Eat Your Heart Out


I woke up with my face swollen and belly bloated, feeling like I had physically and emotionally trudged through the food battle of my lifetime. The entire contents of my kitchen had not so conveniently relocated into my abdomen. With an overwhelming sense of shame, I tried my best to hide my latest binge episode from the world. End Scene.

I would love to be able to tell you that I only had a few binge episodes, but the truth is that I struggled with binge eating disorder (BED) for years. For me, food became the substance I forced down to escape the emotional aches of my life.   

It was surprising for me to hear that my sister thought the audience for BED was too narrow for blogs, considering BED is the most prevalent eating disorder (ED) in the world.

Nearly 40 000 Canadians between the ages of 15 and 45 currently have BED, and will need to combat the long term physical and emotional pitfalls of the disorder (CMHA, 2017; Ivanova et al., 2015; Statcan, 2016). These include increased risk of heart disease, gastrointestinal problems, diabetes, anxiety, depression, and suicidality – with EDs having the highest mortality rates of any other mental illness (NEDA, 2017; Ivanova et al.,, 2015).

There is this misconception that binge eating is not really a mental illness, because individuals affected are generally high functioning – they can reasonably work, go to school and even have a social life (Eating Disorder Hope, 2017).

Not surprisingly then, BED occurs behind closed doors. Binges typically will happen in secret, hidden by those affected by carefully selecting isolated times and places to binge eat.

A binge differs from overeating with the distinguishing characteristic of bingers feeling a complete loss of control, eating far beyond fathomable fullness – we’re talking about eating up to a weeks’ worth of food calories within hours.

Foods are gorged up in a frenzy and forced into your body with little consideration for taste or quality of what is eaten.

Emotional turmoil follows. Bingers will succumb to crippling guilt, disgust, self-loathing and emotional numbness after an episode (NEDA, 2017).

Distinguished from other eating disorders, BED lacks the elements of food restriction or other weight loss strategies (seen in Anorexia) and purging (seen in Bulimia).

While there is no single cause of BED, psychological and genetic elements work together to solidify a feedback loop described by Negative Affect Theory (NAT) (Ivanova et al., 2015).

Interpersonal problems → negative emotions → discomfort and low tolerance of those feelings → eating as a numbing, distracting, or escapism strategy → self-loathing and disgust → negative emotions and interpersonal problems perpetuated

While some individuals are able to process negative emotions stemming from their social lives, individuals with BED have a very low threshold of tolerance (Ivanova et al, 2015).

Feelings of anger, disappointment, suffering and neglect must be escaped. Binge eating is used to transform emotional pain into less hurtful alternatives: emotional numbness, different but more ‘acceptable’ negative feelings, or physical pain (Ivanova et al., 2015).

Ultimately, loneliness sets in as embarrassment and self-loathing build a fortress of solitude to ‘protect’ bingers by hiding their shameful episodes.

Binge eating is not a character flaw. In 2013, BED became recognized as a formal and diagnosable mental illness (NEDA, 2017).

If you or someone you know has BED, here are some things that can make coping with and ultimately recovering from it a little bit easier:

Processing Negative Emotions

In BED, food is used to numb and distract from tender interpersonal emotions.  Try different strategies for either processing or distracting yourself until find something effective. Remember, these alternatives need to be strong enough to pull and hold your attention away from a bingeing urge long enough for it to pass.

Processing can manifest through talking with others, journaling or other forms of creative writing, art– essentially meaningfully expressing your affect. Distraction often takes the form of a physical change of space or company – if you’re home alone, leave and find someone.

Interpersonal Upsets

Social problems are the deepest roots of the disorder. These will be the more difficult part to change, requiring effortful reflection of the relationships in your life: how did they affect you in the past and how are they affecting you now?

You can either repair or walk away. You’re stuck with yourself for the long run, so just remember to make your mental, emotional, and physical well-being your highest priority.

Don’t Stop Breathing

Overcoming BED takes time and patience. You will relapse – be prepared for it. When you do, remember to breathe. It’s going to be hard to forgive yourself in those moments, but do me a solid and try.

With time, the binges will become smaller, and less frequent – and when that happens, those are victories you should celebrate.  

Surround Yourself with Support

When you try to battle BED alone, the road to recovery looks like climbing up a steep cliff, using only your pinky finger and a thread of yarn.

Try sharing with people whom you trust and confide in what this disorder is, and how it is affecting you. Tell them you might need their help before, during, or after a relapse.

Over time, I have been able to grow a strong network of people I can call on – and I’ll be the first to tell you that it makes a world of difference on my dark days.    

At present, only 28.4% of BED warriors are currently seeking treatment for their disorder (CMHA, 2017). I hope that percentage continues to increase, along with the amount of self-compassion from those affected, and empathy from those who witness it.


Blog by Kayla Noodelman: distinguished binge-eater, food-mood champion, full-time therapist

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