When a Binge Isn't a Binge

I was meeting with a client a few weeks ago (I’ll call her Brooke) and she was recounting how her practice of Intuitive Eating had gone since our last appointment.

Brooke: My husband and I were getting ready to have dinner and his daughter came by for a visit. Since I had only planned on the two of us and my young son, I had a container of fresh pasta heating in the oven - the package said that it served 2-3 people. After we ate and his daughter left, I was alone in the kitchen cleaning up and I binged. I found myself planning it the whole time that we were eating the pasta. This is an old pattern and I fell right back into it!

Me: What did you have to eat during the binge?

Brooke: I had a graham cracker with peanut butter on it and a bowl of chips and salsa. It was that old behavior again - I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.

Brooke was feeling stuck in the same behaviors that had brought her to see me several months earlier. Although she had made tremendous strides in being able to eat “normally” most of the time, she was feeling defeated by this “mistake”. Her success seemed to be overshadowed by the fact that she felt that she had let the eating disorder win.

I went on to ask her what her eating pattern had been from morning until dinner time that day. She told me that she had an early meeting but wasn’t hungry before it so she didn’t eat. By the time she was able to have her lunch it was 11:30 and she was starving. She had a sandwich and some chips, which she said was a perfect match. Later in the afternoon she had an apple, which was also a match, and by the time she got home from work she was feeling hungry again. She knew that the pasta wasn’t going to be enough when she saw it on her plate so she began to plan to have something later, when she was alone. It didn’t occur to her to have something else with her dinner because no one else did, not even her husband.

I have heard many variations of this scenario over the years and it reinforced how important it is to review each day or situation that did not go as you may have wanted. Brooke did not binge at all that evening, as her mind had her believing, she simply needed more food but was not feeling secure enough in acting on her hunger with others around - she was feeling ashamed. Interestingly, Brooke has absolutely no problem asserting her needs in any other area of her life but I’ll save that topic for another time! When these thoughts are swirling around in our heads without being, they can take on lives of their own and become something they’re not. An integral part of the Intuitive Eating process is to take stock of each eating situation and learn from it.

Another skill that Brooke could work on is to always have food with her in case she gets hungry when she doesn’t expect to, such as during her meeting. She had to wait until she was starving to eat lunch which could have ended up in overeating and probably made her extra-hungry at dinner which further confused her process. Most importantly, in order to move forward, it is vital that Brooke notice when she is beating herself up. Yelling at oneself opens the door to shame which opens the door to more disordered eating. Just noticing that you’re doing it is a huge step! Brooke was relieved when she realized that she was simply hungry and needed more food for dinner. Unfortunately, our current society makes us question such a basic sensation as hunger, but the good news is that the practice of Intuitive Eating lights the path to freedom.