Binge eating and its effects on our bodies

Just last week I experienced one of those days where I felt like I was completely overwhelmed, drowning in my responsibilities and the needs of others, ie. my son and husband!  With all that stress weighing heavily on my mind I reached for one of my favorite comfort foods - an Eco dark chocolate bon-bon. Normally I’d be able to stick to my regular Bulletproof amount and move on with my life, but this time it felt like a switch had been flicked on in my brain!

You know that feeling?

Suddenly I was devouring the entire thing and reaching for another one, shoving piece after piece into my mouth before I even had a chance to chew. Then when those couple of pieces were gone,  I went on the hunt, sniffing out any hidden caches of sugar in our house as though all that sweetness could boost my dopamine levels enough to make me feel better. HA! That didn’t happen.

You know what happen? I felt incredibly sick. ILL!

While I tend to eat a healthy, balanced diet, it’s a fact of life that I’m bound to slip up from time to time. Yep, you heard that right. It turns out that I use to be a bit of a binge eater. While I’m lucky in that my binge eating habits aren’t joined by the other more dangerous conditions of disordered eating, this doesn’t change the fact that binge eating is not a habit that I want to maintain.

So what is binge eating?

Binge eating is when you eat an excessive amount of food in a short amount of time. You will generally find yourself eating enough food for a whole day in as little as two hours. While it is usually associated with seriously disordered eating (such as bulimia or severe obesity), it can be quite common among women as a coping mechanism to stress.  When I knew that I had to fit into a certain outfit for a shoot or when working with the design team’s final prototype, I would often find myself in the bathroom, more than once a day.  The stress of being perfect would send me into a total frenzy.  I’m grateful to be in recovery from this crazy addiction!

Evidence suggests that binge eating could be motivated by a desire to escape from self-awareness. In these instances binge eaters suffer from high expectations and standards and feel the demands of others acutely (even if they’re just perceived and not actually spoken), so when we fall short of these standards we find ourselves repeating unflattering views about ourselves which leads to a poor emotional state.

To escape from these thoughts we find ourselves narrowing our focus to one stimuli: yep, it’s food. Once we give it our full attention our inhibitions disappear and we start believing a lot of irrational thoughts, like the idea that eating every chocolate covered macaroon in the house is going to make me feel better as long as I do it before my family gets home in 15 minutes. (Crazy thinking.)

Binge eating can also be a side effect of us setting unrealistic expectations for ourselves when it comes to our diet, when we over-restrict our food intake or deny ourselves the foods we love then our desire for them can take on a life of their own. These binge eating episodes are usually followed by periods of depression and guilt, which can just as much be a side effect of the food we have consumed as our emotional state.

So no, I didn’t feel great after eating all the macaroons. I actually still feel quite sick just thinking about it.  Yuck.  Oh, and think on this for a moment, the more we indulge in this bad habit the wider this particular neural pathway becomes expressing to us that it’s okay to do this… because it feels good, at least at first.   

The consequences of binge eating

While some of the effects of ingesting significantly more than our dietary requirements in one sitting are more obvious such as bloating, nausea and headaches, there’s actually a lot of damage being done internally as well such as elevated blood pressure, a surge and drop in insulin levels and a spike in our blood sugar levels that can lead to an increased risk of heart attack.

So yeah, it’ no surprise that WE feel pretty rotten after a round of bingeing on that bag of chips, or that candy bar, or my favorite macaroons.

Since everything we eat has an effect on how our body functions, it’s no surprise that elevated levels of unhealthy ingredients (such as fructose or carbohydrates) don’t lead to a particularly well-oiled machine, but when your eating habits are triggered by stress and anxiety these actions can make you feel worse once the initial sugar high has worn off, right?  After those macaroons I felt like I had a hangover, I can’t stand that feeling.  Part of the reason I don’t drink is that I never, I mean I NEVER want to be hungover, what a waste of time and life!  

We reach for bad foods hoping to trigger the release of hormones in the pleasure centre in of our brain, stuffing more and more in our mouths and expecting to get the same results when all we’re really doing is depleting our natural stores.

