Binge Eating: 5 Reasons We Binge & What To Do About It

11 September 2020 | Written by Xenia Ayiotis

I used to feel such debilitating shame and guilt every time I binged. I believed that I had zero willpower. I believed that I was weak and that I had no control. I also believed that all I needed to do, to sort myself out was to exercise more discipline.

After a binge-eating episode, I would punish and starve myself to make up for it. The running commentary in my head was “You’re hopeless, why can’t you just stick to this eating plan – how hard can it be!”

I felt so deprived most of the time that the only way I could eat my forbidden foods was to binge on them – how else was I going to eat bread, pasta and cake?

My mother would eat one piece of baklava and leave the rest – how the hell do you do that? The idea of having one piece of cake or two squares of chocolate was so foreign to me. Every time I ate any forbidden foods I would beat the crap out of myself, repent and promise to never ever eat them again.

Most often I would binge because of deprivation. Sometimes the binge would last a few days. Normally until Monday when everything would change and I would be “good” again. I would also binge because of overwhelming emotions.

Dealing with the difficulties of being a rebellious teen at a strict girl’s school, strict Greek parents – these days were fraught with misery and despair. Of course I also experienced the odd euphoria when I was being super good and strict and following the plan. As long as I followed the plan, I would be thin and have a body size that was considered acceptable.

Our culture and the media place so much emphasis on outward appearance. They equate thinner bodies as the ideal beauty standard. This ideal, for so many of us, is impossible to attain and sustain. Thinking back, if I weren’t at war with my body, I wouldn’t need a plan and there wouldn’t be any reactive binge eating against the plan.

This is my story. A version of it is also the story of so many of my clients.

When I discovered Intuitive Eating, one of the first things that reduced was deprivation-induced binge eating – simply because I could eat whatever I wanted. I didn’t need to binge in order to eat my favourite pleasure foods. Giving myself permission to eat what I wanted meant I could eat these foods whenever I wanted. I couldn’t believe that I was not finishing a bar of chocolate because I had started and needed to get it “out the way”. I still binged for emotional reasons, but that became less frequent when I discovered mindfulness.

Is it possible to stop binge eating? Yes. However, it’s more realistic to say reduce drastically rather than stop completely.  The most common reasons for binge eating I see when working with clients are:

  1. Dieting, restriction, deprivation
  2. Extreme hunger
  3. Difficult emotions – anxiety, depression, overwhelm
  4. Negative body image
  5. A combination of all of the above

We have many mistaken beliefs about binge eating. Many of us believe it’s brought on by a lack of control or willpower. We are so busy judging the binge eating behaviour that we neglect to look at one of the main reasons that causes it.

RESTRICTION!

When we restrict or deny foods we love, we tend to obsess about these foods. Control and restriction almost always results in backlash eating. Extreme hunger is also a big trigger to binge. The primitive part of ourselves panics when we experience painful hunger and very often that can lead to a binge.

Geneen Roth says binges are ways in which we “plunge into oblivion”. A binge is a way in which we allow ourselves to go unconscious.

How does this play out?

Let me give you an example:

There’s a trigger or a few triggers over a few days – a stressful situation at work, an argument with a spouse, weighing yourself and feeling upset at the number on the scale, a sick child, traffic on the way home etc. There are feelings of overwhelm, anger, vulnerability and it’s just too much to feel these feelings. We binge. We go unconscious for a short while. The drama of the binge distracts us. The food makes us feel good. We experience relief for a few moments or we go into a mild “food coma”. Binge eating is an attempt to avoid or numb the pain and overwhelm.

After the binge, we feel shame and guilt and beat ourselves up. The punishment serves as a further distraction from the difficult emotions. It’s much easier to focus on how we’ve messed up rather than look at the painful emotions.

Instead of seeing binge eating as weakness and failure, we can bring in attitudes of Mindfulness to the behaviour such as compassion, curiosity, non-judgement, patience and forgiveness. We could change the way we look at binge eating.

  • We can accept it as a coping tool versus a coping failure. It’s a way to cope with difficult emotions and situations.
  • It’s like an alarm to let us know that something inside needs our attention.
  • We can see it as a natural rebellious reaction to the food rules and restriction.
  • After binge eating, instead of punishing ourselves, we could treat ourselves with kindness. The reason we binged is because we are hurting. Why then add further pain to the existing pain?
  • A compassionate response would be to be patient and take care of ourselves and, instead of starving ourselves, to feed ourselves when we are hungry.
  • Replace judgement with curiosity and investigate what the triggers were.
  • What were the thoughts? Very often a binge is preceded with what I call the “f*ck it switch”, it trips and the binge begins!
  • What needs were unmet? A need for calm, certainty, acceptance, acknowledgement, support?

What helped me the most to make sense of my binge eating was to really examine each binge, the triggers and thoughts and situations.

I had to teach myself to be an observer rather than the binge-eating police. If you struggle with binge eating, please stop hating yourself for it. You cannot hate and judge yourself out of a behaviour.

The way through this dark tunnel is with acceptance, compassion and patience.

My wish for you is that you may end your struggle with food. May you find peace and freedom and acceptance of yourself.

With love
Xen

🍂 My gift to you is a free “slightly different advent calendar” for you to print and enjoy during the festive season.

🍂 Is handling the combination of holidays + food + a global pandemic stressful for you? This online course may be what you need… How To Handle Eating in the Holidays is designed to support you through the festive season.

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Certified by The Life Coach School Certified Life Coach Certified and Trained by The Original Intuitive Eating Pro Professional Member of The Center for Mindful Eating