A Christmas Lesson: The Difference Between Eating Too Much and “Bingeing”

How did your food-sanity fare this holiday season? Photo by Shehan Peruma

Well, hello everyone! This is the first new HealthyGirl.org post since June when I was seven months pregnant. Thanks for being patient with the spotty contact as I readjust to life as a new mom! I have plenty to say about dealing with body image and weight issues after pregnancy, but that can wait until my next post. For today, just two days after Christmas, I want to talk about something that’s clearer to me now more than ever: there’s a big difference between eating too much and bingeing.

Those of you who are regular readers of HealthyGirl.org know that I’m recovered from binge eating disorder and have  written a self-help book for girls and young women about it. During the years when I was actively trying to get sane about food and stop binge eating for good, the idea of eating even a little bit more than I needed to was scary. It was so hard to truly see the line between normal overindulging which everyone does on occasion, and bingeing. I had so much anxiety about it and would work to try to define it exactly. So, as they probably are or were for many of you, holidays were tough.

When I was in a 12-step support group, knowing the difference between overdoing it and a binge loomed even larger in my mind, because in order to do certain service positions in the group, a member had to be “clean” from binge eating. If I had a second helping at Christmas dinner that I didn’t really need and hadn’t planned, was that a binge? Or just an overindulgence? Were they the same thing?

Now, two days after what my mom and I called the most gluttonous Christmas week in our family memory (homemade cookies! special Kentucky doughnuts! mom’s red velvet cake from scratch! traditional Hickory Farms cheeses and crackers!), I am so happy to have figured it out.

For me, there is a huge difference between eating too much and binge eating—and here’s what it is: Run-of-the-mill eating too much doesn’t put me into a trance. I don’t feel out of control. I may wish I’d made some different choices (like when I woke up with terrible chocolate-induced heartburn, ouch!), but I didn’t feel that old self-loathing and guilt. Even though I consumed a heck of a lot of food last week, food did not consume me or my thoughts. I didn’t wake up in the middle of the night and sneak into the kitchen to eat something I was too embarrassed to eat in front of everyone else, unlike past Christmases. I didn’t care more about the cookies I was frosting and decorating than the time I was spending with my mom as we did it.

Do I feel a little puffy and sluggish from all the sugar and fat I ate over the holiday? Absolutely. Do I look forward to getting back into my more usual habits this week? You betcha. But I’m grateful that bingeing is no longer a part of my holiday seasons, and that the guilt and self-hate that accompanied it isn’t either.

How were your food and eating issues this holiday? Did you feel pressured and obsessive, or happier and free?


14 Responses to A Christmas Lesson: The Difference Between Eating Too Much and “Bingeing”

  1. Thank you for this. It gives me balanced view of what has taken place the last few days. Welcome back!

  2. Hi Sunny! Welcome back! :)

    Many people do confuse eating too much with bingeing, so I’m glad that you’re tackling this topic and making a distinction between the two.

    I definitely feel freer this year knowing that I’ve given myself unconditional permission to eat, will savor foods more and will nourish my body in other ways (physical activities, long hot showers and hopefully more sleep).

    I look forward to more posts from you. And congrats on being a new mommy!

  3. Cheri Osmundsen says:

    Thank you for this! I was kind to myself and just enjoyed the yummy food without feeling guilty. We just had babies, and the holidays are so special. I am glad to hear that you enjoyed it too…without all the gross food related drama that we have battled in the past.. xoxo

  4. Trish says:

    Welcome back Sunny and congrats!! loved this post, and you’re right — when i’m eating at christmas dinner i definitely don’t feel out of control, just happy. no guilt. now it’s back to healthy choices, and i’m ok with it!

  5. Lauren says:

    Great post! It’s good to have you back.

    I’ve actually been thinking about this a lot lately! I’ve also noticed a big difference between bingeing and over-indulging. When I binge, I totally feel out-of-control and in a ‘trance’ like you said. I definitely over-indulged this holiday season but I’m happy to say that I did not binge :) It was so wonderful to enjoy the holidays without worrying so much about food and my weight.

  6. Fallon says:

    It’s great to see you back posting and a big congrats on the birth of your daughter!

