Why Can't I Stop Binge Eating?
Why can't I control myself around food?
Why can't I eat just one cookie like everyone else?
Why did I eat that when I specifically told myself I wouldn't?
If you binge eat, you know these questions. And perhaps your answers are similar to what mine used to be...
Maybe if I just don't buy the junk food anymore...
I'll only allow myself this on the weekends.
Maybe low-carb would help...
I'll design a meal plan and check off what I eat each day.
I'll bring as much of the food I want into my house so I don't feel deprived.
Confusing. So let me break it down a little.
First, let me remind you of what binge eating is:
Officially, binge eating includes three or more of the following characteristics and is recurrent and persistent:
eating much more rapidly than normal
eating until feeling uncomfortably full
eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry
eating alone because of being embarrassed by how much one is eating
feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty after overeating
Unofficially, binge eating is eating in a way that feels out of your control, sometimes against your own will, comes with intense urges for specific foods, is usually followed by a vow to not do that again, or to start fresh the next day, and most often feels regretful, frustrating and depressing. Binge eating is no fun. So, why do people start binge eating?
Although there are different reasons people may have started binge eating, and a small category of people will not relate to what I'm about to say, most binge eaters started binge eating because the inner guidance of their body had determined that they were simply not getting enough fuel to maintain their natural, genetically determined weight.
In other words, most people who binge eat were dieting, skipping meals, not eating through the day- perhaps consciously or unconsciously, and because of this, their inner mechanisms of survival were activated.
When survival mechanisms are activated, the brain will become hyper-focused on food and you will feel compelled to overeat. This is actually a very intelligent system to ensure our survival. Yet, since our initial desire was to lose weight or shape our body into an unnatural version of itself, the fact of binge eating being a compensation for weight loss doesn't go over well with the part of us who wants to maintain that lower weight. Which leads to the questions... Why does binge eating continue? Most people who binge eat feel quite adamant that they do not want to have just consumed so many 'excess' calories. In order to deal with the regret and annoyance at binge eating, it's common that compensatory behaviours ensue such as continued restriction, dieting, skipping breakfast or lunch, perhaps over exercising or even purging. Participating in these behaviours only serves to strengthen the urges to binge eat again, as the survival mechanisms stay high due to the perceived continuation of food or energy shortage (from dieting, compensating, skipping meals, etc.). Once again, if you compensate for binge eating by restricting calories, you're still sending the message to your body that there is not enough food and that it must binge in order to keep you alive.
The other reasons people find themselves continuing to binge eat, is that for the most part people are turning to very stimulating modern foods full of sugar, fat or salt when they binge. These foods have the highest reward value in the brain, which sends the signal that they're the ones you should eat in order to avoid starvation.
However, these foods also begin changing the brain in a way that we become adapted to eating them- similar to building a tolerance to alcohol or coffee or cigarettes, and now your body needs more to feel that initial pleasure it once had. So now, going back to eating 'healthy' food all day can feel like it's missing a little stimulation or pleasure and you may find yourself craving those other foods even when you're not in a perceived starvation state.
So ultimately, why can't you stop?
In order to stop binge eating, we have to start eating in a way throughout the day that drives home the message that you are not starving, you are not skipping meals, you are getting enough fuel that your body needs so it does not have to look elsewhere. But further than that, we have to undo the habits of the brain and the conditioned response that has developed to these modern stimulating foods, and rewire the brain to not react to binge urges and cravings, and ultimately, not desire them.
This is done mostly through a full mindset shift- a total understanding of what's happening in your brain and body, and a full commitment to maintaining the foundation of eating that calms the brain's survival instincts. It's also done with a lot of thought work, understanding our inner voice, and simply moving into our own corner to support ourselves rather than mentally and emotionally punishing ourselves for slip ups or making choices that we didn't truly want to make. Stopping binge eating is both easy, and complicated all at once. When you understand the full science and physiology behind why you're binge eating, and then move to understanding how modern foods affect your body as well as your relationship and desire for certain foods, then you can start getting some traction on healing. From there the work begins on managing your mind and emotions and shifting your mindset to one of growth and belief in your goals.
But without this understanding and without the personal and emotional growth work, binge eating can feel like it's controlling your life, because in many cases, it is. If your survival instinct is activated, then binge eating will control your life. If modern foods are consistently in the picture then your ability to make choices that serve you will also be compromised because of the high value your brain has imprinted onto those modern foods above all else.
If you feel like you can't stop binge eating, the most important thing to recognize, is IT'S NOT A PERSONAL FAULT.
In fact, binge eating is perfectly natural and a common response to dieting, paired with our modern food environment. You can't stop binge eating because a different, and more powerful part of your brain has taken control and leaves your rational brain behind. That's why even though you told yourself rationally that you won't eat anymore, you still find yourself going back to finish off the bag. The reasons for this are completely understandable, but the key is to fully understand them so we can start making choices that steer us in the right direction instead of perpetuating the underlying cause of binge eating and belief that it's a personal failure or lack of control. Ending binge eating is 100% possible. It's 100% possible to have true freedom with food. I want you to know that you don't have to struggle as you have been. Help is here when you're ready to move forward. Reach out any time.