(NOTE: The following list has come from both my own experiences with binge-eating, plus responses I got from asking about binge eating triggers on Instagram).
Bingeing is a complex thing. You try to eat to comfort yourself, but that comfort seeking behaviour comes with the negative result of feeling worse about yourself! And the cycle begins again.
But binge eating doesn’t happen in a vacuum. In other words, bingeing doesn’t happen without a reason and without the right conditions for it.
Let’s begin by taking a look at:
Wanting things to be just ‘right’, and having an almost total inability to accept anything beyond perfect. Any flaws are not tolerated.
Having an inability to settle at ‘good enough’. Having an obsessive trait means that something interesting can turn into an all-out obsession, where you can’t let go of it until you’ve exhausted the supply it can give you. The ‘interesting’ thing is usually doubly more enticing if it’s slightly ‘naughty’, or comes with an ego boost or a connection to a group.
There are many other factors and traits that wrap themselves up with binge-eating, but low self-esteem is highly likely to be the most shared factor between people who have binge eating disorder. Low self-esteem is just not feeling good enough. No matter what you do, you feel that you just don’t cut it.
Can you see yourself here? If not, take a look at this list of potential triggers and factors that can result in a binge, and see if you do some of these, or have been triggered by some.
Use this list to help you see that others feel the same as you, and that you’re not alone. Also, you can use this to help you if you are wondering why you are bingeing at any time and see if you’ve been triggered. Sometimes there won’t be a very obvious reason, and sometimes it will be a complex and layered reason that’s too hard to figure out.
One thing I often share with people is not to try and ‘solve’ binge eating as you’re doing it. Let the binge sort of happen, and then look at it with compassion later on or the next day. You can read more about bingeing by looking at all my blogs under this tag.
The opportunities for comparing yourself to others are everywhere. When you go shopping, when you watch a film, when a new love interest talks about an ex, and of course; scrolling on social media. Be careful who you follow. Make sure to follow accounts that can really help you see things differently.
You might use words such as too / always / never when describing yourself. These all or nothing words reflect the harsh judgement you place on yourself which doesn’t truly give an accurate picture, but instead goes to show the low worth you feel about yourself. “Too fat / Never able to do that / Always a failure”. Do you say these sorts of things to yourself? Are they really true that you are always anything? We are more complex than that – so give yourself some wiggle room for a more realistic view!
The comments you get might be totally on purpose, such as a mother criticizing her daughter’s weight. Of course, that’s going to be massively triggering as it picks on a sore spot that has layers of shame and frustration going back years. But sometimes comments can be meant well, but they can still be triggering because they are to do with looks and appearances. I had someone say to me recently, “have you lost weight?” and this appearance based comment made me start to judge myself and reflect too much on my weight and it started to tip me into imbalance with eating again. Be careful about commenting on anyone’s appearance. Looking into assertiveness training can be helpful when dealing with difficult people too.
Feeling tired and drained can often lead to eating more, or eating more carbs or sugary stuff, and sometimes the fact that those foods are eaten in a way that is perceived as ‘too much’ triggers feelings of uncertainty or frustration which then go onto bingeing. Understanding that it’s normal for many people to eat more or crave more when tired might allow you to give yourself a break.
When you have that feeling that you just can’t cope anymore, or you’re just desperate for a break and some ‘me time’ – binge eating can become that escape. Binge eating rarely happens at the table with a knife and fork and some classical music playing! It’s often done quickly or done when the mind is distracted, like watching TV or scrolling on your phone. It is sort of logical, as you do get a break! But it’s not often the most relaxing thing. I’ve found that true relaxation takes a bit of work upfront for the payoff later on. When you’re overwhelmed and the tank is empty, it’s hard to find this bit of energy needed to start off the relaxation activity. It might be worth looking into relaxing before the tank is empty! As in, going for a walk and noticing bird sounds. It takes a bit of energy to get out the door, but the relaxation effects might last long enough after to be worth it. If that’s not an option, simply having a few eyes closed and deep breathing moments in the day keeps the stress from reaching fever pitch.
“I don’t want to bother anyone” “No one cares about this stuff” “I don’t think anyone can relate” – these are actually dangerous mindsets to have as they lead to us closing up and not sharing what’s going on for us, which just compounds feeling alone or different. The struggle mounts up as you might judge yourself for not dealing with stuff better. You’d be surprised at how so many people are going through what you feel. None of us is an island. People feel really negative about themselves often, and people think really weird and bizarre things. We all have shadow sides and nasty thoughts about ourselves, or others. Being weird is normal. You’re not alone.
If you don’t want to share with a person, writing things down really is the most amazing thing. Otherwise, reading forums and seeing what others feel might make you feel less alone or gave you a safe space to share. Can you practice sharing when you don’t feel so vulnerable? Can you ask for what you need when it’s something small?
This is the thought that can precede feeling depressed. It’s really a thought to look out for because it’s a huge warning sign that stuff is about to go down! What’s the point type feelings means that you just don’t care anymore. It’s not always negative though, sometimes it’s a good thing to throw your hands up and just go onto some sort of acceptance. Hitting rock bottom can mean that you do go up from there eventually. But often, this type of thinking can be tied into feeling worthless. I think we’ve all felt this at some point. Getting some outside perspective can help. Or even writing down why things matter to you, or what you’re grateful for as a note for your future self can help you realize, there is a point – even if that point is just to be, and to experience, and that’s it. Please share these types of thoughts as soon as you notice them, and take a look at these helplines if you are feeling really desperate.
