Why do you binge eat?

“Why do I do this to myself?”

“Why can’t I stop?”

“Why me?”

If you binge eat, you’ve asked these questions. Sometimes you might come up with an answer, other times… nothing but confusion, shame, and guilt.

But they are important questions. Here are some answers.

Binge eating feels out of control, chaotic, and overpowering. You wonder why it happens to you and what you're doing wrong. Here are the three most common causes of your binge eating.

Why do you binge eat?

I know you want me to say

“Oh, it’s because you’re not getting enough fiber… here eat this”, or

“Yeah, it’s because you need to exercise more… here’s a training program”,

but if it were that simple or easy, we’d all have solved this already.

Binging is as complex as it is simple, and as individual as it is shared. But here are some reasons it might be happening for you.

Binging is a message

A binge is a place of darkness and chaos. You lose control, lose your power, and eventually instead of being the consumer, become consumed yourself by guilt, shame, and negativity. Your binge eating is asking you to find a way out of this place – because chances are, you were already headed there before the binging started.

Binge eating is a powerful message. It’s your body, mind, or the universe trying to tell you something. Today we’re going to start taking a look at what that something might be.

  • Are you devouring food because you’re not devouring life? 
  • Are you using food to communicate to your body instead of communicating clearly with yourself? 
  • Are you losing control with your food as a counter-balance to another area of life that you have under tight control?

Binging is a symptom

If binge eating is a message, that means it is also a symptom of something else.

Eating is NOT your core problem. There is something else that is driving you to eat this way. What needs are you filling by eating?

There are three common reasons you might be binge eating (there are, of course, many more – but these are the ones I see the most).

1. Under-nutrition

This is often the case if you skip meals, eat food throughout the day that’s not got much going for it in the way of nutrition, or when you do eat you’re eating quickly or are very distracted from your food.

It’s also extremely common if you are following a calorie-restricted weight-loss diet.

All these conditions mean you’re not getting enough goodness from your food, so your body and brain feel deprived, and therefore contrive to get that nutrition by screaming ‘HUNGRY! EAT ALL THE THINGS!’.

Hello, binge.

2. Lack of relaxation

Stress = binge

Binge = stress

A cycle you know well. The bottom line is: binging can only occur if you’re in a stress response. No one binges at leisure. It’s a fast-paced, panicky rush. But, if you eat enough food the body is literally forced into a relaxed state to digest it all.

So, if you’ve spent your day tense, worried, or stressed, chances are that your binging is actually all about relaxing. This is totally understandable. Of course you want to relax, and using food is one of the easiest ways to get there.

3. Need for control/perfectionism

Many of us try to control our lives and have perfectionist tendencies. We rush around doing what we can to make sure our lives, our work, and our relationships are exactly what we want them to be. We keep ourselves tightly controlled, especially in interpersonal situations that might make us a bit uncomfortable.

Maybe we control our words and never get to say what we mean.

Or our actions and never get to do what we really want.

Or our emotions and we never let ourselves feel what needs to be felt.

We hold all this in tight and somewhere this has got to leak. And when it does, binge eating is a pretty common outcome.

The binge is a release of this control – like its counterweight. It gives us the ability to keep on going in those other areas of our lives where we can’t, or won’t, express our true selves. It’s not that the binge is our true selves either, but a destructive magnification of the opposite energy we’re using in the rest of our life.

The bottom line

Whatever it is, somewhere deep within you, you feel shame, guilt, powerlessness, and confusion. Binging is a way of giving these emotions light and motion – something they desperately need. Therefore, binging is not about willpower, weakness, or a lack of self-control. You are binging for an excellent reason – a reason that makes perfect sense to your mind and body. Once you uncover that reason you can start to deal with it differently.


What can you do?

Here’s a worksheet for you.

Binge eating feels out of control, chaotic, and overpowering. You wonder why it happens to you and what you're doing wrong. Here are the three most common causes of your binge eating.

As you work through the questions in this 2-page worksheet you’ll see patterns and answers in your binge eating that you might never have thought of. These understandings give you a whole new way to approach your eating. Once you really know what legit reasons your binge eating is fulfilling, you can cut yourself some slack, stop beating yourself up over ‘why me’, and get on with dealing with it.

Nutritional and lifestyle strategies are useful and often necessary to work on binge eating, but unless you can do the emotional work too, you won’t get very far.

Tell me in the comments: Which of the three areas (Under-nutrition, relaxation, or control) do you think your binge eating stems from?

About Samantha

Hello! I'm Sam and I'm an Eating Psychology Coach. I work with women who struggle with emotional eating and weight loss to develop new strategies and lifestyles so they can stop using food to cope, lose weight, and eat happy.

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