We’ve all been there. That delicious meal where you’re so full, but the food is so good you feel like you have to keep eating. Your stomach says “Stop!” but your mind says “damn, this is good. Keep it comin!!” When all the food is gone, you’re left feeling like a stuffed, bloated whale. But a happy whale.
But then there’s the place that not as many of us have been. That urge to keep eating something, anything, regardless of how good or bad it tastes. Your stomach says no, your mind says no, and yet you keep chowing down. You know you’re sabotaging yourself, but you don’t care. We’ve seen the documentaries on TLC that feature a 500lb woman crying as she consumes 18 Big Macs. We may giggle, we may feel sorry, but above all, we feel grateful that this is one of those rare cases that will never affect us. Or will it?
Binge Eating Disorder is receiving a lot of attention these days. It’s beginning to become accepted as an eating disorder by most, but some still discredit it. I’d like to clarify here that I am writing strictly about binge eating, not the binge-purge cycle or the binge followed by excessive exercise that some engage in. No, this is just compulsive eating beyond the point of enjoyment, taken to an extreme level that has a negative impact on one’s life.
I first read about Binge Eating Disorder in a newspaper article, and immediately I thought back to our 500lb McDonald’s-gorging friend. But as I read on, the article featured a girl in her twenties who appeared healthy on the outside, but lived in a sad and struggling world on the inside. As I read through I was fascinated with this girl’s story as she did not look anything like what I would imagine a compulsive eater to look like. She looked…normal. After reading the article I set the newspaper aside and didn’t give “the new form of disordered eating” much more thought.
Until the next day. You know those weird times when you first hear about something, and then all of a sudden it seems like it’s all anyone ever talks about? Well that was the case with this. Out of nowhere all over Instagram (where I spend most of my social media time and find most of the blogs I read) I started seeing posts from girls dealing with Binge Eating Disorder. Again, these were not what I expected to be the typical “binge eater”. They were regular girls like me, advocating a life full of healthy eating and exercise. Tips for “Banishing the Binge” and “How to Stay in Control” flooded my feed. What the hell is going on?? I thought. Every day more and more posts about struggling with Binge Eating Disorder, and overcoming Binge Eating Disorder, and comments on these posts saying “thank you, there IS a light at the end of the tunnel!”
So it got me thinking. Do I have Binge Eating Disorder?
There are definitely times where I consciously eat more than I need. It happens on a weekly basis, if not more than once a week. I always told myself it was because I just loved food so damn much! Every once in awhile these indulgences consist of a bag of chips or a bowl of popcorn, but more often than not it’s just way too many nuts and dried fruit on my bowl of yogurt, or a plethora of fruits and vegetables throughout the day, or a second serving of a delicious home-cooked dinner. But according to Instagram, a binge is a binge, regardless of what it’s made of.
I’m not gonna lie here. I allowed this to get to my head for awhile. I honestly believed I had an eating disorder. I didn’t change my habits, but I suddenly felt guilty about eating that extra serving of quinoa. Whereas before I thought hey, you’re active, it won’t kill you, there was now that little voice in my head saying you’re sabotaging yourself…I could never get into the habit of restrictive dieting, but this made me totally rethink the way I thought about myself. All those times I had told myself I just really enjoyed what I was eating, was I actually lying to myself and making excuses to hide my disease? I’ve displayed addictive tendencies to substances in the past…was I addicted to food as well??
