Why I Became Obese – Binge Eating

Like I mentioned in my post about compulsive eating, I think I’ve never talked about these things because I wasn’t sure anyone would understand.  Although I’m moved on from binge eating and can’t even remember my last binge, I still feel the need to share these reasons for my obesity.  How does it do anyone any good to know how I’m losing weight if they don’t know what caused it?  How does it do me any good?

So I’m continuing my post series about reasons why I became obese and today I’m tackling my past with binge eating.

Why I Became Obese – Binge Eating

I think this is appropriate timing because over the last few weeks I’ve had the urge to binge.  Seemingly out of nowhere it hit me – the desire to eat and eat until I feel sick and can’t focus on anything else.  It’s happened a few times and although I haven’t actually done it, I’ve been shocked by the powerful pull I feel towards binging.

Binge eating was actually one of the last bad habits I picked up.  I picked up emotional eating early on in life and the compulsive eating came later, bringing the binge eating with it.

What Is Binge Eating

The Wikipedia definition of binge eating (which is pretty much what all the other websites say):

Binge eating is a pattern of disordered eating which consists of episodes of uncontrollable eating. It is sometimes as a symptom of binge eating disorder. During such binges, a person rapidly consumes an excessive amount of food. Most people who have eating binges try to hide this behavior from others, and often feel ashamed about being overweight or depressed about their overeating. Eating binges can be followed by so-called compensatory behaviour, acts by which the person tries to compensate for the effects of overeating. Examples of such acts are purging (induced vomiting or laxative abuse), fasting, and heavy exercising.

Binge eating can often turn into binge eating disorder, with these symptoms:

When you have binge-eating disorder you often have numerous behavioral and emotional signs and symptoms, such as:

  • Eating large amounts of food
  • Eating even when you’re full
  • Eating rapidly during binge episodes
  • Feeling that your eating behavior is out of control
  • Eating a lot even though you’re not hungry
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Frequent dieting, possibly without weight loss
  • Frequently eating alone
  • Feeling depressed, disgusted or upset about your eating

After a binge, you may try to diet or eat normal meals. But restricting your eating may simply lead to more binge eating, creating a vicious cycle.

You may have no obvious physical signs or symptoms when you have binge-eating disorder. You may be overweight or obese, or you may be of a normal weight.

My History With Binge Eating

I never binged so often that it could be considered a disorder (I don’t think) and I never did any of the compensatory behaviors.  But for a few years I know I binged at least a few times a month as I put on more and more weight during high school.  Once I started getting healthy the binges slowed down and eventually stopped as I learned more and opened up about my behaviors.

I remember the times I used to binge eat.  Just like the compulsive eating, it was an out of control feeling.   The most common times were either after school when I got home and would eat a full meal for a snack, followed by cereal and then another full meal or two.  I would eat the same amount of calories I should have eaten in a full day in the few hours after school.  It’s embarrassing and hard to admit, but that’s what I would do sometimes instead of normal after school activities.  Or sometimes the binges would happen at night, after everyone was asleep and it could happen secretly.  The massive amounts of food I would eat created a nice little drugged feeling that led me straight to sleep.

There was never much thinking about the food.  Everything I ate was pure crap and rarely tasted good.  It wasn’t gormet food I was eating – it wasn’t even good food.  It was anything I could find and make quickly, anything processed and sweet, anything easy and fast that could be eaten in quantity without being missed.  I would make my bets about whether or not the family would miss a whole box of granola bars when we had three boxes.  If the answer was yes then I would eat them.  Sometimes even if the answer was no I would still sneak them out and eat them.

The definition includes hiding the behavior and feeling ashamed about it.  Those both fit my activity.  I tried to never eat that much around anyone.  At school I would eat normal amounts of food and rarely get anything terribly bad for me.  But my weight continued to grow because of my secret binge eating every week or two.  I hid it from my family as much as I could but I know that sometimes I just didn’t care.  When you are already being called fat every five minutes, who cares if they see you eating?

