eating disorders · food · overeating

It is Time to Retire the Phrase “Binge Watch”

I’m done using the term “binge watch.”  I didn’t “binge” on the new-to-me Buffy the Vampire Slayer podcast I found a few weeks ago.  I’m not “binging” on The Queen’s Gambit right now.  

I know many of us aren’t proud when we spend hours consuming content, but it truly isn’t the same thing.  We may be numbing out, which can be analogous, but binging is so much more than an act of self-sabotage and shame.

We would never say, “I refused to watch that whole series; I was totally anorexic about it!”  Ok, so in part we wouldn’t say it because it sounds weird, but more than that, we recognize that it is insensitive.  It makes light of a serious medical condition.  Binge eating can be serious, too.  And for the person who struggles with binging regularly, it is deeply painful.

My guess is that we are ok making light of binging because most of us unconsciously hold the belief that it’s ultimately an act in the binge eater’s control and shows their personal weakness rather than something larger.  Most people who habitually overeat believe that they are fully responsible for this behavior.  They have bought into the diet culture belief that overeating is a sign of personal weakness, not a product of their environment, personal food history, food availability and so much more.  Even if they are aware of the research pointing to these influences, people often believe that they can override them with strong enough willpower and discipline.

Binge eating, though, is a symptom of dieting culture and fatism.  People who chronically restrict their food, either in quantity or in type, are high risk for binge eating episodes.  Research suggests that even the thought of restriction, “I really shouldn’t eat cupcakes anymore,” can lead to binging episodes later.  In addition, binge eating is actually encouraged by food producers, and for a fairly large percentage of the population, we are susceptible to the cues–flavor, texture, visuals, etc.–to keep eating that bag of chips or stack of cookies until they are all gone.  However, most habitual overeaters, and most folks who are aware of them, will still put the responsibility squarely onto the laps of the eater, not diet culture and food manufacturers.

I don’t want to contribute to these assumptions anymore.  I’m not willing to make light of binge eating or to perpetuate the lie that chronic overeating is only about personal will and discipline.  No, when I sit down to re-watch all three of the Lord of the Rings movies in series next weekend, I won’t be binge watching them.  I’m just going to be enjoying my movies.

Can you help out, dear reader? What phrase can we use instead of “binge watch?”

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle science and health teacher. She can be found serially watching nostalgic, nerdy movies, picking up heavy things, and putting them down again, in Portland, Oregon. You can now read her at Progressive-Strength.com .

7 thoughts on “It is Time to Retire the Phrase “Binge Watch”

    1. Good point! How funny that I didn’t even *think* about drinking! I’m a tea-totaller, so I guess that my limited experience is showing in my writing this time!

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    2. I had the same reaction as Ainsobriety — I associate binging with someone going out on a tear with drugs and alcohol, so already associate it with addiction. I actually think it’s aptly used to describe excessive and out of control use of something (anything) all at once. I can find tv as addictive as anything else, and as such I do consciously limit my “intake” (like I won’t watch more than two episodes of a show in the same night, as a rule), but you (Marjorie) might be right that the casual use of addictive language simply to indicate over-consumption might be overstating things. I like the idea of a marathon. But I do think that bingeing seems appropriate whenever we have to have “usage” rules around something and then we break them in a way that feels out of control and compulsive.

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      1. I appreciate your perspective Tracy! It’s a bigger issue than can be sussed out in a comments section, but there’s a lot to unpack around addiction language as folks apply it to food. It sounds like we would have a lot of agreement around that. I would like to suggest, though, that if we have “‘usage’ rules” around eating, unless they are directly due to a medical condition (Celiac, etc), then it’s possible that is still an expression of diet culture, even if the person is claiming another motivation than weight loss/maintenance. The act of overconsumption suggests they are FEELING restricted, even if the rule could be totally reasonable and healthy for someone else. Going back to the post, I would love for folks to examine their assumptions around binging on food and “who’s at fault” when we eat in that out of control, compulsive manner. I’m concerned that if only talk about it as a disease like addiction, we fail to examine the larger cultural influences that are at play and are deeply influential to our behaviors.

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  1. I don’t care about the word binge; it has no associations for me. But this “consuming content” phrase makes me want to throw up. One watches movies, reads blogs, books, and articles, and conducts research (not “consumes information”–ick).

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