- Why do I binge? Addiction, boredom, to punish myself or…
- I haven’t binged since 1999—but I was sure I’d struggle my whole life
- why chugging water explains: Why do I binge?
Why do I binge?
“Let me count the ways.”
Do you recognize that famous line?
It’s the answer to the question: How do I love thee? And first put on paper by English Poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. (Why did I think Shakespeare said it?)
Bingeing, however, is not about love.
Or loving cake. But there are many reasons WHY people binge. And when you understand why, it’s so much easier to stop.
So roll up your sleeves, put on a hardhat and let’s deconstruct this self-defeating behavior.
Knowledge is power!
Why do I binge?
When I look back over the 10 years my eating was disordered, I was so caught up in the vicious cycle of starving, bingeing and purging, that I never had time to press pause or reflect on all the reasons I binged. (Or how my bingeing evolved over time.)
Recently one of my 1:1 clients left me a short note.
And it got me thinking about all the reasons – real and imagined – that I binged.
Andrea is smart, funny, kind, big-thinking and super-generous. And she said “Sure!” when I asked if I could share her reflection:
I really enjoyed the potato chips which usually make me want to binge because all the dieting stuff I’ve read over the years made me think that one chip makes you fat! But with my new outlook on food, I had a small bowl and thought nothing of it. Then got on with having a wonderful time with my friend while our children played. Before I’d kick myself for eating a “bad” food and then want to go home asap and binge.
Is that why you binge?
Does that thought process sound familiar?
Swap out the type of food and situation and insert yourself.
…For sure that was me for years.
The good news about bingeing
Over the decade I binged I had no idea how to stop and was CERTAIN I’d have to “resist” the urge to binge for the rest of my life.
But the last time I binged was on April 27th, 1999.
And I say all this because I want you to know, YOU can stop bingeing too! xo
Ok, so here’s 10 reasons why I binged + SOLUTIONS
You’ll see how my bingeing developed from hunger to habit.
And I bet you can figure out which reason for bingeing Andrea’s old outlook on food falls under.
Why do I binge? reason #1
After days of restricting what I ate and exercising at least an hour a day (and more if I ate something I regretted) I’d be so panicky hungry that I’d finally eat a little bit of something… Then suddenly I wouldn’t care about my weight and I’d keep eating. It was such a relief to stop the hunger pains.
More specifically it looked like this:
All day I walked around starving and not trusting myself with food. Then in the evening or the middle of the night, I’d eat a few crackers. Then half the top of a muffin. And before I knew it, I’d eaten a little bit of a lot of different things. In the morning I hoped no one would notice how much was gone.
And all the nights I didn’t binge? I had nightmares I binged.
Why do I binge? HUNGER demolished
You don’t need to be hungry to lose weight.
Unlocking your HAPPY weight is NOT about restricting. Losing excess weight is about meeting your body’s needs!
When you give your body the energy and nutrients it requires via ROUGHLY balanced meals made MOSTLY of whole foods, you stop wanting all the processed, sugary sh-tuff that gives you a sugar rush and then crash, which keeps you hungry.
I wrote all about not needing to be hungry to lose weight here:
Why do I binge? reason #2
All those diets that say “eat 10 grapes at 6pm” etc. made me think there was an exactness to eating.
And when I was rowing in high school, one of the senior girls on my team (who was a straight A+ student and skinny) announced to our crew that she read:
All this (MIS-information) gave me the impression that there was an exactness to eating.
And if I ate anything more than the exact amount—even a bite!—the calories would go straight to my butt.
So after eating a tiny bit of something unplanned, like a raisin off the top of a muffin, my reasoning would be:
“I’ve already ruined my diet so I may as well keep eating.”
Something I was happy to do, to be honest. Not because I love food (bingeing is not about love!) but because I was starrrrrrrving.
–> Starting to see why bingeing is confusing? Already Why do I binge? Reason #1 HUNGER and Why do I binge? Reason #2 PERFECTIONISM are intertwined.
