Do you ever find yourself wondering, “Why am I binge eating?”
If you’ve ever experienced a binge eating episode where you feel out of control or unable to stop eating, you’ve likely had that thought.
Through my years of coaching, it has become clear to me that binge eating is much more common than most people realize.
Binge eating is one of the most common challenges many of our members inside of the Mindful Nutrition Method™ experience prior to joining. Whether they’re experiencing this weekly or in specific situations, they’re confused, overwhelmed, and unsure of what exactly is happening, why it’s happening, and how to move forward to balance their relationship with food.
When you can better understand what’s triggering your binge-eating tendencies, you can begin taking steps to prevent it, heal your relationship with food, and restore the balance you’d like to have.
What is Binge Eating?
Before we talk about what’s causing it, we need to walk through what it actually is, as well as what it isn’t.
First and foremost, there are two levels of binge eating. We have Binge Eating Disorder, then we have binge-eating episodes, habits, or tendencies.
Binge Eating Disorder
Binge Eating Disorder is defined as, “recurrent episodes of eating large quantities of food, a feeling of a loss of control during the binge, experiencing shame, distress or guilt afterward,” according to the National Eating Disorder Associated (NEDA).
More specifically, it’s characterized by eating an excessive, significantly larger amount of food than is generally considered to be a normal meal in a 2-hour time period or less. People will also experience a lack of control during these episodes. They may feel as though they can’t stop themselves or aren’t intentionally eating.
These described episodes occur on average, at least once per week for 3 months to be considered Binge Eating Disorder, according to NEDA.
Additionally, Binge Eating Disorder is the most common eating disorder in America. Research shows that 1.25% of women and .42% of men have binge eating disorders.
Binge Eating Episodes
Now let’s say you experience some of those symptoms we’ve just walked through. You consume larger than average portion sizes, experience a loss of control, and possibly feel distressed or guilty after the fact.
But in contrast, you experience these episodes less often than as described above, or possibly with less severity.
While you may not have Binge Eating Disorder, you’re still experiencing binge eating episodes.
Why Am I Binge Eating?
So why does it happen? There are various different causes of these episodes. You may be eating this way as a result of one of these reasons, or a combination of a few of them.
Let’s chat through some of the most common causes of binge eating I see as a Wellness Coach and Registered Dietitian.
5 Causes of Binge Eating
1. Not Eating Enough
One of the most common reasons individuals will experience episodes of binge eating is as a result of not eating enough or restricting their eating.
Restriction can look very different in different situations. For example, it may include the restriction of entire meals, certain food items, or simply a restriction of portion sizes.
It’s often a result of chronic dieting that leads to a recurrent start-and-stop cycle. This generally happens as a result of self-inflicted food rules and regulations.
To give you a bit more context, when the body is not receiving enough nourishment on a recurring basis, it eventually reaches a breaking point. It takes willpower to restrict the body from the food it wants and needs. Because willpower is finite, this willpower eventually runs out and the floodgates open.
Portion sizes shoot through the roof and self-control goes to the wayside. The body is attempting to make up for the lack of nourishment it has experienced.
At the end of these episodes, people are often left feeling overly full, bloated, embarrassed, and frustrated. This leads them to go back to restriction in a misguided attempt to “make up for” or “fix” the most recent binging episode.
It’s also important to note that some people aren’t eating enough by mistake.
One of our members was studying for her law exams when she was experiencing binge eating at night. After digging into her habits, we realized that the stress she was under was suppressing her appetite, leading her to not eat anything but a protein bar all day long. When she finally got home from the library after a full day, she was ravenous and her body was making up for what she didn’t get.
Moving forward, she packed food with her and set reminders to eat so she ensured she got the nourishment she needed throughout the day.
2. Assigning Morality to Food & the Scarcity Mindset
Whether you’re restricting or not, when morality is in play binge eating often comes right alongside it.
When I say assigning morality to food, what I’m referring to here is the act of deeming food to be good or bad, right or wrong, correct or incorrect.
Those who assign morality to food will often refer to nourishing food items as good and feel prideful when consuming them. They’re in turn referring to more enjoyment-based food items that don’t have much nutritional value as bad. They then feel guilty or shameful when they consume these enjoyable foods.
When we assign this kind of morality to food, food items that are in the “bad” category are exceptionally enticing. When these food items are consumed, there can be a sensation of scarcity or urgency felt. The scarcity mindset can lead you to believe that because you “shouldn’t” be having these food items, they should eat quicker or larger portion sizes than they usually would.
The rationalization of this comes from the idea that this may be your “only opportunity” to have the food item. Or, they may tell themselves that this is the “last time” they’re going to consume said items, so they should have a large amount to really “make the most” of the experience.
These mindsets can unintentionally result in binge-eating episodes or Binge Eating Disorder over time.
3. Not Eating Balanced Meals
We talk about balanced, nourishing meals all the time here at Nutrition Stripped! To describe and convey these meals with ease, we use our Foundational Five system. You can download our free guide that walks you through our Foundational Five system for creating balanced meals that you can use to meal prep or cook fresh this week!
Foundational Five meals are comprised of primarily whole food sources of protein, starchy and sugary carbohydrates, non-starchy carbohydrates, fats, and flavor factors.
Each of the components nourishes the body in a different, vital way. When we’re missing certain food groups (whether intentionally or unintentionally), it can possibly lead to episodes of binge eating.
The body essentially craves these components because they allow the body to feel satiated and energized. They allow the body to function at its best!
When an individual’s meals are primarily comprised of processed foods or are perpetually lacking some of those components, they can experience a loss of control around food and consume an excessive amount as a result.
This may sometimes be instigated by hunger, but often continues past the point of hunger and satiety. This puts it in the category of a binge eating episode.
4. Unaddressed Emotions or Stress
When healthy, successful coping mechanisms for heightened emotions or stress are not developed, individuals can start to reach to food in response instead.
Stress and emotional eating are quite common, but when left unaddressed for a significant amount of time, it can start to build and snowball into binge eating.
In this scenario, eating is a way to distract oneself from the emotion or stress they’re feeling. They’re not necessarily eating as a result of hunger, and are therefore ignoring satiety cues as well. It’s almost a means of numbing.
When hunger and satiety are completely ignored, excessive amounts of food can be consumed in a short period of time. Additionally, a lack of control can be experienced because the mind-body connection is essentially turned off.
If you find that you don’t have coping mechanisms handy for stress and heightened emotions, this may be why you’re eating this way.
5. Low Self-Esteem or Poor Body Image
It’s very common for those who engage in these episodes to have low self-esteem or a poor body image. The connection between the two is often a result of self-sabotage, to a certain degree.
If you find that you reach for food and say things to yourself such as, “I’m already unhappy with my body so I might as well just eat more.”, “Everything is already terrible so who cares if I eat too much.”, or, “Eating healthy never makes a difference so I should just eat whatever I want and eat as much as I want.”, you may be eating this way as a means to self-sabotage.
Overcoming Binge Eating
In order to stop binge eating, the first step is to heal your relationship with food.
Building a balanced relationship with food allows for you to eat nourishing, balanced meals and address stress and emotions. It allows you to listen to your hunger and satiety cues as well as get out of the diet cycle. You’ll even develop a strong sense of appreciation and compassion for yourself and your body.
This is exactly what we teach individuals how to do in our Mindful Nutrition Method. We walk you through the steps for healing your relationship with food. We teach you how to build a new relationship that allows for growth, stability, and support.
You can watch our free workshop to learn how to be more balanced with your food choices so you can be free from food and diet obsession, maintain a balanced weight, and cultivate a positive relationship with food and your body.