why do we binge eat
  • December 9, 2022

Episode 8: Why Do We Binge?

Today’s episode we will be unpacking all things binge eating – what is it, why we do it and a […]

Today’s episode we will be unpacking all things binge eating – what is it, why we do it and a few tips to help you overcome it.



What is binge eating?

Binge eating is when you eat a large volume of food in a discrete period of time which is more than what someone would usually eat. There is also usually a sense of loss of control during this time and a sense of guilt/shame associated with it also.


Binge eating vs over-eating

  • Overeating is when you unintentionally eat more food then you anticipated eating because either you weren’t paying attention to your fullness cues and how much you were eating. You might feel uncomfortable and/or a bit lethargic after. There may be some feelings of shame/guilt after the meal but not overwhelmingly so.
  • Binge eating on the other hand, always has strong feelings of loss of control and guilt associated with it and often the food portions are much larger.


Examples of binge eating

  • Sneaking a whole bag of lollies into your room and eating it in secret
  • Eating a whole cake in one sitting
  • Eating 2 burgers in a row even though you were comfortably full after the first one and there was a sense of compulsion to eat then second one



Common reasons for binge eating

1: Not eating enough food

This may be either:

  1. Intentional such as dieting or purposefully restricting (overall amount or food rules) for weight loss or other health concerns
  2. Unintentional such as long work shifts with no breaks

This triggers the binge-restrict cycle where restriction over times creates a sense of deprivation. After this we start getting cravings for the foods we have been restricting. Eventually, there is a trigger, and we end up breaking the food rule and once you start eating that food you feel a loss of control and keep eating it. After we have binged, there is strong feelings of shame or guilt which fuel you to restrict again and the cycle restarts.

This is why binges often happen towards the end of the day when we have more time and more access to foods.

Eating regularly each day – 3 meals + 2/3 snacks is the first place to start, especially if you can’t work out why you are bingeing and you aren’t intentionally restricting yourself


2: To cope with low moods and/or avoid dealing with difficult emotions

For example – feeling lonely on a Friday night and relying on eating large portions of takeaway instead to forget about your loneliness. But, sometimes it isn’t always a negative emotion e.g. using food as a reward.

The ‘binge’ is functioning to help you cope with whatever emotion you are feeling.

This is very common if you don’t have any other strategies to cope with the negative emotions


3: Placing a large emphasis on your body size/shape

This can fuel what we do with our food – e.g. going onto a restrictive diet for weight loss which then triggers the binge-restrict cycle mentioned above.

Working towards a place of body neutrality (respecting our body for what it can do regardless of what it looks like) is an important step to help overcome this.


How do we get starting with overcoming binge eating

1: The foundation – incorporate regular eating

  • The rule of 3s – 3 meals + 3 snacks every 3hrs
    • First step to reducing the restrict part of the binge-restrict cycle
    • Teaches the body that food is always around the corner and removes sense of deprivation
    • Ensures you are eating enough so you don’t end up needing to compensate later
  • Start by reflecting on your current eating patterns as this can often be harder to implement then it sounds due to barriers such as busy work schedules or forgetting to each
    • This can help you to identify what your barriers are to start incorporating strategies to overcome these barriers



2: Keep a food and thoughts diary

  • This makes us more aware of our food habits as well as our thoughts and feeling surrounding certain meals/foods
  • This is especially important to reflect on during/after a binge
  • You can then take these thoughts to your dietitian/psychologist to start to unpack
  • Helpful prompts:
    • Hunger and fullness
    • Why did I or didn’t I binge
    • Location e.g. how distracted you were


3: Come up with alternative coping strategies to deal with strong emotions other than food for example

Make sure you are linked in with a psychologist (ideally one who specialises in eating disorders and body image)

For example:

  • if you are feeling lonely – call a friend/family member, play with a pet
  • if you are celebrating a win – have a non-food related reward such
  • if you are bored – do a hobby you enjoy

An emotion wheel can help you start to identify emotions if you are struggling with this

Once you have identified the emotions that are commonly triggering binges, you can create an emotion plan with at least 1-2 different strategies you can try (other than eating) when you are experiencing that emotion. This will be different for each emotion and can take some trial and error. Initiating this emotion plan is a skill that does take time so it is important not to give up.


4: Try urge surfing

Urge surfing refers to the fact that all strong urges/emotions will peak and then pass. Think of urges as a wave – you just need to make it over the peak.

  • A binge urge, although very strong, doesn’t mean you have to act on it and over time it will pass (this will vary – it may be 30 mins or even 3hrs)
  • Once you notice the initial urge, this is when you should start implementing the strategies discussed above in your emotion plan as the urge starts to peak
  • Remember – it is uncomfortable and hard to sit in the urge so be kind to your body

Activity to try (ideally with your psychologist):

  • Think about where the urge is originating in your body and tune into it rather than keeping in your head



5: Reducing food rules

  • As mentioned previously, this is one of the biggest triggers for binge eating.
  • Often it is the foods you are restricting or have negative food rules around, that you will binge on. E.g. if you think of white bread as bring a ‘bad food’ you shouldn’t have too much of, often this will be a food you are likely to then binge on.
  • This is because we get into a scarcity mentality where we feel like because we don’t usually let ourselves have it, we need it eat lots of it now or maybe you feel like you need to eat all of it now to get it out of the house
  • The best way to overcome this is by giving yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods
    • Initially you may feel like you are eating a lot of these foods quite regularly
    • But, overtime these foods will start to lose their power and you will notice you don’t feel the need to have it all the time
  • See episode 3 for more tips to overcoming food rules and food fears


6: Adjust your life pie chart

  • Think about how much does thinking about food and your body take up in your life.
  • Then start to identify some areas of your thoughts you would like to expand to shrink the time spent thinking about food and your body.
  • For example this might be working on relationships or spending time doing joyful movement


It is also important to modify your social media

  • Social media places a lot of unrealistic ideals on us leading to feelings of not being good enough
  • Start by unfollowing accounts that don’t serve you e.g. “fitspo” accounts or anyone who’s posts make you feeling guilty or bad about yourself
  • Replace these accounts with people who make you feel good about yourself as well as non-body image related accounts such as hobbies/interests


7: If you are still on the fence about starting recovery from binge eating…

Start by writing up a pros and cons table – for example:

Negative Consequences of binge eating

Feelings of guilt/shame

Uncomfortable feelings post binge


Avoiding eating out

Positive aspects of binge eating

Helps cope with and avoid difficult emotions

Compensates for not eating enough

Benefits of overcoming binge eating

Feeling more in control when eating and around food

Knowing you can eat all foods without feelings of guilt

Improved body image

Ability to participate in social events stress free

Costs of overcoming binge eating

Costs and time for appointments (dietitian and psychologist

Difficult and draining work



8: Limit drinking alcohol

  • When we drink alcohol it heightens our emotions including those which may be triggers for binge eating
  • It also puts hunger and fullness cues out of wack which can also trigger binge eating


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