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Binge eating is shameful secret that is more common than you think.  It often stems from stress, dieting or suppressing emotions which unleashes feelings of guilt and disgust. I remember as a teenager, using my lunch money for cigarettes (and my mother thought I was such a good girl!), but whilst my lungs were full (gross!) my tummy wasn’t, and once I arrived home, the steep drop in blood sugar caused my brain to urgently crave sweet stuff.  My food of choice – thinking it was healthy – was large handfuls of raisins (perhaps with a slice of cake on the side).  I now know of course, how much concentrated fructose was in those innocent raisins, and the impact too much fructose can have on weight gain, and so not surprisingly my weight went up.  I can also remember my boyfriend at the time, kindly (!) bringing over several bars of chocolate which we would happily munch through….. And I can also remember that horrible sluggish, brain fogged feeling I had after (yuk!).  
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I realise now that due to repeated courses of antibiotics for my  teenage tonsillitis coupled with the Contraceptive Pill, my bowel flora would have been greatly depleted, and this probably also drove my need for the sugar, cake and chocolate (see blog)

  So what constitutes a binge?

The dictionary terms it as this – “binge eating uncontrolled ingestion of large quantities of food in a discrete interval, often with a sense of lack of control over the activity.  A pattern of eating marked by episodes of rapid consumption of large amounts of food; usually food that is high in calories”.  For some this may be several helpings of pudding eaten when everyone’s in bed, or a family sized chocolate bars bought at the filling station and eaten in one go on the way home.  For others it could be whole day’s food gorged in one sitting. Often the eating is done in secret, away from our partners or friends.  

So where do you draw the line between happily going back for seconds at a buffet, and munching half a trifle at home.  The word ‘happily is quite key’.  I think it depends on:

 (a) intention with which the food is eaten

(b) how hungry you are

(c) how you feel afterwards. 

If you are eating seconds because you were very hungry, the food is enjoyable and there is no guilt afterwards, the chances are you are not a binger.  However  if you are eating in an uncontrolled manner, or it’s filling an emotional gap , and you beat yourself up afterwards, then it’s more likely you are prone to binge eating.

Whatever the quantity, binge eating is not usually an act of greed, it is more likely linked to sugar imbalances, low self esteem and emotional soothing (see my blog)  – accompanied by feelings of remorse, repulsion and self-loathing.

Why do people binge?  The most common reasons are:

  • Low blood sugar, causing cravings for sugary food
  • Being over hungry – as a result of missing a meal, dieting or poor plannng
  • Denying yourself treats – can lead to a ‘sod it’ attitude and a big blow out
  • Alcohol – drinking lowers blood sugar and will-power, this combination can lead to over-eating
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  • Emotions such as anger, sadness, stress and frustration often require  comfort and an antidote to feel better – some foods hit our pleasure receptors temporarily given a ‘high’
  • Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia

The problem with binge eating is that to compensate, people will often over-restrict food the next day, causing extreme hunger.  This hunger causes drops in blood sugar, low mood and extreme cravings which result in over-eating, and so the cycle continues.  This can cause a see-sawing metabolism which may contribute to weight gain. Other people may use exercise inappropriately to ‘work off’ the extra calories, or in extreme cases, throw the food up.

Often disordered eating follows through into a disordered life, which can spark depression and anxiety.  I have seen many clients who when they started eating regular meals, became more organised, felt more in control and so more content.

 What should you do if you are prone to binge eating?

  1. Eat more proteins and good fats at meal times, which have less of an impact on insulin which contributes to sugar highs and lows. Make sure you keep your blood sugar balanced by avoiding refined carbohydrates (white flour products), sugary foods and drinks, and snack on a small handful of natural nuts if there is a gap of more than 5 hours in between meals.
  2. Plan out your meals a week in advance and shop accordingly so you know when you might need to take lunch, a snack or arrange a quick evening meal e.g. a stir fry or omelet due to working late or children’s activities
  3. If you are trying to lose weight, build in some suitable treats a couple of times a week so you don’t feel denied e.g. a small cake or an ice cream – enjoy it but make it small and stop at one
  4. Avoid crisps, biscuits and chocolates which are cleverly designed to make you want to eat more and more and more and more ……..
  5. If you are going somewhere where there is unlimited food, practice restraint.  Some people are more biologically programmed to stock up in case of ‘famine’, so if this is you, be aware of it.  Tell that inner voice you won’t starve and fill your plate appropriately.  Don’t go back for more and avoid grazing all day
  6. Don’t drink on alcohol on an empty stomach – drink slowly, interspersing with water
  7. Think of other ways to comfort or distract yourself in times of high emotion such as talking to a friend, exercising or having a nice bath.  Just getting out of the house and changing the scenery can be enough to improve mood.

Whilst eating disorders are complex mental disorders that need specialist help, most binge eating is manageable and preventable, and life becomes is better for it.

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