Fat people and binge eating.

French version of this post here, courtesy Stéphanie Potin-Grevrend.


Lately, I’ve had a couple of run-ins with the assumption that all fat people binge eat.

I was surprised to find that it really hurt my feelings, and I’ve been thinking a lot about why that is. I don’t think it’s purely because I want to distance myself from the stigma of binge eating – I regularly work with and talk to people who binge eat, and I know to my core that I don’t value them any less, or judge them any more harshly. I just think that they are going through a tough thing.

But I dislike stereotypes to begin with, even the seemingly favourable ones (“Those gays are so creative!” etc.) because they gloss over the real, individual human being who is standing right in front of you, and paste over their humanity with snappy lapel-button aphorisms, conveniently hegemonic common sense, and bumper sticker wit.

And when you are ignoring the humanity of someone standing right in front of you, it shows you can’t be bothered to get to know them, to make the effort to incorporate their complexity into your understanding of the world. It also shows you aren’t really paying attention to what they’re saying, which is just flat-out rude.

Finally, I hit on the best way to describe how I feel about the assumption that all fat people are binge eaters – it’s like repeatedly calling someone by the wrong name, even when they’ve reminded you of your name over and over again.

And even though you might not find the other name personally offensive (I’ve got nothing against the Allisons of the world, but I’m not one, and dear Lord stop calling me that), but because it is not yours. It is not you. And somehow, in an absurd little way, it hurts.

(I will take this moment to offer my apologies to Craig, who I accidentally christened Greg a while ago. You know who you are.)

A simple mistake is a simple mistake, but a consistent pattern of “mistakes” is often a manifestation of disrespect, or even a deliberate display of social dominance.

My name is Michelle, I am fat, and I don’t binge eat. Binge eaters are not bad, out-of-control people – I simply don’t share that experience, despite being really fat. Assuming I do based on the way I look is stereotyping. And because stereotypes are a way of applying individual characteristics to entire groups of people, often based on appearance, they are by definition inaccurate. Because people vary.

The part of stereotyping all fat people as binge eaters that I find the most hurtful is when it comes from other fat people, or formerly fat people – because their experience of looking like me, at some point, apparently lends them the veneer of rarified insider knowledge; because fat people in our culture are such an intensely stereotyped group that, of course, it is assumed that the experience of a single fat person represents the experience of all; and because confessions of binge eating represent useful anecdata to prop up the dominant narrative of fat people as unrepentant gluttons.

(Which is not only a stereotype of fat people, but also a moral judgment of people who binge eat. Two birds, one stereotype.)

Let me make this very clear – I am not hurt when a fat person or formerly fat person discloses that they do or did binge eat. Not only is binge eating morally neutral, but a person sharing their personal experience is not about me.

But when they make it about me by promoting the idea that, because they did it, every other person of a particular weight must be doing it too – then I am hurt.

So let’s talk a bit about binge eating, what it is and what it isn’t. (Caveat: I am not an expert on binge eating or eating disorders by any means, more of an interested observer who has done some reading, since it is closely related to the work I do.)

What it’s not:

  • Binge eating isn’t accidentally or even deliberately overeating (which is something people of all sizes do sometimes – either you don’t realize you’re full until it’s too late, or it’s Thanksgiving and you purposely eat to the point of feeling stuffed because the food is awesome.)
  • It’s not any act of eating undertaken by a fat person (though this is often the assumption.)
  • It is not even eating for emotional reasons.

What it is:

  • The American Psychiatric Association defines binge eating as a large amount eaten in a discrete period of time, while feeling out of control.
  • In an “objective binge,” the amount eaten is much larger than most people would eat within that timeframe (e.g. three large meals’ worth of eating within an hour or two), and it can become a very expensive habit.
  • Sometimes, however, a “normal” amount of food is eaten in a way that feels out of control – this is called a “subjective binge.”

And, in my experience, I have observed that:

  • Binge eating is often used to blot out or completely dissociate oneself from emotions.
  • Binge eating is sometimes a reaction to starvation, fear of food scarcity, or dieting.
  • Binge eating is often very rapid and marked by feelings of restlessness or agitation while eating.
  • Binge eating often happens in secret.
  • Feelings of pleasure from starting a binge are quickly replaced with disgust and revulsion, even while continuing to binge.

(Some of the preceeding points come from Christopher Fairburn’s excellent book, Overcoming Binge Eating.)

And despite just about everything you will read online about binge eating, Fairburn states that it’s a misconception that binge eaters are all fat –

It is a common misconception that all people with binge eating disorder are overweight. Community studies indicate that only about half are overweight (defined as having a body mass index of 27 or above…)

Note that this book was written before the BMI category cut-offs were revised downward, making a BMI of 25 or above “overweight.” It is still serves my argument that you can’t pick out a binge eater based on who looks fat, given that people with BMIs between 25 and 30 often pass for “normal.”

Bottom line – people with eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes, and you cannot make accurate assumptions about someone’s eating based on their appearance alone.

In those who are fat and who do binge eat, the cause-and-effect relationship between eating and weight may not be clear. At least one study reported that fat people who believed in negative stereotypes about obesity were more likely to binge eat after experiencing stigma – so it’s possible that the experience of being fat (and hating yourself) may sometimes cause binge eating, instead of purely the other way around. There is also the possibility that people who diet may be more vulnerable to binge eating, and guess who might do a lot of dieting? That’s right, fat people.

Another thing you might read online is that the proposed treatment for binge eating is, essentially, dieting – trying to control your food intake for the purpose of weight loss. The problem is that dieting often preceeds, and can trigger or perpetuate, binge eating.

Here’s one more thing binge eating is not:

It’s not a moral failing.

Binge eating can be many things – an impulse control problem among people who have other issues (like addictions, or certain psychiatric diagnoses), a compulsive response to intense anxiety and/or depression, or a reaction against food scarcity. But no matter its origins, it is disordered eating, not greed, gluttony, or lust. Not a character defect. Not a sin.

It’s painful and it’s a really difficult thing to go through, and it deserves treatment. No one sits down and rationally decides that they want to have an eating disorder. Binge eating is not willful disobedience against the cultural mandate to eat as little as possible at all times. It is often a side-effect of trying to do exactly that.

Caffeine and talking waaaaaay too much in comments.







106 responses to “Fat people and binge eating.”

  1. Nomie Avatar

    Good post.

    And as someone who has struggled with binge eating, I have found it makes it harder to have that taken seriously – if you disclose it to a health professional, or to someone you thought you could trust, and they just shrug because of course you do, you’re fat, big deal? Well. Doesn’t exactly make you think it must be a real problem, does it? It took me years and years to identify what I was doing as part of a fucked-up pattern of disordered eating, and I still haven’t entirely gotten past it and I haven’t ever sought help, because all fat people binge eat, and therefore it must not be that bad. Except it feels that bad in my head.

    Wow, that’s a lot of feelings for a Friday morning.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      That is a lot of feelings for a Friday, but I can sympathize. Binge eating is miserable and I wish it were treated seriously instead of as a “Well, just go on a diet, fatty!” kind of issue. That is totally not how it deserves to be addressed.

      1. Allan Avatar

        As a larger man I’ve found as you seemed to suggest Michelle a lot of binging is down to psychological issues rather than lifestyle. ie If I’m depressed I’m more likely to try to compensate by binging or overeating to cope than if it’s a normal day

        People assume all weight problems can be fixed by proper diet, which doesn’t account for those who suffer various issues such as thyroid dysfunction, or even asthma which can lead to being overweight, not necessarily directly but steroid based inhalers are still used in some places for asthma control which can lead to weight gain, thyroid dysfunction can throw a lot of things out of whack, including according to some sources causing depression, throwing the metabolism out of whack. When the cause is dealt with then you can worry about handling the symptom in this case.

  2. BJ Avatar



    Thank you.

  3. Sidhuriel Avatar

    This I reckognize so much. I have been diagnosed with binge eating disorder while I was in treatment for other issues, just BECAUSE I am fat. And yes, I have a habit of overeating which in my case caused my fat. I however, do not binge. I DO comfort eat. People, even doctors, don’t know the difference.

    And then all they do about it, is put me on a diet while I am in treatment. Applauded when I lose weight, shunned if I don’t. Every bite I eat is being watched and has to be approved. When I get out again, ofcourse the problem didn’t change. Because nobody helped me understand why I do what I do and break the psychological need for it. All people focus solely on the physical.

    Then when I gain weight again, the nagging starts from my parents and doctors. Telling me I have no discipline, that I look better thin, etc.. Which IS the reason I feel they way I do and eat the way I do, I feel ugly, eat a cake, then feel worse and because it doesn’t matter grab another one.

    And if I get angry for me being treated like that, I am the ”patient” that lacks insight in herself.. *sigh*

    I have a long way to go to loving myself still..

