Binge Watch, Binge Eat, Binge Drink, but Let's Not Talk About Addiction
The word 'binge' has become very popular, mostly due to the way we consume TV shows. Unlike with eating and drinking, there's a lightness in binge-watching as we joke about the number of episodes we've watched and how we feel unable to turn away from the screen. A mix of hormones and neuro-chemicals saturate our brain making us feel relaxed and at peace, and we're unconsciously driven to watch more, even though we are tired and know we should go to bed and know that binge watching TV is not what we have in mind for living our best life.
It's no wonder we use the term 'binge'. And it's no wonder people use that word more loosely these days as they describe how much ice-cream they ate, or the way they consumed Easter chocolate. Even people who don't truly binge eat are starting to understand the out-of control feeling and overwhelming desire to continue.
But a word that is taking on lighter and lighter undertones, maintains its deep and somber roots.
As I binge-watched 4 episodes of The Big Ward last night on Netflix, I started thinking about the meaning of binge. The definition of bingeing is: (noun) a period or bout, usually brief, of excessive indulgence, as in eating, drinking alcoholic beverages, etc.; spree. Or, as defined in another dictionary, an act of excessive or compulsive consumption.
Ironically though, I didn't hear the word binge on the series that takes us inside the world of gastric bypass surgery and introduces us to the patients involved. The Big Ward is set in Auckland, New Zealand- a country that is quickly rising to the top in obesity rates of English-speaking countries. I found the 4 episodes I watched last night fascinating- the patients describing themselves as being on cloud-9 when they eat, their ecstasy in the pleasure of sweets. One woman said that she thinks an early death due to being morbidly obese may be worth the pleasure that she gets from chocolate. The same woman said that she hasn't controlled food in years, food controls her, that it's all her fault really. All of these patients were eating cheap take-out and fast food as their main source of fuel. None of these patients described themselves as bingeing. None of them seemed to understand the connection of eating these super stimulating foods with their constant desire for more of those same food. They just assumed that they loved the food. But if eating a full sized baguette sandwich made with KFC chicken, french fries and gravy, plus another large size of french fries on the side for breakfast every morning isn't considered bingeing, then we've got an issue with semantics.
The only one who mentioned bingeing and food addiction on the TV show was the surgeon. He shared the fact that highly processed foods and sugar light up the same areas of the brain as when one takes drugs, or has sex. He understands that excessive or compulsive consumption is not the whole fault of the patient.
The show has me wondering why, as a culture, we are starting to make light of our bingeing habits. Why don't we talk about the impact that processed or refined foods, or activities like drinking, watching TV or using social media, have on the brain? I've been doing research on this topic for a while now, and I've been participating in some conversations. Many people still deny that certain foods have this impact on us, and there are two camps of research- that which denies food addiction, and that which supports it. But whether I use the word binge to describe eating a whole bag of chips or not, whether I joke about it or hide my actions, there is some reason I was compelled to eat it. And yes it could be emotionally driven, or stemming from something in my life, but people don't joke about bingeing on apples.
Getting some up-close and personal insight of people approaching gastric bypass surgery was enlightening. There's so much work to be done in addressing the way we use food, and the impacts of food on the brain and our mental health has to become part of the conversation. Gastric bypass surgery feels like a bandaid when the true problem is going undiagnosed. The true issue is that we're being sold processed foods which are cheap, overstimulating, and in many cases addictive. And then we blame ourselves for not having control or willpower. We joke about bingeing knowing that we're not true binge eaters, yet we don't deny that we had little control and felt compelled to eat all the Cadbury Mini-Eggs.
The woman who said she thinks food may be worth dying over also said that she doesn't get much other pleasure in life, so taking away her source of pleasure is very scary for her. It makes me wonder exactly when she started losing pleasure in her life. My guess is that as she became more addicted to sweets, her ability to get the same amount of pleasure elsewhere was diminished. Oh, right, that's how addiction works too.