At 7:45 pm last night, after an 11 hour work day, I was very hungry and very fried. I had healthy food in the house, but making myself a healthy dinner was the last thing I wanted to do.
I wanted to order a pizza, a soda, and a dessert, and have the food delivered to my house; a very old habit from the days when I was struggling with a raging binge eating disorder!
Was I about to binge eat? I started doing my justification dance,” A lot of people who have never had a binge eating disorder occasionally order a pizza, a soda, and a dessert for dinner after a long day of work”.
Was I in denial? Was I giving in to a desire to go numb; to use food as a distraction from tasks still undone and from a variety of feelings I didn’t wish to feel! Was this a sign my recovery was at risk?
The answer was much less dramatic and not at all frightening. I wanted a treat! I wanted some down time and food certainly does that for me.
Could I eat pizza and dessert and not have it feel like a binge? I’ve learned I absolutely can; when I stay mindful and I actually choose to enjoy/taste such a meal, rather than eat it frantically and/or mindlessly. So, I picked up the phone and ordered the pizza; very consciously. So, was that a binge? It was not.
What is binge eating? The American Psychiatric Association defines binge eating this way,
1. eating, in a discrete period of time (for example, within any 2-hour period), an amount of food that is definitely larger than most people would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances
2. a sense of lack of control over eating during the episode (for example, a feeling that one cannot stop eating or control what or how much one is eating)
In my own experience, and that of most of my clients, a “binge” is subjective. In my personal recovery, I’ve found it useful to define a binge as, “any time I use food to take care of an emotional need and I strongly wish I hadn’t”.
Here’s why my pizza last night was not a binge. I was conscious and I ate until I felt reasonably full; not mindlessly, miserably full, as I have done so many times in the past . When I refrained from any judgment, recrimination, regret, and/or guilt…and I, instead, just took note that last night I wanted to enjoy some pizza after a long day (yes, definitely more fun than salmon and a salad), eating pizza became no big deal. I ate and enjoyed a few slices and some dessert (there was enough there for several people). When done, I made a conscious decision to throw the leftovers away.
But I went to bed without doing so. I forgot about the leftovers, until I was surprised by them on the kitchen counter this morning. (Forget about food? Also not something I would have ever done before recovery). I experienced a moment of anxiety; old habits die hard. Would I binge on old pizza for breakfast? Nope, I was not going back to binge eating. My pizza dinner last night was delicious, but it was over. With a triumphant smile on my face, I threw the leftover pizza and dessert in the garbage under the kitchen sink and recycled the boxes . (I smiled as I squeezed just a bit of dish washing soap on top of the trashed leftovers, just to reinforce that I was making a firm choice; another old habit from my binge eating days.)
In my binge eating disorder days, that pizza would have been the beginning of a downward spiral of judgment, recrimination, regret, guilt, shame, and isolation…and more pizza. Last night pizza was just pizza…delicious evidence of how far I have come…
HOW DO YOU DEFINE RECOVERY FROM BINGE EATING?
So often, people in the process of recovering from binge eating, binge eating disorder, emotional eating, compulsive eating, food addiction (these challenge comes in many different packages), measure recovery in terms of “weight loss” or “all or nothing” diet-speak, i.e., “I’ve been good today” or “I was really bad last night”, or, “I ate birthday cake at work today; evidence that I’ll never be able to get over this. I’m hopeless.”
Instead, my definition of “Recovery” allows for both progress and set-backs (A Weigh Out Membership Empowerment Tools, #10-Redefining Recovery). My measures emphasize progress, not perfection. They allow us to step back from a binge and simply learn from it, without fear that one binge has to lead to another binge (because we’ve been “bad”). These new markers of recovery eliminate the judgment, recriminations, and shame that historically have sent us right back into the food.
Here are my recommended, healthier, truer measures of recovery:
1. My emotional eating episodes are getting farther and farther apart.
2. The quantity and the quality of food eaten when I turn to food emotionally is improving.
3. After an emotional or binge episode, my recovery time back to emotional regulation and healthy eating is happening sooner and sooner.
After several decades of personal and professional experience, I know these measures better represent what lasting, true recovery looks like…
Ellen Shuman is a pioneer in the field of Binge Eating Disorder; a Life Coach who specializes in helping people overcome emotional eating, compulsive eating, binge eating disorder, and food addiction. She is the founder of A Weigh Out & Acoria Binge Eating Disorder Treatment (1993-present), Past President of the Binge Eating Disorder Association (2011/2012), and Co-Founder of the Academy for Eating Disorders Special Interest Group on “Health at Every Size”, firstname.lastname@example.org, 513-321-4242.