And this reasoning is passed on from one generation of dieters to the next.
Years before I gained weight I saw women put more desserts on their plate at:
- Olive Garden restaurant buffets
- Christmas dinners
- & during the fellowship time after church—where there were cookies and banana bread piled on trays and spread across tables
…while they said that exact phrase: “I’ve already ruined my diet so I may as well keep eating…”
Why do I binge? PERFECTIONISM disassembled
Deciding one choice you regret ruins everything is self-defeating.
The problem isn’t the ONE dessert.
It’s all the choices you make after that one dessert. (Or that one bowl of chips!)
- eating a 2nd and 3rd dessert
- purging via exercise or making yourself sick
- taking a laxative
- skipping your next meal
and so on…
All these wild extremes confuse your body, so it shifts into survival mode.
In this state it’s easy to gain weight and tough to lose weight because your body holds onto the extra energy you ate and extra weight you carry for dear life. Your super-smart body wants to keep you alive! And is afraid you’re going to start restricting again.
That’s why I was 30 pounds overweight when I was hardly eating anything most of the time, and exercising like a maniac all the time.
After 10 years of thinking I ruined the day after eating something unplanned and then bingeing… My motto for the last 21+ years that I’ve been healthy has been: Make Today Count
Keep moving forward!
Anyone who reaches any goal – whether it’s:
- an artist who creates large-scale murals
- a synchronized swimmer (how do they do that?!)
- or a person who wants to get rid of their extra weight
gets back on track as quickly as they can after a slip-up.
Unlocking your HAPPY weight is about making more healthy choices than unhealthy choices over time. NOT perfect days.
Under this mural that’s at King & Portland Street in Toronto, is a really cool mural of Kate Moss. One day it was just gone. They painted over it and I kick myself for not taking a photo.
Why do I binge? reason #3
3. LACK OF WILLPOWER
The weight loss industry sends the message that you have to go on a diet to lose weight. And you have to follow a strict routine (and be miserable) to lose weight. And movies, magazines, fellow dieters and society as a whole perpetuate that myth.
The hunger games was one of the biggest films of the year, and also what I call the 6 weeks it took me to get into this dress.
-Tina Fey at the 2013 Golden Globes
So whenever I ate something I regretted… I was sure I was a terrible person who had no self control.
Why do I binge? LACK OF WILLPOWER detached
The diet industry is so good at getting us to question our character, believe we need to abandon our common sense and blindly follow a restrictive diet.
Another thing Andrea said?
“Now that I’m in a healthy routine
and feel my body thanking me,
I can’t believe all these sh*t diets get so much air time.“
I couldn’t agree more.
Diets PRIME you to binge.
Bingeing isn’t a character flaw!!
Think of it this way: The longer you wait to drink water when you’re thirsty, the more you guzzle it down.
The SAME thing happens with food.
Bingeing is your body’s NATURAL response to dieting.
People and animals need energy and nutrients from a VARIETY of food groups (and to drink water) REGULARLY to survive.
And plants need energy, nutrients and water too.
–>Please excuse our crazy end-of-winter rooftop. Everything stays wrapped up for the winter until the magic date of MAY 2-4 when Garden Centers give the go-head without the fear of frost.
Then you can call someone to help you out…
Like this person who’s sign I saw on a dog walk:
Hello, can we be friends?!
Life is too short not to have fabulous foliage!
And it’s too short to count calories, measure your food and worry about everything you eat.
Now’s The Time…
To get your body into a very simple healthy eating and exercise routine.
You do not lack willpower. Or need willpower to unlock your HAPPY weight. You just need good information.
Stop blaming yourself and blame your (old) weight-loss method!
Why do I binge? reason #4
4. TO PUNISH MYSELF
Bingeing made me feel terrible about myself.
I’d do it secretly and feel ashamed.
