The Psychology Behind Binge-Eating Part 1: Why We Binge

The Binge Begins

We’ve all been there. That point where you are comfortably full and you could push the plate away and be fine. That fine line where you know if you take another bite you’re going to feel a bit too stuffed but you do it anyway. That one bite that turns into another.

More sauce. More texture. More flavor.

Your goal went from eating until you are full to finishing everything on the plate… And then some. You’re eating faster then you were before, as if the food may disappear if you don’t devour it immediately. You want more flavor but you aren’t really tasting anything. You aren’t even really thinking about the food anymore. Just eating it until your plate is finished and then you’re left still wanting more.

You go back to the kitchen looking for whatever’s left over, pouring out the remnants of the pot, digging your spoon around the edges to capture on last spoonful as if it were liquid gold.

It’s no longer about the food. It’s about filling your body.

Now you’re craving something sweet. Something salty. Something crunchy. Something smooth.

binge eating

What Binging Is Really About

You see it’s not about food- it’s about the stimulation the textures and flavors are giving your mouth.
It’s about satisfying an oral fixation, stuffing your body until you feel numb.
You can feel how uncomfortably full you already are but for some reason you can’t seem to stop, because you know the moment you put the fork down it’s all over and the guilt kicks in.
You don’t want to face how unpleasantly full you feel and the only way to buy a few more moments of bliss are to continue eating, even though it hurts.
You aren’t even sure why you’re eating at this point. You already know you’re going to regret it. You feel sick and part of you really wants to stop, but the other half just doesn’t care.

Binging is never really about the food. It’s about the emotion.

  • Boredom
  • Loneliness
  • Frustration
  • Anger
  • Stress

That is the reason we binge.

 

The Excuses You Tell Yourself

The excuses we make for ourself to binge are truly incredible. Like really, where did we come up wit this creativity?

I’ll start your healthy diet tomorrow, you tell yourself, as convincingly as a robber caught red-handed.
You don’t care, you fall for the white lie that’s made you on your 2nd piece of white cake, that one you got for the guests coming tomorrow but told yourself you wouldn’t eat.. Oops.

“You know what, I work so hard,” you tell yourself, “ I deserve this,” you justify.

You think of every excuse why this gorge-session is totally tolerable.

It’s been a tough week.

You ate healthy today.

Last time you went out to dinner, you didn’t have dessert.

All excuses that you pretend to fall for as you fall deeper into your cabinets, searching for something to eat to satisfy that undying craving.

The Reason We Binge

The reason we binge is because we want to fill our bodies when our souls feel empty. We are literally putting food into our stomachs, where the solar plexus chakra is located, signaling an imbalance. The solar plexus chakra governs our sense of identity and power.

When we feel out of control with our lives, we fixate on our eating habits because it’s the one thing we always have control over. While some people assert this power by undereating, others deal with this imbalance by overeating. They are very different responses coming from the same feeling- that you aren’t whole already.

Why we Undereat vs Overeat

When you undereat, you’re asserting the power of your mind over your body. By denying your body of its most basic need- nourishment- you feel a sense of strength because in a way you have “beat the system” by overcoming hunger, our most natural instinct. This is a Vata imbalance which I will discuss more in a future blogpost.

When you overeat, you are trying to fill yourself up with some sort of emotion– love, fulfillment, community, purpose. There is a void inside of you that you are trying to replace with food. This is a Kapha imbalance, as Earth energy makes us feel more dense, heavy and dull. 

Saying Screw You

Often times, our binging habits go back to childhood. Perhaps a parent denied you from junk-food and you had to secretly go behind her back. Eating the “wrong” food was a way of you getting back to your parents.  You may have felt like you were “beating the system” by gorging on cupcakes when no one was looking. You think, If no one heard the tree fall, then did it really make a sound? 

However, what began as a “screw you” to your parents, became a habit. You realized the only person you are hurting by binge eating is yourself, but now it’s too late to stop.

That’s because eating has become more than the food- it’s an experience. It’s a form of rebellion. It’s maybe one of the only times you have to yourself alone.

Perhaps as a child, the only time you had to yourself was late at night in the kitchen, getting lost in a box of cookies. Though you knew you weren’t supposed to, it felt so satisfying to do it anyway. Most of us didn’t practice meditation growing up, but eating was a time of pure mindfulness. It was the only time of the day we felt in our bodies, which is an addicted feeling. Eating makes us feel alive. It activates our senses.

When we binge-eat, we are in a way searching for that feeling of aliveness that food gives us. It’s a primitive urge that fuels us to feed and feed and feed. In fact, it’s biological. Our bodies were designed to store as much fat as they can on us to keep us alive. It’s a method of survival. That’s why it feels so good to stuff your face with carby and fatty foods. It’s your brain rewarding you for storing excess calories.

