Binge Eating - What's Really Causing Yours?

Binge eating is a common struggle for many, but the root cause isn’t always the same.

It can be caused by physiological or emotional factors, but it’s often a combination of both.

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Physiological Drivers

Excessive dieting and restriction, via overall caloric density or a specific macronutrient, can lead to the body’s physiological response to counter this deprivation—bingeing.

As we know, our bodies are smart, and they’re going to find a way to get what they need to survive. We tend to resent this quality and perceive our bodies as the enemy, but this is a gift! We literally wouldn’t be here today without this.

Furthermore, restriction elicits a mental battle.

This often comes back to the discussion about Moderators vs. Abstainers—those who can enjoy all foods without going off the rails, and those who believe they have to follow strict rules or they’ll go off the deep end (i.e. binge).

I have witnessed many self-proclaimed Abstainers—even those with very addictive personalities—become Moderators by simply easing up on their rules and restrictive behaviors.

With a newly developed self-trust and relaxation around food, the urge to binge on “bad” foods lessens significantly.

As someone who formerly subscribed to the label of Abstainer, I can attest to this personally as well.

If you’re struggling with binge eating, and you believe it’s due to excessive restriction, slowly add more foods into your diet. This might be overall food quantity (i.e. calories), a specific macronutrient (i.e. carbs), or allowing yourself to enjoy more processed or “bad” foods.

I completely understand the fear this process invokes if you’re in this situation.  

Leveraging a coach can be extremely helpful, and commitment is essential. You may find yourself continuing to binge throughout the healing process, so it will be tempting to throw in the towel and accept that you’re destined to live a life of deprivation and bingeing.

I promise this urge will dissipate as you get more wins under your belt and your confidence grows. It’s a practice, just like anything else.

Emotional Drivers

The emotional component can be more complex, as there are often several factors at play, but it’s often driven by the need to fill a void or to serve as a distraction for something deeper.

  • Loneliness and lack of deep connection in relationships.

  • Feeling trapped in a relationship that’s no longer serving us.

  • Lacking inspiration in our careers and/or being on a career path that stifles our souls.

  • Pretending to be someone we’re not in front of others due to a lack of acceptance of ourselves or fear of the outcome.

  • Not speaking our minds or setting boundaries with others, so we’re left feeling like shells of our true selves.

  • Making choices in life rooted in fear.

  • Not trusting our intuition.

  • And the list goes on.

There is no shortage of reasons why we use food to circumvent addressing a deeper concern.  

We’ve become so accustomed to deflecting our emotions and believing that anything that resembles discomfort or pain doesn’t have a seat at the table.

That happiness and exhilaration are the only acceptable ways to show up in the world.

As a result, we use food to numb these feelings rather than address them—similarly to using drugs, alcohol, attention, or shopping.

Furthermore, many of us may find ourselves living our lives from a place of fear. 

  • Fear of being unlovable if we show our true selves.

  • Fear of failure if we decide to quit the jobs we hate and try something new.

  • Fear of saying something that may upset someone else.

  • Fear of rejection if we make the first move.

This fear leads to playing small, becoming condensed versions of our true selves, and living lives that are completely unfulfilling.

Eventually, discontentment becomes our standard mode of operation.

This discontentment leads us to self-medication via food, as we believe this to be our only “escape” from our misery. For some, it’s the only source of happiness experienced throughout the day.

As I noted previously, you can apply this concept to some of society’s more widely accepted forms of distraction and superficial medication—booze, drugs, sex, attention from others, gambling, shopping—as they provide a quick hit of exhilaration that distracts us from everything else.

The same level of understanding and acceptance is not usually applied to food.

There are additional layers of complexity with food, too.

We HAVE to eat to survive—there’s no getting around this fact. We can go “cold turkey” with the others, but we have to engage with food on a regular basis.

Additionally, in most Western cultures and societies, food is widely available, making it incredibly difficult to avoid. If food is a person’s “drug of choice”, they’re fighting an uphill battle right out of the gate.

These challenges don’t mean it’s impossible to overcome them, but I do believe they (hopefully) foster additional understanding for those using food as a coping mechanism.  It’s complicated.

What To Do

As we can see, the emotional layers associated with food run deep for many, so the healing or unraveling process is equally as nuanced. There’s no “one size fits all” approach.

However, every single person benefits from introspection, honesty with themselves, and a willingness to address the root cause. 

1.     Introspection—meditation and journaling are widely available to almost everyone, so this is a great place to start. Dedicate yourself to becoming familiar with your internal landscape to better confront and understand what’s going on beneath the hood.

2.     Honesty—when following Step 1 above, you may find yourself wanting to justify or neglect whatever bubbles to the surface. This is common! And very understandable. However, it doesn’t serve any of us in the long-run. Commit to being radically honest with yourself, but ensure you’re being equally as compassionate with yourself too.

3.     Address the Root Cause—it might take several iterations of the first two steps to arrive at the root cause, or there may be several (which is common). The awareness itself is a huge help, but action also needs to be taken to address it (them). Don’t let yourself off the hook by telling yourself, “I don’t know how or what to change though”, or some other fear-based narrative. The faster you begin to take action, the faster you’ll uncover what does or doesn’t work for you!

Binge eating isn’t a surface level issue, and it certainly isn’t one derived from a lack of willpower.

The causes are layered and nuanced, so the remedy is equally so.

The introspective path may not sound as sexy as a cookie-cutter program that promises to teach you how to finally stick to its diet rules, but it’s the only way to experience lasting change that will actually improve—not only your relationship with food—but the way you interact with life, too.