Why Do I Binge Eat ?

It’s 5:00 p.m. and Dave has just got off work. As he is driving home all he can think of is buying fast food. He argues with himself as he thinks of the promise he made this morning. “Today will be a good day and I will stick to my diet”. He tells himself that maybe he should take a different route home to avoid seeing the restaurants. But the urges are getting stronger and he is feeling more and more powerless. He says to himself “Just one meal deal, and then I’ll head home.” Instead, Dave finds himself pulling into three drive-thrus. He buys a couple of super sized meal deals, an extra large shake, a pizza and some wings. At this point he is feeling as if he has spun out of control and someone else has taken over. He drives to a private area and scoffs down every piece of food. He doesn’t notice how it tastes or smells and, in fact, he really isn’t even enjoying it. But Dave keeps eating and doesn’t stop until he feels painfully full. Afterwards, Dave is exhausted, dizzy and disgusted with himself. He drives home and goes straight to bed swearing, “I’ll start over tomorrow and get back on track with my diet.”

Deb is waiting for her husband to go out with the kids. She feels like she lives such a double life with all of this sneaking around. She has it all planned out. Her husband will be gone for two hours and this will give her just enough time to binge. The minute she hears the car pull out of the driveway she makes a run for the kitchen pantry. Stuffed way in the back she has two large bags of chips, a box of cookies, cereal and peanut butter. She pulls it all out and in a mad fury quickly consumes it all, swearing she’ll start the diet tomorrow. Like Dave, she feels like “wild horses” couldn’t stop her. In fact, Deb feels so disconnected from the experience that she feels likes she is watching herself. Once the binge is done, Deb is exhausted and painfully full. She cleans up the mess and takes her garbage outside so her husband and kids don’t find the evidence. Feeling confused and worn out, she drags her body downstairs and lies on the couch waiting to hear her husband come through the door.

Both Dave and Deb have what is called a Binge Eating Disorder. Binge eating is when you experience an overwhelming urge to eat and you consume a large amount of food in a short period of time. The amount consumed is very large in comparison to what others would normally eat. Binge eaters find themselves eating when they are not hungry and unable to stop when they are painfully full. After a binge, a person often feels guilty, ashamed, depressed and disgusted with him or herself. These strong feelings of self-reproach typically lead to further binges.

Overeating from time to time is not the same as binge eating. We all overeat at times, whether it is on holidays or at a buffet. We tend to take too much and then feel overly full, briefly regret it and then generally forget about it. We also all use food at times to comfort, soothe or reward ourselves. All of these things are all normal. They become a problem when food is habitually used as a way to cope with stressors or feelings.

The causes of Binge Eating Disorder are complex and still being researched. The reasons for why it started may now be different than from what is currently maintaining it. Clients often find it helpful to first gain some control over the behaviours before addressing the deeper reasons maintaining it. Three main factors that feed the binge cycle are restrictive eating, certain ways of thinking and poor emotion/needs management.

Many binge eaters in an attempt to control their weight will restrict their eating during the day. What they don’t realize is that restricting will physiologically set them up for overeating later in the day. Our bodies need to be adequately refuelled every 3-4 hours, otherwise blood sugar levels drop. If you ignore the signs of hunger and let your blood sugar continue to plummet, you will be vulnerable to overeat or binge. This is your body’s way of trying to make up for depriving it. In this state, your body will drive you towards simple carbohydrates (sugary calorie-dense foods) because they quickly convert to glucose for immediate energy. This is why binge eaters tend to binge on the very foods that they try to avoid. Binges rarely occur on lettuce and celery.

Right after a binge, the glucose levels peak and then quickly drop. The body will notice the infusion of simple carbohydrate and the pancreas will respond by releasing increased amounts of insulin. The body will then attempt to convert as much of the free floating glucose into stored energy. As a result, a vast amount of the fuel is stored as fat in fat cells and the person is left with low glucose levels and feeling poorly (exhausted, dizzy and confused).

My clients are often surprised to learn that their attempt at dieting and restricting to loose weight actually sets them up to over-eat and subsequently gain weight. I encourage clients to fuel their bodies on a regular basis (every 4 hours or less). This helps ward off binges and allows their bodies to effectively burn calories for energy rather than storing them. Regular eating is one of the best anti-binge medicines that we have.