Binge eating and your mood

The neurotransmitters in our brain that are responsible for communicating with our body can be found in or triggered by a number of foods, for example dark chocolate can trigger the release of anandamide which blocks pain receptors and helps you to feel calm in much the same way as cannabis. There’s only so much of the chemical that can be released in your brain though, so when you’re all out of these feel good hormones you start to feel like you want to die, or sleep forever, it’s bad news.  

After my last epic bingeing session (which was over ten years ago while in Paris) it took me days to recover, although at the time I’m sure I thought it was just the universe conspiring against me! My brain was depleted of chemicals like serotonin and dopamine, I was irritable and generally about as much fun to be around as a clown at a funeral (or just a clown in general!). I snapped at my soon to be husband, and when I found it difficult to concentrate (as those with a poor diet often do) I would take out my frustrations on whoever was closest, the cafe clerk mostly.

It goes without saying I wasn’t particularly popular at the time.

When we overeat we don’t tend to go for fruit or vegetables, so the unnatural chemical components in our bad-habit binge foods (Yum on that tasty bag of bright orange Chetohs, or Kettlekorn, even gluten free cookies) will wreak havoc on our hormone levels which can take days of proper diet and exercise to regulate again.

How to beat binge eating habits

Beating any binge eating habit first has to involve figuring out the source of your desire to binge. If this is a way to cope with stress or anxiety then we should consider meditation and yoga to recenter the mind and divert those negative feelings.  Taking a moment to consider why you are grabbing can actually stop the habit.  When I’m coaching a client with bingeing we take time to evaluate a day and place pause strategically, bringing mindfulness into our daily life can stop us from bingeing.

If your bingeing tends to be diet related then taking steps to change the way you feel about eating and adopting a more intuitive and less restrictive method of eating may be necessary for optimum health. By practicing mindful eating we are able to indulge in the foods that elicit a positive chemical response in our body, (yes, I want more of this, please!) by taking it slow and savouring the taste we’re less likely to overdo it.

Another important method for beating these binge eating habits is to surround yourself with healthier alternatives to your favorite snacks that are high in protein and good fats to encourage our bodies to be fuller for longer (and to tell our mouth that we can stop eating now!).  

Here are some of my favorite healthy snacks to get me through tricky days:

  1. Brain Food green smoothie
    Add 2 cups of fresh, clean blanched cool spinach; 2 cups of coconut water; 2 ripe pears; 1 cup mango flesh and ½ an avocado to a blender until nice and smooth.
    You know how I can't bananas? Well, the avocado in this recipe is not only full of healthy fats (not to mention more potassium than bananas anyway!) but also helps to give your smoothie that lovely thick texture. If you need it even sweeter you can add a drop of honey or agave.
     

  2. Organic Whole Milk Greek yogurt with berries
    Add ⅔ cup yogurt to a bowl. Add a swirl of honey and top with homemade granola and dark berries for extra crunch.
    The protein in the yogurt will keep you full and the honey helps to fight inflammation in the body, but it is the antioxidants in the dark berries that aids the brain in producing dopamine to help regulate your moods.
     

  3. Trail mix with dark chocolate
    Shatter a piece of good dark chocolate into a bowl. Mix through some nuts (such as almonds and walnuts) and seeds (such as sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds) and stir thoroughly.
    This combination will boost alertness and help to stabilize your blood sugar levels, while the small bits of chocolate will allow you to get the good feelings from eating them without overdoing it.
     

  4. Eggs and avocado
    Preheat an oven to 425F and pop half an avocado in an oven-proof ramekin. Crack an egg into the avocado half and sprinkle with pepper, salt and cayenne pepper. Bake for 15 minutes or until the egg is cooked through to your liking.
    If you’re after something more substantial this recipe will definitely fill you up, while the eggs provide you with lots of B Vitamins that help to manage stress and the avocado releases dopamine naturally.
     

  5. Peach and ginger tea
    This is an oldy but a goody. The act of drinking a hot cup of tea is soothing in itself and helps to alleviate stress, so the key is finding your favorite flavors and taking a few moments out of your day to enjoy it. At the moment I’m loving the surprising combination of peach and ginger tea. It is a little bit sweet thanks to the peaches but the ginger adds a little bit of warmth (well duh, it is tea after all) and a flavor that has a bit of bite to it. Simply divine!