This is an extraordinarily well-written autobiography of a man who as a boy developed the strategy of becoming a binge-eater in order to find some pleasure in an otherwise fairly desolate world. The book tells of how it took him thirty roller-coaster years before he found true happiness and was able to break the destructive habit.
Binge eating shares some similarities with bulimia but binge-eaters do not normally go in for the bouts of purging associated with bulimia. There is usually a strong psychological reason for the binges and this is particularly obvious in the author’s case. His parents were members of the World Wide Church of God and this encouraged an atmosphere of total obedience and regimentation in the home. There was a history of physical abuse in his family with fathers meting out severe punishments to sons and the author and his brothers were the latest victims to receive vicious beatings sometimes for extremely minor transgressions. As quite a young boy he found food a major consolation and he became adept at scrounging second and third helpings followed by successful scavenging as he helped to clear up after meals.
As a young man his weight ballooned, he found it difficult to get clothes to fit him and he suffered from the thigh sores so common among people whose legs are so fat that there is constant abrasion. It was the need for a girlfriend that first impelled him towards slimming. A sensible diet and an exercise regime got him into good shape. He was helped enormously by the fact that his father had left home for another woman so domestic life had improved beyond all recognition,
Not only did he get a girlfriend but he also discovered that he was a good runner and he became a successful amateur athlete. However, even though his father had left home and the author had found the courage to leave the World Wide Church of God, nonetheless his self-destructive behavior was more difficult to leave behind. I won’t spoil the story for you; suffice it to say that he goes from the heights of being a model with his weight at 179 pounds to the lows of a succession of low-paid jobs with his weight touching 268 pounds. The author humbly relates all the ups and downs — a broken marriage, drug abuse and all the failed career moves along with the occasional highs. What I will do is to reassure you, the reader, that the story has a happy ending thanks largely to an enormously supportive and loving relationship in which his partner helps him to break with the self-destructive cycle of binge eating.
The book is well written. It does not profess to be an academic tome; it is a thoroughly good piece of contemporary autobiography which gives the reader a valuable insight into the sort of trigger that can start off binge eating disorder and what sort of life a binge eater is likely to have. It is the perfect book for people to read if they think that they are succumbing to the disorder. If I were a therapist, it would certainly be one of the books on my shelf.
© 2008 Kevin M. Purday
Kevin M. Purday has just completed his fortieth year as a teacher and has recently returned to the U.K. after being principal of schools in the Middle East and Far East. His great interests are philosophy and psychology.
Feb. 19, 2007 issue – Ron Saxen’s problem with binge eating started when he was 11. He hid the disorder well enough-through exercise and yo-yo dieting-to sign a modeling contract at the age of 21, when he was 6 feet 1 and weighed 179 pounds. But the pressure to remain thin proved to be too much. He quit the catwalk and eventually ballooned to 295 pounds. “In the darkest days, I would get two Big Macs, a large order of fries and a chocolate shake, then pull into Taco Bell before finishing my McDonald’s,” says Saxen, author of “The Good Eater: The True Story of One Man’s Struggle With Binge Eating Disorder” due out next month.
But Saxen, now 44 and recovering, is one of the lucky ones. This month Harvard researchers found that binge-eating disorder, or BED, is the most common eating disorder in the United States-more prevalent than anorexia and bulimia nervosa combined. Its definition: single bursts of uncontrolled eating that last less than two hours and occur at least twice a week. Because of the disorder’s close link with obesity, “it’s a major public-health burden,” says the study’s lead author, James Hudson. The study suggests more than 30 percent of sufferers are male-a higher percentage than in anorexia or bulimia. A guide to diagnosis and treatment:
Recognize the symptoms. “It’s not unusual to see cases where patients say BED goes back to childhood-even as young as 8,” says study coauthor Harrison Pope. He suggests looking for unexplained weight gain and any signs of “surreptitious eating.” Evenings are when binge eaters most often lose control.
Find a good therapist. BED has no proven cause, but it’s often linked with depression and anxiety. Therapy, particularly cognitive-behavioral therapy (nacbt.org), can help. Call the psychiatry department at the nearest medical school and ask for a referral. Or visit sites like edreferral.com, the Academy for Eating Disorders’ aed web.org and the Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness (eatingdisorderinfo.org)-but make sure to check therapists’ credentials yourself.
Try support groups. They’re not for everyone, but some binge eaters benefit from groups like Eating Disorders Anonymous (eatingdisordersanon ymous.org), Overeaters Anonymous (oa.org) or Weight Watchers (weightwatchers.com).
