Bingeing on food is a really distressing thing and can severely impact on someone’s life. If you have never struggled with binge eating it might be hard to imagine that you can even struggle with this. You should be able to just stop right?!
The Definition of binge eating (from DSM IV, which is the manual for psychological diagnostics) says
Recurrent episodes of binge eating. An episode of binge eating is characterized by both of the following:
- Eating, in a discrete period of time (e.g., within any 2-hour period), an amount of food that is definitely larger than most people would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances
2. The sense of lack of control over eating during the episode (e.g., a feeling that one cannot stop eating or control what or how much one is eating)
It also must occur at a minimum of twice / week for 6 months or once / week for 3 months.
And the behaviour should not be associated with compensatory behaviours such as excessive exercising, purging or fasting.
It is worth noting that Binge Eating Disorder only became a formal diagnosis in 2013, so just shy of 10 years ago. That’s pretty recent.
The other thing I want to draw your attention to is that not all eating distress fits neatly into diagnosable boxes and that you might find yourself bingeing more often at certain periods or actually using come compensatory behaviours to make yourself cope after a binge episode, like over exercising, laxatives, purging or restricting.
It could mean that your behaviours don’t neatly fit into a box for a diagnosis. This doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve support and help.
Your struggle and pain are valid and you deserve support to find peace and freedom around food even if you don’t have a formal diagnosis.
Binge eating, whether having a formal diagnosis or not is painful, shameful and often all consuming if / when you are struggling with it. It can take its tolls on work, relationships and just life in general.
If this is you, I see you. Your struggles ARE valid and you so deserve to feel at peace with food.
I also want you to know that struggles with binge eating is not an issue with lack of willpower. The whole myth that anyone struggling with binge eating has a willpower issue is driving me bonkers. It perpetuates stereotypes and self blame, when we what we need instead is self compassion and curiosity so that the right support can be got so that things can get better.
It is also important to know that binge eating is not something that is exclusive to people in larger bodies. That’s another myth and stereotype, that needs to be banished from society.
Any person can suffer with binge eating and binge eating disorder.
Is binge eating and emotional eating the same thing?
The answer to that question is yes… and no. You might binge eat in response to difficult emotions as a way to cope. The coping could include eating to numb out or eating to try and feel something. For some people restricting food can work the same way. Not eating can be a way to cope, to feel or to not feel.
I do think that the two words are often used synonymous but when we widen the definition for emotional eating we realise that eating *is an emotional act*.
We eat for pleasure, to celebrate, to connect with others. We eat when we are sad or angry or frustrated or lonely.
This is not inherently problematic. It is only problematic in my view when we eat in response to emotions in a way that is punishing.
If we demonising emotional eating it keeps us from the joy and pleasure that is also part of our eating experiences. We are not robots and I don’t believe that trying to reduce eating to a purely mechanical act is nourishing or helpful when we are trying to create more peaceful relationship with food.
What causes binge eating?
What drives binge eating behaviours are often complex. I think of eating disorders (and to some extent disordered eating too) as Bio-Psycho-Social Disorders. And I am not alone in this idea. To me calling them “just” mental illnesses is making things to simplified and also leaves the body and the physiological impact of a starving body and a starving brain out of the equation.
It can also leave out or minimise the harm caused by a culture that worships thinness in all its forms, the harms of oppression from weight stigma and anti-fat bias as well as all the internalised fat phobia most of us has soaked up from living in the soup.
Dieting and trying to lose weight has a great impact in our relationship with food. Often a destructive one at that. But even if you know or have experienced the destructive side of dieting there are often reasons why we will want to pursue it. I wrote about some of those here.
Food Restriction, including food insecurity play a big role in binge eating too, as when our bodies are in a state of famine, whether on purpose from dieting or from food scarcity, as soon as food becomes available again you will most likely eat as much of it as possible and. This can make you feel out of control, exacerbate shame and might want you to go back to restricting again. Or food might not be available again for some time due to circumstances outside your control.
This kind of eating, is typically physiological. This is your body’s best attempt to keep you alive! Understanding this, bringing compassion and kindness to ourselves and working towards eating more regularly, so that our bodies can learn and trust that food will be available again, so there is less need to rush.
Don’t underestimate how deep any lived experience of food insecurity can go. If you have experience of food insecurity in the past, but are now in a food secure environment, continuing to practice eating regularly and having food available at all times so that you can eat when you are hungry will eventually help your body come to a point when it can relax.
Trauma. Big T or little T leaves you with a dysregulated nervous system and food and eating can become and excellent way sooth and ground ourselves when we are feeling overwhelmed.
Eating can be a way to numb out what we are feeling too, so that we don’t have to feel too much at all. And even though, food and eating might have served you well as a coping strategy in the past, it might be time to add some new tools to your tool box.
Three things that can get you started on the path to recovery
In this three part video series, I will take you through some of the steps that I use with my clients at the beginning of this healing journey.
Step 1. Creating awareness of what is going on in the moment. Are you Hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired?
Making a nourishing choice becomes so much easier when we have awareness of what is going on.
Even when healing from binge eating, and when all you want to do is to stop bingeing on food, I believe that eating should always be one of the options you have.
If you are genuinely hungry, food will be the best option to meet that need. But what if you are angry, tired, lonely, sad or experience any other human emotion? Well eating *might* not be then option that will meet that need most favourably but as we are simultaneously also healing from any deprivation driven eating, it is important that you can choose this if you want to.
But what other ways do you have to be with your emotions?
Step 2. Making sure that you eat enough food. Which is more than you think!
I will take you through this in the course. Some ideas to how we can ensure that you are eating enough, because under eating, which is based on your body’s unique needs, will likely keep you stuck in a restrict-binge cycle.
Step 3. Self-compassion
Learning this practice of treating yourself as a friend is life changing. Self compassion is not something to just think about though it is a practice to engage in. In the course I will take you through a practice to help you move towards implementing self compassion into your daily life.
And yes, I know that this is a hard one. And that it might feel really counter intuitive that being kind towards yourself will work, when it feels like what you need is another stick to beat yourself with.
However, let me ask you this… If being hard on yourself worked, would it not have worked by now?
Perhaps is it is time for a new approach?
In my free video course I will go deeper into these three fundamental steps to help you get started on your recovery journey.