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Binge or general Overeating?

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.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Lots to think about. I don't binge -- but I do overeat! Gotta stop this!
    1971 days ago
    Very good questions. I posted about them quite a few times in my own blog as I think I could be called a 'binge eater'.
    And yes. I think your last thought is very correct. I think binge eaters start as people who overeat.
    I also read recently that binge eating (as in 'Binge Eating Disordered') can develop VERY quickly once the person has a few times had the experience that the binge eating actually 'works' (be it very temporarily) to numb out or deal with strong negative emotions.
    I tend to think that the more sensitive a person is and/or the more trauma he/she has been through the 'easier' it is to become a binge eater.

    I believe that the difference between you with the 11 cookies and a 'binge eater' is that indeed you do not (yet! and please don't start!) use the cookies as a way to numb your emotions and/or to change the focus of your thougths. (Being mad with oneself for bingeing may feel better than being mad with oneself for other reasons, in that sense bingeing offers 'forgetting').
    I wrote an even longer reply to your entry; I think I'd better turn it into a blog entry of my own... Thanks for the thought -provoking blog!
    1971 days ago

    Comment edited on: 12/30/2012 2:24:58 PM
    Thanks for the blog. Always appreciate hearing what you think about different topics :)
    1972 days ago
    Thanks so much for sharing really gives me something to think about. emoticon

    1972 days ago
    thoughtful blog, as usual. Keep 'em coming!
    1972 days ago
  • DEB9021
    This is an interesting blog and something we all need to think about.

    It's something we all do in some form, whether it's excessive eating, alcohol, tv watching, or whatever it is we do that works against the goals we have set for ourselves. I''m not sure the label matters much. Because the awesome thing is that you've recognized and acknowledged when you do something that is out of line with what you want to accomplish. And sometimes I step out of line in a good way--to do something that is really fun, or makes me feel spoiled or pampered, but in the end helps me take a needed break and leaves me more energized and focused--ready to get back to meeting those goals I've set for myself.

    But if instead i find myself regularly throwing up obstacles that me leave me feeling guilty and totally off course, it's time to ask why? Are my goals not really in line with where I want to be? Are they too ambitious so that I can't really keep to them while feeling healthy, happy and energized for daily life? Or am I in some other "funk" unrelated that I just need to find some healthier ways of dealing with? But the awesome thing is, you're not lying to yourself about what you're doing, not afraid to share the issue as you think about it--we have ALL been there in some way with some bad habit! But as long as you acknowledge it, think on it, and decide consciously and with purpose and conviction whether its a bad habit that you can indulge and maybe counteract with other good habits, or whether its something you want to and therefore will change, you're doing it right! We're all working on changing our unhealthy habits to healthy ones one step at a time. That's what this is all about, right? Good luck, and keep at it!
    1972 days ago
    Interesting topic, as usual. emoticon
    1972 days ago
  • 1EMMA2011
    Remember too that there is codependency. So the alcoholic is partnered with the codependent. I am a recovering codependent.

    I agree completely and have the same experiences as you. I'm not a "food aholic". I do have food issues. Sometimes I use food to numb my emotions.

    The important thing for me is to feel my feelings (grieve), to meditate (quiet my mind) and to work toward wisdom (right action).

    Everyone is different though. Everyone's path is different.

    The most important thing is that we try to find our path and respect each other's differences.

    Thank you for another thought provoking positive blog.

    emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon
    1972 days ago
    As a recovering alcoholic myself, I learned in AA that it doesn't matter what causes it, we have to follow a 12 Step Program to learn to live with it. I have blogged in the past about some of the differences. Binge eating won't land you in jail or the hospital with tubes going in and out, but does that make it any more acceptable to you? A jury of your peers won't convict you for overeating, but do you need that threat to keep you from overeating? My sobriety is a gift from God: no human power could have restored me to sanity. I don't drink because I love the life I have and it will all disappear with ONE SIP of an alcoholic beverage. And I love my appearance at goal weight. I don't want to again endure the agony of self loathing that will always come with overindulgence in food. The discomfort of dealing with life's stresses within the parameters of my food plan is less than the misery of overeating. I start every day with that reminder and tell myself again as many times as needed during the day. I cannot avoid the pain inflicted on me by life, but I CAN avoid the pain I inflict on myself by overeating.
    1972 days ago
  • MICHELLE_391
    That's a tricky question. I suppose the clinical definition of "binge" is around somewhere. I don't think binge eating has to be a disorder OR a function of emotional distress (or elation.) I tend to think of it as self-sabotage. I know what I want for myself, but then ignore the long term goal and suddenly embrace the short term one, which is, another cookie.

