Breaking Down Binge Eating: Why We Do It & What You Can Do

Breaking Down Binge Eating: Why We Do It & What You Can Do

    By Amber Dawn Orton AmberLately I have been asked a lot about how I have found balance with my mentality involving food and the ability to eat in moderation, especially post competition or restriction. I have written about this topic before, because I believe it is something that should be discussed more. It is a very prevalent/ depressing part of the sport, that is often hidden or suppressed by many athletes. I have actually jokingly coined this term "PTCD- Post Traumatic Competing Disorder". So, I figured, the best time to write about it, was when I was in the midst of dealing with it. So today's post is focused on binge eating and the mental aspects that go along with it, as I have gathered some archived writing I did on this subject last year post nationals when I was in the midst of dealing with this myself. At 6 weeks post Nationals last year, I was bouncing around with my nutrition and choices each day. Some days I was in the mentality that “I need to lose weight or lean out” again and therefor I resorted back to thinking I needed to be on a "prep diet". The misconception there, which I have just recently been able to connect for myself, is that in order to lean out a bit, I didn't need to go to the extreme of a prep diet. Extremes are what cause rebounds, and the ongoing cycle that causes binging which is being "all in" or "all out". You see, for many athletes, once you achieve your "best" as far as weight, body-fat, etc. you will automatically connect extremes to getting back to that point (that is if you had the presence of these extremes in your prep plan or journey to your personal best, of course). One may think, "I need to be on fat burners again" or "I need to do extra cardio" or "I should cut my carbs today" because those are the things they relate to getting their "best" body back. However, these are also the extremes that lead to the ever so prevalent binge eating disorder that happens to so many in the industry. I, myself, am very guilty of binge eating post long term restriction. But thankfully, I have found a solution that seems to be working for me. I wrote the following in a journal entry of mine after my last show in 2013: I am now 8 weeks post being on a restricted diet, and finally feel "in balance" with my lifestyle and choices. It has taken 8 weeks for my leptin to restore itself- as I just now have the sense of being full again. But in order to get back to this point of balance, I had to change my mindset and reprogram the way I viewed food. I will explain here: I have always been a big believer in variety in the diet. However, I have also been a very clean eater while in prep. I do not believe one should eat the same sources of foods day in and day out, but I do believe the micronutrients found in clean, wholesome foods are crucial in a prep diet. That being said, I allow all my clients including myself, to make substitutions between clean protein sources, fat sources, and carb sources as long as the macros are fairly close. Now that I am out of prep, I have been allowing myself a little more creativity in my diet. I love to cook, and seeing all the clean food posts on social media sights, such as instagram, has helped my creativity come out in the kitchen. But even with that aspect, I have found myself often overeating these clean foods, to a point where I feel guilt and ask myself why? As I have paid more attention to this "binge" type of behavior, I have found that I personally overeat for a few different reasons, the primary being:
  1. It can take weeks post restriction for my "fullness" signal to tell me I am full again, which is directly related to my leptin levels. Explanation for this: "Leptin is a hormone that is tied closely to regulating energy intake and expenditure, including appetite, metabolism and hunger. It is the single most important hormone when it comes to understanding why we feel hungry or full. When present in high levels, it signals to our brain that we’re full and can stop eating. When low, we feel hungry and crave food. It does this by stimulating receptors in our hypothalamus, the part of our brains which regulates the hormone system in our bodies. When leptin binds to receptors in this part of our brains, it stimulates the release of appetite- suppressing chemicals. People with leptin disorders eat uncontrollably.So when you lose a lot of weight quick, via liposuction or serious calorie restriction, your leptin levels plummet. Subsequently, you get hungrier, your thyroid decreases output and your metabolic rate drops. Your body then increases catabolic hormone activity and appetite, making you tend to slip off your regime and gain all that weight right back. That’s why crash diets are often ineffective – your leptin won’t let you eat less, and even if you do, you’re lethargic and your metabolic rate slows way down." (Source: hormone/) Of course, just because it makes things difficult for dieting, leptin levels are far more sensitive to starvation than overeating. So when you cut calories and start to burn fat, the leptin levels in your body plummet, but when you eat too much they don’t skyrocket at the rate they decreased (which means it will take TIME for my body to feel full again post restriction). To lose weight and keep it off, you have to give your body time to adjust to the new, lowered leptin level, so it sets that as “normal” and you feel full when you’re supposed to.
