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.
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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!
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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!!
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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.
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!
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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.
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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!
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.
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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!!
Day 2 of my 6m2s and already read soooooo much great stuff. You guys are music to this 63-year-old binger’s ears. Already starting to like myself a little more just knowing I’m not alone.
My last bing was 3 days ago and was not pretty. 2 days ago I googled “Stop bing eating” and found you. Already you have changed my perception of myself. Bless you and all the recovering binge eaters out there.💖
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Yes yes YES! I am just ecstatic to hear that!! You are NOT alone — so many of us here share eerily similar binge experiences and challenges, and so many people just like you have found their way to a completely binge-free life, just by letting their bodies be. It takes time to reconnect with your natural hunger/fullness cues and for your body’s hormones to readjust, so I hope you’ll remember to treat yourself with patience and forgiveness along the way! You may not feel like you’re getting it “right” all the time, but luckily you’re entering a world where there’s no such thing as eating right or eating wrong 😀 Just try to live in the moment and listen listen listen to your body. Thank you sooo much for taking the time to read here and leave this wonderful comment! It truly means the world. All the very best to you as you embark on a brand new, binge-free chapter of your life! ❤
At 54 I have just admitted to myself that I have been binge eating for the last 15 years. I blamed the menopause for my weight gain, yo yo dieting and full of self loathing for years. I became depressed and anxious and insanely jealous of almost everyone! Jealous of slimmer women, happier women, younger women and a simmering rage that has been ruining my life. I can’t eat at work as I can’t stand to see other people eat and so skip lunch (having usually had little breakfast, if any). I then eat anything in sight when I get home from work and then feel ill before I even get to dinner. I eat whole packs of food and then secretly replace them. My food issues started when years of stress and money worries came to a head. I no longer have money worries but my issues with eating / dieting / weighing / starving / self loathing and deep sadness are as strong as ever. I am determined to reset my system as my health is now a major problem and I need to get well physically and mentally. I am glad to have come across this and am ready to start the process.
Dear Hilda, I’m so, so sorry to hear of all the struggles you’re working through right now, but so happy you’re coming to terms with the reality of binge eating. It’s a terrible, stressful affliction that underscores everything in life. And life is already hard enough!
The routine you’ve described with eating little to nothing for breakfast and lunch is truly a recipe for binge eating. Even without food issues added to the mix, your body must be so hungry and so insecure about when the next meal is coming. There are both psychological and physiological elements to binge eating, and I think it’s so important to address the physiological part first by eating eating eating (as described in Phase 1). Prove to your body every single day that food is available and plentiful where you are — you’re not stranded in the desert and living on the brink of starvation! You can (and must!) identify and address the mental challenges and hang-ups you have around food and body image, but until your body returns from starvation mode, you will continue to feel the compulsion to binge.
Why do you hate seeing other people eat at work? Is it because you feel jealous of how eating seems like no big deal for other people? That’s how it always was for me. I also lived in fear that someone would ask me questions about my eating habits. “Is that all you’re eating?/You’re eating all of that?” “Why are you eating that?” and so on. Those kinds of intrusions into my inner shame were enough to send me into a tailspin. I hope that you can find a private place at work so you can eat your fill whenever your body gives you a hunger cue. It’s so crucial to this process — and, in my opinion, for the rest of your life! Our bodies are just not flexible and understanding when we get in the habit of skipping meals…they jump to the most dramatic possible conclusion and go into hunger overdrive!
As I started my path to recovery, one of the most surprising and disappointing and freeing realizations was this: restrictive eating didn’t make me happy, but eating freely wouldn’t either. If only happiness were so simple! When food is the forbidden fruit in life and the “perfect” body always seems so close and yet forever out of reach, those become convenient scapegoats for all of life’s difficulties. But contentment and fulfillment and peace are so much more complicated than that, and blaming it all on food keeps us from finding out and facing the real issues. Healing my body’s need to binge freed up the time and energy I needed to address the needs in my mind and soul. As silly as it may sound, a satisfied belly serves as the starting point for everything else.
Wishing you all good things in the days and weeks ahead. It can be a confusing and scary process, and I hope you’ll be gentle, patient, and responsive with yourself along the way. And please don’t hesitate to check in with questions and updates…all my best to you!
Hi and thanks for your reply. My issues about eating at work are because the room is cramped, hot and uncomfortable. I have a problem hearing people eating and get very irritated. Also because I am always announcing a new diet I then feel guilty if I’m eating the ‘wrong’ food. I also feel nauseated by some foods – like reheated stuff all mixed in a pot that’s unidentifiable. Some of my colleagues eat gross things that make me heave. I’m better not going in there but miss out on the social side. I’m ok in a restaurant as the lighting is low and the noise drowns out eating sounds.
I ate breakfast and lunch today and was feeling good until I saw some chocolate cereal bars and ate the box of 6 in about 15 minutes. Over 1000 unnecessary calories. What’s wrong with me? I have no self confidence and hate my stupid behaviour. So frustrating. I know what is at the root of my eating issues but can’t change the past. But I can change my future. I hope
Goodness that sounds so awful. I’ve heard of sensitivities to the sound of chewing, but never considered how that could contribute to eating issues! I hope you are able to find a solution that works for you.
The experience you had with the chocolate cereal bars is exactly what people experience in this phase! The challenge now is to reframe your emotional response to it. Next time you are feeling inexplicably drawn to a food item, try observing your behavior, *without* judging it. Ask yourself if there was anything noteworthy that came before eating the bars — were your meals satisfying that day? Were you feeling stressed after work? Were you seeking a way to reward yourself for a hard day’s work? (These should be completely neutral questions and there’s no right or wrong answer, but questions like these can help you identify binge eating triggers and other eating associations you have to work through.) Remind yourself that human bodies in starvation mode crave sugar and high-fat foods because they offer a quick jolt of energy — it’s not because YOU were weak or stupid, it’s just what bodies are wired to do, like breathing or sneezing.
Sometimes you may not be able to come up with a “why,” and that’s okay too. So instead of thinking “What’s wrong with me?” try: “Oh well, I guess that’s what my body needed right now!” and simply forget about it and move on. I know it may seem a little crazy…maybe even like rewarding “bad” behavior! But we’ve all tried punishing the bad food behavior over and over and over again, and somehow the problem only ever gets worse. If you’re willing to try something completely different and really commit to it, it is a surprisingly effective way to neutralize food issues. It takes time and patience, sure, but your future absolutely deserves that!
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Thanks. I’ve had a better day today and reading your information helps a lot.
You are right in my case I only ever binge when alone, wait for everyone to go to bed. Feel so guilty.