Food freedom

Why do I binge eat and what can I do about it?

I must have asked myself that question a million times over in my lifetime! 

Whether you consider yourself a binge eater or not, at some point in our lives we’ve all emerged from some kind of binge. Perhaps surrounded by beer bottles, sweet wrappers, or shopping bags, and asked ourselves, “What the hell happened?” How can rational, functioning adults totally lose control of their impulses?

The causes of binge eating

In simple terms, bingeing is the act of consuming an excess of something in a short amount of time, be it food, alcohol, drugs, you name it. Bingeing behaviour might be more common than you think.

For example, binge eating disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder there is.

Binge drinking — that is, knocking back four or five drinks in two hours or less — is also widespread, especially among college students.

As it turns out, binge behaviours — whether drinking, eating, or shopping — actually have similar causes. Psychologists explain that all types of bingeing are

“ways of dealing with negative emotions that are not rational or healthy.”

But when does the occasional overindulgence become a real problem? Full-fledged binge disorders are characterized by feelings of powerlessness, secrecy, shame, and social isolation.

Once someone feels a need to binge in private or schedule binges around (or instead of) work and social obligations, it’s time to ask why.

Triggers for bingeing behaviour

Psychological

A lot of the time, binge eating is simply a way to numb unhappy feelings. For example, studies show that some common risk factors for binging are anxiety, stress, and — you guessed it — depression.

Naturally, the pain and guilt that come in the aftermath of a binge can trigger stress, which can trigger another binge — not exactly a fun cycle to get caught in.

Deprivation

Depriving yourself of certain food groups or counting calories is deprivation. If you have a mindset of “I need to lose weight” this causes you to go on a diet or consciously eat less. When you are told you can’t have something, you want it even more. This is just how humans operate. When you stop yourself from enjoying your favourite foods in order to change your body then this all builds up to a binge. Think of a pendulum. If you send a pendulum one way, it HAS to swing in the other direction, that’s just the law of cause and effect. You are no different. If you go to the extreme in one direction, then you will go to the extreme in the other direction until you find balance. So when you think “What’s wrong with me, why do I keep binging?” look at WHY you binge. There WILL be a reason.

Another point I would like to add before I go onto the next one is to get to the source of WHY you want to change your body in the first place because this is what leads you to deprive and then binge. This is something I talk about often and I won’t go into detail here but most of the time it is due to pressure from society and society’s ideals.

Chemical

Sometimes people overindulge because it feels great (until regret sets in, anyway). When we eat junk food, for example, our brains release the feel-awesome neurotransmitter dopamine — and in staggering quantities.

Dopamine contributes to feelings of pleasures and satisfaction as part of the reward system,

You can imagine what happens next. Once our brains’ secrete dopamine during a binge, that feeling can become a physical addiction. We then binge more and more because we crave that same rush of chemicals.

Sociocultural

For people without a strong sense of self-confidence, the pressures of a culture that emphasizes coolness through consumption can also lead to bingeing.

“We’re always being told that you’re not worth anything if you’re not thin or if you don’t drink or if you don’t own certain things,”

“The pressure to be perfect can definitely lead to anxiety and binge-like behaviour.”

What can I do to stop bingeing?

No matter why (or how) you binge, there are plenty of treatment options available if you want to seek help.

THINK model

Try the THINK model when a binge feels suspected. For example, if an impulse like “I must eat chocolate right now” comes up, ask whether your feelings are:

  • true
  • helpful
  • inspiring
  • necessary
  • kind

Being aware of your feelings may help you understand your drive to binge. Which brings us to our next point…

Get help

If bingeing is negatively affecting your life to the point that it causes distress or financial, social, or physical harm, getting help is a great first step. When people say, it isn’t about the food, it really isn’t! I seriously thought whoever said that to me was an idiot because obviously it’s about the food, I couldn’t stop eating! But there is always something else going on. Something deeper. You need to figure this out before you can move forward.

Obviously I am going to say I can help you because I CAN. I have been a binge eater for over 20 years and I am finally free and it feels unbelievable. I want this for you too. The thing is, what you think will fix your binge eating problem, won’t. That’s why you’re still binging. What I did to beat binge eating works.  Which is why I became a coach. So if you would like help please reach out to me here.

Take a walk

I know, I know, the last thing you want to do when you’re planning a binge or if you are in the middle of one is to go on a walk! But hear me out hear…

Emotions are energy in motion and motion changes emotion. So in English, movement changes the way you feel.

I found that taking a walk when I wanted to binge helped me either change my mind about binging altogether (especially if I listened to a podcast or audiobook whilst walking) or I actually eat less during my binge.

It is proven that exercise, in general, has a protective effect against anxiety and depression, which are associated with bingeing behaviour.

Meditate

Mindfulness practices — like meditation — can decrease binge eating and emotional eating. This is because you get really present to the situation. You quiet your mind and centre yourself. You are not your thoughts your feelings or your body. When you become present to this you come from a different place and start to see things differently.

Try yoga

This is not woo-woo, folks. Yoga significantly decreased cortisol levels in the body. Cortisol is that pesky stress hormone that sometimes leads us to binge.

Stick to a schedule

People who eat three meals a day, plus two or three snacks in between, binge less frequently. Whilst I totally get that the last thing you want to do is to eat a lot of normal food the next day after a binge (that is until you binge again later anyway, even though you promised yourself you wouldn’t) this part is super important. We are more prone to binging when we are starving or deprived. No more putting off meal breaks, or trying to pretend you’re not hungry lovelies.

Learn more about bingeing

If you’re a personal development or self-help enthusiast, books can be an amazing resource for doing the inner work around bingeing behaviour. The Binge Code is a good one. Along with The Fu*k it diet – best book I’ve ever read on dieting and binging!

The bottom line

Binges can sneak up on all of us from time to time, whether it’s watching Netflix for 12 hours straight or spending a Sunday in bed scrolling through Instagram. But if bingeing is interfering with your daily life, it may be time to take additional steps and reach out for support. Send me a message, tell me what you’re struggling with – I am here to help and when you conquer this the feeling really is UNBELIEVABLY FREE.

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