*DISCLAIMER: this blog speaks about binge eating in relation to those in recovery from restrictive EDs. If you struggle with BED, this information might not hold true to your experience.
People have been asking me a lot lately about what is and isn’t *normal* recovery behavior.
So first things first: good question! The word normal is ridiculously subjective and vague and everyone’s normal is different.
More specifically, though, people have been asking me about if their bingeing behavior is normal or if it’s something they should be worried about. It’s hard to answer these questions because I would need much more information about each individual and their typical eating habits.
I think the best place to start is what the DSM IV defines as a binge: which is basically eating an amount of food most people would consider to be a large amount of food in a short period of time.
This, naturally, looks different for everyone. For me, eating 4 slices of pizza in one sitting is not binge. This is the case because A) pizza is delicious and B) I’m not eating past my fullness cues and C) I could stop if I wanted to.
The key here is the amount, the feeling of being in or out of control, and time frame, and the feelings associated.
The emotions behind the behaviors are also what makes it a binge. If you are bingeing because you’ve had a stressful day, and eating is helping you cope, then yeah, maybe this is a binge. If you’re having a bowl of ice cream before bed because you wanted some dessert (even if it’s a little more than what you might normally have) it’s probably not a binge.
While many people do struggle with binge eating, a lot of people in recovery from anorexia or bulimia or EDNOS/OSFED reach out to me in fear that they are now developing BED.
Here’s what I tell them: you have been starving your body for X days, weeks, months, years, etc. Your body is hungry. You are “bingeing” or eating larger portions of food because your body is physically trying to keep itself alive.
Someone who has a restrictive ED might be afraid that eating two cupcakes is a binge, but it’s not. Our bodies have a tendency to “binge” when we aren’t giving them the nutrients they need.
Want to know a great way to stop bingeing? Stop restricting. Stop dieting. Just try to eat intuitively. The more we restrict our intake, the more our bodies will physically and psychologically crave certain foods. This might not be the case for those with BED, but when we’ve been denying ourselves the necessary nutrients to live, our bodies are smart enough to find a way to combat it.
I know that this is easier said than done. I understand that recovery isn’t this black and white, but doesn’t it make sense that your body will want to EAT when you haven’t been eating?
If you let yourself have some ice cream pretty regularly, you won’t need to eat a whole pint of ice cream. And if you have the desire to eat a whole pint of ice cream, maybe it’s because you don’t normally eat ice cream (and you’re restricting it).
Allowing ourselves the foods that we like and enjoy takes the emotion and the morals out of the food. Ice cream becomes just ice cream. Cookies become just cookies.
When we learn to trust our bodies to ask for what they need and tell us when we’re full, we won’t have these desires to eat a whole bag of chips, because, guess what? We had some yesterday and if we want to have them today, we will.
It’s amazing how food has become so different for me over my work in recovery. I now have the ability to eat food and then never think of it again. I don’t plan out the rest of my day or week based on what I ate for dinner last night.
Nowadays, I eat the foods that are available and appealing. Sure, I like to make sure I eat some green stuff because I know my body will thank me. But if I don’t….oh well, there’s always tomorrow.