Many of us in recovery from eating disorder experience binge eating. I certainly did, and I wrote about it extensively in my book, Love Fat. I consider it to be a pretty normal phase in eating disorder recovery from illnesses such as Anorexia.
Here’s the deal. Your body has been starved for a prolonged period of time. It has been starved and malnourished so long that many of the “normal” feelings a person gets have been shut off. Hunger signals stop in many of us with Anorexia.
Then, you start eating again. Your body starts to get some energy into it. It starts to fire back up again. What’s next … that body is hungry! It is SO hungry. You feel ravenous.
And you freak out a bit. Because you feel this uncontrollable hunger. You are not recovered enough to not have the eating disorder thoughts in your head yet. Your eating disorder is saying “don’t allow yourself to eat or your’ll overeat and yadda yada..”
But your body is staying “I am fucking starving give me all the foods!”
Your eating disorder is “no way, don’t eat too much!”
Your body is “eat, eat, eat, eat!”
You try with all your might not to eat, and then your body takes over and literally makes you eat all the food it can. Then your eating disorder throws a hissy fit and makes you feel like shit.
Food is like a long-lost friend
It’s a bit like this:
There is a friend that you haven’t seen for ten years. When you finally see her again, you jump all over her, hug her like crazy, spend a solid hour talking with her at a million miles an hour. That’s normal, because you didn’t see each other for ages, right?
Then, say, if that friend comes and lives with you, after about a week you barely even look up from your book when she walks into the house. That’s normal, because you see her every day. You are used to having her around and being able to talk to her whenever you want, so you don’t have to go crazy each time you see her anymore.
This is what is happening when you start eating again. Your body is all “YAY! I need food! I haven’t had enough food for years! Give me all the food!”
The trick is, that you have to keep eating regularly otherwise your body will never get used to the food being available all the time. If you keep eating regularly, soon enough your body will be a lot more used to having food come in on a regular basis and it will stop going wild about it.
There is only one thing that will stop binge eating … regular eating!
So when I starting having binges I made the big mistake of not eating the next day. This was because my Anorexia was freaking out at me for eating. Big mistake. So then, because I didn’t eat, food became like the long-lost friend again. This is why the binge-purge cycle is a thing. The only way to break the cycle is to keep eating regularly.
What you absolutely must not do, is restrict food after you have binged. Watch out — your eating disorder will try all the tricks in the book to try and get you to restrict food or purge in some other way after a binge. You have to be really strong and very brave and tell your eating disorder to take a hike by ignoring it and continuing to eat as usual.
Binges happen in recovery. It is no big deal. Once your body is used to having a consistent inflow of nutrients, the urge to binge will vanish.
And yes, exercising counts as a purge
Don’t let your eating disorder trick you into thinking that exercise is not purging. It is. In fact, think of exercising after a binge being just as bad for you and your body as restricting after a binge would be. Do not allow your eating disorder to tell you otherwise. Exercise is a form of purging and it is an eating disorder behavior that you must not allow yourself to continue to do in recovery.
What if I put on too much weight?
There is this thing called “overshoot” that is part of recovery. We know this from the Minnesota starvation study. The subjects in the starvation study “overshot” their pre-study weights when they began eating again. BUT they all returned to their pre-study weights in the year to year-and-a-half after they started recovery [A. Keys et al., 1950].
It is a natural and normal part of recovery to overshoot your usual pre-eating disorder weight. If you stick with eating regularly, your body will return to your pre-ED weight.
Remember, you go overboard with that long-lost friend for a couple of days when you first see her, don’t you? You need to do that in order to catch up with the ten years worth of news you both need to tell one another. When you go over your pre-ED weight in recovery, this is just your body spending some time catching up with all the things it needs to sort out. Fat is needed on the body in order for the body to heal, so it is storing some while it heals all the internal systems that were affected by the eating disorder.
When it is done, you will return to the optimal weight for you.
What about me?
Here’s how it went for me personally. I started recovery. Binge eating happened. It freaked me out so I restricted the next day. Then binge eating happened again. And so on and so forth like that for years.
One day I decided to muster all my strength and NOT restrict after a binge. I ate breakfast the day after as I should. Don’t think it was easy to make that choice because it wasn’t. My eating disorder went berserk at me and threw all the negative thoughts it could in my direction. It made me feel guilty and dirty for having eaten. But I still pushed through and kept eating. Within a couple of weeks I had stopped binging altogether.
That’s just my story. That is what happened to me. All of our bodies are different in recovery, but they share enough in common that while it may take longer or shorter a time for you, I am confident that if you keep eating, your body will sort out the rest. You have to trust your body, and you have to keep eating.
I have not binge eaten now for over five years. My weight is what it was pre-Anorexia.