That word is associated with shame, embarrassment, disorder, and guilt for me.
It’s actually a diagnosable type of eating disorder, now, which hasn’t always been the case. Bingeing is (very loosely) when you overeat but do not purge afterward.
As I work through my emotional eating, I’ve been steering clear of the word binge. It just seems too drastic – something that only very sick, very overweight people do. (Which is totally wrong and rude, but I think often the stigma.) Not something that I, a functioning, fit, thin person does. What I was doing was just emotional eating. Just eating too much sometimes.
The medical definition of binge eating disorder (from MayoClinic) is:
“Frequently consuming unusually large amounts of food…becoming a regular occurrence, usually done in secret. You feel such a compulsion that you can’t resist the urges and continue binge eating.”
I sometimes see myself falling into that definition, but the other night, Geneen Roth rocked my world. In her book, Breaking Free from Emotional Eating, she calls for a different definition of binge. One that most certainly includes me:
“Bingeing does not necessarily mean standing in front of the refrigerator with one hand in a pot of vegetables and the other in a box of cookies. Bingeing is an attitude; bingeing is qualitative. Bingeing is not only the act of eating and its concomitant feelings but all the moments, decisions, and feelings that lead up to that act. Bingeing is a symptom…”
It made perfect sense. Just because I wasn’t scarfing down the exact definition of an “unusually large amount of food” does meant I wasn’t bingeing. I still had that mindset – the mindset that something was bothering me, some emotion or situation, and I was going to solve it with food. I had an urgent need for food and I wasn’t in control of it. I wasn’t hungry, but I was going to eat. And I would prefer that no one know about it.
Geneen goes on to say,
“Now it [only] takes my awareness of the urgency with which I need food – any food and any quantity of food – for me to classify the act as a binge. Two cookies can be a binge.”
TWO COOKIES? That is not a binge, that’s dessert!
It depends on the mindset. If you are eating two cookies because they sound good and you’d like dessert, then it’s dessert. But if you are eating two cookies because there is some emotion or situation causing you to NEED the cookies so much so that you eat them without even enjoying them, without even being hungry for them, then it is a binge.
I had had dinner (and dessert, actually) one night and then got into an argument on the phone. I was so upset. So frustrated. I actually ended up stopping the conversation becuase I knew I needed time away to think. But the first thing I did? I went and got two bowls of chocolate chips and habitually put them in my mouth – bowl to mouth, bowl to mouth – without even tasting them.
Two little bowls wouldn’t normally constitute a binge, but the behavior was definitely binge-like. I was hurt and angry, not hungry and craving chocolate. At that point, the food was a need that I felt powerless too.
I thought that food would soothe me.
Spoiler: it didn’t. When I continued that conversation (and eventually worked it out) later that night, and I was still upset. Still upset, but also ashamed and guilt-ridden over the chocolate chips I ate.
This new awareness of a binge as an attitude is illuminating. It doesn’t change anything that has happened, but it makes me more aware of what is going on. It makes me realize that when I emotionally eat, what I usually need is some sort of comfort.
Geneen Roth says,
“We all need plunges into oblivion. Sometimes living is too much to handle…Eating is a socially acceptable way of taking time for ourselves. All else is defined as indulgence. Or selfish or unnecessary or a waste of time.”
She suggests finding what a “plunge into oblivion” is for you, and doing it every day for 15 minutes. It might be a bubble bath, a trashy magazine, or a nap. By doing it every day, we are taking care of ourselves AND teaching ourselves what we can do when we get into an uncomfortable or upsetting situation.
Bingeing isn’t a lack of willpower, it is a symptom.
From now on, I will try to think of other ways to react to whatever is causing that symptom.
- What do you think about this new definition of a binge?
- What do you think about the idea of food being an acceptable way of taking time for ourselves, when all other things are thought of as an indulgence?