    Some of it could be environmental. Around this time of year, an over-abundance of food is suddenly acceptable. Sweets are a huge part of that. And although we may deny ourselves for a little while, the "me too" crowd effect/ influence kicks in. Why not eat cookies? Everyone else is! That one cookie triggered the part of your brain that reacts as it does to opiates. And then the binge commences.

    In any case, it is food abuse. We are supposed to be eating for sustenance.Food=fuel. But our taste buds, brains, and society say otherwise. Is the occasional binge a disorder? Probably not.

    I learned from an AA meeting (also in support of someone else) that binge drinking is alcohol abuse, but doesn't necessarily mean that someone who binge drinking is an alcoholic. Drinking too much at the occasional party is abuse of the substance. The problem with alcohol is that our inhibitions are lowered with every sip.

    Do you suppose it is the same thing with fat and sugar?

    I also struggle with this issue and think a lot about it. This is a great discussion! Thank you for starting it! emoticon
    1973 days ago
    this is one of my 'soapbox topics'

    an alcoholic can live without alcohol but an overweiight/obese person still needs to eat.

    I am a 'recovering emotional eater' thanks to Sparkpeople I've been able to learn the triggers and realize what I am doing and usually stop or not start at all. This is huge for me.

    I'm sure everyone of us has a tale to tell on this really good blog topic

    Thanks for letting us have our say
    1973 days ago
    I have problems with both.

    What I consider to be "binge eating" happens when I am alone. I go into a strange state where I do not track, almost deliberately. I eat everything in sight until I A) run out of things to eat, B) come to my senses, or C) get so sick I can't function

    Here is a blog post about a full-on binge that happened just as I was approaching maintenance:


    Normal overeating happens when I eat more than I need to, but I'm conscious of it and often tracking. It also happens at social occasions where the temptations are there, there are other people eating, and tracking seems awkward.

    Fortunately I haven't experienced a full-on binge-until-sick since June. After that happened, I finally said, "Enough" and went to find a dietitian and a therapist. So far so good, fingers crossed. I was having about 2-4 episodes like that per year before I went and found some professional help, and it seems to be working.

    There have been smaller episodes of solo eating but most of them have been tracked, even if just after the fact. It helps that I keep only minimal amounts of food at home. They have a fridge at work and I prepare and eat most of my meals there. It is safer because there are people usually around.
    1973 days ago

    Comment edited on: 12/29/2012 6:54:09 AM
    I can relate to this and have done much soul-searching and research regarding these issues. I too was once married to an alcoholic, who eventually died from a bad dose of cocaine.

    I came to these conclusions: One being, pain. A pain so hurtful deep inside a person, they don't know how to deal or even heal from it. Two, hormones. There is so many factors where hormones are concerned in our bodies, with the most publicized one being the male and female ones. But there are many more that our body depends upon in order to function.

    One of my most major conclusions has to do with the function of proper nutrition. So many conflicting "must haves" from different points of views with this. Learning that wheat works like an opiate in our brains was truly an eye opener. Personally testing this by eliminating it from my diet, my cravings are non-existent. It really made me wonder if this one thing contributes to alcoholism? I am not sure, but IMO, it is a possibility. Here too are many factors, such as genetics and whatnot.

    It is said that our guts is our true brain as this part of our anatomy works in concert with our literal brain. Never would have even considered wheat having effects on our thinking process.

    We do our best one day to the next and accept that we may never have all the answers to the mysteries of the body/ my concession.

    1973 days ago
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