When the most exciting part of your day is planning that perfect binge

I’ve been sitting on this blog for several weeks, but I decided to finally post it. My instinct is not to talk about bingeing (b/ping in general, but particularly the bingeing aspect), because to me it’s the most shameful part of my eating disorder. I know I’m not alone in this though, and I hope that the more I address it the less ashamed people will feel about confronting this behavior.

The article “Investigating the Reinforcing Value of Binge Anticipation” talks about binge eating in terms of alleviating negative emotions. A person apparently binge eats in the context of these emotions and through negative reinforcement the binge eating behavior alleviates this negative affect. When I first read this, I kind of disagreed. In the worst of my eating disorder, I binged/purged in the context of any emotion. I sought to numb myself completely but I was also physically starving, so I relied on the constant b/ping behavior to distract from the never-ending hunger. I was either severely restricting or bingeing on large quantities of food and then purging until completely empty (or well, as empty as was possible for me). That was in the worst of my disorder though. When I’m not as physically starving, I do notice the urge to binge is related more to negative emotions and anxiety.

I also noticed right away that the article focused no attention on the role of purging, which makes me wonder if their generalizations apply more to individuals who binge eat without purging, rather than those with bulimia or anorexia- b/p type. For me (and I’m sure others), bingeing is always paired with purging, and purging almost always follows true binges, not regular eating. This is why I usually refer to the entire behavior as “binge/purging” or “b/ping,” because those two behaviors are always linked for me.

That said, the article then goes on to talk about the unique role of binge anticipation, which is rarely, if ever, discussed in the literature. Ah, binge planning… so many memories of scrambling to write down all the foods I was craving in the moment and hoping they’d be the same foods I craved hours later when I actually got the chance to binge. Clearly for most people, bingeing directly following negative emotions is not always possible. You may be at school, at work, or simply unable to obtain the food necessary for the binge until a later time. This is where binge anticipation comes into play. Researchers hypothesized that often this binge anticipation phase may serve the same purpose as the binge itself, in terms of alleviating negative affect. This may explain why so often I’d be in heaven while planning my perfect binge only to be sadly disappointed when the actual binge failed to live up to expectation (or when the streneous purging part ruined it all).

The article talks about a recent pilot study that examined the brain activation of women with bulimia using an MRI scanner. The experimenters used a mood induction technique to place the subjects in a negative mood. They then measured the subjects’ brain activity when they were asked to plan a binge versus when they were asked to pick out furniture for a fictional apartment. They found a large drop in amygdala activation when the women were planning a binge, but almost no change in amygdala activation when picking out furniture. The pattern of amygdala-related change observed when the subjects were planning a binge has been associated with a decrease in negative affect. They also noticed an increase in activation of the caudate, which may indicate positive reinforcement and “appetitive reward.” In other words, this data suggests that the decrease in negative emotion that has been long associated with bingeing happens (also? instead?) during the binge planning stage. Another study they mention involving the anticipation and actual consumption of a milkshake suggest that this reduction in negative affect is solely associated with the planning, and not the eating itself. However, I think there are too many variables not accounted for to make this conclusion, including the role of purging and level of physical hunger before the binge.

The authors go on to suggest more mood induction, ecological momentary assessment (i.e., rating moods in the moment using some kind of mobile device), and longitudinal brain imaging studies of binge anticipation. I would add that studies should be done with a variety of diagnoses that involve bingeing (binge-eating disorder, bulimia, and anorexia- b/p type).

So the answer is simple then? Just do all the fun planning and skip out on the actual binge (and purge). Negative emotions sill reduced! Problem solved! Haha, right. Up next, how to actually apply these brainy findings to real life…
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7 thoughts on “When the most exciting part of your day is planning that perfect binge”

  1. Lots to think about with this post- thanks! I’ll admit that sometimes I do plan out a binge to then not carry it through as I know it won’t feel as good as I think it will, I typically enjoy the first few bites then it’s just about feeling full enough to purge, the purging is probably the part which gives most satisfaction, but I also purge without binging so sometimes I go straight for that aspect and skip the binge. It’s complicated, sigh. Thanks for an thought provoking post though!

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  2. On thursdays I have a 2-hour training session and during the last 20 minutes all I could think of was all the some-crap some healthy food I could binge on afterwards… Then I went home and had vegetables, fruits, and handful of chips. Maybe 500 calories in all. I’m having trouble knowing if that’s a binge or if I’m just hungry… I don’t tend to crave or eat junk food but I can eat large quantities of healthy foods if I let myself… !

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    1. Hi, I am also in this period right now! Let’s calm down together and believe that we could be better first! I found my trigger of binge eating is because of stress. How about you?

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      1. This might sound stupid but I genuinely think I am physiologically hungry. I don’t tend to over-eat to the point of feeling sick but I obsess about the amount I eat, even if it’s a normal amount and I feel like I just binged. Then I feel like I want to run out the door and run it off… 😦 I have depression so I’m constantly stressed and anxious!

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      2. Please let me tell you that you are not alone. I get obsessed of eating chewy food to release my anxiety until my stomach was full! I always tell myself that I am worth being loved and it is not wrong.

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  3. I’ve heard of this but for me, self-knowledge amounts to nothing when it comes to action. I wish you well and look forward to seeing how this works for you!

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