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I Tried Binge Eating, It Was Hard To Stop

This started as an article but since I'm having trouble stopping binge eating, I'm going to blog it until I've lost the 10 pounds I gained. Skip to Blog at bottom of article.

Binge eating is in the news. It may be the most prevalent eating disorder effecting 3.5 % of woman and 2% of men in the US according to a recent Harvard Medical School study.

Binge eaters typically eat until uncomfortably full, then keep eating anyway. Binge eaters may feel guilt and anxiety in regards to eating and body image. While this disorder is medically described and limited to about 5% of the population it seems to me that most people in their lifetime will eat like this occasionally if not often.

Research suggests that as we eat larger amounts of food, we require larger amounts of food to feel satisfied from eating. The hormones that make us feel full and satisfied are released in smaller quantities, and the hormones that make us feel hungry are released in larger quantities.

While this may be part of what drives binge eating (eating huge amounts of calories at one time; over 1000 and upwards to 3000), addiction appears to be in the drivers seat. Addiction is nasty. It clouds judgment and just when you feel you might be escaping along come the withdrawal symptoms to drag you back down.

I pass this information on in workshops I do, and to my weight loss clients. I talk about how important it is to do cognitive therapy to help stop the internal drive to keep eating- just like a widely accepted body of research suggests.

I wanted to understand binge eating a little more intimately so I decided to binge eat and do a wait-and-see.

The first few days actually felt pretty good emotionally. If I liked the flavor of something, I ate more of it. Cereal, peanut butter and jam sandwiches, and very healthy salads were my main binge foods. Overeating salads? You read that right. When you overeat by 1000+ calories it doesn't matter where the calories come from - it's all extra calories.

After a week I noticed a change emotionally; I craved eating more, I mean I really craved eating. I can't say I was really feeling hungry, I just wanted to eat and I didn't feel satisfied unless I did.

Then came the chocolate. I had a few brands of dark chocolate and would "taste test" them one after the other. Enough Chocolate, time for another peanut butter and jam sandwich. My gut feels like it's going burst. I don't feel very good anymore. I feel physically uncomfortable, guilty for eating so much, and wondering if I should call off my dumb experiment.

I just ate 2500 calories worth of chocolate, cereal, peanut butter and jam, and salad in about 1 hour. Time to go train. During this overeating experiment I did not stop my early season training for the 2007 season of local competitive cycling. Training feels uncomfortable with a footballs worth of food in your gut.

I burned off 1500 in a training ride. This caused me to justify eating more. This doesn't make any sense because I had overeaten by almost 3000 calories on this day and 1500 calories only cuts into half that. But I rationalize it anyway and ate more. My gut still wasn't empty from my binge a few hours ago and I still ate another 1000 calories.

The next day I was so disgusted with myself I fought the still increasing desire to eat. I was successful for two days. I could not shake the desire to eat and started shoveling it down again. After about three and half weeks and a 10 pound gain I decided enough was enough - I have now experienced the almost remote control eating machine desire to eat and it's time to get back to healthy eating.

It didn't work. I found myself rationalizing; I can burn this off tomorrow, I'm an athlete I can turn this around anytime one more day wont hurt, I've already blown it today, might as well keep eating now, etc.

The fact was I felt like crap. I felt more lethargic, my gut was getting fatter, I was harming my health and making excuses to do so. If I didn't overeat I felt worse, agitated, thinking of how I can justify eating more, and then just eating. Can the addictive process take hold this quickly? Yes.

It took another three weeks of telling myself about health risks, adding up calories, and cutting back on food to begin to reduce the fierce desire to keep eating. Now I'm back to healthy eating again. Apparently after a couple weeks of sustaining sensible caloric intake our hormones will readjust and we won't have such a disparity between the hormones that make us hungry and those that make us feel full.

What did I learn?

Binge eating made me lose control. It didn't matter how much I know about the science of nutrition and exercise. It didn't matter that I burn off 10,000 calories per week in exercise, I overate and I gained fat. I felt like I was going crazy, it felt like I had little control over cravings and eating.

