Psychologically stressed and frustrated women screaming with her hands up to her head

Why it can be Hard to Stop Binge Eating

There is a reason stopping binge eating is hard. One thing is for certain, most people who binge certainly wish they could stop, but struggle to do so. Binging (defined as a single episode of eating that feels “uncontrollable”) can feel sudden and impulsive, as if it comes out of nowhere. Some people relate to the act of binging as feeling like they have been struck by lightning: One minute you are going about your day, next minute you are consuming an uncomfortable amount of food. Often the binging itself is not too distressing (sometimes binging can feel rewarding or fun), rather it is the aftermath that can be the hardest. People feel guilt and shame, fear weight gain, and can feel out of control. Physiologically, you may feel nauseous, tired and lethargic, and your digestive system can be thrown out of whack (e.g. constipation).

The good news?

You can stop binging. You may be able to do this on your own, or prefer some help from a psychologist. Take note though, it is important that your psychologist has experience in working with eating difficulties and eating disorders, as there are specialised therapies in the field of eating disorders (you may like to read How to Find a Good Psychologist in Melbourne).

In this blog post we discuss some reasons it can be hard to stop binging.

1) Binging is a way of coping with difficult emotions. When you rely on binging as a way of coping, other “helpful” methods (e.g. distraction, talking to a friend, meditation etc) of coping are pushed to the side. Like practising riding a bike, a lack of practise in using helpful methods of coping, mean they are no longer second nature to you. Therefore, binge eating becomes your “go to” way of coping.

2) Binging affects your self-esteem. First, you may feel shame and guilt following a binge. And second, you may criticise yourself, because you keep binging and struggle to stop. Low self-esteem reinforces binging, as you it brings up difficult emotions that may trigger a binge (e.g. anger, frustration, sadness). As well, low self-esteem affects your self-efficacy and belief in yourself that you can stop binging. You need to believe you can stop binging to stop binging!

3) Permissive thoughts. As this name suggests, there are thoughts preceding a binge that give you “permission” to binge. Often these thoughts are justifications, like “oh well, I’ll be good tomorrow” or “I’ll just eat this and won’t have anything else” (knowing deep down you will continue to eat) or “I’ve lost some weight, so I can afford to binge” etc.

4) Dieting or restriction. Often in between binges, people will either diet or restrict their food intake. This is a setup for failure. First, your body craves the foods it’s missing out on: Your body will always win, and will make sure it gets what it needs. Second, dieting or restricting means you think about food more (you are hungry!), making food more desirable in your mind. Third, you feel ‘empty’ when you are dieting, and your body likes that satisfied feeling that comes from eating.

5) Intolerance of emotions. Some emotions are difficult to tolerate, and binging offers a way to “numb” or dissociate from those feelings. By binging, you avoid these emotions, so these emotions continue to be difficult to tolerate.

6) Perception of “good” and “bad”. If you struggle with an eating disorder you may perceive some foods as “good” and some as “bad” or dieting/restriction as “good” and binging as “bad”. This type of ‘black and white’ thinking also reinforces binging – for  example, eating a small bit of chocolate may be perceived as “bad”, so it can be difficult to stop eating because you have already “mucked up”.

There may be other factors personal to you that contribute to binge eating. For example, purging or laxative-use also reinforces binge eating. A psychologist who works in eating disorders will help you explore and address other factors that make it difficult to stop binging.

How can Peaceful Mind Psychology help?

We are a team of warm and empathic psychologists based in Melbourne, who share a special interest in eating disorders and eating difficulties, including binge eating disorder and bulimia. Our psychologists have experience working with eating disorders in private settings, as well as in hospitals. If you would like some professional assistance contact us at Peaceful Mind Psychology.