binge eating

Binge eating is legal, of course, and fairly common. It also appears to be a victimless crime. Who cares if you eat 3 quarts of mashed potatoes, or finish off a few pints of ice cream?

But what if we view the victim concept more broadly?


Not many people binge on broccoli or kale. When someone binges, it”™s usually on junk that can affect health negatively.

In general, binge trigger foods are known to be high in sugar, fat, or both. The most common binge foods include ice cream, cookies, chocolate, milkshakes, chips, pasta, and bread with butter and jam.

Most of these foods trigger high levels of insulin. That high insulin will result in a short-term increase in serotonin. That”™s one reason we choose these foods for bingeing. But we”™ll look at serotonin and other brain chemicals later.

Over time, high insulin can cause a variety of health-related problems: insulin resistance; type-2 diabetes; hypertension; high LDL (bad) cholesterol; low HDL (good) cholesterol; high triglycerides; heart disease; certain cancers; formation of series 2 prostaglandins, which trigger inflammation, pain and more; and inhibition of white blood cell function, leading to incomplete healing and chronic inflammation.

Because of food selection, quantities eaten, and the frequency of binges, the long-term health effects of binge eating shouldn”™t be dismissed. The conditions may affect work attendance and productivity, and add costs for the companies that provide medical insurance for their employees.

Appetite and Weight

Sugar triggers a release of dopamine. Dopamine, a brain feel-good chemical, can prompt cravings for more sugar — perhaps later the same day, the next day, or even for several days following.

Sugar also triggers endorphins (beta-endorphin). Endorphin increases appetite by inhibiting the satiety function of the VMH (the ventromedial hypothalamus).

Obesity is more than a possible result of this specific effect of sugar on the brain; it”™s real and epidemic. The obesity epidemic was brought to us courtesy of the sneaky, underhanded dealings of the sugar industry that started in the 1970s (or before) and continued for a few decades.

Dopamine and endorphins change food preferences in the direction of foods high in sugar, fat, or both. That further contributes to obesity.

Obesity itself has health consequences, many of which are in the list above. Sleep apnea, asthma, osteoarthritis, gallbladder disease, stroke, gout, depression and other mental issues can be added to the list.

These health problems may affect work productivity, and someone pays for medical costs linked with the problems, so again bingeing is not without consequences.

Moods and Behaviors

Bingeing on sugary foods can wreak havoc on mood. Moods can go up and down — and include irritability when glucose drops after the initial temporary boost.

Clients have told me that they”™ve snapped at coworkers, their kids, their spouse, or a waiter. They”™ve said, “I always promise myself I won”™t do it, but then I do.”

It doesn”™t benefit their personal or business relationships to have moods that are erratic, or to be irritable and impatient.

For that matter, some of my clients promise themselves they”™ll stay away from a particular food, only to end up eating it.

Anytime our behavior is a mystery to us, it always has a neurochemical origin — and the foods people tend to binge on are big brain chemical changers.

It has been postulated that the biological need for serotonin underlies binge eating. Serotonin has been called — somewhat mistakenly — a happiness chemical. What serotonin actually does is lead to more of a lethargic state, which I believe is what binge eaters may be looking for, rather than happiness.

Serotonin opens the space, so to speak, between thought and action, making them less reactive to the stress around them. You might think of it as a serotonin coma: they”™ve had a tough day at work, the kids are crying, the phone”™s ringing, the dog is barking, but they feel almost distant from it.

Animals Do It and So Do People

Back in 1983, E.M. Stricker wrote, “Animals eat not for nutrition per se, but for optimal arousal.” The arousal Stricker referred to comes from the changes in brain chemistry that certain foods promote.

People do the same thing.

Binge eating is not a victimless crime. Health, appetite, food preferences, and weight may seem to affect only the binge eater. As suggested above, though, those can affect others through the health problems they cause and the costs to businesses in lost productivity and medical charges.

And because moods and behaviors are affected by the most common binge foods, we could say binge eating makes families, friends and coworkers the victims.

Most importantly, of course, binge eating and its effects on health, weight and mood make the binge eater the primary victim. Along with everything described above, there”™s the “inner” effect. Binge eaters often experience shame and guilt that affect their self-esteem. Bingeing is typically done alone, and binge eaters worry about being caught.

The neurochemical piece is something I contribute to help binge eaters stop being the victims of their own eating behaviors and start feeling great.

Sometimes binge eaters who”™ve tried everything to stop bingeing can”™t stop because of cravings. I help them stop cravings and bingeing, so they can lose weight and reverse their health problems. For a free copy of “Stop Bingeing NOW! 3 Simple Steps For Stopping a Binge Once It Starts,” please visit

Joan Kent

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