What is Binge Eating??
Once in a while I get asked a really simple question. What is binge eating? It's simple, but it makes sense- if you've never binge eaten, you're really in the dark about what binge eating actually is.
I'm going to take a minute to break it down.
What is binge eating?
Binge eating is defined as eating larger amounts of food in a set period of time than most people would in a similar time period and similar circumstance. Binge eating is also identified by eating faster than normal, eating beyond fullness, eating alone or hiding the amount of food eaten, and feeling guilt, shame, disgust or depression after a binge has happened. Binging can feel like you're eating against your own will, and that you have little control over your actions.
What is overeating?
Although not all overeating is problematic, for the purpose of the work I do, overeating is defined as eating more than necessary for your body's needs while also feeling powerless to stop this pattern. An overeater may not identify as a binge eater- eating large amounts of food in one sitting, but may find themselves repeatedly eating more than they desire, feeling out of control around specific foods- usually sweets, chips, or other highly palatable food, turning to food to comfort themselves during emotional events, and often feeling guilty over the choices they made.
In my work I use the term binge eating to describe eating characteristics along a continuum.
Some people may find themselves at the lower end with binges or overeating episodes happening in a mild form, but still feel a general 'out of control-ness' with food and struggle with their relationship to food. Others may fall on the higher end and experience intense binge eating several times a week. Still others may consistently overeat but not necessarily consider it bingeing.
All of that is semantics.
The root of it is that if you feel somewhat out of control around food, find yourself going back for more and more when everyone around you seems to have forgotten about the box of donuts in the back hall, and are left with brain chatter about and emotional angst about food, then there's something going on.
Your inability to stop eating, to stop thinking about food, or stop trying to fix your relationship with food are the key characteristics that binge eaters or overeaters will all agree on. Some of them feel guilt for all of this, others not. Some of them try to compensate for overeating by dieting, others not. Some of them isolate themselves to eat, others overeat in front of people. There's no one way about it- every one's struggle is unique.
We can define terms if we have to, but it's the chatter in your brain, the knowing that something isn't right, the ongoing struggle with food that truly defines whether there's something that needs to be addressed.
Binge eating disorder (defined as recurring and persistent episodes of binge eating) is the most common form of disordered eating affecting 3.5% of women and 2% of men, officially. And those are only the diagnosed cases. I would guess that we could triple or quadruple that number to get an estimate of how many people are struggling with food in similar ways but don't meet the criteria for an official diagnosis.
Binge eating and overeating hides in the shadows of our society, happening often when people are alone, late at night, at drive throughs, and quick convenient store stops, in cars. Often people who binge eat or overeat are applauded by their friends for being so healthy and diligent with their food choices (in public). They don't see what happens when that friend goes home.
Binge eating is relatively new in the larger picture of disordered eating and can absolutely be linked to the increase in processed modern foods high in fat, sugar and salt, and the increase in focus on slim and thin bodies as glamorized in the media and social norms.
If you identify as a binge eater or overeater, don't be ashamed. It's quite common and certainly less about YOU and more about our modern food landscape filled with stimulating foods at every turn, combined with messaging that we should eat healthy and be slim.
If you're looking for support with overcoming these struggles and creating a peaceful relationship with food and with yourself, do reach out.