    1. Michelle Avatar

      It’s really frustrating. Sometimes I feel like professionals are more concerned with treating what people look like than treating their actual underlying problems with eating. Because, you know, it’s way more important that your body fit the cultural ideal than that you actually live a healthy, good-quality life. So much less distressing to those who have to look at you! /sarcasm

      1. Faye Avatar

        I’ve found this to be a common theme with psychiatric treatment in general. I was in hospital for depression and anorexia for a while and the focus was almost entirely on getting people looking like they were doing normal things. The staff were quite open about the fact that they weren’t bothered about how we felt as much as they were bothered about us being ‘functioning’ people. It’s not exactly the same but I think it reflects a trend of caring about what other people can see rather than what patients really feel. Luckily for me I found my anorexia wasn’t treated as something that could be cured just through weight gain, though I think this is very unusual, as my psychiatrist pointed out. Anorexia is usually given the same treatment as obesity: you’ll be fine once you look normal.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          You’re right – the weight gain requirement for being considered “recovered” from AN is sometimes considered the be-all, end-all of recovery. When obviously it’s absolutely not. It drives me up the wall.

          1. Allan Avatar

            This is the typical response of the psychiatric community, mask the condition instead of treating it correctly. I’m constantly raging around here due to people with mental illness not getting the proper support and treatment, just drugged to hide the problem.

            ie If you suffer an anxiety spectrum disorder you’re supposed to be put together with a support infrastructure; a case worker, support groups, etc which are there to help you learn management skills and maybe help discover the cause (and work through dealing with that) and help cope with the illness instead frequently they’re turned out with a prescription and maybe 10 minutes of instruction on basic breathing exercises.

    2. Lea Avatar

      Got treatment centers… I was treated for bulimia, or sent there for this, and put on a 1600 calories plan to lose weight. Thanks. Afterwards I found a dietician specialized in eating disorders. She put me on a 1300-1400 calorie plan. I didn’t go back.

      Now I’m still struggling. On my own. Still a lot of eating disordered thoughts, still trying to lose weight and not being able to accept myself, but less f*d up than when other people put my on plans or gave me weird rules.

  4. E Avatar

    You touched on one of the things that MAKES ME SO MAD about cultural/medical attitudes towards binge eating disorder, and that is that the suggested treatment is DIETING! Both my nutrition and therapist worked in this way (this was at the same time I was initially learning about fat acceptance, and so I had sort of decided to give up dieting, but I wasn’t yet well-versed in being able to talk about it with doctors). The tricky thing was that they didn’t say “Well, the solution is dieting”, but the “tips” they suggested were basically dieting tips, i.e. “drink a lot of water all day”, “don’t cook a lot of food at once”, etc. In the end I ditched the “professionals” and went full-out permission and cured myself. Which is awesome, but just because I both recognized that the help I was getting was shitty, and was able to do this on my own doesn’t mean everyone can–where are the resources for people who can’t do this on their own? For people who are getting this “dieting” treatment and it’s not working but they don’t know that there’s another option? Binge eating disorder is SEVERELY misunderstood, most dangerously by medical professionals themselves.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      You’re right – the diet-y tips are often disguised in binge eating disorder treatment. And while it’s true that certain things (eating hot meals, having foods in single serving containers, etc.) can *help* to re-establish fullness signals and interrupt potential binges, behavioural tips like that are not the whole story. And when they veer into outright food restriction territory (like “drink water all day” ugh) I think they’re actually totally counterproductive.

      1. s.h. Avatar

        Maybe I am being dense, but how does “drink water all day” veer into food restriction territory? Is it because it creates a false feeling of fullness? I’m asking because I drink water all day for other reasons (tendency to dehydration which leads to migraines, and also I like drinking water), but I haven’t really heard of it as a restrictive ploy before, so I’m curious.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          Well, it’s one thing to drink water because you need it/are thirsty/whatever, but if you’re doing it specifically to avoid food, then that is food restriction. Some people try to use it as a way of filling up without food. (I’ve tried it back when I was dieting and it doesn’t really work. It just makes you have to pee a lot, so I guess it keeps you busy at least.)

          1. s.h. Avatar

            Ahhhh, ok. Makes sense. Thanks for clarifying!

    2. JMS Avatar

      Oh, my heavens.

      As a fattish person with a history of ED-NOS restriction—based on eating behaviors that got me to the point of collapsing from malnutrition, but not to a diagnosis of anorexia because I wasn’t clinically underweight—I really hear this and sympathize from the other side of the issue.

      And if I had a dollar for every doctor who basically told me, flat out, to start restricting again in the ways that almost killed me, well.

      The Academy for Eating Disorder’s critique of “childhood obesity prevention” programs includes one of the most brilliant things I think anyone has ever written about food issues:

      Weight is not a behavior and therefore not an appropriate target for behavior modification.

  5. buttercup Avatar

    I have such issues with this. I’ve been trying to figure out if I binge eat and if so why for decades. I know I have in the past. Getting past the “duh, diet, fatty!’ thing is such a great first step. Not binge eating does not equal dieting.

  6. Bronwyn Avatar

    Such a great well written post. And the comments highlight for me the important part: health professionals are often toughting this idea that all fat people are binge eaters. And it simply isn’t true. But it goes along with the idea that all fat people are emotional eaters. Were scarred as children and now feed their feelings. And are just lazy and glutonous… and the list goes on…
    I do believe there is hope, as more health professionals are realizing current treatments aren’t working. I know a lot of dietitians are working towards getting past this hump (though there is definitely a stereotype that most overweight/obese people have an eating problem/disorder by the very fact of their weight) and finding alternatives to the typical treating of the weight rather than the reason the person is seeking medical help.

  7. Jordan Avatar

    I was surprised and disappointed recently by a comment made by an uncle of mine who actually has degree through which he learned a lot about health and nutrition. My mom was talking about a neighbor of hers who walks his dog constantly, but remains fairly overweight and unhealthy looking. She thought it might have something to do with the fact that he works late hours and is an insomniac. My uncle replied, “sometimes people don’t know what they eat.” I was surprised that someone fairly well informed (and predisposed to contrarian points of view) would rely on the tired old fat-people-are-fat-because-their eating-is-out-of-control logic. I’m slightly overweight by ridiculous BMI standards (I think my BMI is 25 or 26). I’m physically active, but a big eater. I think my family has always been overly concerned that I will become fat, which I guess means my activity level will plummet and my eating will become Out of Control (insert space echo.) For that reason, I identify very much with what you’re saying here about how misconceptions and stereotypes are hurtful. My life is dynamic and interesting and mine, most importantly. It doesn’t feel good to have it reduced through the lens of someone else’s fears and misconceptions especially when people think they are being helpful. My name is not Megan! (That’s the wrong name I often get.)

  8. Katie Avatar

    I’ve been in treatment for binge eating disorder for several years, so I’m well aware of all the ways it complicates itself. Your post reminded me of the psychiatrist who first diagnosed me. She prescribed Prozac because it’s an appetite suppressant. I told her I didn’t like it, I hated the side effects, and that it didn’t help me stop bingeing. But she just adamantly adhered to her own belief that binge eating is about keeping your appetite in check. Luckily, I was able to move on to a different therapist. But I’m still appalled when I think about the power that stigma, belief, and stereotypes hold over people–even people educated enough to know better. Thanks for writing this post.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I can’t help but think all this worry about women and our supposedly BOTTOMLESS APPETITES is an artifact of very deeply-held misogyny. I’m glad you found a therapist who could help.

      1. Katie Avatar

        So true. Fat IS a feminist issue.

      2. K Avatar

        I used to feel that way about myself- that I had a bottomless appetite- for food, sex, for life itself. As if I could never get enough, never be satisfied.

        Then I realised that it is okay to want things, to take pleasure in them, to have urges and desires.

        Misogynistic and puritanical.

  9. Theresa Avatar

    Thank you so much for writing this. It’s helped me understand my own thoughts and feelings around binge eating (and the stereotype).

    Oh, and “conveniently hegemonic common sense” is my new favorite turn of phrase.

  10. Susan Avatar

    Reading this post, I realize that I binge-ate throughout childhood due to being put on strict diets starting at age seven. (Yes, seven.) I was in my thirties before a friend convinced me that 1200 kcals daily is dangerously low intake for an adult, especially an adult who weighs more than 200 pounds, because the diets I’d been on at such a young age damaged my perception of food so severely. Thankfully, I discovered HAES and ended up in a much more comfortable place, despite requiring a very restricted diet due to multiple health issues. Now, I eat what I want, when I’m hungry, and frankly, about 65% is fruit and veggies ’cause that’s how I roll. (OMFG, the moment kohlrabi becomes readily available pre-peeled, I’m going to do a happy dance in the middle of the store.)

    Though I have to say, your name metaphor made me chuckle a bit. Since high school (about 20 years ago), I’ve been called Sarah. It started because of a girl at another school (and, for a while, my tiny, middle-of-nowhere college–SAME DORM!) who looked, sounded, and acted just like me, and now it’s because I apparently look like a Sarah. I laugh and answer to it. From what I hear from time to time, she still answers to Susan because she looks like a Susan. Spooky, or funny as hell? ;)

    1. littlem Avatar

      “(OMFG, the moment kohlrabi becomes readily available pre-peeled, I’m going to do a happy dance in the middle of the store.)”

      I don’t know if they have it yet, but if you have transportation access and one in your town, you may want to check your local Trader Joe’s.