Monthly or even daily hormone ups and downs can lead us to feel everything and not really having much control over them. This becomes a problem only when you don’t realize that it’s a hormonal thing, and you start blaming yourself as a person for feeling that way. Remember that your body needs to be listened to and understood without judgement getting in the way. This goes beyond hormones, and into health in general. Imagine you had a thyroid issue, or something worse – but your narrow focus on your body through the lens of weight and appearance, as well as holding yourself in poor esteem will lead you to miss signs your body is sending you as you’re too busy judging it and jumping to the conclusion that it’s either weight gain or you don’t have any motivation. Try to stop judging yourself through a narrow focus, and step back and realize you need to listen to your body so you understand it better and take care of it in the appropriate way!
Who doesn’t feel low at times? As Dolly Parton says, if you want the rainbow, you need to have the rain. Moods are a part of life, and they change, like the seasons or the weather. Lots of people think that when they are sad, it will go on forever (which leads to a sense of hopelessness) – but the truth it, we go and up and down. You can learn to hold a low mood with acceptance, rather than running away from it and trying to fix it through eating a lot. See if you can come to have a relationship with your moods from a stance of trying to understand the way you work. Perhaps there’s something to be learned from a low mood (like you spent time outdoors recently) and you can learn to give yourself what you want in a whole host of different ways. If eating a lot is your go-to, then rather than punish yourself for trying to cope, learn to hold your response with kindness too.
Nothing worse than hearing something horrible has happened, and having that rush of heavy feelings that don’t go away quickly, and there’s not much you can do about it. When life throws these huge curveballs in the way, we have to function on automatic. If you have unhelpful habits, then they will be stronger than ever at this time. This is why having some self-care practices you do as often as you can when things are going smoothly, helps if things become bumpy. Having a contingency plan ahead of time (like a written out worst case scenario thing) can actually help you feel less worried overall. Trust yourself; you do know how to manage better than you think.
Anything that can give you that butterflies in the stomach feeling can be really unnerving. You can feel heady, and you get a rush of emotions, and you might feel sick – even if the circumstances are kind of positive. Limmerence, by the way, is the word to describe one of the early stages of a romantic relationship. This state can encompass obsession and a total lack of normal routine due to overthinking and feeling all the feels. But this can happen with any heightened emotion, normality goes out the window. Bingeing might be trying to hold onto something, or it could be to do with trying to settle uncomfortable feelings by escaping into the familiar binge cycle of eat – numb – feel – response. This is a habit that is well worn, so the familiarity leads to comfort when we feel a bit too much.
When all is left is stale bread and a rotten tangerine in the fruit bowl, something almost primal can kick in for many of us. It’s like winter has arrived, and the hoarding, stockpiling and feasting instinct kicks in. All of a sudden we find ourselves eating a lot of random stuff – going to town on lentils and porridge oats like there’s no tomorrow. You’re not alone if you do this! Bare cupboards can make you feel like there’s not enough. Remind yourself that there is always enough food. You will be able to get more. Hunger can be difficult to cope with, so let yourself hoard the food if that’s your response. You might be seeing a pattern here – just let go of controlling some of your responses, as that makes everything worse. I still eat a lot when the cupboards are bare, and I’ve learned that it’s just something I do, and it’s better for me to go with the flow here rather than micro manage every part of myself!
Failure (or at least thinking you’ve failed) can lead us to the fun territory of shame! Oh shame. It’s horrible. There’s nothing quite like shame, is there? It’s unique and difficult to handle. I highly recommend reading the works of Brené Brown, in particular her book The Gifts of Imperfection. She talks about shame hangovers, and embarrassment. I think it comes down to that perfectionist streak again, and not having good enough forgiveness skills. Will this matter in five years? You can get better at forgiveness, and you can learn to hold something messy and let it go. It’s a skill, so don’t berate yourself if you’re not good at it yet! (Take a look at my recommended reading list if you like!)
This can come from noticing differences in yourself both physically and in terms of character or personality, when you are around groups of people, but can also happen just by looking in a mirror. Again, this can lead to shame. Learning to accept yourself is a life long process. I teach a lot of this in my work, but do look out for any books or materials on self-acceptance, or get my bundle of body kindness cards here.
Diet culture, the dieting industry and having people talk about weight loss and calories around us can definitely lead to binges. Why? Because it keeps hammering home this stupid idea that we SHOULD look a certain way, and there’s a right way of eating. But none of this is true. It’s this made up thing that we are all living in, and you need to get better at spotting it, because it’s a dangerous tale that can lead to very harmful behaviours. Do diets work? No. Sure, they might lead to some weight loss. But at what cost? Many people come out of dieting with eating disorders and a rubbish relationship with food and self. Is it really worth it when you could find a balance with food and body and mind through far better ways? When you see creams to get rid of cellulite, when you think all women want to lose weight, when commenting on appearances is normal, when calling food good or bad, or when you casually chat about dieting with colleagues – then you are in the diet trap – and you need to get out! It’s only a bubble (albeit a big one) but you can come out of it and live happily with food. Amen!
Which do you think are triggers for you? There’s probably more, well, there’s definitely more, but I’ll wrap it up here. I want to thank everyone who contributed to this list and I hope you’ll use it to treat yourself with some kindness.
Look after yourself – Rebecca x