My belief that I had an eating disorder only lasted around two weeks, but it was a mentally exhausting two weeks to say the least. I questioned a lot of my beliefs and values, as well as my authenticity when it came to living a balanced and healthy life. Who am I to promote balance when I have an eating disorder? But then preparing for one of my volunteering sessions with Big Sisters one day I came across this paragraph in my manual:
Normal eating is going to the table hungry and eating until you are satisfied. It is being able to choose food you like and eat it and truly get enough of it-not just stop eating because you think you should. Normal eating is being able to give some thought to your food selection so you get nutritious food, but not being so wary and restrictive that you miss out on enjoyable food. Normal eating is giving yourself permission to eat sometimes because you are happy, sad or bored, or just because it feels good. Normal eating is mostly three meals a day, or four or five, or it can be choosing to munch along the way. It is leaving some cookies on the plate because you know you can have some again tomorrow, or it is eating more now because they taste so wonderful. Normal eating is overeating at times, feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. And it can be undereating at times and wishing you had more. Normal eating is trusting your body to make up for your mistakes in eating. Normal eating takes up some of your time and attention, but keeps its place as only one important area of your life.
In short, normal eating is flexible. It varies in response to your hunger, your schedule, your proximity to food and your feelings.
Hallelujah and thank you Ellyn Satter for making me think clearly again! During that two week period I didn’t talk to people about how I was feeling and of course the paranoia and anxiety kicked in and made sure all rational thoughts about my eating habits were thrown straight out the window. I didn’t have anyone to remind me that it’s not the end of the world to eat too many grapes or goji berries. I forgot that I’m not an elite athlete that needs to adhere to a strict diet and that I’m not on prep for a bikini contest. But reading this knocked some sense back into me.
In essence, all I did was apply a negative name to something I enjoyed doing which all of a sudden made it “bad”. Like I said, my habits never changed. I just felt way more guilty about them. As soon as I removed “binge eater” from the category of things I thought applied to me, I felt better. I still eat too much sometimes. On Friday evening I ate a donair, gelato, a bag of dehydrated bananas coated in dark chocolate and hemp hearts, and half a bag of tortilla chips. But I didn’t sob as I ate it all, and while I definitely felt “fat” after, I was satisfied and back to normal the next morning as I carried on with my usual balanced eating. I enjoyed everything I ate that night and I’m extremely active so I thought Fuck it! YOLO, baby.
I’m not trying to discredit Binge Eating Disorder. I believe that it is something very serious that truly affects many more than we know. But I don’t believe that over-eating once, twice, or even three times within a week means that you have Binge Eating Disorder. I’m sure many are going to disagree with me here. There’s those health and fitness “TEAM NO DAYS OFF” junkies that will say one meal out of line or one extra gram of fat has just un-done a week’s worth of intense training. “All that work you put in at the gym this week? OUT THE WINDOW BRO!” To them I say go blow a goat. Maybe I don’t have a 6-pack, and maybe there’s a bit of extra fat on my thighs that I’d love to get rid of, but in addition to being a lover of fitness, I am also a lover of food.
It’s all about balance my friends. Like Ms. Satter says, sometimes you can give yourself permission to eat because you’re happy or sad. Sometimes you can eat more because it’s so good and you just can’t get enough! And other times you can remind yourself that it will still be there tomorrow, so you don’t need to get your entire fill today. If eating past the point of necessity is having a negative impact on your life, talk to someone. Maybe you’re like I was and just need to get your thoughts out of your head before you can think clearly. Or maybe you really do have an unhealthy relationship with food that needs to be dealt with. In either case, the issue can be remedied. There is hope, I promise!
But if you’re like me and occasionally you eat too many carrots even though you’re not hungry, or a half bag of tortilla chips just because you “fucking love chips” (those words have come out of my mouth numerous times), then eat away! I’m still making the progress I would like when it comes to my workouts and my body, albeit not as fast as I would if I was eating strictly chicken breast, brown rice, and green vegetables, but I’m HAPPY. And to me, that’s more important than a 6 pack.
If Ellyn Satter’s words above resonated with you, check out her website. I don’t know much about her and to be completely honest I haven’t done much in-depth reading on her website. But from what I’ve read she does have a very balanced opinion when it comes to food which is quite refreshing in this day in age. So go ahead and check it out! And with that, I’ll leave you with a picture of me stuffing my face back when I was carb loading. I’m off to each a chicken breast and brussels sprouts now.