If you said, “I will never binge again” and you were able to keep that promise, what would that mean to you? I’m not talking about all the ways in which your life would be better or the relief you would feel to put your eating disorder behind you; I’m talking about something much simpler. I’m talking about defining the behavior you want to get rid of. If you commit to “never binge,” you may have to give some thought to what exactly that means to you, because binge eating can be a subjective experience. It’s not like there is a calorie cutoff where any more is a binge and less is not, and the DSM definition of binge eating episodes certainly leaves room for interpretation.
According to the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), a binge eating episode is characterized by:
1.) Eating a larger amount of food than normal during a short period of time (within any two hour period)
2.) Lack of control over eating during the binge episode (i.e. the feeling that one cannot stop eating)
The DSM also says that binge eating episodes are associated with three or more of the following:
1. Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
4. Eating alone because you are embarrassed by how much you’re eating
5. Feeling disgusted, depressed, or guilty after overeating
All of my binges had the characteristics above; but I think more importantly, I could define my binges by what they felt like. There was an unmistakable mindset and way of eating; I just knew on an intuitive level what I considered a binge, and I think most people who binge eat have that same clarity surrounding most, if not all, of their binges. Nevertheless, it may not be so clear cut for everyone, which is why I think it’s important to give some thought to what quitting will entail. This is the especially the case for those whose binges aren’t necessarily as “episodic” as the DSM describes, but instead more like excessive grazing and spread throughout the day.
I think it’s important not to overthink what is a binge and what is not. A lot of people with eating disorders have perfectionistic personalities and might get caught up in trying to have an ideal diet. If this is the case for you, you may find yourself wondering if all non-hungry eating could be considered binge eating, or if you should include eating junk food under the umbrella of binge eating. My best advice is: when you define your binges, go with your gut. Is getting some fries with your McDouble at McDonalds when a salad might be a healthier side item, a binge? I don’t think so by any stretch of the imagination, and that happens to be exactly what I had for dinner tonight. It’s been a busy time trying to settle into our new home, and I haven’t been cooking much so we have eaten fast food much more than normal. I do value health and eating well, but eating less-than-healthy food is fine in moderation, and even eating sometimes when not physically hungry can be perfectly normal (I doubt anyone who has dessert after a meal is ever truly hungry for that dessert.)
I think when you first quit binge eating, it is very helpful not to put so much pressure on yourself to have your non-binge eating be exactly right. I think I would have driven myself crazy if I would have treated every craving for junk or non-hungry eating as an urge to binge.I think it was helpful that I defined my binges by what I knew them to be, not by over-analyzing and creating a lot of rigid rules for myself.
Even when your binge eating stops, you may be left with some imperfect eating habits like most normal eaters; and you can then define which ones you are okay with keeping and which ones you want to change. The good news is that once you are confident the binge eating is over, you’ll be in a much better position to work on improving your diet in whatever way you see fit.