On binge eating and yin-yang energies

tw: mentions of disordered eating

I’ve struggled with binge eating behaviors for a long time, knowingly since I was in college, but likely for almost all of my life, unknowingly. I remember when I was a kid, my mom bought me a bag of sour gummy worms, and when we got home, she put it in a cabinet where I theoretically wouldn’t be able to access it. But one day when I was alone, I climbed on a chair to open the cabinet and ended up demolishing that bag after doing that multiple times throughout the day. That was way too many sour gummy worms for my stomach and body to handle, even as a kid! More recently, I’ve been aware of how I use binge eating to self soothe—as a type of unhealthy coping mechanism that in the process of doing it, causes other short- and long-term discomforts to arise. Notably, I feel like it will be very difficult for me to deepen my self-love and self-trust if I maintain this self-sabotaging pattern.

During the February silent meditation retreat here at MAPLE, I had an insight around binge eating: how for me, the existence of this tendency to binge exists in relationship with the existence of a tendency to deprive. And the way that I think about this is with yin-yang. One cannot exist without the other. The idea was on my mind because I had used yin-yang to make sense of a dynamic my friend Anna described, where she noticed her femininity emerging, seemingly out of necessity, when she entered a community where she was the only woman. There’s a feeling of energy coming forth to fill a vacuum or void. 

And when I applied this idea to my binge eating, I could see how the bingeing co-arises out of my tendency to deprive myself of food and other basic needs (at times). After a period of binge eating or a particularly intense binge eating session, I often try to compensate by limiting my diet and calorie intake in restrictive ways (such as skipping a meal) or by punishing myself with negative self-talk for anything I do that looks like my warped sense of unhealthy eating. During retreat, when I started consciously monitoring whether or not I felt full, so as to not support the part of myself that deprives, I just kept thinking of my dear friend Zan saying to me, “You need to eat!” when he noticed I was filming him trying a pizza we made instead of eating a slice myself.

I believe that in order to become a more balanced person, it’s necessary to learn how to skillfully relate to and manage both of these energies, both of these tendencies. Even if you think you are cutting one of them off, you end up just strengthening the other, which will lead to the energy of the first reappearing, perhaps in a different/seemingly unrelated context in your life, but reappearing nonetheless. And if done over and over again, that will result in the cultivation of a pattern of not facing your problems. On the other hand, in a harmonious system, I believe each energy will come up as needed in service of continually rebalancing the system and in doing so, will reveal what is needed in each situation. 


  1. Have you reflected on how the deprevations of your retreat relate to the balance of your life?

    1. Hi DTA! This is a really interesting question, and I had not reflected on it, so I appreciate you asking!

      My first reaction is to say that I didn't experience the retreat as depriving, even though it clearly was in many ways (little sleep, noble silence, no technology usage or media consumption), so that's kind of strange. I think the reason for that might be partially that I'm somewhat deprived of those things anyways, being at a monastery, but probably mostly has to do with my awareness of and consent to my being in a "retreat context." I think there's a significant difference in how you perceive something based on the context that you're in (and perhaps the context that's been forced on you). For example, people are generally fine with spending more money on dining when they travel, compared to when they're at home, because of the special context. There's a sense of if you know something is temporary, it doesn't necessarily have the same kind of lasting effect, for better or for worse.

      My second reaction is to say that the purpose for doing the retreat (and in the process, subjecting myself to those deprivations) was to practice. And the thing that that points to is intentionality. I have found that it's been really helpful for me to have experienced some extreme circumstances in my life (like going from partying in college to being totally substance-free now), and so it's nice to be trying to experience more extremes with intentionality. This is related to the idea of the Middle Way in Buddhism. Furthermore, there is a sense of detoxing from some of the patterns in my "normal" life. This is not as true now that I'm living at the monastery, but certainly when I went on retreat in the past, I would gain a perspective of how extreme my everyday life was, for instance in terms of how I spent a lot of time trying to distract myself from what is real, through excessive technology usage, unhealthy socialization, coping mechanisms including binge eating, etc.



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