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Indulgence in Excess: The Allure and Pitfalls of Bingeing

12 episodes on Netflix you watched on Sunday!

The entire series of books you read in one week!

You ate 1 full tub of ice cream in one go.

When we enjoy things, it is normal for us to indulge in them. Now a days we have started using the term ‘binge’ as a norm, we binge eat, binge drink, binge watch, binge read or binge shop… at the same time we have grown up listening to the old adage “too much of anything is good for nothing”. This highlights a growing concern that such binges may be making a light of serious psychological illnesses.

Dr. Damanjit Kaur (MD Psychiatry)

What does it mean to binge?

First reported in 1800s, binge is said to be English dialectical word for “socking a wooden vessel” such that wood expands to prevent leaks by 1854, but now we find binge as a noun and verb extended to heavy drinking bouts as if “soaking the body with alcohol”.

In 20th century, it was applied to other forms of excessive indulgence such as binge eating which eventually started to take form of illness by the name of binge eating disorder.

Nowadays binge watching (web series, or movies in a short span of time) has become a conscious indulgence and reasons could be many, either you have short time to spend on TV or you can’t wait to find out what happens next.

Why do we indulge in binge?

Most common reason is that when we enjoy any activity that means the particular act( whether eating, watching, shopping) is activating the pleasure pathway in the brain and thus releasing the dopamine neurotransmitter which leads to immediate gratification. Studies have reported that those who binge watch are more likely to have higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression.

Another reason can be that I may be a way of coping with some underlying emotional issues as a way to numb the negative emotions. Experts also started linking bingeing to lack of mindfulness.

Then comes the sociocultural drives that also play a role for e.g., binge reading in order to have better position among peer, binge watching to impart better knowledge, binge drinking could also have social reasons.

Is it harmful? If so, how excessive indulgence is harmful?

When there is repetitive pattern, or this type of behavior, it can lead to dependence/addiction, feeling of withdrawals and thus tendency to increase indulgence in that behavior. Studies have found a strong relation b/w FOMO (fear of missing out) and bingeing phenomena.

It can lead to neglect the other important aspects of one’s lives. You get involved in the particular behavior such that it may make you distracted from achieving your goals or also may hinder your daily chores. Bingeing can be time consuming activity, thus decreases productivity.

It can also become a learning behavior in the form of escapism to avoid dealing with real life challenges. It can prevent personal growth and development of essential coping mechanisms.

Tips and tricks for controlling bingeing behavior:

1.      Practice mindfulness and bring awareness in the kind of activity you are engaging repetitively.

2.      Self-reflection- involves understanding of the triggers that lead to binge, it could be stress, boredom, loneliness or something else.

3.      Set realistic goals instead of trying to eliminate the behavior entirely.

4.      Create structured routine in order to create a sense of order and predictability.

5.      Build a support system to whom you should share your goals so that they can provide support and encouragement from time to time.

6.      Replace the behavior with a healthy alternative, for example instead of binge watching try incorporating exercise or relaxation therapy.

Remember this journey would need effort but its not difficult. There may involve setbacks but be soft with yourself and celebrate even small victories. with persistence, positive changes are possible.

Dr. Damanjit Kaur (MD Psychiatry)

Faith Hospital, Chandigarh

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