Consider medications. There are no FDA-approved treatments for binge-eating disorder. Still, your doctor may prescribe a Prozac-like antidepressant or an antiseizure drug that’s sometimes prescribed “off label” because it curbs appetite.
Distract yourself. Bingers often talk about “going into a trance,” says psychologist Joyce Nash, author of “Binge No More.” So, before breaking open that bag of chips, stop, take a deep breath and wait 10 minutes. Taking a shower can also help break the spell.
Start exercising. Exercise is “non-negotiable,” says Nash. Even if a binge eater stops gorging, he doesn’t automatically lose weight. The change requires sufferers to turn to a healthy activity-like walking-to manage their emotions and escape unpleasant feelings. It’s not easy to do, but examples like Saxen’s show that recovery is within everyone’s grasp.
On the surface, Ron Saxen’s rise from chunky teen to hunky male model was the stuff of dreams. But the story the East County native uncovers in his just-published memoir, “The Good Eater,” is something quite different — a tale of binge eating and starvation diets that nearly ruined him.
Looking at him now — an elegant, fit, 44-year-old in khaki pants and black shirt, lounging with his wife at their Berkeley hills home — Saxen seems the very picture of health. It’s hard to believe this former model, stand-up comic, and cigar and candy salesman spent more than a decade battling 15,000-calorie binges with crystal meth; drastic diets; and exercise regimens so obsessive that he spent four hours a day running, weight lifting or swimming.
Just two weeks after publication, “The Good Eater” is already in its second printing, copies are flying off shelves, and both CNN and “Good Morning America” have come calling.
Saxen’s book has struck a nerve. We tend to think of eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, as the affliction of young women. But according to the first national survey on eating disorders, released by Harvard University and McLean Hospital researchers late last month, some 25 percent of anorexia and bulimia cases are male, not the 10 percent researchers had previously believed.
The study also revealed that the most prevalent eating disorder of all is binge eating, and 40 percent of the 2.5 million Americans who binge are men.
No matter what gender, binge eaters’ problems are compounded by a potent brew of shame, guilt, obsession and obesity.
“You think it’s gluttony,” says Saxen
Few people have paid much attention to this subset of the obese population — the folks who spend their nights, as Saxen once did, downing burritos by the dozen and doughnuts by the case. Many of them battle other demons, too. Eating disorders, which seem to be triggered by both genetic and environmental factors, are frequently accompanied by depression, substance abuse or anxiety disorders.
Looking back now, with a chronology provided by his gripping memoir, Saxen’s addictive behavior and anxiety triggers are obvious. At the time, however, it was nothing of the sort.
Saxen grew up in Knightsen, a town so tiny his family made weekly pilgrimages to Antioch to buy groceries. They spent summers in Iowa, with their deeply religious, insular sect. And Saxen quickly learned that the best way to please his abusive father was at the dinner table. To be a picky eater courted disaster. He quickly discovered that food could make anxiety — over school, social situations or an impending whipping — disappear, at least for the moment. Saxen gained so much weight in high school his mother had to sew together two pairs of gym shorts to fashion a single basketball uniform.
After his father suddenly abandoned the family in 1979, Saxen began a series of drastic diets, losing enough weight to score a senior prom date with the most popular girl at neighboring Antioch High, where no one knew him as “a fatty.”
But “Good Ron” was short-lived, he says. “Wrong Ron” yo-yoed back up to 265, then binged and dieted in ever escalating cycles through college — until the day he vowed “to be perfect.”
Nine months later, the 21-year-old was sitting in a San Francisco modeling agency, portfolio in hand, faint from extreme exercise and lack of food, but undeniably chiseled. He was given a modeling contract on the spot.
“I was the guy who didn’t have dates, a virgin,” he says. “I figured becoming a model would definitely solve that problem. I’d be happy. My life would be perfect, because (models) are perfect, pretty people.”
Instead, it became the catalyst to a full-blown eating disorder that would take years to overcome.
Within days of his modeling debut, the young Saxen was strutting down the catwalk, posing for magazine spreads and desperately trying to cope with the resulting anxiety the only way he knew how.
Told to lose five pounds for an underwear photo shoot, Saxen spent that night eating pizza, fruit pies and a gallon of rocky road ice cream doused in a pint of hot fudge and sprinkled with half-pound bags of peanut and plain M&M’s.
As his weight ballooned, Saxen blew off modeling gigs, avoided his agent and spiraled further into a burger-lined abyss.
Change finally came a decade later, with the realization that he had hit bottom. He was mired in a loveless marriage; his beloved younger sister was on life support after a horrific car accident; and he was still fighting the endless, obsessive battle with food.
