Binge Eating: The Eating Disorder No One Wants To Talk About
With the publication of the Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), Binge Eating Disorder is officially recognized by the APA as an eating disorder. Whereas it had previously been relegated to the catch-all category of "Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified," Binge Eating Disorder is diagnosable as an eating disorder all its own - and it is finally acknowledged that not all people with eating disorders are your starving waifs on the runway. (In fact, only a small percentage are.)
For those who suffer from Binge Eating Disorder, it might come as a relief to know that there is actually something "wrong." It's not just that I lack self-control or don't exercise enough or eat "bad" foods. I have an eating disorder every bit as physically and psychologically damaging as Anorexia or Bulimia.
So why aren't more people talking about it? I am very open about my struggles with Anorexia Nervosa and the long road to recovery I've been on the past few years. Anorexia is revered in our society and anorexics are generally looked upon as bastions of self-control instead of the very sick men and women that they truly are. So would I be so open if I were struggling with bingeing?
Defining Binge Eating Disorder
Binge Eating Disorder is different than simply overeating, which everyone does from time to time. It is characterized by eating excessive amounts of food at least once a week for three months or more. Not only does the binge eater eat more food than a person would normally eat in that time frame and situation, but bingeing is marked by a feeling of lack of control.
Most binge eaters keep their disorder private - very rarely does someone binge while in public. Because of the feelings of guilt or disgust or embarrassment, a binge usually takes place away from others' eyes. Nobody wants to admit that they binge - that they feel that out-of-control around food.
"Oh, I Would Never Do That"
I had dinner with a new friend not too long ago and over the course of dinner, I revealed my eating disorder. She responded by telling me that she had also suffered from an eating disorder - that she had struggled with binge eating in the past and had been in recovery for the past year or two. (We discussed this in the context of how very easy it is to give up one addiction only to switch to another.)
"That is so incredibly brave of you to admit," I told her. "Thank you."
Nobody wants to talk about the night they ate an entire pizza or a box of girl scout cookies or twelve cupcakes. Instead, you soak in this intense amount of shame because you feel so disgusted with yourself and so terrified about this out-of-control eating.
And yes, binge eating happens in all three of your major eating disorders - including Anorexia. (The difference is that in Anorexia or Bulimia, there is usually some sort of compensation to "get rid of" the extra calories.)
If you're easily triggered by food talk - skip this next section. Because I am about to break down some shame barriers and tell you all about my worst binge ever. I have never told anyone this (including my therapist and dietitian at the time).
My Binge Eating Story
In vivid detail, here is the food that I ate over the course of about 3 hours (I took about an hour break because I was meeting friends for coffee and obviously I had to look normal - but all I thought about was what I was eating next):
- 1 cucumber (See how adorably it started? Good little anorexic, you.)
- Barbecue sandwich
- Hush puppies
- Onion rings
- Large milkshake
- Starbucks Frappuccino (grande)
- Large pizza (save for one slice)
- And I'm pretty sure I had a few cookies when I got back to the house.
I was positively disgusted with myself. I don't think I have ever felt so ill in my life - physically and emotionally. And if we're being honest, this went on for about a month and a half, though the type of food varied quite a bit. Every day, I woke up thinking, "I would rather be dead than binge again." It was that painful. And I didn't think I could talk to anyone about it.
Just like any other eating disorder and any other mental illness, there is NOTHING to be ashamed about. Maybe your binges are bigger, maybe they are smaller. Maybe you think a full meal is a "binge" (this has certainly been the case for me, at times, during my eating disorder).
The point is - if you suffer from Binge Eating Disorder or binge as a part of another eating disorder, you are not alone. In fact, you are far from alone.
Just because we don't talk about it, doesn't mean it's not happening.
So while I don't expect any of you to comment with your worst-ever binge, I do hope that this will give you the courage to talk to your doctor, therapist, or dietitian about how you're struggling. Keep fighting.
