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Does undereating really increase binge eating?

It’s that time of year when we tend to be more susceptible to filling our bellies “like bowls full of jelly”!

For many, this tendency to “binge eat” is not only a struggle during the holidays, but all year long. Common characteristics of binge eating include eating fast, eating larger-than-normal portions, eating more food when you are alone, and experiencing negative feelings of guilt, shame or remorse after eating. You know what’s crazy? Binge eating is diagnosed three times more than eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia combined.

Here are several ways my clients have faced their binge eating and came out on top:

  • Stop undereating. Many binge eaters are also chronic dieters who have lived through every food-restricted diet known to man. OK, maybe not every one, but to the binge eater it feels that way. Caution – if you struggle with binge eating and try to combat it by restricting your calories, that’s a mistake. Restricting foods leaves you feeling deprived, which can cause an overwhelming, undeniable urge to eat. Next thing you know, you’re coming out of an eating binge flooded with feelings of shame, guilt and fear. Instead, make sure you are eating three meals a day made up of healthy food and snack choices.
  • Eat for texture. The standard American diet lacks texture; however, fresh whole food such as nuts and seeds and vegetables add loads of different textures to help satisfy the brain after a meal. Meals like chicken, rice and roasted broccoli are not only the most boring healthy meal on the planet, but also has very little texture for food satisfaction. Adding some olive oil and slivered almonds for crunch on the broccoli is a very simple way to add texture to the meal that helps tell the brain you are satisfied. Another example, if you love yogurt or oatmeal for your morning breakfast, you can add healthy nuts and seeds helps bring more texture and enjoyment to the meal.
  • Know your trigger foods. Next, it’s important to know which foods cause you to lose all control. For example, let’s talk chocolate chip cookies. If you eat one and then need the whole package, yup that’s your trigger food. Trigger foods don’t have to be sweet, either. For many, it’s a high-carbohydrate meal (Italian food, Mexican food, etc.). It’s whatever leaves you feeling like there’s no turning back until you devour everything in your path.
  • Develop other ways to find comfort. After a long, stressful workday, you can find yourself reaching for the sugar ... without being able to stop eating it. As cortisol increases with stress, this signals your body to burn energy, leaving you depleted. If you live a stressful life, it’s time to work on “managing” that stress in ways that don’t involve food. These activities (such as salt floats, massages, acupuncture, meditation, chiropractic care, walks, gym workouts, skiing – you get the idea) will increase a flood of endorphins that can elevate happiness.

Binge eating is a problem many are struggling with each day. It’s not as simple as a lack of willpower or discipline, instead, there are several biological reasons it’s happening. The good news is that by working with professionals such as dietitians and mental health specialists, you can better understand the biology and psychology underlying it and you can turn it around and beat binge eating once and for all.

Fran Sutherlin, RD, MS, is a local registered dietitian, specializing in using digestive wellness to prevent or manage chronic disease. She has a master’s degree in nutrition, is a personal health coach, speaker, and owner of Sustainable Nutrition. She can be reached at 444-2122 or fran@fransutherlin.com.