Opinions divide over the cause of binge eating disorder although it’s likely to be different for different people.
What’s evident from our experience, though, is that the vast majority of people who overeat are not consciously choosing to be fat – unless they’re wanna be sumo wrestlers, that is!
People who overeat, who binge eat do not want to be fat, but they fail to link either consciously or unconsciously their overeating with their weight and body shape.
They need to eat and ignore the fact that it will make them fat.
Have you justified that cream cake with a statement like, “it’s only one cake, it won’t make a difference”?
And on one level you’d be right, but it’s the frequent and repeated act of doing this that causes the problem. All those cakes soon add up.
Ok, so if you accept this disconnection between the act of eating and the consequential weight gain in the medium to long term, why does it happen?
What’s the cause of your binging, the cause of binge eating disorder?
The Cause of Binge Eating Disorder
Ok, the medical jury is very much out on this one and we’re not psychologists.
Bingers are compulsive eaters, they obsess about food, their weight, their body shape.
Our experience with our clients and a trawl of the literature highlights some possible explanations as to the cause of binge eating disorder.
Let’s get this one out of the way first.
Dieting makes you fat, both on a physiological level and a psychological one. We’ve covered the physiological reasons elsewhere on this site.
From a psychological perspective, the thought and act of dieting is stressful.
Whilst we wouldn’t suggest that diets are necessarily a cause of binge eating disorder, binge eating may well start with a diet.
Dieting is associated with deprivation – all the things you can’t eat, the negatives.
In a very real sense the thought of not eating sugary, fatty foods, the foods that made you fat, that you eat for comfort is traumatic for binge eaters.
The stress is likely to drive you to the fridge and cause you to binge some more!
When you break your diet you feel bad, you continue to binge, put on more weight, go on a diet…and so it begins again.
Binge, diet, relapse, binge, diet, relapse…
Remember, binge eating for many bingers is an emotional response to other problems in their lives.
Sort them out first, develop alternative coping strategies to food and then try to lose the weight.
2. Low self-esteem
Do you binge eat because you have low self-esteem, or do you have low self-esteem because you binge and put on weight?
Probably a bit of both, a downward spiral of feel bad, binge, put on weight, feel bad, binge, put on weight…and so on.
The emotional and physical response, mutually reinforcing one another.
However, you don’t just get fat by magic, though. You get fat because you overeat, because you binge.
If you feel bad about that, about yourself – ashamed, disgusted – if you constantly criticize yourself, forever telling yourself that you’re a failure…
Well guess what, that’s what you’ll be!
If your self-esteem is low, if you’re constantly down on yourself, you will binge and you won’t lose weight.
3. Body image
Most dieters, let alone bingers have a distorted, unrealistic body image. An image in their head of what they should look like, that bears no relation to what they could look like, what’s possible.
The ‘ideal’ body is a million miles away from theirs. The result? They feel fat, they are fat – at least in their head.
Whether you’re fat or not, you always will be in your mind as you continue to strive for the impossible.
You feel more depressed as you continue to fail and you turn to food for comfort.
You’re not hungry, you’re stressed out, depressed, food feels as if it will help. It’s a comfort.
Your binge eating is a compulsion, it helps you to cope with amongst other things, the dissonance between the ‘you’ you see in the mirror, and the ‘ideal you’ you see in your head.
4. Social pressure and societal norms
Do we really need to state the obvious? The pressure to conform to the norm is likely to be a cause of binge eating disorder for many.
In a society in which practically all role models are slim and beautiful, it’s hardly surprising that most of us fail to match up.
These beautiful people are held up as what we should all aspire to, whether overtly or subconsciously.
The fact that they were at the front of the queue when the genes were being handed out is irrelevant.
And when one of these beautiful people dares to put on a few pounds, the media is all too ready to come down on them like the proverbial ton of bricks.
Because they’re what we’re supposed to look like, there must be something wrong with us.
You diet to look like them and binge when you fail. What a healthy state of affairs!
5. Guilt and punishment
And this brings us on to guilt.
We don’t match up, we feel guilty every time we eat something, diet to punish ourselves, fail to match up and binge to punish ourselves some more – “eat that box of chocolates, that’ll teach you for being so fat!”.
6. Trigger foods
Check out our page on trigger foods, Suffice to say, whatever your trigger foods are, you can’t eat just one. So don’t eat them at all!
7. Loss of control
If you feel you have little control over your life, food may help you to cope.
People who feel disempowered are also more likely to think, “what’s the point?”.
What difference will it make if I’m slim and healthy? What’s the point of losing weight?
The despair of feeling as if your life is out of your control, that there’s nothing you can do to improve things can cause many reactions, one of which is binge eating.
Traumatic life events can do this – a bereavement, a relationship breakdown, redundancy…all can be a cause of binge eating disorder.
As can long term life difficulties, such as poverty, unemployment, poor housing conditions and environment.
If you feels as if your life is crap, what’s the point of being in shape?
Now this list isn’t exhaustive and there are likely to be many other reasons why people binge eat. After all, the cause of binge eating disorder is likely to be personal to you as will be the solutions.
But once you understand the cause of binge eating disorder, you can begin to do something about it.
Successfully overcoming your binge eating starts with you recognizing you have a problem, then tackling your overeating.
Tackle the cause of binge eating disorder, not the other way round.