I wasted so much money and so many evenings bingeing. And I’d tell people I loved I was “off to the library” or say I was going somewhere else the person I wanted to be—the person I knew I could be!—would have been going.
Then after bingeing (and in my case, purging) I’d think about how much work I could’ve got done. Then I would have been free to go out on Saturday night and had the money to buy dinner with friends. Instead I’d stay home to try to make up for lost studying time and end up bingeing again. And get deeper and deeper into a hole I didn’t know how to climb out of.
And this entire domino effect kicked off because I ate something when I was hungry, but…
Worried I didn’t eat the perfect amount.
Thought I ruined everything.
Believed I had no willpower.
And punished myself by overeating.
Followed by, you know, all that inner-dialogue that goes like this:
OMG I can’t believe you’ve broken your diet again!
Why can’t you just get it together?
What do you need to lose to take this weight loss seriously—how bad do things have to get?
That’s how I talked to myself for years.
Living with the constant drone of negative self-talk became my normal and left no air time to think about anything else.
My hope was that all the studying and socializing I missed out on and how ONE binge felt like it erased a whole week of my hard work of dieting, would punish me enough that I’d be too scared to ever break my diet again.
Why do I binge? Punishing myself destroyed
When I look back I can confidently say, bingeing only makes things worse.
Putting more of my life on the line (bingeing to punish myself instead of studying for a test the next day) never worked!
Every time I binged I just got more used to bingeing.
It’s crazy what we can get used to.
When I started to be kind to myself and salvage the day when I thought I ate a little too much, rather than sabotage it, I lost weight for good.
And because I’m no longer preoccupied with food, weight and hunger, I notice the world around me.
Especially signs of spring.
Why do I binge? reason #5
5. MARK A NEW START
It wasn’t until yeeeears after I got healthy that I realized it had been more important to me to prove I could stick to my diet, then to actually lose weight.
So after “breaking” my diet I’d have to absolutely ruin the day, to draw a line in the sand and mark a new start for my shiny-new diet that I believed would change EVERYTHING.
Not only did bingeing promise a sense of dramatic change the next day, when I made my diet even more extreme (setting myself up to fail), it prevented me from being in the “grey” area.
I was ALL or NOTHING!
Totally “on” my diet or totally “off”.
I worried that if I ate a bit too much and didn’t:
- punish myself for overeating
- start a new diet
- and follow it perfectly…
I might not ever get around to losing weight.
Knowing I’d make a small mistake BIG if I ate something I regretted… was designed to create urgency and keep weight loss a priority.
Punishing myself to set a precedence before starting my new diet made me feel like I was working toward my weight-loss goal even when I was “off” my diet.
(SPOILER ALERT: I “marked a new start” 1000’s of times by bingeing and it NEVER worked.)
Here’s a post with more about how being RIGID can work against you:
Why do I binge? MARK A NEW START disintegrated
Turns out that making a small mistake BIG, really does make it big. Much bigger to deal with and difficult to fix.
If your car has a tire with a hole in it, go fix the tire. Don’t slash all the tires and then have it towed.
Losing weight is all about getting into a healthy routine and getting back to that healthy routine as fast as you can after a choice you regret.
Why do I binge? reason #6
6. ADDICTED TO FOOD
I thought about food and eating and weight ALL. THE. TIME.
“I must be addicted to food.”
My great aunt Dori, who my dad was close to, died of Alcohol Use Disorder when I was 12.
Here’s a picture she painted:
I remember sitting in the car at the hospital when my dad went in to say good bye. I couldn’t really process what was going on.
But when I was 14 years old and found myself bingeing, I wondered if I had something similar going on. Especially because I drank so much Diet Coke. I didn’t seem to have an “off” button.
We have a photo of Dori on our wall. She has a rose in her mouth while she’s playing the piano. And I have a beautiful letter she wrote to my dad when he went off to university.
