Updated: Jul 27
If you've clicked on this post, I'd imagine that you or someone you know is going through the same thing that caused me so much turmoil for many years.
As disheartening as being a slave to bingeing can be, my story is proof that it is indeed surmountable.
Before I delve into a detailed explanation of my bingeing and recovery journey, we should clarify the difference between bingeing and simply overeating.
To binge means to excessively (and often uncontrollably) indulge, while to overeat means to simply eat too much.
Binge-eating feels like you've been caught in an all-consuming loss of control, which has made you scarf down more food than you could ever need, against your will. And it continues until you feel so sick that you truly cannot have another bite.
It is also often followed by purging.
To overeat, on the other hand, feels like your belly is full, but you ate more anyways. This can occur for a variety of reasons, such as believing you must finish what's on your plate because your parents taught you it will somehow save all the starving children who aren't as lucky as you.
The point is, binge-eating is the indulgence in a disgusting amount of excess food, to the point where it disrupts your life, while over eating is merely eating more than you needed to.
The two terms are cousins, not twins.
If you'd like to learn more about the difference between bingeing and overeating, I recommend reading this article by Healthline: Compulsive Overeating vs. Binge Eating Disorder (healthline.com)
And why do people binge-eat, you may ask?
Well, there are ample possible causes. From emotional trauma, to body image issues, the possibilities are abundant.
After all, no two people have the same life story.
If you're interested in a medically reviewed explanation of bingeing causes, I suggest reading this Healthline article: Binge Eating Disorder: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment (healthline.com)
I personally cannot speak to all the reasons why someone may binge, but I can speak to mine. And after a little backstory, I'll be able to clearly disclose this reason...
My personal account is as follows:
For many years, I was an athlete who trained intensively.
As in 20 hours of rigorous practice a week, training before and after school.
For the longest time, I didn't even know I had a bingeing problem, because I was under the impression that my behaviour was normal since hardcore athletes always eat a lot anyways.
I would always hear the other athletes discuss how they eat so much. They continuously boasted about the shock their peers emulated when seeing the quantity of food they would consume every day.
It also certainly didn't help that my dad had awful eating habits, and routinely tried to force me to eat both healthy and unhealthy foods, even though I insisted I was full.
And to be honest, I was young, and didn't think about my eating habits all that much.
My self awareness was at level 0.
Moreover, I had a load of problems that I now know were leaky gut syndrome, chronic insomnia, anxiety, depression, and extreme perfectionism. To top it all off, I had serious body image issues too.
And all these problems fueled my impulse to binge.
So what did bingeing look like for me?
Sometimes my food intake was uncontrollably unstoppable, despite not having restricted food consumption prior to bingeing.
Despite already having eaten enough to feed a family, each bite of my target food would spike my senses to feel a pleasure so intense that I imagine it's what ingesting a double dose of ecstasy feels like.
After my body image problems took over, my binge eating shifted from seemingly random moments, to taking place after limiting my food intake.
I would maybe make it a few days eating fewer calories and healthier foods than usual, until I snapped and binged like there's no tomorrow.
That's how I got sucked in to the vicious cycle of restrict-->binge-->purge-->repeat.
My desperation to quickly achieve the starved look that is normalized by the media en masse led to an orthorexic mindset.
I was unhealthily obsessed with the idea of eating a perfectly healthy diet.
There would be no room for error.
Or so I told myself.
I endured solely consuming small amounts of perfectly clean foods, and each food was to be precisely documented in my food diary (which I created in hopes of making me stick to my impossible diet goal.)
A few days later, I couldn't handle it anymore, and back to bingeing it was.
Pizza. Broccoli. Cereal. Granola bars.
You name it.
Whatever was in my house would make it's way into my belly.
Then I would rip out all the pages of my food diary so I could lie to myself about failing, promise myself it would be different next time, attempt exercising like crazy to cleanse myself of the food, go back to restricting, then do it all again.
So how did I finally stop the madness?
This may not be the answer you were hoping for, but the truth is that I just forced myself to stop.
It was a regular weekday afternoon, and I was home alone and craving a binge.
I don't know what it was that overcame me, but as I headed toward the kitchen, it really dawned on me that I was facilitating the behaviour because at the end of the day, it was me who would get up, go to the kitchen, and put the food in my mouth.
Just like cheating on a lover, my behaviour was the result of an accumulation of bad decisions I made.
So I wondered, what would happen if I just didn't go to the kitchen, pick up the food, and put it in my mouth?
I stayed put in the living room, and I promise I am not exaggerating when I say that for about 20 minutes straight, I felt the worst, most intense bout of anxiety I have ever felt in my life.
As I sit here writing this 11 years later, I completely remember how much discomfort and panic I felt.
And after that horrendous wave of anxiety subsided, my desire to binge disappeared.
I kid you not, after that moment, I never felt compelled to binge again.
Now, I must clarify that that does NOT mean I never over-ate again. And it most certainly doesn't mean I developed healthy eating habits right away.
I still spent years learning what works for me and establishing healthy habits.
But my binge eating troubles were permanently gone.
Let's examine what happened here:
Prior to this experience, I had heard many people mention that addiction, or any compulsion, is an attempt to escape a specific feeling that is arising in the present moment.
Many of these people spoke of sitting with the feeling you're running from in order to let it go.
But I had no idea what that meant.
How do you sit with it? And how do you know what you're running from?
After fighting my impulses in order to resist binge-eating that day, I understood.
My overwhelming impulse to binge was brought on to escape the present moment, because unbeknownst to me, there was an insane amount of anxiety waiting for me in the present.
Bingeing was my body's way of running from it.
Where this anxiety came from? I don't know.
But we can talk about that another day.
Let's just focus on binge-eating for now.
Even though there are many reasons why people binge, it seems to me that it always boils down to the same thing, which is attempting to escape the present moment.
If you take anything from this article I hope it's this:
willingness to recover requires the ability to sit with discomfort. There is no way around it.
If binge-eating is something you are personally trying to overcome, please have faith.
I believe in you. If I was able to stop then I know you can too.