Binge eating is one of the most common complaints people come in to see me about. That’s right – it really is a lot more common that you think. And the good news is, it’s one of the issues which generally responds quite well to treatment… but more about that later. First, let’s take a closer look at what binge eating actually is, and what it’s not:
- It’s not only something that happens to people who have an eating disorder
- It’s not necessarily defined by eating the entire contents of your pantry (although for some people, this will be a pattern occurring as part of binge eating)
- It’s not a choice
- It’s not just being “greedy”
- It’s not a sign of weakness
- It is a feeling of being out of control around food at times, and being unable to stop eating
- It is often (but not always) associated with a sense of numbness or dissociation
- It is a feeling of eating significantly more food than you intended to, or wanted to eat
- It is often done in secrecy
- It is often associated with strong feelings of shame or guilt
- It is often (but not always) associated with a strong desire to look a certain way, or to lose weight
Now, I’ve said binge eating is not necessarily a sign that a person has an eating disorder, and that is true, but I’ll add in that it can very easily morph into being part of an eating disorder if left to go untreated for a long time. The high-risk time is whenever anything very stressful happens in a person’s life, which is when the binge eating behaviour may grow out of control quite quickly.
So what might cause a person to binge eat?
A clue is in the fact that it’s relatively common – this tells you that there’s something about the human body which frequently comes up with this response when put in certain conditions. Now, there may well be more than one set of conditions which predisposes a person to binge eat, but today we’re going to look at one of the most common ones: dieting.
Not what you were expecting? You’re not on a diet… you’re just trying to be “really healthy”? Or, you’re just trying to undo the effects of the food you ate during a binge session? I wonder… is it possible that all those scenarios might be playing into the same basic idea…?
The thing about dieting is:
- It sets up a bunch of rules about what you can and can’t eat
- It usually makes people feel guilty and bad if they don’t follow these rules ALL THE TIME
- It makes people think about foods as being either “good” or “bad”, introducing an emotive, judgement-laden element to the natural act of fuelling your body.
- It teaches people to ignore, or even feel unhappy, about their natural appetite signals
- Appetite signals ARE YOUR FRIENDS! Ignoring them can lead your body to send stronger signals about needing more food, or a better balance of foods
- Restraining yourself from eating foods you enjoy sets up a psychological feeling of deprivation and need. It actually makes you think about those foods more. The ones you labelled as “bad” in particular…
- Restraining yourself from adequate nutrition and energy for your body’s needs because you’re chasing a certain weight outcome can (sometimes over a period of time) set up a state of genuine physiological deprivation in your body.
Collectively, this set of items can create the perfect storm in some people, and bingeing is the outcome. The cycle looks a bit like this:
You can see how once you’re on that bandwagon, it’s really hard to jump off because it strengthens itself with every cycle. People tighten their food rules more and more each time after a binge.
And this is the main thing I’d like people to take home from this blog post: Maybe there is something about your relationship with food overall which is making you more likely to binge eat.
The good news about that, is that it means that by changing your relationship with food, you can improve this situation. Questions to ask yourself:
- Am I getting enough food for my needs?
- Am I getting the right balance of nutrients for my needs?
- Am I listening and responding to my appetite signals?
- Do I control my food intake too rigidly?
- Am I too critical of myself when it comes to food?
And above all, don’t fall into the trap of minimising what’s happening. If you notice that binge eating is impacting upon your health, your quality of life, or your happiness, then it’s time to change this situation.
Sending everyone a message of internal peace and body acceptance – there is always hope for change!