Thursday, February 10, 2011

Binge: A Definition

Binging is one of the most self-destructive things a person can do. According to the Mayo Clinic, binging is defined as, "A serious eating disorder in which you frequently consume unusually large amounts of food...When you have binge-eating disorder, you may be deeply embarrassed about gorging and vow to stop. But you feel such a compulsion that you can't resist the urges and continue binge eating." Binging is the most common of food disorders, according to the Mayo Clinic.

But for those who struggle with binging, you know it's not really about the food (because you eat it too quickly to really enjoy it) and it's not really about feeding an actual hunger (because you eat so much you feel sick). It's an experience that's hard to explain, even to yourself. After I binge, I usually look at the discarded boxes of crap (aka, ice cream, cookies, crackers, etc...) and wonder why I really needed to eat that much. Wouldn't a bowl of ice cream have sufficed? Why did I need to eat the whole carton?

There's so much shame associated with binging that it's hard to talk about, despite the fact that it's a common eating disorder. Now, I'm going to make an imperfect comparison here--perhaps binging is somewhat similar to self mutilation. Just to be clear, I've never struggled with self mutilation, but I want make the comparison because they seem to have some similarities. Both are destructive. Both are compulsive acts. Both are shrouded in shame. And both are typically about control. As someone who has never struggled with self mutilation, it's hard for me to imagine take a sharp object and cutting my skin. Likewise, it's probably tough for someone who has never binged to imagine compulsively stuffing yourself until you want to throw up.

But I have binged several times in the last few weeks, and right now it's a daily struggle for me to fight the compulsion.

Last night, I randomly came across a passage by one of my favorite contemporary authors that described the binge experience really well. Anne Lamott, in Grace (Eventually) Thoughts on Faith, writes the following:

Until a few weeks ago, I had been scootching along pretty well for a while in size-ten pants, having lost a little weight, feeling I'd nailed the food and weight and body-image business, when all of a sudden my foot met air, and I was unmoored. Within minutes, I was on the edge of a full-on food binge, assault eating.

I can definitely relate to this sentiment. When I had lost my first 50 pounds and was fitting comfortably in a size 12, I really thought I'd nailed the weight/ binge/ body issues that I'd struggled with for the past decade. My recent struggles with binging have been a wake-up call for me. It's so disappointing to learn that six months of healthy living doesn't wipe out years of unhealthy behaviors. But it makes sense.

She goes on to describe the binge:

All I could think to do was what every addict thinks of doing: kill the pain. I don't smoke or drink anymore, am too worried to gamble, too guilty to shoplift, and I have always hated clothes shopping. So what choices did that leave? I could go on a strict new diet, or conversely I could stuff myself to the rafters with fats, sugars, and carcinogens. Ding ding: we have a winner.

It's fascinating how similar binge eating is to strict food deprivation. In some ways, the two opposite courses of action stem from the same urge--the urge to control your life through food. I've had the same thought several times. I'll come home in a terrible mood and feel like (a) either starving myself for the night as a punishment or (b) like eating until I can't feel anymore. And like Lamott says so succinctly, the eating option is usually more appealing.

At the end, Lamott describes how she recovered from the binge:

I got myself some cool water, a pair of soft socks...Then waves of nausea and self-loathing, backtrack bog. I thought of all the times my friends have given off light in the darkness...So I was simply kind to myself...I burped my terrible Cyclops burps, which brought such relief that I remembered who I was: one of the sometimes miserable all-of-us. I was a soul, not a faulty digestive system...A woman with a few, small, unresolved issues.

To me, this is one of the best passages in the whole book. Binging can make me feel like a disgusting excuse for a human being, but when I look at myself through Lamott's eyes, I see a young woman with a few, small, unresolved issues. A young woman with a lot of good characteristics and a few challenges.

And I think that is the only way to really recover from binges--respect yourself enough to be kind to your body. Exercise regularly and honor your hunger (and your full-ness). And if you fall off the wagon, remind yourself of this passage and start again.

For those who don't binge, I hope this sheds some light on the experience. And for those who do, I hope this helps to remind you that you're not alone in this struggle.


  1. This was a very, very brave post, Katie. I think your take on it is really interesting! I've never thought about it like self-mutilating, but you're pretty right about that.

  2. Thanks for posting this, Katie! I think it can be hard to put yourself out there sometimes, so I agree with Emily - brave post.

    That said, I do still struggle with out-of-control binging from time to time, though less so than I used to. It's hard to get my head around the fact that even though I've been following WW for almost 2 years (!!!) I still struggle! As I get closer to my goal weight, I realize that maintenance is its own beast, and I'm kind of worried..

  3. "Likewise, I it's probably tough for someone who has never binged to imagine compulsively stuffing yourself until you want to throw up."

    I told a coworker recently that I could eat an entire pizza by myself if I wanted. And by the horror on her face, I realized that no, not everyone does understand.

    Good post.

  4. I agree that binge can be compared to self mutilation in a way. It is definitely a self destructive behavior that makes us feel worse and continues the cycle.

    Every time I overeat a little part of me is scared that it's a binge. I think it's something that you always deal with, or at least - deal with for a very long time even after you feel "better" from it.

  5. Thanks everyone--I really appreciate the feedback!

  6. Great post Katie. I think a lot of people can relate to this post to some degree.

    Lo I too could eat a whole damn pizza to myself! I think anyone could if they wanted to. Pizza is just that good. Or if I went to a chinese buffet I could literally put down 5 plates easily. I'd be stuffed to the max but you have to get your money out of it. Lol

  7. What a great post! I have struggled with both sides of extreme eating: anorexia and binge-eating disorder. So I can really relate to this. I just may have to get that book. I love Ann Lammott. :-)

    P.S. I posted just for you today! Thanks for missing my posts.