Binge Eating: a Self-care Bonking?

Bonking Made me Aware

Hitting a wall or bonking is a common term that most any athlete can resonate with as a feeling of sudden fatigue and loss of energy. This occurrence is caused by the depletion of glycogen stores in the liver and muscles. The body cannot maintain sufficient fuel to continue to engage in performance. Athletes are known for their ability to push themselves mentally and physically in their sport. While performing the body is amazing at how it can adapt short-term to the lack of fuel. However, can the body adapt to chronic depletion of self-care such as: nourishment, active rest, sleep and stress management?

In my practice, I have started to explore with my athletes if disordered eating specifically binge eating results from hitting a wall or bonking with self-care or self-deprivation? Along with personality characteristics seen in the high achieving athlete that make them susceptible to binge eating.

What is binge eating?

Binge eating is characterized by both of the following:

  • Eating, in a discrete period of time, an amount of food that is definitely larger than what most people would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances. With the demanding schedules of today’s athletes, there is little time left to focus on what to eat and where to obtain the food leaving athletes to consume the bulk of their fuel in a short span of time. As the athlete becomes conditioned to this the body begins to sync its responses such as hunger thus making this habitual and setting one up for the cycle of binge eating.
  • A sense of lack of control over eating during the episode or feeling that one cannot stop eating. With the athlete’s body demanding nourishment for not only basic energy needs but also recovery from strenuous training there is an increase in hunger levels creating an uncomfortable ravenous feel or an athlete’s desire for self-control setting them up for a binge.
    • It has been well studied that a malnourished individual is far more likely to have binge eating episodes than one that balances their fueling throughout the day. This may be extremely troubling for the athlete that thrives off structure and feedback of their sport yet feels they struggle controlling their own body urges.

A key component of treatment for binge eating or bonking is self-compassion.  The following combines common traits seen in athletes with the 3 principles of self-compassion by Kristin Neff and how it could be incorporated into self-care:

  1. Self-kindness vs. Self-judgment

Sport in itself feels like you are always being judged for either personal performance or win/loss. Encouraging the athlete to a place of self-kindness as they would their teammate or friend and that nothing can be done in perfection especially eating. Many times I have found that when the athlete listens to their body it is their best coach.

  1. Common humanity vs. Isolation

Struggling with being human versus the superstar athlete is common. Be able to voice that despite your body’s ability to do amazing feat it may still beg to sleep in on weekends and enjoy a cupcake (listen to it). Besides, I am sure Olympians still enjoy the occasional treat and yearn for a movie on the couch.

  1. Mindfulness vs. Over-identification.

You are a person first and foremost then an athlete. Beware of talk that identifies you only as your sport such as “I am a runner, therefore, I should eat X”. Having a meal that you feel like was not the most balanced does not make you any less of an athlete or most importantly any less of the amazing person you are!