Binging is also maintained because people psychologically set themselves up to feel deprived. Think about it. How many times have you said that you are not allowed a food because its “bad”? Setting food up as “good or bad” gives food the power and leaves you feeling deprived. This mentality will lead you to setting up rules and restrictive beliefs that will dictate what, when, where, why and how much you should eat. These personal rules will control your life and trap you into an “all or none attitude” that will perpetuate the binge eating cycle. Ask yourself if the following statement sounds familiar. “I’ve blown it now, so I may as well just keep eating and start over tomorrow.”

Emotional triggers and stressors also have a key role in maintaining the binge cycle. It is not uncommon for people to turn to substances (food or other) for comfort or to avoid feelings or situations. Clients commonly report that during binges they experience a pleasant sensation and short term relief from their distressing feelings. It is likely that the highly palatable foods provide a soothing effect and temporary distraction from concerns. As well, the person has consumed significant amounts of carbohydrate that will increase serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin a neurotransmitter, impacts our mood, sensitivity to pain and alertness. This is why people often fall asleep after having a binge. Once the binge is over, clients report strong feelings of self-reproach and distress with the same problems and feelings that precipitated the binge.

A Little Perspective: Recovery from binge eating is possible. Treatment will involve making certain changes and understanding how the binge eating serves a purpose in your life. For many, this statement is odd and they think, “I want this monkey off my back. How can it be serving me a purpose”? To put this into perspective, ask yourself if this behaviour is helping you avoid or fulfil something? Understanding this and finding healthy ways to meet your needs will free you from this chaos.

Are Your New Years Resolutions on the Back Burner by February?

Are Your New Years Resolutions on the Back Burner by February?

Every year it’s the same thing. You review in your mind how the past year went and vow to make a number of changes in your life. You swear to yourself that this is the year for change and you are determined to make it happen. You start out all motivated but then quickly loose the momentum and by February or so you’re back in the same old patterns and rut. Why does this happen?

The key to keeping a resolution is to pick one that you can follow through with- in other words a doable and realistic goal that provides some positive reinforcement. Far too often people pick lofty goals with no clear definition or plans of how they will accomplish them. Choose a very specific goal and break it down into smaller steps that you can accomplish along the way. This will allow you to constantly feel success with each step and each of your smaller successes will add up to bigger accomplishments. Here are some examples:

1. Don’t just say I am going to spend less – Make a plan for knowing how much you are really spending and be specific about what you will change. Track and write down where you are spending your money (rent, mortgage, utilities, insurances, loans, cell phones, technology etc). Include all of those things that you may think are small things, such as coffee, magazines and eating out etc. Identify your areas of spending and start with one small change (e.g., only buy coffee 3 times a week- make coffee I really enjoy at home and bring it with me in a travel cup). A small and simple example but the point is to be very specific and start with something doable. From there you can move onto another area of spending that you want to tackle.

 2. Don’t just say I am going to meet more people this year- Do something specific to allow for that opportunity. Research what activities or clubs are available in the community and pick something that you would enjoy. To start it might be a small group that you feel comfortable with but then expand your social connections.

3. Make your resolutions positive for yourself rather than taking the “whip approach”. If you can build pleasure and positive reinforcement into your plan you will be more likely to stick to it. For example, if you are concerned about your weight choose a physical activity that you enjoy (a walking group, badminton or yoga) rather than a strict workout plan. Choosing an enjoyable activity will help you stay with your goals and progressively increase them. Similarly, instead of saying I am going on a strict diet develop a plan for how you will add more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and leaner proteins to your overall eating plan. Whilst still giving yourself permission to enjoy some treats along the way.

Resolutions are also more likely to work if you share them with someone in order to help keep you accountable. Choose someone who will be supportive and challenging but not someone who uses the “whip approach”. Write down your goals and review them weekly or monthly. Identify a deadline to complete your goals or to reassess them.

A Little Perspective: So put aside the lofty undefined goals and choose something realistic that will get you going and keep you on a positive track. You can also put the whip away-it doesn’t work with children or pets and it won’t work for you. And if you can get in the habit of thinking about change as an ongoing goal rather than just being sparked by the New Year then you will definitely be much farther ahead.


Just Getting Started……..

Hi, this is Kim. I will be starting my blog soon and providing articles and comments about many topics such as disordered eating, mental health issues, relationships and other interesting topics.

Many of you may remember my column “A Little Perspective” that was published in the Kelowna Daily Courier. I am looking forward to hearing from both my previous and new readers. So please continue to check out my blog for interesting, relevant and current information, as well as hopeful, encouraging and inspirational comments.

Just a little perspective…….  Kim