Eating vs. binge eating. How can they feel so incredibly different? Both involve consuming food. Both are driven by the same state of need: hunger. Both are irrevocably complicated by the messages of diet culture.
So let’s get back to basics.
At a core level, eating is defined by the action: “I am consuming food. When I’m full I will stop.” It feels finite, biologically necessary, and satisfying.
Binge eating is defined by the state of mind: “I am consuming food in a state of panic and I don’t know if I can ever stop.” It feels scary, shameful, and completely out of control.
To stop binge eating — today, right now, this very second — you must change the lens through which you view eating.
If you see eating as inherently negative — a weakness, a cheat, an indulgence, a sin, something that must be monitored and managed — you will continue binge eating.
But if you see eating as inherently neutral and necessary — no good or bad foods, no good or bad portions — binge eating becomes just plain old eating, defined by the action, not by the state of mind.
Let me be super clear here: binge eating is NOT all in your head. My entire purpose for starting this blog was to shout from the rooftops that there is a biological basis of binge eating. You are NOT binge eating because you lack will power or self control — you are binge eating because over years of dieting, your body has come to believe that you are at constant risk of starvation. Now you need to prove it wrong.
Though the root cause of binge eating is physiological, the first step to curing it is psychological.
Food restriction perpetuates and intensifies a binge. Food permission defuses a binge. While your body’s hormones will need a few months to rebalance to life after restriction, a change of perspective can turn binge eating into plain old eating in a single second.
The next time you’re feeling that unmistakeable itch to binge on something, reframe the perspective. Flip the script. Reclaim the moment.
Instead of: “I’ll just eat one. No just two. Okay ONLY three and then I will work out extra hard at the gym. Oh god, I can’t stop eating I have to stop. I can’t stop. I have to stop. Why can’t I stop this is horrible WHAT IF I NEVER STOP”
Try: “I am allowed to eat as much as I want, guilt-free, until I feel satisfied.”
When you start eating, you won’t know how much you will eat before you stop, and that’s okay. But you will stop. You will stop. Just like when you go to bed on a weekend and don’t set an alarm. You don’t know how much you will sleep before you stop sleeping, but you will stop. Despite everything diet culture has been telling you all of these years, your body is worthy of your trust.
9 Comments Add yours
I appreciate this and had an entire year and 1/2 with no binging, I’ve had some recent bouts of it again (it’s stemming from past trauma coming up and stress in my life). It’s hard for my mind to get around this perspective for some reason. Although I see you’re healed so you know what you’re talking about.. but when I read another of your posts similar to this I gave myself license to binge everyday all day constantly, and it got worse with the eat what you want mentality and so did the shame and the weight gain. It kind of backfired for me. I believe what you say but something is still not right inda head 🙂
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Tammy, I’m so grateful you commented. Dieting is an all-too-common cause of binge eating, but it isn’t the only one: I completely glossed over the fact that for many, many people, binge eating is a symptom of trauma. I was careless not to mention that, so thank you for saying something. I am so sorry to hear that you are dealing with past traumas and current stress, and I hope you are able to find peace very soon. Based on your other comment, it sounds like you have made some exciting breakthroughs!
By the way, if you have any interest in sharing, I’d be interested to hear more about the shame you mentioned feeling with the “eat what you want” mentality. Were you able to pinpoint what you felt shame about? Is it related to your trauma? Or the stigma attached to eating, or weight gain? In any case, congratulations on a year and a half binge free and I hope you can get back to the binge-free life soon!
I also hope you are enjoying reading Intuitive Eating! I reread it recently, and I noted this one distinct difference in my approach and the authors’ approach…and it may resonate with you! I noticed that the authors say things along the lines of (I’m paraphrasing here…I had to take the book back to the library, lol!): “Giving yourself permission to eat does not mean you can just gorge all day.” When I read something like that, I feel guilty all over again for my appetite, which was a great source of shame for me. For me, giving myself permission to “gorge” made it less alluring, and then I could make the decision not to gorge on my own terms — because gorging makes me feel like crap! But that approach sounds like it might be more in line with what you are experiencing, and a great reminder that there is no single right way to do anything. I hope that with all of your great reading and introspection and relationship with God, you will find that perfect combination of mindsets and strategies that will work for you. My mantra is “A technique is anything that works!”