This binge thing is nasty business. It felt like I was trying to quit smoking again. Smoking was an addiction, binge eating was the same. For me the irrational desire to eat and the irrational desire to smoke felt the same. In the end it was most likely easier for me to stop binge eating than it is for many who are battling it, as for me it was short term, I knew I was doing it, and I had a very strong desire to stop and get on with my cycling training - which includes maintaining a competition weight.

That being said binge eating and overeating in general can be reversed. It does take a strong cognitive component and re - associating our sense of reward with healthy actions.

Once a person develops coping with addiction and is rewarded with the small successes that come with making small positive steps each day, I think they will be on their way to reversing their unhealthy habits.

Many typical restaurant meals are well over 2000 calories. This means whether you intend to or not, you could very well be binge eating in terms of calories when you eat out. I knew I was binge eating, but many may not know they are. Overeating mega calories at one sitting may not be accompanied by emotional turmoil, some may simply overeat. Take a look at your eating patterns; if you eat typical restaurant food, and if you go back for seconds and thirds at the buffet or at home, you may very well be a binge eater in terms of calories. Whether or not you feel out of control with eating, mega calorie meals harm health and everyone who does this ought to think about changing the way they eat.

Binge Eating Experiment:

Total weeks 6 (3.5 weeks of weight gain, 3.5 weeks to quit binge eating)
Total weight gained 10 lb 4.5 kg
Increase in waist girth from 80.6 cm to 84 cm (31.7 to 33 inches)


March 5, 2007 - in the last 6 weeks I've burned off about 44,000 calories in training (not including other daily activity) and gained fat.

Weight 180 lb. Waist 84 cm. Abdominal skin fold 7mm, iliac 5.5mm. No exercise today. Overate by about 2000 calories.

I have not been as successful as I thought I was at quitting binge eating. If I wasn't training, I would be gaining fat in the extreme. I have yet to go more than 4 days in a row without pigging out. I tend to fall into the binge habit on days I don't train. Maybe there's a connection. This is turning out to be a problem. Today I overate at breakfast and told myself it was OK because I had two training sessions to do. I ended up doing no training and justifying it as a recovery day, feeling tired and eating more. Went out for dinner: Spinach salad with chicken breast - healthy, but didn't need the calories, making it unhealthy. Chocolate mousse dessert - stupid. As soon as I got home (about 10 minutes after dinner) I had a slice of bread I baked today.. with chocolate honey on it. Then I ate a bowl of cereal with chocolate milk. My gut is stuffed and I feel like crap.

I have never experienced this with eating before. I guess you have to be careful what you ask for - I wanted to see if I would experience the addictive properties that can occur with binge eating. I've either psyched myself into perceiving that I have, or I really have. Either way the outcome is the same: This is unhealthy and It must stop.

I Still rationalize training as an excuse to "do it tomorrow" (cut back on eating). Training is going great, consistent improvements in fitness. Still 10 pounds overweight. I lost a few pounds, then put it back on again. I find myself fooling myself with thoughts of "as soon as my training hours pick up in a few weeks I'll blow this fat off in no time". Only problem is I used that excuse a few weeks ago. Maybe blogging my progress will help me stay true.

March 6, 2007

Ate healthy. 500 - 700 calorie deficit

I battled wanting to eat more at breakfast today, but managed to overcome it and ate about 500 cal. Exercise caloric expenditure today was about 1700 calories from training and about 600 calories worth of walking. Afternoon eating was no problem. No cravings to battle. The walk at noon may have helped suppress the binge cravings. I spoke to a couple of my clients about my binge eating escapades and we had laugh and open discussion about how we tell our selves lies to enable our poor eating choices. Talking helped put things in perspective.

March 7, 2007

Ate healthy. 300 - 500 calorie deficit

Breakfast and lunch were fine. No cravings until dinner time, but did not give in. Told myself, "it will feel good now to eat more, but it will be unhealthy and feel worse later." Exercise was light today - about 800 calories worth.