      When I found out they have pre-chopped mirepoix– celery *and* onion *and* carrots! — in little portioned-out containers? I did that precise happy dance of which you speak.

    2. lilacsigil Avatar

      I agree – I was put on constant diets at an early age and when I hit puberty I became a binge eater because I was always hungry (I grew 6 inches in a year) and if I didn’t eat all the food I’d stolen right now, it would be taken away from me. It completely messed up my ability to tell what is a normal about of food, and when I’m full. I’m very gently finding my way through HAES at the moment and it’s been incredibly helpful in learning to eat a variety of foods without either starving or binging.

  11. nsv Avatar

    I applaud this post for all the reasons mentioned above, but especially for this:
    “Binge eating is sometimes a reaction to starvation, fear of food scarcity, or dieting.”

    For much of my life I thought I had an eating disorder, when what I had was a dieting disorder. When the dieting stopped, so did most of the binge behavior. Most of my binging, in fact, happened when I was very thin – because I was on extremely calorie-restrictive diets. With the full blessings of my medical caregivers, by the way. The extreme dieting had very serious consequences for my metabolism, which I am still trying to resolve twenty years later – no help from doctors there, incidentally.

    Now I’m fat. Very fat, in fact. My relationship with food has never been better. In fact, it’s almost not a “relationship” because it’s so transparent. Although I face significant societal barriers because of my body size, I would STILL a million times rather be this way than be dieting and binging, at any size.

    1. K Avatar

      Yes, this. I thought I had a comport eating andbingeing problem since I was a child. However, my extremely weight conscious mother had me on a diet practically from birth, and put me on my first proper diet aged 13 (I wasn’t overweight).

      Recently I decided enough was enough (after dieting myself up to a much higher weight) and adopted a no diet, Health At Every Size approach. At the moment I am doing Matt Stone’s Diet Recovery, which has been useful as it has given me full permission to eat plentifully.

      It is early days yet but my comfort eatting/ bingeing seems to have slipped effortlessly away. Yes sometimes I decide to have some chocolate when I feel down, but that I-feel-dreadful-gotta-eat-some-sugary-food-right-now feeling just isn’t happening.

      I think that an emotional eating issue that disappears after giving up dieting and restricting food groups, was not really an emotional eating issue!

  12. Megan Avatar

    I have been struggling with binge eating for the past seven and a half years. I’ve never been diagnosed with binge eating disorder, but I have been in and out of counselling and thankfully I’m at the point where my bingeing is far less frequent and is more often subjective. I definitely do not fit the physical stereotype of a binge eater – at 5’8″ I’m 140-150 pounds (I rarely weigh myself), so pretty average. Instead of being stereotyped as the “fatty who needs to eat less”, I get stereotyped as the thin girl who can eat whatever she wants. I’m often surprised by how much it hurts me when someone suggests that I can eat whatever without worry, while they have to carefully monitor every bite they ingest while working out daily to maintain a figure that still remains heavier than mine.

    Your article has helped me to better understand why those comments hurt me – because these people are not interested in seeing me as a whole person. I feel like people who wish to attain my figure want to see me as either someone who works hard to look the way I do (and therefore someone who can inspire them to achieve their goal), or a lazy person who was magically blessed with good genetics (and therefore, someone to despise and transfer all their frustration with their own body on to). They have no idea how much I hate my own body, or how I criticize myself for every morsel of food that passes my lips.

    People who suffer from binge eating disorder have it really hard. We have to fight against our society’s beliefs about eating and weight to truly live in a way that is healthy, and we are often criticized a long the way for it.

  13. gwyllion Avatar

    this was a very VERY good read!
    thank you

  14. gidget commando Avatar
    gidget commando

    I can’t help but think all this worry about women and our supposedly BOTTOMLESS APPETITES is an artifact of very deeply-held misogyny.

    AMEN from the choir! I know lots of people have heard of Fat is a Feminist Issue, but not many have heard of Appetites by the late Caroline Knapp. Warning, she talks about her own struggles with anorexia, but this isn’t simply about eating issues. It’s more a philosophical look at women’s appetites, for food and anything else, and how we’re judged for wanting, period. I recommend it for more on this theme.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Ooooh, this sound great. Thanks for the link.

  15. Sue Ellen Avatar

    Ironically, I had trouble convincing anyone (other than my counsellor) that I DID binge. Or that I had any kind of eating disorder. Because I’m only a bit overweight – and apparently binge eaters are fat, and people who restrict are very skinny, so obviously I couldn’t be doing either of THOSE things. Plus, I’m 41, not 16, and everyone knows that only teenagers get eating disorders. So yeah, that made it totally okay for a GP to ask, “What kind of eating disorder are you supposed to have?” and then say, “Oh right, so it’s not a proper eating disorder where you’d need to be referred to a psychiatrist or anything.” I’m pretty sure she thought I was just dieting and occasionally overeating. Even the dietitian I saw (only twice) implied she wasn’t going to bother weighing me, as she does with other eating disorder clients, because it wasn’t necessary. And while I’m all for not weighing, the message I got there was: This Is Not A Real Eating Disorder.

    So apparently the stereotype is king, here. If you’re fat, clearly you binge. If you’re seriously underweight, you’re anorexic. If you’re ‘slim’ (and white and tanned), you’re perfect. And fit and healthy, obviously. If you’re kind of average, you do NOT have an eating disorder, no matter what behaviours you’re engaging in. Well, that’s good to know. If only I’d realised it earlier I could have saved all that money in therapy.

    As for the ‘cure’ for bingeing being dieting… ha. My bingeing mostly stopped after I stopped restricting, chucked out the scales and started eating again. For me, eating a LOT more, and without worrying about calories or anything, was the answer. Not more restriction. Insane.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      So weird how we continually, over and over and over again, on so many different levels, absolutely conflate weight with behaviours. So illogical, and yet so pervasive.

  16. Mulberry Avatar

    As a fat youngster, I used to take myself as a default case. I liked to eat, but I didn’t binge, so I figured thinner people were secretly starving themselves. I have long since learned that isn’t true, but these days it make me indignant that even grown thin people often take themselves as a default case and assume fat people binge. Some people just never learn.
    My stereotype-of-the-day (don’t take this too seriously, folks) is that dyed-in-the-wool fatties can get fat WITHOUT having to binge; everybody else is just a fatty wannabe.

  17. Tori Avatar

    The binge eating stereotype bothers me for a lot of the reasons you already mentioned, with one specific application.

    I’m a fat person with a history of disordered, restrictive eating. Certainly, I had moments where I ate a lot — but I think it would never have been classified as an objective binge (4 slices of pizza?IDK) and my issues were predominantly characterized by restriction. Even at my thinnest, when I was eating far too little to support my body through its days, I was still overweight by BMI standards.

    So when I sought help, directly or indirectly, for what I was doing and feeling, there was either: 1) the assumption that my problems had to do with binge eating and/or chronic overeating; 2) the flat-out rejection of my assertions that I was not, in fact, eating “too much,” no matter what kind of evidence I tried to provide to prove it. So when I sought help for restriction, I was recommended to… restrict more.

    Which is why this wrong assumption feels outright dangerous to me.

  18. JeSsMaNia Avatar

    That point you made at the end is one of the most irritating things.

    *Content note: more discussion of disordered eating

    I am currently dealing with what I”m pretty sure is binge eating (I experienced everything listed on the “what it is” list written here

    and I was, the other day, in such a state of despair and hopelessness and lack of control, that I conjured all my will power and went to WEBMD to see what I could do to try to fix this whole THING

    and I cannot even express the feeling of twirling into freefall, of complete and utter despair, when I read the list of “treatments” that were, as you say, mostly about how I can lose weight.
    I could FEEL the negative, horrible feelings begin to seep into my bloodstream.


    I almost cried. I can”t yet articulate why it was so confusing and depressing, I felt like I was being crushed.

    I’ve been contemplating the reasons for my (recently developed) problem for weeks now, and I know it has a lot to do with the fact that Im alone in a strange country for a year with no friends and a maddeningly sedentary job and a horrible living situation… but I also know the stresses have manifested in this particular way because i have always had serious body image issues. So WEBMD can seriously go stuff it.

    As an aside, I am not overweight, and have been having this binge eating problem for about five weeks now, and have, if anything, lost weight because each morning I dont want to eat because i feel so sick, and the feeling lasts until about 4 pm.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I am so sorry you’re dealing with this and not getting the help you need. If you’re going this alone, I would really highly recommend Fairburn’s book, linked in the post. If there is any way you can contact a therapist who understands eating disorders, I really urge you to do so.

  19. Lea Avatar

    As an “overweight” bulimic people always assumed I didn’t purge “enough” and was really a binge eater who occasionally purged a bit. Not that one is better/worse than the others but I was bulimic. Purging was emotionally much more important than binging. I didn’t binge a lot, I purged even when I had hardly eaten because it is what I did when I felt unwell.

  20. Sydney Bell Avatar

    Great post!
    I concur with much of what you are saying and I think you have done a great job of unpacking your thoughts and feelings around this issue.

