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Understanding Binge Eating | Balance

Updated: Sep 30, 2022

Binge eating is a complex condition with overlapping behaviours seen in both overeaters and emotional eaters. We previously covered the difference between binge eating and overeating here.

Emotional eating is when you find yourself reaching for food to suppress and soothe negative feelings. Some may even feel guilt or shame after eating this way but not all emotional eating is associated with negative emotional consequences. In fact, food as a means of soothing emotion is relatively normal; it’s when food becomes your primary way of coping with your feelings then it is important to reach out for help.

There are four criteria used to diagnose binge eating behaviour;

  1. A sense of loss / lack of control when eating.

  2. Eating a relatively large amount of food in a short period of time (several hours up to a whole twenty four hour period).

  3. Marked psychological distress and feelings of shame, guilt, anger and resentment during and after an episode.

  4. Having these episodes at least once a week for 3 months.

At its core, binge eating is a means of coping with difficult emotions and “escaping” from challenging, often chaotic, circumstances.

It doesn’t make you a “bad” person for having these means of coping; it’s simply a result of your past experiences and influences manifested into unwanted thoughts, feelings and behaviours.

To work towards overcoming these behaviours we have to consider how they started so we can gradually unravel and rework them.

A better understanding of your behaviours also allows us to challenge them more readily, and firmly, when the urges, thoughts and feelings which drive them arise.

Why do we binge eat?

In order to heal your relationship with food and break the binge eating cycle, it is important to understand the root causes of binge eating. Identifying the source of the issue allows us to plan a more effective solution.

Broadly speaking, there are two recognized primary contributors to binge eating behaviour; restriction and the use of binge eating as an emotional coping mechanism. For some people this can eventually lead to habitual binge eating whereas, for others, their binge eating is more sporadic and reactive to events and or experiences in their life.

Dietary restriction and binge eating

Often described as the “primal” urge to binge eat, this is when the more primal parts of our brain interpret restriction as famine and prioritises survival (a safety mechanism built into our brain which we inherited from our ancestors).

When that primal part of our brain believes we are facing famine it drives us towards binge eating (a protective mechanism against perceived starvation).

Consider your history with dieting, your view of your body and even which diets you’ve tried in the past. In reflection, do any of the following relate to you / have you experienced any of the following?

  • Uncertainty around nutrition and weight loss leading to excessively restrictive weight loss and or fad diets

  • Early age modelling from parents / role models

  • Fad diet exploration

  • Social media and dieting industry pressures and influence (often towards more extreme forms of dieting and weight loss)

  • Being introduced to slimming clubs which use weight loss as the sole indicator of progress can drive someone to more desperate measures to be deemed “successful” each week.

Binge eating as a coping mechanism

Binge eating may also develop as a means of coping with challenging circumstances or dealing with difficult emotions.

Food has been used as a means of soothing since the beginning of time and using food in this way is not necessarily disordered. However, when food becomes your sole means of coping and or the feelings, thoughts and behaviours around food using food in this way become abusive / harmful, that’s when help should be sought.

For many, their present day thoughts, feelings and behaviours around food have been moulded in a disordered fashion since even early childhood.

Consider your early childhood and the environment you were in, aspects of dieting and physical change you were exposed to or traumatic experiences. In reflection, do any of the following relate / happened to you at that time in your development?

  • Weight stigma / pressure by family members

  • Eating concerns and enforcement of behaviours

  • Family conflicts and parenting problems

  • Perceived favouritism for siblings (based on body size)

  • Peer interaction in early life and school (bullying for example

  • Loss of controlled eating in childhood

  • Physical or sexual abuse

Concluding remarks

If you or a loved one is struggling with binge eating, it’s important to seek help. There are many resources available to you, and our team at [company] would be happy to chat with you about the best way to overcome this challenge. With the right tools and support, you can break free from binge eating and reclaim your health and happiness. Don’t wait any longer – speak with us today!

Balance is Northern Ireland's leading nutritionist and dietician coaching team. We work with everyone from Olympians to office workers to help them achieve their nutrition and diet related goals.

Get in touch with us today to discuss how we can help you;

- Beat binge eating

- Lose weight and keep it off

- Take your sports performance to the next level and reach your full potential

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