Binge eating is not a choice, or a reflection of willpower. But it’s not the real problem, either; it’s merely a symptom. In order to stop binge eating, you must dig deeper and address the underlying root of the issue: hunger.
I know it’s hard to believe that hunger could have anything to do with something like binge eating — I mean, I used to eat enough food in a single sitting to feed a small army. Hunger was the least of my problems. Right?
Wrong. Hunger is so much more complicated than I ever understood or respected. It’s a biological, hormonal state defined by your body and brain, and it’s completely nonnegotiable. Your body dictates whether you are hungry or full — not a diet plan.
Hunger hormones are designed to work in tandem to regulate food intake: Ghrelin informs your brain when your body needs fuel, and leptin kicks in when you’ve satisfied your hunger. Easy peasy, until something disturbs that delicate balance. That something could be, say, a devastating famine or a wacky academic study about starvation…or something really stupid, like our society’s never-ending obsession with weight manipulation.
It only takes one diet to send your hunger hormones into panic mode. Even when you don’t think you are hungry, or think you SHOULDN’T be hungry, your hunger hormones are telling another story. Elevated levels of ghrelin ensure that, biologically speaking, you are always hungry. Diminished levels of leptin ensure that you are never satisfied.
It’s a hell of a way to live a life. Everywhere you look, food seems to beckon, and diet culture is always there to remind you: food is bad bad bad. You are bad for wanting food. So you do your best to resist, but there is no suppressing the biological drive to consume food. That’s where binge eating comes in.
Binge eating is a biological response to biological hunger, and I hope that helps assuage the guilt and shame that are so wrongly associated with this disorder. You can overcome binge eating, but not through sheer force of will. In my experience, the only way to effectively stop binge eating, once and for all, is to show your body that hunger is not an issue: by eating. Give yourself unrestricted permission to eat what you want whenever you want it. Feel fullness. Feel satisfaction. And stop letting diet culture shame you for needing food.