Blog: Why Am I Binging?

Why Am I Binging?

Why am I binging???

At some point, we’ve all experienced some kind of binge, alcohol, candy, or shopping, food and asked ourselves: What the hell happened? How can rational, functioning adults totally lose control of their impulses?

What's the Deal?

As it turns out, whether it’s drinking, eating, or shopping, different binge behaviors actually have similar causes. All types of binging are ways of dealing with negative emotions that are not rational or healthy. But when does the occasional overindulgence become a real problem? Fully-fledged binge disorders are characterized by feelings of powerlessness, secrecy, shame, and social isolation. Once someone feels a need to binge in private, or schedule binges around (or instead of) work and social obligations, it’s time to ask why.

Binge eating is currently the most common eating disorder in adults, compulsive buying disorder (aka “shopaholism”) is increasing, and binge drinking is widespread, especially among women . Whether it’s pizza, booze, or clearance sales, the causes of any type of binge behavior can fall into three categories: psychological, chemical, and sociocultural.



The most common causes of binging are anxiety, stress, and depression—a lot of the time, it’s simply a way to numb unhappy feelings. But binging can also be a symptom of an undiagnosed mental disorder. Depression, for example, can lead to low self-esteem, body dissatisfaction, poor impulse control, and difficulty managing feelings—all of which can trigger a binge. Naturally the pain and guilt that comes in the aftermath of a binge can trigger depression, which can trigger another binge… not exactly a fun cycle to get caught in.



Of course people also overindulge because it can feel great—before regret sets in, anyway. The brain releases the feel-awesome chemical dopamine when we eat fat and sugar, when we drink alcohol, or even when we see new things to buy . Once the brain secretes dopamine during binges, they can become like a physical addiction—we binge more and more because we crave the rush of chemicals. Similarly, low levels of dopamine and serotonin (another happy chemical) can lead to compulsive behavior (like bingeing) and depression .

Stress and anxiety can also make people binge by making them more prone to “reward seeking behavior”—basically stress can make us lose perspective and prioritize the nice feelings (“reward”) we get during a binge over the regret that inevitably comes later .



Without a strong sense of self-confidence, the pressures of a culture that emphasizes coolness through consumption can also drive people to binges.


The Kicker

After all that, repeated bouts of binging now become habit. It turns out that every habit starts with a psychological pattern called a "habit loop," which is a three-part process. First, there's a cue, or trigger, that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and let a behavior unfold.

Then there's the routine, which is the behavior itself. That's what we think about when we think about habits The third step, is the reward: something that your brain likes that helps it remember the "habit loop" in the future. For more info check out the book The Power Of Habit-Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business by Charles Duhigg


Mind Over Matter

Many experts link bingeing to a lack of mindfulness, especially relating to emotions. People who are prone to compulsive behavior tend, in general, to have more difficulty understanding their feelings and handling stress. There are many ways to help remedy the issue, such as mindfulness meditation and writing down emotions throughout the day. When a binge feels imminent, ask whether these feelings are True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, or Kind. For example, an impulse like, “I must buy that now,” doesn’t exactly fit the THINK bill.  Being aware of one’s emotional states can help reduce stress, anxiety, and consequent bingeing, so working on improving mindfulness is never a bad idea .


What Can I Do?

No matter why (or how) someone binges, there are plenty of treatment options available for those who seek help. They can visit a cognitive behavioral therapist to figure out if the binges are a standalone problem or if they’re caused by more serious mental issues, like depression or a mood disorder .

After talking with a mental health professional, the recommended next step is to work on controlling binges through continued therapy. Finding a support group like Alcoholics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, or Debtors Anonymous can also be useful in many cases.


Remember, self-treatment is only OK for less serious cases of binge behavior. If bingeing is continuously, negatively impacting your life—to the point where it causes distress or financial, social, or physical harm—therapy should be the first step.


If you do fall into the self-treatment realm, try this exercise to bring mindfulness to binging.


When it comes to our behaviors, the groundwork is laid several hours in advance by you habits, rituals, mindset and automatic thinking. The eating is the last link in the long chain. Build awareness as to what all your overeating episodes have in common.


Write down in as much detail what you are experiencing at each of the following stages. This will help you understand and “journaling” helps to work though it. If you habitually over eat on the weekends for example, you look at the thoughts you wrote down about what you were experiencing beforehand. When you realize this is your pattern happening you can come up with ways to respond to it differently.


Answer these questions every time you over eat. Then review them to find your pattern. Sometimes all you have to do is recognize it to change it. Other times you can change it and break the link.


1-2 hours before. AND Immediately Before:


What are you doing?


How are you feeling emotionally?Physically?

Where are you?

What time is it? (No need to answer this the second time) Who’s with you?


In the middle of it:


What are you doing?


How are you feeling emotionally?Physically?

Where are you?

What are you choosing to consume?

Why are you choosing this particular food?

Who’s with you?



What are you doing?


How are you feeling emotionally?Physically?

Where are you?

Who’s with you?

Be honest and thorough. It’s sure to give you good feedback and be eye opening. If you can break the first link, you have a much better chance of not getting to the last.

AND remember, it’s a process. Write it down for a few times, recognize your patterns and maybe even just stick with the recognizable for a bit and then implement little attainable steps each time.


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