Confessions of a sleep eater

My name is Gary, and I eat White Castle cheeseburgers while snoring.

Published February 15, 2006 12:00PM (EST)

That big low-fat-diet study that was front-page news a week ago has blown over now, and people are back to spreading butter on their bread and still feeling good about themselves. What the study said (in case you've forgotten) is that grandmas who eat fudge sundaes don't face significantly greater risks than grandmas who eat parsnips. For this the government paid $415 million. Meanwhile, the male urinary tract remains a dark mystery, like the upper Amazon or Northwest Passage, and psoriasis breaks the hearts of thousands, and my sinuses are a ticking time bomb. Where is the justice here?

I realize this column is Not About Me, but if Washington has a half-billion to pay researchers to watch postmenopausal women eat Little Debbie snack cakes, then why can't someone look up my nose and tell me what is going on? I am in my extremely late '50s and am not in a mood to dawdle.

We are talking about a feeling of congestion and pressure and frequent sinus headaches, even though I take so much antihistamine that I talk in my sleep. I am married to an insomniac, that's how I know. She says I talk about technology stocks and seem to know my stuff.

I also eat in my sleep. I was not intending to go public with this, but after the low-fat headlines, maybe it's time. I woke up one morning and found an empty quart carton of butter brickle ice cream in the bed and brickle stains on my pajamas, and I realized that I must seek help. Also that there might be a book deal here.

Sometimes it is water chestnuts. Sometimes frozen waffles. Chicken nuggets. Pistachios. The list goes on and on. Pimentos. Anchovies. And once I ate a dozen White Castle double cheeseburgers. The empty cartons were under my pillow in the morning, the car keys lay on the floor with the sales slip from the drive-through, and the car was in the driveway with the door wide open. A binge eater turned sleep driver.

Thank goodness for Google. You do a search on "sleep eating" and "therapy" and among the 23,457,863 sites it finds in 0.85 of a second is a Nocturnal Excess Eating Disorder group where you are not made to feel like a monster just because you have consumed a large quantity of Girl Scout cookies during deep slumber.

My NEED group met in the undercroft of St. Titus, in a little room under a big banner that said, "Mistakes make better artists of us all as we weave new patterns in the fabric of our lives." I plopped myself down in the ring of folding chairs full of weepy people drinking coffee out of Styrofoam cups, and I was all set to stand up and say, "My name is Gary and I went to a drive-through in my sleep," but then the group turned out to be not my group but Anger Anonymous, a group for parents who have yelled at their children.

Out of politeness, I stuck around and listened to their stories, though I myself have never raised my voice to my children or treated them with anything but kindly respect.

It was the standard stuff. Teenagers testing the limits, painting swastikas on their foreheads, wearing light-up bras, turning their bedrooms into swamps of rancid laundry and psychotic music, and their parents, good supportive liberal parents, going berserk and screaming and foaming at the mouths, and the kids using cellphones to video the whole ugly scene and e-mail it to the county prosecutor as a jpg attachment. The old story.

I stood up then and said, "My name is Gary and I may have eaten too much but I am not an abusive parent." Of course they accused me of being in denial, but I'm not. I'm a recovering sleep eater, and if you are too, I look forward to meeting you on my book tour. It's called "A Bed Full of Bread Crumbs," and I trace my sleep eating to the sinus problem, which was aggravated by the three years I spent in prison for dangling my son from a hotel balcony. (I was asleep at the time.) That's in the book too.

The way to overcome sleep eating is to face up to the truth about yourself. I did it and so should you. Has anyone told you that you could stand to lose a few pounds? Well, you could.

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(Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" can be heard Saturday nights on public radio stations across the country.)

© 2006 by Garrison Keillor. All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Media Services Inc.

By Garrison Keillor

Garrison Keillor is the author of the Lake Wobegon novel "Liberty" (Viking) and the creator and host of the nationally syndicated radio show "A Prairie Home Companion," broadcast on more than 500 public radio stations nationwide. For more columns by Keillor, visit his column archive.

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