Binge eating, or bingeing, is defined as an episode of uncontrollable eating. During a binge eating episode, a person consumes large amounts of food. During the time the person is eating, he or she "spaces out" and loses track of how much is being consumed, or he or she simply cannot stop eating.
That doesn't mean that everyone who pigs out sometimes has a problem with bingeing. A binge eating disorder is not diagnosed unless the person experiences frequent episodes of binge eating that lead to physical or mental health problems. During the binge, or immediately after, the person with a binge eating disorder often feels significant guilt or even self-hatred. Yet unlike people with bulimia, people who binge make no efforts to "purge" such as vomiting, misusing laxatives, or over-exercising.
Binge eating disorder usually appears during adolescence, often after the teenager has been on a very strict diet that left him or her feeling hungry and deprived.
Biological, social, and psychological factors all contribute to binge eating. Binge eaters usually eat for comfort or emotional numbing, not for sustenance.
Binge Eating and the Gastric Sleeve
If you are a binge eater, the gastric sleeve will not necessarily curb your urge to binge. The gastric sleeve makes your stomach significantly smaller so that it cannot hold as much food. It also removes the part of the stomach that causes the hunger-inducing hormone ghrelin. It makes it desirable and physically easier to eat less.
But a gastric sleeve cannot calm the emotions and stresses that lead up to binge eating. That is something you must look at yourself, preferably before the surgery.
My surgeon told me about a patient of hers who was a binge eater. The day after her gastric sleeve, the woman consumed two large pieces of chicken. The staples in her stomach stretched, leaking stomach contents into her abdomen. She required additional surgery and almost died.
If you are a binge eater as I am--or was--take some time before the surgery to replace bingeing with other coping mechanisms.
Make a List
After the surgery, you won't be able to dash home and eat a box of doughnuts because you've had a lousy day. You won't be able to go through an entire bag of pretzels because you're bored and don't have anything better to do.
So start thinking now about what your new life is going to look like when bingeing is no longer an option.
Make a list of things you can do besides binge when the going gets tough. My list looked something like this:
- Sit with my feelings. Realize that I don't have to do anything but acknowledge them.
- Read a book.
- Throw myself into my freelance writing.
- Play with my cats.
- Release emotion some other way--crying, laughing, singing, dancing.
- Keep my old "comfort foods" out of the house so they don't tempt me.
Practice Before Surgery
Two weeks before I had my gastric sleeve, my bariatric surgeon put me on a full liquid diet to shrink the stomach and the liver. A lot of people cheat during this time and use it to cram everything into their mouths but the kitchen sink. And the broccoli. It makes more sense, however, to use this time to practice your new, non-bingeing lifestyle.
Better you fall off the wagon now, when the consequences are less severe, than wait until after the surgery, binge, and cause yourself serious injury. Whatever you do, do not undergo the surgery until you are confident you can control episodes of emotional eating.
Emotional Turmoil After Surgery
There is some literature to suggest that some people who have had weight loss surgery tend to develop problems with alcohol or depression within a year after the procedure. For some of the people, one reason may be that they have lost a significant source of self-comfort and are grieving that loss.
Let's face it, it can be a big, scary world out there. After surgery, it takes you a few months to heal, so you're likely to feel sick and tired part of the time. Meanwhile, your body is changing on an almost daily basis. And to top it off, you've lost a high-ranking comfort mechanism.
If you're not as happy as most people think you should be, small wonder! During this post-surgery period, give yourself plenty of validation, love, and self-care. Allow for tears, allow for laughter, and experiment with different ways to let feelings flow through you without numbing them out.
You'll make it. I'll make it. But I will say that giving up the comfort of binge eating is one of the hardest things I've ever done.