How Much is Too Much?

Disclaimer: Our bloggers are not health experts. Contact your physician if if you are thinking about starting a new dietary program.

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

It started innocently enough. Saturday afternoon, I found a carton of Edy’s Mint Cookie Crunch at Target. Ahh, Mint Cookie Crunch. Delightfully refreshing mint light ice cream with chunks of chocolate sandwiches with half the fat and one-third fewer calories than regular ice cream. It’s hard to find. So when I saw it at Target, I thought that I better get some while it’s still available. Sometimes I over eat ice cream, so I thought twice about it, but thought that I could control my portions. The next day, the half-gallon was empty, and besides the cup that my sister enjoyed, I’d eaten it all.

I wrote the ice cream down in my food journal, and with exercise, I was somehow able to keep my calories down to a reasonable number, despite the many half-cup servings I had during those two days. But what really bothered me was my lack of control and the really large amount of ice cream that I ate in less than 48 hours. I rationalized it by thinking that “everybody does that every once in a while,” but this time, that didn’t make me feel better. So I took to the Internet.

Binge eating is such a strong term for overindulging, I thought, but according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), Binge Eating Disorder (BED) will soon join the ranks with Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa as an “official” eating disorder. Binge eating is characterized by insatiable cravings that can occur any time of the day or night, usually secretive, and filled with shame. Bingeing is often rooted in poor body image, use of food to deal with stress, low self-esteem and tied to dysfunctional thoughts.

Could I have binge eating disorder? Distinguishing between overeating and binge eating is sometimes difficult, even for the eating disorder professionals. Compulsive eating and emotional eating are terms that have been around for years. BED is a distinct entity and not merely the occasional craving, over-eating when you are hungry, or the overindulgence during the holidays. According to Cynthia Bulik, PhD, “Every binge is different, just as every craving is different, and every binge eater is different but the scenario is the same.”

According to ANAD, Criteria for Diagnosis of BED includes:

  • Loss of control over amount of eating
  • Marked distress over binge episode
  • Occurs at least 1x per week for 3 months

And, three or more of the following:

  • Eating more rapidly than normal (i.e. 2 hour period)
  • Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
  • Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry
  • Eating alone because of being embarrassed by how much one is eating
  • Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed or very guilty over after overeating

So yes, I overdid it, but according to the ANAD definition, I’m not a binge eater because it doesn’t happen on a regular basis. (Saved by the “once a week for three months” clause.)

In my research, I found a great article about binge eating in Self, called “How Bad is Binge Eating. In the article, several professionals discussed binge eating, both anecdotally and clinically.

“It’s okay to binge every now and again,” says Mike Fenster, M.D., cardiologist, professional chef, and author of The Fallacy of the Calorie. “All things in moderation, including moderation. However, two important caveats do apply: intensity and frequency.”

Fenster recommends following the 80/20 rule. “Try to adhere to your usual healthful approach at least 80 percent of the time,” he says. “But there are special occasions, vacations, and life moments that call for a willingness to throw caution, and nutritional guidelines, to the wind. But a special occasion should not become standard fare. That ‘once in a while’ jumbo waffle sundae can’t morph into a nightly ménage with Ben and Jerry.”

Whew! Anyone got Edy’s?

Let’s talk. Am I the only one who occasionally binges or do you have binges, too? What do you most often binge on and what brings them on? What do you usually do after your binge?