March 8, 2007

Ate healthy. 300 calorie deficit

Weight 176.4 lb. Waist 83.6cm. Abdominal skin fold 6.6mm. Iliac 4.5mm.

Almost blew it today. Had a strong craving to keep eating in the afternoon but stopped. Evening training blew off 900 calories but rest of day was quite sedentary - whole day in front of the computer working - I had a brief escape doing a radio interview with Charles Adler on his national radio show today. We were talking about stress tests and fitness assessments. One day at a time. Looking forward to 4 days in a row without overeating. Check in tomorrow to see if I manage to do so. I make my blog entries late in the evening.

March 9, 2007

Ate healthy. 300 calorie deficit

First time in weeks I have made it 4 days in a row without overeating. Thought I would train more today, but was too fatigued from hard training earlier in the week. On days that I assume a larger training load I eat more for breakfast but today I decided to hold back to wait and see if I was able to do hard training. Good thing I didn't eat the calories. I had slight cravings today, but didn't give way to them. Burned off 900 calories in training.

March 10, 2007

Ate healthy, but overate by about 300 calories.

Felt pretty lethargic today. Felt too tired at end of day to train. Not too happy about it. Since starting the binge experiment I have felt fatigued and lethargic more often than what I'm used to.

March 11, 2007

Ate healthy. 1000 calorie deficit.

Calorie deficit was easy today with 2100 calories burned in training and no cravings of any kind. Recently the day's I feel an irrational desire to eat are the days I don't exercise, or don't exercise until late in the day. I'll weigh in tomorrow. You may be wondering how I am determining "eating healthy". - I use nutrition software to calculate total vitamins, minerals, and calories in the food I eat. I don't take vitamin pills because I easily get all my vitamins from food.

Try this free web based software from Dietitians of Canada


March 12, 2007

Binge! Overate 300 calories when exercise caloric expenditure is considered, but binged out at 1500 calories, then at 1000 calories at once.

Weight 175 lb. Waist 83.3 cm. Abdominal skin fold 7mm. Iliac 4.6mm

Day started great with a healthy breakfast. Ate a healthy lunch. Cravings started in the early afternoon. Contemplated early afternoon workout - didn't do it. Ate a peanut butter and jam sandwich, then another. My gut started to feel uncomfortably full. I thought, "I haven't really over done it yet.. plus I'll workout tonight, I'll be OK." - this was irrational denial thinking. Then I ate a bowel of cereal and another PBJ. Now my gut was stuffed and I was quite uncomfortable. I could feel my heart beating harder. I had a huge craving to keep eating, but thought "this is crazy", and didn't eat anymore.

I walked to the gym and worked out burning off about 1700 calories in total - not quite enough to offset the earlier bingeing. The workout was a little uncomfortable with my gut feeling stuffed. It took from 4:00 pm to midnight for my stuffed gut feeling to subside. That's 8 hours of being physically uncomfortable from binge eating. My liver must be taking a beating. Emotionally I felt more angry than anything else. Angry for letting myself down. This is definitely like quitting smoking. I have a craving to eat, but I am not hungry, in fact I'm stuffed full and still eating. If I have a craving again I'll try leaving the room or some other physical and mental coping mechanism to divert my attention from food.

Tomorrow is another day.

March 13, 2007

Ate healthy. 600 to 700 calorie deficit.

Had cravings today but didn't give in. Burned off 2600 calories in training. Here's my training summary info for today's ride (Using Polar Precision Performance software.)

Burning off this many calories can make it seem easy to have a caloric deficit, but today's deficit is at most 700 calories - that's a quick meal of one peanut butter and jam sandwich with a banana and glass of milk - not much food. I could have easily overeaten today despite how much I burned off.

Here I am at one day of not overeating again. I made it 4 days last time, this time my goal is to make 5 days without bingeing. Come back and see what happens.