    You’ve also helped me clarify/confirm that I don’t engage in binge eating behaviour. As a fat adult woman I’veoften go on the assumption that is what I *must* be doing (which is your point). Although I’ve ‘overeaten’ either on purpose or, to deal with emotional issues, I feel confident know in my knowledge that binge eating isn’t a particular issue of mine,

    Keep up the good work!


  21. Joey Avatar

    Yet another great and well written post. I’m currently being treated for bulimia though I feel my problem is closer to binge eating because I very rarely purged. Sad to hear that people are being put on diets to treat this since dieting (among other things like stress etc) is such a big trigger for binges as you said. I am lucky in my treatment; my team of doctors is having me eat regular meals, which I guess is 3 meals and 2 snacks, and not exercising for the time being. And I am reading A LOT of Geneen Roth’s work which has been super helpful. Also, blogs like yours I find tremendously encouraging and empowering. Thanks for writing this!

  22. Elizabeth Avatar

    Well, thank you for this. And thank you, especially, for not snarking on those us of fat people who *do* struggle with this. I understand the frustration of fat people who hate the assumption that they *all* binge eat and are unhealthy, but sometimes I feel judged and ridiculed for being a “Bat Fat”.

    The curious thing is that I have a friend I made while learning to not hurt myself with food, who binge eats and is still thin. And she is incredibly frustrated at being told that she’s “lucky” to be “able” to eat like that and stay thin. It’s horrible because she feels completely out of control, but no one takes it seriously. So we really do need to think about health, if that’s our thing, while leaving body size in the realm of personal preferences and genetic tendencies where it belongs.

    1. Elizabeth Avatar

      Er, that’s BAD fat. Not sure what a “bat fat” is…

    2. Michelle Avatar

      I know, there is sometimes reluctance for people to talk about this being an issue for fat people because it is such a stigmatizing, painful stereotype. But disordered eating of all kinds occurs across the weight spectrum. Some thin people binge, and some fat people starve themselves. Stereotypes are always wrong because they are trying to assign individual characteristics to an entire group of people. It’s important to talk about disordered eating in people of any weight, because it is something no one should have to suffer from in silence. Despite the weird idea that somehow bingeing is really great and fun (as long as you don’t gain weight!!!) it’s something I know people find intensely painful and scary. No one chooses to binge eat. And you’re right, if people have concerns, then the focus needs to be on health and not necessarily weight.

  23. Melissa Avatar

    I get really frustrated when thin people automatically assume that all fat people binge. Or that that if a thin person binges (like myself) they will just laugh it off and say ” oh well you have a fast metabolism, you’re lucky.”
    I went from anorexia to binge eating. Although my binges don’t get terribly high, I am obviously binging. (I have all of the symptoms you mentioned during a binge). I am trying to cut back on sugar and eat real foods for meals instead of cereal or pancakes or something like that. I can’t help but notice that a lot of anorexics who start binging after recovery eat A LOT of sweets and carb-loaded foods. We don’t eat regular meals ( I mean like not even a cheeseburger or a so called “unhealthy” meal. They will just eat like 5 bowls of cereal, bread with pb, or ice cream. Could it be that blood sugar levels play a role in binging as well as emotions? I am aware why I emotionally binge, and I consciously make the choice to eat something not filling and that will give me cravings. Because what will I have as a distraction if I am full and satisfied after a meal?

    1. Elizabeth Avatar

      I’ll take your theory that blood sugar has a role in binge-eating, and raise you something – sugar has been shown to affect the serotonin/dopamine release in some individuals. I have also struggled with binge eating (yes, I usually chose high-sugar, high-calorie foods…never once did I choose something savory or protein-based as a binge food) as well as depression for most of my life, and I started realizing when I finally went on medications to treat my depression that I was binge eating less.

      Now, I want to clarify something important here – NOT EVERYONE WHO BINGE EATS IS DEPRESSED. I’m not saying that at all, and in fact, the assumption that all of us fatties must be dealing with some underlying emotional or mental issue or else we wouldn’t be fat is deeply offensive to me. But I do believe that, in the absence of treatment or acknowledgement for my depression (as a child, I was almost not even allowed to allude to the fact that I was depressed – seriously, I can remember my parents punishing me for not “bucking up and acting happy” since my life “wasn’t that damn bad”), I was self-medicating with sugar to bump up my serotonin/dopamine release. I do still find myself engaging in binge-type behaviors, because it’s a deeply ingrained self-comforting and consolation habit that’s been very, very hard to shake, but I’m usually able to recognize that I’m doing it, and allow myself to stop.

  24. kate Avatar

    I think the perception of ED’s promoted in the media ignores the complexity of people’s (all types of peoples) relationships/feelings and emotions towards food. Food plays, and will continue to play a massive role in the human experience. It can make you feel great or terrible or simply be there to survive on. People think that only one type of person has a certain eating disorder. My sister fit the thin, bulimic stereotype of having an eating disorder and she is still working through her issues with food. But because I’m fat I’m encouraged to binge and purge. To vomit after meals. In fact it’s a joke to my family as long as she’s not around. It’s like doctors want fat people to have eating disorders. They don’t care about how you feel, but simply what one silly little (or big) number is. My sisters ED was considered dangerous and scary because she got really thin and had some other emotional issues at the time. Mine’s considered necessary.

    Me starving myself all day until dinner for most of my senior years at high school was okay, was necessary to be ‘normal’ size. Me being told by family that I was obese and not to finish what was on my plate was ‘helping’. Me stuffing my face because I was starving was gluttonous. But if my sister ate a chocolate biscuit it was no big deal. She could eat whatever she wanted because she was thin. I couldn’t because I was fat. My food was/is the subject of constant conjecture.

    Why do we do this to the one’s we love? I’m actively stopping myself. I too have begun to criticise others food. But now I stop myself, apologise profusely and walk away. Eating disorders can affect anyone. In so many different ways. To reduce them to simple stereotypes is reductive and harmful to those that aren’t included within said stereotypes.

    I adore this blog. It encourages honest discussion about food, how we eat, why we eat and what we FEEL when we do. Thanks.

    1. Kathy Avatar

      As a result of reading this blog, I’ve become more aware of when I criticize other people’s way of eating. We all have the right to eat how we want. I made a comment a couple weeks ago to my sister in law about how she eats when we were all on vacation, she reacted defensively, and I remembered some posts from this blog and never said another word all vacation.

      It’s hard sometimes not to say anything.

    2. Mich Avatar

      I went through the same. Usually just one meal a day, or sometimes every 2 days. I did this for 15 yrs starting in jr high, so I guess I was around 14 when that started. I usually had troubles walking since my legs wouldn’t respond properly, or felt like passing out, and I could never climb stairs, I’d have to stop halfway for a break.

      For the longest time I thought this was because was fat, my parents said it was so. So I thought all fat people had these problems, and they would magically disappear if I weighed less. Having read this blog and others like it, I now realize it was hypoglycemia, vitamin deficiencies. I figure I may have developed rickets, but who’s to know for sure since no one ever tested me.

      Most of the food I ate was whole wheat bread because “we don’t get enough fibre”. For several years I was constipated and had to be hospitalized a few times for this. This was combined with anorexia, so it was a horrible experience. Now I have lactose intolerance (took forever to find out), and I’m gradually recovering after 20 yrs of anorexia and dieting.

  25. Emily Avatar

    My name is Emily, I am slim and I do binge eat. No one would ever guess. Just goes to show you never know what someone is really doing underneath it all. You cannot make assumptions based on body shape and weight.

  26. eatingasapathtoyoga Avatar

    I did not care for Christopher Fairburn’s book. Quite frankly, I found it to be very triggering with his emphasis on weighing yourself regularly and counting calories, etc.

    Otherwise, great post.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Ah, sorry to hear that. I can see how some parts of it would be problematic. I did like his emphasis on regular meals and also on making the point that weight loss isn’t the goal.

  27. Kathy Avatar

    so it’s possible that the experience of being fat (and hating yourself) may sometimes cause binge eating, instead of purely the other way around.

    I’d say you hit the nail on the head Michelle, and take it a bit further, that binge eating can be a response to feeling self-hatred (whether one is fat or not). In my case I have likely binge ate but never identified it as such often in response to starvation with a little self-hatred thrown in for good measure lol.

  28. Anonymous Binger Avatar

    Great article. I’m a binge eater who isn’t fat. People don’t believe I have a binge eating problem. My fat friends are mostly not binge eaters – some eat the wrong foods, some just seem to have the wrong genes (seriously, some eat a normal diet and do lots of exercise).

    I found Fairburn’s book useful, by the way, but modified the plan a bit according to my own needs and issues.

  29. Patricia Miller Avatar
    Patricia Miller

    I’m fat because I have a slow metabolism. If I’m not moving, I’m gaining. I eat little, and mostly healthy, but I have chronic lower back pain from degenerative disc disease, so regular exercise is very difficult. I used to walk, but can’t do that anymore, don’t get far, too painful. Oh, and pain pills, they wreak your liver and kidneys, so I choose not to do that. So to the world, I look like a fat, lazy old lady. Life sucks. I’m a doer, but I can’t do much anymore. So I’m not a binge eater, but I’m sure folks think I am because I’m fat.

