Binge Trance

Last week, when I was at a gas station filling the tank, washing my windshield, checking the oil, and adding little whooshes of air to my tires, I noticed a woman in the car next to me eating a piece of pizza. And then another. And then the entire pizza. After that, she ate a box of donuts and a carton of ice cream. I wanted to walk over to her and say, "Oh, honey, tell me what's going on...." Then I remembered that when I was bingeing, I would have run down anything that stood between me and food. So I decided to preserve my life and not interrupt the Binge Trance. Still, I couldn't get her out of my mind for the rest of the day.

Bingeing used to thrill me. From the moment I decided to binge, to the hunting and gathering of the food that would be its centerpiece, through the eating (um, inhaling) of those foods, I would be heart-pounding, eyes-gleaming enthralled.

A binge had the power to stop time. To stop everything that was disturbing me: the worries, the nitty-gritty tasks I was avoiding, the arguments I was having with a friend or family member. Bingeing was a way to sidestep my life and enter a world in which nothing existed but me and food. It was, as I've called it in my books, "a plunge into oblivion."

The hardest part of bingeing was, natch, when I reached the end. The last bite would be taken, and I'd be surrounded by the evidence of my romp (which was really more like a rampage) through the grocery store: empty cans, crumpled cellophane packages, torn cardboard boxes. I'd end a binge feeling unbearably full - and incredibly empty. Only now I had added another layer of pain to my list of pre-binge worries: my seemingly out-of-control relationship to food and my ever-increasing body size. The truth was that rather than take any of my pain away, I'd just doubled it by bingeing, and the resulting desperation was almost unbearable.

Having paid close attention to my many binges, and having been asked countless binge questions over the years, I think I've gleaned some wisdom that's worth sharing.

First, we all need to have built-in plunges into oblivion. We need to give ourselves permission to check out from the frantic, overwhelming pace of our lives. If you watch small children, you'll see that they race around madly and then collapse. They put out huge amounts of energy, and then they need to rest. We're like that, too, but we've forgotten about the downtime part.

We think we can be on the run endlessly and be fine.


The rhythm of exertion needs to be followed by rest. There is a time to run around and a time to plunge into oblivion. If we don't build the latter into our lives, we suffer. Either we become utterly exhausted or we sneak a plunge on the sly, sometimes while sitting in a car at a gas station. We grab time for ourselves by bingeing, and because we don't feel we're allowed the luxury of downtime, we end up hurting ourselves.

Downtime is not a luxury; it's a necessity. The food-free version could include reading, knitting, even watching soap operas. But if you are so tired that you can't imagine doing one more thing, what you should do is simple: nothing. Even for five minutes a day. If it's too outlandish to consider resting and either doing nothing or doing what you love, then it's time to take a second look at how you've constructed a life that includes everyone but you.

I also have some advice on what you can do when you find yourself knee-deep in the Binge Trance. Try to become aware of the part of you that is separate from the activity, the part that is witnessing what you are doing and saying, "Wow, I am sitting in my car at a gas station by myself surrounded by $50 worth of pizza and donuts - I wonder what's going on?" Pay attention to that voice at least as much as you are paying attention to the next bite. Be curious about what you are doing.

And at the very least, taste the food you are eating. My experience in bingeing - whether it's on two cookies or an entire cake - is that I am so caught up in getting the food in my mouth, I forget to taste it, to enjoy it. And as long as you are eating, you might as well enjoy it. If bingeing is the only time you give yourself permission to eat your favorite foods, why let the moment pass you by without noticing the crunch of those foods? Since binges are a way to give yourself something, let yourself receive it. The positive by-product of this awareness is that compulsion and mindfulness cannot coexist. Once you become aware of what you are doing, it's harder to continue with the same momentum.

What if you finish every last bite or drop? What do you say to yourself, how do you treat yourself? I have a three-word directive for coming off a binge: Be unspeakably kind. In the empty fullness left after bingeing, the "I can't believe you did this again, what's the matter with you, you are a failure now and forevermore" voices sense a place to step in. And when they do, they roar.

Don't let them. If they threaten to overtake you, imagine them, as a therapist friend of mine says, as teeny screeching mice the size of your thumbnail. Imagine putting them in a jar and covering it with a very strong lid. Since their squawking can't hurt you now, treat yourself as if you were doing your very best. Live as if you deserve to be here, regardless of what you have just eaten. And know that every time you remind yourself that you belong here, regardless of what you weigh, you are speaking the truth.

We invite you to leave a comment below.



