How Binge Eating Is Actually Your Inner Advocate
Updated: Nov 14, 2022
What if bingeing is actually just the part of you who knows your life was meant for something MORE?
My dear reader,
For four and a half years, I’ve written you an email Every.Single.Tuesday.
With transparency as my guide, I would sit down weekly, and write to you about whatever was “up” in my mind. It started with lots of personal stories, reviews of what I was reading, and reflections on fitness and fitness culture. With time (and the evolution of my brand) it became a place I come to share my most up-to-date and in-process understanding of body image healing, self-worth building, and liberation work in sex, gender, relationships, race, food, and community. It also became a place for me to compile my insights and breakthroughs from client sessions, reflect on patterns of what really makes people hate themselves and their bodies (as well as share my methodology to break free), and invite you into my heart and mind.
The invention of the Transparent Tuesday email was (as I tell my business mentees) the best thing I ever did for my business, my audience, and myself as a coach and human.
That said, my dance card is now extremely full. Between hours spent in private and group coaching sessions, admin work, creating and engaging in free content on social media, and working on my book (or trying to!), I just don’t have 4-6 hours to write these emails every week like I used to.
As such, I’ve decided to start playing with the structure a bit—and as always, I wanted to invite you into the process, show you around behind the scenes, and explain exactly what I’m doing and why.
So here’s the deal: later this month I’ll be doing the Tuesday email in video format, and today I’m trying out a guest writer!
My guest writer’s name is Stefanie Bonastia, and she’s a Binge Eating & Diet Culture Recovery Coach who is both a graduate of my Authentic Body Confidence program on body image, and also one of my current business mentorship clients. Which is to say—she’s been thoroughly vetted, chosen from my inner circle, and very much in alignment with my core philosophy as a brand and coach.
If all goes well, I might have her back to write once/month. So please read her article below, then hit reply to share your thoughts. I want to hear from you!
As always, thank you so much for being here, whether you’re a Tuesday email newbie, or seasoned veteran. 🙂
So much love,
How Binge Eating Is Actually Your Inner Advocate
No one likes to talk about binge eating. It’s embarrassing, and the least glamorous of all of the eating disorder behaviors. It’s also the least talked about, despite it being the most common. Binge eating sits in direct opposition to restriction (which holds a more coveted spot in the disordered eating space—even purging has a leg up because it at least tries to make amends) and is almost exclusively considered to be a shameful, dirty secret.
Binge eating is out of control and sloppy. Restriction is obedient and clean.
But I don’t believe in that story.
I think binge eating is misunderstood.
I believe binge eating is a radical, albeit misguided, attempt to rebel against a system that wants to keep us restricted. Bingeing is the ultimate Fuck You to a patriarchal and capitalistic culture demanding beauty, obedience, and burnout as its cost of belonging.
From the moment we are born, we are taught to embrace self-control and restriction. Don’t cry, be quiet, settle down! Women (or people socialized as women) especially have been conditioned to behave within certain parameters. We can work—we should work! But not to the degree that interrupts our call to motherhood. We can (and should!) be sexually-appealing, but not outright, and emotions might be better kept under wraps lest we become too needy or too much.
The ideal woman, as it were, is a tightly controlled one. She is fit and toned as a result of her alternating HIIT and hot yoga workouts, slender and well-dressed as a result of eating only what she needs and shopping at Nordstrom, attractive and youthful as a result of managing laugh lines with collagen supplements and Botox injections, she’s the PTA mom with an Etsy shop side hustle, she’s happy and successful and smiles a lot because goddamit, people like her! (And by the way, her pesky mental health struggles are remediated by a spa day with her besties.)
This scripted version of The Highly Capable Woman is revered and admired, despite not being allowed much in the way of eating, resting, feeling, or objecting.
Restriction, then, is The Way.
So if binge eating is the antithesis of restriction, it’s understandable that we should be embarrassed and ashamed of it. Where restriction is discipline, self-control, success, and beauty, bingeing is laziness, gluttony, failure and ugliness.
But what if binge eating isn’t the antithesis of restriction?
I work daily with people who binge eat, and despite its reputation, I have yet to meet someone who binges who is actually lazy or slothful. As it turns out, binge eaters tend to be high-achieving, highly capable, but highly repressed folks who restrict nine ways to Sunday until the dam of self-control breaks, and they rebel against the imposition.
So then what if bingeing is the response? The voice of a rising inner-advocate drawing a line in the sand, saying — Enough.
It becomes a natural response to deprivation, an attempt to swing the pendulum back to the other side in order to restore homeostasis.
Bingeing is the act of eating everything you’re not supposed to eat, in quantities you are not supposed to eat them in, because we are done being told that we’re not allowed to expand beyond our borders.
If we understand restriction of food as a representative for restriction of self, then bingeing becomes a response for reasserting our authentic selves in a culture that demands we contain it.
It’s a tool of self-preservation and self-reassertion.
The average caloric recommendation for weight loss plans is barely enough to sustain a toddler, and yet is marketed as reasonable and even responsible for us to embrace as full-grown adults. Eating in response to chronic underfeeding is not indulgence, it’s survival.
But what I see happening is that the voice of the empowered gets trapped in a deadlock between social pressure and freedom. Since binge eating is such an embarrassment, no one stands around at parties talking about it, and so the spirit is quelled before it has a chance to find a foothold. “Shit, maybe this is the life I’m supposed to lead,” she says, leaving the party. Restriction, then, remains part of the struggle.
The ways in which I see binge eaters restricting manifests in various forms, but is most commonly recognized as:
Budgeting calories or macros to hit culturally agreed upon goal intakes
Burning off any overages of those intakes through exercise
Excluding food groups to lose weight (ie low carb, low fat)
Portion control (a concept that sounds reasonable enough, but is more often an imposition of eating less than we desire).
Eating less on days you don’t exercise
Formal diet plans such as Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Atkins
And in less recognized versions, such as restriction in the name of “health and wellness,” which has recently become a more acceptable framework for diet culture’s agenda:
Clean Eating (a non-specified term usually denoting strict adherence to eating foods only in their whole, natural forms and rejecting processed foods)
Juice cleanses and sugar detoxes
“Lifestyle change” diets such as Whole30, Noom, Paleo
Restriction is alive and well in the mental and psychological senses as well, and can signal to the body that a need is being unmet or might be threatened:
Feeling guilty about eating
Eating less than your partner because you think you “should”
“Start again Monday” philosophy
Being “good” or “bad” when it comes to eating
Eating today but planning to restrict tomorrow
Ordering food from the menu that you don’t actually want but feel more “responsible” for having
Structuring social events around food or exercise
Using busyness as a way to curb hunger
So not only are folks who binge eat actually effective restrictors, they also hold space for the voice inside that knows we are meant for more than spa days and green smoothies.
But rebellion inside of a cage ultimately does more harm than good, because we end up stewing in the gray area between obedience and outcry.
When I coach clients who binge eat, I ask them to step out of the gray.
What, and who, do you need to say NO to? Where are you afraid to step into your own power? Who is the voice on the other side of your assigned role? In what areas of your life are you no longer willing to be restricted?
And then I offer them permission to eat. Everything. All of it. Unapologetically.
It is in the lack of apology that everything changes.
No, you don’t have to eat (or be) as little as possible. No, you don’t have to worry about eating (or being) too much. No, you don’t have to eat (or feel) so much that your insides feel like they’re going to explode.
Yes, you can be free.
— Stefanie Bonastia, Binge Eating & Diet Culture Recovery Coach
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