Hudgens, J. (2013, December 12). Binge Eating: The Eating Disorder No One Wants To Talk About, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, October 5 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/survivinged/2013/12/the-eating-disorder-no-one-wants-to-talk-about
Author: Jessica Hudgens
I definitely agree that there is huge shame attached to binge eating. Give me restriction or throwing up any day, except that I can't do those anymore. I just don't have the energy.
I don't mean to compete here, but my binge this morning was like this, all within an hour:
2 cinnamon/red bean buns
1 jar peanut butter and jelly
6 chocolate creamed buns
6 coconut jam creamed buns
1 vanilla creamed roll
1 butterscotch creamed roll
1 sausage Mcmuffin
1 McD sausage and egg wrap
1 sausage and chicken floss roll
Half a egg-creamed bun
1 sweet bread portion
No offense, but I believe I topped most people's binges. If I could have gone on, I probably would have, but nothing tasted like good anymore, I lost the kick after the first four bread things, and then everything was tasting increasingly like cardboard. I'm still reeling from the sugar and carbs. Nutritionally, I don't think I gave my body anything at all. It's a very mean thing to do to my body.
Thanks for sharing your story. I can totally relate. I also have times where I binge uncontrollably. Afterwards, I feel absolutely disgusted about my actions, but in only a matter of time, I find myself rummaging through the pantry once again. It's so difficult to deal with. I've noticed it becomes worse for me during periods of stress, which has been nonstop these passed few months. I'm glad to know I'm not alone with this. I just need to find some help. Something that will help me change my poor coping mechanisms. I don't wanna turn to my comfort foods every time I'm stressed. I know better. Yet everytime a stressful situation presents itself, I find myself with a chocolate bar in my hand and the little voice inside my head telling me this isn't healthy. If there is any advice you could give me as to how to address this problem, I'd greatly appreciate it. <3 good luck to you and your way tor recovery!
I dealt with self-starving methods from 18yrs to my mid-twenties. I was not diagnosed, I hid it away and loved that I was "skinny." In my late 20s I hit a wall emotionally, there were many changes in my life and shifted to bulemia. No dx, hid it away and "survived." Mid-thirties was dx with bulemia, PTSD, depression and ADHD. I dealt with it all, came through with health and focus. However, my body physically had issues including an unstable thyroid and doctors that kept stating there was nothing wrong. I finally was stablized on medication for thyroid meds. It threw off my exercise routine and appetite - thyroid disease - and recovery meant my body had to figure out what was considered "normal" appetite. Unfortunately I've shifted into binge eating these past couple years and there is no help for this. I am told by doctors that I have no will power, that I am lazy and I just need to focus. I hide it away. I go between periods of no eating to binging. I've tried many things on my own to combat this, routines, schedules, stocking my cupboards with healthy foods. I also struggle losing weight and I'm sure it's due to my metabolism being so messed up with all this stuff. Sadly it's not viewed as an actual disorder, in my epxerience, it's viewed as something everyone does at times and totally within your control to change. Thank-you for what you shared in the article. It is good to know I'm not alone.
I'm amazed by your courage to share this. I had to skip a section, but I can entirely relate to this. The worst feeling is that we think while it happens that no one else feels liek that. Terminal uniqueness or denial? I don't know, but either way, it needs to be talked about! One of my earliest posts on this blog is about being bulimic: You're bulimic, you do what?! And it also conveys the shame that comes with some of the #ed diagnosis related to bingeing.
Thanks so much again!! Speak soon!