“I’ve got nothing to lose,” he remembers thinking. “I’m making changes.”
Saxen left his marriage, changed his life, and confessed his love for his best friend and boss at the candy company, Leslie Soskind (they married last fall). The symptoms slowly evaporated.
But even though he was no longer bingeing, the potential lack of control still haunted him. There was always the fear it would come back until the day Saxen stumbled across Joyce Nash’s landmark book, “Binge No More,” and realized his affliction had nothing to do with moral failure. It wasn’t gluttony. It was a disorder and he had 19 out of the 20 symptoms. The relief was intense.
“I went from a party of one,” he says, “to a party of millions.”
And it encouraged him to find a therapist although, he says, he spent the first session enumerating all the reasons he didn’t need to be there.
Most men with eating disorders, say experts, don’t seek help. They’re too embarrassed.
“We’re so stubborn,” Saxen says. “No one wants to get help. But a book is group therapy, one-on-one.”
And Saxen’s book?
“Cathartic,” says Soskind. “All the demons are gone.”
Reach Jackie Burrell at 925-977-8568 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
At age 21, Ron Saxen was an up-and-coming fashion model who found himself hiding from his agent after gaining 70 pounds in six months. In his new book, The Good Eater (New Harbinger, $24.95), the now 44-year-old Oakland-based author chronicles his secret struggle to overcome binge eating disorder (BED). A recent Harvard Medical School study recognized binge eating as the most widespread eating disorder in the United States.
What are some of the misconceptions about binge eating disorder?
That it’s a choice or a cop-out. That BED should really be called PIG. That it has no business being mentioned in the same breath as anorexia and bulimia.
Are you hoping your readers will be compelled to seek help?
I hope I can somehow do my part to help normalize binge eating disorder, or
any disorder, to the point where sufferers feel comfortable enough to get help—especially heterosexual men who think admitting it will make them sound weak.
Were there other male models who suffered around you?
Bulimia would be the most common disorder. I know personally of one case of anorexia—a guy who modeled for Armani. You can’t be a model with binge eating disorder. At least, not for long.
Did you have a favorite comfort food you turned to?
It didn’t matter what was in front of me, I ate it. I once fried a loaf of bread in a half gallon of Wesson oil. Now if you’re asking me what my absolute favorite thing to do while in the grips of a knockdown-drag-out binge was, that’s easy: finish with a half gallon of high-end chocolate ice cream, topped with a pint of hot fudge and a one-pound bag of peanut M&M’s.
Do you still struggle with food?
I’m cautiously optimistic that [my eating disorder] is a thing of the past, but I still struggle like anyone who loves good food and wine.
By MARILYN LINTON
Every one of us has occasionally pigged out on a pint of ice cream or gobbled up half a pizza, or scarfed down a large bag of chips.
California’s Ron Saxen has done that, too, only he has eaten all of that and more in just one sitting.
The 44-year-old author of The Good Eater has had a lifetime struggle with binge eating, a type of eating disorder that is characterized by the American Psychiatric Association as recurrent episodes of eating, in a discrete period of time, an amount of food that is definitely larger than most people would eat during a similar period of time and under similar circumstances.
According to a recent study published by the Harvard University Medical School, binge eating is the most common eating disorder and affects 3.5% of women and 2% of men.
Saxen was one of them. The result was life as a “fatty” who now and then consumed 10,000 calories a day. (Most of us consume about 2,000.)
Saxen’s binge eating, called non-purging bulimia, was misunderstood by him until his doctor diagnosed it.
“I just thought I was a flawed person who did something shameful because I had no self-control,” he says.
With obesity so prevalent in our society, binge eating is a worthwhile topic and one that Saxen hopes he can raise more awareness of through his new book.
“I wasted so many years of my life,” he says of his struggle. “I hope that by bringing this story to the forefront, some people might say, ‘Hey, that sounds a bit like me.’ And that they could get help.”
Though he now weighs a decent 190 pounds, his weight hovered at the 300 mark for a five-year period. The result? A cardiovascular system that reads like a 67-year-old’s and multiple knee operations from the weight load. He sees his cardiologist every six months and is on medication for heart disease.
“The problem with people with a binge eating disorder is that they are always obese. When we stop bingeing, we are still very depressed about being fat,” he says. “So then the very act of trying to lose weight is a trigger to binge again because you feel so down about yourself.”
Binge eating is difficult to detect because binge eaters eat in private.
“Nobody in my family knew about it until I wrote the book. In all my binge eating, I got busted only once when I was in college and had eaten all my roommate’s food while he was out.”
