You’re sitting there, post binge eating episode wondering where it all went wrong. Am I always going to be addicted to food? Or struggle to have certain foods in the house for the rest of my life?
These can all be triggers for binge eating, but there might be some factors you haven’t considered before.
We’re going to take a look at 5 causes of binge eating that you need to know about, as you might be overlooking them.
1. Going to bed thinking tomorrow will be perfect
Today wasn’t your day but tomorrow will be, right? This might set you up on a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
You binge because your eating isn’t perfect today. But then you feel guilty about what you eat. So tomorrow gets built up in your mind – it will be perfect. But the thing is - nothing can live up that. To tomorrow isn’t great, and maybe you binge again, or eat unhealthy.
The day after that will be perfect… you see where we’re going with this.
If you’re worried you might be a perfectionist, ask yourself the following:
Do you have standards that others have or would describe as extremely high? Do you expect a lot from yourself?
Do you judge your self worth on whether you meet these standards? How do you feel if you don’t meet these standards?
Even when you don’t meet these standards, or trying to meet them might have negative side effects for you, do you continue to aim for them?
Having high standards isn’t in itself a bad thing. But when we measure how good / bad we are as a person and our worth on whether we meet these standards it can have worrying side effects.
How to combat:
Start to notice any perfectionist traits in yourself.
If need be, work with a professional to work on these.
Work on lowering expectations for yourself and others.
Use affirmations such as ‘today won’t be perfect but I’ll make it the best I can’ to keep a positive mindset
Rely on your social circle if it helps
2. Giving yourself pseudo-permission to eat all foods
Are you giving yourself permission to eat until you are satisfied? Are you including the foods you really enjoy?
Pseudo permission means giving yourself permission to eat a food now but depriving yourself of it in the future. E.g., I can eat cookies in the morning, but then I can’t eat them for the rest of the day/week. Or thinking ‘I can have waffles for breakfast, but then I’ll have to have a small lunch, or a carb-free dinner to compensate’.
Neither of these scenarios include full permission to eat those foods – they’re being consumed with guilt and shame. And it’s this shame and guilt that fuels binges.
Some signs you haven’t given yourself full permission to eat all foods:
You still think of food as good and bad, in a black and white manner.
You think of foods you ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ eat
You only eat certain foods on certain days e.g., saving takeaways for the weekend only
You find yourself preoccupied with food that you can’t eat
You find yourself wondering about if you will gain weight eating a certain food
Giving yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods isn’t about what food is good or bad - it’s about food becoming neutral from guilt or shame.
After making peace with our hunger and fullness over time we can choose food that makes us feel satisfied – whether that’s due to its nutrients or because it’s something we want to eat.
You might think that giving yourself unconditional permission will lead to binging - but often the opposite happens. If you know you can have cake for breakfast, lunch and dinner you might find you no longer crave it as much.
How to combat:
Ask yourself, are you giving yourself full permission to eat all foods? Acknowledging If you aren’t is the first step
Work with a professional to address your relationship with food
Curate your socials – are you following accounts that promote ‘healthy’ eating or very stringent diet rules?
3. Poor sleep
Does poor sleep make you binge, or does binging (especially at night) affect your sleep? Maybe you find yourself sleepy and hungry often, or binge late at night when you can’t sleep.
Studies have found a link between poor sleep and binge eating episodes. Poor sleep includes not getting enough sleep, problems falling asleep, disturbed sleep and feeling sleepy during work/free time.
Poor sleep increases the hormone ghrelin which stimulates your appetite and reduces levels of leptin in your body – leptin reduces your appetite. The effects on these two hormones caused by poor sleep mimics the effects of being on a restrictive diet on the body.
And the common denominator – stress. Stress can cause you to binge and / or affect your sleep levels. We have a hormone in our body called cortisol, commonly known as the stress hormone. This is increased when you sleep poorly, causing you to be hungry and more likely to binge – it also damages your levels of leptin, while increasing your ghrelin. Meaning your appetite skyrockets.
How to combat:
Work on your sleep hygiene: do you drink caffeine before bed? Or work from bed sometimes? Make your bed a sleep only zone and maybe avoid alcohol and caffeine a few hours before sleeping.
Evaluate sources of stress in your life: can any of them be reduced? What’s keeping you up at night? Sometimes having a pen and paper by the bed can help you get thoughts out that are plaguing you.
4. Feeling like you’re not worth taking care of
It’s natural to go through short periods of maybe feeling a little unworthy. But persistent feelings of not being worth taking care of can lead to binge eating, an eating disorder or other form of mental illness. Know that you’re not alone and help is out there.
Some questions to ask yourself:
Do you feel like you’re worthy of recovery, or that it is possible?
What voice do you use when talking to / about yourself?
Do you blame yourself if / when things go wrong?
Do you think of those around you as better than you?
Do you tend to ignore your achievements, or play them down?
Low self-worth / self-esteem can lead to self-abuse. Binging can be seen as a form of self-abuse if it starts to become a way of making yourself feel guilty, or as a means of sabotaging how you see yourself. Binge eating is inherently linked to our emotions, if you feel unworthy and negative you may eat to compensate.
But you are worthy of care. Worthy of recovery.
If you find yourself experiencing low mood, self-worth and self-esteem it may be worth reaching out to social contacts. Or to a professional.
How to combat:
Start to identify negative thoughts you may be having about yourself – maybe through journaling or just awareness of your thoughts. Work on replacing these with neutral or positive thoughts.
Use affirmations if you find them helpful. “I am worthy of care”, “My eating disorder does not define me” etc.
Work with a professional if you find you can’t overcome these thought patterns.
5. Going on and off new diets
Dieting leads to a fixation on food, wanting more of it and increased cravings. All of these come together in the inevitable binge episode. Diet failed. Onto the next… this one will be different! But is it just another form of restriction that restarts the cycle?
This is sometimes called yo-yo dieting. One diet fails so we double down on another, before it fails and then we start again. Chronically dieting is a form of disordered eating and is a common precursor to binge eating disorder. We have a blog post on the side effects of weight cycling which is a major side effect of yo yo dieting.
Our bodies binge in response to restriction, whether our bodies physically need the energy, or we’ve made ourselves pre-occupied with food that we can’t have. And when we react in such a way we’re met with shame and guilt – hallmarks of a binge eating episode. Diets give us the illusion of control, but our bodies aren’t made to be controlled.
Know that the diets have failed you. You haven’t failed them (they’re made to fail).
How to combat:
Move away from the diets! Work on intuitive eating and giving yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods.
Work with a professional if you can’t move away from chronic dieting.
Curate your social media and social circle to not talk about diets around you, work on setting boundaries around dieting