Can't Stop Binge Eating? Here's Why
So, you’ve just stuffed your face with more food than you thought was possible to eat. You feel uncomfortably full, guilty and ashamed, and you’re asking yourself: “Why the heck did I do that?”
If this is you, you’re not alone. This behaviour is very common and binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder - more common than anorexia and bulimia combined.
This blog post will discuss what binge eating is, alongside the causes of it, which can help you understand your behaviours and what to do about them.
WHAT IS BINGE EATING?
Let's get clear about what binge eating REALLY is. Some may say they've binged when they just had a normal amount of food. Eating a cookie after dinner is not a binge.
Binge eating disorder is characterized by:
Consuming a large amount of food, very quickly (within 2 hours) and to the point of discomfort.
The amount of food is a lot more than what people will eat for a typical meal. Sometimes one binge can include what a person will normally eat in a whole day, or more.
A feeling of loss of control during the binge and that one cannot stop the binge no matter how much one tries to stop.
In addition to:
Eating alone because one is ashamed.
Feelings of guilt and depression after the binge.
Bingeing when one is not physically hungry.
Bingeing once per week for at least 3 months.
It’s also common to plan binges, almost like a ritual.
This is a very short description of binge eating disorder. However, some people may engage in an occasional binge and therefore may not identify with the disorder as they do not binge every week.
"WHY DO i BINGE eat?"
Everyone will have different reasons for their binges, but below are the most common reasons
1. Food Restriction
Food restriction leads to binge eating. Binge eating is actually a very natural biological response to food deprivation. If you’ve read my blog post about how dieting leads to weight gain, you will understand why. There is no such thing as willpower when it comes to food restriction. For most people, if you’re restricting your food intake, at some point, your physiology will take over and make you eat - a lot. Your hormones change in response to food deprivation in order to make you seek out food and survive!
2. Perceived threat of future deprivation
Maybe you’re not currently restricting yourself, but you have plans of some form of restriction. For example, maybe you’re planning on cutting out bread, so you end up eating an entire loaf or two as a farewell to bread. Just the thought of never tasting a freshly baked delicious slice of bread creates the need to eat more bread than you normally would. Your body will pick up on even the intention to restrict a food and trigger a wanting to eat as much as you can!
Imagine if someone told you “from tomorrow onwards, there will be a shortage of water!”. In response, you would try to get as much water as you possibly could. The same goes for food. If you’re telling yourself “no more bread!” you may develop a subconscious need hoard bread.
Don’t plan on restriction - it usually backfires.
3. “Good” or “bad” food labelling
What are your thoughts around food? What do you think when you see cake, chocolate, pizza, doughnuts etc.? Do you think “this food will make me fat”, “I really want chocolate, but I shouldn’t eat it”, “this food is too high in sugar/fat/calories”, “I would love to eat pizza but it’s not healthy”, “it’s bad to eat cake”, “I was doing so good today eating clean, but then I ate french fries. I messed up”.
When we label foods as “good” or “bad” and make them emotionally loaded with moral value, those foods become forbidden. Forbidden foods ironically have a magnetic pull and we want to eat them even more. Accept that food is just food, whatever it is. Labelling food as “good” or “bad” simply makes us a little crazy.
This "good/bad" mentality also triggers the "fuck it" response. It's that response you get when you've had a couple potato chips, so you go "fuck it, I've ruined my diet now, I might as well have the entire bag of chips, a cake and a bottle of coke as well".
Pizza is just pizza. Cake is just cake. Chocolate is just chocolate. No food in itself is dangerous in small amounts, it's our diet overall which has an impact on our health. When you neutralize food, it becomes less emotionally charged and you won’t have such strong thoughts (or cravings) around them.
4. It just feels good (in the moment)
Eating a lot of food, especially those high in fat and sugar, releases feel-good hormones, such as dopamine. In response to anything which feels good, your brain will try to make it into a habit. This is why you might find yourself thinking “I will NEVER eat a whole tub of ice cream again!” - only to find yourself at the bottom of a tub the next weekend. Your brain knows that eating ice cream feels good and will make you eat it again, especially if you’re restricting yourself or have “bad” thoughts about it.
What to do?
As food restriction is a predictor for binge eating, it's important to allow yourself to eat when you’re hungry (don’t wait until you’re starving) and to enjoy food regularly. Allowing yourself to feel satisfaction from food frequently, will help to reduce the intense cravings and binge eating patterns.
Let’s take the example of water again. If you allow yourself to regularly enjoy sipping water throughout the day and satisfy your thirst, you won’t end up chugging 2 litres of water in one go as a result of abstaining from water. The same goes for food. Eat when you’re hungry and enjoy it.
NOTE: This is not a quick fix which ends binge eating (although, for some people it is). People are different and some need much more individually tailored advice and support, and that's OK!
5. Emotional Binge Eating
Many people binge in response to stress, anxiety, loneliness and depression, whether they restrict food intake or not. Eating food becomes a coping mechanism when it's hard to deal with our emotions and we need to numb ourselves. Many people feel bad about emotional eating, but it’s not bad. You’re simply trying to get by when it’s too hard to face your problems. Be gentle with yourself, you're doing the best you can.
However, eating food will not solve your problems. It’s hard, but if you want to overcome your problems, you must bring them up to the surface and take action. If you struggle with emotional eating, make sure to download my free guide on “How to have a healthy relationship with food”.
If you have had or are currently struggling with binge eating or BED, do not feel ashamed about it. It’s very common to feel guilty and embarrassed for binge eating. However, when we look into why it happens, there are actually very reasonable causes that are normal. You are not flawed and you should not feel bad about your behaviour.
Hopefully, this blog post will help you to understand the mechanisms behind binge eating and guide you towards taking action to heal and recover. Too many people struggle with their eating habits without receiving help or contacting their Healthcare Professionals. In fact, about only 28% of people with BED receive treatment. Don’t wait. Don’t postpone your recovery. It could be right around the corner.