Binge eating is different from overeating. Binge eating is feeling out of control with food, and eating large amounts of food in a very short time period. Overeating is eating past fullness and feeling uncomfortable. We all overeat sometimes, this is a normal part of life. When I experienced my fist binge eating episode, it was like I was possessed. All I could think about was getting food in and fast. I was swallowing foods nearly whole, desperately trying to get them in. I felt completely out of control of my body. I’ll never forget the experience and I’ll never forget how much shame and guilt I felt.
Why do we binge eat?
If we are physically, mentally or emotionally restricting food (dieting), our body’s survival mechanism will kick in to protect us against what it sees as starvation. Binge eating is a physiological and psychological reaction designed to protect us. I never binge ate until I dieted. During treatment for my eating disorder, I shared my binge eating with my counsellor, she told me to go home and read up on the Minnesota starvation experiment. Her advice was life-changing as it saved me from many other binge eating episodes. which is why I want to share it with you.
The Minnesota Starvation Experiment.
The Minnesota Starvation Experiment was a study conducted on young adult men (25 years of age- well educated) in the 1940’s by researcher Ancel Keys. Many people were dying during the war because of starvation and he wanted to find a way to overcome it. The study was in 3 parts.
1. Participants were given 3200 calories a day for the first 3 months.
2. Participants were then restricted to 1570 calories a day in attempt to lose 24% of their body weight over a 6-month period.
3. Participants could then eat as much as they wanted over a further 3 month period. They would continue to be monitored for a year after the experiment was concluded.
This is what happened to the men during the starvation period.
✅ They binge ate and some even purged.
✅ They were obsessed with food, recipes & cook books.
✅ They had intense food cravings.
✅ They stole or hid food, and had rituals for eating certain foods.
✅They were depressed, irritable, couldn’t concentrate and lost interest in their previous hobbies.
✅ They lost their sex drive.
During the 12-month monitoring, and even post the entire study, most of their behaviors continued, and interestingly the men gained 10% more than their pre-study weight which is what we see with dieting today.
Are the behaviours familiar to you? They were for me. Dieting leads to the same behaviours. After researching this study, I now understood why I was binge eating. And with this knowledge came the power of knowing how to change, and slowly I was able to put steps in place to recover.
How do we prevent binge eating?
Letting go of dieting. This is the most important step. We have to stop dieting. I understand this is a tough as it can be so ingrained in some of us. What worked for me was taking small steps towards it, such as not counting calories for one day, not weighing myself daily and challenging myself by slowly eating foods that were on my “banned” list. You can also check out my blog “Be Free From Dieting”.
Honouring our hunger. When we don’t feed our body when we are hungry or if we consistently under eat, it can lead to binge eating. Keeping our body adequately fed and listening and responding to our hunger signals will prevent binge eating. Check out my blog “3 Steps to Honour Your Hunger”
Making peace with foods. When we restrict certain foods because we believe they are “bad”, it gives the food power. Food is just food, food doesn’t have morals. Viewing certain foods as “bad” is a form of restriction and deprivation, and when we eliminate them it leads to binging. When we make peace with all foods and give ourselves the go-ahead to eat what we like, the food loses it power and so does the binging. You can also check out my blog on “How to Make Peace With Food”
Remember binging is not our fault. It is physical and psychological repose from our body to protect us. Once I put the above steps in place I was able to overcome my binge eating for good.
If you would like more support with this step, you can join my intuitive eating and well-being program here