MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski has opened up about an eating disorder she has struggled with throughout her life: exercise bulimia — a compulsion to binge eat food and then overexercise to burn off the calories.
People with exercise bulimia will exercise several times a day, multiple days a week even when they’re sick or injured. They’ll blow off other responsibilities to exercise and get panicky or depressed when they can’t work out. Not surprisingly, they’re very focused on their appearance and self-critical, particularly in regards to how much food they have eaten and think they need to burn off. (Unlike with regular bulimia, they don’t make themselves vomit.) As explained by ULifeline.org:
People with exercise bulimia are obsessed with exercise and often binge. Bingeing is when someone eats large quantities of food in a short amount of time. … Exercise bulimia has dangerous complications, including depression, injury, weak bones, reproductive problems and even cardiac arrest.
In an interview in the May 2013 of MORE magazine to promote her new book, Obsessed: America’s Food Addiction—and My Own, 45-year-old Brzezinski explains her binge-and-purge behavior: how would eat an entire box of ceral or Dunkin’ Munchins or order room service for three people — and then exercise her butt off afterwards to assuage the guilt. She would make negotiations with herself to justify her behavior, “I can eat the Domino’s pizza if I run 10 miles afterwards. That’s what I’d do after bingeing —punishing runs.”
As with all eating disorders, the root problem was needing a feeling of control in her life. Brzezinski, the daughter of Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former advisor to President Jimmy Carter, said she never felt she measured up in her family. “[As] the youngest in a brilliant family, always feeling like I couldn’t keep up …,” she explained to MORE. “I thought eating was something I could control, unlike what I felt was a lack of intellect. … Food was the thing I could count on. Food always loved me back.” Brzezinski, who co-hosts “Morning Joe” with Joe Scarborough, said she kept her eating disorder to herself because it was “too embarrassing.” It was only in recent years that her friend TV host Diane Smith was able to help her seek treatment.
Exercise bulimia is a confounding disease. I know, because someone I dearly love has suffered from it in the past. As an outsider looking in, it’s extremely difficult to discuss with with a sufferer: someone who likes to eat doesn’t seem like they have an eating disorder and exercising is healthy, right? But it’s really dangerous and particularly scary because, like any mental illness, it is out of your control. I thank Mika Brzezinski for coming forward about her ED and hope it helps other sufferers change their self-destructive behavior.
You can learn more about eating disorders and how to find help at the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA).