Binge = Response to Starvation

- POSTED ON: Feb 23, 2017

No one in life gets away
with avoiding all problems.

Some problems are physical. 
Some problems are mental.
Some problems are the two combined.
If it’s my problem,
I’m the one who has to deal with it.

Defining a problem helps me understand it,
which helps give me
wisdom to know the difference
between what I can change,
and what cannot be changed.

What is a Binge?

The dictionary definition of bingeing is:

  • to be immoderately self-indulgent and unrestrained;

    to engage in excessive or uncontrolled indulgence in food or drink.

Bingeing isn’t usually because of lack of self control and weakness.  We binge because of a complex interaction of habit, brain chemistry, and external cues that signal us to eat. This interaction can be overcome, but it's harder to do and takes longer to change than most of us realize.

Current scientific research indicates that bingeing has a physical (PHYSIOLOGICAL) cause, and that mental & emotional (PSYCHOLOGICAL) problems are a RESULT of the condition, not the CAUSE of the condition.

Neuroscientists say that Bingeing is a normal response to Dieting because:  

Metabolic suppression is one of several powerful tools that the brain uses to keep the body within a certain weight range, called the set point. The range, which varies from person to person, is determined by genes and life experience. When dieters’ weight drops below it, they not only burn fewer calories but also produce more hunger-inducing hormones and find eating more rewarding.

The brain’s weight-regulation system considers your set point to be the correct weight for you, whether or not your doctor agrees. If someone starts at 120 pounds and drops to 80, her brain rightfully declares a starvation state of emergency, using every method available to get that weight back up to normal. The same thing happens to someone who starts at 300 pounds and diets down to 200.

Our brains send signals to the rest of our body that it is starving when our weight is below its Set Point range.  A person’s Set Point is determined by a person’s genes and life experience. 

Life experience involves a person’s weight history, because when a person gains and holds “excess” weight, their Set Point can rachet up, and up and up.  (A rachet is a mechanical device consisting of a toothed wheel or rack engaged with a pawl that permits it to move in only one direction.)  

However,  thus far all of the evidence shows that this is a one-way-street survival issue. While Set Points can go up with weight-gain,  they don’t go back down with weight-loss. 

Many body functions are naturally one-way as we grow, age, and experience life.  When our life experience changes our Set Point, it’s like our scars, stretch marks, wrinkles, grey hair etc. in that there is no “natural” way our bodies will revert back to the way they once were.

Weight-loss and maintenance have less to do with motivation and will-power than most people think. In fact it has far more to do with how the individual body adjusts to, and is capable of, resisting a calorie deficit. Putting less fuel in the tank of one's car will always cause the car to drive a shorter distance.  However, the human body adapts to less fuel .... meaning eating fewer calories .... by becoming more ‘efficient’ and running the same distance on less fuel than before. That is the big difference between simple physics and biology.

Is Dieting a form of STARVATION?

The dictionary definition of STARVATION is defined as “to suffer or die from lack of food”. 

To “SUFFER” is defined as “to experience something unpleasant”.  Although we might not be in any danger of dying from lack of food, most Dieting does involve “suffering… from lack of food”.  Therefore, the term “starvation” isn’t completely inaccurate, but, of course, there are a great many different degrees of suffering.

However, most Diet Guru’s, including medical doctors, say that a Dieter is not experiencing “starvation” as long as there is any excess fat left on that person’s body. Excess fat defined as: there is “less than an inch of fat to pinch”, and the body weight is near the bottom border of its 18 BMI “underweight” category. 

This is true for some people, but not ALL people.  Although all human bodies operate in a similar fashion,  there are differences in the ways that they function. The regulatory mechanisms which allow our cells to deal effectively with fluctuations in nutrient supply can vary from person to person, and there is a still a great deal that science has not yet discovered about the body’s inner workings.

Research studies involving lab rodents have demonstrated genetic differences. Certain genetically obese mice will fatten excessively regardless of how little or how much they eat. Some of them, … while dieting, … will consumed their own muscles and organs and die before all of their “excess” fat is gone.

Researcher Jean Mayer reported: “These mice will make fat out of their food under the most unlikely circumstances, even when half starved”.  If starved sufficiently, these animals can be reduced to the same weight as lean mice, but they’ll still be fatter.  They will consume the protein in their muscles and organs rather than surrender the fat in their fat cells. 

When these fat mice are starved, they do not become lean mice…, they become emaciated versions of fat mice.