March 14, 2007

Ate healthy. No calorie deficit or surplus - broke even today.

Had fairly strong cravings but overcame. Made fresh baked bread today and wanted to keep eating it. Burned off about 800 calories in exercise today. That's 2 day's with no overeating - only 3 more to go for a new record.

March 15, 2007

Ate healthy food, but overate. No binge today but still overate by about 500 - 700 calories due giving in to cravings.

Was planning to train in the evening but ran out of time. I should have trained earlier in the day, but procrastinated and paid the price. When I got home in the evening I ate about 700 calories that I didn't need. It's a little odd.. my enthusiasm for training has decreased since I went on the binge experiment.. I haven't felt this unmotivated to train in.. uh.. well never before. It's only my trained discipline that is keeping me going, my internal natural motivation has decreased and I need to bring it back. While I didn't binge today I still gave into cravings that resulted in overeating so I'm going start over again in my goal to go 5 days in row with no bingeing/ overeating. Tomorrow is day 1 again.

One of the habits of those who successfully lose 30 pounds and keep it off for 5 years is expecting failures, but expecting to overcome them and move forward. I usually tell my clients this, but now I'm telling myself. This is a failure today, but today's failure is over and tomorrow is another day.

March 16, 2007

Ate healthy. 600 -700 calorie deficit. Burnt of about 2600 calories in training/ walking.

Had cravings at lunch but didn't give in. As I was reaching for the cupboard for more food I said to myself, "I've got to stop right now, turn around, and walk away". And I did. I spoke to a few more clients about my binge experiment and they're saying, "now you know what I go through". Indeed I do. This is much more mentally challenging than I thought. As I mentioned before, it's the same experience I had when quitting smoking over 20 years ago. You really have to be fully committed to overcome the cravings. I seriously want to get back to normal and I will. If weren't fully committed there is no way I could turn this around. Even though I feel awful physically and emotionally after binge eating, the cravings are so strong at the time they are difficult to overcome. The compulsive drive is completely irrational and requires some serious cognitive focus to not give in to the cravings that feel so good at the time to satisfy. I know I need two weeks of binge free eating to "reset" the dopamine response to eating and to normalize hormones that regulate hunger and feeling full. My objective right now is to get to 5 days. Once I achieve that goal, I'll work on adding more day's until I reach two weeks.

Tomorrow is a recovery day for training - only 30 minutes. Will have to eat less and be ready to deal with cravings.

March 17, 2007

Weight 175.2 lb Waist girth 83.3 cm Abdominal skin fold 6.5 Iliac 4.5

Ate healthy. Calories balanced today.

I expected to have cravings today after breakfast and had none. I even tried to talk myself into feeling a craving to see if I could trigger the effect.. I opened the cupboard to the peanut butter.. nothing. No craving. At lunch I had a PBJ with banana which in the past has served well as a trigger to crave eating another one right away. I did have the very slightest craving. Maybe the best way to explain it is experiencing the memory of a craving but not really having the real deal. After dinner (mixed salad with salmon) I experienced a a mild craving and downed 1/2 a cup of chocolate milk and a couple grapes and then put a stop to it. No further cravings. No training today, but did a couple hours of shopping duties. That may have been enough activity to offset cravings.

I've made some charts of my measurements for the binge eating experiment from the start up to today. I've been tracking this data in an Excel spreadsheet.

March 18, 2007

Ate Healthy. About a 500 calorie deficit today

No cravings after breakfast or lunch. Slight hunger cravings after dinner, but not the irrational kind that I experienced when bingeing. I waited 10 minutes and the feeling went away. This is typical as turning off the hunger sensation is delayed 10 to 20 minutes after eating. I needed another snack after dinner to get up to a 500 calorie deficit otherwise it would have been a 1000 calorie deficit and I don't want too many of those as it would push the limits of a healthy deficit.

