Let's Talk About Binge Eating: What it is and what to do about it?
All eating disorders are not as different from one another as I always believed that they were. I always thought that orthorexia, which is where someone solely eats ‘clean’ and has a very restrictive view on food and food groups, was starkly different from binge-eating, where a person seemingly ‘zones out’ and gorges on mass amounts of usually ‘unhealthy’ food in a short period of time.
Until I experienced both of these eating disorders and almost all of the ones in between.
My eating disorder began in seventh grade where I developed anorexia, an eating disorder where someone refuses to eat and starves themselves away. I lost a lot of weight very rapidly, I barely ate food, never wanted to touch it, look at it, be around it. I was terrified of calories and carbs and sugar! I thought this is it, I will never want to eat food ever again. Even during recovery, I had to ‘force’ myself to eat food to gain back healthy body weight, but the moment I was done being watched, I went back to restricting and eating as little as I possibly could and as ‘clean’ as I possibly could, as well!
Until one day, almost seven years later, I binged! I gorged myself on chocolates, cookies, chips, cake! I must have eaten over 10,000 calories in a 1-hour span of time and I could not figure out why! I was the girl who never, EVER ate poorly! I never touched sweets, added salt, no thank you! I was perfect in my diet and regimented like you wouldn’t believe! Why did I do that!?
There are two main reasons someone can be experiencing binge-eating and I desperately hope you relate to one of these and this post helps you<3 I know how lonely binge-eating disorder can feel compared to the other forms of food struggles. From my personal experience, binge-eating brought about the most shame and guilt and fear out of any food struggle I faced!
I think it’s because we, as a society, somewhat glamorize being thin and being regimented when it comes to our diets or workout routines, which let me tell you there was absolutely nothing glamorous about my anorexia! And then, binge-eating is ‘terrible, awful, shameful,’ (which is absolutely 101% is none of those things and I’ll show you why!) and what does feeling shame do? Make us binge more.
So, why are you experiencing binge-eating?
1. You are restricting your diet somehow or somehow.
2. You are coping through a mechanism called ‘numbing.’
Restrictions are the problem, not the binging!
Read that sentence again.
Your restrictions are BRINGING your binges.
If there’s nothing to ‘binge’ on, then you can’t have binges. Meaning a lot of the times, me included, girls think that the binging is them being ‘out of control.’ That they are ‘bad’ for binging on foods and need to return to their ‘control’ or ‘restrictive’ ways of eating. But your restrictions are bringing these rebellions.
The thing is we don’t get to choose where our bodies are happy. We just don’t. We do get to choose if we allow the constant manipulation of our bodies to well, be our constant. I always had this idea in my head of what my body ‘should’ look like, the problem is this: The idea was in my head, not in my body. You see what I mean? My brain had decided, okay, Emily you should be this small or this shape, but that’s not where my body wanted to be and I could *and did for a long time* spend my entire life trying to FORCE my body into that size, but that would come with a forced and limited life, as well!
Your binging is then the rebellion of your dieting behavior. The binging comes because your body feels that it’s being starved and that may very well be the case. Your body doesn’t want to be starved or limited or restricted in any way. Food is life. You deserve to live. The thing that helped me THE MOST with my binging was understanding that if I refuse to ever restrict again, my body will stop fighting me and binging back. And that’s what happened! I began to eat more and freely and honoring all of my hunger cues when and where they came to me and the more and more I refused to ‘plan’ to diet again, the less my binging became.
If you find yourself eating a cookie and saying, “But, tomorrow I am going to never eat sugar again,” you are leading yourself into the binge cycle. Instead of eating the cookie and not planning AT ALL to diet or restrict or fast because of this cookie. You will find that there is no desire to binge because you are no longer fueling that fire.
I tell myself when I feel that binge moment hit me, “Em, you don’t starve anymore, so if you’re hungry eat and if I am hungry again later, I will eat more.” Eating freely takes away all binge eating if you are struggling with it due to your restrictions.
The Act of ‘Numbing’ when it comes to Food and Feelings
The second reason you may be struggling with binge-eating is that food carries a ‘numbing’ agent. It can very easily become a coping mechanism. I have experienced both reasons behind my binge-eating. The coping mechanism piece is another moment of self-awareness. For me, I experienced binge-eating when I felt anxious, sad, or lazy. Three things that are deep insecurities and struggles of mine. For example, I would find myself very overwhelmed with school and work and friends and family and I didn’t want to deal with the actual discomfort of what I was experiencing, so it was easier for me to disassociate: to numb. I would just gorge on food because on a biological level, food makes us feel good! So, I would zone out and eat and eat and eat to not ‘feel.’ I didn’t want to feel anxious or sad or lazy, and for that ‘binge episode’ I didn’t feel those things. I didn’t feel at all.
Think about if you’ve ever binged or emotionally eaten and felt nothing? Probably almost every single time because your actions are trying to take your mind away from trauma or pain or fear and ‘zone out,’ and food has become your agent to do so. I would gorge on food, not feel, but then ‘zone back in.’ I would ‘wake up.’ Find myself stuffed and surrounded by wrappers and hear is the key to understanding numbing emotions, they don’t go away. I still felt anxious. I still felt sad or lonely. And on top of that, I felt even worse because of the binge episode itself.
Here is my tip for this one:
Be aware. When you feel like binging, why? What emotions are you trying to run from? Maybe what environment are you in, time of day, people around you? What are you trying to escape?
Remind yourself you cannot run. You will feel this way before and after the binge episode, so why not work through these emotions or discomfort now and not later under the new pile of shame or guilt?
Immediate Action--change your physiology; I get up and shower or write or call a friend because the thing with eating our emotions is it becomes a habit. We feel a certain way, we don’t want to feel this way, we turn to our coping mechanism like clock work. Instead, pick a new distraction, a sustainable and positive response to feeling down. For me, I always felt like binging at night because being alone at night made me feel sad or anxious and so I would get up and do yoga instead. Immediately. I had fallen into the routine of it: at nighttime, I feel down, I binge when I feel down, and I had to change that narrative and constantly reinforce my new coping mechanism.
Work through the actual pain. Positive distraction in the moment like I said above is great to change your habitual action, but deep down, you need to address the wound itself. For me, I had to sit with my anxiety, cry, feel it out. Work on sustainable ways to cope with it in my day to day life. Find support. Find exercises that helped me with it all.
The key to binge-eating and any sort of food struggle is that the food and action around it is not the actual problem: it’s what you are running from and making food mean. Because in both situations, you somewhat don’t want to feel and you have decided to use food as your coping mechanism just in different ways! Restriction is about controlling and the binging is your rebellion. Emotional eating is about numbing and the binging is your distraction. Yet, in both situations you are trying to ‘not feel’ the pain or insecurities deep within yourself.
I hope this helped you maybe understand more about why you’re experiencing binge-eating and some tactics to get you out of that cycle! I love you all so much!