Why Binge Eating is Like Recording in a Closet

I’m writing to you today from what is possibly the noisiest hotel room in San Francisco.

I tagged along on my husband’s work trip, with the intention of working from the hotel for a few days and then hanging out with my family in the Bay Area for the rest of the time.

Today is one of those work days, and I’m sitting at a desk in front of an old, drafty window that overlooks one of the busiest streets in the city, trying to hear myself think over the din of trucks rumbling, horns beeping, and engines revving.

Earlier today I had to record a podcast interview, and I knew there was no way I could possibly do it at this noisy desk.

So I did what any resourceful podcaster would do: I set up a makeshift recording studio in the closet.

I used the ironing board as a table for my mic and a sturdy-lidded garbage can as my chair, and I lined the inside of the closet with clothes and pillows to muffle any echo.

And guess what? The recording actually ended up sounding pretty damn great. Even though I was physically a bit uncomfortable for the hour-plus conversation, I made it work and did what I needed to do.

And that’s exactly what your body does when it’s deprived of food.

Its preference, of course, would be to have its needs for nourishment and pleasure met consistently throughout the day, every day—just like my preference would have been to record my interview at a nice, quiet desk in a comfortable chair, without a bunch of shirt sleeves in my face.

When your body can’t get those needs met consistently, though, it MacGyvers things in order to do what it needs to do.

It ramps up your hunger hormones to a level you can’t ignore.

It fills your mind with incessant thoughts of food, even when you’re trying to do other things.

It increases your cravings for foods that will give you quick energy, like sweets and starches.

And it ramps down your fullness hormones so that you’ll keep eating even after your stomach feels full, in order to make up for the nutrients you were missing.

Your body does all of these things so that it can get its needs for energy and satisfaction met somehow, even if it’s not in exactly the way it would prefer.

All of this definitely causes some physical discomfort, because your body doesn’t usually feel its best when it’s eating well past the point of stomach-fullness.

It also can cause some psychological discomfort, because when you’re caught up in diet culture’s rules, it’s really disconcerting to eat an amount you've been told is "too much" or binge on foods that you've been told are "bad."

But these tradeoffs are worth it for your body. Because they give you something way more important in the end than a great podcast interview: They give you life.

By doing all these things, your body is keeping you alive.

Your body experiences food deprivation as famine, even though our culture at this point in history just calls it “dieting” or “lifestyle change” or “clean eating.”

To your body, at a very primal level, deprivation equals danger. Bingeing is its attempt to mitigate that danger.

That’s what this week’s episode of Food Psych is all about.

My guest, psychotherapist Amy Pershing, is an expert on binge eating disorder and a former binge eater herself.

She knows firsthand how binge eating is caused by deprivation and attempts at self-control, and why the solution isn’t more control but more self-care instead.

She’s been through the discomfort of having her body keep eating past the point of fullness in order to get its needs met, and she shares the mental and behavioral shifts that allowed her body to feel safe and stop needing to do that.

We also talk about diet culture’s shape-shifting from aesthetics and the beauty ideal to health and "clean eating," how fatphobia hinders recovery from disordered eating, and lots more.

Tune in right here to hear it, and subscribe via your favorite podcasting platform to make sure you never miss any future episodes (including my closet-studio interview, which will be out in a few months!).

Here’s to giving our bodies what they need so that they can stop all the MacGyvering, 

P.S. We still have some lovely “self-care, not self-control” mugs and T-shirts left! Grab yours today, so that whenever you’re sipping your tea or putting on your PJs you’ll have a tangible reminder that taking care of your whole self—including your needs for pleasure, satisfaction, and downtime—is a lot better for your overall well-being than trying to follow diet culture's rules about what, when, and how to eat.

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