In 1936 Francis Benedict reported this after fasting a strain of obese mice.  They lost 60 percent of their body fat before they died of starvation, but when they died, they still had five times as much body fat as lean mice that were allowed to eat as much as they desired.

In 1981, M.R.C. Greenwood reported that restricting the diet of an obese strain of rats known as Zucker rats from birth onward, caused those rats to grow fatter by adulthood than their littermates who were allowed to eat to their heart’s content.  These semi-starved Zucker rats had 50% less muscle mass than genetically lean rats, and 30% less muscle mass than the Zucker rats that ate as much as they wanted.  The calorie restricted rats were sacrificing their muscles and organs to make fat.

DietHobby’s BOLG CATEGORIES Research - Science contains additional articles relevant to Set Point and its relationship to weight-gain and maintenance.

If Bingeing is a natural response to Starvation,
why is it considered to be an Eating Disorder?

In the 1960s the medical profession began attributing psychological reasons, rather than physiological reasons to people who overeat to the point of obesity. 

Since that time, there has been a tendency on the part of health professionals to classify every kind of eating outside “moderate eating” as an “eating disorder”.

Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) includes a wide variety of disordered eating patterns. It's often used for people who meet many of the symptoms of anorexia or bulimia but not all. For example, a woman who meets all of the symptoms for anorexia, but still menstruates regularly -- a criteria for an anorexia diagnosis -- would be diagnosed with an “eating disorder not otherwise specified”.

Binge eating disorder (B.E.D.) first appeared in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, in 1994. Until recent times, “Binge Eating Disorder” was categorized under the umbrella term 'eating disorders not otherwise specified”, or EDNOS for short.  However, in 2013 it was added to the DSM-V as B.E.D., a specified eating disorder.

There are many reasons for this…and one of them is Financial Motivation. Unless a behavior is labeled a “disorder” or an illness, health insurance won’t pay for treatment.

You may call me cynical, but since “Binge Eating Disorder” is far more common than anorexia and bulimia, it has a much larger population base. This means MORE PATIENTS to treat with Therapy, and/or Eating Disorder programs;  MORE MONEY and more profit for that specific health industry field.

Health professionals admit that a Binge Eating Disorder is more than simply eating too much food, and that many obese patients don't have it.  However these medical “experts” still they claim that up to 5 percent of obese patients and 30 percent of patients participating in weight loss programs meet the criteria for binge eating disorder.

In May 2013 the DSM-V, added Binge Eating Disorder to its list of specified eating disorders.  All of the following must be met to meet the diagnostic criteria of B.E.D.

1.  Recurrent and persistent episodes of binge eating
2.  Binge eating episodes are associated with three (or more) of the following:

  •     Eating much more rapidly than normal
  •     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 after overeating

3.   Marked distress regarding binge eating
4.    Absence of regular compensatory behaviors (such as purging).

Think about it.

Such a diagnosis would fit almost every fat person that I’ve even known.  I’ve been super fat myself, and I’ve known many, many others.  Almost every fat person … and some of those who are not fat … experiences eating occasions where they sense that they have lost control of their eating behavior, AND have strong feelings of embarrassment and guilt after eating an unusually large amount of food when they aren’t physically hungry.

Weekends come every week, vacations and holidays come frequently, other celebrations and special events happen frequently as well.  Plus, most of us experience times of sadness, anxiety, or crisis more frequently than we like.

It is common for almost any person, whether fat or thin,  to engage in excess overeating on these occasions. It is also a very common occurrence for a fat person to “binge out” at least one time a week for months at a time.

The disgust and aversion that modern Society has for fat people pretty much guarantees that fat people will feel embarrassment and guilt because they’ve “failed” to keep from engaging in behavior that contributes to their fat condition.

It is my opinion that, despite the “conditions” that psychologists attach to the “Binge Eating Disorder”, by their proposed definition, almost everyone who engages in excessive or uncontrolled indulgence in food, which is the dictionary definition of Bingeing, could easily fall into the current medical classification of having an “eating disorder”.

I find something really wrong with this reasoning.

For those who are obese, (and normal-weight-dieting-people) bingeing is normal, and not abnormal, eating behavior.

My own experience together with my observation of the dismal long-term success rate 
of “eating disorder” treatments, … especially those that include the use of “Intuitive Eating” as a tool of recovery …  supports my belief that while Therapy is helpful to gain self-understanding of one’s behaviors, and can help one learn alternative behaviors, the underlying conditions causing obesity are not cured through that process.