I attempted to psych myself into a craving after my last snack but my immediate response was "not interested". I'll wait and see of course, but it appears I may be starting to exit the effects that the experiment has had on me. I'm starting to get back some of the pragmatic view I had towards food that I am used to: Eat for sustenance, make the sustenance taste great.

Burned off 1100 calories in training. This is 3 days in a row without overeating. Last record was 4. Still looking for 5 days...

March 19, 2007

Ate Healthy. About a 700 calorie deficit.

No cravings today. Blew off 3000 calories in training so had to eat a lot today - over 4000 calories. Had some triple chocolate cake to make up for some carb and fat calories. Of course I ate ton's of veggies and whole grains as well. I thought the big calorie intake would trigger cravings but it didn't. I was worried about eating too much. When I had about 1700 calories remaining to balance intake, I had to tell myself to eat a couple more times because a 1700 calorie deficit is unhealthy. I ate two more times (500 calories each). I didn't feel stuffed full at any time today. Interestingly I ate more than enough to qualify for binge eating, but because I didn't stuff myself at any one time (smaller meals throughout the day) and burned off 3000 calories in exercise, the total calories in were justified.

Part of the proposed definition of binge eating disorder is eating when not hungry, continuing to eat until uncomfortably full, eating larger than normal amount of calories in one sitting or over about 1 - 2 hours, and being compulsively driven to eat. I did not meet any of these criteria today. Go here for a Mayo Clinic article on binge eating disorder.

When I consumed the same amount of food previously in "binge mode", I felt uncomfortably full, lethargic, guilty, and unhealthy. My biggest mental challenge today was cognitive dissonance with whether or not I overate because I ate so much. On paper my calories in/ out were healthy, but I guess because I have experienced a struggle with overeating recently I had a hard time justifying eating so much even though it was healthy to do so.

One more day of no bingeing and I will achieve my 5 day no binge goal. I'm confident I'll make it this time.

March 20, 2007

Ate Healthy. About a 700 calorie deficit.

I made 5 days in a row with no pigging out! Blew off another 3000 calories in training today. No cravings at all. The conservative one day at time plan is paying off. Recording my progress in this blog has helped as I know I have to "report" each day. Unless I blow it tomorrow, I'm going to make blog entries every 3 days now. My next entry on March 23 will have my weigh in and other measurement numbers.

Like I tell my customers and athletes I work with, consistency is key. Failing one day means moving on to the next and trying again. Once successful, keep repeating. Don't psych your self into perceiving that consistency is not achievable; after all if you're overweight it means you have been consistent for a long time - consistent at overeating. This is just a matter of switching what you are consistent with.

March 23, 2007

Ate healthy. 600 - 700 calorie deficit.

Weight 176.4 Waist girth 83 cm. Abdominal skin fold 6.1mm. Iliac 4.2mm.

I've made it 7 days now without doing the binge thing. Two of the last two days were calorie neutral. I've had a couple cravings but didn't follow through. Mostly the thought of bingeing now seems ridiculous and harmful - on an emotional level. Before I knew that cognitively, that is I knew the facts, but emotionally I would find a way to rationalize. The thought of bingeing now rarely provokes a sense of reward, but rather the opposite.

While weight measurement is about 1lb more than the last weigh in, my waist girth and skin folds are down slightly. It's important to realized the inaccuracy of weight alone as a measurement of fat loss. I'll go for a consistent caloric deficit of around 500 - 700 calories per day for the next week and report my measurements then. I don't think I'll be returning to any 2000 calorie pig outs any more! :)

October 2, 2007 Final entry

Weight 173 lb abdominal skin fold 5mm, iliac 3.5mm. Eating healthy.

I just read over this blog for the first time since April. It felt like I was reading about someone else. The extreme overeating that I did and accompanying emotional/ compulsive drive to do so has been gone for months. Had I continued with that eating pattern I would have put on at least another 20 pounds of fat.