    Thanks for letting me vent. :-)

  30. Shauna Avatar

    I struggle with binge-eating…honest to goodness binge-eating, and you wouldn’t know it. I range from a healthy weight (below a BMI of 25) to just a little overweight (most people wouldn’t guess I’m overweight I’m assuming from skewed perspectives based on the average person being bigger these days). You REALLY can’t tell the binge-eaters just by looking at them!

  31. Susi Avatar

    I am of average weight and have dealt with binge eating my entire life. It’s a terrible feeling. I don’t gain weight from binge eating because I walk as my primary mode of transportation and run regularly, so I will never “get fat” from it. That doesn’t take the emotional toll away. Binge eaters come in all shapes and sizes. It’s sheer myth that only the obese binge and that all obese binge.

  32. Rapunzel Avatar

    I’m a binge eater, and it got 100x worse after the most recent diet I was on. In a doctor’s special weight-loss program, I was allowed 1200 calories a day, hardly any carbs, etc. etc. and I stuck with it for 3-6 months (the vagueness of the time period is because I was gradually falling off the wagon). There were plenty of rules I had to follow to achieve success, and I was utterly miserable.

    It severely impacted me mentally and emotionally, and not for the better. I lost some weight but I’ve gained half of it back already (about 10 months since I first started the ordeal). I don’t think I’ll ever be the same again. The whole diet mentality has increased my binge eating radically for one of the reasons you listed–fear of dieting. Every time I step on that scale now, and for every piece of clothing that no longer fits me (again), I know I need to do something about it [like diet] and the fear constricts in my chest and it drives me to eating. I have never been so obsessed with food in my entire life, and all because of that stupid diet.

  33. Erika Avatar

    Ok, I’m fat, and fat-phobia is evil. I know we need to fight it, and thank you for your work on that score.

    But, and I’m sorry to say this as a just trained health professional, it can also be that being overweight is a serious health risk. The two don’t need to meet in the middle, they can both be right at the same time.

    It’s important not to get like the “skeptics” in other controversies, always looking for the revisionist science, the studies that go against the grain. The consensus position in science and medicine is that obesity and overweight are major causes of death and disability. Of course it’s multifactorial, of course there are many many exceptions, but that’s true for smoking and high blood pressure too – you always have people that stay healthy despite the increased risk, and things are always complicated. That doesn’t make those things not risk-factors.

    Again this has no effect on the pure evilness of fat-phobia. And it says nothing about “fault.” The two are just not mutually exclusive.

    From the CMA Guidelines on Management of Obesity in Adults and Children:
    “Obesity should no longer be viewed as a cosmetic or body-image issue. There is compelling evidence that overweight people are at increased risk of a variety of health problems, including type 2 diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidemia, coronary artery disease, stroke, osteoarthritis and certain forms of cancers…about 1 in 10 premature deaths”

    From the UK:
    “Excess bodyweight is the sixth most important risk factor contributing to the overall burden of disease worldwide”

    Read as much as you can on the Cochrane Library, PubMed, Medline or some other health source. Look for reviews and meta-analyses, not individual studies as individual studies carry less weight. They all agree it’s multifactorial and that theres other factors involved, but it’s still a major risk.

    And we all deserve to be treated decently just the same.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Well, and that is where things get sticky. Yes, people of higher weights show demonstrably higher health risks in some areas (but not all – there is some stuff identified as an “obesity paradox” which should be taken into account. There’s also the lower mortality risk thing for people in the “overweight” BMI range.)

      The questions are:

      1) Where do those risks come from? The fat itself, or social/environmental issues that affect larger people more than thinner people?


      2) What do we do about those risks? Weight loss as an intervention has a terrible recidivism rate and brings its own risks (like disordered eating and nutritional imbalances, etc.) along with it. In my opinion, and in the opinion of lots of other people, it has failed as an intervention and likely does more harm than good in the long run.

      And that is why people focus on Health at Every Size – because we recognize that there are risks to being fatter than average, but we question the causes of, the conventional treatments for, those risks. There has been at least one randomized control trial (and you’re right, we need more research) that has shown that the health benefits of learning to do healthy behaviours even in the absence of weight loss improves health for fat women, and furthermore that the behavioural changes persist longer than they do for those who focus on weight loss.

      BTW a review of weight loss interventions was proposed for the Cochrane Review several years ago, but then never materialized. I emailed the author but never heard back. I don’t know if anything has been posted since.

  34. Erika Avatar

    But look at you trying to undermine what is so clearly a general consensus (and not just you a lot of people are doing this).

    Can you not at least take the point that the research on overweight as a health risk unto its own has a ginormous amount of good evidence that we’ll never be able to take away?

    The obesity paradox is controversial, obesity as a driver of heart failure is not, and of diabetes is not, and of fractures and falls is not. It’s just not.

    Even if the paradox turns out to be true, it’s only true for some of us, and their general work still stands. Meanwhile ALL of us deserve to be treated with respect, even those of us with heavier bodies that WILL suffer as a result of it, so what’s the point in splitting hairs about it?

    Dont you see how it can undermine the work we need to do to change hearts on fat-phobia? How it undermines our credibility? How it’s not even necessary (to show that overweight is not a health risk) in the struggle for rights?

    Honestly it’s like reading climate change denial or 9/11 truthers or Obama birthers. Look at the five against the grain studies that differ, listen to this faction of differing scientists, what about the obesity paradox? Our extra weight is shown to be dangerous for the heart, pancreas, kidneys, and bones. The fact that its complicated and there are exceptions were also things they found all over the research of tobacco in the 60s and 70s. Progressive people simply dont deal with hard won facts that way it’s not right.

    Read what I wrote again regarding your point #1, where do the risks come from. I already agree with you they come partly from social place, but everybody knows that that doesnt matter – so does every single risk factor from addictions to mental illness, to STI risks, to every disability and none of these have to be a person’s “fault.” Again, it doesnt matter if there are confounding risks and associations that go a long with being heavy. That is true for every single health risk factor that is known.

    I mean come on. Let’s gone with the real work of defending ourselves from abuse.

    1. Erika Avatar

      I didn’t say we need to do more research. This is the state of whats known as far as the Public Health Agency of Canada:
      We are not going to be able to change people’s minds about the facts. We are fighting against our oppression lets not forget that

    2. Michelle Avatar

      How dare I question general consensus. Because Lord knows that’s not how science progresses, by having its assumptions questioned. And if more people than just me are trying to do this, then perhaps that’s because it’s not actually a consensus? I am small potatoes compared to some of the scientists who are questioning this entire theory.

      I don’t think it undermines our work at all, no. Because I can separate the questions of fat and health from appearance-based oppression.

      I said earlier, in the post, that we don’t need evidence to understand the moral point that it is not okay to oppress people based on appearance.

      By trying to claim you are “on my side” by throwing me a bone about oppression while questioning the important work that has been done and is in the process of being done still by actual researchers, you are concern trolling.

      The health arguments are used to oppress people. Not all the answers are known about fat and health risk, and what causes what. If you are not interested in investigating those issues any further, good for you. Go do your own activism elsewhere, and stop asking me to toe the line and uphold the status quo on my site when I am still very interested in asking questions about those issues.

      1. Erika Avatar

        I dont appreciate being called names. Question assumptions if you want but that doesnt mean I have to. I dont have to question the effects of smoking and asbestos, or question climate change.

        If the studies were getting started in the year 2012 it would totally be a different story but its at least time to take the research seriously, and there is a lot of it. I do agree the health arguments are being used by a lot of people as a weapon. That makes me want to separate the two.

        If you want to say the health people have misunderstood, go for it, what I want to say is the health argument doesnt matter in anti-oppression.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          You’re done. I’ve already said what you are saying multiple times. I do not believe you are commenting in good faith. Sorry if I’m wrong.

    3. Erika Avatar

      To answer your second question I think the only thing that will reduce obesity is to change the things that made us actually gain the weight in the last century- (before that obesity was very rare) – and that means change the food supply, change our work lives, our city planning, industry, everything. Our lives were forced to change very fast and that’s why many people’s bodies changed too.

      Even if im not right though, that doesnt make a very heavy weight a safe thing in general (exceptions are exceptions). What that means is that even if doctors cant make us slimmer very easily, or they dont know how, that says nothing about the risks of being overweight. The two just arent related

      1. Michelle Avatar

        They are related by whether or not weight loss is an appropriate intervention to reduce those risks. Changing the food supply and the environment might be good things in the long run (but there are always going to be risks and difficulties in doing so, and some people might end up on the losing end of the deal), and that is something I would support over individualized weight loss interventions. Which is usually what people, myself included, are referring to when we talk about weight interventions.

        If something is risky, but our current intervention for that thing does not work, then that means we try something else. Which is what people practicing HAES are doing. Which is what I’m doing here.

        This conversation is getting tedious, not least of all because I can barely moderate comments with the amount of traffic coming to my site. I’m going to ask that we end it here for now.

  35. Richard Avatar

    I love you… I am so with you on that!