42 responses to “Binge Trance

  1. So bang on! What you said about mindfulness and compulsion not being able to exist in the same space is so true. Being mindful when I eat (and when I want to eat) has helped so much with not falling prey to compulsion and it’s happened without my having to “white knuckle” it, which never works for more than a couple days anyway. I forgot that having a healthy relationship with food could be this easy. But what you said about at least trying to enjoy the food in a binge is so great too. It is unspeakably kind.

  2. Dear Geneen

    I am writing from Perth, Western Australia
    Here ,Binge and Overeating, has just been recognized as a Eating disorder and funding for recovery groups has been made available through the woman health network
    I have just returned from the 3rd meeting of this 20 week group
    I have shared already many of your wisdom from the ” Woman Food and God ” book and will continue to do so.
    Tonight I shared how “powerful” the urge was on my last Bing of a family pack of vanilla ice cream alongside a tub of lemon yoghurt eaten with a plastic spoon ( you would ask : what soft,sweet thing is missing in your life ? well that is another story.) The emotion prior and during the first spoon where so “euphoric” they where more intense than : lovemaking with my husband,my son hugging me good night or the relative of a deceased patient telling me they loved the way I cared for them…

    Thank you for your article ” Binge Trance: Interrupted

    I have just finished the remainder of the ice cream and yoghurt, I tasted the sweet,the cool,the soft
    I than disposed of it in the trash together with the plastic spoon and I promised myself not to buy this trigger foods again until my Eating disorder group is completed in 17 weeks.
    I will recover.I will be kind to myself when I relapse and I will be * mindful * with the foods I eat not having a * Mind full * of negative self talk .

    I would like to send my heartfelt gratitude for the inspiration you are

  3. I have been eating clean for a long time and have lost a lot of weight – I no longer binge as I eat a scheduled meal plan and feel amazing. I went to Mexico for a week and as I slowed down my life to “relax” I started binge eating- I can’t tell you how much your article spoke to me! I need to stop the negative talk and start being happy again!

  4. Once I thought that I would never binge again….after getting my eating, exercising, health and weigh in balance after a 3 month intensive. I even took a couch to 5K and did it and at 63 years old, I entered and finished two 5 K runs before the snow and COLD winter took over route. Winter has been a challenge and the binging began as soon as the holiday season began. The complexity of the emotions during this potent time was intensified as I celebrated the 1st year anniversary of my fathers death. My night time binge trances lasted for months (some nights more extreme that other nights). As a self proclaimed sugar addict, Valentines day was the last straw. A friend reminded me that I had dropped my meditation practice almost entirely. I have had time to reflect during all those days shut in by the weather….and I found that there is some thing very painful about end of day….and I now see that the sugar addiction is related to something I will call my need for adrenolin. Your words about rushing around and needing rest sparked this insight….that I only feel worthwhile/alive/worthy if i am DOING…specifically DOING FOR OTHERS. That said, I realized that this high level of activity had become a way of life and was so tied to my belief system that it was impossible to connect the dots. The still rest time of evening were excruciating as my body craved the adrenaline . So as in all of life this will continue to unfold and become more clear but for today this feels like progress and awakening! Thanks for giving witness to you food truths, giving me an outlet to express myself and patience to read along! In newness & Gratitude, A-

  5. Hi Geneen,
    I love your description of needing to treat yourself to ‘a plunge into oblivion’….so often we women are overachievers, caretakers and givers. It’s how we identify ourselves and how we are able to love ourselves. So it feels wrong to give ourselves a break, a time-out. Yet when we do, we fill our cups with something other than unneeded extra food.

    I think the key is choosing to feel deserving of a break on a very regular basis…to make it a non-negotiable need, just like brushing your teeth or taking a shower.

    And as the binge starts, to remember that it’s always composed of many steps. And at any step, even the next to last step, we can wake up and make a U-turn…and give ourselves what we really need.

    Mindfulness, self-compassion, and a bit of playing detective into what you really need in that moment.


  6. As always you cut to the core of our issues with clarity, wisdom and kindness. Thank you for your insight… it is a marvel and a wonder that you can reach so deep and give us all the guidance that we need!

  7. Geneen, I NEEDED to hear that today. I was checking my email and fantasizing about what food I was going to buy today to binge on. An entire bag of chips, whole big bag of M&Ms, etc. I read this story and it stopped me cold. I had never thought about it as a binge trance, but yes that is exactly what it is. I always justify it the same way I should for not doing it. “I deserve it. Once won’t hurt me.” Boy am I wrong. Thank you for the stoplight. It is what I needed before I crashed into traffic again.

  8. Thank you Geneen! Your timing is amazing …. Somehow I always get your messages when I most need them. I was just sitting and reflecting on a “trance” from last night, when I received the very help I needed. Seems so few understand, and I am so ashamed….but by reading your articles I can feel hope. Thanks again.

