Eating disorders can affect everyone – not just the thin.

Our society encourages overconsumption. Yet we also demand thinness, willpower and self-control. We seem incapable of believing that being overweight is anything but a result of greed and that it’s simply evidence of weakness or laziness. 

This creates the belief that bingeing is a ‘failure’. Bingeing is a fundamentally misunderstood act, yet newsflash: binge eating disorder (BED) is also the most common type of eating disorder. 

The Butterfly Foundation reports over a million Australians are currently experiencing an eating disorder, and less than a quarter are getting treatment. As they report, BED can occur in people of all ages and genders, across all socioeconomic groups, and from any cultural background. Large population studies also suggest that equal numbers of men and women experience BED. In other words, it can happen to anyone. 

Culturally yet, bingeing is still seen as evidence of a lack of discipline

This is despite a recent 2021 brain scan study published in the Journal of Neuroscience showing lack of self-control under stress does not cause binge eating.

Science alert: A lack of self-control does not cause bingeing. Image: Unsplash

Rather, BED is a mental illness characterised by regular episodes of binge eating, which can feel chaotic, uncontrollable and highly distressing. I know in my own experience, BED controlled my life for a decade – negatively impacting my health, weight and self-esteem. Because it often occurs in secret, no one talks about it. It’s a lonely and deceptive disorder that can take years to seek treatment. Personally, I waited for seven isolating and damaging years believing I was the only one who had no control around food.

Officially added to the DSM5 in 2013, as a full-fledged diagnosis that parallels other eating disorders like Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa, BED is characterised by:

  • Eating much more rapidly than normal and often until uncomfortably full
  • Eating large amounts without feeling hungry
  • Feelings of guilt or disgust with oneself
  • Eating alone due to feelings of embarrassment and shame

Relate to most or all and you may have BED. The reasons for developing binging differ from person to person. Some people are genetically predisposed to develop this eating disorder while others are influenced by environmental, social and cultural factors. 

From my experience, binge eating is not really about the food

It’s often driven by personal and emotional causes. Food is used as comfort from the real issues we are dealing with. 

At 11, I was put on a diet. Let that sink in. My brothers would eat pasta, while I’d get carrot noodles. I got a calorie counter book and became obsessed with the numbers and tracked everything I ate. I started over-exercising and under-eating, and measuring myself based on whether or not I lost or gained weight that day. It was the beginning of a dark decade. 

Lyndi was put on a diet at age 11 – where pasta like this, was a “no go”. Image: Unsplash

By 16, I was binge eating, sneaking into my family pantry to find all the foods I was “missing”, only to stop when someone came home. The hardest part was how lonely I felt, like everyone else had more willpower than me and that there was something wrong with me. 

Diet messaging was part of the problem. Everything I tried felt like a failure. Every week was the same – each Monday I’d blame myself, believing if I had more self-control and could choose “good” over “bad” foods, I’d be able to stop the emotional eating and finally lose weight.

It took ages for me to realise there wasn’t anything wrong with my willpower.

Recovery is possible

Like any eating disorder, BED is primarily a psychological issue. My first step toward recovery was to see my GP who drew up a mental health plan and diagnosed me with anxiety and BED. From there, I started seeing my psychologist regularly and have continued. I realised I wanted to be healthy but I didn’t need to give up 95% of my life to weigh 5% less. 

I started medication for anxiety. As for the binging, I realised that I would never win against binge eating by simply ‘trying harder’. The harder I tried to avoid forbidden foods, the more frequent, intense and uncontrollable the binges became. I needed a completely new approach to food – the opposite of dieting.

If you’re bingeing more than once a week, it may be time to get additional support. Emotional or binges eating isn’t something you need to live with or feel ashamed of.  While psychological treatments and cognitive behavioural therapy can help, The Butterfly Foundation also recommends evidence-based self-help programs. 

As I found self-acceptance is a huge part of recovery, but that’s so hard when our culture is telling you you’re not acceptable the way you are. We’ve got a community at Keep It Real that cuts through that diet culture BS. Come join us. 

In the Keep It Real program, I’ll share with you practical strategies to help you stop binge eating. It’s not a diet. It’s not a meal plan. It’s probably not something you’ve tried before. But it’s everything I wish someone had taught me when I hiding empty wrappers after yet another binge when I was 16.