  36. jessica Avatar

    Thank you so much for sharing this perspective of binge eating. I have had friends tell me that I am gluttoneous and sinning, which made it worse for me and more secretive. Dieting is a vicious cycle. I love reading your thoughts on this because it helps me believe that I am not disgusting and that these people are not real friends. I lost  50 pounds by becoming more active and am now still about 15 pounds overweight. I have been this weight for 2 years now, and my friends comments about exercise and gluttony are not making it any easier. I was happy about my weight loss, but my feelings ans self-esteem have not changed. Reading your blog is helping me understand myself and how my friends are making this harder for me. Thank you.

    “Here’s one more thing binge eating is not:

    It’s not a moral failing.

    Binge eating can be many things – an impulse control problem among people who have other issues (like addictions, or certain psychiatric diagnoses), a compulsive response to intense anxiety and/or depression, or a reaction against food scarcity. But no matter its origins, it is disordered eating, not greed, gluttony, or lust. Not a character defect. Not a sin.”

  37. James Avatar

    Just wondering, why would anybody be proud to be fat? I mean seriously, I’m a smoker and I realize that is bad. It will most likely kill me one day but at least I don’t proudly stroll into the 711 and start spouting off crap like “I gotta be me.” Yes it’s true that being fat doesn’t mean you should not qualify for basic human rights but to embrace a flaw is to ensure that it will never get fixed. Somewhat unrelated note, I lost 20 lbs in about a month with this formula “Calories in – Calories out” If the number is positive, you get fatter. Pretty simple.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Smoking is a behaviour, body weight and shape is a phenotype (or phenotypic trait.) The two are not comparable. You probably have never experienced this, but when someone has an identity that opens them up to systemic oppression, it can be very helpful psychologically and politically to embrace that identity, to reclaim it from a society that has told you you are subhuman because of it.

      Regarding calories, humans are not bomb calorimeters. There is a lot more going on with food intake and calories under the hood. Different people allocate food energy to different body tissues and processes, and people also absorb calories differently. Your statements are kind of embarrassingly tone-deaf.

  38. Celine Avatar

    I found you off of the link from the morning talk show news anchor, but since you needed your rest, I’m posting a little further down from it!

    Not only was her response OUTSTANDING and more controlled than I have ever been able to muster when someone threw the word “Fat” or “Solid” or “Thick” at me, but reading through your blog, I just needed to tell you that I officially adore you.

    You probably hear that a lot. As a lifelong foodie who despises the need to eat food, it’s nice to get some real honest perspectives, science and advice about how to handle different food issues as well as how to eat intelligently with some form of psychological ease! I’m happy to have found you, I can’t wait to see what else you have to say!

  39. Akimika Avatar

    I guess I’ve never really confronted it before even though I eat pretty normal most of the time, but occasionally I still binge eat. I’m overweight (bmi 42) but I’m also really muscular and of a healthy body fat ratio. I’m pretty monetarily well off now so I can afford to eat healthily and still enjoy my food, but that hasn’t always been the case. I was raised and lived pretty poor my whole life, so eating as much good food as you can when you get the chance is always how I’ve reacted. I’ve still never been able to come to terms with binge eating every week or two or having hollow days, though.

  40. Sue Avatar

    Your points are so true, I am a binge eater, have been for years and I don’t think anyone knows, not my even my husband of 25 years. I am slim, very active and in my 50’s and when I am not binging I am controlling my caloric intake to keep from gaining weight. :(

  41. Elyse Avatar

    I am so glad I found your blog! I went to college for Nutrition and Physiology and now I’m in University for Biology and Foods and Nutrition and I sometimes get people who think it’s weird that I’m fat, and studying nutrition. You are inspiring (and actually inspired me to make a post about being fat in my blog, which is more of a journal than a super awesome world renowned blog like yours. I linked to this blog though because it’s great and everyone should read The Fat Nutritionist.

  42. Sarah L. Avatar
    Sarah L.

    I am also overweight and not a binge eater. I hate the stereotype that we just sit around all day eating. I’m not a comfort eater either. When I’m stressed, I actually lose my appetite and can go all day without eating without even noticing. Years ago when I was sick for a long period of time, a doctor put me on a medication that caused weight gain and it’s been a battle ever since. It’s hard for people to believe I used to be 109 pounds and now I’m about 260. For some reason the only time I lose weight is when I’m pregnant, but I can knock myself out trying otherwise and it doesn’t happen. I have even gone without fast food or pop for almost two years now and have had no significant weight loss. It’s very frustrating. I had health problems for a while that made it very difficult to get up at all, which of course just sabotaged my weight even more.

    Thanks so much for your awesome post!

  43. Anna Avatar

    I found your blog via Upworthy and the video about the news anchor. A friend of mine posted the link on facebook. However, it was this post that really stood out to me. I am a big gal myself, and I have had a lot of assumptions made about me. I have seen people get fat purely from their food habits (some in my family), but I am not one of them. I eat relatively okay, I certainly don’t binge. Yet, people assume that I do. It hurts partially because I have been chubby my whole life. The other part is that I have a medical condition that keeps the pounds right where they are.

    It’s just what you said. They don’t know me, they just assume. I can’t just make my condition go away. I’ve been told by doctors since I was 14 that I was clinically obese. Every visit, I heard, “You’d feel better if you just lost weight.” Sure, I try. I refuse to starve myself, however. I believe everything in moderation, not getting rid of everything all together. I began to hate the doctor’s office at a young age. I got to a point where I started to emotionally eat. I admit I still do.

    It’s refreshing instead to hear someone say that it’s okay to be the way I am. It’s nice to hear that I am more than my weight, that I’m a person, too. Sometimes, all you need is to hear the voice of someone who understands you and doesn’t try to change you to fit into a mold you will never fit.

  44. JennG Avatar

    Yep, I got here from Up Worthy and boy, am I glad. This post is fabulous. Like many here I am a large woman. For years, during my most morose periods, I have joked through tears that “this just isn’t fair. I was born this way and didn’t even have the fun of binge eating to get this way!” I appreciate that I was also leaning on this horrible stereo-type against other just like me. I will be better.

    I will also follow your blog. I don’t usually read a lot of blogs, but you are saying things I need to hear. Thank you.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Aw, thanks, I appreciate that! And, wow, it’s really rare that I hear someone cop to re-evaluating their assumptions. So kudos to you. I think we all have internalized that one about binge eating being somehow fun, when it’s actually not.

  45. […] anchor takes down a viewer who bullied her for her size. She is my new hero. -The Fat Nutritionist on the stereotype that fat people are all binge eaters. -It’s been a tough week for fat kids in the media. -An absolutely epic gay wedding in a […]

  46. chelsea Faith Avatar
    chelsea Faith

    I am a naturally large person I even went through an anorexic period where i was exorcizing constantly and never made it to less than a size 12. Thats just the way im built all the women on both sides of my family are woemn of size.

    Recently i had a baby, and had gained 50 pounds by the time i gave birth but i didnt experience any health issues. When in recovery every goddamn nurse or care taker asked me if i had diabetes. I was getting really sick of it (check my charts bitch). I have always ate healthy my whole and i can swim a 500 meter race in 10 minutes I am just a bigger individual. Why do people assume I sit around and eat bonbons all day?

    I love what your doing here shining light on the truththat some people are just born this way. much love and respect

  47. selkie Avatar

    found my way to your blog recently and am realy enjoying your thoughts (and those of your readers). As someone who has struggled mightly with fat all my life – bouncing between being grossly fat to scary thin, depending on where I am at the moment – binge eating is one of my failings. One thing I note however is that some of my worst binge eating occurred when I was really skinny …. it truly is a psychological issue not one of being greedy…. and reading through the comments, kudos to you for challenging the few judgemental know it alls. After all these years, I am well aware that to maintain “thin” bottom line is I need to eat FAR less than most people – a point that a lot of those calorie in, calorie out people don’t get. How people process food is so individual that it is difficult to extrapolate at all… I HATE binging .. and yes, it makes me feel sick and nauseous and ashamed…. thank you for understanding it is far less simplistic than being a “pig”

  48. Amy Avatar

    Thanks for writing this. I eat 1600-1800 calories a day and I dealt with my binge-eating problems in therapy a long time ago. People just assume that because I am larger, I am sitting home eating cookies and ice cream every night. I don’t even keep cookies and ice cream (or chips, or any sugary/salty junk food, or even freakin’ pretzels) in my home. I eat clean, mostly veggies, mostly low-glycemic and have for years. I have PCOS and hypothyroidism and even though I work out and eat well, the weight just doesn’t come off, although my health metrics are great (blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, etc.) I appreciate someone saying what you’ve said here, it’s time someone said it.

