Our eating habits are not black and white, nor are they linear they sit on a spectrum from a healthy relationship with food and normal eating patterns all the way to the other end of the spectrum for diagnosed eating disorders.
The good news is we are slowly starting to talk about the impact of disordered eating, the bad news is from my experience working as an eating disorder counsellor it is much much more prevalent than we think.
Binge eating falls under the spectrum of disordered or disturbed eating patterns.
A binge is defined by two things
1: a caloric intake which is far greater than normal eating
2: where someone feels out of control or unable to stop themselves whilst eating
Is when someone feels like they have binged, but it may be only a larger meal than their usual restricted intake. An example of this is someone who is dieting down for comp and eats twice as much as they normally would, but the amount of food eaten is quite small. You may also hear someone say they have “binged on chocolate” and whilst the amount is only 2 squares, it is the feeling of being out of control that is a worry for most people.
Recurring binges can lead to disordered eating habits as well as guilt, shame and discomfort. For someone struggling consistently with episodes of Binge eating is can turn into a full-blown Eating disorder.
Why do we Binge?
I often hear clients and trainers talking about their “binge” over the weekend, or looking forward to a cheat meal, or “day off”.
Patterns and behaviours that restrict food, all or nothing thinking, distorted beliefs about food and emotional eating patterns can all lead to someone binge eating.
Restriction of food
The more time we spend in a calorie deficit the more our body will try to resist and reset. When we are dieting our body’s “self-defence” system will set off a number of different hormonal responses, which started well back in the Caveman days of feast and famine. These responses include increased Ghrelin, increased appetite, increased thoughts and pre-occupation about food. These drivers and cues are physiologically driven and we often believe that we should be using our willpower alone to fight these urges. The truth is we are fighting our own bodies defence system, and this is a fight we will rarely win.
If you are dieting be aware that these physical cues and triggers are normal and have plans in place to manage them. For your peace of mind be aware of the overwhelming urge to eat and to overeat comes from a physiological driver and is not a test of your will power.
All or nothing thinking
The second we are told we can’t have something, what happens? We want it more and more. So the restrictive cutting out whole food groups crash diet are really just setting us up for failure. We are told no dairy, sugar or alcohol. And so when we inevitably slip off the bandwagon because LIFE HAPPENS this then triggers dietary disinhibition. Or the basically the F-it thoughts. Any of these familiar?
- Well I have ruined it anyway might as well keep going
- This might be my last chance to eat this deliciousness, I am going to go for it
- I am going to break the rules, no one tells me what to do, screw this diet
- I’ve been so good, I deserve this!
What usually follows is not just a cookie or two but a packet of the cookie, then the ice-cream and the whole pantry. The more regular this happens the more likely it is to turn into a pattern of binge eating.
Our unconscious thoughts about food
Food and diet is now part of our culture and our identity. If we are a health nut we have no problems dropping $12 on an organic maca tea smoothie. If we are a vegetarian we will get excited about the latest plant food restaurant. If we are paleo we will proudly sip our bulletproof coffee and tell everyone about it.
We all have a relationship with food and our diet which stems way back to the messages we heard growing up and the actions and behaviours we saw around us. These conversations form our beliefs about food, diets and health.
Maybe you heard conversations where people were judged on their gluttony or poor food choices. Perhaps you grew up only eating homegrown and organic fruit and vegetables and avoiding all sugars because it was better for the environment and sugar is toxic. Possibly every time something good happened the family was rewarded by going out for ice cream.
Any of these beliefs about food could set someone up for a pattern to overeat, secretly eat or binge eat. Black and white thinking about food being good or bad, distorted beliefs about food, identity and health can all lead to behaviours that result in a binge.
Emotional eating patterns
We ALL have a relationship with food. Food is joy, food is comfort and food is company.
The fastest way to change your mood is to grab a sugary treat. So if you are feeling low or sad food is the first thing we turn to. It is however only a short-term solution for what may be a deeper issue, and a way to avoid negative thoughts and feelings. Quite quickly this pattern can develop into
– negative thoughts and feelings – comfort eat- feelings of guilt and shame – comfort eat to avoid these negative emotions-
The challenge here is being aware of the triggers and emotions that drive emotional eating and create new strategies and habits to create healthier habits rather than turning to Ben and Jerrys every time you have a bad day.
Understanding why Binges occur is the first step to being able to develop coping strategies and alternative habits to manage a binge episode.