This holiday season, I keep hearing the word “binge” tossed around really casually, online and in conversation. Like: “How to recover after your Thanksgiving binge”-type stuff. This is a ludicrous misuse of the word. And pretty reckless, too: are we seriously teaching our kids that big family meals are binges?
Imagine a typical holiday meal. You’re surrounded by friends and family. You’ve served your favorite foods onto a plate. You’re using silverware. You’re tasting your food. You’re laughing. You’re joyful. You’re present.
This goes against every possible factor I would associate with a binge eating episode.
The definition of “binge” (e.g. “consuming large quantities of food”) can hardly capture the full experience that comes with binge eating. Yes, there are large quantities of food involved, but that’s only half the story.
Binge eating episodes occur with extreme shame and a feeling of being completely and utterly out of control of what is happening. They often involve eating in abnormal ways, like crouched next to the refrigerator, using your bare hands, lying in bed, or hiding in the bathroom to avoid detection by other people. Confusingly, binges often involve eating food that doesn’t even taste good. And in my personal experience, binge eating only happens when you are alone.
Fellow and former binge eaters, I’d love to hear your thoughts: have you ever binged in the presence of other people? I have never, not even once. I have eaten beyond the point of fullness in the presence of others, and the shame and frustration of that fueled future binges — sometimes as soon as I got home and had privacy. But in my opinion, binges only happen in solitude.
There is soooOOOooo much horribleness wrapped up in binge eating; let’s not spread the misery by making everyone think a big meal is a binge.
And raising awareness of binge eating is a GREAT thing — the more people talk about it, the more others will understand that it is unbelievably common. It is not a weird choice or a bad habit or a lack of self-control. It’s an uncontrollable, biological response to years of restrictive dieting.
But it’s not helpful if binge eating is casually defined with eating food that tastes good. This only furthers the implicit message of diet culture: Eating is bad. Enjoying food is a weakness.
If you are struggling with binge eating, try a six-month reset and trust your own instincts about what does and doesn’t constitute a binge for you. If you’re still feeling at sea, find professional support. But for all that is holy, ignore all of the stupid diet crap the world will be throwing at you from now through January and have yourself a happy, guilt-free holiday.