Binge and Emotional Eating

Binge eating is whenever a person consumes a large amount of food in one sitting. Many people are not aware that it’s actually the most common eating disorder in the US with around 2.8 million people suffering from it. As a recovered binge eater I can honestly say the hardest part was the extreme shame that washed over me after each binge.

For many people binge eating occurs in the evenings once they are no longer distracted by the busy-ness of their day. It can also happen due to extreme restriction or attempting to be “good” or in control all day long. It also often accompanies “relaxing” or “relieving stress” at the end of a long day.

There are also cases in which people wake up during the night to binge eat and it can occur at any other time during the day.

Binge eating differs from other types of eating because it’s often coming from its own trigger. Unlike overeating which occurs during an eating episode that originally began as hunger. Binge eating is done mindlessly and can be described as completely unconscious. It usually takes a large degree of discomfort physically to recognize the signal to stop.

Overeating is when food is consumed beyond fullness. While most people believe that overeating is from enjoying food too much it’s actually the total opposite. Overeating occurs due to a lack of enjoyment, satisfaction, and pleasure from food.

This can occur because the person doesn’t think they should enjoy the food, because the person is eating foods they don’t really like, or because the person is mindless or unconscious while they are eating.

Slowing down and breathing more can help to stop overeating. Removing distractions and judgment from food will also help to ensure the eater has a pleasurable eating experience. Lastly, the person would need to disconnect weight gain/loss and food for true enjoyment.

The main feeling with binge eating, however, is “out of control”. It feels impossible to stop and as if the food is in control as opposed to the other way around. A common occurrence with binge eating is excessive exercise or "exercise bulimia" as a way to offset the consumption of calories. Of course, others may purge or fast to offset the calories as well.

Some interesting stats surrounding binge eating is that 2 out of 3 people who binge eat are considered obese and 30% of people who are actively trying to lose weight suffer from binge eating.

The good news is binge eating is completely treatable and many find themselves free from the eating disorder altogether. In order to eliminate binge eating some major changes would need to occur.

First, all dieting, restriction, and deprivation would need to cease. For many people, the act of controlling their food and weight is the direct cause of their binge eating. Furthermore, the more deprived and restricted a person feels, the higher the probability of binging.

Secondly, it is imperative that a person does not allow themselves to get too hungry. While binge eating at mealtimes previously trigger by hunger is technically overeating it mimics the feeling of binge eating for a person who has a history of binge eating episodes.

Lastly, all meals must be consumed mindfully without distractions. Binge eating can occur purely because of the lack of an eating experience. Especially when one has dieted or correlated food with weight, eating experiences can become stressful and punishing. This can cause the mind to become hyper-focused on food making many feel as though they are addicted to food. When eating experiences are prioritized, the mind is able to relax and enjoy and stops signaling for food constantly.

Another common trigger for binge eating is emotions. However, this will be categorized under emotional eating.

Emotional eating happens whenever a person begins eating due to emotion as opposed to hunger. It can be negative emotions such as stress, sadness, boredom, or positive emotions such as excitement, happiness, or celebration.

Many children are offered food for reasons other than hunger including coping with emotions. It can become a pattern to use food in this way. Furthermore, food can elicit positive emotions and fire feel-good chemicals in the brain. This allows it to become a constant source for coping with life.

Emotional eating can be harmless and it can also be debilitating. For those that feel shameful, who end up binge eating, or find themselves emotionally eating regularly, treatment may be desired.

Treating emotional eating begins exactly like treatment for binge eating. It is important to first remove dieting behaviors, eat regularly, and mindfully. In addition to these steps, it is helpful to work through the emotions with a trusted friend or professional.

Food can be used to stuff down emotions and suppress which makes discussing and processing feelings an important step in combating emotional eating.

Food can also be used as a mindless activity to combat boredom or lack of fulfillment. If this occurs, treatment would include soulful hobbies and social connections, like a weight loss support group.

When food is used to elicit a positive emotion the proper treatment would be to pause before eating and honestly assess the outcome from eating the food under these conditions. While a temporary positive emotion is experienced it is closely followed by a negative one making the true outcome a negative feeling.

With all the mentioned treatment protocols, binge eaters, overeaters, and emotional eaters must remain in a state of non-judgment. This is not necessarily an easy process and it’s best to work with a trained professional.

Not all health and wellness experts are trained to work with binge eaters, overeaters, and emotional eaters. Be sure to check the credentials of the people you hire before working with them as they could accidentally make the condition worse.

Look for training in psychology to be sure the person you are working with is trained to help you. If the person is trained in health or food psychology you will be in the best hands possible.

While binge eating, overeating, and emotional eating can feel never-ending, long-term relief is possible.