My eating disorder was multi-faceted. I restricted food, obsessed over my weight, and over-exercised, but one thing I never did was binge. Sure, I overate after a period of restriction, but I never binged in the traditional sense of the word. When I joined different online eating disorder groups, I noticed that people used “binge” loosely, throwing around the term when referring to going a little overboard with food.1 That would be like saying my restriction was akin to not eating until dinner was ready. It was so much more than that though and I knew bingeing would be no different. Curiosity got the best of me and questions began forming in my brain. Why does someone binge? What happens during a binge? What does it feel like afterwards? I needed answers and went to the best sources out there: the National Eating Disorders Association and those who have suffered through it.2
The first thing I did was look up the clinical definition because I needed to know the basics. The National Eating Disorders Association states that binge eating disorder has 4 main components:
- Recurring episodes of eating significantly more food in a short period of time than most people would eat under similar circumstances, with episodes marked by feelings of lack of control
- Marked distress, including feelings of guilt, embarrassment or disgust
- Occurs on average once per week over three months
- May binge alone to hide behaviors
While this information was helpful in getting a big picture of bingeing, I wanted something more personal. My eating disorder was more than the sum of its parts and boiling it down bullet points would not do it justice. I knew that this would be the case with binge eating disorder as well. As a way to understand it better, I interviewed people who were willing to share the intimate details of their experience with me. Here are their words:3
Why does someone binge?
Sometimes it’s frustration, sometimes anxiety, sometimes rebellion. But also, it can’t just be that, because there are plenty of times I am anxious or frustrated and DON’T binge.
It feels that the other person who has taken control is another version of me. When she takes control she convinces me that she is the real me. She waits until I am weak and down on myself to come and take over.
What happens during a binge?
Mentally I am usually pretty checked out, numb. In a trance almost. Physically not much until the end when my stomach is uncomfortably full. But I guess there are times when my tongue has hurt from eating too much salt or too much sour food. Like Captain Crunch, it turns out, is so crunchy that if you eat 3 bowls of it you’ll feel like you took an electric sander to your tongue.
It’s more of an urgent experience. It’s chaotic, frantic eating. Sometimes I would just eat foods that were around, but other times I would plan it out and go to the store to buy foods specifically with the plan to eat them all.
I wouldn’t even taste the food. I would just be numbly eating.
I would make the rounds to different stores and buy a ton of junk food. Or I would go to 2-3 fast food drive-thrus.
I just couldn’t stop myself. I was miserably full, to the point of feeling sick. It’s a feeling of total helplessness, like some other person has taken control.
When I binge like that I feel like a duck who is being forced fed just so they can make foie gras.
It is eating to excess, beyond what people would consider normal over-eating, often very fast, and with a sense of being out of control. It was ALWAYS a secret activity.
What does it feel like afterwards?
A binge for me pretty much wipes me out for the rest of the day.
I feel extremely guilty and purge.
I feel shame and frustration, anger. Mostly anger at myself for having done something so stupid. Sometimes I feel hopeless, like I will never get better, like I am permanently broken.
I have a food fog. My brain is thick from the overload.
These candid accounts have helped me be sensitive to the other side of the eating disorder coin. I only knew restriction and now I see the physical and emotional pain that comes with bingeing. I also have a better understanding of how overeating and a binge are vastly different. One is considered a part of “normal” eating while the other is utter misery and interchanging the two only marginalizes the suffering of those who binge. I hope that the words above will shed some light on binge eating disorder and provide an opportunity for empathy for people like me who needed a little insight.
If you are someone who binges, what is your experience? If you feel comfortable, please share in the comment section below.
1This is sometimes referred to as a subjective binge.
3I consolidated people’s thoughts to offer a better picture of binge eating disorder. Even though their words may not be exact, the sentiment remains.
Thank you so much for reading my blog! I am honored that you chose to read about my experience.
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