Are Binges Normal in Recovery?

binges recovery - abstract art of female face

It’s time for my evening snack. I check my meal plan and look at what I have available in the kitchen to meet my servings.  Graham crackers and milk seems like a good idea. I take out 2 sheets pour myself a cup of milk and sit down. I dip the first sheet in the milk doing my best to be mindful, but I end up eating it fast so it doesn’t fall in. The second one goes even faster. Okay I’m done…or am I?  Unfortunately not. I have somehow awoken the binge beast. I start to move my way around the kitchen frantically searching for more food. I feel like I’m on autopilot with a mission to devour everything in my path.  Completely disconnected from my body and reality, I mindlessly gorge myself into an uncomfortable state of oblivion. I really don’t know what snaps me out of the trance, it could be my bulging belly or the fact that I have eaten practically everything available that doesn’t have a cooking time of more than 5 minutes. I sit down and cry myself to sleep completely discouraged and disappointed with myself. Another binge.

This was a flashback to me in recovery.  These uncontrollable binge episodes were somewhat of a common occurrence for me in the beginning. But with time they became fewer and farther between.  If you are struggling with binges it is important to know that you are not alone, you are not an anomaly.  As freaky and abnormal as the behavior seems you are acting normal in recovery.  I like to think of a simple analogy to explain what’s going on physiologically.  Imagine you are forced to hold your breath for 3 minutes…

… 3 … 2 … 1 … 0

When you are allowed to take your first sip of air it is going to be more like a gulp, actually more like a massive I need this air or I am going to die type of gulp. Now think about how your body feels after all the time you have been restricting and depriving it. After all the time that you have only been eating a limited range of foods off your “safe list”.  When you begin to give yourself permission to eat a wider range of foods you will most likely overcompensate. 

On top of this, you are also processing a lot of new emotions.  Binges can be a coping mechanism that help you distract and numb yourself from feelings.  I’m not advocating binges, but I do believe there is a reason they are common in the beginning stages of recovery.  If you are struggling with binges now please remember these five things. 

You are not defective.  You are not doing recovery wrong.  You are not going to fail.  You will overcome this.  It is not forever. 

What is important is to accept where you are and to move forward. If you binge at your evening snack time start over tomorrow and eat breakfast. If you overeat at breakfast eat lunch. I know it is tough to eat the next meal, but it is the only way to take away the power from your eating disorder. A binge may feel like you took one step backward, but showing up at the next meal is taking two steps forward.

(Last Updated: September 1, 2022)

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  1. says: Saskia

    Thank you for this post; it has helped me so much, particularly your analogy about holding your breath. I feel like whenever I talk to my support workers and psychologists, they don’t believe me when I say I’ve been binging! I suppose they think it’s the anorexia ‘warping my perceptions’. You don’t know how relieving it is to know that binging is normal during recovery. When you’ve starved your body of food for so long, it must be natural to want to eat everything you can get your hands on. You’re right that bingeing is not a good thing in the sense that it’s right to have a controlled relationship with food (just not TOO controlled!) in recovery it’s also important to remember than every last bite of food you get into your body is going to be doing you so much good. It’s easy to feel guilty, as society says we should be eating less, not more. But going over your plan isn’t a bad thing – it’s a good thing, and to an extent it should be encouraged.

  2. says: anon

    Thank you so much, I’ve just discovered this website and its amazing – just knowing this site exists gives me a boost.
    I thought I was the only one on the planet who did this. It feels like a monster comes and the real me just shuts off; in a way its not far off the times that i give in and let the other monster – anorexia – take over. I just wish i could find a balance where i can be free of both and eat normally.
    sorry, its nice to rant sometimes.

  3. says: Courtney

    I don’t even think of it as binging, I think of it as reactive eating. Your body has been starved for consistent nutrition for so long that when your mind sees an opportunity to make up for some of the deficit, it will take over and do just that.

  4. says: Rebecca

    Thank you so much for this post… I know I had been questioning whether what I was doing was what some people refer to as extreme hunger because often I’m actually stuffed… It’s just that I want food!!!!

  5. says: Heidi

    There’s so much reassurance in this. Thank you for the continual return to self-compassion and patience that you always offer. So glad to have found you, the podcast, and the app. <3

  6. says: Jessica Flint

    Thanks for sharing your struggle! I’m grateful that you have found Recovery Warriors and hope our resources will help give you the courage, connection, compassion and commitment to battle these monsters. They can be beaten!

  7. says: Jessica Flint

    I’m glad the analogy spoke to you Saskia. You brought up a really good point about having a balanced relationship with food that is not overly controlling. Thanks so much for sharing.

  8. says: Jessica Flint

    Yes. I think it is fairly normal, Jackie. When you restrict and binge your body can lose sight of it’s internal hunger and fullness signals. What I personally found is that the binges were serving as an emotional outlet for me. I recommend downloading the Rise Up app that we made and start to check-in with your emotions and any events that lead up to the binge. Best of luck to you, warrior!

  9. says: Jackie

    I just came across this after searching the internet in a panic after binging. Thanks for creating this it is very reassuring. The thing that is most confusing to me right now is that I can binge even when I’m physically full. It’s like my brain wont stop telling me to keep eating and it’s frightening me that I will never be able to know when to stop eating. Is this normal?

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