Jess, I commend you. Bingeing is the worst… and it is SOO hard to talk about. I think it has always been especially taboo for me because of my anorexia… no anorexic, in particular, wants to admit that they 'gave in' to the incredible hedonism that is bingeing. The scariest thing for me was how excited I used to get before a binge. ("Finally! I'm going to let myself eat something! Hallelujah! And I'm going to eat everything in sight and not care about it all until afterwards!"). And since we're being honest here, let's talk about those oh-so-common binge trigger foods. The ones that are so forbidden that once they pass your lips you have 'failed' so you may as well throw in the towel entirely and just eat. Mine are #1 ice cream, and #2 peanut butter. For a long time I could not just eat a bowl of ice cream ("what's the point in that?" I would say to myself. "It won't make you happy, you fatty.")- it was either nothing or the entire.freaking.carton. Not a pint. A half gallon. Yup. Sometimes two. Crazy eating disorder logic…. And I hope this isn't triggering, but since you got your binge off your chest, I would like to do the same. Like you, I never told anyone. I lived in shame and self-hatred, but need to admit that it happened. So here goes (and isn't it so strange that we can remember it to the last detail? Every single bite, not forgotten?)
-An apple (the innocent beginning…)
-A glass of chocolate milk
-A large milkshake
-A package of mini reese's
-A banana and almond butter
-About 10 mini chocolate bars
-A plate of mac and cheese
-A whole tray of fresh baked brownies
Looking at it now, it still shocks me. And this was at a point where I was at probably one of my lowest weights as well. Having never been a purger, it baffled me when I didn't actually gain weight the subsequent day. A voice in my head said, "Well, let's do this again sometime then, huh?" And now I have to face that voice, which still remains while I press on in anorexia recovery. It all has to go. The bingeing, the restricting, the exercise… I think the bingeing was my way of saying, "I'm still screwing something up! F*** it all! Help me I'm hurt!" Just like all symptoms.
So I have no idea where I'm going with this anymore, but it just felt good to say all that. Yeah. I'm done.
So glad to read about this. NOBODY TALKS ABOUT BINGING! And yet, for so many people, it happens all the time. No one is ashamed to admit how many days in a row they've restricted, but talking about your worst binge ever, or even your last binge? It's worse than confession.
We need to knock this shit off, because it only isolates us more. And can any of us really afford that? There's nothing more comforting in the world than hearing, "Me too."
I think we all should be saying it more often.
It took me a long time, but I am very open about my binge eating but when it comes to sharing details it is a lot harder. Even when I am confessing to my therapist. I feel like that is not only because the double-standard stigma but also because I am literally a MONSTER to myself when I am binge eating and so it is difficult for me to be back in my "normal skin" so to speak and talk about what I did. Particularly when the food itself/combination is really disgusting.
I understand that I need to start doing more "ownership" of who I become while binge eating in order to better understand what is driving that behavior (in my case a large part of it is deep down body hunger, restriction (leads to a blow out once something that makes me feel a certain way crosses my lips and I want to undo it (I then binge eat more food and then purge) and also habits.
But the crux is that I go NUMB when I binge. I think that is what my brain chemicals like about it.
ANYways, I applaud you for opening up this discussion. I assure anyone that my "war" stories could probably top most people. I want to be another voice in the crowd who speaks us and hopefully we can lose some of this shame and just see ourselves as sick.
Your own honesty about binges has certainly made me willing to fess up to my own, so I appreciate you for having paved the road before me, even if "just" in private conversation. Your characterization of yourself as a "monster" when you binge is interesting - we certainly are cruel to ourselves during and after a binge. And it does feel like a sort of out-of-body experience, doesn't it?
Yes and amen to everything you said.
A number of my worst binges took place at my lower weights as well. And, like you, two of my triggers were ice cream and pb&j sandwiches. And cookies. (Oh, wait - what was my lunch today? PB&J and cookies? How times change!) Thank you so much for being so brave to share your binge with us. No matter what your ED might be saying, I'm certainly not judging you for the food you ate that day. No matter if that day was today or two weeks ago or a year ago.
You're right that bingeing is just another way of communicating that we're hurting. And just like any other ED behaviour, we've got to stop it if we want to truly recover.
Thank you for honesty, ladies. Keep on fighting. :)