Saturday, December 29, 2012
This is a question that has been rattling around in my head for a couple weeks now, and I keep swinging back and forth in my answer to myself.
Where this started was with a few days this month that I ate well over my calorie range, pretty much eating whenever I felt hungry or a desire to eat. One of those involved eating an entire box of cookies over a couple of hours (minus the one I'd had the day before). In the past I've also gone through most of a jar of peanut butter and over half a pound of dark chocolate-covered almonds (on separate occasions - not together).
Thing is, I don't call them binges. I call them overeating. Those were very separate in my mind -- like the difference between being emotionally depressed over a negative event such as a breakup and suffering from depression.
Then I read a Sparkfriend's blog - a Sparkfriend who truly suffers from trouble with bingeing, struggles with trigger foods. She was describing foods on which she would normally binge and a process of imagining not just how much she'd want it, how good it would be, but beyond the first bite to what the bingeing would be like and how she'd feel for days after.
My reaction was a very distinct relief that I don't go through anything like that. I don't eat so fast I'm in danger of choking. I don't feel compelled. I don't feel disgusted by the flavors.
And suddenly in my mind I was comparing my reaction to something else from my past.
I'm not an alcoholic. (No, that's not denial. I really truly have no issue with alcohol. Heck, I have several bottles in my room right now that I probably last opened two or three years ago and had a couple drinks.)
Anyway, I used to have a somewhat misguided idea of what made someone an alcoholic. I remember some guy that lived across the way from my mother's house who eventually died of alcohol poisoning. He was always at some stage of being drunk, day and night.
The next was my first "best friend". He would cruise with a friend of his, and that involved a bottle of tequila while heading to the city south of us, stopping there to buy another bottle of tequila and drinking that while heading north.
That added to my mental idea of what an alcoholic was like - drinking an absurd quantity of hard alcohol, being constantly drunk or drinking to get there.
After attending an AA meeting with a roommate who wanted moral support, I "learned" that alcoholics COULD NOT have a single drink or they'd fall off the wagon. They'd drink in secret, hide alcohol, and start early in the day. Basically I had this list of "rules" in my head that defined when someone was an alcoholic.
As I hit 21, I started being a nightclub regular, enjoying live shows and dancing - and having a drink or two. I met my EX at a club, where he was drinking with friends and dancing. I started off with this idea in my head that he only drank socially. He didn't drink at home unless they were having some big family get-together, at which the cases of beer came out.
And I put on blinders at some point, using those very same rules to "prove" to myself that he wasn't an alcoholic. He didn't spend every day drunk. He didn't start drinking in the morning. He didn't usually hit the harder liquor except when we were out at clubs. Somehow I even shrugged off his DUI, even as I made sure he didn't drive our car after any social drinking following that. I just explained it as normal drinking followed by impaired thinking.
Then after our divorce, he started having anxiety attacks, being really moody (not depressed so much as feeling "useless" and apathetic), and drinking most evenings. It became more obvious that the number of family get-togethers were increasing, often just him and cousins his age doing so just to drink "socially". Then at one point DDa mentioned offhand that he was hiding beer where his mother wouldn't find it. It wasn't to keep her out of it - she doesn't drink at all.
It clicked suddenly. He was and is an alcoholic, no doubt about it. He can't have just one beer. He was creating reasons to drink, spending more on drink than he could afford, endangering his job and worse. He eventually got another DUI, mandated AA classes, has been on and off the wagon. Scary enough? He dragged my DS and DDa along to one and I had to challenge DDa's automatic certainty that she wasn't an enabler or affected by his drinking.
So coming back to the concept of bingeing, I had to start asking myself if I was just creating a distinction that wasn't really there - or whether there really is a difference.
What is a binge? General definitions indicate it is usually a short period of time during which something is engaged in to excess - alcohol, food, shopping, etc. A few of the definitions added in words like compulsive or unrestrained, but the basic definition usually didn't.
That still didn't really answer it for me. I generally don't cram the food into my mouth as fast as possible. I had 11 cookies, yes, but they took me about two hours to eat. I'd eat one, go back to doing what I was doing, then maybe 15 minutes later be thinking about how great that had tasted and really wanting all those flavors and sensations again. I don't scarf them as fast as possible. For example, a single spoonful of peanut butter usually takes me several minutes to lick clean. I don't go through an emotional roller coaster before, during or after any day or food I overeat. I just adjust my food for the next few days, add some extra activity, track what I ate, and review what happened around that.
Then I found something that might explain why I'm having trouble with the words. A binge is not necessarily the same as "Binge Eating Disorder". I definitely don't see myself in any of the symptoms of the disorder beyond the simple fact of being able to eat an excess of certain foods over a shorter period of time than it should be eaten.
At the same time, it isn't simply over-eating. It's one thing on a day when I go out with my DS and DDa, eat at a restaurant, have movie snacks, and stop for a hot chocolate and snack after. That's definitely going to put me over my calories for the day, but the average person looking at what and when I ate wouldn't think it unusual for a special occasion. Eating 11 cookies in a couple hours from a box that says the serving size is 1 cookie? Most reasonable people, myself included, consider that excessive. I didn't feel compelled. I just didn't say no when I thought about having another. I've also spontaneously stopped without finishing when I make a decision to.
I think what I've come to is that by basic definition, I do on rare occasion have a food binge - but I don't have any of the indicators of a disorder.
What I've learned, though, is to be very careful about saying that. Making that sort of eating a habit in any way is dangerous. Who is to say that someone suffering from such a disorder didn't originally start off with just a mild binge here and there? The cause is not known, after all.