slightly drunk, she accepted Jack’s offer to do some shots of tequila. She began to flirt with him and after much canoodling, she took Jack home and had sex with him, the whole time fantasizing about Ryan.

The next day she was full of self-loathing and regret. Jack left and she was alone again. The pain had returned. Immediately, she jumped onto the Internet visiting porn sites, pleasuring herself through the day as she desperately tried to feel better. When she grew bored with that she called an online service and had phone sex for several hours. Finally, she concluded her day by making a date with someone she met online and “hooked up” with him late that night. The next day she once more felt the pain of being rejected by Ryan as well as tremendous shame and self-hatred for what she’d done…only to go out and repeat the same old cycle again, the one she thought she had put behind her having found true love in Ryan…now it was back.

Ending #2

As the evening wore on, Jack, an old friend of Ryan’s, arrived and in the midst of their conversation, he casually mentioned that he heard Ryan was getting married. To add insult to injury, it was to the woman with whom he cheated.

The words fell on her like a ton of bricks, she could barely speak. Excusing herself she told Jack and her girlfriends that she felt a migraine coming on and needed to go home. Her girlfriends put her in a cab to make sure she would get home safely. As soon as the cab dropped Sarah off, she headed across the street to the local 24- hour market and bought a gallon of chocolate chip ice cream, two boxes of cookies, three bags of chocolate, a big bag of Doritos, a liter of Coke, and a red velvet cake.

Rushing back to her apartment, she threw on her pajamas and gradually ate her way through most of the food, ultimately falling asleep in a food coma. When she awoke surrounded by empty bags of chips, boxes of cookies, half-eaten cake and melted ice cream all over her bed, she felt horrified. Bloated, still stuffed and full of shame and self-loathing, she thought of Ryan and how no one would ever love her again—being such a pathetic, out of control, hideous person. Later that night…the bingeing began again.

These are two different endings to the same story and yet, Sarah was seeking the same outcome—relief from her pain, an escape, a desire to feel good, (even if it’s temporary), and a way to go numb.

Sex and food can be seen as not-so-distant cousins.

Strikingly, sex addiction has much in common with disordered eating.

Some of the key elements they share are:

  • A sense of compulsivity and an inability to stop
  • An escape from other problems such as loneliness, pain, stress, depression, or anxiety
  • A need to act out secretly and hide the compulsive behavior
  • A range of feelings including being out of control, shame, guilt, self-loathing, and remorse
  • An impulse to self-medicate in order to feel good
  • A desire for a quick fix and a way to fill the “inner hole”

In 1991 Patrick Carnes, a psychologist, researcher, and pioneer in the field of sexual addiction, published the first major study on sexual addiction. Some of his findings showed that sex addicts were unable to form close friendships and that there feelings of shame and unworthiness prevented them from accepting true intimacy. They felt that they would surely be rejected if people knew what they were “really” like.

In my experience, many of those suffering from eating disorders, like sex addicts, see themselves as deeply flawed people and hold these same types of negative beliefs about themselves, guarding themselves from letting anyone too close. They subscribe to the immortal words of Groucho Marx; “I would never want to be a member of a club that would have me as a member.”

Finally, it seems poignant to mention that these two compulsive behaviors share the common qualities of secrecy and desire to sneak or hide.

Since we now live in a world of “drive-through” everything from Chick-fil-A and McDonald’s to Dunkin’ Donuts and Sonic, it is very easy for those with eating disorders to buy every variety of fast food and secretively binge in their portable restaurant or the car. Or, they can simply order take out and have it delivered to their doors overeating in the privacy of their own homes.

Likewise with sex addicts, the Internet has increased the accessibility to a whole assortment of sexual encounters from sex chat rooms and pornography sites to phone sex and online dating. Everything is within the “click of the mouse” and brought instantly into the comfort of the home.

Both are looking for that quick fix.

And you know where that leaves you… like Sarah. You still wake up with yourself in the morning and with your harsh inner critic swimming around in your head hurling insults and a heavy dose of self-loathing.

You can put an end to the cycle. And, while it will likely require the help of a good therapist, you can start by acquainting yourself with what you’re truly feeling and allowing yourself to sit with those feelings or write about them, not try to escape from them.

Remember no one ever died from sitting with a feeling, and a little self-compassion goes a long way.

I hope Sarah reads this.