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

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

Filed Under: Binge Eating

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.


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

“From our first meeting - two faces on Zoom across the world from each other, there was a sense of familiarity and comfort that was a healing balm for a lifetime of food struggles and dieting. Without realizing how much damage I had done to myself by adhering, for decades, to restrictive food plans and rigid diet programs, Xen had a way of redirecting the harsh and negative self-talk and sending me forth each week with compassion, mindfulness and a new way of seeing myself in the here and now. Gone are the maybe somedays, and if-only, and when-I’m-smaller thinking. Now I am committed to the imperfect and rocky path to listening to my body, accepting my perfect imperfections, and rejecting diet mentality. Those negative voices will revisit me from time to time, I know, but Xen has offered valuable tools for meeting each day as a fresh start - another choice, another chance. Her devotion to this work and her belief in her clients is a remarkable gift; I am so fortunate to have found her. It is never too late to let go of the drama and embrace joy, ease and self-acceptance.”

Karen L, Denver, USA

“I felt hopeless and helpless in my daily struggle with mindless eating for many years. Then I found Xen which is exactly what I needed! My decision to work with her helped me to finally repair my relationship with food. It's changing my life for the better, one day at a time. Now I have control over the food, instead of it having control over me, which is the way it should be. I highly recommend Xen to anyone who has a desire to overcome similar food struggles. Xen, thank you from the bottom of my heart!”

Karen J, Colorado, USA

“I reached out to Xenia because 2021 started on a tumultuous note for me. Between deaths, businesses suffering, hospitalizations, and job losses in our personal circle, I felt depleted and found myself being available for everyone but myself. Then I was hit with an unexpected health diagnosis, which was the last straw as it meant giving up “healthy foods” and workouts that I leaned on for my well-being and stability. Despite working in wellness (Yes, coaches and healers are vulnerable too!), I found myself reaching out to desserts for comfort. I like to live a life of permissions (not labels or deprivation leading to bingeing), so I wanted to work with someone who approached healing from a place of mindful compassion. I didn’t want to be my own client. Xenia was great in reminding me to be kind to myself. Working with her, brought me peace and helped shift my mindset. I love how desserts and I look at each other now.”

Sweta Vikram, New York, USA

“Working with Xenia was amazing. She armed me with a bunch of tools to help me through difficult times. Xenia is the kind of person who really cares for helping you in the long run. Her work will forever have an impact in my life.”

Daniela Velásquez, Ottawa, Canada

“Working with Xen was a game changer for me. After working together for a few months my relationship with food radically changed. I no longer felt like a failure. I now have the tools to nourish my body with foods that feel good in my body. I don’t feel guilty about eating cake or chocolate, I also don’t overeat cake and chocolate. I no longer feel the need to exercise to compensate for my eating. I feel much more free around eating and I am more accepting of my body. Xen has a nonjudgmental and compassionate approach to coaching and really supports you in the process.”

Rachel, Dublin, Ireland

“Working with Xen has been very empowering. Her approach is so refreshing from the usual. I have learned that I am in charge and that I get to choose what I put in my body and how to move my body in a way that I like! I get to make my own choices. It’s so liberating. Once you get a taste of freedom with food, there is no turning back to old ways! Thanks Xen for guiding me along the way to freedom.”

Heather B, Cork. Ireland

“This is the answer for those of you that struggle with food and all that surrounds it. Xenia said that I could make peace with food and it seemed at the time like an impossible dream. Turns out it isn’t. I recommend Xen and the mindful eating / intuitive eating approach unreservedly. If you have any questions about my experience, please get in touch. Thank you Xen. My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐”

Michelle, Johannesburg, South Africa

“Xenia was a walking, living, breathing example of what can be done. I laughed and cried my way through a short course in this fascinating and invigorating programme with her, and have gained a designer tote full of coping skills that go way beyond containing kilogrammes. I feel infinitely lighter. I am doing this for me and, yes, you can do this for you too! And believe me, I’m cynical!”

Diana, Vancouver, Canada

“I don’t obsess about food like I used to. I am thinking differently about food and feeling so much more relaxed around all types of food. It’s wonderful to have pleasure and satisfaction from eating.”

Sarah, Illinois, USA

“I learned a new way of thinking about food. I have learned that food is not the enemy and that it can actually be enjoyed with no guilt.”

Sandy, London, United Kingdom

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