The Five Stages of Grief in the Recovery Process from Binge Eating

When browsing blogs on mental health on Mumsnet, I came across a blog on recoveyr form alcoholism. While there, I found a post on the five stages of grief in substance abuse. You are probably familiar with Elisabeth Küber-Ross’ five stages of grief in bereavement. These same stages apply to some extent to those recovering from an addiction:

  • Denial: people feel that they do not have a problem concerning alcohol or substances. Even if they do feel as if they might have a small problem, they believe that they have complete control over the situation and can stop drinking or doing drugs whenever they want.

  • Anger at the fact that the addict has an addiction or at the fact that they can no longer use alcohol or drugs.

  • Bargaining: the stage where people are trying to convince themselves or others that they will stop substance abuse in order to get out of trouble or to gain something.

  • Depression: sadness and hopelessness, which usually happen during the withdrawal process from alcohol or drugs.

  • Acceptance, not merely as in admitting you have a problem with alcohol or drugs. Acceptance involves actively resolving the addictioon.

I do not have an alcohol or drug problem, but I do exhibit disordered eating. I wonder to what extent these stages of grief apply to the recovery process from eating disorders, in my case mostly binge eating. Denial is certainly common in individuals with all types of disordered eating. I for one was in the stage of denial up until quite recently. This is not merely not being aware of the problem, like I was in early adolescence. Rather, from my teens on, I did realize to some extent that my eating habits weren’t normal. I remember one day buying five candy bars at once and eating them all in one go. When my classmates pointed out that this was outrageous, I shifted from lack of awareness of my eating disorder into denial.

As I said, I stayed in denial for years. I continued buying sausage rolls for lunch every single day until the end of high school, then at blindness rehab ate candy and chips everyday. I gained rougly ten pounds in those four months at blindness rehab, thereby reaching the upper limit of a healthy BMI.

It took several more years before I moved into the stage of anger. By 2008, I was convinced I would die young, and my unhealthy eating habits were one reason for this. I hated myself and my body, yet didn’t stop eating unhealthy amounts of candy. If anything changed at all, I binged more.

I don’t know how I maintained a relatively healthy weight until 2012, but I did. I did start purging in 2011, which can be seen as either a response to anger or a form of bargaining. After all, bargaining can also be seen as trying to reduce the (effects of the) addiction while not completely trying to abandon it.

I reached overweight status in 2012, then obese a few months ago. I started going to a dietician in 2012, then quit going again, went back in the fall of 2013, quit again, and recently started going again. I am still at the stage of bargaining regarding my disordered eating. When told I just need to stop buying candy, I object. Instead, I want to lessen my candy consumption, keep it under control. Yet isn’t the whole point of an addiction not the substance, but the lack of control? I know that one difference between food and alcohol or drugs is that you can’t completely abandon food, and my dietician said that getting fruit or veggies within easy reach as a substitute for candy, is unlikely to work. After all, I’m going to keep the idea that food is an easy way out of emotional stress.

6 thoughts on “The Five Stages of Grief in the Recovery Process from Binge Eating

  1. I can relate to this sadly to say. I know exactly how you feel, I live with feeling everyday. I know how hard it is. I have yet to get myself under control however this is such an inspiration. I hope you stay strong.


    1. I’m glad in a way to hear that i’m not alone. It’s never fun to struggle with binge eating, another eating disorder or substance abuse of course. Incidentally, when looking at Mumsnet’s mental health category, I came across a blog about recovery from binge eating disorder (Fighting BED) too. I am sure I had searched Google blog search for this, but never came across it before.


  2. You know I never really associated binge eating as an eating disorder, only bulimia and anorexia. I definitely have my moments where I can definitely over indulge. I always tell myself, I’ll cut back tomorrow. Thank you for showing me what I’m doing could be an issue!


    1. Well, anything done in excess can be a problem. Binge eating disorder in fact is a specific eating disorder with pretty strict criteria (the main being you eat much more than would be normal during a limited time, eg. two hours, at least twice a week). Most people who engage in overeating do not meet the criteria of binge eating disorder (I’m not sure I do), but research shows they still could have “food addiction” (ie. meet the criteria of an addiction when food is the substance of abuse). Of course as with alcohol, if you get drunk once in a while on a party, that’s not a problem. If you get drunk say several times a week, it is. Similarly, overeating is not a problem when you do it once in a while, but I for one overeat significantly (as in, a bag of candies in less than half an hour) about two to three times a week, and many people with a diagnosis of binge eating disorder do so much more often.


  3. Wow, thank you for sharing this. I went through disordered eating when I was younger (possibly learned from my mother). I think that it’s something many people experience, though of course it’s not talked about enough. I’m glad you started seeing your dietician again!


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