Thanks again for your comments, Tammy! Very insightful, and I am so grateful you have taken the time to read here.
Thank you so much for writing this post. This really stood out to me: “You are NOT binge eating because you lack will power or self control — you are binge eating because over years of dieting, your body has come to believe that you are at constant risk of starvation.” I’ve heard will power and self control used in regards to food one too many times, and I don’t know how to explain to people that dieting is what is causing that reaction to food. Binge eating and binge eating disorder need to be looked at so differently by our society so that we can more effectively tackle the issue, and I love the way you’ve written about it here.
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Thank you so much, Melissa!! I so appreciate your kind words. The way we talk about will power in regards to food is so ridiculous, and so reckless too!
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I have struggled with jumping into food permission too fast. I couldn’t deal with it, it was either everything or nothing. Completely healthy or completely unhealthy. I couldn’t find balance. For me, at least lately what is working is approaching everything with kindness and completely letting go of all shame, negativity and regret! Easier said than done but it has allowed me to have dessert at a family lunch and not feel like I need to go off the rails for the rest of the day. It has also allowed me to trust that I don’t need to food prep for the entire week. I can still eat healthy without prepping every meal in advance.
Great blog – thanks, always enjoy reading your posts! 🙂
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I don’t know how I missed this comment — so sorry for the VERY late response!
Thank you for sharing your struggles with finding a sense of permission that works for you. It’s so easy to bring the binge/restrict, everything-or-nothing mindset into the intuitive eating realm! It breaks my heart to think of all the people who experienced what you’re describing and concluded that intuitive eating just wasn’t “for them.” But I’m so glad to hear that you stuck with it and have found something that seems to be working. I love that your approach is all about embracing kindness and releasing shame. Wishing you all the best on this journey! I hope that you keep going and going, and every day is better than the day before.
I read a simple quote recently from Dr. Colleen Reichmann that really resonated: “Please don’t make intuitive eating or body love another goal to beat yourself up over.” To anyone who is struggling to find their path, I’d say: Keep trying. Keep exploring new approaches to find what feels right. And above all, keep being kind to yourself. Thank you so much for your wonderful comment and for reading! ❤
This was a really succinct way of putting it – that lens through which we view food, because really that’s what it comes down to isn’t it? The relationship we have with what we eat and the conditions for which we eat under. When it’s permissive there’s no need to rebel (psychologically) and we’re satiated so no need physiologically either; but when we restrict and control and ban and deny there are so many things at play screaming for more food and less rules. Really enjoyed reading this, thank you.
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Yes yes yes! Food only has power only if we give it power. I really love the way you’ve put it here — “the need to rebel” is such an apt way of describing that inescapable psychological pull. So let’s stop trying to escape it, people! Psychological permission begets physiological satiation. Can I get that printed on a really long bumper sticker? 😉
I’m sorry I didn’t see the response you gave earlier. I forgot to check off the box that said “notify me.” Thank you for making this website, sharing your experiences and your encouragement that there is healing, you’re a success story and we need you!
You asked me about my shame and yes I was referring to the rapid weight gain and somewhat to the lack of self control. In your write up it says (when speaking of binging and eating) that “both are driven by the same state of need: hunger” However when you’re eating for trauma or emotional eating I know for darn sure I’m not hungry, it’s not that at all, it’s eating to find something to stop the pain, it’s definitely a false comfort. I’m sure you know that. Sometimes I even say out loud, I am not hungry but then I eat anyway. It’s a temporary fix that makes me better for a moment and feel worse after (but I seem to do it anyway).
And yes my mind didn’t respond well to the statement to give myself permission to eat – – it gave myself permission to eat whatever whenever and as much as ever. I feel quite messed up at this point.
I’m still reading the “Intuitive Eating” book and I’m hopeful about it and for the healing and strength and for finding ways to relieve the emotional pain in something other than destructive gorging. Thank you so much for your passion to help others. I plan to have more positive feed back as I finish the book and practice putting it all into practice 🙂 I know there’s more healing and help for me yet, with God, nothing is impossible! Thanks again.