In a single week, comedian Jamie Kilstein realized he was both an alcoholic and a food addict.
He has alcoholism in his family, and didn't start drinking till he was legally allowed to. But then, he became a stand-up comic — a job that often pays in drinks.
"I was like, well, I gotta get paid somehow," he tells NPR's Rachel Martin. "I earned this."
While alcoholism is a term most people understand, addiction to food can be a bit murkier. "After my first week of not drinking, I felt really proud of myself," Kilstein says, "but I still felt like there was more."
"I still felt that need to, like, self destruct," he says. That's when he realized he was dealing with a food addiction.
While human beings' survival doesn't depend on alcohol, it does depend on food. Kilstein says he could always find a reason to overeat, and it was more than just a love of food — he was using food as an emotional crutch.
"Literally, I'd just cooked a very filling, healthy dinner, and then an hour later, something happens," he says. "And it can be something as little as some random dude on Twitter says, 'You should go back to Russia because you're a lefty commie,' and then I go 'What? I hate the Internet! I'm going to order Chinese food!' "
Kilstein says his heart would race as he ordered food, and he'd end up ordering much more than he originally intended. After eating it all, he'd feel sick, but he'd talk himself into finishing because he thought feeling bad would remind him not to do it all over again the next day.
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So far, Kilstein is managing his addictions on his own. He says there's power in admitting his problems. "If you say, 'I'm trying not to drink,' your friend can still go, 'Come on man, you can drink!' And you go, 'Yeah, alright, I am going to drink!'" he explains.
"But if you say 'I'm an alcoholic,' and your friend says, 'Come on man,' that friend is a horrible person. And that rarely happens."
JAMIE KILSTEIN: I am going to say it up front that my dad is such a huge fan of this show. He'll say he's been proud of me other times but this is the first time he's, like, super-excited 'cause, like, this is, like, his jam. And he's like why are you going to be on? And I was, like, ah, dammit, like, 'cause I'm an alcoholic and I have an eating disorder. But you can still be proud.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
That is comedian Jamie Kilstein. And last month he wrote an article for the blog Jezebel titled "I'm an Alcoholic Dude with an Eating Disorder. Hi." We've been talking about addiction throughout today's show. Kilstein says it took him 31 years to figure out his own addictions and he only conquered them a few months ago. Jamie Kilstein is our Sunday Conversation.
KILSTEIN: I've always had this sort of, like, love-hate relationship with alcohol. Like, I have alcoholism in my family. I didn't drink until I was legally allowed to drink because I really didn't want to because I saw sort of what it did to my family and stuff. And then I started stand-up comedy, which is filled with self-hating alcoholics. And, you know, you do these gigs where you'd, like, drive four hours and you'd just get paid in drinks and that was it. And I was like, well, I got to get paid somehow, right? I got to earn this. And throughout the years, I tried to quit. And then I'd start again and then I would say, well, I'm just going to drink on special occasions, and then suddenly I'd start to, like, mission creep those special occasions, where I'm like "The Avengers" is out. That's a special occasion. And I always felt bad.
MARTIN: Alcoholism is something that we get. It's a term that most people understand. We've got loved ones or friends who have battled with it. Food addiction is different. There are people, I imagine, in our audience who would say, really? Addicted to food?
MARTIN: What's that about? What do you say to skeptics?
KILSTEIN: Essentially, in short, what happened was I got home after my first week of not drinking. I felt really proud of myself for not drinking but I still felt that there was more. And that's when I thought about it where I still felt that need to, like, self-destruct and that's when I realized, yeah, I had this food addiction. And, you know, it's funny, like, you bring up a really good point, right, where you have to eat every day. You don't have to have three drinks a day to survive and then just not have extra drinks. But with food, you could always go, like, you know, well, we're celebrating or I had a tough day or, you know, whatever, and no one is like, yo, should you have another bite of that pasta? Because it's like normal people eat pasta. I think if you have an addictive personality you can become addicted to anything.
