Binge eating or eating in an uncontrolled way can happen to anyone at any age, gender or weight. This is a common issue for many of the clients we see in our practice but the good news is that there is hope and a way to overcome this challenge with the right support.
What is binge eating?
- The amount eaten is viewed as being excessive
- There is a sense of loss of control at the time
In the helpful book Overcoming Binge Eating by Dr. Christopher Fairburn binge eating is characterized by the following 6 factors:
- Feelings: Initial feelings of pleasure as the taste and texture of food can be very enjoyable but these positive feelings don’t last long and are often replace by feelings of disgust and shame.
- Speed: Typically food and drinks are consumed rapidly during a binge.
- Agitation: It would be common for individuals struggling with bingeing to feel desperate or compulsive in obtaining food.
- Altered Consciousness: It is common for those struggling with a binge to feel numb or in a trance and use forms of distraction so as not to really be conscious of how they are eating.
- Secretiveness: Most binges occur in secret.
- Loss of Control: A feeling of losing control can happen a long time before, come on suddenly or begin at the start of eating. It is common for binges to be planned as it is common to believe it is unavoidable and inevitable so there is a feeling they no longer should try to resist them.
What is the difference between true binge eating and simply overeating?
We eat for many reasons – not just for physical nutrition. Everyone overeats sometimes or eats in a way that is uncomfortable because of emotional triggers, cultural celebration, socializing or mindless habit. The difference between overeating and binge eating is the frequency, intensity and volume of food consumed.
As mentioned binge eating is classified as consuming an excessive amount of food with a limited sense of loss of control. It would be common for many of our clients to tell us they binged when they just ate more than they planned or simply felt too full. We would just call that emotional overeating. While the amount of food eaten during bingeing varies from person to person most true binges involve eating anywhere between 1,000 – 10,000 or more calories at a time.
If you are eating in a way that is causing a significant amount of stress and physical health concern – reach out for help. You need both a dietitian and psychologist that specialize in eating disorders and emotional eating to help you work through things together as a team.
What factors can lead to binge eating?
There are a wide range of psychological, social and physical reasons that bingeing occurs. One way to begin exploring how to overcome binge eating is to consider there are two key types of binges:
Triggered by a wide range of emotions such as anger, sadness, anxiety, stress and boredom.
Tackling the emotional reasons you are bingeing involves digging deep and exploring the following tough questions. Working with a psychologist that specializes in eating disorders is the best expert to help you navigate a better understanding of these and the best solutions forward.
- What is eating me? What am I “stuffing”? If I am eating when I am not truly hungry, is it because I am stressed, sad, bored, angry, worried, etc.?
- What am I hungry for? What am I looking for in my life that has not come my way yet? What fulfills me and brings me joy?
- How can I comfort myself without food? How else can I soothe or nurture myself? Is there an enjoyable hobby, task or activity that I could do instead of turning to food?
Triggered by a wide range of things where the body does not have physical needs met such as:
- Dieting and deprivation
- Delaying eating or skipping meals
- Consuming too few calories or restricting the overall amount eaten
- Limiting your carbohydrate intake
- Avoiding certain types of foods that are labeled “forbidden” or “bad”
- Being underweight
- Trying to maintain a body weight that is too small for your natural set point
- Purging (vomiting, diuretic or laxative use) or over-exercising
- Under consuming fluid to become dehydrated to lose water weight off the
- Over-consuming an excessive volume of fluid to attempt to feel full
What are some of the key ways to prevent bingeing?
Also consider the following 3 initial steps for better nutrition:
1. Avoid skipping meals
You need to eat every 3-5 hours to prevent getting too hungry and over-consuming food. While bingeing can happen at any time of the day, often binges happen later in the day because you have not consumed enough food during the day. Once you have binged it can be difficult to acknowledge or trust hunger cues so it is best to eat according to a time schedule every 3-5 hours until your hunger and appetite cues can reset.
2. Eat mindfully
Consume food slowly, from a plate sitting down in a comfortable environment. If you are feeling frantic, anxious and overwhelmed try doing some mindful breathing to calm yourself and reach out for support before consuming food. Avoid eating foods mindlessly from the bag or package or while standing in the kitchen or while distracted with TV, computers or while driving. When you are eating, only eat.
3. Acknowledge there are no bad foods, only bad overall diets
Labeling food as good or bad or allowed or forbidden will only further lead to bingeing. Psychologically we all want what we can’t have. To begin developing a healthy relationship with food you must remove negative language from your vocabulary. This will take time so go easy on yourself – the first step is acknowledging what “food rules” and dieting mindsets you are clinging to. There are no bad foods, only bad overall diets. What small step might you be able to make to begin to eat a challenging food in a more mindful or healthful way? This may be choosing to eat dessert away from home with a supportive friend in an encouraging environment rather than on your own in a rapid, mindless way in a large volume. Be compassionate and gentle to yourself this part will take time.