Written and Medically Reviewed by Dr Babar Shahzad, BSc and MBBS on January 12, 2020.
About 3,6% of women and 2% of men in the US experience Binge Eating Disorder (BED) throughout their lives. Even if it’s often overlooked, it’s a serious condition that can do a lot of physical and mental harm. It not only gets in the way of weight loss but also makes everyday life really uncomfortable.
First, let’s try to figure out your reasons for bingeing. It’s the first step to tackling the problem.
Reasons you binge eat
Scientific research shows that binge eating tends to run in families. If your mother or dad used to binge, you might’ve inherited this disorder.
There’s also a theory that people with Binge Eating Disorder may have increased sensitivity to a hormone called dopamine that’s responsible for feelings of pleasure and reward.
It’s a known fact that we tend to mimic our parents. As kids, that’s how we learn about the world.
This might sound funny, but imagine a mother lion teaching her cub to hunt. At first, he looks up to what his mom does, watches her catch the prey, and then tries to repeat it.
The exact same thing happens with humans.
If you see your mom bingeing, even if at a very young age, you might, unconsciously, think it’s normal behavior.
Also, have you ever been thought to finish all that’s put in a plate? Or praised for eating the most amongst your brothers and sisters?
This is an often parenting mistake. With no bad intentions, kids are taught to overeat.
Then a feeling of “enough is enough” doesn’t form. And binge eating is a lot about not knowing the limits.
If you’re a parent yourself, let your kids leave unfinished plates. We know it might sound like food waste, but note that a person should control his food, not the other way around.
Better teach your kids to understand their optimal portion sizes than tell them to eat even if they’re full.
About half of the people with binge eating disorder are depressed. But then, in often cases it’s unclear whether BED causes depression, or being depressed makes you seek comfort in food.
Of course, these two can happen together at once.
All said about depression can be said about stress and anxiety. This just shows how complicated binge eating can really be and how much is linked to your psychology.
People who binge are usually not happy with the way they look. In often cases social media and unrealistic body image causes self-hate and body negativity.
To some, this self-hate leads to eating disorders such as anorexia. To some, it leads to binge eating. Bingeing causes guilt and shame. These feelings cause more overeating.
Extreme dieting can also cause binge eating. Especially if a person follows strict diets, that promote a very little calorie intake or skipping meals.
After periods of extreme restriction, periods of losing control follow.
That’s another reason you shouldn’t participate in all those extreme “magical” one-product or other weird diets.
Binge eating vs. Overeating
Understanding the difference between these two is crucial to understand what binge eating is really about.
Overeating is a common tendency for many of us. It’s hard to imagine enjoying Christmas or Thanksgiving with so many different meals on the table and still eating in moderate amounts. Sometimes you make a dish so good, you just want to have an extra plate.
That’s called overeating.
We’re not saying it’s the right behavior, but we understand it happens. As long as it’s just a rare occasional happening, there’s nothing to worry about.
Binge eating is, however, more complicated. It’s an actual eating disorder, not just a symptom.
American Psychiatric Association defines it as recurring episodes of eating significantly more food in a short period of time than most people would eat under similar circumstances, with episodes marked by feelings of lack of control.
These episodes are followed by feelings of disgust, guilt, embarrassment, and isolation to conceal the behavior. Binge eating is a recurring happening that causes emotional and physical distress. Physical and emotional distress, on the other hand, causes binge eating.
It’s a closed circle, and it’s really hard to break this cycle.
But we’re here to help you!
How to control binge eating
The 80:20 rule
Often cases of binge eating involve people having pretty healthy diets, besides the time a person binges.
The emotions of guilt and disgust pressure you to have a “new start tomorrow”. You wake up the next morning, have a healthy breakfast, a healthy lunch, maybe even a healthy dinner. But then you lose it before bed.
You start all over again the next day.
What’s really important, is to break the cycle of “I’m not allowed to eat that” and then eating that. Problem is, you jump from completely reserving yourself to losing it all. What would really help is an 80:20 rule, where you eat healthy 80 percent of the time and let yourself have whatever you want 20 percent of the time.
This might sound weird, but the logic is to break the cycle of temptation. If you want to have a pie with your morning coffee at Starbucks – do it and don’t punish yourself. You need to get at peace with food. Junk food included. (This is a pretty strict 28-day diet where we speak about how they should refuse all junk food for 28 days. We cannot say that).
Don’t jump from 100 to 0
This is similar to the last point but has a slightly different angle. This applies to you if you’re one of those binge eaters who tend to cycle between bingeing and eating ultra-healthy.
Let’s draw a picture of what that can look like.
You don’t eat to the point where you don’t feel hungry anymore. You eat to the point it’s just impossible to fit another bite. Then you lay in your bed, feeling like stomach is about to explode and think how tomorrow is a new day and you’re going to do lots of cardio and start living healthy. Sounds familiar?