  9. Geneen, I WAS the pathetic woman in the car at the gas station last week. Afterwards, I wanted to kill someone. But I didn’t. As usual, this is a MARVELOUSLY MINDFUL MASTERPIECE from you!!! Ironically, hours before this beauty from Geneen showed up in my email, I had just written about another experience that ALMOST led me to yet ANOTHER gas station binge! I felt that overwhelming desire to kill someone again. And so this time, I did. I had to. I am now getting an overwhelming response from women who can relate, which saddens me but does not surprise me. Thank you again for crawling into our hearts to articulate what’s clogging up our soul!

  10. One time when I was gathering supplies for my binge at Wawa, a 24-hour store, I brought a large amount of Tasty-kake cupcakes, ice cream, etc to the counter. The clerk, a young man, looked at it and asked “Shall I bag it, or will you eat it here?” I started laughing so hard that I got out of my binge mood immediately. Sometimes a little humor allows you to step back and laugh instead of binge.

  11. I’m a recovered bulimic. When I used to hear those voices after bingeing, I would always say to myself, “I’ll never do this again.” Until, one time, I finally said to myself, ‘Yes, you will do this again, unless you change something.” What I changed was to stop starving myself for the next few days until I binged again. Instead, I allowed myself to have breakfast the next day rather than skipping it, and it almost magically stopped my binge/starve pattern.

    Thank you for putting all these once “shameful” things into words. It is so helpful for me to know that I wasn’t the only one doing this. And thank you for all you do to enable those still suffering to find some peace.

  12. When I realized that it is possible to binge on a single cupcake — THAT is when I decided to try to at least ENJOY the silly thing! When I forget to do this [3rd cupcake?] the negative self talk begins and I am the lowest form of humanity ever to have been created. SO — I am working toward deciding that the negative stuff is just too awful to go through — and certainly not for only a cupcake [or three.] I think it really translates to giving myself permission to have value.

  13. Geneen, this article is incredible. my first thought when you brought up the woman engaged in a full on binge trance was, “what? how dare she do that in public! it’s much better in private….” you see, i mastered hiding my bulimia/anorexia/disordered eating for 25 years. i ‘thought’ i mastered it, at least. everyone knows that i’m Weird With Food, but to me having people think i live on sauce and condiments is way better than the demonic rituals i would engage in behind closed doors…. it was my daily lover for so many years, my numbing agent. i can’t tell you how i broke its spell, in fact i had a relapse recently when i let myself go on a DIET!!! dieting is my kryptonite. nothing makes me more crazy than thinking i can’t have something…. and when i finally give it to myself, i go simply crazy and then immediately want it removed from my body…
    thank you for this article, you have helped me to unpeel another layer of truth. truthfully, if someone had busted me during a binge, i wouldn’t have cared. so you did the right thing. to each their own journey.
    love and light… d

  14. Hi Geneen, I was once upon a 20 years ago time,your book publicist and you introduced me to Arche shoes (hanks a lot!). I’ve followed your success and words of wisdom all his time (and 20 pounds liter) and am now really trying to live by your “rules”. One added thought about bingeing that I recently learned is that usually one has about 20-30 seconds to become aware of the binge and toss the food into he trash. When I think of that mid cupcakes, I can usually catch myself and throw what’s left away. Thank you again and again for all your advice and wisdom.

  15. I was talking on the phone to a friend of mine about the term “binge trance” and we both thought that the term describes very well what we have both experienced so often. She went on and on about what a good term it is and thanked me several times for telling her about it. Right before she hung up she said that she had been called a tramp before, but never a “binge tramp”. Needless to say, we have both been cracking up about this. Thank you for this Geneen.

  16. I see myself in so many of these letters. It is heart warming for each of us to realize that we are not alone on our healing journey. Thank-you Geneen for showing us the way.

  17. I don’t think I have ever read anyone perfectly encapsulate the binge like you have Geneen. The euphoria, the lost moment suspended in time, and then the deep plunge into oblivion, and despair. I love your weekly messages. They’re like a tap on the shoulder from an old friend, saying, “How are you really going? “. Thank you for your “food for thought”.

  18. I am 52 years old. I became entangled with food when I was around 14. I also became addicted to alcohol/drugs and finally got clean and sober in 1984. Once in recovery from those addictions, I immediately plunged into 10 years of Bulimia, starvation, and exercise addiction. I could go further into details with my dis-ease, which is lack of ease within my soul, however I want to focus on hope and recovery. i believe that we all lack love. We lack love of self and love of our bodies. Our body did not turn on us, we turned on ourselves. Food did not turn on us, we turned food into something that became a weapon. Today I feel free most of the time. Today I feel at ease with my soul and at ease with my body. Today there is love.