Saxen figures his binge eating began as an anxious child in a strict-yet-chaotic family. When he was just 5, his father challenged him to an eating contest, then praised the speed with which the little boy cleaned his plate. Eating everything and eating fast was the only way he could get his parents’ approval, he says. He !would ask for seconds, even thirds, then volunteer to do cleanup so he could sneak in a fourth helping.
Being “the good eater” calmed his anxieties and made him “a good boy,” but food began to control his life. While home alone, he would cook himself a 12-egg omelette; he would eat bags of M&M candies, Hostess fruit tarts, and a “pie” concocted out of cans of Betty Crocker icing; and as a teen, he would “party on food all night long.”
Saxen punished his body in other ways. There were times when he ate very little and over-exercised. At age 21, he dropped to 180 pounds and began modelling. But the stress of dieting and issues left over from childhood led him to gain 70 pounds when he should have been losing five.
“One night it was Hostess fruit pies, half a gallon of ice-cream, a large pizza and M&Ms. I was so stressed out.”
Today, Saxen is into “intuitive eating” and says there is no food that is forbidden.
“I love Snickers candy bars, so for dessert I may have a half or a quarter of one. I eat enough to feel satisfied, then I stop and push back. I don’t want to say I’m recovered, but I’m the best I’ve ever been.”
EATING DISORDERS — When binge eating isn’t a sometime thing
NEW YORK (AP) — When the term ‘‘eating disorder’’ came into the collective consciousness over the last couple of decades, it was generally taken to mean anorexia, an obsession with thinness to the point of starvation; or bulimia, the practice of purging to stay skinny.
But the most common food-related affliction in this country has nothing to do with being thin.
It’s Binge Eating Disorder.
According to a national survey released January, 3.5 percent of women and 2 percent of men are battling binge eating, compared to 1.5 percent of women and .5 percent of men who are bulimic, and less still who are anorexic.
Binge eaters do not purge and are not obsessed with weight — most of them are obese, and 40 percent are men.
‘‘They are eating not because they are hungry, but because they are bored, anxious or depressed,’’ says Heather Kitchen, an eating disorders specialist at Pathways Center for Counseling. ‘‘What’s underlying that is there is something in their lives that they are not taking care of. They are trying to fill that need with food.’’
Of course, most of us binge eat from time to time, right?
We eat a whole pizza and wash it down with a six pack of beer. When we’re stressed, we make numerous trips to the vending machines. We consume so much at Thanksgiving dinner, we unbuckle our pants at the table.
And two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese.
But that is not binge eating disorder, says Madelyn Fernstrom, director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Weight Management Center.
A person with BED eats large amounts of food past the point of feeling full — sometimes to the point of pain — in a short amount of time twice a week for at least six months.
They are not happy eaters, who love the taste of food and keep eating it for that reason. To label them as emotional eaters is an understatement.
‘‘Most of us in the general population feel sometimes we overeat,’’ says Fernstrom. ‘‘That’s a disorder of the land of plenty, where food is available 24-7. A better term for binge eating is compulsive overeating. They are eating for emotional reasons and are unable to stop.’’
IN HIS WORDS
A classic example: Ron Saxen would order two Big Macs, a large order of fries and a chocolate shake at McDonald’s, start eating that food while driving to Taco Bell to order more food and then move on to the next fast food place.
But his binge wouldn’t end there.
He would stop at the grocery store to buy ice cream, hot fudge and candy. He estimates he consumed 10,000 calories in one bingeing episode.
‘‘I would say, ’Starting tomorrow, I will never do this again,’’’ says Saxen, 44, who was hard core from 1982 to 1995. ‘‘But pretty soon a stressful situation comes along. Instead of dealing with it you get depressed. You don’t have a girlfriend, my clothes don’t fit because I’ve gained 70 pounds. The cycle repeats itself and repeats itself.’’
A former model, Saxen, who is 6-foot-1, gained 70 pounds in six months, and weighed 295 at one point. He was so big he hid from his agent.
‘‘You’re eating food and it has a function,’’ he says. ‘‘The function is, ’I don’t want to deal with life.’ When I put food into me, I don’t have to think about my life. Food is a way to numb yourself.’’
GETTING THE WORD OUT
Saxen says he never knew there was a name for what he was going through.
There was no National Eating Disorders Association in the early 1980s, no Binge Eating Disorder classification. He didn’t meet other binge eaters (because of the shame factor, a lot of binge eaters don’t talk about their disorders). The focus has always been more on anorexia and bulimia.
