What Type of Binge Eater Are You?


Binge eating is not a one-size-fits-all behavior. Binge eating can look and feel different from one person to the next.

Binge eating may be triggered by different emotions or events; a binge may last for just a handful of minutes or take place over the course of a few hours; a binge can be eating a large volume of just one or two foods, or it can involve eating a lot of different things.

Many of my patients have found it useful to identify their own binge triggers or “cues” that can leave them vulnerable to having an urge to binge. Figuring out how and why you binge can help you and your clinical team develop more individualized strategies around food and your feelings in order to safeguard against those urges in the future.

Do any of these sound like your typical binge types?

The Hunger Binge

Triggered by physical hunger after under-eating, dieting, or going too long without eating. Sometimes we intentionally under-eat in an effort to lose weight or even to compensate for a previous binge. Other times we unintentionally under-fuel during the day, because we’re busy, or because we didn’t feel particularly hungry earlier in the day. Whatever the reason, running on fumes by the end of the day can trip your biological hunger into overdrive and promote loss of control eating by the end of the day.

The Deprivation Binge

Caused by psychological deprivation and dietary restraint due to avoiding certain foods or believing there are foods we shouldn’t eat. While we may have physicallyhad enough to eat, we often feel emotionally deprived when we don’t allow ourselves to eat the “bad*” foods that we really want. Our inner diet rebel later fights back against confining food rules by bingeing. (*Remember there are no “bad” foods!)

The Stress Binge

Used to manage or improve mood, unwind/relax, or avoid/distract from stressors. This style of bingeing is often thought of as “emotional eating” or “stress eating”. A stress binge may occur at the end of the day as a way to self-reward or self-numb after a long day, or it may pop up as grazing throughout the day to take the edge off of your anxiety.

The Opportunity Binge

Prompted by access to privacy and time alone to binge. When we feel certain foods are off-limits when we’re in public or around certain people, we want to take advantage of the opportunity to let loose with food when we can “get away with it” and hide our behavior from others.

The Vengeful Binge

Fueled by feelings of anger, hostility, or a desire to self-punish. This style of bingeing may be in response to anger directed at oneself as we use excessive eating to beat ourselves up. Alternatively, we may use this binge to release feelings of anger that we have towards others or towards the idea of weight-loss as a whole – the gastronomic version of giving the middle finger.

The Pleasure Binge

Triggered by desire for stimulation or reward from the sheer pleasure of food. We may serve ourselves a slice of cake with the intention of stopping at one piece, but the sense of pleasure we get from our first few bites quickly escalates into eating half the cake (or more).

The Habit Binge

Characterized by a stimulus-response pattern in which one binges in response to habitual pre-binge cues. For example, if we typically binge at night while watching TV alone on the couch, then simply watching TV alone on the couch becomes a powerful subliminal cue to binge. There’s a phrase, “neurons that fire together wire together,”and our brain is primed to build automatic associations. Just as Pavlov trained his dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell, because they associated the ring with an impending treat, we can train ourselves to associate certain places or behaviors (e.g., TV watching, driving in the car, using the computer) with eating.

It can be so helpful to gain insight around the circumstances and emotions that tend to trigger your binge urges. In fact, this is one of the first steps in the recovery process.

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Jean Owen Curran is a registered dietitian and professional relations coordinator for ERC’s Binge Eating Treatment & Recovery Program. She works with patients struggling with binge eating and related eating disorders and helps them find a balance between physical and emotional wellbeing around food. She also supports community and health professional outreach efforts to raise awareness of binge eating disorder and treatment.

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