What Causes Binge Eating?

Everybody seems to think that psychological and emotional issues are what causes binge eating. I don’t agree.

I know that most people concentrate on the psychological issues including well known writers that I have a lot of respect for, like Geneen Roth. And it’s obviously true that psychological pressures like stress, grief or loneliness can trigger a food binge in somebody who is susceptible to them. But a different person would respond to the exact same pressures with some other form of compensation – something else that makes them feel better. It might be alcohol, it might be drugs, or it might be something that’s seen as healthy, like confiding in a friend or going for a run.

Most people have something that they turn to at difficult times. People who go for food at those times don’t necessarily have more psychological problems than other people. They just deal with them in a different way.

The point is, if the exact same psychological issues cause one person to binge on ice cream or cake and another person to run for 5 miles, can we really say that psychological pressures cause binge eating? I don’t think so.

Let’s ask ourselves what causes alcoholism? Surely the answer is alcohol, and the way the body reacts to it. People aren’t addicted to the act of drinking, they’re addicted to the alcohol in the drinks. What causes heroin addiction? Heroin. And what causes people to become addicted to smoking? The nicotine in tobacco.

So what causes binge eating? Sugar and white flour, in my opinion.

Sugar, white flour and a few other refined ‘foods’ that convert to sugar almost immediately in our digestive system.

‘Refined’, to me, is just a pretty way of saying ‘stripped of all their natural goodness’. All of the fiber has been taken out of refined sugar and flour, and our bodies weren’t designed to handle them in that form. The missing fiber is exactly what the body needs to slow down the absorption of glucose from high carbohydrate foods.

So refined sugar and flour give us an insulin ‘rush’ that is just like alcohol to an alcoholic and nicotine to a smoker. That’s what makes us binge and binge and binge.

Of course most of us grow up eating some sugar and white flour and yet not everybody becomes ‘addicted’ to it (although a lot do). Some people genuinely don’t seem affected by it in the same way. But I don’t think the reason for that is psychological, I think it’s endocrinal. Just as some people have a tendency to become alcoholic because their endocrinal and neurological systems react differently to alcohol than the rest of us, some people are especially sensitive to sugar so we can use it as a drug.

If you don’t believe this, just think about your major binge foods. I am 99% certain that most of them will contain ingredients that are very high on the glycemic index: probably sugar or flour.

It’s possible to eat a large quantity of other foods, of course, but even when we think we’re having a ‘binge’ on, say, fruit or nuts, we almost certainly won’t eat as many calories as when we binge on chocolate, ice cream or donuts. Pretty soon we’ll stop wanting any more of those foods and we’ll either stop eating or we’ll look for something higher up the glycemic index – something that gives us more of a ‘hit’.

I’ve often thought that binge eating (and any form of overeating) is harder to quit than cigarettes or alcohol because we can’t stop eating the way they can stop smoking or drinking. But if you look closely at your eating habits and understand that it’s only the high glycemic foods that are the issue, it’s possible to quit.

We can’t stop eating, but we can stop eating sugar and white flour. Once we understand this and see them as unnatural, addicting substances – different from real, natural foods because they’ve been extracted especially to give us this ‘rush’ and make us buy more – we can quit.

But like an alcoholic or a smoker, it’s best to quit completely. Cutting down just doesn’t work – because it’s not a question of psychology.

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4 comments on “What Causes Binge Eating?

    1. Rosemary C Post author

      Sandy, brown sugar is just as bad as white. It is usually just as refined and doesn’t contain anything that would slow down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream.

      Whole wheat bread (100% whole wheat) is still very high in carbohydrate but the fiber may slow down absorption a little bit so things made with whole wheat flour may not give you such a sugar “rush” and low. But on the glycemic index most whole wheat bread is the same as white. I guess it’s a little bit better for you because of the fiber, but it could still cause binges.

  1. alvin golub

    i gave up flour and sugar and finally stopped bingeing.I am 69 yrs old and have binged all my life and this is the first time I stopped bingeing. I follow a a well known diet. It works!

    1. Rosemary C Post author

      Congratulations Alvin! I am so happy for you. Isn’t it a great feeling to be free of that? 🙂


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