Can you Binge Without Having Binge Eating Disorder

I remember very distinctly the moment I realized that I needed to change my relationship with food. 

I was standing in front of the freezer, eating a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, stressed, tired, in the middle of planning our wedding, getting my masters degree, and in the middle of yet another elimination diet. 

Nevermind that I was in the middle of finals and completely stressed out. Nevermind that I was feeling super anxious. I truly thought an elimination diet was exactly what I needed (cough:: what I needed was some stress management:: cough), but I didn’t know that at the time. I did what I knew and that was control through food. 

In front of that freezer, my life changed. It was as if a part of me stepped out of myself and said, Cristina, you’re out of control, you’re not even tasting this, what are you doing? Enjoy it and let it go. And I put the ice cream back. 

This isn’t a story of immense discipline. This isn’t where I tell you if I can put it back, so can you (insert eye roll). 

This is where I tell you, restriction leads to binges. 

This is where I tell you that your relationship with food is a metaphor. 

This is a story of an eye-opening moment in my life where something deep within me (my intuition) said that I needed to stop restricting. That this elimination diet wasn’t helping heal whatever I thought it was. 

This is a story to build upon the fact that restriction leads to binging.

I didn’t have a diagnosed eating disorder. I  didn’t fit the DSM-5 diagnosis for binge eating disorder. But something was definitely going on and this was definitely binge-like behavior. So, if I wasn’t a “classic” binger and I wasn’t totally cool with food, then what was I? 

Where did I fit it and was there a way I could get help? Or did I just need to “suck it up”? 

Restriction plays a MAJOR role. 

Let’s first break down the gradient. 

We often speak a lot about the emotional aspects of binge eating, but we don’t discuss as much the very real physiological pieces at play that can {and most likely} lead to a binge.  ⁠

I refer to this gray area as “Scavenger Eating”. This is further developed throughout this post, but first, I think it’s important to understand that there is a very real Restrict, Scavenger, Binge Gradient and how calorie and food restriction and irregularly timed meals WILL lead to a binge like episodes (regardless if you have a traditional BED diagnosis).   Where do you think you fall on the gradient?

Let’s paint the picture – ⁠

When our body is in a perceived or actual famine/starved state {i.e. calorie restriction through dieting, low food availability, or increased time between meals) this sets an alarm off in the body that we are not getting what we need nutritionally & calorically.  ⁠

Our body is primitively conditioned to CONSUME when food IS available.  ⁠

It makes a lot of sense and is genius of the body to capitalize on consumption in periods of food abundance following periods of food scarcity because the body doesn’t know that you’ve decided to do the new diet you read on Mind Body Green vs. you don’t have access to food.  It naturally and primally perceives this as a famine state. ⁠

This is a protective mechanism.  This is not bad. ⁠

If you are living in food scarcity – we need to provide you with access to food plain and simple. ⁠

If you are calorically/ food restricting, your body doesn’t know the difference.  ⁠

If you are food scarce, here are some resources for helping you get access to food:⁠

– Dosomething.org⁠

– FeedingAmerica.org

BINGE EATING 

Three out of ten people seeking weight loss treatments show signs of BED. ⁠

It makes a lot of sense too, right? After reading about famine mode, it’s pretty much a no brainer that weight loss programs can guarantee something else greater than their beloved weight loss and that’s a binge episode. ⁠

This is not your fault. ⁠

There is no shame here. ⁠

This is common. ⁠

If you feel/think/know in your heart of hearts that you’re having a tough time, I encourage you to seek support. 

According to the National Eating Disorder Center, these are the requirements to be diagnosed with BED. 

Recurrent episodes of binge eating. An episode of binge eating is characterized by both of the following: 

  • Eating, in a discrete period of time (e.g., within any 2-hour period), an amount of food that is definitely larger than what most people would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances.

 

  • A sense of lack of control over eating during the episode (e.g., a feeling that one cannot stop eating or control what or how much one is eating).

 

The binge-eating episodes are associated with three (or more) of the following: 

 

  • Eating much more rapidly than normal.
  • Eating until feeling uncomfortably full.
  • Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry.
  • Eating alone because of feeling embarrassed by how much one is eating.
  • Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty afterward.
  • Marked distress regarding binge eating is present.
  • The binge eating occurs, on average, at least once a week for 3 months.
  • The binge eating is not associated with the recurrent use of inappropriate compensatory behaviors (e.g., purging) as in bulimia nervosa and does not occur exclusively during the course of bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa.”

Resource for help – NationalEatingDisorders.org

SCAVENGER EATING

You can have a binge like episode without having BED AND when you have it. ⁠

This gray area is what I refer to clients as Scavenger Eating. It’s very real and can feel (and be) a lot like binging. ⁠

Typically, this is described as feeling VERY hungry, a ravenous type of feeling.  It often follows periods of low food intake, restriction, or long periods of time between meals.  It can be purposeful or not. ⁠

Let’s say you overbooked yourself with meetings all day and 4 PM rolls around and you realize you haven’t taken a break for lunch or even a snack?  You pop over to the office snack pantry and eat a bunch of stuff you can get our hands-on. You feel like you’re scarfing it down without even tasting it. You feel out of control.  Hungry. And not satisfied. You NEED more. This is scavenger eating. ⁠

You’ve been reading about carb cycling and intermittent fasting and have decided to give it the old college try. You’re committed and following all of the guidelines and attempting to suppress your hunger until the “eating window”.  The window comes (THANK GOD) and you eat your meal you’ve prepared (based on the guidelines), you’re still feeling unsatisfied so you sneak in a snickers bar, bag of chips, and all the almonds you packed with you. This is scavenger eating. ⁠

You’re a shift worker and on the clock.  You’re not allowed to break until after your shift is up. You’re hungry and can’t have snacks with you. Your shift ends and you eat all of your food as quickly as you can – you feel unsatisfied and want more, but your break is over and need to get back to work.  This is scavenger eating. ⁠

This is what restriction does.⁠

How are you scavenger eating?

The Restrict/Binge/Scavenger gradient can feel impossible to overcome and move through.  Not all of us will have a similar ah-ha moment standing in front of the freezer moment. And that’s ok! 

But there is a lot of power in acknowledgment and education.  Do you see yourself in these descriptions?

Yes, maybe? Definitely Maybe? ⁠

Here are a few things that you can do now to help move you through this cycle. Look for your specific points of entry into the gradient and use the following stopgap actions to help you move out of it. ⁠

  1. Identify food rules you may be following. ⁠
  2. Breakdown the food rules and aim for food neutrality.⁠
  3. Cultivate a curiosity mindset.⁠
  4. Schedule mealtimes that are predictable⁠
  5. Seek out support (i.e therapy, counseling, anti-diet nutritionist, programs and resources for food availability)⁠
  6. Adapt “all food is welcome” approach (minus food allergies and dietary changes for chronic illness)

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