What started this whole binge eating thing was an attempt to get super lean - to get really "ripped". I'm usually fairly ripped anyway, but I wanted to get leaner. Why? I was working with a bodybuilder who was utterly convinced that getting ripped for a bodybuilding contest must involve restricting carbs and water, and a severe calorie restriction, and probably some special supplements.

I said this was nonsense and promptly showed him my washboard abs and said, "I don't do any of those dietary practices and I'm ripped all year". He looked at my abs and commented that I was leaner than many bodybuilders entering contests, but that I wasn't as lean as the top category winners. So I told him that I'd get leaner simply by eating 500 calories less per day, with no change in food composition, water intake, or exercise. And I did. While it was an ego boost to lift my shirt and flash the ultra ripped contest ready abs, I was also paying the price of feeling hungry much of the time.

While I proved my point that getting ultra ripped can be achieved without water or "carb" restriction, I did feel what all bodybuilders feel as they approach a contest; out of energy. It simply wasn't healthy to continuously cut calories to the point of feeling hungry. My cravings to eat were unbelievable. And one day I ate a huge amount of food to answer my cravings and hunger. I've spoken to bodybuilders and other athletes who drop food intake to make weight for contests and all agree that they can't wait until the contest is over so they can binge.

That's just plain dumb. Coincidentally at the time this was going on the media was covering stories on binge eating in America. I looked into it and was interested in the reported psychological changes that can occur when binge eating. It was then I decided to do the binge experiment, right on the heels of feeling hungry from cutting calories too much to get ultra lean.

I can understand how bodybuilders and athletes who need to make weight for competition go through huge fat loss/ fat gain cycles. The extreme calorie restriction makes you very hungry. When your contest is over you have a binge eating mentality that exacerbates already huge food cravings. It wouldn't be just competitors who experience this cycle, anyone restricting calories to the point of daily hunger would most likely give into cravings at some point. Fat - lean - fat - lean. What a dumb cycle to put your self through. I don't want any part of it. There is no positive outcome and it sucks emotionally.

I'm back to my usual leanness, but I haven't returned to my starting weight of 168 lb, but I'm not worried about it. In fact if anything I'm even less concerned with how long it takes me to change my body composition than before. Gradual losses over longer periods are OK and more easily achieved. I'm not in a contest to lose fat fast, and any such contest would be moronic in nature. Yes, I just called everyone who enters a fat loss contest with themselves or others a moron. People who do this are inviting failure and turmoil. It's unhealthy emotionally and physically to impose rapid weight loss on ourselves.

I still have the occasional desire to eat a little more than I need, but nothing like what I experienced during this experiment. In retrospect I can see how I lied to myself and created dumb denial based reasoning to either continue overeating or to convince myself I was no longer effected by cravings. It took many months of normal eating to regain my usual healthy eating habits. The extreme cravings I had are gone, but I still from time to time eat a little too much. This is balanced by eating the right amount most of the time, and a deficit when needed.

There may be some who naturally self select the perfect caloric balance all the time, but that isn't me. If I don't have some idea of how much I am taking in and burning off, my food intake will not be balanced. I tend to overeat if I don't pay attention. I would suspect most of the population is the same, and studies seem to support this.

Recently I have removed our large soup/ cereal bowls from our cupboard as portion size is distorted with larger plates and bowls. That's an easy way to control portion size: buy smaller dinnerware. Most of my meals are back to being 500 - 600 calories. I add more meals when I train more.

In the end it was my will power that brought me back to normal. However, if I didn't know what I was doing, all that will power would have been wasted on ineffective strategies. It seems important not only to be diligent in overcoming several failures while attempting to change our eating habits, but also to make an effort to learn about the psychology behind eating behavior, and to learn about what healthy eating really is and how to determine how much food we really need.

It's the combination of these variables that gets results. Focusing on only one aspect will, in my opinion, probably fail.

If you would like to post a comment on this article or my journey through this, drop me an email at clabossiere@rhinofitness.ca

2007 Cris LaBossiere Rhino Fitness www.rhinofitness.ca



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