I typed it out and glued her words into my Nothing Book—a book you can write anything in—that I started years ago. Everyone at Camp Gay Venture had a Nothing Book.
My favorite bit of her letter is:
You can learn so much from loving and observing people. Take from their good qualities and pity their bad. Be selective but tolerant because each has his own special cross or impediment to carry and these same burdens color behavior.
Dori taught me there’s more to everybody.
And she gave me hope that others might get past all the stuff I was ashamed of and see the real me, too.
At the end of her letter she signed off with:
Remember to use your brain, respect your body and never lose your sense of humor.
I can’t begin to know what she went through. Talking about my eating disorder and hoping it helps others is a privilege she didn’t get. It’s so much easier to talk about stuff these days. I mean, my great aunt didn’t even have the internet to get some information and connect with others (CONNECTING is Principle #10). And there weren’t groups like She Recovers that exist these days.
Alex and I have Dori’s painting hanging on the wall right by the front door of our home.
Why do I binge? ADDICTED TO FOOD de-tangled
As soon as I started giving my body the energy and nutrients it needs regularly, to keep my:
& every other part of our amazing bodies running
I IMMEDIATELY stopped thinking about food, weight and hunger. And felt FREE for the first time in years.
Get yourself into a healthy routine!
Worried you’re addicted to food? Read this:
Why do I binge? reason #7
Bingeing also happens when people feel hopeless. And don’t know what to do next.
I remember thinking:
What’s the point of not bingeing?
Nothing will be different either way.
My marks are so low from bingeing instead of studying, I’ve cancelled so many nights out with friends and I’m so hungry all the time.
The desire to binge is so strong.
How will my life really be different if I don’t binge right now?
Why do I binge? HOPELESSNESS debunked
If you want things to be different you have to do something different!
No matter what goal you have, you have to take the first step, keep going and believe they’ll all add up.
I remember when I started my book I just wanted to tap my heels like Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz and have all the sketches, collages, photos, writing, editing and so on done!
…Same with YOUR environmental science degree.
And moving all your belongings into your new house.
And training for the Boston Marathon.
Along with all the other incredible accomplishments you have on top of trying to manage your disordered eating. Which is a full-time job on its own.
Just like any goal you’ve already reached, the key is to decide to do it!
Tell someone you trust and ask them to hold you accountable.
Check in with your person and celebrate.
Anything worth doing is a bit tough to begin. But focus on one step at a time. Put one foot in front of the other. Soon it gets easier and easier!
As I say in my book on Page 167:
Why do I binge? reason #8
“Not a lot going on at the moment” (to quote Taylor Swift).
When my eating was disordered I was overweight and felt uncomfortable in my body. So I started cancelling everything to get this weight-loss JOB done!
“Can’t make it this week because my knee hurts.”
I told my housemate Chris as she headed out to our volleyball game.
“I’m so sorry but I have a big exam and can’t come to tonight’s meeting.”
Was the voice message I left for Robin, an older friend from high school who got me into a club that organized fundraising events for local charities.
“You guys go without me. I need to do an extra hour at the library.”
How I casually declined going to the Queen’s Pub to watch FRIENDS on Thursday night.
I felt so anxious about my weight, I had to be DOING something about trying to lose it! I couldn’t enjoy playing volleyball, doing volunteer work or sitting at a pub when I thought I should be exercising and planning another diet—one that if I followed perfectly I was sure I’d be able to pick up on all these extra-curriculars the next week and be at least 5 pounds lighter.
Every time I cancelled I was sure it was the last time.
I was never one to lie about anything. But as many of the women I work with have said:
“I’m so honest in every part of my life but when it came to my disordered eating I had to keep it a secret so no one would worry about me. Plus, who would understand?”
Problem is, all those “cover ups” made me feel awful. I hated not telling the truth.
And the more I dropped out of the activities I loved, the more time and energy I had to put behind the WRONG weight-loss information and further ingrain unhealthy habits.
