Last night on the treadmill, I read a really interesting article in the March issue of Fitness Magazine by Colleen Oakley called “Confessions of a Borderline Binger.” I’ve noticed a lot of interesting “binge” talk on the blogs lately, some of that coming from myself, and the article really struck a few chords with me so I thought I would share some of it. Hope this isn’t too heavy for a Thursday afternoon 🙂

Oakley states, “According to a Harvard Medical School study, 3.5 percent of American women have binge-eating disorder (BED). The name sounds an awful lot like what I do, but by the clinical definition — ‘eating larger amounts of food than normal during a two-hour period at least twice a week for six months’ — I don’t qualify. (Mine is more of a 30-minute, four times a month habit.) Then why do I still feel like I have a problem?”

Oakley’s problem sounds just like something I would describe for myself! Some days or nights I just get the urge to eat and eat and eat over a very concentrated period of time. The number 3.5 percent seems really SMALL to me; I bet if the category “borderline binge” was evaluated, we would find that many more women suffer from this issue. So what did Oakley find?

“I think back to nights when I’ve been full from dinner but still managed to wolf down seven or eight Oreos. Or lunches when I’ve eaten my sandwich in record time–then moved on to the chips on my friend’s plate. I cringe.”

It’s a little sad, but I think we all cringe when we exhibit this behavior, right? If you are anything like me, I more than cringe — I beat myself up about it. That’s probably the worst part. Not the extra 200, 500, 1500, 3000 calories that I might possibly consume, but the mental beating we take after a brief binge. Something that might last 15 minutes might stick in my mind for days afterwards. I was interested to see if Oakley could explain the root of the problem. Here are a few things she investigated that mimic EXACTLY what I would say about myself:

“My eating issues defy traditional psychoanalysis. I had no traumatic food experiences early on in which hateful parents withheld dessert as punnishment. I never dealt with anger by consuming an extra-large stuffed-crust pizza. I was a happy kid; most of the time, I’m a happy adult. I ask Binks [Martin Binks, Ph.D., the director of behavioral health and research at the Duke Diet and Fitness Center] what he thinks causes bingeing behaviors. ‘Hunger,’ he says….Fair enough. But what about those times when I’ve eaten steadily all day and I still feel the need to have third helpings at dinner?”

Like Oakley, sometimes I just want to eat for the sake of eating. The food itself isn’t even necessarily enjoyable. In theory, I am eating chocolate or ice cream or cereal or whatever it might be because it’s indulgent and I am craving it, but in all reality, I am usually not even enjoying the food, because I am just eating for the sake of eating. Oakley checks out a few other theories in her article, such as fat phobia, emotions, deprivation, and genetics. Like her, I don’t exactly think ANY of these things are to blame, at least for the most part.

“I’d prefer, however, to believe that binge eating is ultimately my own decision–albeit a very bad one–and therefore within my grasp to control.”

I think this statement is one of the most important for me, personally. I have the power to control any overeating. I also think I can admit to myself that I won’t always have control over it, and in those cases, I have control over how to deal with it. Taking a quick walk or even just wiping my mental slate clean the next day are all within my power. I don’t HAVE to beat myself up over anything unless I choose to.

“I no longer look at foods as good or bad…which helps me feel less guilty if I order french fries instead of a salad. This has actually curbed my cravings, because I know I can indulge if I choose.”

Knowing that we can indulge if we want can definitely help. When I go into a restaurant, for example, and order a burger and fries because I want it (!!) and don’t even think about hitting up the salad bar, I get to actually enjoy that meal and feel satisfied after eating.

I think this article helped address a problem that many people face but are embarassed to admit. I wish that Oakley had found some big answer to WHY, or big solution to HOW, but she ended up confirming what I’ve known in the back of my head all along — it’s all me. I think I need to work on preventing binges when I can and accepting myself when I cannot to bring about the most piece of mind.

What do you think of Oakley’s article? Do you ever find yourself bingeing and if so, how do you deal with it?