  49. April Avatar

    Though I love listening to the CBS Radio Mystery Theater (I got it from archive.org, but apparently there’s CBSRMT.ORG also) for stories to walk to, and I’m ok with dismissing the late-70s misogyny as “just old-fashioned” — amusingly quaint (the target audience were those who grew up with OTR (old time radio) in the 40s/50s, so women almost always ended up married off or pregnant at the end — at the very least swept off her feet by any male leads) — that’s just fairy-tale stuff.
    What gets me is when anyone is fat — I understand it’s an anthology series, so they have to create new characters quickly each time. But the stereotypes they use aren’t quaint, they’re still active.
    There’s the mother of a famous actress, who just sits in a corner and stairs out the window since her husband left her, whining like a petulant child for her macaroons. (To me, it sounded like she had some developmental disorders, or perhaps a brain injury — did the leaving husband hit her or knock her down before leaving? Neurological workup, don’t just yell at her and try to “experience her pain” )
    There’s the Nephew trying to con his uncle out of money, who can’t go more than an hour without eating. Totally unrelated to the actual mystery — they just wanted to call him “fatso” a lot. (To me, sounds like he may have a sensitivity to something, like celiac, so is always eating to try to get something properly absorbed. Or his blood sugar may be irregularly dipping — I’d hope in jail that he finds an endocrinologist.)
    The intro of a diet book I read (low-carb, which doesn’t work for my depresso-brain) had a great point: In 1900, how much did we know about the movement of planets? Of chemistry, physics, geology? (he gave more exact specifics). And at that same time, how LITTLE did we know about how human bodies worked?
    So with travel technology and theoretical human rights we’re really far advanced, but with phenotypes and body-science — we’re basically in the dark ages. We worry about The Fat coming to make us unclean!**
    (Why do I still listen? I love the host’s narration, even when the stories are lame, and I just get hooked after I hear them and keep walking, so though I’ve gained weight this semester, I have to be stronger/healthier since the combo of a gaming pedometer and my MP3 means I walk X amount on my lower-activity/higher-in-person-work days, and 2X on my higher days, and I rarely have 2 days in a row of under-X-amount, when 1/2X was my normal activity level. I have to decide each day how many stairs I can handle though — they’re worth bonus points going up, but my knees hate going down them. There are almost 1400 of these stories, too.)
    **My next doc, if he says anything about my weight, I’ll ask for official permission to resume smoking and a prescription for a high dose of amphetamines AND a tapeworm, too. That would probably also lower my high cholesterol partially, since I won’t be eating (or getting to digest my own food). If they say yes, then they’re clearly too stupid/uninformed for me to work with them, since they value _appearance_ of health over anything else.

    1. Kirsten Avatar

      Love the suggestion on smoking! I’m going to file that one away mentally… next time someone suggests I should lose weight, I’ll brightly say “Yes, I was thinking of taking up smoking!”.

      As an old boyfriend of mine used to say, “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.”

    2. Tori Avatar

      … AND a tapeworm, too.

      Ooh, I like this idea!

      Um, I mean — I don’t actually like the idea of having a tapeworm. But I do like the idea of facetiously asking a doctor for one in order to convey to them what sorts of things it would take for me, at this point, to lose weight. (And maybe we could be focusing on my actual health instead, thank you!) ;)

      1. Michelle Avatar

        You can ask them for speed too. Except you run the risk of them actually prescribing it to you.

        1. Tori Avatar

          That, and I suspect I’d be even more likely to be labeled drug-seeking than I am now. (I take an opiate pain medication for a chronic pain condition. Getting to that stage was an epic battle in my medical history, and it still makes my current provider frowny and agitated to talk about it.) Worse yet, I’d put even money on me getting a script for the speed I don’t need and no script for the pain medication I do need.

          Nope, better stick with the tapeworm. ;)

          1. Allan Avatar

            Well speed is an amphetamine pure and simple. There’s any number of amphetamines prescribed for various conditions, actually I wouldn’t be surprised if some “miracle” diet pills aren’t just dexedrin (dex-amphetamine) or ritalin (methylphenidate a similar compound). Issue is it can cause high blood pressure and psychotic episodes, is fitting society’s view worth the risk?

            I will admit I do know a couple of people who lost a scary amount of weight, in one case between walking and smoking my childhood best friend’s mother went from being a size 22 down to a size 8. Definitely not recommended to anyone to try beyond the other obvious health issues. And yep their diet stank in general anyway.

            Tapeworm… Um have fun when it dies, the longest one on record came from a little boy and was either 60 feet or 60 metres, I can’t recall which it was mentioned in passing on a TV show 2 weeks ago. I do know during WWII a number of allied POWs had tapeworms, including recorded cases of 40+ feet. I believe they can live upto 8 years (don’t quote me on this one), barring medication to kill them off. There’s a slim chance infection can kill you with the tapeworms infesting your nervous system causing a condition called neurocysticercosis.

            So beyond your doctor potentially proving themselves stupid, all of the above are potentially life threatening, or at the very least can compromise quality of life. The worst part is I’m sure some doctors would think nothing off suggesting one of those options or others which are more dangerous. I’m still depressed over seeing someone get liposuction on TV early last week who really didn’t need it.

          2. Michelle Avatar

            I’m pretty sure this entire exchange was a joke, just for the record.

          3. Michelle Avatar

            Sucks, dude. Definitely go with the tapeworm.

  50. Tim Avatar

    Well I’m a binge eater. I’m not fat in fact I hover between 9-11% body fat my abs visible and separation between muscle groups. Now I can go months even a year or two but like an addiction it calls to me and I cave in. I’ll go to supermarket and buy chips and a cake I feel embrassed as I purchase the goods. As if everyone knows I’m going to go home and eat it all in 20 mins. I’m nervous and filled with anxiety on the check out line. When the items scan I push them into bags as fast as I can hoping to hide them from people judging eyes. When the bill is payed I feel happy and rush out the store. In the parking lot I rush as the excitement of the binge and the fear of someone I know might see me. At this point I’m already high I feel the endorphins rush through my head and it’s like I’m in another world
    It’s bliss…. As I get home I rush to tear open the packages and I eat 20 to 30 mins go by and it feels like 2 mins. There’s no thoughts no connection to the world…. I push the food in until Im sick then continue until I finish the product. It’s a drug and sometimes I’ll abuse it once and a while other times I’ll go on 1-3 week binges until my pants get tight and reality rears its ugly head. I’m not sure why I can’t stop this as bodybuilding the last 8 years has reduced the binging very much it’s always a monkey on my back

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Gah, I’m sorry you’re dealing with this. I’m glad it’s reduced somewhat in recent years, but yeah. I know this is a tough issue for people to conquer altogether, whether they are fat or thin. I don’t think food itself is addictive, but I think binge behaviours absolutely can be like an addiction. There’s a great website, if you’re into nerdy stuff, called Science of Eating Disorders that I’ve been reading recently. It gets a little technical, but it’s really helpful summaries of the latest research into stuff like binge eating, as well as restrictive disorders. http://www.scienceofeds.org/

      If it gets to the point where you need help, there ARE therapists and dietitians trained to deal with these issues. You can always email me if you want help searching for one.

      1. littlem Avatar

        “I don’t think food itself is addictive”

        You know, Michelle — since some of the ‘food’ manufacturers have finally admitted some of the adulterating I’ve suspected them of for some time, I’m no longer so sure.

        1. closetpuritan Avatar

          littlem, I read the article, and “adulterated” isn’t really the right word. I’m not being a pedant just for the sake of being a pedant–IMO the distinction actually is important in how we think about this. “Adulterated” implies that something is added that doesn’t belong in there–horsemeat in ground beef, or addictive drugs to make it extra addictive. The article is about them either A) rigorously testing for the exact right amount of an ingredient/combination of ingredients to find the yummiest levels, e.g. the right amount of sugar to add to marinara, while also not using too strong flavors so habituation doesn’t kick in as easily, or B) making foods with high levels of fat/saturated fat/sugar/salt. People may not realize just how much of those components are in there, but none of those ingredients are unexpected. Most people know that potato chips are high in salt and fat and also contain carbs.

          They are, obviously, doing their damnedest to manipulate us, and to influence our tastes. I think it still falls short of “addictive”, though.

          1. Michelle Avatar

            I agree with this. “Adulteration” is like contamination. Using food science to figure out the precise texture and amount of salt/fat/sugar that will encourage people to eat more is not the same thing. Manipulative? Yes, you can make that argument. Not in people’s best interests? Yes, you can make that argument. However, you can also make the argument that every single cook who has ever cooked for other people has made similar calculations and decisions in their cooking. When I made kale chips recently, for example, did I not do exactly the same thing food scientists try to do when they create the perfect crunchy, greasy, salty potato chip? Pretty much. Except I used kale, so it receives the Internet Seal of Virtuous Eating Approval.

            These ingredients are well-known natural rewards that ping certain dopaminergic reward pathways in the brain – they use similar routes as drugs of addiction, but their effect on the neurons in those pathways is fundamentally different, because they induce habituation, or the lessening of the reward response, in a way that drugs do not, according to one of the reviews of food addiction research I read recently. Using them in food, even in large amounts, is not contamination. And I also have the faith in human biology to believe that people still can successfully self-regulate with these highly-palatable foods, given the right skills and context.

            However, in our current food-restriction obsessed environment, it is a lot less likely that people will be able to self-regulate with them because there is a collective restraint/disinhibition process going on with food. And I actually think a lot of these foods (super high in fat, sugar, etc.) may be a symptom of that restraint/disinhibition cycle. If such a large proportion of the population was not actively dieting, or informally trying to restrain their eating, do you think that such wildly high-calorie, high-fat, high-sugar, high-salt food would be SO PROMINENT in our diets? I kind of suspect it perhaps wouldn’t be (although there are other cultures around the world whose cuisines are high in these things, and not due to dieting, so this is just a hypothesis on my part.)