    This post was perfect for me as i’ve been thinking about this topic lately. Thanks for helping me clarify the difference. My biggest fear about overeating during the holidays is that it will spark a binge or send me back to my “old ways”. I’m hopeful though that the negative side effects of over-indulging (bloating, feeling sluggish, etc.) will remind me why i prefer to listen to my body, savor my food and make healthy choices.

  7. […] A plethora of amazing binge eating resources hit the web this week! Yay! These are my faves: Satisfying Our Souls to Master Binge Eating + The Difference Between Eating too Much and “Bingeing” […]

  8. Emily says:

    Yay! It makes me so happy to see another HG post! Holidays are tough because I spend long periods of time at home, which is a huge binge trigger for me. Also, there’s a ton of extra food around! Sometimes when I overeat it’s because it’s a natural indulgence that occurs with the season, but sometimes it is a real binge that ultimately makes me unhappy and less able to enjoy family time. It’s hard to make the distinction sometimes, but I like being able to know when I can shrug my shoulders and chalk it up to an extra Santa cookie, and when I need to stop myself and try to prevent a full binge.

  9. Pj geek says:

    So good to find your blog and read about this topic.. I’m trying to free myself from the bondage of guilt and self doubt and fear that I repeatedly fall into.. I lapsed into both occasional episodes of binge eating and then just overeating in the last few months. My weight is up , yes. I want to lose that weight, yes. But , first and foremost, I don’t want to have binge eating episodes and do ANY of the behaviors that create that guilt and anger and shame. For me , the difference beetween the two is also when that hand to mouth motion just doesn’t stop. One piece after another of whatever-over and over. Hunger , too full..don’t come in to it. I look forward to reading your blog ..

  10. Thank you SO much for this encouraging and reassuring post! I only just ‘found’ you but welcome back to blogging and Happy 2012!

  11. Ashanti says:

    Hi Sunny! Hope all is well with you and the new baby.

    Holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving or anytime where I’m at home for a long break from is a huge trigger for me where I have this unlimited amount of food around and easy access to it. Since I have been going to therapy, I’ve really tried to focus on was I bingeing or indulging myself (and plus my grandma made her infamous nut pound cake, my weakness). And there have been some days were I wanted to binge eat (mainly because I’m bored) and just tried to focus that energy to not give in to a binge (such as journaling, or painting my nails, doing zumba). It’s not easy but I’m proud of myself for the progress I’ve made so far.

  12. Angie says:

    This article couldn’t have come at a better time. Due to more activities when out with my kids, I often get hungrier when on vacation or over the weekends. As someone recovering from BED, it’s hard to know, am I going to start a binge or am I ‘indulging’ because I’m hungrier and the food served has had more time / effort put into preparation? I try to be gentle with myself, but I have days that are terrible. This article helps me to remember everything in moderation is OK, even moderation.

  13. Jen in MN says:

    Welcome back and congratulations on your baby’s birth! I was so glad to see a new post here. (-: I appreciated what you had to say about the holidays & binging, but I am looking forward even more to hearing your thoughts on post-baby body image, etc. I am pregnant right now with my second child, another girl, so this really resonates with me. Please come back soon & share more! Thanks!

  14. Linda says:

    Welcome back and congratulations on your new baby. :)

    I decided to decline several holiday get togethers because I knew I could not face the food. I can’t be comfortable and socialize when my thoughts are on food and felt that it was better to not go than to torture myself. I told my mom that the next Christmas that came I would not celebrate 2 days in a row, with Christmas Eve with the large family then Christmas Day with her. I can’t handle 2 days of eating off my food plan and eating foods that are a lot richer than I am used to. At this time, I still have emotional issues with food and it’s very hard for me to be in a setting where so much is offered and the host expects you to eat. It’s like crack to an addict and I just can’t say no. I also can’t always control what’s going on. I usually have a plan in mind before I go in, but this year, at my large families Christmas Eve dinner there was nothing healthy. Nothing. Nothing green. Anyway, like you I was happy to get right back into my daily food and exercise routine and looked forward to it. I felt victorious because I didn’t want to continue eating cookies and other binge foods, rather, I wanted my “good stuff”. And so far, took off 3 of the 4 lbs I put on. Thank you for this blog abd this space to vent.

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Sunny Sea Gold

About the Author

Sunny Sea Gold is a media-savvy advocate and commentator specializing in binge eating disorder, cultural obsessions around food and weight, and raising children who have a healthy body image.