8 Ways Your Body Reacts to a Binge
The silent stress compulsive eating puts on your body, and when to ask for help.
The pancreas goes into overdrive
istock/Eva Katalin Kondoros
Most people binge on sugar and simple carbohydrates, such as foods made with white flour. In response to a quick intake of too much of these foods, the pancreas pumps insulin into the body, trying to counteract and manage the extra sugar suddenly present in the blood stream. Here are tips to help counteract a sugar binge.
Dopamine, the brain’s ‘pleasure hormone,’ surges
“Whereas eating a healthy, balanced meal might release a moderate amount of dopamine,” says Denise Wilfley, PhD, Scott Rudolph University professor at Washington University in St. Louis and National Eating Disorders Association representative, “eating high-fat, high-sugar foods, like a pint of ice cream, might lead to a release of extremely high levels of dopamine.” If you binge again and again, the brain needs more dopamine to reach the same level of pleasure. It could take more food, or different types of food, to trigger that “feel good” sensation in the future.
You release adrenaline and cortisol
The physical stress of binging stimulates these stress hormones. As the body feels various hormones surging, it strives for homeostasis, or balance, says Dr. Wilfley. You might briefly feel the “rush,” marked by increased heart rate or sweating. This is followed by the “crash,” marked by lethargy, increased irritability, and sluggishness as glucose levels drop drastically. Here’s how to boost energy levels after lunch.
The brain ‘checks out’
“Mindful eating and binging can’t occur at the same time,” says Kari Anderson, executive director for the Women’s Center for Binge and Emotional Eating. In a study published by the American Psychological Association, people used binge eating as a means of escape from self-awareness. “It’s really quite protective,” says Anderson. “In order [for the body] to even tolerate it, there’s a shift in mental state.” Here are other ways mindless eating can do in your diet.
Immune function suffers
Overeating is a traumatic experience for your organs. As the body swings between high levels of glucose and insulin, immune function can dip for up to 24 hours after a binging episode, notes Dr. Wilfley. These daily habits help boost immunity.
You can’t tell if you’re really hungry
Ghrelin is the hormone that increases appetite, signaling that it’s time for a snack or meal. Leptin decreases appetite, telling us when we’re full. Studies show that chronic binge eaters actually have lower levels of ghrelin and trouble responding to both hormones overall—meaning, if binging is happening on a regular basis, it just becomes really hard to determine when you’re hungry or satiated. Here are surprising reasons you might feel hungry all the time.
You might wake up more often
Binging can make it difficult to rest effectively, according to Dr. Wilfley. You might have trouble falling asleep and may wake up during the night out of discomfort, thirst, or acid reflux. Chronic acid reflux, or GERD, is common in people who binge-eat over a long period of time. These are silent signs of reflux you might ignore.
So why do we binge?
“Binges are set up by your brain,” says Elyse Resch, a registered dietitian and co-author of the book Intuitive Eating. According to Resch, food binges are likely caused from food restriction or as a rebound from dieting deprivation. Binging to the point of discomfort more than once a week for over three months could signal a condition. In 2013, the American Psychological Association diagnosed Binge Eating Disorder (BED) as an official eating disorder that afflicts 3.5 percent of American men and women. If you think you might have BED, talk to your doctor about helpful resources.