Never Full? (Binge eating Part 1)

I’m guessing that most of us have been there. Those days when everything’s a bit much and what starts with a cup of tea and a Kit-Kat morphs into a packet of chocolate digestives and a tub of Haagen-Daas. But at what stage does ‘comfort’ cross over into ‘binge’ eating? When does a normal desire to indulge, tip over into hunger so vast that nothing can satisfy it? And how can we understand and challenge such behaviour?

This’ll be the first of a series of posts on the issue of binge-eating. As you probably already know, it’s not just a problem for bulimics or those struggling with their weight – it affects up to 50 per cent of recovering anorexics as well. It’s only recently been classed as an eating disorder so hasn’t yet been comprehensively researched, but estimates are that it affects around 2 per cent of the population. 60 per cent of sufferers are thought to be women, 40 per cent men.

There’s a difference between say an enormous Christmas dinner and systematic binge-eating. For starters (no pun intended), the discomfort of too many mince pies is a world away from the abject misery, guilt and shame of someone who feels driven to consume up to 15 times the normal daily intake of food. For this reason it is almost always done in secret. What stamps binge-eating as a disorder is its frequency and persistence, as well as the distress that it causes. The eating is usually associated with an extreme loss of control and may involve compensatory behaviours, such as vomiting or laxative abuse. These can provide a temporary feeling of relief, a cleansing, not just of excess calories, but for the self-hatred which both triggers and sustains bingeing.

The food consumed during binges, tends to be quick, high-fat and high-sugar, setting up additional problems such as sugar or caffeine addiction and accompanying mood swings. Add to this a cultural bias towards thinness and self-control and we start to see just how frightening and debilitating such a disorder can be. As a result, sufferers often adopt complex strategies for concealing and managing the issue. Some will binge and purge – making themselves sick or over-exercising to reverse their feelings of guilt and shame. Others may try to block out what has happened – perhaps by eating mainly at night, (see also Night Eating Syndrome) and going to bed afterwards, or by hiding the evidence, restocking the fridge and promising it won’t happen again. To compensate, they may fast for long periods which exacerbates the problem by making them hungrier, leaving them at the mercy of low blood sugar and much more likely to binge again. Large quantities of food can have a sedative affect, so one theory is that it is a way of self-medicating painful feelings. The sufferer can both look forward to and dread these binges, eating almost as if on auto-pilot or as if watching themselves from across the room. Not only is such behaviour distressing and time-consuming for the sufferer (and sometimes those close to them), it is exorbitantly expensive – some people cat eat the equivalent of a day’s food within minutes, before starting again just a few hours later.

4 thoughts on “Never Full? (Binge eating Part 1)

  1. There is a lot of truth packed into this post.

    For me, it seems as though guilt and shame have been a driving force through the entire binge eating experience. Failure in one area of my life led to feelings that I don’t/can’t process adequately, so the search for control often landed me in the middle of a block of chocolate–and a package of cookies with a pint of ice cream–and then some potato chips to help balance the sugar overload (mostly junky,”fast carb” options, as you mentioned in your article).

    Then the horror and self-loathing over what I had done left me flailing around, looking for a way to do penance. Enter the “life-changing” ultra-restrictive diet program. Still focused on food. Still relying on some level of non-existant self-control. Still setting myself up for a huge fall which kicked back into the binge cycle when I realized I can’t cure myself.

    I recognize the error (sin) of going about simply trying to alter my own behavior, but often will feel guilty now for eating even a few bites of things that taste good–or for eating anything at all, because I’ve so often abused the privilege of having free access to such an amazing variety of edibles.
    There is often an underlying fear of failure should I eat more than I really need, or make less than healthy food choices.

    Even after being freed from the prison, the process of learning to not think like a convict can be really, really hard.

  2. Thanks for this Heather – that’s a brilliant way of putting it – thinking like a convict even when you’ve been let out. Even in recovery, those old patterns of thinking can creep back in.

    It’s interesting that the fall-out from binge eating can be to make you feel like you don’t deserve to eat anything at all. We can go from one extreme to the other, but the underlying issues are still expressed in terms of food. One of my biggest struggles post-anorexia has been to actually stop eating – I’ve learnt to ally bad feelings to food intake, so now when anything bad happens I instinctively feel that eating more will ‘fix’ it. In both instances, like you say, we still focus on food – just from the opposite end of the spectrum. Part of it is also trying to work out what normal hunger looks like – we override our natural hungers to the extent that we can’t recognise them any more.

  3. It’s so interesting that the first thing the devil nailed us on, in terms of the symptoms of our separation from God, was our relationship with the “very good” appetite and food that God had just given us.

    And he’s been wasting our God-given time on it ever since!

    If he can just get us focussed on something other than God then we’ll never reach our full potential as children of God made in His image.

    Didn’t reckon with Jesus though, did he?! Didn’t see Him and His mighty Holy Spirit coming, did he?!

    “So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:21-25)

  4. That’s a great point – the devil targets our appetites and relationship with food, right from the beginning. Thanks be to God for His rescue!

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