I am not a licensed mental health clinician. The information on this website is intended for educational purposes only. If you or a loved one struggle with an eating disorder, please seek professional help.
Binge Eating Demystified
What Causes bulimia and binge eating disorder?
What causes your binge eating?
Is it due to past trauma? Is it a coping tool used to soften depression and anxiety, numb painful emotions, or fill an internal void? Is it a means of combating low self esteem or controlling yourself and your environment?
Though any of these may have played a role in the development of your eating disorder, addressing them alone will not heal it. Becoming emotionally sane is a lofty goal (I personally have not yet attained it) and a lifelong journey. I am assuming you do not want to wait a lifetime to heal your ED. Additionally, it is extremely difficult to build self-confidence and emotional wellness while you are actively destroying yourself on a regular basis. There is a much more simple and immediate process that keeps you stuck. When you reverse this process, the urges to binge and purge will disappear and your eating disorder will dissolve. Once you have healed your relationship with your body and with food, you will be in a much better place to increase your self esteem and comfort painful emotions.
You turn yourself against your body. You cut calories, stop eating the foods you enjoy, or skip meals on a regular basis. Your body fights the deprivation by producing powerful urges to binge.
Imagine you are starving.
Actually, you do not need to imagine you're starving, because it is likely that you actually are. You are starving because you dieted for long enough to teach your body that food is scarce. This is true regardless of how much or how little you weigh. You may be twenty pounds over your recommended BMI (a meaningless measure of healthy weight) and still be starving. When you significantly reduce the amount of food you eat for an extended period of time, whether you are on a formal diet or simply following your own food rules, your body learns that food is scarce and flips into starvation mode. Purging after eating has the same effect.
So what happens when you are starving?
1. Your body directs full attention at the attainment of food. It becomes difficult to focus on anything else.
2. Your body produces powerful cravings for huge amounts of food so that when the famine comes you will have stored up all of the calories you need. Simple survival instinct.
As a bonus, you become tired, irritable, and prone to depression and anxiety. Starvation not only affects your body, but your mind as well.
Restriction causes binge eating which triggers purging and increased restriction, which then causes more binge eating. And so the cycle is formed.
Think about it
Were you on any kind of diet when your urges to binge began? Is there any restriction in your current eating habits that may be keeping your eating disorder alive?
You restrict, binge and purge over and over again. With the power of repeated practice, your brain learns this pattern so well, it begins to generate it automatically, even when it is against your best wishes.
One of the wonderful ways in which the mind remembers is referred to as classical conditioning. Classical conditioning occurs when a certain stimulus (object, event or place) is repeatedly linked to a given response (feeling state or action). The response becomes a habit which gets triggered by the stimulus to which it has been linked. If you moved away from your parents for college, and then on coming back for a visit found yourself transported right back to your high school self, that is classical conditioning at work. Your high school self’s actions and reactions are habits and your parents house is the stimulus that triggers them.
Classical conditioning makes it possible to experience powerful urges to binge even while following a nutritionist approved meal plan.
Here’s how it works:
You feel uncomfortable (trigger). You binge eat and feel momentarily better (response). Your brain registers binge=comfort. Each time you binge, this association grows stronger. Eventually you reach the point where any time you feel any pain or discomfort, your brain sends you an urgent message “Eat now!”. This habitual message registers with the same urgency as a legitimate need. That is why it is so incredibly difficult to resist or distract yourself from it. Your rational mind may know that eating won't help you feel any better, but the subconscious force of habit feels more powerful than any rational thought. Furthermore, when you fight the urge, you begin to feel even more agitated and uncomfortable (trigger), and then when you finally do give in (response), the momentary relief is all the more powerful. Hence, the binge=comfort association grows even stronger. The same is true of purging. After a binge you feel a huge amount of physical and mental discomfort (trigger). Your body feels sick from all the food and you feel guilty and ashamed. Purging (response) helps momentarily relieve these feelings, so that the association is formed: Purge=relief. The more frequently you restrict, binge and purge, the more powerful and intense the urges to do so become.
Think about it
Do you consciously plan to binge and purge or does it seem to happen almost on its own, even when you firmly resolve to stop? Do you feel compelled to eat in order to rid yourself of uncomfortable feelings or sensations?
You criticize, condemn and lose faith in yourself, so that you don't feel beautiful enough to treat your body with kindness or powerful enough to transform destructive habits.
Perhaps you may have noticed a major gap in everything we've said so far: Not everyone who diets develops an eating disorder. Not everyone who habitually eats to find comfort develops an eating disorder. Clearly there is a missing link.
The missing link is your thoughts and beliefs about yourself. It is the messages you tell yourself that turn food restriction and emotional eating into a cycle that dominates your life. Bulimia and BED are as much about how you think and feel as they are about what you do.
The thought "I hate my body! I need to lose weight NOW," creates a much more desperate and restrictive diet than does the thought "I'll feel healthier if I eat more wholesome foods." Likewise, it is the feelings of shame and self disgust following a binge that compel you to purge or binge more in order to ease the pain.
There are four mind patterns that feed your eating disorder.
You are afraid of the urges to binge and purge and the power they have over you.
You question whether you will ever be able to overcome them and to heal for good.
You feel out of control around food and entirely unable to do anything about it.
You label yourself and your body as bad, guilty, unlovable or broken.
They may play out something like this:
You feel familiar food cravings and you know they won't be easily filled. You resolve “this time I won't give in!”. The cravings grow stronger. You try to fight them or distract yourself (fear). The cravings grow stronger still and you feel restless and agitated. You start to question how much longer you will be able to resist and to wonder whether true recovery is possible at all (doubt). You grow battle weary and any coping tools you may have learned become inadequate compared to the power of the urges. Your resolve crumbles and you, at last, acknowledge how absolutely powerless you are (helplessness). You give in and eat, and eat (x10) all the while numbing yourself to the feeling of abject failure and impending doom. Finally you feel sick enough to stop. The impact of what you’ve done sets in. You feel disgusted with the way you have eaten and afraid of how it will affect your body (shame). You need desperately to get rid of all of the food so you purge or severely restrict. This sends your body right back into starvation mode so that urges to binge persist and the cycle continues. . .
The thoughts you believe about yourself determine whether a momentary slip up will become a vicious cycle.
Think about it
What messages do you say to yourself about yourself before, during and after a binge? Are you more or less likely to restrict, binge, and purge when you judge yourself as weak, broken or "not good enough"?
the Simple immediate process
Restrictive dieting sends your body into starvation mode. Your body creates powerful urges to binge on large amounts of food in order to ensure your survival.
Each time you binge, your brain registers the temporary feeling of relief and comfort it provides. Bingeing becomes the brain’s automatic response to discomfort. It becomes a habit.
You feel ashamed of your eating habits, unable to change them, and afraid of how they’ll affect your body. You come to believe you are broken.
That is the short of it. Restriction+Repetition+Self Judgement= Disordered eating. It may seem simplistic, but that is the beauty of it. You do not need to spend months or years uncovering deep rooted psychological issues; you need only begin to address these three patterns and you will immediately see progress. And in the process of healing your eating disorder, you will find within yourself a place of strength, compassion and love from which to hold and heal any deeper stuck painful emotions.
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