I’ve been through a few periods of disordered eating in my life including bouts of eating habits that overlap with anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia, and the most prominent one – binge eating disorder.
With the first 2, I don’t think I ever got quite so extreme that it would meet the levels required for a clinical diagnosis. But the other 2, have stayed with me for years.
I’m focusing on binge eating disorder and what does binge eating disorder mean to me.
What Does Binge Eating Disorder Mean?
Binge eating disorder is a clinically recognised eating disorder which involves regularly eating beyond the point of fullness, often to the point where you feel uncomfortably full.
Signs can include eating large volumes of food very quickly, eating when not hungry, often eating alone, and feelings of shame, guilt, and distress afterwards.
There is usually a strong feeling of loss of control and feeling like you simply can’t stop eating, no matter what your mind is telling you.
You may be able to identify signs of it from analysing behaviour, but you can (and should) also seek a professional opinion. This blog post is very much NOT a professional opinion.
What Can Cause Binge Eating Disorder
As with most mental health issues, the initial cause of binge eating disorder isn’t well understood.
There could be some genetic factors at play. It may come from lifestyle, or a past mental trauma.
It may spring up as a coping mechanism for something going on in your life right now.
My Experience With Binge Eating Disorder
If I look at my own case, I grew up in an unhealthy household. My entire family was overweight to obese. The idea of nutrition or portion control barely existed.
We all turned the corners on our own health individually, and we’re all in a much better state of fitness and health now.
But if I look at my own path, I went from no control to following a strict diet. I got to my target weight but on the way, I demonised and banned so many foods.
Losing weight and calorie restriction became obsessions.
Gradually I got better with that but that’s when orthorexia kicked in.
FYI, the super-short, super-simplified definition of orthorexia is an (unhealthy) obsession with healthy eating.
This meant my diet was super “clean”. So when I went out for a meal or for special occasions and had to break from that, I ended up taking the approach of “well I may as well just go all-in now!”
Which led to binges on these occasions.
It had been an ongoing thing for me for years. Once every few weeks I would have an “episode” like that.
I think this created a link between binges and the happiness or joy of special occasions.
My Recent Struggles
In July 2020, in the midst of a pandemic, in lockdown and having started a new stressful job which I hated, all of these things combined.
I spent around 6 months having 1 full-on binge at least every couple of weeks. Most other evenings I would still be eating beyond the point of fullness, but to a much lesser extent. I gained around 10kg in this time.
In January 2021, I started intermittent fasting and a couple of other behaviour changes. From then until May 2021 I had at most 2 binge episodes, and lost 12kg.
At the time of writing (16 May 2021), I have had a rough past week and ended up having 3 binges in the last 7 days.
I’m pretty sure it is a combination of work stress (I’m in a new job which I love but there is a huge learning curve) and a couple of other internal things which I am battling through.
But it is what prompted me to write this post.
I’m not 100% in control of all my binges all the time, but I am making progress. And it feels much more manageable now.
And What Can Trigger A Binge?
The truth is, it is different for everyone.
For me personally, it is most commonly when I am feeling stressed and also unfulfilled. I need food to fill that gap.
It has happened to me at times where I have eaten a little bit extra and just thought “f**k it!”
For some people it will be one of the above. There may be another emotional trigger.
I once spoke to someone who said it was simply a combination of feeling a little bit hungry and having time alone.
It might be something as simple as you seeing something that triggers an emotional response which you feel like you can only resolve with food.
(My Instagram explore page is particularly horrific for this!)
What Does Binge Eating Feel Like?
It’s incredibly hard to describe what it feels like in the middle of a binge. I wouldn’t even know where to start.
The best way to describe it is almost like an out of body experience I think.
When I am in the middle of a binge, my brain is constantly reminding me that I’m not hungry, or that I don’t need this food I am having, or even that this food will still be available to me tomorrow.
But somehow, that doesn’t make the slightest difference to what your body is doing.
That feeling of loss of control over your own body is very real.
I guess it is kind of like seeing someone you know and trying to talk to them through a closed, soundproofed window.
That probably doesn’t help explain it much if you have never found yourself in the middle of a binge before.
But if you have, you probably get what I’m talking about.
What Should You Do After A Binge?
We all handle this differently.
Feelings of shame and self-loathing are common. As are feelings of stress.
The most important thing is to own the fact that it happened, show yourself some compassion, and cut yourself some slack.
At this point one of the worst things you can try to do is try to “un-do” the binge – which is what may happen in cases of bulimia – such as trying to induce vomiting or going for an extreme amount of exercise.
They may make you feel mentally and physically worse, actually.
I don’t have a set rulebook on how I handle this kind of thing, but generally I have a few staple options.
Drinking plenty of water will help with digestion. Do this gradually because you may already be feeling over-full at this point.
Increase fibre intake for the next few days. Try to get this from natural food sources such as oats, or fruit and vegetables.
Fermented foods such as kimchi or sauerkraut can also help with digestion and reduce bloating.
You will feel uncomfortable, but some gentle movement can also help.
It might be walking or it might be yoga. It can be anything.
Something just to get you active and moving and to change your mental state a little bit.
I wouldn’t recommend something strenuous or high intensity until you’ve made some progress on digestion and your feelings of discomfort have dropped a bit.
I find getting away from the environment entirely helps me a lot. That means not just going to a different room in the same house.
But a complete change of setting.
This might mean going for a walk, just stepping outside, or even just getting in the car and going for a drive.
It doesn’t undo what you just went through but it is a great way to give your mind a little reset so you don’t feel as negative about it.
Which means you can approach the rest of your day and the next day with a much better mental attitude.
What Does Binge Eating Disorder Mean To You?
The above is all a little bit of insight into my own experience and battles with binge eating disorder.
Everyone has different causes, different triggers, different symptoms, and different feelings afterwards.
I hope this helps you on your own unique journey to battling binge eating disorder.