I also remember feeling depressed, both about my weight and about my uncontrollable eating.  To be honest, I’m not sure which came first – the eating problems or the depression.  I just know they were all tied up with each other, feeding each other and carrying each other on.  It’s that vicious cycle that you can easily get trapped in: you feel bad so you eat which makes you feel bad about yourself so you eat more which makes you feel worse and so on.  You think the food helps you feel better but in the end it is only a temporary fix that leaves you feeling worse.  Vicious cycle indeed.

I haven’t binged in so long that I can’t remember the last time it happened, which is why it is shocking that the thoughts and “desires” are there lately.  I’ve wanted to binge.  I’ve wanted to do it and felt like I should and that worries me. I’m getting closer to 200 pounds and I think that mental barrier might have a lot to do with it.  But the fact that those thoughts were in my head without any encouragement is something I have to deal with.

I know a lot of thin and fat and inbetween people struggle with secret binge eating.  It’s not something that only affects one size of people.  The person who binge eats and then exercises 5 hours to get rid of the calories is no better than the person who binge eats then does nothing and gains 5 pounds.  No matter what your body size, if you are binge eating it is a problem and needs to be dealt with instead of ignored.

Help For Binge Eating

If you have the symptoms or are having problems with binge eating, you should seek help.  Even if it is just admitting it and talking to a close friend (online or off) and asking for advice and help.

It doesn’t always get better by itself and can get worse without treatment.

So, talk to your doctor or seek help from a mental health provider.  Or if you can’t say it to someone who know or someone you have to see again like your doctor, check out the National Eating Disorders Association website or call their toll free helpline at 1-800-931-2237 Monday-Friday, 8:30 am to 4:30 pm PST.

And as always, thanks for listening to me.  Thanks for being my support system.

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  1. Great post! As someone who has suffered with this for many, many years it is a hard disorder to break. But, the feeling of saying “no” to myself is rewarding. I know in the end, my ‘high’ on the scale is going to be much better than eating whatever crap food is in front of me!!

    Keep it up! :)

  2. The only exception I’ll take to what you’ve posted is that there’s no difference in the binge eater that exercises 4-5 hours afterwards and the one who plops down on the sofa and takes a nap.

    For me, exercise creates a connection between food, exertion and consequences. When I’m not working out, I can somehow make myself believe that eating has no consequences. It’s stupid, but that’s the way it seems to be. I wouldn’t even look at calorie counts or fat content on foods because I felt what I didn’t know couldn’t hurt me. Foolish, foolish thinking…

    When I exercise, I’m aware of myself and what it takes to lose (and gain) weight. When I exercise, I have too much pride in my accomplishment to jeopardize it with pointless eating. When I exercise, bingeing is the last thing on my mind.

    Good post, Mary. Keep it up!
    .-= Jack Sh*t´s last blog ..Rise to the Challenge =-.

    • Geez… always objecting to what I write! Haha. I think you are taking exception to something different than what I’m writing about. ;)

      I wrote that because binge eating is something that isn’t just overeating then not exercising. Binge eating is something that feels uncontrollable and is done without being hungry or needing food. If you are having trouble with that – whether you exercise to lose weight or don’t – it’s still a problem. In that way there is no difference because either way the person is struggling with the same problem. A lot of people assume that if you are binge eating and then exercising so that you aren’t gaining weight then there isn’t a problem. But there is a problem. Disordered eating of any kind if a problem even if the consequences aren’t visible on your body.

      I’m glad that exercising helps you and keeps you from bingeing. But it isn’t like that for everyone. For some I think exercise “allows” binges. It’s different for every individual person because even though there are patterns and “symptoms” it’s an individual problem that each person falls into and struggles with alone. But in my opinion it doesn’t make a difference what the person is doing to make up or not make up for the binge… the problem is the binge eating.

  3. I’m starting to think you and I have very similar… views, as you have detailed several things from your own life that sound like they apply to mine.

    My worst binging was when I was commuting home from college. I would swing by Wendy’s, right near the interstate ramp, order six Junior Bacon Cheeseburgers, eat them all on the 45 minute drive home, and then when I got home, my mom would ask if I was hungry and wanted lunch, and I’d say I was famished and eat another full meal.

    There are days I’m surprised I survived the damage I did to my body.
    .-= Jeremy Logsdon´s last blog ..Weekend Warriors Update =-.

