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Breaking Free from Binge Eating: Pt 1. Education

Be Curious, Not Critical! Let’s reframe our thinking. How did something make you feel? What did you learn instead of critcising your behaviours.

EDUCATION What are the impacts of binge eating?

  • Physical health problems: unstable blood sugar, disrupted hunger and fullness signals, liver dysfunction, and increased acid reflux.

  • Negative emotions and thoughts: binge eating makes people feel distressed, self-criticise, and have intense feelings of guilt, shame, and disgust. These feelings can increase the chance of another binge.

  • Avoidance and distress intolerance: although binging can make you feel good in the short term, binging to avoid certain emotions is not a helpful way to deal and overcome these emotions in the long term. This can cause you to struggle and continue to binge when similar feelings arise in the future.

  • Keeps the eating disorder going. Binging increases concern about eating, weight, and shape, and leads to new attempts to further control your food intake and/or exercise to make up for the binge you just experienced. This keeps you stuck in a vicious cycle of restriction, and further causes more binges in the future.

What are some potential triggers for binge eating?

  • Physical hunger: our bodies will try to correct an energy deficit, so it doesn’t starve (e.g. if we haven’t eaten enough, or we are restricting).

  • Psychological hunger: Following rigid dietary rules can cause us to crave the foods we are trying to avoid. Our brains are natural rule breakers, and most of the time, these rules can be too strict and lead to us breaking them. When we break a rule, this can lead to ‘all or nothing thinking’ where people feel like they have failed so they give up for the day and think they can get back on track tomorrow.

  • Distress: people describe binge eating as a way to regulate, control or numb intense feelings that are either emotional or physical feelings such as tiredness, pain, anxiety, sadness, and frustration.

Why is restricting unhelpful? When we restrict food, we are ignoring our body's natural hunger cues and blocking out intuitive eating. Attempts to control eating, weight, and shape lead to binge eating and broken rules. When we don’t eat enough, our physical hunger leads to a state of semi-starvation, and our brains naturally drive us to eat more to prevent starvation. Pretty much our bodies crave the energy-dense foods we are trying to avoid increasing energy and brain function. Our brains are natural ‘rule breakers’ and will push the boundaries and want to go over what we have restricted.


There is no evidence to suggest that intuitive and regular eating contributes to obesity. The whole point of intuitive eating is that you teach your body your natural hunger cues. So, each day at a similar time, your body tells you when you’re hungry, and you eat on those cues curbing any cravings you might experience if you haven’t eaten enough. Each person has an individual ‘set-point’ weight range. This ‘set-point’ is dependent on our body’s makeup and genetics and is supposed to maintain optimal health. When we eat intuitively, regularly, sufficiently, are flexible with our foods, and include moderate exercise, our bodies will trend towards it’s set point range. Each person has a different ‘set-point’, some people have a higher ‘set-point’, and others may have a lower ‘set-point’. But everyone is different, and fighting against your genetic set point by restricting or participating in eating disorder behaviours is not sustainable long term and can make you very unwell. BMI also isn’t an accurate measure of individual weight and can be damaging when used in isolation to measure someone’s weight as muscle weighs more than fat! Having a goal of weight loss is not healthy when trying to recover from an eating disorder, as this mindset is a behaviour that will keep you stuck in a vicious cycle. The number on the scale can be impacted by:

  • Fluid intake

  • Weight of clothing

  • Time of day you are weighed

  • How much you have eaten that day

  • Bladder and bowel movements

  • Hormonal changes (including menstruation- can go up by 2kg)

  • Scales you are using

  • Some medications

  • Weather

Therefore, it can be more important to look at trends in weight over time than an independent figure on the scale. Each individual has a ‘set- t that can fluctuate naturally up to 3kg.

What is Semi-Starvation? Eating a low-energy diet or restricting food throughout the day increases your risk of binge eating. When your body enters this state of ‘semi-starvation’ it will begin to crave energy- dense foods to get its energy levels back up again. This commonly leads to individuals consuming energy-dense foods, and a lot of it, leading to a sense of loss of control. Symptoms of semi-starvation occur when food intake is inadequate or irregular. Our hunger works within certain times, and symptoms of starvation will occur when we haven’t eaten in 3-4 hours. We only get about 3-4 hours of energy from the food we have eaten, so it is important to have a meal or a snack in this timeframe to prevent a drop in our blood sugar levels, and therefore energy and concentration, as well as prevent intense cravings.

By eating regularly, this prevents binging behaviours. You will notice, by eating every 3-4 hours, your energy levels and concentration will improve and stay stable over the day. When we restrict and/or don’t eat enough, you will notice a huge decline in energy and concentration. By having breakfast every morning, this sets our energy up for the day, from here have a snack 3-4 hours later, then lunch, another snack and dinner! Test this theory out and report on how it makes you feel.

It is common for hunger cues to be disrupted after prolonged periods of restriction especially in those with an eating disorder. This doesn’t mean you won’t be able to listen to your hunger cues, it just means you will have to learn to listen to your body, and understand when your body expects food and when it has reached satiety. Mindful eating practices can be a good place to start.

Information for this handout was provided from ‘Centre of Clinical Interventions’: Disordered Eating; Workbook- Break Free from ED;

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