I see Society’s current label of “Eating Disorder”, and suggested “Treatment”, as simply another attempt to shame fat people into believing that they should eat “normally” and that their body should be a “normal” weight.  It’s one more indoctrination to misinform fat people. It's another way to reinforce the Cultural Lie that only those who are greedy, lazy, or mentally ill are fat, and that if anyone would just “eat healthy” instead of "overeating" or "dieting", they would meet our Culture’s standards of what is a “healthy”, or a  “normal”, or even a “thin” weight.

This is a misplaced effort, because an obese body wants to maintain itself.  It doesn’t want to maintain itself as a Thin body.  It wants to stay Obese.  Bingeing is a natural physiological response to our Culture’s demand that fat people become thin. It is based upon a survival instinct that will never disappear, no matter how thin one becomes, or how much therapy one has.

Leave me a comment.

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Existing Comments:

On Feb 24, 2017 Kae wrote:
wow a lot of interesting information in this post :) I think the thing that sticks with me the most however is that indeed I believe that current labels for eating disorders are not based in reality so much as the greed of the dieting/medical industry. as you state, if it isn't labeled as a disorder (illness) then insurance companies won't pay for the treatment :(

On Feb 26, 2017 Dr. Collins wrote:
             Thanks Kimber. When judged by some "Cultural Wellness Ideal", none of us are as mentally or physically healthy as we are "supposed" to be, but in my opinion that whole "Eating Disorder" thing is really overdone. In the ARCHIVES you can find an article I did on June 13, 2014, entitled "Eating DIsorders Revisited" that gives my unvarished opinion about this. =)

On Feb 25, 2017 TexArk wrote:
You mentioned Intuitive Eating. I have read posts on one weight loss site (and you probably know the poster to whom I refer) where the "dieter" for years on end goes back to Intuitive plans specifically so she can binge and then will try Fasting plans so that she can binge in her window. So the question is, "Do we really want to give up bingeing? I think it is much better to admit that most all of us who have weight issues and have to restrict will binge on occasion. There is not a magic bullet (diet) that will automatically take care of this. I have to practice environmental control so those "trigger" foods are not readily available. I also have stronger will power at the grocery store than I do at home, so I have to enforce it there and not lie to myself. I know I will in a weak moment eat an entire bag of chips or cookies, so I choose to keep them out of the house. And, sometimes, I think, "Now I know I would not put this in my mouth if a gun were held to a loved one's head, so obviously I have the ability to abstain." Crazy I know. And as I have said earlier, as I age, I have come to terms with adjusting just how much hunger I can tolerate. So far I do better with 3 not so dense meals a day with a little relaxation allowed on the weekend. But just a little! Some days I can handle very low intake and try to be aware of that. Of course, the vanity factor is somewhat less at 70 than it was at 25. I also have a height advantage at 5' 7" over your petite height. Anyway, as we have said, there is no way around it. I have to eat less than most people do! So we just keep experimenting and reading and making it a hobby, right?

