Why Do I Binge Eat?
As humans, we love to feel in control. We love to plan for our future, any sort of uncertainty can make us feel anxious and we like to know that we can shape the path ahead. So when we then feel as though we have no control over a certain area of our life, this can lead us to feel very low and anxious. This is often especially the case when we feel that we have no control over something such as our food choices - which is "technically" something that we should be able to control.
Binge-eating for this very reason can have a negative effect on someone's mental and emotional health. If you are struggling with binge-eating you may:
- feel very out of control around food or certain types of food and notice that once you start eating you can't seem to stop;
- eat large volumes of food or more than what you would like to eat in one sitting;
- find yourself eating faster than usual or eating to the point of feeling uncomfortably full; and/or
- eat in secret or when others are not around in order to hide what you are eating.
Firstly, if you are struggling with binge-eating, as a psychotherapist and nutritionist that specialises in treating issues around food, I can reassure you that binge-eating is much more common than you would probably ever realise. Often it is something that people are doing in secret and feel embarrassed about - so there isn't much open discussion on the topic. Secondly, I also want to reassure you that there is nothing wrong with you for binge-eating. There are in fact some straightforward explanations for why you may find yourself binge-eating and here are some of those common causes of bingeing:
1. An extreme diet, detox or weight loss
I very often notice that binge-eating first starts after a period of extreme dietary restriction or weight loss. The brain and body have interpreted this diet/restriction/weight loss as a period of starvation and so they are then very concerned with keeping you alive/getting enough food to prevent starvation. You may start to notice that you have obsessive thoughts about food and also that once you start eating, you just can't stop. You can see how, if you had really been through a period of famine/starvation, this would be a very helpful survival mechanism because it would force you to seek out food and then to get you to eat plenty just in case another famine came along soon. Very few people realise that those extreme diets/fasts can drive binge-eating and just how harmful those restrictive diets/fasts/extreme weight loss plans are for their mental and physical health but also for their relationship with food long-term.
2. A habit that runs on loop
Whilst binge-eating often starts as a response to a diet/weight loss - eventually it can then become a habit that just plays out on loop in certain situations or in response to certain triggers. For example, your brain may just learn that whenever you feel low you binge or that whenever you are home alone for the evening you binge. In these circumstances binge-eating is basically just like a learnt pattern of behaviour and I tend to find carefully crafted hypnotherapy is very effective at changing this pattern of behaviour.
3. Low mood
With low mood and bingeing it is often hard to determine the cause and the effect. Whilst of course bingeing often causes a low mood, when someone is feeling low and down, this may then make them want to soothe with food and bingeing. This is why, when treating binge-eating it is very important for us to not just work on someone's relationship with food but also to work to boost their mood, equip them with new coping mechanisms and also to boost their confidence and self-esteem too. Sometimes the emotional state is driving the bingeing and it is important to use psychological tools to optimise mental health as part of the treatment process.
4. Certain thinking patterns around food
I notice that when someone finds themselves bingeing, they also typically have certain thinking patterns when it comes to food that are not helping them. For example many clients regularly think "I will start being good from tomorrow" and yet this thought is just one which gives them permission to binge on the day before their diet starts. Similarly, many clients think that certain foods are "bad" and when they then eat one of these "bad" foods, it causes them to feel very guilty and then binge on these "naughty" foods. It is therefore key when treating binge-eating to explore the way in which you think about food and to change these thinking patterns so that you can stop bingeing but also build a healthier relationship with food long-term.
5. Obsessing about weight
It is very common for people that really want to lose weight, to end up bingeing. What tends to happen is that when someone worries a lot about their weight, it takes up a lot of their mental space but also it can result in them thinking about/worrying about their food choices a lot too. Where they may then also force themselves to be very disciplined/restrictive with their food choices, this in turn can drive bingeing and the feeling of relief that comes with not having to worry about these rules/restrictions anymore. So often worrying too much about weight is counterproductive and actually ends up driving weight gain through binges.
6. Trauma, a lot of change or difficult life circumstances
Sometimes binge-eating surfaces or re-emerges in someone's life when they are going through a lot or a very difficult time and need a way to cope. Bingeing serves the purpose of numbing the pain, providing something to look forward to and sometimes provides a welcome distraction from other things going on in life. When I am helping someone with their binge-eating it is therefore always important to look at their relationship with food within the context of what else is going on in their life - often eating isn't just about food but it is about something much broader.
If you are struggling with binge-eating, please know that it is something that can be successfully treated and that you can stop bingeing and build a more positive relationship with food. If you would like some support getting to this point, please get in touch with me at email@example.com. I have also created an 8-week online programme to treat binge-eating that will equip you with all of the tools that you need to overcome binge-eating for good and you can find out more about this programme here: www.thefoodtherapyclinic.com/online-binge-eating-treatment
“Be confused, it’s where you begin to learn new things. Be broken, it’s where you begin to heal. Be frustrated, it’s where you start to make more authentic decisions. Be sad, because if we are brave enough we can hear our heart’s wisdom through it. Be whatever you are right now. No more hiding. You are worthy, always." - S.C. Lourie