Weeks turned into months and then years of not pursuing activities that made me excited to get up in the morning.
Rather than having an eating disorder be part of me. There was nothing of me left! I became part of my eating disorder.
And every time I thought it was the last day I’ll ever binge… it was actually just the next step in the vicious starve-binge-purge cycle I was trapped in.
On reflection, bingeing had kind of become my go-to activity 🙁
Why do I binge? BOREDOM debugged
What do you like to do?
What have you LOVED in the past?
Painting? Cycling? Turning the photos from old calendar pages into envelopes?
I bought a bunch of hand-made eco-stationary at a garage sale and they’re each of a famous work of art. Must have been a calendar from an art gallery. I wish I could show you a picture of them. But I put them in storage.
OK… here’s some mini-envelopes I made out of a 1991 Naturalists Calendar I found on a dog walk last night:
Ya, ya, they’re not great. But you get the idea. Check out a tutorial online. You can learn almost anything remotely these days!
Getting healthy is all chicken and egg.
Signing up and committing to something you enjoy, even if it’s just once a week, helps you break the starve-binge-purge cycle. Looking forward to an activity also helps you stop getting lost in the details of your disordered eating. And you’ll start to build a healthy routine.
- taking an online soap-making course
- starting a book club (you can meet over Zoom)
- or having a standing date with a colleague to debrief on a Skype Call after watching a documentary
Or hey, how about spending a little time making your foliage fabulous?
The key is not to try to find the perfect activity to start.
It’s just to start.
One choice will lead to another. And soon you’ll be enraptured! Either by the activity or the people or where they lead you next.
And make it non-negotiable.
Even when I don’t feel like doing an activity I’ve signed up for, or I don’t have time so I’m kicking and screaming (that’s just an expression) as I go out the door, I’m ALWAYS so happy I stuck with the program!
Like right now I’m working on a project that I’ll tell you more about soon. And I’m so excited about it I jump out of bed in the morning, eating breakfast is just kind of an obstacle between me and this thing I can’t wait to do. I’m not lost in the details of what I eat – I just want to get back to this thing!
Get busy with something you like to do.
Why do I binge? reason #9
9. NEGATIVE COPING MECHANISM
After dieting turned into disordered eating, bingeing and purging evolved into punishing myself, then hopelessness and a bit of boredom. And a negative coping mechanism for stress (created by all the above!)
While it was only short term relief and in hindsight, created WAY more stress with all the wasted time and secrets, coping with stress via bingeing was a pattern that got deeply ingrained.
There’s all kinds of negative coping mechanisms for stress.
Bingeing is just one of them.
And for me it looked like this:
Say I had a test coming up but had hardly been to class because of my disordered eating, so I’d be stressed.
Then no matter what I ate I’d think it wasn’t the perfect amount.
Or I’d feel like I broke my diet by eating the tiniest unplanned piece of food.
Next I’d think I ruined everything and binge.
And bingeing would add more stress: finding food, eating it secretively, hoping I didn’t get caught and so on.
Then after I purged there was this HUGE stress relief I didn’t know how to get any other way.
I think it’s fair to say I wasn’t living my best life…?!
Why do I binge? NEGATIVE COPING MECHANISM decompressed
Once I recognized my self-defeating patterns, like starving, bingeing and purging, I got into a superbly SIMPLE healthy eating and exercise routine. Which freed-up tons of time for me to start getting busy with the people, animals and projects I love.
With all of these good things going on in my life (like I met Alex very shortly after the last time I binged because rather than writing out a new diet I went out that night), it was so much easier to break this pattern.
And I also learned constructive coping mechanisms to deal with stress.
These days I stop and think about what is stressing me out the most and do it first.
I set a timer for one hour and see how much I can get done.
Guess where I found that watch?
The hardest part is getting started. Then I get totally in the swing of things and continue happily for hours.
Why do I binge? reason #10
There was a time just before I got healthy for good that I had a lot of good information but I had no idea why I was still bingeing and purging.
