A big meal is not a binge

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.

8 Comments Add yours

  1. I have binged in front of other people probably several times when I was in my worst parts. But this is so important to note–I often, even in recovery, am mentally in that place of oh no, I feel full; did I binge? But then I factor in, that I was intuitive the whole time, I actually was present in my body while eating, so no, I have nothing to overreact about.

    It’s so important that we inventory like this during this time when food dominates the focus of the season. Thank you for writing this!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah! So interesting! Thanks for sharing about bingeing in front of other people, it’s so helpful to hear how the same disorder can manifest differently for different people.

      And fullness is such a sin in diet culture, isn’t it? Good for you for finding that sweet spot and trusting your intuition — so invaluable during this time of year. Thank you for reading!!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Tiger Lily Warrior says:

    I am an open binger. I have 90percent of the time binged in front of people and 10 percent of the time done so in private. Most of my binge eating was a result of a misunderstanding of what normal eating habits are and not realizing how much food satisfies me emotionally. I think people binge for different reasons but I do agree that a lot of it stems from restrictive eating. In my case I often did not eat breakfast and hated the lunches I was forced to bring to school so when 3 pm rolled around I would find anything and everything and eat it like there was going to be no more food tomorrow. I do think that intention is everything when it comes to food. I now aim for 80 percent full but still find myself slipping back into that 120-150 percent full on occasion and it’s usually because I have a feeling that I will not be able to eat that food again tomorrow.

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    1. This is so interesting, I so appreciate you sharing your experience! I have similar memories of skipping breakfast, not eating enough lunch, and then diving into 3 p.m. food fests after school. For me I think it was innocent teenage silliness, but in retrospect, it was foreshadowing what was to come. I wonder how many people with binge eating issues can trace it back to patterns in high school!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Tiger Lily Warrior says:

        I think it actually traces back to elementary based on a lot of documentaries I have watched. Everyone’s journey is so personal, I wish there were more in depth research about it.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Me too….good, in-depth research on this would be a game-changer. If you have any favorite documentaries that you’d recommend, I’d love to hear!

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  3. Deb Martinez says:

    I’m still so amazed at the food choices I make now compared to my binge eating days. I used to love eggs and hate strawberries. Now, 4 months into my six month reset, the only time I eat eggs is if they are baked into a cheesecake and I love making a fresh strawberry smoothie. When you are in that binge eating mode or dieting for that matter, it really has nothing to do with what your body needs or wants, your just trying to make yourself happy by filling your emptiness with food.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Isn’t it incredible?? That’s so awesome you’re already noticing before-and-after differences in your food choices! One of my biggest changes was about cereal…I was so terrified of cereal because I loved it so much and knew I couldn’t “control myself” around it, so I would never allow it in the kitchen and would even avoid the cereal aisle at the grocery!

      Since then I realized…I don’t even like sweet breakfast that much!! I always always wake up craving something savory. Nowadays I get cereal for my husband, but I just forget it’s there. The idea of forgetting about a box of cereal would have been *unthinkable* back in the day!

      Sounds like you are doing an awesome job observing and honoring (rather than judging!) your body’s wants and needs and preferences — so great to hear about your progress! Thank you so much for sharing!!

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