MARTIN: How did you know that you were more than just someone who really loved food? A lot of us really love food and some people eat too much, but food addiction is something very specific. When did you realize that that's what was happening to you?
KILSTEIN: I think I always knew. I knew that food was like a crutch, for sure, and I knew that I would eat too much when I was sad.
MARTIN: What's too much? Give me a sense...
KILSTEIN: Too much is literally I just cooked a very filling, healthy dinner and then an hour later something happens. And it could be as little as some random dude who on Twitter says you should go back to Russia because you're a lefty commie, and then I go, what? I hate the Internet. I'm going to order Chinese food. And then I pick up the phone and I go I just want noodles. This is my craving. I'm not going to eat anything bad the rest of the week. I'm just going to have noodles. And you know what? I'm going to get, like, a tempura appetizer and then I'm like and that's it. I'll get the two noodles, maybe I'll save some of the noodles. I'll definitely have the tempura. And then I call and then I order those two things, and my heart's racing. Like, I'm a 31-year-old man and my heart is racing like the first time I'm about to kiss a girl because I'm so nervous about ordering this food. And so then I order the food, and I think I'm fine and I'm about to hang up, and then the person on the other line says do you want anything else? And I go, of course I want something else. Like thank you for reminding me. That is an awesome question. And then I go I'm going to have cake. So then I go to order the cake and she goes, and that's it? And then I'll go, two pieces of cake. And then I hang up and then I want to cry. And then I eat it. And then I eat so much and I feel so sick, but then I go, you know what, if I eat all of it and if I make myself feel really sick then I remember this tomorrow when I want to order this food and I won't want to order it. So, I told my sister all this stuff and so she sent me this test, this, like, online test for AA - for Alcoholics Anonymous - and for Overeaters Anonymous. So, I take these tests and I had a 90 percent on both of them and I haven't gotten a 90 percent on anything.
MARTIN: A-plus, you were (unintelligible)...
KILSTEIN: Yeah. I failed out of high school.
MARTIN: So, we're laughing and making light of this because of your treatment of it, but, I mean, that's a serious thing to realize that you have two addictions.
KILSTEIN: I know.
MARTIN: What happened? Did you seek help? Did you go to rehab?
KILSTEIN: I have not yet. If I screw up once, I'm going. But the things that helped me the most were this: accountability and admitting you have a problem. When you say I drink too much or when you say whatever, I'm going to take a break, essentially what you're doing is as you're trying to, quote-unquote, "get healthy," you're already giving yourself an excuse for your next drink. But when you say I have an eating disorder or when you say I'm an alcoholic, it's so much more severe and serious. Like, if you say I'm trying not to drink, your friend can still go, come on, man, you can drink. And then you go, yeah, all right. I am going to drink. But if you say I'm an alcoholic and your friend says come on, man, that friend is a horrible person. You know, like that rarely happens. Like that usually...
MARTIN: And you call yourself that. You call yourself that.
KILSTEIN: Yes. Oh, yeah. Well, this is the first time I've successfully stopped. And then the other thing I would recommend to everybody is just accountability. And so instead of thinking of it as like I'm only going to text my sponsor or my wife or my girlfriend or boyfriend or whatever, because, like, when I'm tempted to drink, instead I would text them when I turn down a drink. And I would hear them say I'm proud of you. Every time, like, I'd get offered a drink, I'd, like, text one of my friends and be like, dude, turned down another drink. And at no point did they get bored or tired. They would just legitimately say, I'm so proud of you. And then I would say first the first time in years, I'd be like, yeah, like I'm proud of me. And then I just started feeling better about myself as a person. Like this is the most confident I'd ever been in my life.
MARTIN: Jamie Kilstein. He's a comedian an co-host of the show "Citizen Radio." He wrote a piece for Jezebel called "I'm an Alcoholic Dude with an Eating Disorder. Hi." Jamie, thanks so much for talking with us.
Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.