Eating disorders have many various symptoms. Whilst undereating and throwing up are well known as symptoms of anorexia and bulimia, less attention is paid to the binge purge cycle.
What is actually bingeing?
Let´s talk about bingeing first: A binge is defined by eating larger amounts within a shorter time than another person. The act of overeating is accompanied by a loss of control, extremely fullness afterwards and the feeling of guilt and shame. It is not only a symptom of binge eating disorder, but also plays a huge role in bulimia and even anorexia.
There are two types of anorexia: restricting subtype and the binge-restrict subtype. The last one also tends to restrict type of foods and their daily calorie intake but when the extreme energy-deficit can no longer be withheld, binge episodes can occur. Food is a basic need and when this need is not fulfilled, it´s normal to consume a larger amount of food, when eating again.
Bingeing is also a typical behavior in bulimia. 1500kcals up to 60.000 kcals can be consumed within a binge since food is consumed rapidly – so that is not even tasted at all. Binge purge cycles can be planned or unplanned and usually happen in secrecy. Some even binge multiple times a day.
In restrictive eating disorders binge episodes occur when the energy deficit con no longer be withheld. If you want to read more about this, check out these two blog posts: Extreme hunger ; set point weight theory
Restricting and purging
The difference to binge eating disorder is, that anorexia and bulimia sufferers use restrictive or purging behaviors afterwards. But purging behaviors can also occur without actually bingeing because eating creates such guilt and anxiety around any amount of food, that is considered as “too much”. This is mainly the case in anorexia.
70-80% indeed use self induced vomiting as their form of purging. Other forms of purging can be laxative- or diuretica abuse or excessive exercising. Signs that someone might be engaging in purging behaviors might be:
– rushing to the bethroom after meals within a time span of max. 1.5 hours
– complaints of frequent diarrhea
– exercising for extended hours of time
– scarring on hands
– enlarged salivary glands (bulimia amster jaws)
the binge purge cycle
Now that we clarified the terms bingeing and purging, let´s have a look at the connection between the two behaviors. Usually every binge is triggered by events, food rules or emotions (like loneliness, boredom, sadness, helplessness, hopelessness, stress, …). All these emotions can get intensified by being undernourished. This is also why the binge purge cycle often follows a phase of a restrictive diet.
diet – binge – purge – restrict
Since the act of overeating has been your body´s response to a lack of energy, specific nutrients or satisfaction, by purging the urge to eat again, will occur again. In most cases it will even increase. In summary: any kind of restriction can trigger binges, when the food is purged/restricted afterwards, the body is – once again – deprived of a basic human need – and another episode can be triggered.
Break out of the binge purge cycle
Now, that you hopefully understood, that a binge episode in a restrictive or purging eating disorder, is not your fault and a lack of willpower, but more likely a natural response of your body – I want to give you some tips how you can break out of that binge purge cycle.
- eat frequently and never go without food for too long. I recommend three meals and at least three snacks
- do not skip meals even when you had a binge episode earlier (especially then!!)
- identify all your food rules – especially the hidden ones. Mental restriction is restriction too!
- when you experience the urge to binge or purge, practice delaying the urge. Tolerate the urge as long as possible. Even a few minutes will help you to build the muscle to tolerate distress. Most times the urge will decrease over the time and you don´t want to binge/purge anymore. But if you still want to: allow yourself to do it.
- sooth yourself with distractions. Active and passive ones: going for a walk, listening to a podcast, reading, calling a friend, clean your room, sleep, journal,…
- calm yourself with emotional relationships: Talk to the people that surround you about how you feel, do not hesitate to ask them for help
- implement mindful meditation techniques such as breathwork, gentle Yoga, daily meditation, practising gratitude, …
The most important part is not skipping meals and trying to make up for the amount that has been eaten. Do not compensate for honoring your bodies needs.
Some more resources to dig into:
Podcasts: Brain over binge: Episode 66: Letting Go of the Binge and Purge Cycle to Focus on What’s Important (brainoverbinge.com)
Kayla Kotecki: 254: Kayla Kotecki on Going “All In” to Repair Your Metabolism, End the Diet-Binge-Purge Cycle, and Heal Your Relationship with Food | Christina the Channel
The book brain over binge : Brain over Binge: Why I Was Bulimic, Why Conventional Therapy Didn’t Work, and How I Recovered for Good : Hansen, Kathryn: Amazon.de: Books
I hope this is helpful and that it will support your journey of breaking out of this cycle. It won´t happen overnight, but every day you manage without bingeing/purging is a success! Now, I´d like to hear about your thoughts and experiences. What helped you? What are you still struggling with?