    Most of my life has been a trance in one form or anther. Staying in an altered state has always been my coping skill. I want to keep myself from me. Not so much any more. I am especially grateful to have the life I have lived to help others struggling with food addiction, binge trances, self hatred, etc. I want to teach others how to be especially kind to themselves. Than you Geneen and to all the women above that have shared. Love is what it is about.

  19. This is so great! I have rarely binged at all…would never allow it…at least with food…even though I do have emotional eating issues from time to time. What I got myself into trouble with recently was, I now recognize, another form of a binge that I’m more inclined to do: I did too much, and over a period of several weeks, and I did not take care of myself very well while at the same time I was over-taking care of many other people, and I poured myself out till there was nothing left and ended up with the worst relapse of chronic fatigue that I’ve had in years. This was about the middle of December and I’m still trying to recover. This information is going to be invaluable to help me look at what I just did which, even though it wasn’t with food, was still a bonafide binge after all. Thank you, Geneen

  20. My little screaming mice “highjacked” me into a dark food place. Filling a void with not exactly binging BUT filling myself until I am way beyond full at each meal. Sneaky clever way to try to fool the outter frenzied me. And yes, I gained back some of the weight I had lost and fear set in. Ten weeks have passed and your message of loving kindness (to myself ) in spite of myself resonates. I forget and just need to be reminded. I think I am ready to be my friend again. And, then I can work through figuring out what triggered the highjacking by those dàmn screechîng mice. Thank you.

  21. Thanks, Christine – for helping me recognize that my own inner voice is screaming “F%#* YOU!” in addition to “I DON’T CARE” when I binge. To see that my binges are an attempt at self-care and NOT selfishness or self-hatred is indeed liberating and puts a whole new spin on the reasons behind my behavior. For me, binges almost always involve “treat” foods, so the most natural motivation would naturally be self-care, NOT self-hatred or punishment, even tho it may FEEL like punishment afterwards!

  22. For me, I think it’s about truly forgiving myself for all the stupid things I’ve done in my long life and realizing I wasn’t supposed to be perfect. Bingeing is either punishing or rewarding myself for that behavior, I haven’t figured it out yet, but with your help, I’m getting there. I’m 73 and working on self-kindness. You are a gift and I thank you and love you.

    1. Pat Moore,

      Hi Pat. The many comments were all a direct hit, but something about your’s stays with me. I’ve been beating myself up for not figuring out my mindless bingeing after so many years. I’m 62, it all started when I was 12 years old. I often feel for that little girl of 12: what could’ve been so wrong that I took such a life-altering turn? I was a people pleaser, felt unloved though I was, poor communicator…but none of these things should condemn anyone to the life we’ve had. Every relationship I was ever in failed because I was more concerned about getting full of food than anything they could’ve given me. I feel sad for the wasted years. I know its my journey. It is what it is. Still sad.

  23. I wondered what being “unspeakably kind” would sound like. Then I pictured me sitting beside MYSELF in that car! And the utter compassion that you inspire came to me and I would look over at myself in the next seat and softly say, “Sometimes we need this, don’t we? Why don’t you tell me all about the pain you want to take away? What’s going on with you today? I’m here. I’ll listen. Sure, I’ll share a little bite of pizza. Now, tell me everything you’re afraid no one else can hear you say. I’ve got time I can hear you.”

    You taught me that.

  24. I have to confess that I have heard about being kind to myself and at the same time IT did not happen because I was only sprinkling myself just a little bit and inside I could feel so much anger and graving for love. Only after having read your book women food and God I could see myself “naked”. My first attempt was to run or hide and then the word kindness caught my attention. I know both bingeing but am more the controller. There is so much freedom in being kind to myself and en-joy what I am eating. I had forgotten…. I so much liked your quote in your book. It’s an active decision to live or die. Nourishing myself with self love. Food gets put into a complete different aspect. Thank you. I also want to say that I have read all the other posts with great interest.

  25. It is such a good feeling, to fantasise about a binge, butter my fav and then to get Geneen in my head. I decide I don’t need to binge, I feel so much ligjter.Thank you.x

  26. Thank you Geneen for coming into my life! Your writing is such a helpful reminder. I have borrowed your book countless times from the library (where I first found your book “Women , Food and God” – today I am going to order my OWN copy (and one to share!)- as hardly a day goes by when I dont think of you or reccommend your book. With love from Francesca

  27. It’s amazing how you are able with your words to get me out of a deep deep hole am stuck in, by making me feel that what i consider my flaw and my fault is this thing outside of me. u make me realise each time that what i feel is true. The downtime part is my guilt of taking time off and thinking about myself first for once in my life. thank you geneen, thank you.