    • We probably do have similar views and past experiences. One thing I’ve learned from blogging is that I’m not alone, no matter how long I thought I was the only one.

      Fast food drive thrus make bingeing super easy. That’s for sure.

      It’s hard to believe a lot of us survived what we did to ourself. But we did. And I think now we owe it to our bodies to treat them well!

  4. I remember when I would get home and make like 2-3 peanut butter jelly sandwiches and just cake on the jelly..and then have supper a little while later…or when I would just take tortillas and heap mounds of cheese in them and then put all of the fixings in them like a burrito w/o meat – for a snack. It was easy to do when no one told you not too.

    It was only a secret when someone asked where all the tortillas went.
    .-= Seth´s last blog ..Home Workout Photos and a Sad Day =-.

    • So easy when no one says you shouldn’t. And I totally get the pb & j thing. Since I wasn’t a cook I would make a bunch of those and eat one after another. Yummy and easy. Ugh. I’m surprised I didn’t ruin my love for pb&j with all the binges.

  5. I have such a hard time with this. I do it so fast that I don’t even realize what I’ve done till it’s over. Sucks!! This morning was one of those mornings.
    .-= TB–Milwaukee´s last blog ..No School =-.

    • I understand. It is easy to slip into a non aware state and let it happen.

      If you ever wanna chat, just email me. Sorry about this morning.

  6. This is such an amazing post Mary.
    And as terrifying as I know it is (feeling those feelings now…processing why…is it the close to 200? is it all the I COULD BE MAKING SOME BIG LIFE CHANGES NOW? AM I READY TO BE TRULY TRULY HAPPY??) this is such a pivotal step for you and for all of us.


    • Thanks. I get what you are saying but at the same time something bugs me about it.


      Can I not be truly happy unless I weigh under 200 pounds?

      I doubt that is what you meant to say, but it’s almost like an unconscious assumption – if you weigh over a certain amount (200 for some, less or more for others) then you can’t be truly happy.

      Despite being in love, despite doing what I want to do with my life, despite eating healthy and exercising and living well, it seems like the assumption is if I still weigh too much I can’t be happy. I know I’m writing a weight loss blog here and I am trying to get under that damn 200 lb mark, but for some reason that bothers me.

      Sorry for the unrelated tangent I went off with (inspired more by other posts I’ve read today rather than your comment), but I’d love to hear your thoughts again.

  7. I was kind of thinking along the lines of what Jack said — I guess it’s a question of what’s excessive. Almost anytime I get dessert at a restaurant, I’m not hungry and I don’t really need to be eating anything else — does anyone middle class ever need to eat dessert? And when I do something like ordering a dessert, I kind of consider that a binge (though I use the term splurge) and try to work it off with extra exercise (esp if my entree was something like fettucini alfredo or mac and cheese or something else indulgent, making the dessert even less necessary to sustain my life). In some ways I think it’s out of control, though I don’t do it more than once or twice a month — still if there’s something that sounds like it would hit the spot on the dessert menu, I’ll order it. When I order dessert, I’m not still hungry, but I still eat all the dessert (mostly b/c I think it is so unfair to the people who go hungry for me to waste food, even if I kind of feel sick or bloated or like I’m in a sugar coma when I’m done).

    So what do you think (in your non-professional opinion)? Is it a binge if I order dessert after a meal that fulfilled my nutritional needs? Is it a binge if I order fettucini alfredo one night and then do extra exercise b/c I normally eat healthy at night and I don’t want the extra indulgence to show up on my thighs? Is it a binge to try to use up Weight Watchers points for the day when you’ve eaten too few but aren’t hungry but are trying to have enough intake? Is it a binge to make a side order of vegetables when you could be full just eating your protein? Is it a binge to finish your big salad that you made for lunch after you’re not hungry anymore? What really is a large amount of food? It all seems so vague to me. I like eating and choose not to be very restrictive about what I eat b/c I don’t mind exercising to make up for unhealthy choices. I’m with Jack though in that b/c I also like exercising, it often encourages me to make healthy food choices.

    It’s definitely an interesting thing to think about. You’ll conquer any new binge urges that you have I’m sure, and get to the root of what’s causing them — whether it’s the idea of breaking 200, a nutritional deficiency, or something else.

