I’ve written about binge/feast eating many times before. There is a whole chapter in my book about it. I’m still going to keep blogging about this frequently as it is a message that I’m passionate about.
I believe the the misunderstanding about “binge” eating is what prevents many treatment centres and treatment professionals from truly serving their clients. I believe that for the majority of us, binge eating is a fundamental part of the path to full recovery. I believe that until this is understood by treatment professionals (that and the fact that body diversity is a real thing) the eating disorder field will continue to fail many people in recovery.
Meal plans … whatever. A stepping stone for some. You want to put someone on a meal plan, fine. But don’t you dare tell people they shouldn’t eat more than what is on that meal plan. You’re reinforcing the notion that the human body is a calculator when you do this. That everything we eat needs to be added up, calculated, planned. That is DISORDERED.
Eating disorders are hard enough to recover from without having the person who is supposed to be making you recover reinforcing the concept that one can’t trust one’s own body.
Here’s why it is okay to “binge” in recovery
The urge to eat a lot of food after periods of inadequate nutrition is a biologically driven necessity for many people (and animals). Even without any evidence from other mammals, it is clear and simple common-fucking-sense that the body is going to want a LOT of food — more than a normal amount — in order to make up for a prolonged period of not having enough food.
It is so common-fucking-sense that it makes me want to bang my head against the wall. I feel something within me — probably my faith in human intelligence — die every time I hear that good old “we don’t want to encourage binge eating” line from treatment providers. Encourage it? As it binge eating lurks around every corner and an extra pack of butter on the morning toast ration is going to be enough to turn any one of us into a hopeless lifelong binge eater. You don’t need to encourage it. You’re not producing it. It is already there. It is there because of restriction. It is there because of malnutrition. It is there for a REASON.
Why the fuck do you think so many people in recovery want to binge? Coincidence? We just all happen to also have a tendency towards BED which is nothing to do with the restriction and energy deficit we are in and purely psychological. GIVE ME STRENGTH! It is blatantly obvious that a body in energy deficit is going to seek energy surplus and that is TOTALLY NORMAL AND OKAY.
No, actually, it is optimal. It is MATH. It is 2 + 2 = 4. Famine + end of famine = feast. Energy deficit + available food = binge.
Deficit in anything is typically followed by a desire to consume an above-average amount of that thing. This is not disordered. This is an attempt to achieve balance after deficit. I don’t know how more normal and appropriate this could be without putting a hat and a name tag on it and having it greet you at the door.
Poststarvation hyperphagia (posh science-y word for being really hungry after a period of malnutrition) is something that happens in the period following inadequate intake or malnutrition regardless of whether the reason for that malnutrition was an eating disorder. There is no need to dress it up as anything sinister, unwanted, or a failing. It should be celebrated. It is the path to recovery for many of us. You know what happens when you bastardise something that is a recovery necessity for someone? You put a road block on their ability to fully recover. I hear stories of this from people in recovery every day. This has to stop.
Here is why it is not okay to tell someone the eating a lot of food in recovery is wrong:
- If you want to eat a huge amount of food, and you don’t allow yourself to eat a huge amount of food, that is restriction. One cannot recover from a restrictive eating disorder via restriction.
- Discouraging people from eating a lot if they desire to eat a lot teaches them not to trust what their body is asking for. Nice way to collude with their eating disorder, which is already trying to convince them that their hunger is not to be trusted.
- Have you ever felt poststarvation hyperphagia? Some of us get so hungry that it fucking hurts … all the time. It is mental torture to be that hungry and be told that you are not allowed to eat as much as you want. Especially when you are already scared of your hunger anyway.
- It sets people in recovery in a lose-lose situation which can make them lose recovery motivation. They can’t fully recover because they are still restricting, and they feel that they are not supported in not restricting. They are being told to eat more, but are also being told there is such a thing as “too much.” That’s bollocks.
- It is illogical to conclude that “binge” or feast eating after prolonged restriction is wrong.
- Your own fear as a provider around unrestricted eating and weight gain is showing. Tuck that in, or go get another job.
The message is either “trust your body” or it is “you will have to micro-manage your body for your whole life.” It can’t be both. Yet this muddled message of “it’s okay to eat, but only a certain amount” that colludes with the eating disorder and sets people up for a life of quasi-recovery if rife in treatment centres. And it stinks.
Feast follows famine. Binge follows restriction. Nothing to be scared of. Not a big deal. Get the fuck over it already and stop teaching people to fight their biology.