  28. Thank you Geneen….

    My after bingeing words include five other words, “You Big Fat Ugly Pig”!!!! And yes, inhaling food without tasting is the frosting on the cake….I was not supposed to enjoy, but to stuff and fill a void that comes along with an assortment of addictions, ocd’s and depression….Take your choice….I know what to do, I understand to be aware…its a constant battle. Me vs Me….thank you!

  29. Geneen- I’m a total believer in your words and philosophy. When I read what you write or listen to you at a seminar I often feel like you’ve been living in my head for a very long time…. As much as I know what you say is true I still struggle with bingeing…. I feel like I should “gain control” of myself PRIOR to bingeing but I cannot do it. This article reminds me once again of the “why” I can’t gain control…because what I’m really trying to do is take care of myself, to GIVE myself something… I will pick up the struggle today with that in mind. Thank you. BTW, in a seminar you said that you sometimes “lay down on the floor” when you feel out of control. I’ve tried that. It works well. Please keep teaching us, Geneen…we really NEED you.

  30. Simply, Geneen at her very best! Every last truth, from conscious behavior having the power to suffocate compulsive behavior all the way to acknowledging that whatever we do at the moment–awful as it seems, especially after–it is the best we can do at the moment. Forgive and make friends with Geneen Roth!
    I love you,

  31. So- I just finished the last bites of my binge while I read this article. I’m what you call a Permiter, and I didn’t know what that was until I read your article on it. I thought that my struggle with food, weight, and quitting smoking was all of weakness. I do not want to give up these things that I enjoy. I do not want to restrict myself only to (potentially) fail. It’s within the last few days that I’ve realized my biggest fear is that I’ll lose the weight and end up still hating myself. You’re totally right, Geneen. I need to start by being gentle and reversing the hate I’ve created for myself and then move onto awareness. The funny thing is that I did this one time but fell back into the hate after I went through a divorce. It’s time for me to stop making excuses and start being good to myself. Thanks, Geneen for all you do!

  32. I like how you mention the “unspeakable kindness” after a binge…it is an excellent point. I keep kindness to self in the forefront of my mind everyday, but after a binge, it seems to be a most critical time to employ, to ALLOW gentle, soft kindness…giving myself the permission, the TRUST in self. It is a poignant place in my journey to break that solid cycle of negativity, like an icepick breaking apart a solid block of ice, forevermore disrupting another bond that was sucking the life out of me…

  33. Of all people for this woman to be witnessed by……………….Amazing. God works in mysterious ways. I have never binged like that but have had many “food frenzies”… kind of mini-binges. I honestly wonder if I wasn’t so “frugal” or conscientious of cost if I would be like going to restaurant after restaurant, etc……. When I see these morbidly obese people on talk shows I wonder “Well they must have plenty of money where that isn’t a concern.”

    I think my obsession with being as frugal as possible; (i.e $15.00 a week for food including soft drinks and eating out) counteracts my obsession with eating. I get a kick out of saving money, finding great bargains, etc. too. When I am on a cruise I use to eat like there was no tomorrow. I still go for it on cruises but knowing that I want to save room for the next meal kind of keeps it in check a little.

    One night I guess I was bored, not particularly starving and I told myself I was tired with being so “good” and delved into a bag of chocolate pretzels and ate the whole thing. I felt so guilty…….mainly because it was just pure junk and did nothing to satisfy…..I wished I had ordered a pizza instead. At least that would have been substantial and provided some nutrition and satiety…..that Ahhhhhhh feeling.

  34. I’m new to this journey and I’m trying to learn how to cope with situations instead of avoiding them by binging on food or having that extra glass of wine. When I was battling breast cancer I was so strong. I ate healthy for a year and lost 40 pounds just by taking care of myself. Me. I focused on me and getting well. I never looked better and I was so grateful to be alive. Little by little I started going back to my old bad habits of bad food, pigging out/binging. I’m losing that healthy glow and am back to hating myself. I keep canceling doctors appointments because I’m too embarrassed about the 20 pounds I’ve gained back. Avoidance. Unable to cope with the simplest of issues. I was so focused while I was going through Chemo and Radiation and would NEVER think of eating anything to damage my recovery, let alone binging.
    With the help of your books and emails, I am working on staying in the present, loving myself and being forgiving when I am out of control. I will not give up. Thank you.

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