    • Hehe, I’ll share my most definitely non-professional opinion….

      I wouldn’t consider any of those instances binge eating. Some of them could possibly considered overeating, like finishing a big meal even though you hit your limit halfway through. Ordering dessert a few times a month is normal. Dessert at restaurants is fun! Even if you aren’t still hungry (which it’s hard to be considering restaurant portions). But non of that is binge eating.

      Binge eating is LARGE amounts of food consumed in a short amount of time. An example from my past that I distinctly remember: I ate a sandwich with chips, followed by cereal, followed by more chips, followed by cookies, followed by two pieces of pizza followed by feeling incredibly disgusting and ashamed. That’s an equivalent of a full day of food or more and I ate it all within about an hour or so. Something like that is a binge. Something where you eat and eat without feeling like you can stop until you are literally sick. Of course the amounts and types of food and all that differ for people, but it’s something that is EXCESSIVE that is binge eating. But generally I think something is considered a binge when you consume a LARGE number of calories (like thousands) in a super short period of time. None of your examples are anything close to that. You actually sound like a pretty normal, healthy eater from that.

      I too like eating and not being restrictive with what I eat now. I also like exercise and use it to counteract some of what I eat in addition to just keeping me healthy. It’s not about whether you exercise or not. It’s about bad habits or behaviors that are unhealthy regardless of whether they are exercised away or show up as extra weight.

      And thanks for your support. I know I’ll figure it out and get past it, but I’ve learned that sharing my struggles helps other people. And if it only helps one other person figure something major out, then I’m happy to share.

  8. I help women create a positive relationship w/ food. I’m a holistic nutritionist and psychotherapist, and I do a great deal of work with bingeing (especially as a sugar addict in recovery!). There’s a huge nutritional component as well as an emotional component. I truly wish you all the best on your journey with this.

    • There is both a nutritional and emotional component. Glad you address it in a good way. I’m sure you are doing great work.

  9. Man seeing it in nice little bullets like that really made me think of my best friend. It wasn’t until just before she had WLS that she told me how she would come home from college and stop by a drug store and get a can of Pringles, bag of Reese’s mini cups and a value meal. She’d stick it in her big purse, sneak by her grandparents (whom she lived with) and scarf it all down and then 30 minutes later go eat a big Italian dinner with them. She never told me before that, I wish she would’ve but I understand that’s not exactly something people are anxious to share. Thanks for the info. It’s good to have it addressed.

    • It helps to look at something like that. It’s definitely not something people are usually jumping to talk about, but if your friend told you that’s a good sign.

  10. I have had problems with binge eating in the past, and still sometimes struggle with it now. Mine is usually tied with emotions- stress, lonliness, depression, and when those moments hit, it’s hard for me to overcome them. Now, I wouldn’t say that I binge; it’s more like “over-eating.” It’s a work in progress.
    .-= Lori´s last blog .. =-.

    • Better is a good place to start. And knowing why it happens (stupid hormones) is great. The more you know the better you will be able to stop it or at least control it. I really do think knowledge IS power.

  11. This is a great post. It’s true, it really is a vicious cycle and it can just go on forever without being fixed. I’m so glad you found your inner empowerment and were able to break out of the cycle, and it’s great that you’re offereing such good advice to people who might be in similar circumstances

    • YES. A cycle of behavior won’t be stopped until someone does something about it. So I hope other people realize that and take action.

  12. I didn’t think you meant that, but when reading it seemed that way. Probably only because I just got done reading a bunch of “can you be fat and happy” posts. Ah, the internet. Sometimes it fucks with my head.

    I <3 u.

  13. Thank YOU for writing about this. Very timely, too; I wrote a post several days ago about this that is scheduled for next week.

    I’ve never had serious out-of-control overeating behaviours until the past month or so. It’s been really difficult NOT to binge, and I’ve been binging and eating compulsively. It’s SCARY when that happens.

    • Thank you. Let me know when that post goes live. I usually read all your posts on the weekend (I read a bunch at a time so I never comment… sorry) but I’d like to read that one when you post it.

      It is scary. I know. But you can do it Sagan. Do you know why it’s been happening recently?

