Take a look at your monthly calendar. What do you see: dinner with your partner, brunch with girlfriends? What about binge eating?
I certainly wasn’t adding “BINGE EAT!” to my scheduler, but over time it became something that I planned for and looked forward to nearly every single day.
Having planned binges meant that after work I got off the subway one stop early so that I could stop by the grocery store that sold my favorite binge foods. It meant that I was acutely aware of my roommate’s schedule so that I could be home alone to really enjoy the food without being interrupted. It meant that I had a place where I could quickly shove the food in case I heard her keys unexpectedly unlocking the door.
Now, here’s where things get a little confusing. I was constantly in pursuit of a smaller body. So why on earth did I plan out my evenings so that they could include a lengthy binge? I knew that the binges were likely causing weight gain. As you can imagine, this created a lot of inner turmoil. Rarely was my mind at peace.
I now know that I was not alone in my struggle, even though it felt like it at the time.
I am writing this article to reassure you that you are not alone if you are currently struggling with planned binges. I also want to reassure you that there is hope for recovery.
I know what it’s like to wish that you could stop, and at the same time, really look forward to the next binge. I know what it's like to be disgusted with yourself for eating so much, yet believe that "regularly-sized" meals will never be enough to satisfy. I also know, from both personal and professional experience, what it’s like to see the binges become fewer and farther between, until they eventually stop.
WHAT IS BINGE EATING
To start, I find it important to describe binge eating not by the amount of food being consumed (though it usually feels like a lot), but, as Isabel Foxen Duke says, "by the cause or motivation for eating, which is primarily a reaction to real or perceived deprivation."
In other words, we are not binge eating because we’re in the middle of polishing off an entire box of cookies. We are binge eating because we’re reacting to real or perceived deprivation.
Real deprivation is when you restrict yourself from eating certain types or amounts of food. The desire to restrict usually comes from wanting to lose weight or maintain a weight that’s lower than your body’s natural set point.
Perceived deprivation means that you’re actually eating the food, but you don’t fully enjoy it because you’re simultaneously feeling like you SHOULDN’T be eating it. Why? Because you believe that it will lead to weight gain or that it will stop any current weight loss momentum.
As you can see, both types of deprivation are fueled by the desire to manipulate the size and shape of our body. The irony of the situation is that the more we restrict, the more our body compensates by driving us to eat large quantities of food. From a physiological perspective, it makes sense. We actually need additional food because we've been restricting and our body wants to prevent starvation.
In hindsight, I can see that I looked forward to regular binge eating in the evenings because my body was hungry! It was craving to be nourished, from both a nutritional standpoint and an emotional standpoint. My body was low on fuel, AND it was missing the pleasure and satisfaction that comes when we really enjoy a meal.
The root of binge eating
This is why it’s so important to know that deprivation is at the root of binge eating.
When you plan for an evening or a weekend of binge eating, it’s not your fault. You’re NOT lacking willpower.
It simply means that you are experiencing real and/or perceived food deprivation. Physically or emotionally, you are restricting.
You are restricting because you want to manipulate the size of your body.
And you want to manipulate the size of your body because our society praises, worships, and glorifies thinness.
Our culture IS diet culture. When you don't meet the thin ideal, you feel unworthy, ashamed, and guilty because you aren't doing "it" right. As a result, you restrict. And as you now know, this restriction leads to binge eating. Because whether you’re conscious of it or not, your body is making sure that it has enough fuel to stay alive.
DIET CULTURE + SHAME & GUILT + RESTRICTION =
So where do we start? I have found that the best approach is to slowly and gently challenge diet culture. There are many ways to do this, and here are a few of my favorites.
- Adjust who you follow on social media. Stop following fitness accounts and seek out accounts that show women living happy lives in bodies of all shapes and sizes.
- Give yourself full permission to eat one food that you consider to be off-limits. Journal through any uncomfortable thoughts that arise as you experiment with this. You may want to challenge the validity of the thoughts. Are they really true? How do you know?
- Make a list of all of the things that dieting and the pursuit of being thin has taken from you. For example, time spent with friends or money wasted on powders and shakes.
- Gift yourself a month of Intuitive Eating Coaching for more individualized guidance and support.
As you may have noticed, none of the suggestions say "Just stop depriving yourself, then the need for binge eating will go away." Deprivation has strong, deep-seated roots. Our culture encourages us to restrict; shame and guilt encourage us to restrict. We need easier stepping stones in the beginning.
We often feel hopeless and out of control when it comes to binge eating. Especially if planned binges have become something that we "need" and really look forward to. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t stop bingeing until I quit depriving myself. Binge eating doesn’t go away if you continue to restrict certain types or quantities of food, or if you feel shame when you do eat.
I know that it is hard to stop restricting if you believe that your body is too big, or if you have a fear of gaining weight. These beliefs are incredibly hard to let go of because of the diet culture that we live in. But if you can slowly start to challenge the thin ideal and put weight loss on the back burner, you will finally be able to experience the freedom that you desire and deserve.