On Feb 25, 2017 Dr. Collins wrote:
             TexArk, Thanks for sharing your experience. Yes, that is the only realistic answer that I've found for ME. Most of my life I experienced Big-Time Bingeing, and nothing really seemed to help me much with that, however, during the past dozen years, it has become much less of a problem. Over the years, I did find that forbidding specific foods, and eating all foods "freely" without calorie restriction were both unworkable for ME. What I've had more success with has been allowing every possible food into my diet in limited amounts. I started EMBRACING food while also RESTRICTING it. For example I found that I could keep See's candy in my house IF I kept it in the freezer, and only took out ONLY 1 piece at a time ... after figuring it into my calorie budget, and eating it after it was completely thawed, takes about 20 minutes or more. Never thawed out more than 1 piece at a time. A second piece would take another 20 minutes to thaw, and by then the urge to eat another was replaced by something else, so I'd wind up putting that piece back in the freezer or throwing it away. Sometimes I've had the same box of See's candy in the freezer untouched for up to a year, and wound up throwing it away, to give me freezer storage room for something else. That's the kind of thing that I've trained myself to do now, and it seems to work a lot better for me. Forbidding any one food entirely is an absolute Guarantee that a Binge will soon arrive. I DO still binge in my shopping cart. I buy almost everything that takes my fancy ... but then at home, immediately store it away to taste it at a later time. Often,... when a cookie or piece of candy is within my calorie budget I will open what seemed like an enticing box of cookies or candy, and after eating one, I'll decided I don't like them enough to waste any future calories on them, and toss away the entire package uneaten. I decide that I don't even like them well enough to store them in my cupboard or freezer. I've found that, for ME, this process of "freedom" with "restriction" over a dozen years has greatly reduced the lure of a great many foods, and now my home is filled with every kind of food that I find delicious. I should write an article about this, and about the multitde of times over my lifetime that I started new diets and followed instructions to "clean out my cupboards" and throw everything that was off that diet away. Even with all of my different diet experiments, for many years, I haven't followed that instruction because it simply proved over and over to be totally useless (for ME). The MAIN thing that has HELPED ME, is that over time I became totally convinced and aware that Bingeing was ALWAYS my own choice, and that if I made the choice to do so, I did have control of my eating actions. I am always careful to follow all of those basic "mindful eating" tips about keeping things out of sight, deciding what and how much I'm going to eat and making ONLY that food in that amount before me. At this point, I follow my eating urge, BUT only the urge to have a limited amount of any specific food. For ME, the only thing that has ever worked long-term is to limit portions while recording food and counting calories. I don't eat large amounts of ANYTHING, which keeps my stomach receptors adapted to a smaller amount of food. Eating high-volume low-calorie meals just makes it is easier for me to eat high-volume high-calorie meals. This past 10 years I've done lots of experiments invovling meal "TIMING", and none of them were sustainable long enough to become habitual. I've tried fasting between meals, combined with 3-meal days, and 2-meal days, and 1-meal days; combinations of a specific meal number plus a specific snack number; even eating no meals, only snacks with various fasting times in between. Right now, I'm experimenting with a "freedom" with limitations concept to see what, and if, any type of preferred pattern emerges. SO. YES, at this point, the only way for ME is to "keep experimenting and reading and making it a hobby."

On Feb 25, 2017 Dr. Collins wrote:
             THIS was a REALLY long comment post, and I can see that I really should write an article about it. =)

On Feb 25, 2017 TexArk wrote:
You do need to write a blog post on your discoveries as an experiment of 1. I like the way you emphasized FOR ME. That is what we have to do...and not what I wish were true for me or what others tell me should be true for me. You and I are not far apart on the approach. I live less than 5 minutes from my grocery store, so I tell myself in the store that I can always come back and get whatever I want (sort of like your thawing out of the candy one at a time). My conversation with myself emphasizes that I am making all my choices. I really believe I can choose to eat whatever I want whenever I want, but of course, I am also choosing consequences. That is fine. So I really do not think I am restricting myself and I have not eliminated any foods or food groups. For now, I have chosen to not have instantly available those foods I know may cause my not so rational brain to do something it will regret. This is what I NEED to do to break a binge cycle that had started up again. Calorie counting and recording may be in my future again, but FOR ME right now that number is not as important as not bingeing.

On Feb 26, 2017 Dr. Collins wrote:
             TexArk, it sounds like you are doing exactly what you need to do for yourself. As for my Experiments of 1.... you might want to look on the right side of this page under the heading BLOG CATEGORIES, and then click on the category "Status Updates", to see some charts & pictures & writings specifically related to me and my experiments during the past 6 years. I think it's interesting to go to the Oldest Blog and work forward to watch the progression over time. I get an e-mail whenever anyone comments on ANY Blog that I've ever done, so if you do that, please don't hesitate to make comments. Our lenghty dieting relationship history makes your comments especially welcome.

On Mar 25, 2017 herbsgirl wrote:
Hi In the last year I've come upon the books and / work of Larry Fats Goldberg. He lost 175 lbs and maintained his loss for 40 years. Now that is amazing! His way of eating is one I've started adopting a similar plan. He had a large "Controlled Cheating" eating day One time per week. The other six days he ate lower calorie strict diet. Now these Controlled Cheating days he ate a lot of calories, up to 5000 or more. Then he would go directly back to his strict eating plan. For maintenance, he ate Controlled Cheating days 2 x a week , and even every 3 days at one time. I've started doing a similar plan. I allow myself occasional days of almost complete freedom. This helps to keep me going. Restricting and rules with my food every single day does not feel doable long term. Another author Russell Branjord has written a Spike Diet book and his plan is very similar to Larry's He is several years into maintaining a large weight loss. He has approx 2 days of "Spike" days each week to maintain. He has a video on Facebook about the difference between a Binge and a Spike day. He says it's planned and he doesn't feel down and emotionally depressed? etc from eating like this on Spike days.

