Breaking Down the Science of Binge Eating
Nearly everyone has some level of association between certain foods and feeling of comfort that dopamine can bring. However, staying aware of the emotional triggers that can result in binge eating for you, personally, can lead to smarter decisions.
It happens... Reaching in the drawer for a spoon to eat a small bowl of ice cream turns into finishing an entire container of ice cream, and then maybe grabbing a bag of chips, crackers, and anything else in the pantry. It's important though, to realize that binge eating is much more than eating a large amount of food.
Bingeing episodes can be associated with eating more rapidly than usual, eating until uncomfortably full, eating when not feeling physically hungry, avoiding social eating because of feeling embarrassed by the amount of food consumed, and feeling very guilty and depressed after overeating. However, the science of binge eating goes beyond moments and feelings of weakness.
So What Causes Binge Eating?
The science of binge eating starts well before grabbing the spoon in the drawer. Psychological stressors like anxiety, stress, and depression play a huge role in binge eating. Depression in itself brings negative impacts such as low self-esteem, lack of impulse control, and body dissatisfaction. With society placing such high standards on appearance, achieving satisfaction with your own body can be a tough feat. Powerful feelings start to take over, food is sought out as an emotional outlet, and the spoon gets dipped into the ice cream.
The "feel good" brain chemical, known as dopamine, is activated during binge eating sessions and as a result our sense of pleasure heightens. It makes you feel good, and before you know it, the carton of ice cream is gone.
Reaching in the pantry for more snacks can also be contributed to the hunger and satiety hormones, leptin and ghrelin. Ghrelin, the "hunger hormone," is one of the key gut signals associated with appetite. Leptin is associated with satiety and has the opposite effects of ghrelin. For some individuals, these hormones become out of whack. The imbalance of each can lead to an increase in appetite and a decrease feeling of fullness, ultimately contributing to overeating.
With the pantry cleared out and containers and wrappers empty, guilt starts to kick in. The guilt spins more feelings of anxiety, stress, and depression and the binge eating cascade occurs all over again.
How to Break the Binge
The science of binge eating can be a vicious cycle that brings on a tougher challenge than just saying "no." Resorting to food for comfort during stressful moments can ultimately correlate negative relationships with food. Life can get a bit chaotic and demanding, contributing to negative feelings and emotions. Overcoming binge eating means finding a way to conquer those psychological stressors that lead to bingeing bouts.
Lash out at frustrations or anxiety with a workout, enjoy a walk alone or with family or friends, or take a warm bath. Seeking out meditation practices, like yoga, can also help to alleviate stress and minimize psychological stressors. Meditation can also contribute to being more mindful of what the body needs.
It's natural for your mind to occasionally drift to pleasurable foods in bouts of stress. Nearly everyone has some level of association between certain foods and feeling of comfort that dopamine can bring. However, staying aware of the emotional triggers that can result in binge eating for you, personally, can lead to smarter decisions.
In addition, continuously seeking healthy alternatives, like a workout class, can promote more positive feelings and diminish the negative ones that lead to bingeing. If you have found that bingeing has become an uncontrollable, regular component of your life, seeking out professional guidance is recommended to ultimately help break the binge.
Atalayer D, Gibson C, Konopacka A, Geliebter A. Ghrelin and Eating Disorders. Progress in neuro-psychopharmacology & biological psychiatry. 2013;40:70-82. doi:10.1016/j.pnpbp.2012.08.011.