  2. I may have a craving for a food that I am trying to compensate for by eating more of a cleaner food choice (because its "better"), but it is not satisfying that craving the way I am looking for it to be satisfied. Explanation for this: I have created tight dietary boundaries for myself, and I classify foods as "good" or "bad" and instead of chosing to eat something "bad" to satisfy a craving, I think I am better off overeating more of something "good". At the end of the day though, overeating is overeating- wheather its good or bad- it will lead to weight gain. And I have to remind myself that if calories in, good or bad, are larger than calories out, I will gain weight.Helpful Tip: If your craving chocolate and you're eating 3 brownie quest bars to satisfy your craving (because they're "clean"), try allowing yourself the chocolate your craving- in moderation- and do not feel guilty about it. EVERYTHING IN MODERATION is key
  3. I am hypersensitive to food, food timing, and the way macronutrients affects me and I will be for some time. Interesting study that may help explain this: "In a mouse model of moderate caloric restriction in which a 10-15% weight loss similar to human dieting is produced, we examined physiological and behavioral stress measures. After 3 weeks of restriction, mice showed significant increases in immobile time in a tail suspension test and stress-induced corticosterone levels. Increased stress was associated with brain region-specific alterations of corticotropin-releasing factor expression and promoter methylation, changes that were not normalized with refeeding. Similar outcomes were produced by high-fat diet withdrawal, an additional component of human dieting. In examination of long- term behavioral consequences, previously restricted mice showed a significant increase in binge eating of a palatable high-fat food during stress exposure. Orexigenic hormones, melanin-concentrating hormone (MCH) and orexin, were significantly elevated in response to the high-fat diet only in previously restricted mice. These results reveal reprogramming of key central pathways involved in regulating stress responsivity and orexigenic drives by moderate caloric restriction experience. In humans, such changes would be expected to reduce treatment success by promoting behaviors resulting in weight regain, and suggest that management of stress during dieting may be beneficial in long-term maintenance. And if you are like 99% of other competitors and you overeat peanut butter and other nut butters, this may help you understand your actions are NORMAL...."In examination of long-term behavioral consequences, previously restricted mice showed a significant increase in binge eating of a palatable high-fat food during stress exposure" (Source: PubMed- Answer: So after recognizing these factors, I have come to find that my binge type of behavior is drastically lessened through following more of an IIFYM dieting approach. If you are not familiar with IIFYM it stands for If-It-Fits-Your-Macros and it is a way to incorporate more of these taboo "bad" foods into your diet and stay within reasonable dietary guidelines in order to avoid weight gain and binge eating. Through implementing this approach, I have realized how strongly connected our mental perceptions can influence our physical actions. IIFYM works because it changes the way we VIEW food. Like I said before, most competitors automatically know what’s “off limits” and what’s considered "prep" or "clean" food. But these very classifications we create through this mindset also lead to the black and white mentality that once you touch one of these "bad" food sources you have failed. And many times this thought of failure leads to binging because the competitor mind then goes to the "I might as well eat it all now" mindset. The "I might as well eat it all now" perception is something that is created by the idea that this food source will very quickly be off limits again- out of the question for consumption, taboo, "bad", or will be "taken away". Once the mind goes to this place of feeling restricted, our actions typically lead to the opposite extreme again- which post restriction and due to the reasons listed above is almost always binge eating. So what do you do if you are in this place post competition or just tend to be a binge eater? Here are my recommendations:
  • Start today with recognizing the way you view foods, and changing your perception. The mind is the most powerful influence on our everyday actions. It controls more than we sometimes recognize. If you can change the way you think- you can change the way you act.
  • Know that it will TAKE TIME to feel "normal" again. Your leptin levels, hormones, and body need adjusting time. Allow the process to happen.
  • Give IIFYM a try! For more information check these sights out: 
  • Remember, life is about balance. And moderation is key!

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