On Mar 25, 2017 Dr. Collins wrote:
             Herbsgirl, I am familiar with that eating concept. Although it isn't workable for ME personally, we are not all the same, and I'm glad you've found something that seems like it will work in a sustainable way for you.

On Dec 21, 2017 oolala53 wrote:
I guess I'd say the DESIRE to binge or overeat is a natural response to trying to keep the body at a lower setpoint than is natural for it. This would explain for me why I will often feel like eating between meals even though I don't have that empty feeling of hunger. But I'm not actually actively trying to keep to a certain weight, though I admit it's convenient to be smaller and being able to keep wearing the pants I have now does figure in a little. I just know I don't feel good physically when I give in to those desires as often as they're present, so I use tactics to counteract the urges. It's kind of paradoxical that I feel physically better when I don't just go with the whims. I don't believe the binge is inevitable. I do notice that the urges are very mild or even non=existent when I'm engaged in pleasant activities. Too bad I don't find most of housework/nest making pleasant, not to mention my work, but that's on the wane, so I can't blame it anymore. But I'm also aware that there is an element of luck that the urges aren't stronger. And I pretty much believe that people who used to be fatter and don't have to use some conscious control relatively regularly are just exceptions, and who can try to emulate that kind of exception? I don't think it's just sour grapes that I think that. So, nothing to do but keep going with my eating plan and keep looking for ways either to expand my definition of pleasant activities and/or increase the value of the result of participating in unpleasant ones and minimizing the unpleasantness. Those thinking strategies helped with eating. Basically, it's coming to the conclusion that the sacrifice is worth it. I guess this is sidestepping the critique of classification of eating disorders. I just know that it's pretty muddled, as is the treatments. But the stats on the rise of eating certain foods and the rise in obesity seem to show that the setpoints have been influenced by modern eating habits and not just in those who have dieted, though that is likely a factor as well. May I ask how this influences your own attempts to keep the weight off? The last I read about your attempts, it sounded like it was still pretty important to you to keep a body much thinner than its natural state.

On Dec 21, 2017 Dr. Collins wrote:
             Hi oolala, Thanks for sharing here with me. I'm always interested in what you have to say. *************************************************************** Setpoints might be influenced by modern foods and eating habits even in those who haven't dieted,.... but Frankly...within my lifetime I've met very few people who have NEVER dieted. My own experience, observation, and study has led me to believe that my SetPoint is still above 230 pounds, ... even though I've spent the past 25 years well below that number. ************************************************************* I, personally, find that I can be fairly successful at restricting the AMOUNTS of food that I eat. However, frequency of eating is still an issue, and even after all these years, it is still quite difficult for me to sustain any regularly timed pattern of eating. Then, whenever I restrict, or even TRY to restrict, the TYPES or KINDS of food that I eat, Bingeing still always becomes a big issue for me. ******************************************************************** Yes, Although I'm now 73 years old, going on 74, it is still quite important for me to keep my body far thinner than its natural state ........ which I believe is 230+ pounds on my 5'0" frame. Some of this is due to personal Vanity, but here in what is probably - at least - the middle area of my old-age, I have very little ability to be active. Most of the I need to use a cane when I walk, and after a day when I do more walking than normal, during the next day or two, it can be an quite an effort just to walk down my hall to the bathroom. The discomfort that I know I would experience if I had to carry around another 50 to 100 pounds is an extremely large factor in my desire to avoid regaining weight. ************************************************************** All evidence points to the fact that were I to "give up" my dieting maintenance efforts, and just eat to "hunger and fullness" as directed by my own body, I would become 50 to 100 pounds heavier within a very short time, probably between 6 months and 1 year. This past 12 years I've seen this happen to several people. In fact at this very moment, I can specifically name at least 5 people to whom this has happened ... while I watched them do it. ********************************************************* Bottom line, I feel certain that my "natural state" is 230+ pounds, and I am determined to continue making my best efforts not let my 5'0" body go there. ******************************************** Personally, I'm not a big believer in the existence of an "eating disordes" category. More and more, I become convinced that a great deal of behavior that psychologists and insurance companies label "eating disordered" is simply the body's NATURAL response to the food restriction that is necessarly involved when one diets for weight-loss.

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