That's why I'm so attracted to the ideas in Brain Over Binge. The author tells the story of how she stopped binge eating permanently; she has not slipped up once in the years since.
I hate the idea that binge eating is a "disease," and that I will forever be in recovery, like an alcoholic who hasn't had a drink in five years but still identifies himself as an alcoholic in recovery. Frankly, I think that's bullsh*t. As defined by the National Eating Disorders Association,
Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is a type of eating disorder not otherwise specified and is characterized by recurrent binge eating without the regular use of compensatory measures to counter the binge eating.Binge eating disorder requires binge eating. The disorder cannot exist without the binge eating. So if one doesn't binge, one does not have binge eating disorder.
Further, I do not believe that Binge Eating Disorder is a disease. Yesterday on my run, I was listening to a podcast by this girl, who was interviewing this girl. I thought it was a very well done podcast and I really empathized with Manda, the girl being interviewed. The podcast focused on a message of self-love, which is something I'm currently working on. I thought Manda was eloquent, tremendously kind, and someone whose struggles I identify with.
BUT. She focused a lot on how her binge eating disorder was a "disease" that was "not her fault." I gathered from her background that these messages were taught to her by Overeaters Anonymous, a group to which she belongs.
I respect her journey of recovery. Far be it from me to tell anyone else what should work for them, or that they are wrong in identifying and solving the problems in their life. Knowing how incredibly difficult it is to overcome binge eating disorder, I have nothing but compassion and love for people like Manda who are also trying to banish it from their lives.
BUT. I disagree with that portrayal of binge eating disorder as it relates to my own life. I do not think I have a disease. I do not think it is "not my fault." I do not think that binge eating disorder simply happened to me.
Rather, I believe that binge eating disorder is nothing more than a habit that I caused when I was in high school. True, I have felt powerless to overcome it in the 10-ish years since, but that's how habits work. They're tough to shake. They become ingrained. Our brain pathways literally rewire to make binge eating a conditioned response to countless stimuli in our lives.
I think that giving binge eating disorder the label of "disease," gives it too much power and stigma. You can't just will yourself to get over cancer, so why should it be any different with binge eating if it is a disease?
I believe that binge eating disorder is actually a sign that our brains and bodies are functioning normally and optimally. Before you shut your browser tab and call me crazy, just hear me out: Our bodies want to survive. Our brains want us to survive. That's why we have evolved to have things like adrenaline and fight-or-flight responses.
I think binge eating is the same thing. I began binge eating in high school when I was recovering from anorexia. I believe that many other binge eaters have similar experiences; while they may not have been anorexic, they may have been on a diet. Or, perhaps they came from families with limited means, where they were worried about having enough to eat. Whatever the circumstance, the common denominator is not getting enough food, or a fear of not getting enough food. As a result, the body's survival mechanisms took over and we binged. Logic be damned, our bodies were not going to let us starve to death!
And so began the cycle. Binge, starve, repeat. With every period of under-eating, or fear of not having enough food, our instincts drove us to overeat to compensate, or to store up for a long winter.
So why has this behavior continued in myself and so many others, despite periods where we were eating enough? I believe it persists because it has become a habit, and also because the binge-starve-binge cycle has not ended for many of us. I fully admit that I still restrict my eating too often. And even when I don't restrict, my body is so conditioned to binge in response to a myriad of stimuli (being home alone, feeling lonely, feeling stressed . . .) that I continue the behavior.
Additionally, my brain has physically changed as a result of this behavior. As Stefani describes in (yet another informative and wonderful) post on her awesome blog:
Binge eating and obese patients have decreased dopamine responses to sweet flavors. This means that they need more stimulation to feel satisfied. Binge eaters have developed a “food tolerance,” — much like we discussed before, with drug habituation. (Read: Food addiction: harder to kick than cocaine?) Moreover, the more frequently someone binged, the more dopamine they required to feel satisfaction.Our bodies literally need to eat more to feel satisfied because we have conditioned them to do so.
I believe that we can change our habits. We can rewire our brains (neuroplasticity: check it). It is hard. It is a struggle. I know this as much as the next binge eater. But I also believe that it is possible to take control over this situation and end the behavior, once and for all.
So to Manda and others in Overeaters Anonymous: I wish you the best of luck in your journeys, and I have so much compassion for you. Maybe I'm wrong, but I simply cannot accept that binge eating is a disease that happened to me, because if that's the case, I feel even more helpless and dejected than before.