However, we aren’t living in the ice-age. There is no need to store enough fat on your body to last you through the winter. Your parents aren’t telling you you can’t eat the Halloween Candy but you’re doing it anyways. You are now an adult. Your body is your decision. And it’s benefits are yours to experience and no one else’s. You aren’t getting away with anything just because no one saw it. You are only hurting yourself.

Socializing and Food

For others of us, we only binge when we are in the company of others. Birthdays, weddings, company events, all full of sugary foods and salty snacks and things that we would never let ourselves have at home. So we binge while we can.

Many of us feel like if we didn’t spend money on food, it doesn’t really count as calories. Just because the food isn’t in your kitchen, it still counts.

We binge in social settings for a number of reasons.

1) We are excited.

2) We aren’t being mindful.

3) We are more forgiving of ourselves.

4) It brings us closer to those around us.

Food is actually meant to be consumed socially. In countries around the world, social gatherings revolve around food. Families share dinner nightly. Nobody eats alone. It’s considered rude to eat without waiting for the rest of your tribe. Today, however, we often eat at our desks or on-the-go or in front of our laptops.

So when we do see friends, it’s for a meal. And we go HAM.

Today, people often don’t have the time to just see each other to take a walk. They figure, “If I’m going to take time out of my busy schedule to see someone, it will be for a meal.”

Think about it: when you want to spend time with someone, you most likely ask them if they’d like to meet for lunch, dinner or even just coffee and pastries. It’s rarer to hear someone say, “Let’s get together sometime under this lovely tree and enjoy each others company.” Though very lovely.

Subconsciously, we have connected socializing with food. We relate the positive memories of birthdays, dinners, movie nights and sleepovers with the food we ate during them.

Because we are so hungry for social connection, we confuse that hunger so something that fills us more immediately- food.

However, in the rest of the world, people are more social in general. They spend meals together, but they also spend much of their other time together, playing sports or singing songs and doing other activities that don’t revolve around food. It is American culture that is so isolated and comes together only to binge-eat at restaurants, not even mindfully enjoying a home-cooked meal.

Our minds and bodies are connected. When we are stressed or lonely, our mind wants to go back to that happy place and our body remembers that it was eating food, hence signals hunger cues. What we really were craving was something so much deeper.

Eating as a Distraction From Work

Our fixation for food isn’t only for the social gatherings we cognitively relate it to- it’s also for those moments you have with yourself. When working, we often get cravings for snacks. When I’m working on something hard, every 10 minutes the kitchen calls me to satisfy another craving, which I avert with tea.

It’s not because we are hungrier when we are working- it’s because we subconsciously relate food as a break. We rarely take breaks for anything besides eating or going to the bathroom, therefore when our minds want a break from this stressful state we’ve put it in, our body says, “I know what will get her away from that desk- food. Cue hunger signals.”

Notice if your cravings arise when you have a tough task at hand. If so, that’s your body’s way of saying, “I don’t want to be here right now.” Instead of denying your body, listen to it- by giving it a break, not “easing” your stress with sugar, which will actually make you feel worse.

What your body needs isn’t a cookie- it’s time to rest and repair itself. Take a walk outside, do some yoga, jump in place, do some hip circles, get the blood flowing. Beat the stagnation not by walking to the fridge but by waking the rest of your body, which has been neglected and is asking for some attention.

 

Assessing the Emotion Behind Your Binge

Behind every binge is an emotion.

Pay attention to when you binge and ask yourself the following questions.

  1. Am I tired?
  2. Am I thirsty?
  3. Does my body hurt?
  4. Am I working on something hard that I’d rather not be doing right now and just need a break?

If the answer is YES to any of the above.. Then give your body what it needs.

Tips To Avoid Binging

  1. Stay hydrated! Keep sipping room temperature to warm water throughout the day, taking a sip every 20 minutes
  2. Get enough sleep! Even lying on a mat during a lunch break could give you the pick-up you need
  3. Stretch your body! A stiff body = a stiff mind! Loosen those shoulders and hips up!
  4. Give yourself a healthy break! Take a walk, make it to a lunchtime workout class, do some jumping jacks, shimmy your hips and shoulders.
  5. Drink tea! It gives you that flavor you may be looking for without adding any calories.
  6. Keep away from the coffee. It will cause a rise and crash in your energy levels, making you crave more food later on in the day.
  7. Do hip circles. Binge-eating is related to our sacral and root chakras. By moving energy in this area, we can release the tension we are holding onto.

Free Printables:

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In Psychology of Binge-Eating Part 2, I’ll tell you WHY most binges take place at night and what you can do about it.

In Psychology of Binge-Eating Part 3, I’ll explain how our chakra balance is related to our relationship with food and how a root chakra imbalance may be the cause of your binges!

I would love to hear in the comments: do you have a history of binge-eating? In what setting? What did you do to overcome it?

With gratitude,

Sahara

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