Binge Eating Disorder: Why can’t I stop eating?

If you’re reading this because you are concerned about your relationship to food and eating, let’s firstly recognise what a brave and courageous thing it is to recognise that something’s not quite right.

It can be really hard to admit that we’ve got a problem, and quite scary to come to terms with the fact that we might need help and support with this from others.

Binge eating disorder is a complex mental illness. It is characterised by people eating large quantities of food in “episodes” to the point of huge discomfort – both mental and physical. Many people mistakenly equate binge eating disorder to typical “overeating”, when in fact they are two very different experiences.

Following a binge, people can feel a great deal of shame associated with their eating behaviours, which can prompt them to restrict their food intake, which in turn often prompts a binge due to deprivation and feeling hungry. People can feel very trapped in this cycle of binge, feeling shame/guilt, restricting again, followed by another binge (and so on). Treatment and recovery focuses on breaking the cycle by understanding the triggers and creating safe and healthy coping mechanisms to turn to instead of food.

Why can’t I stop eating?

Individuals suffering with binge eating disorder often describe their bingeing episodes like a “trance”. They may dissociate or feel disconnected from themselves and what they are doing in the process and go to great lengths to consume food, perhaps even stealing to get hold of food to binge on.

Yet despite how it may seem, binge eating disorder is not about food. Often, there are much more complex, underlying emotional triggers that prompt someone to engage in binge eating. Here are some of the reasons why people may binge eat:

It’s a maladaptive coping mechanism

We’ve all heard of a “coping mechanism” but when it comes to binge eating disorder, this is an example of a “maladaptive” one.

A maladaptive coping mechanism serves a purpose in the short-term, which seems to help us, but to the detriment of other areas of our lives, such as our mental and physical health and relationships.

People develop coping mechanisms in response to challenging situations: sometimes these are healthy (such as journaling or meditating) and sometimes these are unhealthy (such as eating disorders, self-harm, alcoholism etc).

It is self-soothing

This may sound contradictory, but bingeing does play a role in “helping” us to cope in the short-term by numbing overwhelming and unpleasant emotions such as anxiety, stress, depression or loneliness.

Binge eating disorder is characterised by compulsions, (a strong urge to act on a behaviour ) along with episodes of bingeing. These are often prompted by an emotional experience that feels out of our control. This compulsion or urge then begins a pattern that, over time, can be hard to break.

With help and support, individuals can begin to identify triggers that cause the bingeing episodes and, when they notice these triggers arising, implement other safe ways of coping.

Other factors that can cause binge eating disorder

There are any number of reasons why someone might develop binge eating disorder in their lifetime. In fact, the eating disorder charity, Beat, says that 1 in 50 of us will suffer from it in our lifetime.

Negative life experiences (such as trauma or bullying), genetics and co-occurring conditions, such as depression and anxiety can all play a role in someone developing binge eating disorder.

Recovery may seem difficult, but is possible, and you don’t have to do this alone. You can get support from your GP, and it may help to talk to family and friends so they can support you. There are lots of resources, tips and inspirational stories on Beat www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk or Orri https://www.orri-uk.com to support you on your own path to recovery.


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