This is Part 2 of a series so if you haven’t already, read Binge Eating is Caused by Dieting, Part 1.
In Part 1 of this series, we looked at how extreme dieting sends signals to your brain to binge eat. These signals feel like urges to eat large amounts of food in a short span of time, uncontrollably, often alone, and often followed by feelings of regret, shame, and guilt.
It is dieting–extreme calorie restriction, that prompts the very first urge to binge eat, and it is likely that if you never felt the urge to binge, you never would.
Bingeing begins when you act on the urge to binge. Binge urges are not the same as urges to eat regular meals and snacks. They are overwhelming and consuming thoughts to eat in a trance-like state. Often on foods that you have been restricting, often alone, often very quickly, often in fear. It usually doesn’t start with the thought, “I will binge eat” (but it certainly can). It might start with the thought, “I will have a little of this“, and then “Just a little more” and then, “I cannot seem to stop and I don’t want to and I may as well keep eating and start again on my diet tomorrow.”
Binge eating has multiple effects on the body. It rapidly increases insulin and floods the brain with pleasure chemicals, called dopamine (people tend to choose palatable foods to binge on, examples being foods combining high ratios of fat and sugar, which are pleasurable). It initially feels relieving to binge because you have been starving on such an extremely low amount of food, and bingeing often (but not always) includes foods that a dieter restricts or limits. It often feels like an out-of-body experience–you’re eating, but it doesn’t feel like you and even if you think you should stop, you usually continue until you physically cannot eat another bite.
Afterwards you regain your senses and feel like yourself again, but now you also feel overly full, bloated, tired, foggy, moody, and glad you no longer have to fight the urge to binge. You may also feel regret, shame, guilt, and confusion as to why you just ate so much. You might vow to never binge again. The opposing feelings of relief and regret may have a very negative impact on you and it’s common to associate the foods binged on with these negative feelings.
There are many emotional layers involved in physically under and overeating.
To compensate for the reckless eating, most purge. Purging is any attempt to undo the damage of eating too much during a binge. It could be self-inflicted vomiting, but it could also be over-exercising, laxative use, or fasting.
When you resume eating after purging, you likely feel motivated to resume dieting so just like in the beginning, you eat restrictively and not enough. Your brain, again, senses something is not right and assumes you are starving all over again.
You aren’t starving. You may have even gained weight from binge eating, but the brain quickly senses the repeated period of food restriction. It thinks you are starving.
So, in an effort to disrupt starving, it again, sends signals to binge eat.
Followed by regret and compensation, followed by another urge to binge.
And the cycle continues.
This is the habit of binge eating. Once it is activated, and every additional time it done, it is reinforced in your brain to do it again, even though it has negative consequences.
To end the habit of binge eating, it will require determination to stop restrictive dieting and return to eating enough food throughout the day. This may feel threatening to someone who is already fearful of weight gain, and may seem like an absurd solution.
But this is absolutely necessary to end the diet, restrict, and binge cycle!
In Part 3, we will go over how eating more will help lesson the brain-established pattern of binge urges, and a few common myths that keep people from the commitment to actually stop binge eating.
What do you think of binge eating being a habit formed by the brain to prevent starvation? Do you agree or disagree?
Leave a comment to share your thoughts!
Image from Tumblr.