            I think food insecurity, whether self-induced or situational, makes people more pre-occupied with high-calorie food. Research backs me up on this. In US and Canadian culture, there are a lot of people basically practicing self-induced food insecurity, constantly – and then going off the wagon for a while and falling face-first into a mountain of chips and cookies that are cheap and readily available. That is disordered eating — and make no mistake, it is highly profitable for companies who do not have our best interests in mind — but it is not food being an addictive substance, and that is a crucial distinction.

            The reason why I am SO STUBBORN on this point is because…think of the implications, the far-reaching implications, of being able to label a particular food (or nutrient) as “addictive.” Think about the impact on people in treatment for eating disorders, or people with any disease that requires regular access to high-calorie foods. It is already difficult, in the hospital where I used to work, to lay hands on enough calories to feed people undergoing cancer treatment because the default hospital diet is “heart healthy” – which may be good for one population, but not so much for another. Think about the impact of how food might be regulated differently (and not in the improved ways that it needs to be regulated, in my opinion, but rather in hand-slappy, punitive, moralizing ways.) It is, in my mind, a nightmare scenario of a slippery slope that could end in outright state-sponsored orthorexia.

          2. closetpuritan Avatar

            Yeah, I was thinking about how you draw the line between what they’re doing and home cooks experimenting with variations on recipes. I think mainly what makes it seem more manipulative is the “avoid strong flavors so that habituation doesn’t happen as easily”–that isn’t what home cooks go for, I don’t think. Of course, they also have an advantage over home cooks by being able to spend so much time testing so many variations. (They also have disadvantages–freshly cooked food tends to taste better, and big corporations can’t personalize their food to an individual person or family.)

            I kinda wonder if they’re really helping themselves by avoiding strong flavors. I think it results in eating more at a sitting, but probably decreases future sales. But the combination of mindless eating and the restraint/disinhibition cycle may make the lack of strong flavor irrelevant. If you’re eating mindlessly, you may not notice as much that what you’re eating is kind of bland and boring tasting, and if you’re focused on high-calorie/high-salt food, you may care less about other flavors.

          3. Michelle Avatar

            I didn’t catch that part of the story until you mentioned it, but I agree that is manipulative and qualitatively different than what someone cooking at home would do, plus all the advantages you mention. I still can’t help but think that people eating with more attention, and less restraint/disinhibition drama would probably…I don’t know…notice that the food is not all that satisfying? And then choose to eat it accordingly? I feel like I do that to some extent. Though, back in the time when I was disordered with food and feeling weird about it, I totally felt I was out of control and that the food was evil and holding me in its clutches! Because that’s how disorder feels.

            (Warning: rant ahead.)

            One other thing – I kind of hate that I feel like I’m being forced to defend snack food, in a way. I mean, it’s food that is basically frivolous, though you could survive on it if you had to, and people with certain conditions find it a really valuable addition to the diet. But, basically, I don’t think it’s meant to be staple food for the majority of people and it probably shouldn’t be. The fact that a lot of people may be eating it out of proportion to its appropriate place in the average diet means, to me, that something is going on, and I think that something is more of a cultural effect (pressure on our time for cooking and eating, money issues, food availability issues, huge marketing budgets, and forbidden fruit syndrome, as well as restraint/disinhibition) than it is a “this food is like heroin!” effect.

            I am not trying to argue at all that these foods are AWESOME FOR EVERYONE and that people should eat more of them if they don’t want to, but they do have a place, they are not poisonous addictive drugs, and they do carry cultural value whether we like that or not, and I really think the arguments against them are getting histrionic and out of proportion, because we keep insisting that there is something sinister about the food itself (like, instead of just being a calorie dense snack food that doesn’t offer a ton of micronutrients, it’s POISON) instead of looking at the bigger picture.

            The bigger picture is that our culture is disordered about food on many, many levels, and there are structures in place to reinforce that disorder. That needs to be addressed.

            High calorie, high fat, high sugar, high salt food exists and has existed for a really long time in many different cultures. It is a fact of life, and people need the support and skills to navigate its existence, rather than, I don’t know, treating these foods like controlled substances and trying to regulate them out of existence. I live in a world where there is sugar – I need to figure out how to have a good relationship with sugar and what place it should take in my life – and there should be social supports to help with that, like making sure that staple foods are more affordable, that labour laws and housing laws and food distribution policies protect me so that I have time and energy and money and facilities to cook and eat regular foods rather than NEEDING to rely on snack foods because it’s the only thing available or the only thing I have time/energy/facilities to prepare and eat, and do something about our culturally negative and moralizing attitudes about food and eating so that people don’t become compulsive about “junk food” simply because it’s forbidden – rather than regulating sugar because it’s “addictive.”

            But that is SUPER COMPLICATED and requires revising a lot of our practices at a root level, so you know, let’s just make sugar/salt/fat a drug in our minds and solve the problem that way. There are already schools that don’t allow kids to have culturally relevant sweets in school, even for parties, or where teachers are asked to police the lunches kids bring from home. How far will this go if we are able to call certain foods officially “addictive”? And who cares about how that might affect people who are recovering from eating disorders, who need to be able to learn that all food has its place and will not kill you or make you a bad person, or people who get extra benefit from calorie-rich foods because they have high calorie needs due to inflammation or absorption problems? Or people who just want to be left alone to eat food that they like because they are adults and have a right to bodily autonomy? And who cares if that just deepens the general level of disorder and neurosis about food in our society? At least we can say we’re DOING something, obesity epidemic, think of the obese children, diabetes, fade to jibberish.

        2. Michelle Avatar

          I read this article, and it’s quite interesting, but I have to say I am still not impressed with the “addiction” argument. I think it still falls short on several points. I am hoping to write about this soon, but it is such an explosive topic that I am a little afraid to. People get very, very emotionally upset with me when I say that food is not an addictive substance, and I don’t always have the stomach to deal with that.

          1. K Avatar

            I for one would love to hear your thoughts on addictiveness of food.

            I bought into the whole “sugar addiction” thing very heavily and did Radiant Recovery for 10 years. But now I am doing Matt Stone’s Diet Recovery and finding I am just not having cravings, even at times of difficult emotions. Whoa!!! New paradigm!

          2. Michelle Avatar

            I’ve written about it a couple times in the past, and once recently, but I think I need to write about it again because the cultural narrative of food addiction seems to be getting stronger by the day lately. Anyway, here’s the more recent post: http://www.fatnutritionist.com/index.php/food-addiction-natural-rewards-and-self-fulfilling-prophecies/

            In short, I think eating disordered behaviours around food produce feelings of addiction, but it’s not coming from the food itself. Happy feelings from food come from the fact that food is a natural reward, and because it carries emotional and cultural significance, and can take on a halo of “forbidden fruit” attraction, not because it is the same thing as an addictive substance.

      2. Tetyana Avatar

        A better blog than mine is probably Dr. Gupta’s at http://www.bingeeatingbulimia.com. It is similar format to mine, except the focus is much more on binge eating (and bulimia). It is also less technical.

        Thanks for the plug Michelle!


        1. Michelle Avatar

          Thanks for the recommendation, Tetyana. I have been really loving your blog.

  51. just a girl Avatar
    just a girl

    Hello. I enjoyed your post very much. I am a binge eater, and this is the first time ever that I have seen someone say that binge eating isnt a sin or a moral failing… This may sound stupid but I’ve always kind of looked at myself as even religiously falling short for being- in my mind, a “glutton” (one of the bibles seven deadliest sins) I didnt even really realize that I was a binge eater- just fat. Im 284 pounds and I have a dedicated two hours a day that I am alone and can consume 3000 calories in that time. Not everyday, but often. Outside of that time I eat “normal” People at work often say, “I dont know why youre heavy- you never eat!” hahaha. This article was news to me that my behavior isn’t what “normal fat people do”-if that makes sence. I feel like a gigantic failure everytime I binge. I use to be in the military, I use to be a platoon leader- in charge of the physical fitness of my platoon. You would NEVER know that now… This is turning into a sad confessional! So i’ll just say that I appriciate someone saying that binging isnt a character flaw.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Wow, you’ve been through a lot, but I’m glad you’ve realized that these two things, being fat and binge eating, are in fact two distinct things. They sometimes happen together, and sometimes not. They are distinct.

      Binge eating is disordered eating, and it deserves to be addressed whether you are fat or thin (and yes, there are thin people who binge eat!), and not because it is a dirty bad habit, or because it makes you a bad person, but because it hurts you. It hurts to binge eat and feel awful afterward. It hurts to go through the pain of using food to numb out and escape emotions. It just plain hurts and it doesn’t make your life better in any way. You deserve to feel better than that.

      A good therapist who understands eating disorders will be able to help you out, but there is also a wealth of books you can start reading that look at binge eating for what it is – disordered eating – instead of as a character flaw or a sin.

      (And according to the Christian definition of gluttony, every single person who has ever enjoyed food is a glutton! No one gets to claim that binge eating is gluttony without also considering anyone who has ever put sauce or spices on food, or bought higher quality food for the taste of it, is a glutton. I reject that, so I also reject the idea that binge eating is gluttony.)