May 26, 2014

7 Types of Binge Eating Triggers: What’s Your Overeating Trigger?

Written by Rachel Eddins

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Identify Your Compulsive Eating or Binge Eating Triggers

Do you find yourself binge eating or compulsive eating and feel out of control with food? It can be such a painful and vicious cycle.

Perhaps you think things will be different today and then suddenly, you find yourself binge eating. Or perhaps you think, “I’ve already blown it for the today, I might as well eat what I want.”

If you’re struggling with the pain and out of control feeling of binge eating or emotional overeating, please know that there is another way.

The first step is to realize it’s not your fault.

Various emotional, physical, social and environmental factors can become binge eating triggers. Once you learn to recognize these you can identify what triggers binge eating for you and begin to make changes to prevent them.

7 Common Binge Eating Triggers

What triggers a binge eating episode is different for each person. Everyone’s history, risk factors, eating habits and relationship with food is different.

There are however, a few common patterns that are common binge eating triggers for most people struggling with a binge eating problem. See if you can identify with any of the ones on this list.

Beginning to identify your triggers can be a good first step towards healing.

It’s not as simple as “calories in, calories out,” or willpower or whatever else you might hear. Our relationship with food is very complex and is not something you can just stop, give up or quit like is possible with alcohol.

However, it can be different and you can learn new tools and skills. The first step is to begin to identify what role food plays in your life and recognize your binge eating triggers so you can prevent them.

1. The Hunger Binge:

This type of binge is triggered by physical deprivation. Physical deprivation is one of the most common causes of binge eating.

This could mean long-term dieting or restricting certain foods, but it could also just mean skipping meals or snacks and letting yourself get too hungry in the day.

A common myth is trying to stop eating as a way to control binges or manage weight gain. Unfortunately this strategy backfires as your body rebels against deprivation both physically and emotionally leading directly to a binge episode.

If you’re driving and you find yourself thinking about every restaurant along the way, chances are you’re too hungry. Feed your body on a regular basis, let yourself get hungry, but eat before you’re ravenous and this will reduce your hunger binges.

Keep a snack with you if you are going to be out of the house for a long period of time. If you’re going out to a social dinner much later than your usual mealtime, consider eating a later afternoon snack to keep your hunger and blood sugar regulated.

2. The Deprivation Binge:

Psychological deprivation vs physical deprivation triggers this type of binge. This often begins with a sense of wanting or needing something but not knowing just what it is that is wanted.

This trigger may also be a response to restrictive dieting and what is needed is to legalize forbidden foods.

You may be experiencing emotional deprivation or neglect. Connect with yourself and your needs in all areas (mind, body, spirit, emotions) so you can fill up on what’s missing.

Be sure to keep a variety foods you enjoy around so that you do not feel deprived. Watch out for food rules which can be another form of deprivation.

3. The Stress Binge Eating Trigger:

Stress eating can produce dissociation – numbing out feelings and distracting when highly stressed. Are you eating to comfort yourself when stressed?

If you stayed connected with yourself, what would you really need in those moments?

Bingeing provides an immediate coping and relaxation response counteracting the body’s stress response. But as you know, it’s fleeting and almost just as instantly replaced with feelings of guilt and shame.

4. The Opportunity Binge:

Occurs when there is high access to privacy, combined with time enough to binge, or boredom with unstructured time.

Bingeing may be an excuse for relaxing, especially when concerned about being productive. The opportunity binge eating trigger can also occur during transition times.

Transitions might occur when you are in your car after work, right when you get home or anytime you are moving between activities. Many people have times of the day that are high risk times for bingeing or overeating such as the afternoon slump or transition to the evening.

Know when you’re most at risk and develop an alternate strategy. I.e., create a transition ritual to help you unwind after work.

Pay attention to what happens when you get in the car or get home from work. Do you need to find a new routine?

5. The Vengeful Binge:

This type of binge is a way of venting hostility. I ate at him. The target is sometimes the binge eater him/herself, sometimes another person, sometimes the situation, or even the body (as with negative body image).

The vengeful binge trigger can represent anger turned into self-hatred. Often deep shame and a conviction of moral failure is present.

Begin practicing self-compassion. Underneath anger and hostility are emotions such as hurt, shame, and feeling threatened or unsafe. A counselor can help you identify and cope with your emotions and learn ways to soothe pain.

6. Pleasure Binge Eating Trigger:

This binge is triggered by the desire for pleasure, stimulation and entertainment. Often people who binge have few sources of pleasure or satisfaction in their lives. With this type of trigger, they might spend time fantasizing about what they will eat.

This can also lead to stopping at the grocery store on the way home from work when your eyes and stomach are both hungry. Make a list to shop from when you’re not triggered and don’t shop when you’re hungry.

The antidote is more self-nurturing or self-care. Ask yourself what provides joy and pleasure in your life?

It may also represent brain chemical imbalances, particularly with dopamine. A counselor can also help you identify brain chemical imbalances and find solutions.

7. Habit Binge:

The habit binge can lead to a grazing binge – continuous eating without much effort to either control it or feel upset by it until later. Try to sticking to regular meals vs grazing. Put food away when mealtime is over.

When you pair eating behavior with an activity often enough, eventually the activity itself triggers the urge to eat. There could be many sights, smells, people, places, events and situations that can trigger mindless eating.

Mindless activities such as eating while watching TV can trigger a habit binge. Try and make your eating more mindful by sitting down at the dining table and enjoying your meal without distractions.

Read our guide to understanding your relationship with food and coping with triggers. 

Get Help for Binge Eating Disorder

Taking things one step at a time and working with a skilled therapist who really understands in depth the struggle with food can help you feel in charge of your relationship with food once again.

You may also benefit from getting support for other mental health concerns that often accompany binge eating disorder such as anxiety or depression.

People with binge eating disorder or compulsive eating habits can recover with treatment. A mental health professional can help as it is hard to change binge eating behaviors on your own.

Next Steps

If you or someone you know is struggling with Binge Eating Disorder, help is available.

We regularly offer a group therapy program to help you make peace with food. Our therapists specialize in binge eating disorder and can help you or your loved one recover.

To get started now give us a call to schedule an appointment at 832-559-2622 or schedule an appointment online. We look forward to help you!

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