Long answer: There might be more to it than you thought.
In the not too distant past, holiday mint M&M’s and I were Netflix and chilling (like, in an actual chilling on the sofa way). Things were going well until the bag was gone. Love affair over. Mindless munching turned into a guilt mudslide of thoughts. My self-worth felt as depleted as a that family sized bag of candy.
My first thought: “What the absolute FUCK is wrong with me?!”
Maybe your binge looks different. Maybe it’s bigger. Maybe it’s smaller. But whatever remains of the food fiasco you’re dealing with, you leave the experience defeated about your chances of recovery, health, and happiness. “My whole future is RUINED because of ME!”
My second thought (and the blessing of some good training and experience):
Guess what? This is a normal part of recovery!
Look, feeling like a backslider sucks. Waking up at night with meat sweats from eating too much is hella uncomfortable. Coming back to the memory of a binge and the ensuing anxiety/fervent planning about how to “make up” for it is a fucking awful feeling.
There are reasons why people binge, and understanding them is helpful for recovery:
For starters, binge eating comes from a place of restriction. Even if you’re not on a diet or haven’t been actively restricting foods, there may be part of your brain that still relies on Old Diet Mentality.
Be really honest with yourself. I’m serious. Depending on where you are in your eating disorder (and even if you don’t have an official diagnosis, you’re still dealing with disordered behaviors of restrict-binge), there may be a small part of you that’s still hopeful for weight loss.
The Paleo or Keto or Weight Watchers or raw vegan or whatever the fuck it is that you’re using to “get healthy” still relies on restriction to get to the magical unicorn of Health. Health is great…it’s your intention behind health that matters. Smaller body size does not equal Health.
Even Intuitive Eating can get twisted into a “hunger and fullness diet.” That is: “I eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full. Thus, I’ll not eat emotionally. If I eat emotionally, eat/not eat when I’m not hungry and don’t stop when I’m full, then I’m a failure. My commitment to intuitive eating (i.e. my hunger and fullness diet) starts tomorrow.”
This, my friends, is Old Diet Mentality. Old Eating Disorder Mentality.
So, let’s be clear. Is there still something within you causing restrictive thinking? If you’re still clamoring for the chips and cookies after dinner without being able to stop yourself, then your answer is probably YES.
Furthermore, binge eating is a natural, normal body response to restriction. When we restrict food (and when we feel restricted–even if we’re not actively “restricting” in the same way as a diet), we activate the rebel/survivor part of our brain that is like, “Fuck this shit! We’re gonna die of starvation, and this ship is going down.” Then all kinds of cellular, nervous system and metabolic stuff happens that breaks down our dieting willpower and makes us eat.
The thing about this process is that it can’t be controlled by behaviors. This is a genetic, cellular, autonomic response by your body that has nothing to do with willpower. You may be able to commit to it for a few weeks or months, but biology will always win. And the more we restrict, the more we binge.
Thus, YOU ARE NOT A FAILURE FOR BINGING. Your body is trying to keep you safe. DIETS FAIL US. Research shows time and again that 95% of diets fail. If any other medical treatment were prescribed to us with a 95% failure rate, who the fuck would do it? No one.
Sometimes binging is a little more of a subconscious rebellion. I hate this diet…I hate this culture…I dislike myself…(whatever it is)…and so the binge happens.
Sometimes it’s triggered by stress, anxiety, sadness, anger, or fear. What is going on for your emotionally?
There could be nutrition deficiencies present.
Other times, it’s not your energy, but the energy around you. If you tend to be sensitive to your surroundings, the stress and unease from others may permeate your own emotions, running them high, and triggering a binge if you’ve historically resorted to binging as a coping strategy.
(Y’all, this is not an exhaustive list, but one that you might add to with your own reasons. You may have multiple factors that contribute to your experience and not just one of these things).
Looking back with the knowledge I have now, I can attribute the cause of my binges to 1) stress and anxiety about a partner traveling and feelings of boredom/loneliness; 2) suggestions from a health professional that I go gluten and dairy free; 3) Old Eating Disorder/Diet Mentality triggering small but very persistent hopes of changing my size with said gluten and dairy free-ness; 4) having lost some weight already with health issues and disordered thinking about wanting to stay the same size.
Truth be told, you may be in recovery and hit these bumps in the road. It’s a bummer. But here’s the deal: you are not fucked up because you still have those lingering disordered eating thoughts.
You’re not delusional because you want to be healthy (it’s really more about your intention behind the health at a weight neutral place that matters). Your knowledge of how the body works for you all the time and reframing a binge is going to be SO VALUABLE in these setback moments.
Binges and emotional eating are barometers for what’s going on mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. If there’s something lacking, often a binge is a symptom. Listen to them, do the good work of deep diving into your body image issues, and notice the behaviors decrease.
So, if you find yourself in this place. Step back. Remind yourself: “I’m normal. I’m healing. Recovery is not linear.”
You’ve got this.