  14. Great post Mary…I can relate to these binges especially the after school ones (see my latest post…wow)…but really, I would binge all the time.
    It wasn’t about eating a TON of food at one sitting for me (altho sometimes it was!) I think I had several smaller binges a day. Sometimes the urge hits me, especially if I’ve been baking, my new hobby I never shoulda started! :)
    .-= Craig´s last blog ..Posting Idea…but unsure… =-.

  15. I think part of my trouble over the last couple of weeks has been a desire to binge on junk foods. Generally, I haven’t engaged in true “binging” behavior, but I did one day last week when I ate until I felt like I literally couldn’t eat anymore. Thanks for sharing this!
    .-= Rachel @ Working Out Wellness´s last blog ..Lent Update =-.

  16. Great post Mary. I’m sure some of these recent posts have been difficult to write, but they have been really powerful stuff, so I hope you keep them coming.

    I know exactly how you feel too, I’ve definitely been known to binge eat myself. It’s a very embarrassing thing to look at – knowing that’s the way I used to act, and the relationship with food that I used to have. I’m working very hard to make sure I never go back to that place again.
    .-= Brandon´s last blog ..The Future of Weekend Warriors? =-.

    • Thanks Brandon. After getting past the first one it got easier. I realized that sharing my struggles could actually help other people. So I took a deep breathe and did it.

      It is embarrassing, but the fact that we’ve admitted it and moved on to be healthy is super awesome. I’m proud of you!

  17. Oh, so great post. I have struggled with ‘secret’ binge eating forever it seems. Just when I think I’m beyond it, that urge sneaks up. HATE that feeling. I really honestly hope that some day that feeling will go away for good. Until then, I just put one foot in front of the other and do my best.
    You are brave to talk about all this. Thanks.
    .-= Kat´s last blog ..Letter to My Jeans =-.

    • I’m glad to know that the feeling/urge sneaks up once you feel like your are past it. I thought maybe that was just me until I wrote this. Thank you for sharing that with me.

  18. When I was recovering from being anorexic I did this a little bit sometimes. Always alone, always when I was feeling depressed, and I had to eat till the thing was all gone. I’m not sure how I stopped it…I think I just moved on to alcohol instead, as that was the beginning of the years when I drank too much. I was very secretive about it because I still didn’t feel comfortable letting anyone see me eat, as in my head it was still ‘bad’.
    As always, youre very brave to write this stuff out on your blog. If you ever need to talk to anyone when you’re feeling those current binge urges (or any other time), you have my email address, and my phone #’s on my fb (just don’t wanna post it here).
    .-= merri´s last blog ..Zumba =-.

    • The reason why binge eating at any size/weight is a problem is because it’s usually a result or covering up other issues – like depression and such. I’m glad you got past it, maybe not by drinking though haha. Thanks Merri.

      • ya lol i dont recomend years of binge drinking as a good way to get over binge eating. luckily i dont have an addictive personality so i got out of it without becoming an alcoholic. :)
        .-= merri´s last blog ..Zumba =-.

  19. Hi Mary,
    Serial lurker here, first time commenting (i think)
    This post really summed up my issues with binge eating. i am within my normal weight range, on the lower end if anything, and have struggled most of my life with binge eating.
    I have confided in a few people, my boyfriend, and family, however they dont see it as a huge deal as i am not overweight, and i guess i have seen it that way too as i have never tried to find out why i binge, or seek help to stop. But after reading your blog and reseaching a bit more about this, i realise that non-overweight people can have binge eating problems too and it is no more or less of a real problem then if i were overweight and binged.
    So good luck to you and good luck to me and everyone else out there who battles with binges!

    • Hi Libby. Thanks for commenting. :) I’m glad that this post and some research helped you out. You are right in realizing that it is a problem even if you are still at a healthy weight. I’ve learned that people at every weight struggle with bingeing and it’s a real problem no matter what you weigh. For people that don’t struggle with it they probably won’t understand that fact. So I hope you continue to seek out help and figure out your eating. Feel free to email me if you ever need anything. Good luck to you (and all of us)!

  20. I think being able to control emotions or at least respond to them more effectively or channel them into other more productive activities can help a lot of binge eaters. I’m already realizing that I turn to food when I’m upset so I need to start working on that.