binge eating
  • January 13, 2023

What Triggers a Binge Eating Episode? | Imbodi Health Eating Disorder Dietitian Clinic

What is binge eating? Binge eating disorder (BED) is an eating disorder that is characterised by frequent and recurrent episodes […]

What is binge eating?

Binge eating disorder (BED) is an eating disorder that is characterised by frequent and recurrent episodes of binge eating. BED describes eating a large volume of food at a time, and is usually accompanied by feelings of loss of control around food (1). It can be caused by various binge eating triggers, which may be food related, mood related, or body related.


Binge eating disorder is diagnosed under the DSM-5 when three or more of the following diagnostic criteria are met:

  • Eating much more rapidly than normal
  • Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
  • Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry 
  • Eating alone because of feeling embarrassed by how much one is eating
  • Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty afterward


It is estimated that approximately 4% of Australians are living with an eating disorder. Binge eating disorder appears to be the most common eating disorder, affecting approximately 47% of people with an eating disorder (1).

 

Main triggers for binging:

There are a few common binge eating triggers. It is important to identify and understand these triggers, as this is fundamental in learning to manage these. These triggers are often food related, body related or mood related (2).

 

Food related:

  • Restricting the amount of foods that you eat
  • Rigid dieting
  • Feeling hungry or unsatisfied
  • Breaking a diet rule
  • Keeping certain foods “off-limits”

Body related:

  • Feeling unhappy with your body, weight or shape
  • Body checking, such as studying your body in the mirror, or pinching at parts of your body
  • Seeing your reflection or a photo ​​yourself

 

Mood related:

  • Feeling tired or exhausted
  • Feeling lonely
  • Feeling depressed
  • Boredom
  • Feeling tense, anxious or fearful

 

restrictive eating

 

How do you start reducing binges?

Once you have developed an understanding of what may be triggering a binge, you can begin to work on reducing these.

 

1: Working with a professional

Having the support of an experienced professional can help provide clarity, guidance and strategies to help overcome binge eating behaviours. 

When recovering from an eating disorder, it is important to work with an experienced healthcare team including a GP, psychologist and dietitian. 

If you are unsure where to find professionals who are experienced in this area, the Butterfly Foundation has compiled a searchable database here

 

2: Eating regularly

Eating regularly lays the foundation for healthy eating and is a key component to disordered eating recovery.

Regularity helps overcome feelings of restriction, which is one of the most common binge eating triggers (3). It also allows your body to regulate its natural hunger and fullness cues better, so you can build trust and understanding with your body.

To eat regularly, aim to eat 3 main meals, and 2-3 snacks per day. Try to leave no more than a 4-hour gap between eating, as this can increase the susceptibility of a binge.

 

3: Adequacy and food variety

Eating adequately describes eating a variety of foods across all food groups. This is important in helping you meet your nutrient requirements, while also overcoming restrictive food rules (3)

Overcoming food rules and allowing yourself to eat a variety of foods is an essential part of overcoming binge eating. This is because when a certain food is restricted, it makes us intensely crave this food more until inevitably we feel compelled to binge. 

By allowing yourself permission to all foods, these intense cravings will begin to disappear. You may find you eat larger amounts of these foods at first, however over time the appeal wears off you will find you won’t feel like eating them as much. 

 

4: Identifying and breaking food rules

Rigid dieting and food rules can commonly lead to binge eating episodes, particularly when a food rule is inevitably broken.

Addressing fear foods is essential in overcoming any anxiety towards specific foods and overcoming binge eating triggers. This process involves gradually re-introducing fear foods into your diet, so they are less likely to trigger a binge.

Start by creating a list of fear foods, then categorise this list from “least feared” to “most feared”. Use this list to slowly start re-introducing 1-2 foods each day.

This is likely going to be an overwhelming process at the start. However, the more exposure you give yourself to these foods, the less anxiety you will experience.

As this experience can be quite anxiety-provoking and overwhelming, working with an experienced eating disorder dietitian can be helpful in providing you with the support and guidance you need during recovery. 

 

5: Building up distress tolerance and emotional regulation skills

If distressing situations are a common trigger for binge eating behaviours, building distress tolerance can be an effective tool for managing these experiences. 

Binge eating may serve as a coping mechanism to deal with uncomfortable emotions. This can be problematic as it poses as a “band-aid” to your problems, and is likely not addressing the root cause. 

To overcome emotion-related triggers, it is first important to identify the problem. Once you have identified the problem, it’s time to brainstorm some alternative strategies to regulate these emotions. For example:

  • If you are feeling stressed, try some deep breathing exercises, meditation or going for a walk to help you unwind
  • If you are feeling anxious or overwhelmed, try journaling or reaching out to a support person

 

6: Improving body image

Poor body image and hyper fixation on weight and shape are common triggers for binging.  Some strategies to help improve body image include (4):

  • Curate your social media to reduce exposure to diet culture and unrealistic body ideals
  • Focus on gratitude for what your body does for you, instead of what it looks like
  • Move your body in a way that makes you feel good, rather than whatever burns the most calories
  • See and value yourself as a whole person. Make a list of your talents, strengths and qualities that make you unique and special

 

joyful movement

6: Keeping a food and mood diary

Keeping a food and mood diary can be a great tool to help identify potential triggers that are leading to binges. It also allows us to be more conscious of our thoughts and feelings around food. 

 

 

Summary

Binge eating disorder is an eating disorder characterised by frequent episodes of eating large volumes of food, accompanied by feelings of loss of control. 

During disordered eating recovery, it is essential to understand any potential binge eating triggers. These triggers are commonly food related, body related or mood related. 

The journey to recovery can be challenging. Working with an experienced healthcare team including an eating disorder dietitian can help provide you with the support and guidance you need to get started. 

If you would like to learn more about working with an experienced eating disorder dietitian, you can book a free 15 minuet discovery call with one of our dietitians! 

BOOK IN A FREE DISCOVERY CALL WITH OUR DIETITIANS

Article written by: Eating disorder dietitian Jade Wrigley

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