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The Biology of a Binge

We know a fair bit by now about the psychological and emotional drivers behind binge/emotional eating; it's much the same as what drives alcoholism and drug abuse, for the substance and act of eating food can work on the brain in much a similar way. But what about the physiological, biological triggers?





There's talk out there of 'intuitive eating' for those who struggle with food and their weight, and I'm going to, perhaps controversially, make a case against it. This is not because I think intuitive eating is a bad thing; quite the opposite, I think it's an excellent way to eat, but who is this type of eating actually available to right now?


Hint, if you struggle to trust your hunger cues and only eat according to the value you place on the appearance of your body, it isn't you. This bluntness might seem harsh, but its something I wish I had heard a long, long time ago.





The fact of the matter is, not only are certain foods not 'neutral' on a psycho-emotional level, but nutritionally as well. At the root of this is sugar. Sugar has been much maligned and demonised for a while now (which I don't agree with), but still this shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. However, what if I told you that white, unrefined sugar has more highly addictive properties than that of cocaine? This statement might have you rolling your eyes a bit, but a lab test run on rats that were offered cocaine or sugar water, actually saw the rats opting for the sugar water over the cocaine, even the rats who had previously been exposed to narcotics in a test environment. Why you might ask? The answer is the speed with which the substance hits the brain's dopamine receptors. The same receptors associated with reward and instant gratification that hard drugs light up are actually triggered faster by sugar. The worst part? Big food companies know this, and continue to put it in absolutely everything, even in foods you wouldn't expect to find sugar, like table salt. Yes, the food that literally should have the opposite taste profile to our sweet friend is, somehow, full of it.


I want to re-emphasise, however, that despite this information, I still don't think that it's ever a good idea to demonise food, because, whilst I am indeed focusing more on the physiology of eating here, we still need to account for the very big role that psychology plays. Once our brain knows something to be 'off-limits', we always want it more. Will power is no more, it never was, so we can stop chasing this retro concept designed to further shame and blame our bodies and their natural, biological responses to various stimuli.


That's why, whilst I want you to be aware of the foods that are going to make life harder if you're trying to get debilitatingly all-consuming cravings under control, I would much rather help you focus on what foods you can enjoy in abundance that will actually help you feel better.


Imagine for a moment the following:


  • eating to natural fullness and there perhaps still being food on your plate

  • no more sudden rushes of energy followed by an exhausting crash

  • no more waking up in the night

  • no more mistrusting your body's actual hunger signals

  • no more disconnection from your body's most core needs, like rest or pleasure

  • being able to have headspace to fill with things other than food

  • exercising just because it feels good rather than to punish yourself


And that list can go on...


Do these things sound far-fetched? When was the last time you can remember experiencing just one of those things? Going back there is not as hard as you might think. Let's have a look at how you can start to go about this.





Your stomach is often called 'the second brain' and for a very good reason. A huge part of the enteric nervous system is mapped through this part of your body, firing off all kinds of motor functions through neural pathways. This means that what you eat is going to be felt distinctly in the mental realm as well, and whilst the brain can't decipher something like, say, gut inflammation, it will register it as depression or anxiety.


So what can we do to help heal this gut-brain connection? It's not just mind over matter, and, no matter how good you think your willpower is, your body is keeping tabs on what you're putting in it. And here's another caveat; what I put into my body is going to react entirely differently with me than what you put into yours. This is why diets and the generalised 'one-size-fits-all' approach is never going to work. This is why, when I work with clients, I will always spend hours learning about their history, physiology, lifestyle, wants and needs before even beginning to suggest any kind of plan. This kind of work is deeply bio-individual.


With that said, what I'm sharing below are a few general tips for nutrition to overcome the bingeing and emotional eating cycle, but for the best results and most sustainable outcome, you can book a free consultation with me, if this is a path you're genuinely interested in going down.



Eat more fibre


Fibre is antithesis of the binge, mainly because a tummy full of good, high-quality fibre makes you feel so damn full (and not in a horrible, jump-out-of-your-skin bloated way), that the physiological satiation allays the cravings; even the emotionally triggered ones. Opt for organic fruit and veg wherever possible, which are your best sources of fibre, or enjoy any number of legumes, like lentils. Equally, you can get adequate fibre in whole-grain foods, but just be mindful of the process that grain-based food has gone through, so as not to diminish the fibre content.




Fat is your friend


Luckily, I think we are mostly over the 90s and 00s fear of fat; only the body's most abundant source of energy and all, but who needed that in the 90s. Fat is another food that takes its time to be broken down, so slows down the digestive process, helping you to feel fuller for longer. Not only this, but if you get fancy with your sources of fat, the added benefits are quite something.





Protein power


You don't have to be a carnivore to get adequate protein in your diet. Sure, you can rest assured that you're getting the full profile of amino acids in any animal product you consume, but you want to be mindful of where that animal has spent it's last days, and how. If it's a farm animal, check that it's been grass-fed (not corn fed), if a bird or an egg, you want free-range, and if it's an ocean-dwelling friend, get your fish wild over farmed wherever possible. Organic is always a plus but not always possible in everyone's budget these days. Plant-based proteins that give you the full whack are quinoa, pumpkin seeds, buckwheat, B12 yeast and Chia. Protein, like its fatty sister, is slow to digest, helping with satiation.



This slower pace, by the way, isn't only good for your tummy feeling full, but all of your body's systems getting a bit of a rest from the glucose-spiking, nervous system-rattling binge/restrict cycle that it has come to know. With sustained efforts to eat in this way, not only will you start to experience all the perhaps until now seemingly far-fetched things I listed above, but add to that possible weight-loss (if that's what you really want), clearer skin, and a calmer and more positive mood.


Want to work with me on this? Book a free consultation today.




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