For many years I was a binge eater. If you have developed binge eating habits, you may wonder why you engage in this behavior. Maybe you’ve tried to stop and discovered that you can’t. You ask yourself, “Why do I binge eat? Why do this to myself?” Keep reading for answers and find out how to stop.
What is Binge Eating?
When I say I was a binge eater, what I mean is that I would go on eating binges where I would consume massive amounts of food, including thousands of calories in one sitting.
Call this an eating bender, or as someone in our group called it, an eating Mardi Gras (this is when you overeat the night before a diet), but whatever you call it, this is an unhealthy and painful eating pattern.
Compulsively consuming large amounts of food without stopping, often in private or secret, is considered binging. Many of us who binge have ritualistic behaviors around these binges, and certain foods we eat specifically at these times.
Some people then feel the urge to purge (throw up) which is a different eating disorder (bulimia). Undereating is also a different disorder (anorexia).
Everyone overeats sometimes, like at Thanksgiving or when they go out to eat. Generally one extra serving is not considered a binge. Binge eating disorder is when a person goes on eating binges on a regular basis, defined as binging at least once a week for a period of 3 months.
Here is a link to the symptoms of binge eating disorder.
I’m not a doctor or therapist, and if you have this problem, I recommend you see a doctor or therapist. I saw a therapist for years to overcome my binge eating and compulsive overeating. helpyourselfhelpothers.org is one place to start.
I was a major binge eater, and honestly I was a binge eater long after I lost weight, too. I kept right on binge eating.
It’s a tough habit to break, and unfortunately dieting perpetuates binge eating.
Binge eating is very destructive, and finally learning to manage it was the best thing I have ever done for myself when it comes to my health, weight loss, and emotional well-being. For this reason, I’m not a fan of cheat meals, weekends off-diet, cleanses, or anything very extreme. Other people might be able to handle these things, but for me I have to be more careful.
Why Do I Binge Eat?
There is no one quick answer for why you or someone you know is a binge eater. This is where a qualified doctor or therapist is your first step in recovery. From experience, I know that seeking help from a therapist is a scary step, but please know that recovery is possible.
Binge eating is often a way to avoid scary feelings. This was me. Binge eating was how I zoned out and avoided emotions that were too much for me. I could cope with these feelings, but I thought I couldn’t. This link explains more about how I learned to live without using food to numb my feelings.
Binge eating also becomes a habit and you develop a tolerance (the more you binge, the more you need to binge to get the same high from it), and as uncomfortable and embarrassing as it is, it becomes part of your identity. You might hate it, but being overweight provides a certain protection from the opposite sex or the outside world. When people don’t like you, you always have your weight to blame for why.
The Danger of Binge Eating
Besides the obvious reasons not to binge eat — the major physical and emotional damage it causes, it took a serious reality check in order to stop my binge eating.
Honestly, I was able to still lose weight and continue binge eating. It wasn’t good for me and I knew it, but I kept doing it.
It took a doctor sitting down with me and explaining just how many calories I consumed during a binge for me to understand what I was doing to myself.
If I ate 3,000 calories during a binge — which is not that hard to do, believe me — but then was “good” the rest of the week, I might still be over my calories for the week and end up gaining or maintaining my weight.
This seemed incredibly unfair to me. A 3,000 calorie cheat meal or binge session means you have to eat 428 calories less per day the rest of the week. If you are eating an 1,800 calorie diet, that means you now need to eat a 1,400 calorie diet. If you are eating a 1,400 calorie diet, now you need to eat a 1,000 calorie diet in order to see fat loss.
Honestly, my denial was so strong, I would go on an eating binge and then sort of forget I did it. I didn’t really forget, but I put it out of my mind. That’s the way denial works.
When I started therapy, my therapist made me list out the foods I ate during my last binge. (OMGoodness I hated the man that day.) I probably lied and didn’t even tell him everything, and even what I did talk about was very painful.
Consider this scenario:
You go on an all-out food bender on a Saturday night. Sure, you are totally stuffed and uncomfortable, but just that one big meal and a few drinks doesn’t really seem like it could derail your whole week, right? If you’ve been on track with healthy eating the rest of the days, I bet you would say you’ve had an awesome week of staying on program and you deserve to have a good weight loss.
You check your weight the following Monday. Your weight stays the same or you even gain weight. Now you are really upset!
The next day, when you overhear friends have a discussion about hormones, metabolism, genetics, and how they just can’t lose any weight, you say, “Yeah, that must be my problem!” After all, you’ve been so good all week long. Salads and oatmeal. Okay, there was that one weekend splurge, but just that one…
But the math doesn’t lie. Your body is the only perfect machine that never gets it wrong.
How Do I Stop Binge Eating?
Just as why you binge eat is different for every person, how to stop binge eating usually requires the help of a professional in order to get to the emotional roots of why you engage in this behavior.
The longer you have been binge eating, the more important it is to seek qualified help, but don’t allow this to depress you. Recovery is absolutely possible.
These are some of the strategies people use to recover from binge eating. All of these have been important in my recovery process.
(Again, seek help from a professional.)
- Change your food rituals. Most of us who are binge eaters have specific rituals built up around our eating binges. Start to slowing change these habits. Begin to chip away at these routines, changing one habit at a time until you have created a new routine that looks nothing like it did before. Eat in front of other people. Don’t buy the same foods you ate during a binge. Don’t shop at the same stores. If you bought food with your credit card, shop only with enough cash to purchase the family’s weekly groceries for meals.
- Become conscious. Start a journal and write down your hunger level on a scale of 1-10. Write down your emotions. Write down what you ate and the matching emotion. Do anything to bring awareness to what you are eating and why.
- Don’t get too hungry. Restrictive dieting is not your friend. If you need to lose weight, it’s understandable that you are anxious to get on with the process. But it doesn’t have to all be today. Massively cutting back on calories is harmful for anyone, but especially for someone recovering from binge eating disorder. Focus on protein, healthy fat, and fiber so you are not physically hungry.
- Make the unknown known. During a binge, you zone out and hide from your emotions. Gradually, you will learn to tune in to your emotions. This will take time and practice. Be compassionate with yourself.
- Exercise because it’s good for you, not as a punishment. Find a way to move your body that feels right for you and helps you feel strong, not as a way to focus on calories burned or as a punishment for overeating.
Recovery from binge eating is possible. Be compassionate with yourself. These habits developed over time and it will take time to learn new, healthier habits. Focus on adding a new healthy habit each day or strengthening one you are working on. In time you will see tremendous growth.
Do you struggle with binge eating?
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