Understanding the Causes Behind Binge Eating

Understanding the Causes Behind Binge Eating

Do you sometimes experience episodes of eating where you feel out of control?

And, you cannot stop eating?

Do you then swear off eating like this again? Only to eat again like this on a different day?

Do you try diets, but find them hard to stick to?

If you relate to the above, you may be struggling with binge eating and you’re not alone! Binge eating is a very common eating difficulty that’s associated with serious mental health and physical issues, including:

Most people who suffer from binge eating, blame themselves for their eating struggles. I commonly hear my clients say:

“I should be able to control myself”

“I lack willpower and control”

“I’m weak”

As a result of these beliefs, people who binge eat will try countless amounts of diets and tend to feel undeserving of yummy foods or certain food groups (e.g. carbohydrates).

However, if you suffer from binge eating, it’s important to recognise that binge eating has nothing to do with self-control or willpower.

In fact, binge eating has nothing to do with your discipline as a person in any shape or form! Binge eating is a complex mental health issue, that is influenced by various underlying issues as well as certain beliefs and behaviours surrounding eating. In this article, I talk about some of the main factors that influence binging and the first steps to take in getting help to stop binging forever.

What causes binge eating?

Dieting or not eating enough

Often people who binge eat either actively restrict their eating or don’t eat regularly (or enough) throughout the day. Eating too little or not regularly, leads to binge eating. In essence, our body and mind perceive a lack of food and prolonged hunger as a threat, and such, prepares to “stock up on food”. Even if you’re desperately determined not to binge, your mind will trick you into getting what your body needs – food.


Different emotions for different people can trigger a binge. Commonly, emotions such as – relief, happiness, boredom, anger, anxiety and loneliness – trigger binge eating. Binging is a way of coping with uncomfortable emotions, as the act of binging “numbs” emotions. It is perhaps hard to imagine that emotions like relief and happiness could trigger a binge, but these emotions can often feel uncomfortable and overwhelming.

Feeling vulnerable, followed by a particular event or thought

Often people are prone to binging when they’re already feeling vulnerable in some way. What makes someone feel vulnerable will differ between people, but common vulnerabilities include: Being home alone, feeling exhausted from a big day at work/school and feeling fragile in your self-worth. When you’re vulnerable, a simple event or thought can trigger a binge – for example, you may have had an argument with your partner, which could trigger a binge. Similarly, a thought, like “I’m a failure” or “no one cares about me” may also trigger a binge.

Perception of “good” and “bad” foods

If you struggle with binge eating, you most likely see foods in dichotomous categories of “good” and “bad” foods. This type of ‘black and white’ thinking leads to binging, as when you eat foods you perceive as forbidden, you experience a sense of failure. Naturally, it is hard to stop eating if you believe you’ve already failed.


If you try to rid yourself of food eaten after binging (i.e. via use of laxatives, self-induced vomiting or excessive exercise), you’re far more likely to binge. This is because purging acts as a type of “permission” for binging – that is, if you know you’re going to purge after a binge, you’re far more likely to binge compared to if purging was not an option for you.

Getting help for binge eating

The good news is there are highly effective therapies for treating binge eating. By working with a dietician and psychologist trained in the field of eating disorders you can reach a place where you no longer binge. A psychologist and dietician will together work on: Changing your diet; shifting your attitudes towards food; problem solving ways to decrease your vulnerability to binging; helping you understand the chain of events that lead to binge eating; and teaching you strategies to circumvent this chain, including using coping strategies.

How can Peaceful Mind Psychology help?

Our team of warm and caring Melbourne-based psychologists take a special interest in treatment of eating disorders. We are all fully trained in evidence-based therapies for eating disorders, including CBT for binge eating and DBT and CBT for bulimia. If you would like some professional assistance contact us at Peaceful Mind Psychology.