Now I know perfectionism, like trying to eat “the perfect amount” played a big, big part.
But in reality, perfectionism is really just a form of procrastination.
Why do I binge? HABIT dismantled
In October of 1998 my Prof named Jane at Teacher’s College in London, told me if I missed one more day of school I’d have to redo the whole course.
For me that wasn’t an option.
I felt like I’d failed at so many things I had to get this degree and move on with my life.
Suddenly passing that year of school was more important than following my diet perfectly. (And it was the first time anything was more important than proving I could stick to my diet, because I thought it would PROVE I could reach any goal I set. I needed that assurance. So I got stuck, like a needle in the groove of a record, trying to fix the same problem with the same solution that didn’t work.)
So when I thought I ate one bite too many at lunch, instead of:
thinking I ruined the day
bingeing to punish myself
marking a new start, etc.
I went back to class.
And pretty soon I learned to chill out a bit and relax. Let it go! (I was still a bit scared of food.)
As time went on I got used to not worrying about eating the perfect amount.
In fact I learned there isn’t a perfect amount.
Being flexible and carrying on with the day is key to unlocking your H 🙂 PPY weight and living a full life.
Don’t get lost in the details!
Now I know ROUGHLY and MOSTLY will do when it comes to eating balanced meals made of whole foods.
Want to break the habit of bingeing?
Here’s how to break habits:
Make Today Count
Now you see how bingeing can begin because dieting made you hungry and then bingeing can develop overtime into a habit.
Just reading this post Why do I binge? will make you more aware of the thought processes behind your actions.
And how self-defeating bingeing is.
The key is to binge less often and to eat less each time you binge.
Leave a chip in the bag.
Buy 4 cupcakes instead of 5.
Phone a friend instead of going to the fridge.
These are all small choices you can start TODAY that add up over time and help you break the starve, binge and purge cycle.
Change is possible when you have good info and strategies. Then you can get healthy a lot faster than I did.
Build healthy eating and exercise habits. A healthy weight will follow.
One of the best ways to combat bingeing is to get into a healthy eating and exercise routine. What’s your next meal today? Try your best to make it ROUGHLY balanced and made MOSTLY of whole foods. Your body will thank you. Check out the ONE DAY Meal Plan below this post for ideas!
The lyrics are beautiful in Better Now from Serena Ryder’s Album The Art of Falling Apart.
No matter our age or our experiences, we can learn how to love ourselves better now.
Respect Serena Ryder so much for sharing this:
Different types of my personality have come out and shown me that I’m a balanced, grounded person. I pathologized a lot of my ups-and-downs as, ‘This is my depression or this is my anxiety.’ I haven’t experienced that spectrum since I haven’t been drinking.
Whether you’re bingeing or doing anything else that’s self destructive, Serena Ryder states:
One of the more important things you can do is not self-medicate… Just making the uncomfortable moments go away doesn’t do any real deep healing, because the uncomfortable moments are there to tell you something.
Why do I binge?
So many of my most important lessons came from living with an eating disorder. Lessons I couldn’t have learned any other way. Things I wouldn’t have noticed if everything was going right.
My Great Aunt Dori saw the beauty in everybody because she knew it was in herself, perhaps when others didn’t.
The deep healing began for me when I got into a healthy routine and focused on improvement, not perfection.
Or as one of my clients calls it: Breakfast, lunch, dinner, REPEAT!
Big thanks to Andrea for sharing that she used to binge if she ate a single chip. If you guessed PERFECTIONISM, Why do I binge? reason #2 as one of the dominant reasons, I’d say, you’re right! Here’s Andrea’s recovery story. LOVE her.
And if you have another answer to Why do I binge? please leave a comment below. If you prefer to do it anonymously or by just leaving your first name ONLY, you can do that too. Thank you!
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Sharing what I learned makes the 10 years I STRUGGLED worth it