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Unpacking the Shame Surrounding Binge Eating Disorder

Unlike most people who struggle with binge eating disorder, I can’t really remember my very first binge. I’ve been trying to think about why, and I realized it was because I was in denial for so long. My binge eating stemmed as a result of severe restriction throughout the day, in hopes of eating what I actually wanted at night. I would starve myself the whole day and exercise intensely for hours and hours, just to be able to reward myself at the end of the day.

In my mind, if I was using anorexic behaviors like I had for the past few years (restriction and overexercise) there was no possible way I could also be binge eating - it just didn’t add up. How could I be completely terrified of food one minute, and then be consuming thousands of calories the next? Well, it is possible. And it *sucks*.

It’s hard to describe the guilt that follows a binge, particularly if you also have anorexia. In the moment of the binge, I would so often have the thoughts in the back of my mind, “You’re gonna regret this”, “You need to stop right now”, “Imagine how much weight you’re gonna gain from this”. And you may think that these thoughts would make me want to, ya know, stop…? But the guilt I would feel in the middle of the binge would push me to eat even more, in an attempt to numb out the bad emotions that were coming up.

Another very common aspect of binge eating is the all-or-nothing thinking. When I eat something that I consider “unhealthy”, I often get the thought of “Well, f*** it, I might as well just binge”. I can’t fully explain the reasoning behind this, because when I take a step back, say after a binge, I can understand that this doesn’t make sense. I can eat more than usual without needing to binge… but in the moment it seems like the only option. If I had to explain my thinking, it would go something like this:

Blue = Healthy Self

Red = Anorexia/BED

“Sh*t, I shouldn’t have had that. Well let me just have a little more…”

“Ugh I shouldn’t have had all that. I basically already binged so I might as well just eat whatever I want

“No, it wasn’t a binge. If you stop now, you don’t have to count it as a binge”.

“Even if it wasn’t a binge, I’m gonna feel awful about myself and my body. I can start being healthy tomorrow”.

“You say that every time. You didn’t ruin the day, you just ate what you wanted to eat. And you’re gonna feel worse if you full-on binge”.

“But I’d rather just say I binged than be unsure of whether or not I binged cause I basically already binged.”

“You. Didn’t. Binge”.

People really don’t understand that right before or in the middle of a binge, there is no “logical thinking” - and if there is, it is overshadowed by the eating disorder. Because people don’t understand this disorder, they can get frustrated when trying to help their loved ones through recovery. Similar to anorexia recovery, when supports say, “Just eat”, it is equally as unhelpful to say, “Just don’t eat so much”. It is also harmful to become mad or upset at the person who is struggling, because they will internalize the shame, guilt, and embarrassment. I promise you that they are beating themselves up 100x more than you are - why would you want to add to that? It emphasizes to them that those foods are “off-limits” and it criminalizes the idea of bingeing, both of which contribute to making the person feel that these are not allowed - and therefore they want to do it even more.

Perhaps one of, if not *the* worst part of struggling with binge eating is the stigma and stereotypes surrounding the illness. Many people view binge eating as a “lack of control”, “letting yourself go”, or “not trying hard enough”, all of which are completely untrue. Binge eating disorder is exactly that - an Eating. Disorder. It has nothing to do with you, your personality, your characteristics, or your body. You would never blame someone for developing cancer or another terminal illness - so why do you blame someone for having another disorder?

Having been on both sides of the eating disorder coin, I can confidently say that I received much more support, care, and patience when I was battling anorexia versus battling binge eating - and this should not be the case. There is so much awareness and support for anorexia, whereas binge eating disorder is hardly ever talked about because it is so stigmatized. I’ll admit that I tell almost no one that I struggle with binge eating on top of anorexia. I’ve overcome my shame of struggling with anorexia and self-harm, but I’m still stuck on the binge eating. I’ve just developed so much shame and embarrassment around it, that it’s going to take a while to unravel it. But I’m getting there! I mean, I’m writing an article about it, so that’s a step in the right direction.

I want to tell you that there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed about when struggling with binge eating - I want you to give yourself, and those around you who are also struggling, with the same compassion you would give to someone battling another illness. This fight is difficult, but it is possible.

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