What Exactly Is Binge Eating?

What Exactly Is Binge Eating?

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:

  1. 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
  2. Marked distress, including feelings of guilt, embarrassment or disgust
  3. Occurs on average once per week over three months
  4. 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.

2Thank you Facebook and the intuitive eating community forum members for sharing with me. I am most grateful.

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.


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6 thoughts on “What Exactly Is Binge Eating?

  1. Thank you this post!

    I am a binge-eater and have been for as long as I can remember. It’s my biggest struggle with IE and I feel like I have tried everything possible & imaginable to not binge but for now I am concentrating on reducing the amount of food I eat and the frequency baby steps.

    I get SO frustrated when people loosely use the term – no it is NOT a binge if you ate 2 cookies and went over your MFP calories by 200 and it isn’t either if you had a second portion of pie. Like you said, “proper” binging is utter misery – it’s adrenaline, happiness, shame, anger, frustration, tears and acceptation all rolled into one horrific experience without any keys as to how to get out!

    1. You’re welcome and I’m so glad you could identify with this article!

      I don’t think IE is an easy path by any means and if you need to take this in super baby steps, then do it. Going from bingeing to not at all isn’t realistic. The goal of reducing the amount you eat and the frequency is much more achievable. You got this! 🙂

  2. Binge! Oh yes! It consciously started in my mid teens but my parents described me as a compulsive overeater from a very young age. So when I knew how to cook and my parents weren’t home I would make pots of rice or pasta. I would make them very savoury then I would sit down and eat the lot. What would be 4 to 6 servings and down it would go. I had to hide the evidence you see. No leftovers or I would be sprung! It was like being an out of control zombie around food. I cannot remember how regularly it happened but it did continue until my mid 40s when I discovered IE. I can remember buying two large pizzas one night at around 11pm and sitting in my car eating them before going home to me parents place. Eating whole bags of dim sims. Always savoury food and never sweets. Weight started to really pile on when I turned 22 or so. Looking back I think they may have been a window where I could have not continued binging except Mum put my sister, myself and herself on a diet. We were all at the upper end of the weight range for our heights. That, plus disfunctional menstruation, and developing arthritis, and I reckon something had to give. What gave was me being more and more disconnected with my body’s needs. So many fat psychology books starting with Fat is a Feminist Issue, all the latest diets, discovering Geneen Roth and eventually IE. The massive binges ended with the help of abstinence for a few years from my binge foods and IE coming into my life just after I reinstated them. IE gave me peace of mind but always there was still overeating to contend with. Now at 65 I look at what needs to be done. Did I really take on IE fully 24 years ago or did I delude myself? Mnn? Choosing to eat a more balanced healthy energy intake is what I am working on. Recognising what makes me happy and healthy and choosing that more often than not. Thanks, Deborah, I am gaining a lot from reading your blog.

    1. I’m so glad that you find my blog helpful! And thank you so much for sharing about your experiences with binge eating. You have gone through a lot and now you are taking some time for self-care and trying to discover where you stand. If you want to reflect on whether or not you were an intuitive eater 24 years ago is up to you, but I find that ruminating on the past only screws up my present. I’m not saying don’t consider it, but I know that stressing about the past won’t change it. I do think that that your current mindset of focusing on your health and happiness is great!

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