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What is Binge Eating?

What is binge eating?

Get help for binge eating, weight loss, emotional eating, and eating disorders

In this week’s article I am going to define binging and ensure that you have a good, clear answer to the question: What is binge eating?

What is Binge Eating?

First off, it’s natural to wonder what the word binging actually means because, in our culture, binging essentially could be seen to have three distinct definitions. One is the definition that the medical and psychiatric/mental health community have given to binging; the other is the definition that family, friends, passers-by, and restaurant servers (to name a few) might give to binging; and the last is our own personal definition.

Just for your own interest, take a moment now to ask yourself: “If I had to, how would I define binging? What is binge eating?” (And don’t just say overeating! That’s a synonym not a definition.) If you’re judging yourself as having binged or maybe hearing someone else saying they binged, what images does that conjure up and what verbal definition would you apply to that?

Simply put, when the definition of a problem is unclear it’s very difficult to solve it. And, it is highly unlikely that the definition your doctor, partner or parent have for binging is the same as your own. This is a huge part of why it can be so hard to trust that what you’re doing with food is reasonable (or not) and why, among other reasons, you may struggle to feel comfortable in your relationship with food. So let’s explore what binging is and what it isn’t. 

First, let’s explore a few scenarios that may have played out in some similar fashion in your own life:

1. Let’s say you’re really hungry at 2 pm and so you do a great thing for your body and you go and get some food. You’re sitting at your desk at work and someone walks by and makes a comment, something like: “Woah! Who got the munchies?” or “Somebody needed an afternoon snack” or “Giving up on the diet already?” etc.

There you were, innocently feeding your hungry body and someone else who knows nothing of your hunger level or what kinds of things you’ve eaten already that day, makes a comment that implies that there is something wrong with you eating at that time or with what you’ve chosen to have.

If you’re feeling sensitive about your relationship with food or about your weight or just unsure of whether you can trust your own perspective, you will be negatively impacted by this and start to judge yourself for eating at that time, regardless of the reality that you were hungry. Is that binging?

2. How about this one?: What if it’s 2 pm and you’re not really hungry but you can’t stop yourself from grabbing a sugary or carby snack. Whether someone says something or not, the truth is, if you struggle with binging you’re going to feel guilty and shameful because in your own mind you know you weren’t hungry, you know you had something that wasn’t in alignment with your goals for health or weight loss and so you feel out of integrity. And if that same person happens to walk by and say the same thing…“Woah! Who got the munchies?”? Well, that just clinches it and serves to further reinforce your ‘badness.’  Is that binging? What if it was a small chocolate bar? What if it was a small bag of chips? What if it was doughnut or Danish or an Iced Capp? Is that binging?

(For the record, folks who don’t struggle with binging or aren’t stuck in that diet-binge-guilt cycle can have a sugary or carby treat that they aren’t hungry for and not feel guilty or ashamed. They just don’t do it all the time and they naturally adjust their eating for the next meal and wait until they’re hungry to eat and stop when they’re comfortably full. No big deal.)

3. And how about this scenario:  You are out for dinner with a friend. You are famished! You order exactly what you’d like to have (now, I know that if you struggle with dieting and binging you’re not likely to have what you really want, you’ll order what you think others will judge the least, but for the sake of this illustration, go with me on this) and dig in with appropriate gusto given your extreme hunger level. Your ‘friend’ makes a comment about how much you’re eating and how you’d better be careful or you’ll ‘pack on the pounds.’  Are you binging? Are you doing something ‘wrong’?

4. And last, you muster up your courage and go to the doctor to talk about your frustrations with your weight and failed attempts to lose weight or eat a healthier diet.  Your doctor responds with:

  • A lecture about the health risks and your likelihood of developing type II diabetes and/or high cholesterol, and how you really need to stop eating those sugary, carby foods and get more exercise.
  • A suggestion about a diet he or she tried recently or someone they know had success with.
  • A referral to a psychiatrist for medication, or a prescription that they write for you themselves for an anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication that is supposed to help you control your appetite and stop you from binging. 

If you struggle with your weight and your doctor is lecturing you or prescribing medication does that mean you binge? (more…)

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