Dreams: Angela

Dreams: Angela
"I've been eating in my sleep for 15 years," says Angela. "The first time it happened, I found empty wrappers in the morning and an empty glass of milk. I wondered how it happened or where it came from. I eat in my sleep one to five times a week. I know I've been eating in the middle of the night because I find papers and cups around the house that leave a trail."
 
Angela discovered that her sleep-eating problem manifests itself when she is trying to watch her weight. "I usually eat sweets in my sleep. If I don't have sweets, I'll find anything that's lying around in the refrigerator or the cupboards. I've woken up before and found raw meat in my sink and had to throw it out in the morning because it had sat out all night," she reveals. 
 
She has resorted to severe measures to curtail her sleep eating. "Once, I was scheduled for surgery, and I wasn't supposed to eat after midnight, so we taped the cupboard doors shut. We tied the refrigerator shut so that I wouldn't get into it at night. It worked," she says. 
 
Her mom, Mary Lou, fears for Angela's safety. "What scares me the most about my daughter's nighttime eating problem is the fact that she doesn't know that she's doing it. My greatest fear, if Angela doesn't get help, is that there may be some harm to her or her children," she says.

"What do you think is going on?" Dr. Phil asks Angela. 
 
She replies, "I'm kind of assuming that it's when I'm watching my weight that I do it more. Over the holidays, I haven't been watching very well, and I haven't done it for a while."
 
Addressing Mary Lou, he says, "Do you question whether this is a real situation?"
 

"I know it's a real situation. I haven't personally witnessed it, but I know Angela well enough to know that when she tells me what has happened, that it truly has," Mary Lou says. "Her family is aware of it as well."
 
Dr. Phil points out that Angela has trouble recalling if she actually ate during the night. "Sometimes I remember during the day," she tells him, "but most of the time, I find everything in the morning. Empty glasses of milk, a ring around the cup." 
 
"Is this an act of rebellion?" Dr. Phil inquires. 
 
When she laughs nervously, he says, "Sounds like rebellion to me. We do that. If we're restrictive with ourselves, that's what bingeing is all about. You're just doing it while your asleep."

Angela needs to exercise environmental control, such as keeping junk food out of her cabinets. "It might be as simple as the fact that you get up, you go in [the kitchen], there's no payoff, you go back to bed," Dr. Phil says. "If you keep going in there and you can't get in the refrigerator — you can't find these foods in the kitchen — it may blunt that strategy and you're back in bed."

 

Angela should also make peace with herself when she's on a diet. "It's like, 'I'm not upset about this. I'm not depriving myself. I'm not depressed. I don't feel like I'm being punished in some way. I've got the right attitude, so I don't need to rebel once I go to sleep,'" Dr. Phil illustrates.

 

When Angela mentions that she buys junk food for her kids, Dr. Phil says, "You can certainly put [sweets] in a cabinet and lock them up, and put the key where you can't get it. Just put a bicycle lock on the refrigerator door. Do something simple and blunt this environmentally first," he suggests. "Work on your attitude, because you don't like being on a diet, do you?"
 
"I've done it for a long time," Angela admits.
 
"You don't need to be on a diet. There's a really good book about that," Dr. Phil says with a knowing smile. "The Ultimate Weight Solution, which is not about a diet, it's about a lifestyle. Key #1 is Right Thinking. I'm going to give you a copy of that."

After the show, Dr. Phil admits to having had nightmares as a child. "My mother tells me when I was 12 years old, I used to get up and run all over the house," he remembers. "We lived in Denver, Colorado, and I got up and ran into four feet of snow, stark naked, and said white birds were chasing me."

 

He turns to Cynthia Richmond, a columnist with the L.A. Times and author of Dream Power: How to Use Your Night Dreams to Change Your Life. "You've talked to a lot of people about symbols. That's highly subjective. There's not any science behind it. You acknowledge that, right?" he asks Cynthia.

 

"Well, there's some science," she says. "But you're right in that everybody's their own best dream interpreter. Your subconscious mind will choose a symbol that it knows you have a certain association with, and that's why that will bubble up." 

 

"So what do you make of my white birds?" Dr. Phil says with a wry grin.

 

"White birds are usually about peace," she laughs. "I don't know what they were doing chasing you out in the snow."