Binges vs. Cravings

From Nicholas Frye, the Behavioral Specialist at Take Shape for Life about binges vs cravings:

So, first we need a clearer understanding of what is going on. If you are experiencing binge eating then we need to conduct a binge analysis in order to identify the cue, or trigger. An episode of binge eating is triggered by one of three specific categories:

  1. Breaking a dietary rule and reacting by temporarily abandoning dietary control. E.g. “I’ve failed. I might as well give up.”
  2. Under-eating – individuals who are persistently or intermittently under-eating are under strong psychological pressure to eat. E.g. “I must follow all these rules in order to be in control.”
  3. Being triggered by an external event or adverse mood. E.g. “I can’t stand feeling like this… I really can’t stand feeling like this… I REALLY can’t stand feeling like this… I REALLY CAN’T STAND FEELING LIKE THIS.”

Although it may seem like it, binges do not just come out of the blue. Rather, they are a product of one or more of those well-defined processes. In the most basic of terms, binges are reactions to some irrational thought process. Either 1) we have broken one of our rules and labeled ourselves a failure so we eat, 2) we feel so much pressure to not eat or avoidcertain foods that it builds up and builds up until we can’t stand it and eat, or 3) we experience a negative emotion that we have no ability to tolerate so we eat.

Again, the overwhelming urge to binge is a reaction to an irrational thought process. Are you relating to any of these binge triggers? If not, or maybe this doesn’t quite fit for you, then you may be experiencing something similar yet very different. You may not be experiencing a binge cycle but rather experiencing intense cravings as part of a habit. Now, cravings are no laughing matter. Cravings can make us feel compelled to overeat, the major difference between binges and “normal” overeating being the amount of food consumed and if there is a feeling of loss of control. If a larger than “normal” amount of food is consumed and you feel as though you have completely lost control, that is a binge. If we feel an overwhelming desire to eat something but it is for the most part “satisfied” when we indulge, then we are experiencing a craving.

Do you think you’re experiencing a binges or cravings? Here’s some more info on cravings to help us along. There are four specific categories of triggers for cravings. These cravings are less about irrational thought processes and more about environmental and emotional cues that trigger cravings. Here are trigger categories for cravings:

  1. Physical triggers, e.g. tiredness, headaches, hunger
  2. Emotional triggers, e.g. stress, boredom, worry, frustration
  3. Social or Positive triggers, e.g. parties, holidays, events, celebrations
  4. Environmental Stimulus trigger, e.g. seeing a fast food restaurant, smelling freshly baked bread, seeing Cadbury eggs in the cupboard.

In the most basic terms, cravings are triggered in order to receive some reward. If we are tired and eat, then we feel better. If we feel stressed and eat, then we feel relief. If we are at a party and don’t want to be different and eat, then we feel comforted. If we see a Sonic and are reminded of those delicious burgers and eat, then we feel good. This overwhelming compulsion to eat may be a reaction to the desire to feel good. A desire to comfort, soothe or relax yourself (they don’t call it comfort food for nothing, do they?!). This can be very strong and completely overwhelm our logical and rational thoughts. It can feel as though we are on “auto-pilot.” Actually, that statement isn’t too far from the truth. Repeated use of food to feel better actually changes our neural circuitry. We become conditioned to seek out highly rewarding foods like fast food or candy in order to feel good. This is habit. Again, in order for us to move forward we need to be clear if you are experiencing a binge cycle that is perpetuated by an irrational thought process OR are you experiencing overwhelming cravings for food in an attempt to feel better as part of a habit. Perhaps it is come combination of the two? What I believe will be most helpful for you is to identify what your triggers are and this will help us to really lock-down what’s going on here. Once we have a better understanding then we can do something about it. First comes self-awareness, then self-empowerment!


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