‘‘Anorexia looks like death,’’ says Saxen. ‘‘Bulimia, you’re vomiting. I think society looks at a binger as someone who is just being a P-I-G. People will say, ’Fat boy. Just don’t go to McDonald’s. Don’t go to the drive thrus.’’’
The National Eating Disorders Association includes binge eating as part of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which wraps up Saturday.
‘‘We are relieved that binge eating disorder is finally being acknowledged as the serious problem that it is, and how it affects people’s lives,’’ says Lynn Grefe, CEO, for NEDA. ‘‘With all the eating disorders, including EDNOS (Eating disorders otherwise not specified), there is a lot of disruption in a person’s life and these people need and deserve appropriate help and treatment.’’
SO DO I HAVE IT?
BED is difficult to diagnose, says Fernstrom.
Some of the symptoms include rapid weight gain, weight fluctuations, eating late at night, hoarding food, consuming large quantities of food in a short amount of time to the point where your stomach is aching.
In terms of treatment, there is a debate about whether to treat the obesity (since it’s a health hazard) or the bingeing with counseling that focuses on dealing with emotions, treating depression and anxiety and improving self esteem and body acceptance.
The first step is admitting to a medical professional you have a problem, says Fernstrom.
‘‘’Is my eating out of control?’’ she says. ‘‘Do I feel no lifestyle change seems to be working, whether it is Weight Watchers, preparing meals you are buying online? Are you going, ’I just can’t do this?’ Then you should be evaluated.’’
February 02, 2006
By Kimberly Maul
Newly contracted memoirist Ron Saxen may just be the harbinger of things to come. Over the past few weeks, with publishers likely more gun-shy about signing memoirs, Saxen managed to sell his, The Good Eater, and sold it to-of all places-New Harbinger. What may have eased anxiety was that Saxen has given his agent, Sharlene Martin, and potential publishers, a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of his book with the manuscript, including people to contact and photos to verify facts, as well as the real information for people whose names he changed. “Given the [James] Frey controversy, he provided me with this document,” Martin says. “Perhaps this could be a format for future authors to do to satisfy agents and publishers alike.”
Indeed, Frey’s fabrications have initiated a heated debate about the way publishers vet and fact-check nonfiction books. During the Oprah Winfrey Show on Jan. 23, on which Winfrey confronted and verbally lacerated James Frey and his agent, Nan A. Talese, Winfrey said “this needs to change.” Richard Cohen, of the Washington Post, and a guest on the same show, agreed, and pointed out that a fact-checker could have found in “half an hour that some of this book didn’t work, because the book doesn’t pass the smell test.”
Bill Bastone, editor of The Smoking Gun, the investigative website that unearthed the fabrications and embellishments that Frey used to write A Million Little Pieces, which was published as a memoir, says, “We’ve got a lot of letters from people who are working on memoirs or nonfiction books, and they want to know whether we could serve as a pre-publication review of their work so they can say, ‘This book has been reviewed by The Smoking Gun and found to be 99.8 percent accurate.’ “
Yet Bastone has repeatedly said that he does not want his site, which is owned by Court TV, to become the “literary police,” sniffing out falsehoods in nonfiction books and prosecuting authors. There are things publishers can do to verify questionable facts in a story, he says: “You can pick up the phone and call and do exactly what we did. Whether that’s a fact-checker or a lawyer or an editor, five or ten questions and an hour on the telephone could have nailed you down on the truthfulness of James Frey.”
The Wall Street Journal recently addressed the notion of fact-checkers in the book-publishing business and in a story on Jan. 30, noted, “Editors and publishers say the profit-margins in publishing don’t allow for hiring fact-checkers. Instead they rely on authors to be honest, and on their legal staffs to avoid libels suits.”
While Stuart Applebaum, a spokesman for Random House, declined to comment to The Book Standard, he spoke with the WSJ, commenting that with hundreds to thousands of nonfiction books published each year from a publishing house, the challenge of fact-checking every book is “very daunting.” HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster also declined to comment.
Martin, agent for nonfiction books including You’ll Never Nanny in This Town Again, by Suzanne Hanson, and Take Charge, by Apprentice-winner Kelly Perdew, told The Book Standard that many of her clients spend hours or even days discussing the truthfulness of their work with publishers’ in-house attorneys. And, she says, the tide has turned.
“Up until now,” she says, “their main goal was to check any fact that might result in liability claims against them. And for a while, they may attempt to sift with a finer screen, but then there will, of course, be an attendant increase in production costs.”
The Smoking Gun’s Bastone acknowledges publisher’s financial pressures, but says that discussing the truthfulness of facts only when they may prove to be a liability is a poor approach. That, she says, “leaves a lot to be desired on the accuracy front.”