2020 has seen a huge increase in people seeking support for eating disorders, particularly people seeking information and support for difficulties with binge eating. The binge eating page on our website has seen an increase in visits of over 65% since July. It is also the second most visited page on the entire website (behind the homepage)!
This tells us that there are a lot of you out there struggling with this.
One of the most frequent questions about binge eating is “why am I doing this?”. Logically there can be an understanding that bingeing is not helpful and can lead to some unpleasant emotions, but still the urges continue, as does the behavior.
There are a few reasons why binge eating occurs, so let’s have a look at them:
You’re hungry. This seems relatively obvious, but if you struggle with restricting or controlling how much food you eat, struggle understanding your hunger cues or are adept at avoiding them, bingeing might be a difficulty for you. One of the main reasons that binges occur is that your body is crying out for more nutrients and this need eventually overpowers the thoughts to control and restrict. One of the most obvious ways to reduce the risk of a binge is to make sure that you are getting enough food to eat throughout the day, so that the hunger doesn’t build up.
Managing distress. When we are distressed, we can feel anxious, agitated, flighty and chaotic. Sometimes as an attempt to settle these experiences, a binge might occur. From a sensory perspective, having a full stomach helps us to slow down, feel sleepy, heavy and ready to rest. So once the binge has occurred, the chaotic distress may be a little more settled, which is easier for you to manage.
You’re disconnected. On the other end of the spectrum from distress, sometimes our brains decide we should have a break from the here and now, and this can leave us feeling numb and unaware of hunger and fullness cues, so bingeing can happen purely by accident, as eating becomes something to do to while away the hours of discontent and disconnect.
It fills a void. Feeling an emotional emptiness or void can be incredibly difficult to sit with and tolerate. Whether it be heartbreak, grief, isolation, a feeling that you don’t belong or aren’t important, it can result in the sensation of physical emptiness or a vastness of the self that seems impossible to ‘fill’. In attempt to fill the emotional emptiness, we fill the physical self by eating. The satisfaction and contentment may only be short lived, before the emotional emptiness returns.
Dopamine & enjoyment seeking: Certain foods prompt the body to release dopamine. It’s that feel good happy chemical that 2020 needs a little more of. You may not even realize this is what you are chasing. You might be drawn towards eating certain foods because of this dopamine release, even though you haven’t put 2 and 2 together. Additionally, eating can be a very enjoyable experience. Sometimes when things in life are bad, eating food can be the only enjoyable activity available to you. Food can also become a ‘reward’ or a way to celebrate things. In a balanced setting, there is nothing wrong with this! But overuse of any behavior can be problematic.
Avoidance: Often to avoid unpleasant circumstances or negative emotions, bingeing can be an activity that we turn to. Sometimes this can be almost like going into your own little world while the binge occurs. There can be enjoyment in the sense of secrecy and planning of a binge. The escape from the here and now can be something you begin to crave and associate with a binge.
It’s something to do: 2020 has certainly bought its share of challenges, and the boredom and monotony of isolated days can leave us with few activities to do. Food and meals can ear mark the structure of a day that is otherwise unfilled and unstructured whilst stuck at home. It can become the main thing that the day revolves around and planning meals is something to do and look forward to. It can provide variety and interest throughout the endless lockdown days.
Your experience might be a combination of all these factors, or maybe you still can’t put your finger on it.
To start having a look at your bingeing, it can be helpful to keep a food journal, not so that you can judge yourself for everything you eat, but so you can record your thoughts and feelings prior to each meal or snack. Looking at the whole experience of eating, not just the consumption, can help show us patterns in bingeing and what emotions or situations might prompt this behavior.
To help you on your journey, here are some amazing resources that can help:
The most important thing to know about binge eating is that you deserve help and support!
So go on, don’t be shy, give our Hub a call and chat about where to next!