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The 4 things that cause you to binge eat

There are reasons why your body is inclined to binge. It’s not just inadequate ‘will power’; it’s also your body's physiological reactions based upon imbalances.


The binge cycle can be crippling – your whole life focuses around food, binging and then shamefulness. Know that you’re not alone and there are ways to improve your mind and body connections to reduce or even eliminate this cycle. 


THE BINGE CYCLE


The binge eating cycle can  go something like this:


  1. Experiences negative emotions.

  2. Starts diet or restriction.

  3. Craves food and then can’t stop eating until the stomach is at capacity.

  4. Feels guilty and shameful of the binge episode.

  5. Experiences negative emotions so diets or starves oneself to ‘make up’ for the binge.

  6. Cycle starts again.




FACTORS THAT ENCOURAGE DYSREGULATED EATING PATTERNS


Abnormal eating patterns are usually triggered by a host of factors.


These include:


  • Environmental stressors and traumatic events

  • Sudden or unexpected life changes (job loss, accidents, moving homes, separation, illness of a loved one)

  • Problems at school or work

  • Nutrient depletions and abnormal blood sugar regulation

  • Never learning how to properly navigate hunger/satiety signals

  • Psychosocial factors (relationships between friends, family and partners)

  • Increased stress and depleted support networks

  • Critical comments about weight, body shape or eating habits

  • Challenges with sexuality 

  • Early life extensive antibiotic treatments

  • Excessive alcohol intake or substance abuse

  • Dehydration

  • Miscarriages, sexual assault, domestic violence

  • Depression

  • Genetics


(Degortes, 2014) (Gupta, 2020)


4 PHYSIOLOGICAL FACTORS THAT CAN CAUSE BINGE EATING


1: THE STRESS LINK

Research suggests that chronic stress may be able to trigger an appetite-stimulating response (Rosenberg, 2013). Stress has been shown to have a definite role in the onset of binge-eating episodes due to overstimulation of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis – a central hormonal control system of the brain.  


You must try to self-regulate your stress levels. Otherwise, your body's alternative is to externally regulate, leaving you vulnerable to binging or addictive tendencies. Having to consistently deal with negative thoughts leads to HPA dysregulation, so developing a positive mindset must be a top priority.


2: GUT MICROBIOME AND DOPAMINE

Did you know that the gut microbiome can influence your dopamine levels? Dopamine is both a neurotransmitter and a hormone having a myriad of influences on your gut-brain chemistry. If you’re overly stressed, chances are your feel-good neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin are low. Low dopamine is highly associated with binge-eating episodes and imbalanced gut bacteria (Rosenberg, 2013). 


The gut-brain axis has defined that our gut microbiome plays an integral role in metabolism. This includes hunger and satiety cues (Mason, 2017). The gut microbiota can balance both stress-induced hyperactivity of the HPA axis and healthy, feel-good neurotransmitter communications (Gupta, 2020). A balanced microbiome can also significantly improve food intolerances, intestinal integrity, inflammation, anxiety and depression (Mason, 2017). Working on your microbiome can be a major step in improving neuronal communications and satiety cues (Gupta, 2020).


3: IMBALANCED LEPTIN-SATIETY SIGNALLING

What’s leptin you may ask? Leptin is your satiety hormone signal and it’s there to tell the body, “Hey, we’re healthy, we’re safe and can decrease food intake now.”  It’s also associated with regulating bodyweight, menstrual cycles and energy expenditure (Monteleone, 2000). 


Leptin increases during sleep, so if you are not getting enough sleep, this deficiency in leptin can make you feel hungry. And, the counter-regulatory hormone to leptin is ghrelin, which makes us feel hungry. Ghrelin decreases when we sleep so if you do not get enough sleep, it makes sense that your appetite feels so much higher the following day because leptin AND ghrelin are not at optimal levels.


Continuous binge-eating can deplete the brain signal which tells us, “‘I’m at capacity, stop eating now.”  Binging also negatively influences your intestinal lining, immunity, stomach acidity and gut bacteria. Ideally, you should be eating at 80% of your stomach capacity, not 120%.  It will take time to restore this communication mechanism.  


4: THE ESTROGEN LINK

Have you ever wondered why your binging episodes often happen before your period? Well, research suggests a link between 17b-estradiol, cortisol, glucose and leptin (Monteleone, 2000). There’s crosstalk between estrogen, luteinising hormone (LH) and leptin. This means there’s a link between your hormones, reproductive axis and hunger/satiety signals. 


