How to Break Out of the Binge-Shame-Starve Cycle

I used to  wake up in bed with chip bags and candy wrappers. Evidence of my binge from the night before. I would feel so guilty and disgusting. 

I would blearily blink open my eyes and the rush of shame would envelop me. I had done it again. I’d be so bloated and my body seemed like it had  weights pressing down on me. 

I’d think to myself: “I’ll skip breakfast to make up for all the calories I ate last night, maybe lunch, too.”  The thought of those future hunger pains would make me wince, but I deserved the bloating and the future hunger after being so bad the night before. 

By the end of the day, I would be so ravenous that I’d binge all over again.  And on and on the cycle would go. Binge at night, feel so ashamed, starve all day and then binge again.

I am so grateful that I am not stuck in that cycle any longer. Over the years of my own recovery, I learned so much that helped me change my behaviors and to meet my needs without binging.  

I used to think it was impossible to be free from this suffering, but now that I am nearly a decade on the other side I know it’s possible. Not only for me, but for you, too.  At this point I have taught the tools to break the cycle to thousands of students and watching them find food freedom is the BEST EVER. 

So, if you can relate to the starve-all-day-binge-all-night cycle, then listen up.  I’m going to lay down some knowledge about one essential reason why you are stuck. 

We humans are basically big fancy animals.  We need to eat to survive. When we go long stretches without eating, our bodies think that we are experiencing food scarcity and get freaked out that we might be going into a famine period.  Think about our ancestors- starvation was a real threat to our species.  

The body is set up to protect itself from starving. So, when we go a long time without eating and we push past our hunger signals, our bodies will eat as much as possible the next time food is available. 

Physiologically induced binge eating is a thing. It’s probably not the only reason you eat in an out of control way. Though, it must be addressed as part of a holistic recovery.

The bottom line: when you put off eating for a long time you are physiologically set up to binge. This isn’t your fault, or you being bad.  This is your body protecting you.

Research shows a lower weekly binge frequency for people who eat consistently.  One study in this body of research, published in Eating Behaviors journal in 2014, states, “Results demonstrated that higher regular eating adherence (3 meals and 2-3 planned snacks daily) was associated with lower weekly binge frequency.” (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24854811).

Many of my students will tell me that they are trying to make up for all the calories they binged on the night before. But that logic doesn’t check out.  

It will likely feel weird and potentially counter-intuitive at first to break the habit of skipping meals, and sometimes it’s physically uncomfortable, too.  I have found that it is an essential step for so many people who stop the binge eating cycle and find food freedom. 

My suggestion to you is to start small.  Experiment with bringing in a bit more food a bit earlier.  And if you hear that nagging shaming voice, talk back to it. Tell it, “My body needs nourishment.  I can break this cycle!”  

When you put off eating because of last night’s binge, you are actually setting yourself up to do it again.  It is time to break the cycle and you can absolutely do this!