So the next day comes, and you’re making breakfast. You know salt and butter is bad for you, so you make your morning porridge plain simple. You force yourself to eat tasteless breakfast, and tasteless lunch follows. You’re boiling chicken breast and cooking veggies on water because a drop of oil sounds scary after your last night’s sin.
No salt again, of course.
Then, after eating like this for a few days or sometimes even weeks, you can’t stop thinking about delicious burgers and McDonald’s milkshakes.
Then you lose it – telling yourself it’s a “reward” for all the hard work, and the reward is – overeating junk food again. The feeling of shame always follows.
It’s easy to get stuck in this closed circle, and it can take a while to find your way out. It’s really mentally harmful to jump between 100 and 0.
It’s not okay to eat daily calories in one sitting and then not let yourself add a pinch of salt to the porridge or cook veggies with being afraid to add a splash of oil. It’s not that drop of oil and really not the salt that makes you gain weight.
Weight loss is much easier when you find the balance and don’t force yourself into keeping up with the lifestyle of a fitness model.
If you start eating healthy, make that healthy be delicious. Cravings for nocturnal junk food sessions will naturally go away.
The right nutrition
Since you’re trying to lose weight, that might sound counterintuitive. But give it a second thought. In often cases after periods of bingeing, you cut down on the food you eat regularly.
You go hungry throughout the day, and a strong urge to binge attacks you in the evening.
If you’d raise your calorie intake with eating healthy foods, especially good fat and protein, reduce sugar intake, and balance out the glucose levels, you’d see binge craves would be lessened.
Set different goals
What really helps when you’re unsuccessfully trying to lose weight and cut binge eating, is thinking about health benefits rather than lost pounds.
The lost weight is a good indicator of your progress, but it surely shouldn’t be your only priority. Lost weight, actually is just the aftermath of a healthy lifestyle.
Also, even if the pounds don’t drop as quickly, you should never forget that your body is thankful for all you’re doing for its favor. Fitting in that new pair of jeans is important, but preventing diabetes, heart disease, the quality of your sleep, stamina and mental health should be way more important.
We really hope you are not facing any health issues right now, but it’s also important to think about yourself in the future and prevent any health problems, if possible. What we’re trying to say is, that thinking about your health as well as your looks really gives you double motivation to cut out the bad eating habits.
That’s why you should set different goals. Focus on performance. Set a goal to run 5 miles with no problem rather than a goal to lose 5 pounds.
The fulfillment of your healthy, mindful goals makes a snowball effect of self-belief and boosts confidence. That is essential to conquer binge eating.
Don’t be afraid to seek for mental health. Binge eating is usually a psychological issue.
Even if you blame yourself or are blamed by others for lack of will, binge eating disorder has much deeper roots.
Don’t hesitate to seek help
If you feel like you really have a problem, put yourself in a support group, where you won’t feel ashamed; Don’t be afraid to talk to a psychiatrist, as binge eating might be a sign of other mental problems.
And please, never ever feel ashamed for seeking mental health.
Love yourself as you are
It does sound cheesy. But it’s a crucial thing people tend to forget. Learn to love and respect the body you’re in right now.
The urge to lose weight shouldn’t come from hating yourself. Instead, it should come from loving who you are and wanting to become the best version of yourself. Once you put that in your head, you start enjoying your weight loss and stop blaming yourself if the results don’t come as fast as you’d want to.
You then also don’t want to trash yourself with poor nutrition and junk food.
Keep yourself busy
Keeping yourself busy really helps to cope with bingeing. We’re talking good busy, not the stressed-out one.
You cope with emotional distress, seek comfort by overeating. However, there are many other ways to find that inner peace. Meet a friend, read a book, go for a walk. Draw or paint even if you’re not skilled at it.
Find a healthy way to deal with yourself rather than stuffing yourself with food.
Explore mindful eating
Do you even remember what foods you ate during your last binge?
You open a bag of chips, have a few handfuls. You reach the bag for a third one and notice your hand already reaches the bottom.
Where did all of them go? Did you even admire the taste? Probably not.
It’s not a bad thing to have an emotional connection with food, as long as it’s a healthy one. All the big chefs, cooking enthusiasts see food as art. Try moving your attitude closer to theirs.
Eating should be a mindful process. Prepare meals from good quality products, chew your food, admire all the different tastes.
Take yourself out to have a nice meal once a week. Make some time for you and you only. Or ask a good friend to come together with you. That can be healing.
Hiding in your room, bingeing Netflix together with junk food, feeling guilt and disgust is, however, not so healing.
It’s okay for food to be an important part of your life, but it’s not okay to let food take control of you.
Binge eating shouldn’t be seen as something that’s okay to keep in your life. Follow these tips and you’ll see it gets easier.
The key takeaway is to stop shaming yourself and start loving yourself. All the rest will follow!