Interestingly, women with amenorrhea (a missing period for 3 consecutive months or more) are further prone to abnormal leptin signalling than those with regular menstruation, further connecting the dots between leptin and a healthy reproductive function (Horvath, 2008). Estrogen also reduces appetite – without adequate estrogen levels, leptin cannot communicate properly with the brain. If your estrogens are dropping too low prior to your period, leptin is altered and binging can increase (Horvath, 2008).  


SIGNIFICANT LINKS BETWEEN PSYCHOLOGICAL STATE AND BINGE EATING


The connection between your psychological condition and binge eating cannot be dismissed. Now is the time for some introspection and asking yourself some hard questions with honest answers:

  • What makes me happy? Do I do it regularly?

  • What am I doing for healthy stress relief? Is food my comfort?

  • Am I exercising enough to keep my mind and body healthy?

  • Am I eating whole foods to nourish my biochemistry?

  • Does my significant other make me feel happy? Are there ways to better our relationship?

  • Are my friendships bringing me joy or do they put me down?

  • Am I overdoing it? Can I ask my family or friends for help?

  • Do I need to see a financial counsellor?

  • Do I enjoy my job?

  • Do I like where I live?

  • Do I talk bad to myself constantly?  

  • What are my binge eating triggers?

  • Is it time I see a counsellor to discuss underlying issues?


IT’S TIME TO FEEL GOOD


One way to help tackle binge eating is by creating a happy environment. Make it that you’re so happy in your everyday life that you won’t need to binge, starve yourself, hide away or talk to yourself detrimentally. This will take time but it’s important to begin to love yourself.


Here are a few tips to embrace positivity and begin to feel good about yourself and your life:


  1. Stop dieting or trying to lose weight for 6-12 months. Work with a coach to focus on eating for health, relearning your hunger signals and heal your relationship with your body through radical self-acceptance.

  2. Work with a counsellor. You can speak to your GP and discuss Medicare-rebated free counselling sessions.

  3. Join binge eating support groups. You can do this in person or online.

  4. Talk to people who can give you support. They could be family members, friends or even your partner.

  5. Exercise! You must get at least 30 minutes of exercise every single day to increase natural dopamine and serotonin.

  6. Get rid of any kind of binge-worthy foods in the house. Learn to say no to temptation.

  7. Eat slowly – this is a big one. Time yourself if you need to. Enjoy a meal no quicker than 30 minutes. Chew your food thoroughly and pause before your next bite. Mindful eating can do wonders in supporting your satiety communications.

  8. Find your creative outlet.  If your life is all work and no play, it’s time to find something that brings you joy! Dance, paint, rock climb, swim, write poetry, start a journal, make music – whatever it is that gets you out of your head – do it regularly.

  9. Positive self-talk. This is crucial. As soon as you start pulling yourself apart, STOP! Leave the mirror, leave that thought, DO NOT allow it into your mind. Remind yourself that you’re worthy, beautiful and deserving of health and happiness.

  10. Consider enhanced cognitive behavior therapy (CBT-E). If you’re currently consumed by an eating disorder, CBT-Es are known to enhance remission. (Monica Leslie, 2018)


Remember that it’s okay to eat three meals a day and a couple of small healthy snacks.  If you’re not sure how to eat normally anymore, it might be time to see a nutritionist and regain the essentials. It takes time to conquer binge eating, but you can win the battle with the right support. You don’t need to do it on your own and it doesn’t have to remain a secret anymore. 


EATING DISORDER SUPPORT

 


REFERENCES:

Degortes, D. S. (2014). Stressful Life Events and Binge Eating Disorder. European Eating Disorders Review, 378–382.

Gupta, A. O. (2020). Brain–gut–microbiome interactions in obesity and food addiction. Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology.

Horvath, Q. G. (2008). Cross-talk between estrogen and leptin signaling in the hypothalamus. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab, E817–E826.

Mason, B. L. (2017). Feeding Systems and the Gut Microbiome: Gut-Brain Interactions With Relevance to Psychiatric Conditions. . Psychosomatics, 574–580.

Monica Leslie, J. L. (2018). The influence of oxytocin on eating behaviours and stress in women with bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology.

Monteleone, P. D. (2000). Circulating leptin in patients with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa or binge-eating disorder: relationship to body weight, eating patterns, psychopathology and endocrine changes. Psychiatry Research, 121 - 129 .

Rosenberg, N. B. (2013). Cortisol response and desire to binge following psychological stress: Comparison between obese subjects with and without binge eating disorder. . Psychiatry Research, 156 - 161.

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