What Triggers Your Binge Eating—And What To Do About It

February 11, 2022

First of all, I am not a therapist. I wanted to write about binge eating as someone who struggled with it and who still occasionally deals with it, to help people to stop feeling guilty about it. 

Binge eating isn’t something we talk about a lot because the people tend to do it secretly. There is a difference between binge eating and overeating; when you overeat, you don’t feel out of control or experience any negative emotions. You might just think “well, I ate too much and now I’m full,” whereas when we binge eat, the sense of fullness isn’t really experienced. 

Binge eating is a real eating disorder. When you binge eat, you feel a sense of responsibility toward your compulsive behavior with food. 

You binge eat when you feel like you eat something without any control over the amount of food you “inhale.” And  then you might feel extreme guilt after it: “how could I eat that much? Why did I eat this? I am so careless,” etc. As I wrote earlier, binge eaters tend to eat huge amounts of food secretly, mostly during the afternoon or snack time. When I started binge eating, I did it after work. I would say to my family I was quite hungry. But after dinner, I would start to binge eat even when I was full, without anyone around me to witness. Because of course, I would eat unhealthy food, sweets, and junk food when binge eating. I felt ashamed.

Whenever I would binge eat, I noticed the emotions I didn’t want to feel before. And how could I distract myself from them? Food. Binge eating. 

When I was little, whenever I would throw a tantrum to my dad, he would yell at me and then feel guilty about it. In order to gain my forgiveness, he would give me chocolate or anything I liked to eat. 

What I am trying to say is, eating can bring a sense of comfort, and if sometimes we can’t handle our emotions, we try to find comfort in something else. This is when food appears to us as a solution. 

When you binge eat, you feel like you can’t control the fact that you are going to eat something right away.

What I learned about binge eating is that we mostly feel a sense of helplessness about anything going on in our lives before doing it. Helpless after a fight with your loved one, helpless with a situation at work, helpless with the feeling of emptiness inside you, helpless with your insecurities, helpless because you feel that you are not living the life you want for yourself.

Sometimes it’s about feeling overwhelmed with intrusive thoughts. Not knowing how to deal with emotions, self-criticism, and insecurities. Anxiety can increase binge eating as well as stress and depression, for example. 

Sometimes, binge eaters can be people who go under a really strict and restrictive diet. The frustration coming with reducing sugar or carbs or anything you enjoy eating in your diet can deepen the times you fall off track and start binge eating. 

When you start to feel you are losing control over how you look, you are going to control how you eat. When your life does not go according to how you pictured it, you feel a sense of losing control, so you control something you can such as what you eat, how you eat. Controlling something as simple as eating gives you the feeling that you have the power over your life.

The moment we stop eating after the crisis, we feel ashamed. You might even feel disgusted about yourself. So it’s more a matter of your emotions and mind than what you put on your plate. 

Sometimes, you can see binge eating as an addiction to food. But you can’t avoid or escape from food; you need it to survive. That is why you need to have a healthy relationship with food that is not completely based on your emotions. Because binge eating is like you eating your emotions. What can you do? 

In order to stop binge eating, I would say the first step is to accept and acknowledge it.

You can feel shame and guilt about your food behavior but know that you are not the only person on earth to deal with it. It is not uncommon and you are not weak for going through this. 

Searching about binge eating on social media and talking about it in your circle can help accept it. You are not weird or crazy because you binge eat. It actually happens to a lot of people ( In 2018, about 2.8 millions people in the U.S. struggled with it!) 

The more you accept yourself in this behavior the less it’s going to have an influence over you.

The second step is to find out the reason behind the binge eating.

Maybe you will need to see a therapist, but if you don’t want to or you can’t afford it, try talking about it to a friend or a family member. You can also try journaling about it whenever you feel the need to go grab something to eat. Why do you want to eat this or that at the moment? How do you feel? Notice what is going on in your body at the very moment.  

If the reason you binge eat is because you are on a restrictive diet and you felt frustration, try journaling about how you feel within yourself. What are you insecure about ? What do you dislike about yourself? How do you feel about your life? How is your relationship with your loved one?

One of the things you can do also is to have snack time. Try having 3 meals a day (of course, starting step by step depending on how you are doing now) and include snack time between meals. It can help with softening the urge to eat a lot at a time. 

If you binge eat because you are dealing with anxiety, stress or depression, the focus is on your mental health: what are the actions you can do to improve your mental health? I won’t go further into it because mental health is different for everyone but what I can recommend  is to nurture a sense of compassion toward yourself. Notice within you what difficulties you went through and acknowledge how your body and mind tried to deal with it on its own. Try observing your thoughts and emotions without trying to make them disappear. You are not your thoughts and emotions, they are just within you sending you messages to notice. 

The next thing you can do is try experimenting with new food habits.

A friend of mine who struggled with many different food disorders in the past told me that going vegan helped her with her behavior toward food.

When she went vegan, she started focusing her attention not on calories or losing weight but on how to make her body feel good. She started noticing what food was doing harm to her health. Changing her focus not on how she looked but how she felt gave her a different meaning to food. Changing her food habits gave her joy because she could experiment new ways of eating and discover new flavors, new foods.

Maybe experimenting with food as your medicine and not your enemy can help you reconnect with your body and it needs. 

See food in a different light. Try experiencing food from around the world; search recipes on the net and try different ingredients that you never had before. 

However, eating healthier isn’t going to solve your binge eating disorder as you can become more aware of what you eat and control it all over again. The idea is to enjoy your food, which is why I recommend experimenting with flavors. You need to enjoy food to have a good relationship with it too. 

When I started making my food from scratch, I no longer saw food as a nightmare but as something I put effort into. As cooking food became more meaningful, enjoying it became easier for me.

Binge eating starts to heal when you start to heal and care about yourself.  Eating to fill a gap won’t make this gap smaller or full.

Yes, maybe your mind is telling you to hate yourself and that eating huge amounts of food will make you feel full. 

You are more powerful than what your mind is telling you. Your mind is like a little baby who won’t stop crying. What does it need? Attention. Give attention to yourself, notice yourself, notice your emotions and thoughts. Give yourself what you deserve. It’s not going to be easy but it’s worth it. 

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Photo: Nathan Dumlao via Unsplash

Sabrina Lounaci
Sabrina is an Algerian girl born in France and currently living in Paris. After a few inconclusive years in college, she started as a pastry apprentice and a freelance writer. She likes trying new recipes and enjoys sharing her love for food with her family and friends. When she is not cooking, she enjoys yoga and likes to extend her knowledge through reading. Follow Sabrina on instagram @miaoumioum.

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